Saturday, March 29, 2008

Vegetarian Mondays and CLICK!

Awhile back, I announced that Tim and I were going to try to eat vegetarian at least a few times a week - not that much of a challenge for us because it wasn't like we always had meat for dinner, but I really wanted to up the caliber of our meatless dinners as well as reduce our meat intake for personal reasons (some of which can be found here).

To give an update, we have been doing great! I have not been all that great about blogging all of our meatless meals because they usually occur on a weeknight and I have serious issues shooting food in the dark, BUT today you are in luck! This recipe was so good that I had to post it. So simple and good is what I should say. Seriously - only about 4 ingredients!

Asparagus & Gruyere Tart (adapted from Everyday Food)

1 sheet puffed pastry, thawed
1-2 bunches of asparagus, ends trimmed
1 cup gruyere cheese, shredded
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
Kosher salt/pepper
Extra virgin olive oil, for brushing

1. Prepare puffed pastry. You only need one sheet. Thaw it per the directions on the package (unless you make your own puffed pastry, then you are seriously amazing). Note: don't leave it to thaw too long prior to baking. The first time I made this tart, I left my dough out to thaw on the sheet pan a few hours while I was doing other things and it did not rise properly.

2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll dough out to an approximately 16 x 10-inch rectangle (Mine was more like a square and it really does not matter too much - just don't spread the dough out too much) on a lightly floured board.

3. Transfer to baking sheet and lightly score the dough approximately 1-inch from the edge to mark a rectangle. This is the area that will puff up the most during baking. Prick the inner area with a fork approximately every 1/2 inch. If you care if your tart is a perfect shape, you can also trim the edges to make all sides even. Bake until puffed and lightly golden, approximately 15 minutes. Make sure you don't overbake during this round because the second time around, it will burn (learned from personal experience :).

4. After the tart shell is baked, cut asparagus to fit the inner area of the tart. Put shredded/grated cheeses in the bottom of the tart shell. Fit asparagus in rows (alternating ends and tips) over cheese to fill tart. Brush with olive oil and season with salt/pepper. Bake until asparagus are tender (approximately 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of your spears).

This dish was perfect as part of a main course and also as a side dish (I brought it to Easter dinner and it went over great!).
Not to take away from the great recipe above :), but I am really excited about CLICK this month! The theme for this monthly food photography event was metal and I was determined to get out a photograph that I loved before the deadline. So, here is my take on metal in the kitchen!

CLICK: March 2008: Metal Essentials...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Product Review and a Giant....

Strawberry! No, seriously - I didn't ask for growth hormone in my berries! It kind of looks like a hand. My picture definitely does not capture the massiveness in all its glory. Oh well. If it wasn't Easter morning, I would have given it a proper photoshoot.

Anyway, I just wanted to post a quick note about an awesome beverage that I picked up over the weekend. Disclaimer: I did not get this product free (I would say so) nor will I get anything for this review, I just wanted to put my thoughts out there in case you notice it and are curious. I'm talking about Bolthouse Farms Berry Boost Fruit Smoothie - a mixture of blackberries, bosenberries, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries that actually tastes like berries and not like fake berry flavor. Its a bit thicker than a regular juice, but the consistency is not overly textured from pulp. The price is a bit steep around here ($3.79 at Stew Leonard's), but I bought it figuring I would use it to make yogurt smoothies for Easter breakfast. When I got home, Tim decided he wanted to try it and proceeded to down about half the container! Guess he thought it was good too :).

Berry Boost has a ton of vitamins and no added sugar (although it does have a significant amount of natural sugar due to all the berries) and was delicious in my yogurt smoothie (I'll post that recipe sometime soon!). I'll definitely buy this again - maybe when Tim is out of town.....

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Happy Easter...have a craft!

Happy Easter a few hours early :)

I colored eggs tonight, just like I do every year (confession #1: I love coloring eggs....still) - and since my mom didn't get a chance to color them with me this year (confession #2: my mom still colors eggs with me...still :), I thought I would bring her a few tomorrow. I saw a quick Easter project on Martha Stewart's show the other day and decided to make a quick adaptation to fit the materials that I had on hand.

Before I give the quick step-by-step, I just wanted to put this cool link out there just in case you happen to be coloring eggs tomorrow. The linked site is a list of natural egg dyes - lots of them are things you might have around that house already (onion skins, different juices, canned vegetables). I really wanted to do a comparison of the artificial versus natural egg dying results before Easter (yes, the colors of the dye really matter to me, I know = confession #3), but I just didn't get the chance. I promise next year :)

And now, on to the project!

Super-quick Easter Egg Basket

Cardboard egg carton
Wired ribbon
Paper/plastic grass

1. Cut egg carton in half so you have two "baskets", each with 6 egg holes.

2. Use scissors to puncture small holes in either side of the "basket". You will want the holes to be on each of the long sides of the carton, so that the ribbon or handle will run the shortest distance from side to side (see the photo below, I'm sure it will explain it much better!).

3. Cut an appropriate length of ribbon (make the handle as long as you like) and thread the ends through the holes. Pull the ribbon through the holes, leaving enough extra so you can press it into the bottom of one of the egg holes (once you put the eggs in, they will hold the ribbon in place).

4. Add the grass, eggs, and a cute tag and you are done! You could also jazz it up a bit with some additional ribbon along the edges (using a glue gun) if you wanted.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Twist on Pound Cake

This is my first pound cake. Believe it or not, I have never even tried pound cake until a few weeks ago! For some reason, it just never really appealed to me, but in thinking of things that my grandparents might like (I send them baked goods in the mail every few weeks and they tend to usually like things on the plain, more traditional side - here is what I made them last time) pound cake popped into my head. I didn't want to make just a regular plain version so I decided to try to jazz it up by going with a marbled pound cake recipe.

I ended up going with one from Cottage Living- and it came out wonderful. Nice marbling :) and husband said, "good flavor." How's that for a vote of approval? I should also note that as I'm making this pound cake, he informs me that pound cake is his favorite dessert? What??? You think you know someone....

Marbled Pound Cake (adapted from Cottage Living)

4-ounce bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and divided
1 teaspoon instant coffee dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups sifted cake flour

Note: I used Presto cake flour which has baking powder and salt already incorporated, so I omitted these ingredients from the original recipe. This was the only cake flour I could find in my area, so please refer to the original recipe if you are using a different brand (not self-rising).

1. Place oven rack in lower third of oven. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour 2 disposable 8x4 inch pans (I used these because I was mailing my cake; feel free to use one standard-sized loaf pan as original recipe indicates).

2. Microwave chocolate and 2 tablespoons butter in a microwave-safe bowl on high for approximately 30 seconds; stir until smooth. Whisk in coffee and stir until mixture is smooth and glossy.

3. Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer 30 seconds or until creamy. Add sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, incorporating each tablespoon before adding next. Beat mixture, scraping down sides of bowl, 3 to 5 minutes or until very light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition.

4. Place sour cream in a small bowl. Add vanilla and stir until blended.

5. Alternate adding the flour and the sour cream mixture to butter mixture, beginning and ending with flour. Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition. Transfer 1 cup batter to a medium bowl. Add chocolate mixture, and stir until well blended.

6. Add plain cake batter and chocolate cake batter alternately in prepared pans; smooth tops. Swirl batter gently with knife to create marbling effect. Bake at 325 degrees for approximately 50-70 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. I know that this is a very wide time range but my cakes finished at about 54 minutes (likely due to my small pans). To be safe, start to check them as you approach the 50 minute mark. Mine were even a bit dry at the ends so I think I could have taken them out a few minutes earlier and let them carry-over cook for a few minutes instead.

7. Let cake(s) cool in the pan on wire rack for about 10 minutes. Remove from pan, and let cool to room temperature. Store cake, wrapped in waxed paper or plastic wrap up to 1 week.

I foresee more pound cake in my future.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Happy Spring!

More recipes and other things to come later this week, but I just wanted to wish everyone a great first day of Spring tomorrow! I don't know about you but I'm so excited for the new season...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

St. Patrick's Day

Time to Party! St. Patrick's Day also just happens to be my mother-in-law's birthday - so, today, in honor of her birthday and St. Patrick's day (we are an Irish household), we had a small family party. Here is the menu:

Mini-Irish sausages wrapped in puff pastry (so good...)
Irish cheeses (Dubliner & KerryGold swiss) w/ crackers and blackberries
Shamrock sugar cookies (recipe below)

Main Dishes (all individual-sized)
Shepherd's pie

Vanilla 3-layer cake with strawberries and cream cheese frosting
(more) Shamrock sugar cookies
My mother-in-law's FAMOUS Irish soda bread

The soda bread is loved by shown by my adorable cousin

So, since they came out so cute - I thought I would pass along the recipe for the sugar cookies. This dough came together really fast and I made it the day before and let it sit in the refrigerator until I was ready to roll and cut out the shapes. Sometimes sugar cookies can be a bit dry and boring (exciting to look at, but lacking in taste), but these were really good. I would definitely advise icing them with some type of frosting though to enhance their appeal :)

Shamrock Sugar Cookies (dough - Good Housekeeping Perfect Desserts; icing - me :)

1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 tbsp vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Beat butter and sugar until blended; then mix at a higher speed until light and creamy.

3. Beat in egg and vanilla until blended; then add in flour and baking powder, mixing until just combined.

4. Divide dough into 4 pieces and wrap (I use wax paper and plastic wrap); refrigerate about 1 hour (or more) or until firm enough to roll out.

5. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface approximately 1/8 inch thick (the thickness can be changed depending on how chewy/crisp you like your cookies - adjust the baking time accordingly). Cut into shapes (I used shamrocks), place on parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for approximately 10 minutes.

6. Top with icing of choice and any other toppings (I used Wilton St. Patrick's Day themed sprinkles for mine). I was going to do a fancy piped icing, but ran out of time and ended up going with the old standby: sifted confectioner's sugar and water (or milk) with a dash of vanilla extract. There is no real ratio, just add the liquid until you reach the consistency that you are looking for (usually I'm going for spreadable and not too runny). The icing will harden after about 1/2 hour.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A Hint of Spring...

I love flowers - so when my husband bought these tulips for me (for my birthday!), they made me excited for spring. We still have snow on the ground here, but I think spring is right around the corner.

I'm also sending this post off to Sandi at Whistlestop Cafe for the Centerpiece of the Month event! Its been a few months since I have participated, but I'm back!