4.30.2009

Sweet Chili Glazed & Walnut Crusted Tilapia & Grilled Zucchini Orzo



I haven't been making a whole lot of new things lately, note the lack of recipes in recent posts. I figured I'd better get on it before I lose a reader who reads this just for the food ideas. Maybe that person exists. I decided to go all the way and do something new. Seafood. Jeff and my favorite fish is Halibut, and hooray, it's Halibut season. But guess what, who can afford it right now for a measly Wednesday night dinner? Not us. So I settled for the real chicken of the sea, Tilapia. This is one of our favorite fish recipes. It's sweet, spicy and easy. Tilapia is a very mild and affordable fish that's available year round. The orzo was a successful off-the-cuff creation when I realized I didn't have a concrete side dish plan and just a mish-mash of pantry items.

Sweet Chili Glazed and Walnut Crusted Tilapia

For Glaze:
3 Tablespoons honey
1⁄4 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon warm water

For Crust:
1/2 Cup Panko Bread Crumbs
1/3 Cup ground walnuts (I ground them in food processor)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper

2 tilapia fillets
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1. Place the honey, chili powder and warm water in a small bowl; mix to combine. Place crumbs, walnuts, salt, chili powder and pepper into a shallow dish; mix to combine. Season both sides of tilapia fillets with pinches of salt and pepper. With a pastry brush, brush honey glaze on both sides of tilapia then press into crumb mix. Continue until all fillets are coated.

2. Heat oil into a large skillet over medium heat. When hot place coated tilapia fillets into skillet; cook 2-4 minutes per side, until golden brown and fish flakes easy with a fork. Remove and serve warm.

Note: It's not easy to keep the fish "pretty" while frying them up. You should use your thinnest spatula to flip the fish, and since there isn't an egg wash, the breading doesn't stick all that well. I just thought you should know, and not feel like a failure when a quarter of the crust falls off into the fry pan.

Serves: 2

Recipe adapted from: Picky Palate

Grilled Zucchini Orzo

1 medium-large zucchini quartered length-wise
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt & pepper

1 cup orzo pasta
1 14.5 oz. can low-sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup onion finely diced
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1/4 cup grated asiago cheese
zest and juice from half a lemon
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper

1. Brush olive oil over all sides of the zucchini quarters. Salt and pepper evenly. Place on grill flesh side down over medium-high flame. Grill 3-4 minutes and flip once to the other flesh side, grilling 3-4 more minutes. Remove and let stand a few minutes until it's cool enough to touch. Slice into a large dice. Set aside and keep warm.

2. Pour chicken broth into a medium sauce pan and bring to a soft rolling boil. Add orzo and gently boil for about 5-6 minutes (check package directions). Meanwhile, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in small skillet. Add onions and saute until softened. Once orzo is cooked, drain and return to pot. Add onions, remaining olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, cheese, almonds, salt and pepper to orzo. Stir well to combine. Gently mix in zucchini and leave orzo over low heat for a few minutes until warmed.

Serves: 2

4.29.2009

The Next Meg White

Last Saturday, Gramps Brittain predicted that Marlo was going to be a drummer because she's always got her arms moving around. She must have heard him because she has since been pounding on any surface she approaches. Last night she gave us a drum solo on the seat of one of our dining chairs. After watching the video, I promptly cleaned the house.

4.28.2009

Not Ready to Go Vegetarian? Me Either.



The verdict is in. Eating meat is really bad for the environment. The amount of resources that go into producing one pound of meat is astounding, not to mention the pollution and greenhouse gas emissions the livestock industry is responsible for. About a year ago my father handed me his Rolling Stone which was opened to an article about the pork livestock industry and how absolutely horrific it is. I was so grossed out just a quarter of the way though, I accepted the point and quit reading.

I consider myself to be a generally healthy eater. Okay, okay, I do enjoy baked goods, and on occasion I will whip up a high sodium Campbell's can of Cream of whatever casserole and enjoy every bite; but I'm not so much into frying food, I don't drink a whole lot other than water during the day and I enjoy one light beer every evening, I stay away from fattening condiments (yucko mayo), I really avoid anything prepackaged, and I shell out a fortune for olive oil and won't cook with anything else. I'm always interested in upping the ante, though.

A few weeks ago, Dr. Oz was on Oprah discussing how to prolong your life. I never miss a Dr. Oz episode and neither should you. They talked in length during this show about a restricted calorie diet and how people who have maintained this lifestyle for years (like 10 years) have been shown to actually reverse cell deterioration. Meaning - they're bodies are getting YOUNGER. I was fascinated and am bound and determined to go on this diet, how about on my 50th birthday. See, if you couldn't tell already, I really enjoy food. I like talking about it, learning about it, making it and yeah, eating it. But I'm not kidding myself, sooner or later it'll lose its luster for me and I'll be more concerned about staying alive than about some new chicken recipe. You can learn about a restricted calorie diet here.

But for now, I'll just keep on keepin' on with my regular calorie intake, and focus, instead, on what I can do to keep my family healthy. And I find it very interesting that reducing meat intake is not only better for your body but it's significantly better for the environment. I'm not ready to totally give up my carnivorous appetite, though. Can't I meet you half way? Just for now? Apparently, I can. This article on Slate magazine discusses in detail what meats are more environmentally friendly. Turns out, chicken is the way to go and any red meat (beef, bison, lamb, and pork - yes they consider the "other white meat" really red meat) is environmentally devastating. Turns out red meat is pretty bad for your body, too. Just google "red meat cancer" and you'll get the point quickly.

Recycle. Avoid plastic bags. Eat chicken. Feel a little better about yourself.

4.27.2009

TV Detox



I've read about half of about half of these books. Let's just say that reading isn't my forte. I desperately wish otherwise though. My peers are all very well read individuals, and in an effort to avoid having to do the work myself, I have an uncanny ability to absorb every drop of worthwhile knowledge they take away from their books by letting them tell me all about it. Most readers enjoy telling you about the books they read, so it works out very well.

See I grew up in a household somewhat confused about its literacy. My parents watch a lot of TV, well, my mother watches a lot of TV and my father spends most of his free time surfing the internet (which does actually involve a lot of reading, he's not playing poker). Surprisingly, though, there are many books in the house, tucked away on a shelf in a back room or in a cabinet in the kitchen. My mother's book collection involves decorating, cooking and crafts. My father's library includes mostly biographies or historical themed non-fiction. As a child, I'd occasionally see him reading them outside of a bedtime routine. I remember one occasion where he was reading a new book (probably some kind of Who Shot JFK book) and I was impressed that he was already half way through the book after just having started it that day. After commenting on this he said something like, "no I just skip around to the chapters I want to read." Being a kid (and an adult) who is painfully obedient to all the rules of life, including the unstated rule that you have to read chapters 1 & 2 before you dare venture into chapter 3, this completely blew my mind. Skip around?! How do you know what's going on in the story, I thought. This was well before the concept of reading non-fiction for pleasure ever entered my mind. Now non-fiction is really all I can fathom reading for pleasure. My imagination is kind of stale. I pity Marlo the day she asks me to tell her a story.

But, essentially, this all comes down to Marlo. I look at her and I know she's a smart kid already and I want her to use the brains in that big noggin wisely and not rot them in front of the TV. I understand full well that this is only likely to happen if mom and dad surround her in a culture of reading. She has to see mom and dad reading as a normal occurrence for her to have a chance of picking up the habit. She has to see new books as something to get excited about more so than a new episode of The Office.

So this week, Monday through Friday, Jeff and I are having a "No TV Week". We were inspired by the husband of Jeff's colleague who is a principal and does this every year at his school. Not only are we going to do it this week, but we're going to have a No TV Week the last week of every month. Hopefully we'll force ourselves into reading habits instead of the dreadful couch potato TV zombie habits we currently participate in.

Our reading list this week:



Emily: Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English by John McWhorter
and
Numerous research articles for her research paper



Jeff: City of Thieves by David Benioff

4.24.2009

It's Beautiful Out. Why Aren't You Grilling?

By now, you know how I feel about grilling. It's my favorite way to cook-anything. Meat, pizza, vegetables, you name it - I'd rather it on the grill. Not only does food cook better, but it tastes better and there's half the clean up afterwards. Here's a few of my favorite grilling recipes that are easy and delicious.

Grilled Chicken with Pesto



4 large skinless, boneless chicken breast halves*
2/3 cup homemade or store-bought basil pesto
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Salt and pepper both sides of chicken breasts. Combine pesto and lemon juice in a bowl. Pour over chicken breasts in a shallow dish. Let chicken marinade for about 20 minutes in the fridge. Dampen a cloth or paper towel with olive oil and oil the grill rack, or (with flame off) coat the rack with cooking spray. Preheat the grill. Shake off excess pesto and place chicken on the grill over high heat. Grill about 5 minutes per side or until chicken is cooked through, turning just once.

*It's a good idea to pound your chicken breasts down to an even thickness. This helps the meat cook more uniformly and quickly.

Adapted from: FineCooking.com

Grilled Asparagus a la Francesca

In Wicker Park, Francesca Forno is probably one of my favorite Italian restaurants in Chicago. A little over a year ago, I ordered a side of their grilled asparagus and thought I'd hit solid gold. I was set to reproduce it at home. Here is my version.



1 Lb. Asparagus, rinsed and tough ends trimmed
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt & Pepper
1/4 cup shredded Asiago cheese
1/2 of a lemon, or lemon wedges for each diner

Place asparagus in shallow dish and pour olive oil over asparagus. Salt and Pepper asparagus generously and toss to evenly coat each spear with olive oil and seasoning. Over a medium-high flame, line up asparagus on the grill perpendicular to the grates. Grill about 3 minutes and then turn each spear and grill 2-3 more minutes depending on how thick the asparagus is and how done you like your asparagus. I've found that nice sturdy thick spears hold up better to grilling than the delicate pencil thin spears. Obviously then, you will have less spears to individually turn. This can be tedious. Remove asparagus from the grill and place on serving dish. Top with Asiago and squeeze juice from half a lemon over the asparagus, or just serve with lemon wedges. Don't skip the lemon though. Trust me, you need it.

4.23.2009

Honey Pecan Pork Chops



It's annoying when I have no specific plans for the meat sitting in my fridge. It eats at me all day. What's worse is when I decide on some brilliant recipe, but only have half the ingredients and none of the motivation to go to the grocery store (I live across the street from a grocery store, but still, laziness happens). For this reason, I am in love with this recipe. I always have all the ingredients (yeah all 4) in my pantry, and this is a considerably tasty way to make pork chops and the presentation always turns out fancy, too. I can imagine children loving this recipe. It reminds me of the flavor of Chicken McNuggets dipped in honey which I believe I ate as a part of my Happy Meal once a week as a child. But don't let that comparison lower your expectations. You'll be using top of the line pork (right?) and not Grade D chicken "meat". That alone places this dish in a whole other league. Quality ingredients do more than half the work for you. Give 'em a try. Once you see how quick, easy, and delicious they are, I bet you'll make them again (and again, and again...).

Honey Pecan Pork Chops

10 ounces (2 medium) boneless pork loin trimmed and pounded thin (1/4 - 1/2 inch)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. chopped pecans

Salt and pepper both sides of pork loins generously. Add flour and more salt and pepper to a large ziplock bag. Place pork in bag and shake to coat evenly. In a large skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat watching carefully so it does not burn. Shake off excess flour from pork and add chops to the skillet. Brown both sides, turning once until the pork is cooked to your liking. Depending on how thick your pork is, this can be anywhere from 4-6 minutes per side. Transfer meat to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm. Remove pan from burner and lower burner heat to medium-low. Replace pan to heat and add honey and pecans to the pan drippings. Heat through and stir constantly as to not burn the honey. I always add the drippings from the plate the pork was transfered to as well. Spoon or pour the sauce over the cutlets, serve.

4.22.2009

What a Weekend!

The last time we went to Chicago was the first time we returned since we had moved away. That was in the middle of January immediately following a blizzard. We left, cursing the city and relieved we had relocated to have Marlo in a more docile environment. This time, we had a change of heart. Jeff drove me up to Chicago for a long weekend to celebrate my birthday. We stayed with my lovely sister Sara (thanks again for sleeping on your couch for 3 nights), and enjoyed the city in a more gentle climate. After this trip, when we left, we did so with a heavy heart. We really do miss you Chicago.

Here are a few highlights from the fun-filled weekend.

Our friends Mike and Andrea drove in Saturday night to have a delicious Mexican dinner (also my first Margarita since before I was pregnant) with us at Lalo's (mmmmmm). We let Marlo and their drop dead gorgeous little girl, Mira, get acquainted for a while at my sister's apartment before we went to dinner. We're not into blind dates. As you can see, Marlo was a little obsessed with Mira. Mira couldn't understand why she was so excited. I love how around :30, Mira strokes Marlo's face as if she were saying "Calm my child." It all worked out. By the end of the night they were kissing - on the lips. We told them to save it for college.



The big "birthday" night was Sunday. Jeff got us tickets to watch a live recording of NPR's This American Life. The show was hilarious. I was a little drunk (see the bottle of wine below), so everything was a little extra funny! Aunt Sara babysat so Jeff and I could have a nice dinner before the show. The restaurant was my choice, and since the show was at the Chicago Theater in the Loop, I seized the opportunity to eat at a restaurant downtown. We showed up at Bandera on Michigan Ave. for a nice dinner. I love this restaurant. The hotel I worked at was right around the corner so my coworkers and I would go there frequently for lunch or after work cocktails. Let me rave about it here for a moment. The place is perfection. If you're going to Chicago and staying downtown. Go there. It's easily overlooked because it's on the second floor above Citibank, but do yourself a favor and don't miss it. The atmosphere is swanky yet casual. Classy yet cool. You could go all dolled up for the opera or in jeans after a long day of shopping. The food is incredible. They have a variety of foods on the menu, but what they're most known for is rotisserie chicken which you see cooking up right in front of you when you first walk in. However, perhaps what's most memorable about Bandera is the service. I've probably eaten here a dozen times and have consistently been blown away by the service (minus one time when the waitress never remembered to bring my sister a straw). The wait staff is always kind, prompt, and knowledgeable.



This romantic evening brought to you by: Jeff Anderson, my husband - he's taken, back off.



A close up of the chips and queso they managed to make into an elegant appetizer and the Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir that was super delicious.



Behold the Hacked Chicken Salad. The most perfect salad ever concocted. The first time I ordered this was the day we found out we were having a girl. This salad is possibly, above all, the reason I go to Bandera, and folks, I'm NOT a salad person. I would post the picture of what Jeff ordered, Bangers and Mash, but it looked kind of vulgar and this is a family show, right? Anyway, he always gets it and its always good!

This past weekend may very well be our final farewell to the city we spent years together in. My sister lost her job last week and will be moving away next month, first to live with us (yea!!) transiently before her final move to Brooklyn. I'm excited for her new chapter in life, but we will miss the free room in our old city. I guess we'll have to start visiting the Big Apple!

4.16.2009

Careful Not to Wake the Dragon



Our nights are pretty typical. Marlo goes to sleep around 7:30, and a few hours later, Jeff and I wash up and get ourselves ready for bed (yes, 9:30.. I know. No, we aren't secretly 75 years old). Before we turn the lights out and hit the hay, one of us or both of us will usually take a peek at Marlo. I have to do this because a) I'm paranoid and b) she's a hilarious sleeper. Her most common sleep position is her arms tucked under her belly and her butt sticking straight up in the air. Seeing this right before I go to sleep makes me chuckle and relax a little.

Well, last night, Jeff and I had a classic sitcom moment. We crept into her room together to lovingly take a peek at the the fruit of our loins, when suddenly she grumbled, whined and popped her head up. We immediately and simultaneously dove for cover like a bomb had just exploded in her crib. Jeff, now in her closet, and I, tucked invisibly around a corner, stood motionless and cringing, hoping that she didn't realize we were there. She was in a half asleep stupor, but we were pretty sure she knew I was there. Maybe that was because I couldn't help but pop my head out and watch her. We waited and waited, but it seemed as though she was working more towards staying awake then reverting back to sleep. So, like a Marine, I dropped to floor and army crawled out of the room. My fellow soldier though was stuck. She started laying her head back down, but the floor boards in our apartment are so creaky, he risked being caught with every step. He eventually successfully tiptoed out, and Marlo fell back asleep for the rest of the evening. While this could have had a more somber ending (a wide awake baby right before mom and dad want to go to sleep), it was a close call. Thinking ahead to our next child, I've already asked my parents for a video monitor so we can gaze at our sleeping child from a more "safe" location.

Now for a totally unrelated video, here's Marlo doing her most recent fun thing. She'll sit straight up and lift both arms up for no apparent reason. Now if we could just get her to do the M-C-A part, I'd have something to send in to America's Funniest Home Videos.

4.15.2009

Hummus for my Hubby



Hello Gorgeous! Please don't be jealous. Please don't think I'm spoiled. I patiently waited for the right time to ask for a food processor for years. Other needs always trumped the want for this luxurious appliance. However, this birthday, I didn't need maternity clothes or work clothes or any other personal effect, so my wonderful parents bestowed upon me this beautiful, majestic machine. I've been worshiping it now for a little over a week. I've made mostly just delicious meals for Marlo that she's actually eating (hooray for me). However, yesterday, I was determined to make something new and different that I've never made before. I flipped through the Cuisinart owner's manual and found this recipe for hummus. Jeff loves hummus. I couldn't really care less about it, but selflessly, I thought I'd give it a shot and surprise him with his favorite... dip, spread, condiment - whatever it is. I'm not a hummus aficionado, but it tasted good to me.



Hummus

1/4 cup fresh flat leaf parsley
2 strips lemon zest, 1/2 X 2 inches, bitter white scraped off
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 small garlic cloves
2 (15.5 oz.) cans chickpeas or garbanzo beans, drained, rinsed and drained again
3 Tbsp. tahini paste
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
5 Tbsp. water
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Using metal blade, pulse to chop parsley 10-15 times in food processor. Remove parsley and reserve. Add zest and salt to work bowl and pulse 10 times. With the machine running, add garlic through the feed tube, and process 10 seconds. Add the drained chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, water and cumin to the work bowl, process 1 minute to combine. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the work bowl. Turn the machine on again, and add olive oil through the feed tube in a slow steady stream, and process until hummus is smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add half the chopped parsley; pulse 10-15 times to incorporate. Allow hummus to set for 30 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to incorporate. Sprinkle with remaining parsley and serve in shallow serving bowl with pita slices and raw vegetables.



For lunch, using my favorite new appliance, I shredded some vegetables (carrots, cucumbers and red pepper) I had left in the fridge to make a vegetable and hummus pita. It was delicious, but it could have used more hummus..Yummmm.

4.14.2009

A Tale of Two Chocolate Cakes

I love cake. No joke. My favorite part of weddings is the cake, and I'm a fierce critic. I know how much wedding cakes cost, so in my mind, it better be perfect. I honestly don't care what you serve me for dinner, or how awesome your DJ was, your wedding cake makes or breaks the whole shabang in my mind. When Jeff and I got married, I took the cake very seriously. I wanted it to look memorable and interesting, but I wanted the taste to be just as memorable and interesting. I'm quite taken by the look of fondant icing (who isn't) but I loathe the taste. When I met our baker, and she said she can make butter cream look like fondant, I fell in love with her. She wasn't lying and managed to make a gorgeous cake inspired by our invitations. I remember very little from my wedding day, it was all a whirlwind, but I can recall the taste of our cake as if I had just had some for lunch. One layer, my choice, was spice cake with an caramel apple filling, and the second layer, Jeff's choice, was dark chocolate with chocolate fudge filling.



If you couldn't guess, Jeff's favorite cake is chocolate cake, and so is his dad's (at least I heard that somewhere, sorry Scott, if I'm mistaken). When we made plans to eat dinner at the in-laws a few weeks ago, I wanted to bring a dessert, and it absolutely had to be a cake. See, I don't get to satisfy my affinity for cake often. I bake a lot, but usually it's things that last longer than a day or two (most cakes croak in 48 hours) or things that are easily shared, i.e. thrown in a plastic bag and sent to work with Jeff. So, I seized this opportunity and looked for a classic chocolate Bundt cake recipe online. I found what I needed from Martha Stewart.

Chocolate Bundt Cake



I found this cake to be quite nice. In the words of Jamie Oliver, "it's not going to change your life" , but I was very satisfied with the results of my effort. The glaze is really the star, so don't skip or skimp on it. I did not add booze to my chocolate glaze, certainly not because I have anything against that - just that I don't really have a whole lot of hard liquor hanging around. Instead I added instant coffee, and I'm glad I did. By all means, go for the Cognac, but I really recommend the coffee. Also, a note, the recipe asks for a 14 cup Bundt cake pan, I don't have one that large and just used my 10 cup Bundt pan and baked it for 55 minutes. It turned out perfect.

For the cake:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sour cream (4 ounces)
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional, but I think you should - it made the cake more interesting)

For the glaze:

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons Cognac or rum (optional)
OR
2 teaspoons instant coffee granules

Make the cake: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 14-cup Bundt pan. Whisk flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Mix milk and sour cream in a small bowl.


Cream butter and sugar with a mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, then vanilla. Reduce mixer speed to low, and add flour mixture, alternating with milk mixture, ending with flour. Fold in walnuts, if using. Spoon batter into pan. Bake until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 55 to 60 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack. Invert cake. (Cake will keep for up to 1 day.)


Make the glaze: Place chocolate in a bowl. Heat cream in a small saucepan until simmering, if using coffee - mix into the milk now, then pour over chocolate. Let stand for 2 minutes. Add butter and Cognac or rum, if using, and mix until smooth. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened. Pour glaze over cooled cake.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sounds good, you say? What else you got, you say? How about a chocolate cake that is just like eating a wedge of dark chocolate fudge. This cake isn't for the chocolate faint at heart. You feel just so-so about chocolate? Take a pass on this one. Do you have dreams of bathing in a claw foot tub filled to the brim with ganache (ahem, Borislava)? You might consider making this next cake, like right now.

As mentioned in the last entry, my parents and my sister made their way down to Indiana last weekend. My sister has found herself under a lot of stress lately, so I wanted to have a special dessert for her the night of our big dinner. Endless options? Not really. She follows a gluten-free diet so that creates a few obstacles when baking. Her favorite gluten-free dessert when dining out is a flourless chocolate cake. I thought this would be quite an endeavor to find a recipe for, not to mention actually making it. I was wrong. I found this great recipe on Whole Foods Market's website and this cake seriously takes very little equipment and expertise. The result, however, like bathing in a claw foot tub filled to the brim with ganache. Enjoy!

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Dark Chocolate Glaze




12 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips or bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1 cup (2 sticks) plus 3 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks
1 1/4 cups sugar
6 eggs
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon gluten-free vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray, then line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper. Spray the paper with cooking spray, too, then set the pan aside.

Place two-thirds (8 ounces) of the chocolate and 1 cup (2 sticks) of the butter in a medium saucepan over medium low heat. Stirring often, melt chocolate with butter until completely blended. Remove from heat and transfer to a large bowl. (Alternatively, you may use your microwave to melt the butter with the chocolate, if desired). Add sugar and mix well. Add eggs one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Sift cocoa into bowl and stir until just blended.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until cake has risen and top has formed a thin crust. The cake should be just firm in the center when done. Cool for 10 minutes, then invert onto a plate, removing sides of springform pan. Remove and discard parchment paper and set cake aside to cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the chocolate glaze. Melt remaining 4 ounces chocolate and 3 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan over medium low heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat, then stir in milk, honey and vanilla. Set aside to cool slightly.

When cake has cooled, pour glaze onto the center. Using a spatula or the back of a spoon, very gently smooth glaze along the top and sides of the cake. Chill cake, uncovered, for 30 to 60 minutes before serving to set the glaze and make the cake easier to slice.

4.13.2009

Movin' On Up

My parents and my sister all gathered at our apartment for the Easter weekend. We ate well, played hours of Yahtzee, and gave Marlo more attention than she could ever imagine. She's been getting very strong and out of curiosity, I wanted to see if she could climb stairs. This is her first try. We were all impressed. She liked all the cheers and claps she got.

4.08.2009

Breakfast & Dinner Courtesy of Mr. Tub of Ricotta



One tub of delicious, creamy ricotta cheese = two delicious, memorable meals. I've been making my mother's recipe for stuffed shells for years and for years I always have a half a tub of rotting ricotta in my fridge afterwards. But (trumpets sounding) Giada has (of course!) saved the day with her Lemon Ricotta Biscuits (muffins, my friends).

Chances are, if you're my friend, and if I even just kind of like you, you've eaten these stuffed shells, cooked by either yours truly or yours truly's mother. They're simple but special enough to entertain with and really budget friendly. They're one of my family's favorite meals and just might become one of yours as well. Over the years I've played with the recipe here and there with a sprinkle of this and a sprinkle of that. I encourage you to season the stuffing to suit your taste. It's really basic and takes well to amendments.



Beef & Cheese Stuffed Shells

20-24 jumbo shells pasta
2 jars of your favorite red sauce
3/4 lb. ground beef
1 small onion finely diced
7.5 oz. (1/2 container) of Ricotta cheese
1 generous handful of shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
2 garlic cloves minced
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 egg
1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat over to 350. Spread one jar of red sauce on the bottom of a large rectangular baking dish. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain and set aside to cool. Add ground beef and onion to large skillet over medium high heat. Season with salt and pepper. Break meat up into very small pieces. When meat is cooked through, pour contents onto a paper towel lined bowl to drain. Once drained, place meat in a medium sized mixing bowl add the ricotta, mozzarella, breadcrumbs, garlic, salt, pepper and egg to the bowl and mix well.
Fill pasta shells with meat and cheese mixture to your liking and place in the prepared baking dish. Pour the second jar of red sauce over the shells. Sprinkle lightly with mozzarella cheese and place in the oven for 35 minutes. Remove from oven and top evenly with Parmesan cheese.

Now for the leftover ricotta:



Lemon & Ricotta Biscuits


2 cups flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ cup softened butter
1 cup sugar
zest from 1 lemon
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 egg
½ tsp almond extract
1/4 cup sliced almonds


Preheat oven to 350. Whisk together dry ingredients in bowl. With electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar. Add lemon zest. In separate bowl mix ricotta, lemon juice, and egg. Add mixture to butter and sugar. Add dry ingredients in two batches. Fill muffin tin lined with papers or well greased. Top with sliced almonds and sprinkle with sugar. Bake 20 minutes.

Stand and Be Recognized

Marlo has pulled herself to a stand. Oh the developmental monuments we've covered in the past month. She crawls, she claps, she waves hello/goodbye, she drinks from a straw, and now - she stands. She first accomplished this yesterday after waking from her morning nap. While snatching her from her crib, I found her peering over the side standing flat on her feet. She was so excited when I saw her, she about fell straight back. This morning, my banana peel coaxed her to do it again. Everyone who said it wasn't kidding - they sure grow up fast!










4.06.2009

Honey Wheat Dinner Rolls




This was my first attempt at making bread. I made it the old fashioned way folks. No bread machine. No food processor. Just me and my bulging biceps working it out on the counter top. I was absolutely certain it would be a failure. After kneading the dough for 10 minutes, I left it in my oven (it was off, don't worry - I just heard somewhere that it's a good place to let dough rise) for an hour excited for the big puffy ball of dough that was supposed to be. Well, I could've been crazy - but the dough ball looked exactly the same size an hour later. Whatever, I just continued on with the instructions and they ended up quite wonderful. I can't explain it.

The original recipe came from my mother-in-law and was supposed to make two loaves of bread. It takes me over a week to go through one loaf of bread - so I knew that it would go to waste. So instead, I made 12 dinner rolls. I made soup for dinner the night I baked them, so I set aside 4 rolls for Jeff and I to dip in the soup and froze the rest. They are really delicious, let me tell you. The flavor is really interesting and satisfying. To thaw and heat the frozen rolls. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and bake for 8-10 minutes.

Honey-Wheat Dinner Rolls


1 & 1/2 cup warm water
2 Tbsp butter, softened
1/2 cup honey
2 cups bread flour
1 & 2/3 cup wheat flour
1 cocoa
2 tsp instant coffee
1 tsp salt
2 & 1/4 tsp dry active yeast (1 packet)

Combine the flours, cocoa, coffee, salt in large bowl. Make a depression or well in middle of dry mixture. Pour warm water into well then add butter, honey and yeast. Slowly mix the ingredients with a spoon, drawing the dry ingredients to the well. When you can handle the dough, begin to combine it by hand, kneading the dough thoroughly on floured surface for at least ten minutes, until smooth and consistent in color. Set dough to rise in covered bowl and warm place in kitchen for one hour. Punch down dough and split into 12 equal balls about the size of your fist. Place rolls about 2 inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and let rise another hour or more in warm location (cover with towel). Bake at 350 degrees for 20-24 minutes. Rolls will darken on top when done.

4.04.2009

Marlo's First Cookie

She's been somewhat grabby at meal time lately, reaching for the spoons and bowls. So I thought I'd let her give feeding herself a try. I picked up a few teething biscuits and let her go to town. It wasn't long before I realized what a moron I was by not putting a bib on her and sitting her on the kitchen floor instead of our white carpet.

4.01.2009

Our Own Personal Sound Effects Machine

Marlo is teething. This has caused her to do lots of strange things with her mouth. She gnaws on the edges of tables, sucks on her hands, and yesterday I saw her (to my horror) literally latch on to the kitchen floor and start "nursing". What the old saying? You can't get blood from a turnip? Well, Marlo good luck getting anything worth while from vinyl flooring. A few nights ago she was having a ball sucking on her tongue. We were having a ball watching her.