Saturday, May 21, 2011

My Vegetable Garden

I'd like to start a new segment of my vegetable garden!  I love fresh produce!  Growing up, my mother taught me there is nothing better than a home grown tomato!  She passed away several years ago, but she did give me a few small lessons in vegetable gardens so hopefully the knowledge will be useful this summer!  I live in a condominium complex, but I am renting a 20' x 20' community garden plot.  Because of this cold and rainy weather, I was finally able to plant this weekend and I hope that this garden will yield great results!  As the weeks go by, I will post some updated pictures of the garden, and I'm hoping pictures of my harvest, as well as many delicious recipes utilizing my harvest!  Hopefully the weather will cooperate.

Various Herbs 




Butternut Squash

Long Neck Summer Squash

Sweet Corn


Garden Salsa Hot Peppers

Bell Peppers

Boston Cream Whoopie Pies

This was another dessert that I had made for my work baking contest.  We had never tried whoopie pies before, but I have a feeling that will change.  These were very yummy and there are so many different types of whoopie pie recipes out there and I can't wait to try more!  The cookies came out beautifully although I had a few issues with the pastry cream because I didn't cook it long enough.  In order to save it, I tried reheating it and although the consistency wasn't how I wanted it, the cream was able to set so that I could pipe it on the cookies.  The outcome of the contest?  I lost to my opponent by quite a large margin. Her cookies were delicious and the cream turned out much better than mine did!

Source:  Annie's Eats, adapted from Cate's World Kitchen, originally from King Arthur Flour and The Secrets of Baking by Sherry Yard; pastry cream from Baking Illustrated


For the pastry cream:
2 cups half-and-half
½ cup sugar, divided
Pinch salt
5 large egg yolks
3 tbsp. cornstarch
4 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1½ tsp. vanilla extract

For the cookies:
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
½ cup milk

For the ganache:
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
¼ cup heavy cream


To make the pastry cream, heat the half-and-half, 6 tablespoons of the sugar, and the salt in a saucepan over medium-high heat until simmering, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Meanwhile, combine the egg yolks and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar in a medium bowl and whisk until the sugar has begun to dissolve and the mixture is creamy, about 15 seconds. Whisk in the cornstarch until combined and the mixture is pale yellow and thick, about 30 seconds.

When the half-and-half mixture has reached a simmer, slowly add it to the egg yolk mixture to temper, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the saucepan, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula. Return the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly, until a few bubbles burst on the surface and the mixture is thickened and glossy, about 30 seconds. Off the heat, whisk in the butter and vanilla. Strain the pastry cream through a fine mesh sieve set over a medium bowl. Press plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate until cold and set, at least 3 hours and up to 2 days.

To make the cookies, preheat the oven to 375˚ F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Fit a pastry bag with a wide round tip (I used Ateco 809). Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Blend in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Blend in the vanilla. In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, and salt; whisk to combine. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients to the bowl, alternating with with the milk, and beating each addition just until incorporated.

Transfer the batter to the piping bag. Pipe 1½-2 inch circles onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing an inch or two apart. Bake 8-10 minutes, until the cookies are set (they should not brown.) Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with any remaining batter as necessary.

Once all the cookies have cooled, match them up in pairs by size. To make the ganache, place the chopped chocolate into a small heatproof bowl. Bring the heavy cream to a simmer in a small saucepan. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let sit for 1-2 minutes. Whisk in small circular motions until the chocolate is completely blended and the ganache is smooth. Dip the rounded side of one cookie of each pair into the ganache and coat with an even layer. Return to the cooling rack, flat side down, and let the ganache set before proceeding.

Transfer the pastry cream another piping bag fitted with a smaller plain round tip. Pipe a dollop of pastry cream onto the flat side of the plain cookie of each pair. Press the flat side of the other cookie to the pastry cream, sandwiching the two together.

Keep refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

Blueberry Scones

I can't believe I had never tried making a scone before I tried this recipe.  They are really easy to make and are so light and fluffy for a wonderful breakfast treat.  I made these for a friendly baking contest against a friend at work.  I am happy to report that I won the scone contest by a landslide victory, but I have to admit her scones were pretty yummy, too.

Source:  Annie's Eats, adapted from Entertaining from Cook's Illustrated, Spring 2009


8 tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, frozen whole
1½ cups (7½ oz.) fresh blueberries
½ cup whole milk
½ cup sour cream
2 cups (10 oz.) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
½ cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted


Adjust an oven rack to middle position and preheat to 425˚ F. Grate the frozen butter on the holes of a large box grater. (I like to use my food processor for this – fast and easy.) Place the blueberries in the freezer until needed.

Whisk together the milk and sour cream in a medium bowl; refrigerate until needed. Combine the flour, ½ cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and lemon zest in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk to combine. Add the grated butter to the flour mixture and toss with fingers until thoroughly coated.

Add the milk mixture to the dry ingredients and fold with a spatula just until combined. Transfer the dough to a generously floured work surface. Dust the top of the dough with flour, and knead with well floured hands, 6-8 times, just until the dough holds together in a ragged ball. Add small amounts of flour as needed to prevent sticking.

Roll the dough into a 12-inch square. Fold the dough into thirds like a business letter (a dough scraper really helps with these steps). Fold the short ends of the dough into the center in thirds, to form an approximate 4-inch square. Transfer the dough to a plate lightly dusted with flour and chill in the freezer for 5 minutes.

Return the dough to the floured work surface and roll into an approximately 12-inch square again. Sprinkle the blueberries evenly over the surface of the dough, and gently press down so that they are slightly embedded in the dough surface. Using a dough scraper, roll the dough up to form a tight log. Lay the log seam side down and press the the log into a 12 by 4-inch rectangle. Using a sharp, floured knife, cut the rectangle crosswise into 4 equal rectangles. Cut each rectangle diagonally to form 2 triangles. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet.

Brush the tops of the scones with melted butter and sprinkle lightly with sugar. (If freezing ahead of time, flash freeze on the baking sheet for 20 minutes, then wrap individually and store in a freezer bag until needed.) Bake until the tops and bottoms are golden brown, 18-25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

Chicken Pesto Lasagna

I love making my usual lasagna with sausage and ground beef.  It's made in our household at least once a month and the leftovers are gone within days!  I decided to press my good luck with lasagna and try something a little different.  This recipe really was delicious, but if you're looking for something healthy to make, this probably isn't the recipe to use.  The pesto and provolone cheese really made this dish stand out and the leftovers were just as fabulous.


1/2 package dried lasagna pasta sheets
2 cups cooked rotisserie chicken, shredded
1/2 cup pesto sauce (homemade or store bought)
1 8 oz package cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried italian seasoning
salt & pepper to taste
1 cup shredded part skim mozzarella cheese
1 cup shredded provolone cheese


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.

Cook the pasta sheets as directed on the package and allow to cool enough to handle.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the chicken, pesto, cream cheese, and spices until fully incorporated.

Place a layer of cooked and cooled pasta on the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Top with a light sprinkling of cheeses enough to coat.

Layer half of the chicken mixture over the cheese and top with a layer of more pasta.

Repeat layering with a sprinkling of cheese, chicken mixture and pasta.

Cover the top of the pasta with the remaining cheese and bake uncovered in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes until cheese is melted and browned. Since everything is already cooked, baking will just meld the flavors and warm everything up. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Restaurant Style Salsa

I am officially never buying store-bought salsa again!  This was absolutely the easiest and most delicious salsa recipe I have ever tried!  It reminded me of the salsa that some of my favorite Mexican restaurants serve.  Definitely try this recipe today!  Serve it at a dinner party and listen to everyone remark how fantastic it is!


1 can (28 Ounce) Whole Tomatoes With Juice
2 cans (10 Ounce) Rotel (diced Tomatoes And Green Chilies)
¼ cups Chopped Onion
1 clove Garlic, Minced
1 whole Jalapeno, Quartered And Sliced Thin
¼ teaspoons Sugar
¼ teaspoons Salt
¼ teaspoons Ground Cumin
½ cups Cilantro (more To Taste!)
½ whole Lime Juice

Note: this is a very large batch. Recommend using a 12-cup food processor, or you can process the ingredients in batches and then mix everything together in a large mixing bowl.

Combine whole tomatoes, Rotel, onion, jalapeno, garlic, sugar, salt, cumin, lime juice, and cilantro in a blender or food processor. Pulse until you get the salsa to the consistency you’d like—I do about 10 to 15 pulses. Test seasonings with a tortilla chip and adjust as needed.

Refrigerate salsa for at least an hour. Serve with tortilla chips or cheese nachos.

Roasted Vegetable Minestrone Soup

Yes, I know it's almost the middle of May, but if you're from the Chicago area, you know how freezing cold it has been!  I decided it was the perfect time to make a soup.  Looking at the ingredient list, there really is a lot of ingredients, but you practically just throw it all together and there isn't much else to do.  This was really yummy with some bread and beef manicotti!  Try it this summer! (If you're from Chicago)

Source:  Pioneer Woman


2 whole Zucchini, Halved, Cut Into Strips, Then Cubed
2 whole Summer Squash, Halved, Cut Into Strips, Then Cubed
8 ounces, weight White Mushrooms, Stems Removed And Quartered
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Kosher Salt To Taste
2 Tablespoons (additional) Olive Oil
2 whole Carrots, Washed And Sliced (not Peeled)
1 whole Medium Onion, Diced
3 stalks Celery, Sliced (leaves Included)
8 cups Low Sodium Chicken Broth
2 cans Cannelini Beans, Rinsed
1 cup (heaping) Cut Green Beans, Fresh Or Frozen
1-½ cup Medium Or Small Pasta Shells, Uncooked
1 can (14.5) Diced Tomatoes With Juice
Salt And Pepper, to taste
¼ teaspoons Turmeric (optional)
Parmesan Cheese, Shaved

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Toss cubed zucchini, squash, and mushrooms in a bowl with olive oil and a sprinkling of kosher salt. Arrange onto two sheet pans (to avoid crowding) and roast in the hot oven for 5 to 10 minutes, or until brown and black parts begin to show. Remove from oven and set aside.

In a heavy pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add carrots, onions, and celery and stir to cook for 3 minutes. Pour in broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for ten minutes.

Add cannelini beans and green beans. Cook on low for five minutes. Add pasta and cook for an additional five minutes. Add canned tomatoes, stir, and cook for an additional five minutes on low heat. Check for seasonings, adding salt, pepper, and turmeric.

Add roasted vegetables at the very end. Stir and allow to simmer and heat for a few minutes before serving. Be sure to check seasoning! Add more broth if necessary to increase liquid amount.

Serve with Parmesan shavings and crusty Italian bread.

White Fish Tacos

For my first time ever trying fish tacos, these were really good!  I made these in celebration for Cinco de Mayo.  I loved the cilantro cream sauce that I made with Greek yogurt.  I think next time I will try making it with sour cream to see which one I like best. 

Source:  Annie's Eats, adapted from The Way the Cookie Crumbles


For the fish:
2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
3 tbsp. minced cilantro
¼ tsp. cumin
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 lb. white fish (halibut, cod, tilapia, etc.)

For the cilantro cream sauce:
Juice of 1 lime
2 tbsp. cilantro, minced
6 oz. nonfat greek yogurt (sour cream is fine too)
1 clove garlic, minced
Pepper, to taste

For serving:
Cherry tomatoes, quartered
Green onions, chopped
Red cabbage, shredded
(Or whatever sounds good to you!)

6-inch flour tortillas


Combine the lime juice, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, cilantro, cumin, and garlic in a pie plate or shallow dish. Whisk together until well blended. Place the fish in the mixture, turning to coat. Let marinate 15-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the cilantro cream sauce. Combine the lime juice, cilantro, greek yogurt, garlic and pepper in a small bowl. Mix until well blended. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Place the fish in the pan and cook without disturbing, 3 minutes. Flip the fish and cook on the second side 2-3 minutes more. Remove to a plate, season with salt as desired, and let rest for a few minutes. Shred the fish into bite-sized pieces with two forks.

Assemble tacos on flour tortillas with shredded fish, cilantro cream sauce and toppings as desired.

Beef Stew with Potato Dumplings

I have to admit, I didn't try this recipe, but my husband loved it!  I was on a diet and not supposed to eat the potato so I stayed strong even though this smelled amazing as it cooked.  Considering I had never tried making potato dumplings before, I thought they turned out really well!  I actually shredded the potatoes myself with my food processor, but if you don't have that capability, shredded hashbrown mix will do just fine.  

Source:  The Taste of Home Cookbook 2007


1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 lbs beef stew meat
2 medium onions, chopped
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 cans (10 1/2 oz each) beef broth, undiluted
3/4 cup water
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
6 medium carrots, cut into 2 in. chunks
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp garlic powder

1 egg
3/4 cup seasoned dry bread crumbs
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tbsp minced fresh parsley
1 tbsp minced onion
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 1/2 cups fine shredded raw potatoes

Additional all-purpose flour


In a plastic bag, combine the flour, salt, and pepper.  Add meat; toss to coat.  In a Dutch oven, cook meat along with onions in oil until the meat is browned on all sides and onions are tender.

Stir in the broth, water, vinegar, carrots and seasonings; bring to a boil.  Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 1-1/2 hours or until meat is almost tender.  Discard bay leaves.

In a large bowl, beat egg; add the crumbs, flour, parsley, onion, and seasonings.  Stir in potatoes; mix well.  With floured hands, shape into 1-1/2 in. balls.  Dust with flour.

Bring stew to a boil; drop dumplings onto stew.  Cover and simmer for 30 minutes (do not lift cover while simmering).  Serve immediately.