Friday, February 29, 2008

Chili Chip Casserole

While it may not be the most beautiful dinner ever (presentation has never been my forte), it sure is tasty. Chili Chip Casserole is one of Brett's favorites from when he was a kid, so of course the recipe comes to us from his mom. Not only is it yummy, but it also takes very little skill to put together, which I love. I brown ground turkey, drain the fat, add 3/4 cup of water, a small can of tomato paste, and a packet of Lawry's Chili seasoning. There I go again with the seasoning packets! Then I get a casserole dish out and line the bottom with Doritos. I layer 1/2 the meat mixture, then 1/2 of a can of Ranch Style beans, followed by about a cup of cheddar cheese, then meat and beans again, then the grand finale (and tastiest part) Doritos topped with more cheese. I bake it with the lid on for about 25 minutes at 375 degrees and then take the lid off and bake for 5 more minutes.

When Brett and I eat it we take the top Doritos off our servings and save them for last:) It's just like nachos (Nacho Super-Cheesier!) Some people (like Brett's brother) might say, "Eeeeeew soggy Doritos on the bottom!" but I say give it a try (I think they are yummy) and if the Doritos on the bottom do gross you out, then next time leave them out. We make this often, probably every other week or so, and it lasts two nights.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Flower Basket Cake

If I do say so myself, my mom's birthday cake from last year is the most beautiful cake that I have ever made. It involved a new technique for me (at the time) of making icing look like basketweave. I bought a special decorator tip, and this really was the first time that I had tried it out. The main photo at the top gives you a close up view of the effect. Here I am concentrating hard on my basketweaving.

Since you can't have a basket cake without something in the basket, I chose to do roses. Creating a rose out of icing is tricky, and I still haven't mastered it, but I think the roses for this cake looked really good. I make them on little squares of wax paper and then put them in the freezer until they get hard enough to touch. I made a bunch for this cake and then picked out the best looking ones and placed them around the edge of the cake.

The writing, as always, is a tiny bit off center and crooked, but otherwise looked pretty good. If you can't tell I'm pretty darn proud of this cake.

The only problem with making such an awesome cake is that it's going to be tough to top this year. I have less than a month to plan and I have got a few ideas dancing around in my head. We'll just have to wait and see!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tortilla Soup and Mexican Rice

This tortilla soup recipe came from my mom (via a woman from church) and it is super easy. Beef broth, water, spaghetti seasoning packet (who said this was authentic?!), can of tomato sauce, frozen corn, and corn tortillas. Yes it is that easy. The original recipe calls for canned chicken, but Brett and both prefer it vegetarian style. It makes enough for 2 nights worth so we eat it 2 nights in a row. Now that bio-tech softball has started back up, Wednesday night is leftover night. I love the steam in that picture!

A couple of summers ago my aunt made this cheesy Mexican rice and gave me the recipe that originally came from Paula Deen's magazine. I loved it then, and I've been making it regularly ever since. It's a bit tomato-ey for us, but I think that the can of Ro-tel gives it a lot of its flavor. I need to come up with a way to still have flavorful rice but without so many chunks of tomato. Only a small oops occurred when I forgot to set the timer, but luckily I checked on the rice at the exact same moment it finished cooking. Phew!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Lemon Curd Tartlets

On Sunday, Brett and I wanted to do some baking, so I got out my Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook and found a recipe for Lemon Curd Tartlets that sounded yummy. Plus I had just watched Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa) make a Lemon Curd Tart a couple of days ago. Another reason why I wanted to try it was that I had never tried to make my own crust before.

Since it's just the two of us, and we only have 4 little tartlet pans, we decided to half the recipe, which is just asking for trouble, but worth the risk. I manned the mixer and Brett read the ingredients out loud to me with the proper adjustments so there was no chance of me doing exactly what the recipe said. The recipe called for 1 teaspoon of heavy cream, but I didn't want to buy a big thing of it when I only needed a teaspoon, so we just used 1% milk, which thankfully turned out fine. When adding the milk, I may as well have not even used a measuring spoon because the brand new milk carton was heavy and I poured way more than I intended to...oops! But like I said, it turned out fine. We were able to get exactly 4 crusts out of it, with just a tiny bit of dough leftover to munch on.

We also halved the lemon curd recipe and Brett and I both worked to add the ingredients. I separated the eggs, and added the sugar, while Brett zested and squeezed the lemons. Brett thought the recipe was funny because it offered 3 potential stopping points. #1 When the lemon curd coats the spoon. #2 When the mixture reaches 160 degrees. #3 When 8-10 minutes expires. Knowing that the cooking time would probably be different for half the recipe, we went with the first 2 stopping points. Unfortunately, the mixture started to bubble and got to 160 degrees much quicker than we anticipated, which turned out to be before the mixture was coating the spoon. This scared me a bit, but we stopped the heat and started adding our butter which did thicken the curd to my liking. Then we let it chill.

The refrigeration helped it thicken up even more and the tartlet shells baked beautifully (no blind baking necessary) and most importantly, they tasted delicious! Adding meringue is optional, and Brett and I were tired, so we opted not to make it. Still yummy! I think I see lemon curd again in my not too distant future.

Pizza Twist

This Pampered Chef recipe only shows up on weekends mainly because Brett is the pizza twist master, and I won't make it without him. Saying it like that makes it sound like I'm doing more than I am. I prepare the filling (which is very easy) and Brett does everything else.

The filling is just torn up turkey pepperoni (tastes the same as regular without the grease), a couple handfuls of mozzarella cheese, one clove of chopped garlic, and a couple tablespoons of flour.

That's when Brett takes over. First, he takes a Pilsbury French Loaf, slits it lenthwise down the middle and the opens it up and rolls it out a little bit. Then he takes half of the filling, places it in the center of the loaf, and pinches the sides back together (hiding the filling inside.) He repeats the process with another French loaf and the rest of the filling, so that he has two logs.

Then he takes the two logs, crosses them on a silpat on a cookie sheet (seams down), and then crosses the ends over each other once more. Parmesan cheese gets sprinkled on top, and it's ready to go in the oven.

We don't exaclty follow the recipe for the baking (because we've ended up with doughy bites still on the inside), and I'm not exactly sure how long Brett lets it go for, but once it comes out of the oven he lets it cool for a few minutes before he cuts it up, then he puts it back in the oven for a few more minutes. This helps tremendously with eliminating the doughy bites. Here it is almost done.

I forgot that I actually do something else for this meal! I get a jar of Prego out of the fridge and heat up a little bit of sauce for us to dip the pizza twist in! Tough I know! And by the way...Brett and I do eat all of this in one sitting!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Baseball Cake

As Spring Training is rapidly approaching, and I have not made anything of interest in the past couple of days, I thought I would share pictures of my mom's birthday cake from 2006. I had just gotten a Betty-Crocker Bake-n-Fill cake pan set and was excited to use it for sports inspired cakes since there are lots of sports fans in my family. It was just a simple store bought white cake mix with mascerated strawberries as the filling for the cavity. Before decorating I thought it looked like a giant hamburger so of course I had to pretend to eat it.

My parents are HUGE Angels fans and had just gotten back from Spring Training in Arizona, so I thought I would do a baseball shaped cake. Here I am decorating, just getting the basic baseball designs on the cake.

Yes, that is an N'Sync shirt I'm wearing. I was a huge fan back in the day (who am I kidding, I still love their music) and it stays at my parents' house, so when I'm there I always wear it. I wanted to do writing on the cake that resembled the Angels logo and also the Rawlings writing that appears on baseballs. The writing tip I used was too fat, but overall I was very pleased with the results. I also added a green shell pattern along the base of the cake for a little more color and to look like grass. These bright colors were very hard to mix, but it just wouldn't have been the same with pastels. Here's the finished product.

At some point I'll post about my mom's birthday cake from last year which was beautiful!!! Maybe the next time I have a slow couple of days in the kitchen.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Spicy Spaghetti

Since dinner tonight will be leftover taco ring (you actually thought Brett and I could eat all of that in one sitting?!) I decided to do a lunchtime blog post. Today for lunch I made spicy spaghetti which is extremely easy and I guess somewhat of my own invention, but based on very classic flavors. All you do is cook spaghetti, drain it, put it back in the pot, drizzle with olive oil, press however much garlic you like (one clove is plenty for me because it is raw) right into the pot, and add a few shakes of red pepper flakes. Stir it all up and put it in a bowl. Then you top it off with parmesan cheese and eat it! It is spicy and delicious!

A lunch post for me will be very rare considering I have what I'll just call "major lunch issues." At lunch time nothing ever sounds good, I don't like cooking when it's just for myself, and I refuse to get fast food. So a lot of time I'll end up eating cheez-its (by the way the reduced fat cheez-its are delicious.) A good lunch for me is pasta like today or a quesadilla. Usually what I eat for lunch, most people would call a snack. Sometimes it's yogurt, a granola bar, maybe a salad, maybe an apple. I think some of my problem stems from the fact that I hate sandwiches which is what most people eat for lunch. Anyway...I've been working on this problem for a while now...and will continue to work on it. If you have a good suggestion for lunch let me know.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Taco Ring

Introducing another of our favorites...Taco Ring! It's based on a Pampered Chef recipe my mom told me about. You basically take taco meat, put it on crescent rolls, top with cheese and then fold over the tail of the crescent roll. You don't have to make it in a ring...but then you couldn't call it taco ring! Lately the folks at Pilsbury have been cutting their crescent rolls very unevenly. Some are huge and some are tiny. I use 2 cans of reduced fat crescent rolls (no trans fat like the originals) and can hardly tell a difference. For the taco meat I just buy ground turkey and a taco seasoning packet and follow their instructions. At some point I would like to learn to season taco meat on my own without having to buy the little packets. But for right now, the packet works.

Some of you may have noticed that this is our first meal with actual meat in it. We are not vegetarians, but we generally don't eat a lot of meat for a few reasons. The first reason is that I think raw meat is gross, particularly raw chicken. I can handle ground meat though, weird, I know. The second reason is that we are trying to cut out red meat for the health benefits. So when I do use ground meat, I use turkey instead of beef. The third reason is because when I have sucked it up and cooked meat, it doesn't seem to be of the highest quality. I have found a butcher in Poway that a friend of mine uses, so if I decide to make meat again, I will probably go there for a higher quality piece of meat than the Vons has to offer.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Southern Living Baked French Toast

French toast has always been one of my favorite breakfasts, and lately I have been making it for dinner immediately following bean pizza to use up the leftover french bread. This is the recipe that I grew up eating, and let me just say that my mom's is better. However, I also need to say that I try to make it a tad healthier which probably accounts for the difference in taste. The recipe calls for Pet milk, but I use 1%, it also calls for 4 tablespoons of butter and I only use 3. Lately I have been adding a bit of fresh ground nutmeg to the batter. My mother-in-law gave me some fresh nutmeg nuts for Christmas and this is one of the things I've used it in. (I've also used it in an apple cake I made a while back and I dropped the whole nut in the batter...oops! I just washed it off and let it dry and it still works just fine:)) The nutmeg is subtle and adds just a hint of flavor to the french toast. I realize my presentation is lacking...but to me all that matters is how it tastes, and this tastes good!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Nacho French Bread Pizza

Tonight's meal is another regular in our household that we lovingly call bean pizza. It's a Rachael Ray 30 minute meal that I actually like. I burned out on watching her a long time ago, but this recipe is a keeper. You start out by cooking half a chopped green pepper with some minced garlic in a little EVOO (haha I had to do won't happen again) and then you add a can of black beans and a few shakes of cumin and chili powder and a little pinch of salt. This is what the bean mixture looks like:
Then you take a loaf of french bread from the grocery store bakery (delicious and cheap) and cut it in half (save one half for tomorrow) and then in half again lengthwise and then hollow it out. Spoon the bean mixture in and top with salsa and cheese (and whatever else you like on nachos.) It really is good and cheap.
I'm normally a messy eater, but tonight was worse than usual. One of the halves of bread had a huge bump on it so it wouldn't lay flat on the cookie sheet. So I cut the bump off but it ended up making a hole. I tried to plug the hole up with some of the extra bread but the bean mixture ended up coming out of the bottom anyway. I did my best, but ended up having to eat the bean mixture with a fork. Oh well, it still tasted great.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Tortellini Soup

This is what a typical dinner at our place looks like. One of our favorites is tortellini soup because it's yummy and ridiculously easy. If you have a garlic press, there's no chopping needed.

What you do is heat a little olive oil (on low) in a saucepan, add a few shakes of dried basil, and press a big clove of garlic into the pan. stir it until the garlic starts to turn golden. Then add a box of chicken stock. (Tonight I used organic because it was majorly on sale but Brett and I agree that Swanson's low sodium is better.) It will sizzle a lot at first and be kind of scary, but just give it a moment to calm down before you pour the whole box in. Wait for it to boil (crank the heat up) and then add a couple handfuls of frozen green beans and half a box of Buitoni tortellini (we use 3 cheese.) Once it starts boiling again lower the heat and let it simmer for about 8 minutes.

This recipe is loosely based on one from my mom, but I have cut some things out to make it much faster. I've learned you don't really need to follow an exact recipe for it to turn out well. I left the recipe out for Brett to make one time when I was going to be home later them him not realizing that I don't really go by the recipe. I got home and found him measuring the cute:)

Breaking Valentine's Tradition

Well yesterday was Valentine's Day so I was off duty for dinner. Brett and I have been going to the Cheesecake Factory every Valentine's Day since 2001 (which technically was our first date.) Every year we wait 2+ hours to sit in a noisy dining room 5 inches away from the next table. We always order the same thing: Crusted Chicken Romano. It is delicious and quite possibly one of my all time favorite foods. We also always get a frozen iced raspberry to drink, which they took off the menu a long time ago but can sometimes still make.

So last night we were planning on going there when Brett hit major traffic on the way home from work and it took him 1 hour and 15 minutes to get home (it usually takes 20 min.) When he got home we both knew it was pointless to even try going to the Cheesecake Factory so we went to Islands instead. Hey, it's close, cheap, and tasty (free actually- thanks Mom and Dad for the gift card.) When we go there we always get the Cheddar Fries with ranch on the side...soooo bad yet soooo good:) I get the Yaki tacos every time. Once I deviated and was sadly disappointed:( So even though we broke with tradition, we still had a good night. As long as we're together right?!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Thai Veggie Pizza

Thai Veggie Pizza is a regular in our home mainly because it is so easy. The basis for this meal came from Simple and Delicious magazine. You just get a Boboli pizza crust, pour some spicy peanut sauce on it, top it with whatever veggies you like (I use green pepper, red onion, carrots, sugar snap peas, and mushrooms.) I also add peanuts and pineapple chunks. Then on goes the mozzarella and it's ready to go in the oven.

The only work you have to do really is chopping the veggies, which I happen to love doing. Ever since we got a good sharp knife I have realized that chopping is easy and fun and not nearly as dangerous as it used to be. With a dull knife you are more likely to be pressing harder and to slip, which is a recipe for disaster. Watching me chop used to be very scary...but not anymore.

Unfortunately, Thai Veggie Pizza has been the source of my biggest oops ever...Brett and I like to call this story "Floor Pizza." Brett had just gotten home from work during the summer and the pizza was just then beeping. I was so happy with the good timing:) Anyway, I put an oven mitt on one hand and a pot holder on the other and started to pull the pizza out of the oven. The pot holder must have slipped because I burned my fingers, yelled "OUCH!" and immediately dropped the cookie sheet. The cookie sheet hit the oven door and the pizza slid off (face down of course) onto the kitchen floor. My hand hurt and I was upset that my dinner was on the floor so I just stood there and cried. Brett came in and we both laughed and got it cleaned up. Then I asked, "Well now what are we going to eat?" Brett very matter of factly said, "I thought we would just still eat the pizza." So we laughed some more and ate the floor pizza. A little gross, I know, but it makes for a good story:)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Happy Valentine's Week!

This is the infamous Strawberry Valentine Heart Cake. Why infamous? Well, because it always turns out differently. No matter who makes it, no matter how carefully you follow the recipe, it will never work out the same way twice.

The first time I tried to make it, there were chunks of butter in the icing...oops. The second time I put too much strawberry juice and the icing was runny. Apparently third time's the charm.

It helped tremendously that my grandma and mom had just made this cake and gave me their two cents on how to improve it. Believe me I listened to them and learned from my previous mistakes. Instead of having chunky strawberries I pureed them in my mini food processor, I let the butter soften overnight, and I added just a couple of tablespoons of juice instead of all the remaining liquid. Next time I might add even less juice because it did run off the cake just a little bit.

All in all, I'll give myself a pat on the back for this cake...although I have yet to taste it :)