Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tomato Gratin

I'd like to take credit for this awesome dish, but I really feel like I need to give credit where it's due - Ina Garten's Scalloped Tomatoes.  I went through and added what I wanted, subtracted what I didn't want and my methods were a little different.  But I still wouldn't feel right if I didn't give Ina credit, as her recipe is great.  Ours is just better.  (Sorry, Ina!  We love you!) Justin was baking us a loaf of boule the other day, but whether it was due to temperatures or humidity, it just didn't rise as much as he'd hoped, so it came out a little dense.  I'd remembered seeing Ina make her Scalloped Tomatoes recipe and thought our dense bread would be perfect for this... and it was! 

I wondered why this dish was called "scalloped"; it was my understanding that meant a dish was made with a cream sauce.  So I did a little researching on the magic interweb and it seems there are a few different definitions of what "scalloped" means in the culinary world.  While I didn't find a solid answer, I did find this article that summed up the variances nicely.  Still, I didn't know if I really wanted to call this recipe Scalloped Tomatoes - I didn't know if it would really explain what the dish was to someone browsing recipe names.  Now, the same website that broke down "scalloped" has this to say about "au gratin":  "Au Gratin means garnished with crumbs (usually bread) and grated cheese, then baked or grilled (aka broiled.)"  I think this definition fits the bill for my recipe more.  Now, because I don't speak french, I don't know if it's grammatically correct to call the dish a "tomato gratin" or "tomatoes au gratin" and I couldn't find an answer on that.

I'm not sure how we've done all these recipes and not used a Black Flag song yet.  What the hell is going on?!  Rectified now... Black Flag (with a long-haired Rollins) doing "Nervous Breakdown".  -jen

Prep/Cook Time:  25 minutes
Bake Time:  35 minutes
Difficulty:  Medium
Serves:  6-8
  • 2.5 pounds (10-12) fresh Roma tomatoes, diced (1/2") 
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • olive oil
  • 2.5 cups cubed artisan bread (1/2")
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup rough-chopped green or kalamata olives
  • 1/2 cup finely diced onion
  • 1 tablespoon fresh minced garlic (5-6 cloves)
  • 1/2 cup basil, roughly chopped or julienned, packed
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Prepare a shallow 2-quart baking dish (8"x8") with non-stick cooking spray.

Place diced tomatoes in a strainer over a bowl.  Toss with salt and set aside.

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over a medium heat.  Add the bread cubes and toss in the olive oil to coat.  Let cubes toast into croutons, stirring often, until dark golden-brown and crispy, 5-8 minutes.  Add drained tomatoes, sugar, black pepper, olives, onion and garlic.  Cook an additional 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat and stir in basil.

Transfer mixture into prepared baking dish.  Sprinkle Parmesan over the top, and drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the Parmesan.  Bake, uncovered, for 35 minutes.  Serve hot.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Swiss-Almond Cheese Spread with Caramelized Onions

Clearly, I've been on a cheese spread kick.  Not only did I do the Cheddar Cheese Spread recipe, and Justin did Ina Garten's smoked salmon spread, but I also made a cream cheese, green olive and pecan spread that I remembered my mom stuffing celery sticks with for holidays when I was a kid.  After talking to my grandmother the other day,  come to find out, my great-great grandmother used to make the pecan-olive spread stuffed in celery.  100 year old family recipe!  Pretty cool to me!  One of my older brothers and I both had the urge to make it this year (without having talked about it) - must be feeling reminiscent.  I hope at least one of my nieces or nephews end up liking it too to carry on the tradition.

Anyway, this all actually started with me having the desire to do a Swiss-almond cheese spread.  I just hadn't gotten to it yet.  I was trying to think of something to do to it so it wasn't just Swiss-almond spread and I thought caramelized onions would be great with it... and they were.  I think this might be our favourite dip/spread yet.  The Swiss cheese is so mellow and mild... but the almonds give it a good crunch and the onions with it almost remind me of French-onion soup.  Really delicious!

I blame the holidays for my cream cheese extravaganza.  And I've definitely been in a holiday mood - I am guilty of being one of those dreaded people who loves Christmas music.  Justin suggested a song from Bad Religion's Christmas Songs, but I couldn't decide on one.  And Christmas only comes one a year, so I thought I'd share a link to the whole album.  -jen

Time:  25-30 minutes
Difficulty:  Easy
Makes:  about 2 cups
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large onion, 1/4" slices (on the thin side)
  • 8oz cream cheese, softened
  • 8oz finely shredded Swiss cheese
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika 
  • salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 1/2-3/4 cup finely chopped almonds
In a large skillet over a low heat, melt butter and add olive oil.  Add sliced onions and let cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Onions will be soft, dark and sweet.  Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, in a food processor (or with a fork), combine cream cheese, shredded Swiss, mayonnaise, paprika, a pinch of salt and a few cranks of fresh ground pepper; blend until creamy and smooth.  Add caramelized onions and pulse (or fork) until combined.  Fold in chopped almonds by hand.  Taste and add more salt and pepper if desired.

Serve chilled or slightly softened to room temp.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cheddar Cheese Spread

I haven't had as much time this year to make anything amazing or grand for the holidays like I'd hoped.  But I made this for no reason at all this morning (okay, I made it because I've been in a cream cheese mood) and I thought, "This would be so fantastic for any holiday party and so easy!"  So in a way, this recipe is perfect for the holidays which makes it both amazing and grand!

I'm a huge fan of crackers and cheese spread.  Grew up with the store-bought kind, you know the ones... port wine, cheddar & bacon, Swiss almond.  I actually don't see a lot of them in the stores anymore.  Maybe it's a passé appetizer... or maybe we just live behind the Redwood Curtain and don't get a lot of selection at our stores.  I try not to eat a lot of crackers anymore, but we have some crackers left over from a company Christmas party (where Justin made his own take on Ina Garten's Smoked Salmon dip, which was excellent, made with some fresh-caught, home-smoked salmon a friend gave us!) and we also have a ton of cheese in our house because my dad always sends a box of cheese and sausage from Wisconsin for Christmas - we look forward to it every year!  So I was itching for a cheese spread and decided to make one.  I don't think I will ever buy another store-bought cheese spread again!  This was just so easy to make and the different ideas for what I could put in them seems endless!  Beer, wine, garlic, onion, horseradish, bacon, herbs, roasted peppers.... you could put anything you liked into it!  Whatever cheese you want to use (I'd really like to make a Swiss-almond one!)  Like I said, I just used what I had at home and it came out fantastic!

I just heard this song for the first time the other day and I think it might be one of my new favourite Christmas songs.  I've always loved Cyndi Lauper.  Here she is with The Hives doing A Christmas Duel.  -jen

Time:  10 minutes
Difficulty:  So ridiculously easy
Makes:  about 2 cups
  • 8oz cream cheese, softened
  • 8oz medium or sharp cheddar cheese, finely shredded
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise (optional, but helps it spread better)
  • 2 teaspoons dried chives (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce (or to taste)
In a food processor (or with a fork), combine all ingredients and mix until well blended.  Serve immediately or chill for later.  Really, you can choose whatever cheese you want and put whatever seasonings you like in it, that's just what I chose.  Be creative!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Spiced Cranberry Sauce

(Not my pic.)
We both grew up with cranberry sauce out of a can... and when we discovered how easy it is to make your own and customize it,  I don't think we could ever go back to the canned version.  Earlier in the year I discovered Pomanders, which are oranges studded with whole cloves and used as a room freshener.  We hung several of them up in our house, in closets, in the hallway, and they really made our house smell amazing... we both fell in love with the smell of oranges and cloves combined. So when I decided to make a cranberry sauce today, I decided to go heavy on the orange and also use cloves.  Sweet, tart, slightly spicy... it pretty much smells like the holidays.

Fresh rinsed ranberries
(Here's a how-to for making your own pomander.)

I've really been trying to cut back the sugar in recipes and I did so in this one as well.  Most cranberry sauce recipes you find will use up to a cup of sugar or honey.  With this one, I figured I've got the orange juice, the cranberry juice, the apple, the Triple Sec... plenty of sweet but a lot of tart.  If you're not big into tart, you might want to use 1 cup of sugar in the recipe.

And in the holiday spirit, I chose Jim Carroll singing "People Who Died".  (I apologize for the video showing Leo and Marky Mark.)  -jen

Difficulty:  Easy
Time:  20 minutes
Makes: 2 and 1/4 cups
Orange & Lemon Zest
  • juice and zest of one orange (about 1/3 cup juice)
  • juice and zest of one lemon (about 3 tablespoons juice)
  • 1/2 cup cranberry juice
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 12 oz bag of fresh cranberries, rinsed and drained
  • 1/4 cup Triple Sec liqueur 
  • 1 apple (your choice), diced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
In a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat, bring orange juice, lemon juice, cranberry juice and sugar to a boil.  Add rinsed cranberries and bring back to a boil (about 5 minutes).  Lower heat to a simmer and add citrus zests, Triple Sec, diced apple, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.  Simmer for 10-15 minutes (but not more than 15 minutes or it won't set).  Remove from heat and let set.  Serve at room temp or chilled - it's up to you. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Pumpkin Custard Crumble

I dove into this recipe with good, healthy intentions.  "Oh... I could do a crust-less pumpkin pie... low sugar, low fat, low carbs..."  Totally had the intention of leaving flour out of the topping and going light on the sugar.  Then... then it turned into something evil and decadent and delicious.  Still went lighter on the sugar than most pumpkin pie recipes would call for but... I crunched the numbers (because I have a sick love of spreadsheets) and they weren't pretty.  Per slice:  230 calories; 8 grams of fat; 31 net carbs; 6g of protein.  Still, healthier for you than a Snickers bar, and better tasting!  Not exactly diet-dessert, but probably a little better for you than most.  I got a ton of sugar pumpkins from a friend, so I made my own puree.  Can't speak for the outcome if you use canned... but I'm sure it'd be fine.

Since Halloween is in less than a week, I've really been getting into the spirit.  We hit up the pumpkin patch today because I love carving jack-o-lanterns.  And I did a last practice run on my Dia de los Muertos calavera (sugar skull) makeup!  So I felt like a song in the graveyard spirit might be in order.  Koffin Kats doing "Graveyard Tree".  -jen

Prep:  15 minutes
Cook Time:  55-60 minutes
Preparing to roast sugar pie pumpkins.
Difficulty:  Easy
Makes:  12 servings

  • 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup chopped nuts of choice (almonds, pecans, walnuts, etc)

  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried, ground ginger 
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground clove
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt 
  • 3 cups fresh pumpkin puree (or 24oz canned puree)
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 can (12oz) evaporated milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Generously coat a 2-quart baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.

In a food processor, combine all of the topping ingredients and pulse.  If you don't have a food processor, cut the butter into the flour, then add the remaining ingredients.  Set aside.

In a bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, clove, baking powder and salt.  In a separate bowl using an electric mixer, beat together pumpkin, brown sugar and eggs.  Add evaporated milk. 

Pour batter into prepared baking dish.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes.  Carefully remove from oven and use a spoon to sprinkle the topping over the top to your desired thickness.  (You can use the back of the spoon to gently pat it into the filling if it looks like it's just resting on a skin.)  Bake an additional 20-25 minutes.  Crust should be golden-brown and a knife inserted into the center should come out clean.  Let cool on a wire cooling rack for an hour.  Refrigerate for storage.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Herb and Cheese Focaccia

I'm not really into making bread... but I don't mind making focaccia at all.  It only takes 20 minutes to rise.  You don't have to do much kneading.  And the stand mixer makes it even easier (though it's not necessary.)  We've been making this recipe since I first moved out to California about 9 years ago and we like changing it up.  Pepperoni... grilled onions... green olives... jalapeños... different cheeses.  It's a pretty versatile recipe.  Sometimes we use the dough for pizza crust!  Sometimes we use it to make pepperoni twists or bread sticks.  I've sliced a loaf in half, made a pesto mayo, and then made a giant sandwich with pepperoni, salami, Mortadella, provolone... sliced it up into little finger sandwiches with toothpicks stuck through 'em and took it to a work party.  It's pretty great.  I made a quick and easy marinara dipping sauce to go with the pepperoni version I made today.

I was actually in a soul mood (as I often am)... usually I go with some 60s soul; Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, James Carr.  But today, I felt like some doo-wop soul and was listening to The Drifters, The Temptations, some old James Brown.  I couldn't really think of any punk covers of soul music... which is a shame, because those are probably my two favourite styles of music.  (Anyone think of any?)  But The Dirtbombs from Detroit came to mind... a little punk influence, some definite soul influence.  They seemed the way to go!  So here they are, doing "Your Love Belongs Under A Rock".  -jen

Time:  50-55 minutes
Difficulty:  Easy
Makes:  1 loaf
  • 1 packet (1/4oz) quick rise yeast (or 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 and 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 and 1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning (or any combination of dried oregano, thyme, rosemary, basil, etc)
  • 1 pinch black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil (separated)
  • pepperoni
  • 2-3 tablespoons grated Paremesan
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella
In a large mixing bowl, combine yeast, sugar and water.  Stir until dissolved.  Let sit for about 5 minutes until bubbles form on top.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt, garlic powder, Italian seasoning and black pepper.  When yeast mixture has proofed for five minutes, mix in flour mixture and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil.  If using a stand mixer, use the kneading attachment and knead dough for 10 minutes.  If mixing by hand, stir until combined.  Then on a lightly floured surface, knead dough by hand for 10 minutes until dough is  and elastic. 

Form dough into a ball.  Using 1/2 a tablespoon of olive oil, lightly coat a large bowl and place dough into bowl, rolling around to coat with the oil.  Cover with a damp cloth and let rise for 20 minutes, or until dough has doubled in size.  (I like to preheat the oven to 450 at this point and let the dough rise on the top of the stove towards the back near the heat.)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Beat down dough and place onto parchment paper, patting flat and forming into a 1/2"-3/4" loaf.  Using the remainder of the olive oil, lightly brush the top of the loaf.  Place desired amount of pepperoni over the top, then sprinkle Parmesan and mozzarella over it.  Bake at 450 degrees F for 15 minutes.  Cool and serve.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Asian Cabbage Rolls & Cucumber-Tomato Salad

Justin's made an Eastern-European style cabbage rolls a few times and we have a recipe for them here.  But ever since he did, I was thinking of other things we could stuff cabbage rolls with... and I instantly craved an egg roll-type pork filling.  Today I finally remembered to make it, along with a chopped vegetable Asian style salad.

Wow.  I first posted this using a song we already used.  That was smooth.  Let's go with something different.... and angry.  Paint It Black doing "Labor Day".  Because sometimes... it feels like a nine to five death march.  -jen

Prep Time:  15-20 minutes
Rest Time:  30 minutes
Cook Time:  35 minutes
Difficulty:  Medium
Makes:  About 12 rolls
  • 1 pound ground pork
  •  whole Napa cabbage leaves
  • 1.5 cup Napa cabbage, chopped fine
  • 1 cup mushrooms, chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrots
  • 1/2 cup bean sprouts, chopped
  • 1/3 cup green onions, chopped fine (2-3 medium onions)
  • 1/3 cup red bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1 small jalapeño, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 4 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 4 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Sambal (Asian chili paste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
On a large cutting board or your counter, use a rolling pin to flatten the whole cabbage leaves, one
leaf at a time.  This will help with the rolling process.  Make sure to break down the ribs.  Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine all remaining ingredients.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or as long as overnight.  Drain off any excess juice.  Lay two cabbage leaves out, slightly overlapping with the stems nearest you.  Measure 1/4-1/3 cup of the meat mixture and place in the center of the leaves.  Starting with the stems, carefully roll-up over meat, tucking sides in as you go.

Place rolls seam-side down in a 9x13 baking dish.  (Line with foil for easier clean up!)  Cover tightly with foil and bake at 400 degrees F for 30-35 minutes, until pork is cooked thoroughly (160 degrees).

Serve with Asian Dipping Sauce (recipe below).

(It's like pot sticker sauce!)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons green onion (1 medium onion)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup dark soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seed oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon Sambal (Asian chili paste)
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.

Time:   15 minutes
Difficulty:  Easty
Makes:  about 4 cups
  • 1 to 1.5 cups cherry tomatoes, halved (about 16)
  • 1/4 cup green onions, chopped (3 medium onions)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • juice of 1 lemon (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seed oil
  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Split cumbers in half length-wise.  Using a spoon, scoop out the seeds and discard.  Dice cucumbers.  Add remaining ingredients and toss.  If you can make this ahead of time, the taste improves after it rests a while.