Sunday, February 20, 2011

Italian feast!

Well since I just moved into this house with Rebecca about a month ago, I decided it was imperative to invite the girls over for dinner to show off both the new house and some of our cooking skills.  I've been wanting to make lasagna for awhile, but wanted to do something different, and more challenging.  So what the heck, why not make the noodles, too?  Afterall, Rebecca has the coveted Cuisinart stand mixer with the pasta attachment, once of the few kitchen gadgets I've been DYING to get for years and still do not have.  Turns out the dough part is really easy to make but I was a little bit scared of the pasta attachment so I let Rebecca take the reins on that one.  Next time. :)  Since I wanted to make sure I could make a recipe vegetarian friendly, I chose this chicken & spinach lasagna and made a separate version without the layer of chicken.  I didn't follow it exactly, because I never do, but close enough.  The container of ricotta was slightly less than what the recipe called for...didn't care.  I've never used a leek before and likely did not use it in its entirety- so it was in there, but probably not as much.  The amount of mozz that the recipe called for was simply unacceptable so I just put as much on as I thought necessary.  And, I did not layer it exactly as the recipe indicated so I had 5 layers instead of 7 but it was just fine! 

Rebecca handled the bread as she is a pro at this.  The baking stone is always in the oven and she has a wooden peel.  I don't have the recipe she used at the moment but it was some sort of herb bread amazingness.

Of course there were Italian appetizers.  Since last weekend we had so much success with the deep fryer, I figured it was worth using again.  The best Italian choices were arancini and mozzarella bites.  For the mozz bites, it was string cheese cut into bites, dipped in flour, egg, and Italian bread crumbs, and fried lightly.  For the arancini, I made risotto ( recipe here) with onions, garlic, risotto rice (duh), white wine, veggie stock, and then at the end I stirred in spinach (to match the lasagna) and grated parm.  This alone was pretty tasty but I stuck it in the fridge until completely cooled and then used my cookie scooper to roll little balls.  These were also dipped in the flour, egg, and Italian bread crumbs and then fried.  DELISH!  Not too shabby for my first attempt AND no recipe.  Of course these fried cheesy rice balls of heaven needed a dipping sauce so I used a can of diced tomatoes, a crap ton of garlic, oregano, salt, and then vodka.  I let it simmer for awhile and then pureed it with the immersion blender and added a tiny bit of cream and some fresh basil.  Holy good.  You can't see the sauce in the picture because it was so good I drank it.  Maybe it was the vodka.

To go with all this healthy fried goodness, of course we needed a salad - another no recipe situation.  Roma tomatoes, yellow tomatoes, fresh mozz, all stacked up.  Then I reduced some balsamic vinegar with a tiny bit of sugar to make a syrupy drizzle.  If you ever have the desire to burn your nostrils, boiling a pan of balsamic vinegar is definitely the way to go.  I don't know how long it boiled but it took FOREVER, then I had to let it cool, drizzle on the salad, add some olive oil and fresh basil, and isn't it pretty?  The balsamic soaked into the cheese so next time I'd wait until immediately before serving to add it, but it still tasted good to me!

Oh and these crisp little breadstick thingees - so thin and pretty and tasty!!  Rebecca's creation.

Can't forget dessert, that's my favorite part!  I found a few recipes for tiramisu completely from scratch.  The ladyfingers, the marscapone, ALL of the components.  But I realized that I didn't really have the time to devote to this project so I went with a much easier version of tiramisu that was so stupidly easy that I feel like I still need to challenge myself to the real thing.  The recipe indicates not to soak the ladyfingers for too long - they weren't kidding.  And I could have let the marscapone come to room temperature before mixing into the whipped cream but frankly, it still tasted amazing.  I froze it about an hour before the girls arrived and I think the resulting texture was perfect.  I should have made two!

Rebecca also made some ridiculously delicious brownies just in case we hadn't had enough food.  Since the tiramisu is chocolate free (other than the chocolate shavings on top), I thought it was a good touch.

The best part of the feast tho was being able to spend time with so many great girls.  The final tally ended up being 10 - which just fits around my kitchen table.  Everyone was stuck in traffic for an obnoxious amount of time to get here, and then they had to run thru a monsoon to get to my house once they found parking, so I was really glad so many girls were able to come.  Lots of wine, food, laughs - all around good time.  And discussions for the next themed dinner party...I think I know what I want to do but suggestions are welcome.

And a final challenge at the end of the night - Rebecca has a small obsession with truffles and therefore has a lot of recipes she wants to make involving truffle oil and mushrooms.  I find mushrooms to be chewy nasty little vile pieces of Styrofoam, but I have had truffle oil on something and I didn't die.  So she is challenging me to try something more with mushrooms.  And my return challenge to her was to try fish.  I really like cooking with fish (especially since my vegetarian and/or non pork & beef eating friends) will usually eat it.  So we'll see what comes of our challenges to each other!

Oh and for some reason comments aren't working on our page so I need to look into that one of these days....

Sunday, February 13, 2011

We need a chicken...the weekend of 2.5 dozen eggs.

What...a ridiculous amount of cooking this weekend.  It started with a suggestion from a friend at home to replicate the Girl Scout's Samoa/Caramel De Lite cookie.  Having made the Do-Si-Do before, I thought this was a fantastic idea but clearly too simple to just do one.  So Rebecca & I picked out 5 recipes to make our own Girl Scout cookies.  None of them were hard...but just a lot of steps.

The Do-Si-Dos are peanut butter oatmeal cookies with a creamy peanut filling in the middle.  And since peanut butter = joy, Tagalongs were also necessary.  Shortbread like cookie crust, peanut butter filling, and dipped in chocolate.  We learned that dipping things in chocolate meant that there is chocolate all over the house, in inexplicable locations.  Same goes for the Thin Mints - which these little jewels spread out more than so we had some larger thin mints and then a redo of smaller ones, then dipped in chocolate.  The Shortbread were pretty boring.  I saw Rebecca yawn when she was making them.  And the  SUCH a pain. Bake cookie.  Roll dough.  Cut out shapes.  Bake.  Cool.  Toast coconut.  Make sauce.  Spread coconut sauce on cookies (and try not to break them all).  Chill.  Dip bottoms in chocolate.  Chill.  Drizzle chocolate on top (this is Rebecca's job).  Eat broken chunks. So so so good.  Those little boxes of cookies are worth more than the $4 (for California) or $3.50 (Michigan).  Here's the whole collection - a three day project involving a really gross amount of butter, sugar, peanut butter, and chocolate.

And then we deep fried them all.   Pancake batter & some powdered sugar...

Now THAT was a great idea.  It actually started when Rebecca got the deep fryer out to make tots.  Tots are good.  Tots are good with ketchup.  Tots are good with cream cheese.  Tots are good with honey mustard.  Tots are goooooood.  Of course it also meant deep frying the skins from the potatoes, a spiral cut potato, and asparagus.  And the aforementioned Girl Scout cookies.  And some random candy in the house. :)

And then there was the Eggs Benedict.  Two challenges in one:  hollandaise sauce and homemade English Muffins.  This was pretty easy actually.  The muffins are AWESOME - and put my iron skillet to work for the first time in the 2+ years I've had it.  The hollandaise recipe was my mom's, which was from Betty Crocker, but that Betty knows what she's doing.  Add some seared ham and a poached egg, and some asparagus so we can get our greens (and justify another vehicle for the hollandaise)...and here's our Sunday dinner!

I even toasted one muffin and put peanut butter on it, just to make sure it was worthy.  It was.

There was numerous other random projects in the kitchen this weekend.  Crusty country bread made by Rebecca in her magic stand mixer and even put in the oven with a big wooden paddle.  And my white chicken chili, affectionately known as "Chickli".  I could try to write out the recipe but it's just in my head and I don't measure so if you made it, it wouldn't be as good.  Here's the bread & chili....very comfy food!

We are both sick of the kitchen right now, mainly because the dishwasher isn't big enough, there's chocolate crusted everywhere, and everything smells like the deep fryer.  Tomorrow we will both likely be eating cereal for dinner.  Deep fried.  With hollandaise.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

I bet your Superbowl party's meatballs weren't stuffed with smoked mozzerella.

Pancetta and 3 kinds of cheese?  Yes, please, even if I took 3 trips to the grocery store to make this meal, and spent enough to feed a small country.  I don't recall how I came across this recipe, but I'm guessing I was on the prowl for a way to use smoked mozzarella.  So Giada's Bucatini All'Amatriciana with Spicy smoked Mozzarella Meatballs was the answer, even though I can't pronounce All'Amatriciana to save my life. And I've only had All'Amatriciana sauce once before this and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Sizzlin' pancetta...doesn't quite smell as good as sizzlin' bacon but still makes me happy.

What a frickin' process.  This also started as an idea for me to make on Sunday and bring to work all week.  Then it turned into a friend coming over.  And other, who doesn't eat beef, and another, who is a vegetarian.  So I have the sauce WITH pancetta, and then just a tasty sauce without it.  I added an extra can of diced tomatoes to the sauce and used my handy dandy immersion blender to give a chunky but more even texture.  Then I made all beef meatballs (I didn't use veal as the recipe calls for), and all turkey meatballs.  The recipe didn't say to pan sear them, but I did, and then put them in the oven for a little bit.  For the life of me I couldn't find bucatini so whole grain thin spaghetti works fine for me, altho homemade pasta will be coming soon.  And on the side, my first attempt at broccolini, per a friend's request, and some regular broccoli, too.  Oh, and a crusty loaf of Italian time I'll make the bread.

This was UNBELIEVABLY good.  Like, it might be the best thing I've ever made.  Even my vegetarian friend ate a turkey meatball.   The flavors of the sauce blended really well after I refrigerated it for a few hours and then reheated before dinner.  And the meatballs - wow.  I have to say, I'm pretty darn excited to eat this for lunch tomorrow.  And the next day.  And the next day.  And probably the next day. 

And we can't forget dessert, which I actually made first, with the intentions of bringing to work tomorrow for a co-worker's birthday.  If you put coffee in a brownie, does that make it breakfast?  There's no way these cappuccino brownies won't cause instant joy.  I'm a huge fan of adding fun things to brownie/cookie/cake batter or making one thing (brownie) taste like another (cappuccino).  I'm pretty pumped to bring these into work tomorrow!  How to get new friends at a new job...

My friends & I decided that we should probably eat ice cream with the brownies since we all ran/hiked/swam/biked/did many athletic things today, so we picked up some caramel coffee ice cream to make them into sundaes.  Perfect end to a perfect day!!!

And as a side note, to counteract the amount of sugar and bacon used in the kitchen this weekend, I did A LOT of running.  I got an email asking if there would be a diet blog to follow the cooking blog.  So Friday I ran 6 miles, 3 on Saturday, and 5 on Sunday, followed by a bike ride.  That, plus being on my feet in the kitchen for a solid 10 hours this weekend (and I actually hate sampling while I'm cooking), and serving all of my treats to other people, is the plan!  Move more, eat more GOOD food!

Now THAT is enough cooking out of me for a few days.  Rebecca comes home tonight and hopefully I've cleaned up the damage enough that maybe she will make something fabulous to post this week.  Otherwise...our project for next weekend is pretty much going to rock!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Salty caramel and bacon jalapenos...a little random.

Hello, chocolate salted caramel cookies, you little molten bites of salty caramel deliciousness.  No, I didn't come up with the recipe.  I like to think I have a knack for recognizing a good recipe that is above and beyond a "normal" recipe.  I actually bought some caramels to make these cookies, and upon further investigation, realized that I needed to MAKE the caramel.  Um, not a good project for the impatient.  In fact, I almost burnt the caramel because I got bored and turned up the heat, but I saved it just in time.  So it might be more like burnt fluer del sel caramel, but still tasty.  Wrapped in chocolate joy.  If I were to make them again (unlikely to be anytime soon given the amount of projects I have on my hands) - I would make half the caramel recipe, as I did, but double the cookie recipe.  I don't think they are actually supposed to crack open and ooze out the caramel but honestly I don't care that much.  But it was definitely too much caramel for the amount of dough.  One came out perfect...I probs forgot to put caramel in that one!  The verdict:  DELICIOUS.

Click here for the'll have to click further into that page to get the caramel recipe.

And up next, Bacon Apple Jalapeno (said properly as Ja-La-Pen-O) Pop 'Ems.  Saw it on Food Network and wanted them instantly because they are wrapped in bacon and most things SHOULD be wrapped in bacon.  Then, as a tribute to the first commentor on this page, I thought they'd be a nice treat for a party I'm going to tonight.  So Happy Birthday, Adam, and thanks for being the first comment.  I promise much more bacon out of this kitchen.  I hope you like them because I find them particularly tasty! 

Bacon is good. Click here for the recipe.

This picture is mid-baking, but I had a few that finished earlier but I ate them before I could get a picture.  Look at that bacon sizzle!  Mmm.  Bacon.

More to come tomorrow, I've got two more recipes I plan on trying out so I can make dinner for a friend and make a birthday treat for a coworker.  Then I might have to take a break and eat all this crap I've made, or live off oatmeal because I've spent more at the grocery store this week than a normal person needs to spend in a month!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

We need ideas!!!!

So two chef-wannabes living in the same house.

Christine Noeker & Rebecca Kelcher.  Two seconds of being in the same house together resulted in a kitchen overflowing with every gadget known to man.  Except a pressure cooker and a box cheese grater, in case anyone has either of those to spare.

Betwixt the two of us, there isn't many things that we haven't made, or that scare us.  If anything, things we haven't made just plain gross us out.  There will be no pigs feet coming out of this kitchen.

But we do have lots and lots and lots of ideas.  Desserts of all kinds.  I (Christine) have been previously known as the Cookie Queen, and Rebecca is the Cupcake Queen.  Culinary delights from around the world.  Things That Are Typically Hard to Make.  We want to do it all.

What we need is a plan of action, ideas, recipes, things you want us to replicate, etc.  The goal is to make all sorts of tasty treats for our friends, neighbors, coworkers, visitors - and become even better at what we're both already good at.  So please please post any suggestions you have, and as either of us creates something new, we'll update you with our success or less likely, failure.  Oh and we want to rate everything so if you can help us with some things to rate ourselves on, that would be great too.  Pictures will also be posted! 

And just as a preview....I have the kitchen to myself this weekend but have at least 3-4 new things I plan to make.  And next weekend's plan is to replicate 4-5 types of Girl Scout cookies to send overseas to our military friends. 

Bring on the ideas, and stop over if you're hungry!  Yelp posting to come...