Monday, March 31, 2008

It's a Batman Birthday!

It was a Batman birthday for my four year old this year. My husband and I admittedly got a bit carried away with the dessert preparations - from the obligatory cupcakes for school to the cake at our family party at home. Enjoy the photo journal!

I made the cupcakes and frosted them with white whipped frosting + yellow food coloring gel.
My husband took over with the Batman logo - I bought a package of those soft Dutch cocoa sugar cookies. Next, he used a measuring cup and a pairing knife to get the logo just right...

These cupcakes were the talk of the school yard!

Now onto the cake for the family party - I made a box cake mix (added some of my own ingredients to make it a bit homemade) and baked in two 9" rounds. All of the colors shown on the cake (gray, blue, yellow) were made with white whipped frosting and food coloring gel mixes. The black was premade icing from the store. We picked up the Batman figurine at Toys R Us for about $7.

The city scape on the side of the cake took longer than expected, but it wasn't impossible. I made my own piping bags out of Ziplocs with a tiny hole cut at the bottom. I piped the outline of the city and then filled it in. The yellow "windows" were my husband's idea, and I think they made the cake work. Instead of piping a frosting edge at the base of the cake, I just poured chocolate chips around the edge to fill in the gap between cake and plate. It better resembled a pavement or road - not intentional, but it definitely worked.

Birthday boy is super excited! Happy Birthday, Nathaniel!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Pork Tenderloin Cutlets with Chorizo and Apple

I just make this tonight, and it turned out great! I was surprised, because I had purchased these cutlets to grill, but time was running out on them and it's been too cold to grill so I went with plan B.

Season 2 inch thick pork tenderloin cutlets with olive oil, salt and pepper. Dice one chorizo sausage and 1/2 apple into 1/4 inch pieces. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in large pan over high heat. Add chorizo to pan and cook until crispy - remove from pan and set to the side. Add pork cutlets to pan and sear on both sides, about 4 minutes each, until brown. After the second side is seared, add 1/2 cup chicken stock to pan along with cooked chorizo and apple. Place pan in preheated oven to finish cooking the pork - about 20 minutes or until internal temp reaches 165 degrees.

Allow pork to sit before serving. Ladle sauce with apples and sausage on top of each cutlet to serve.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Crockpot Pork Tenderloin - 3 Different Ways

OK, I'll admit it - I'm a bulk store junkie! On Saturday I came home with a 4 pack of pork tenderloins. I usually freeze half of it uncooked, but I decided if all of them fit into my slow cooker at once, then why not save some time later on?

This recipe is for 4 pounds of pork tenderloin, but it's easily halved if you need it to be:

  • Chop two apples and put into bottom of crock pot
  • Chop one large onion and put into bottom of crock pot
  • Pour 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar and 1/2 cup white wine to crock pot
  • Add pork tenderloins to crock pot, on top of apple/onion/liquid mixture
  • Season the top of the tenderloins with salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika
Set the slow cooker to low/8 hours. When done, the pork will be fork tender and practically falling apart. Here are a few ways to serve it:

  1. Sliced Pork Tenderloin with Mushroom Gravy: Slice one of the tenderloins (about 1 pound) into 1/2 to 1 inch thick slices. In shallow pan, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add 2 cups of sliced mushrooms and allow to cook for a few minutes until soft. Add 2 tablespoons flour and cook until light brown. Add 1 cup reserved liquid from crock pot or stock until at desired consistency. Add pork slices and warm through in gravy.
  2. Pulled Pork: Take half of the pork (about 2 pounds) and pull apart with your fingers into strands. Add some of the reserved crock pot liquid. Serve with BBQ sauce or hot sauce and fresh rolls to make sandwiches or serve alongside a vegetable side.
  3. Pork Fried Rice: This is a healthier version of your favorite Chinese food. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in medium shallow pan with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Scramble two eggs and push to side of pan. Chop 1/2 onion or 1/4 cup of green onion and add to pan for 3-4 minutes. Add cooked rice and mix with onion and egg. Chop pork tenderloin (about 1 pound) and add to pan with 1/2 cup frozen peas. Once warmed through, season mixture with salt, pepper, a few splashes each of soy sauce, teriyake sauce, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar. Optional - add diced carrots with onions until soft.
This is a great make-ahead recipe. Once the tenderloins have cooked in the crock pot, separate them into freezer storage bags in the condition you will ultimately use them in. For example, pull apart 2 pounds of pork and label in bag as "pulled pork" so when you need to use it, it will be quick to defrost and add additional ingredients.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Salad Dressings

I write for HubPages and recently put together an article with a few recipes for homemade salad dressings. The back story is that I grew up with bottled dressings. It wasn't until I met my future husband that I found out you can make salad dressing from scratch really easily! For him it was never a question - his parents are 100% Italian, and well, they didn't sell bottled salad dressing on the rural farms of Naples. It all started with a few shakes of extra virgin olive oil and some vinegar - usually a combination of red wine, balsamic and apple cider vinegars. I've gotten braver in recent years and have moved to complex dressings when the mood strikes and the ingredients are handy. Read more about them here on HubPages.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Honey Teriyaki Chicken in Crockpot

For this recipe, I begin with frozen chicken thighs (boneless, skinless) but you can easily substitute chicken pieces or breasts if you like. The sauce is easily doubled, so I try to fit as much chicken into my slow cooker as possible so I can have extra to use throughout the week. For the sauce recipe below, I use about 10 chicken thighs, or about 2 pounds.

Since I rarely work from a recipe, my Honey Teriyake sauce changes each time. But it is basically:
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 tablespoons ginger dressing or 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons teriyake sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste
You can easily increase or decrease or even omit any of these ingredients and still have a wonderfully flavorful sauce. Just make sure you test it before adding to the crock pot.

Add chicken thighs (still frozen if you like) to crock pot, then pour sauce over chicken. Set to High (4 hours min if using thawed chicken or 6 hours min if using frozen). After a few hours, work the frozen chicken apart with a spoon and redistribute sauce over all chicken.

This chicken can be sliced and served over fried rice, regular rice, noodles or a garden salad. Extra chicken is great on sandwiches or stir fries later in the week.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Shrimp over Green Salad w/Avocado Vinaigrette

That's a mouthful - literally! This is a quick and easy dinner for anyone, especially those watching their carb intake.

  • Marinade about a pound of medium size shrimp (vein and tail removed) in the juice of one lemon, salt and pepper for 30 minutes before next step.
  • Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a skillet over medium high heat.
  • Crush 3 garlic cloves with the flat part of a knife or your hand and toss into the butter until fragrant and remove before they get too brown.
  • Add shrimp to pan until pink. Set to the side.
  • Prepare garden salad - I used cucumber and carrots over romaine and radicchio.
  • Create dressing - Add to coffee mug (I use coffee mug because I can easily hold it and my hand blender fits nicely) one avocado, juice of one lime, 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons white wine (optional), 2 tablespoons water (increase if omitting wine). Mix with hand blender until creamy.
  • Toss the salad with the dressing, and plate. Add the warm shrimp on top.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Beef Cubes - From Freezer to Tender in 6 Hours

Whenever I need to go from frozen to dinner in under 6 hours, I usually call upon my crockpot. I can take meat right from the freezer, without needing to defrost it first, and drop it in my slow cooker with a few root vegetables, wine and seasonings. I didn't have the brain power this morning to put together a full meal in the crockpot, but I thought if I could get the beef cubes cooked and tender by dinner time, I could easily throw together a side or two a few minutes before dinner.

Here's what I did this morning:
Rough chop one onion and 3 carrots (unpeeled) - these are just for flavor while the beef cubes slow cook. Toss these vegetables in the bottom of the crockpot. Pour 1/2 cup of wine - anything you have on hand. Strangely enough, I only had a white zin in the fridge, so I went with it. Add 2 bay leaves to liquid. Take beef cubes from freezer. I had about 1.5 pounds frozen in a flat layer in a plastic storage bag, and when I eyed the crockpot, I knew I wasn't going to fit the lid over the frozen maze of cubes - I quickly held the beef under warm water until I was able to snap the mass in half (about 1 minute). Add to crockpot and season beef with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Place lid on and set to High or 6 hours.

Here's what I plan to do tonight:
Remove beef cubes from crockpot and cut into smaller chunks (easier for the kids to eat). They will be really soft and tender at this point. In a medium skillet, heat 1 pat of butter and 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil over medium high heat. Add 2 cups of mushrooms - any variety - sliced or rough chopped. Once they are tender - about 5 minutes - sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of flour on them and allow flour to cook and brown slightly. Strain the liquid from the crockpot and add to skillet while whisking to combine with flour. Add enough liquid so the consistency is slightly thinner than gravy. I f you need more liquid, use stock, water or wine. Once bubbling, add the beef cubes to the skillet and toss to combine.

What can you do with this beef/mushroom mixture?
  • Serve over egg noodles, pasta, rice or baked potatoes
  • Serve on it's own with a side of vegetables and/or garden salad
  • Make It Low-Carb: Use cream cheese or sour cream instead of flour as a thickener.
  • Make It With Chicken: I recommend chicken thighs instead of chicken breasts because they will stay moister in the slow cooker.