Monday, September 29, 2008

The Best Effin' One Pot Pasta

Just make it. Trust me.

Creamy One-Pot Pasta
Adapted from Pampered Chef recipe

3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 Tablespoon canola oil
5 cups vegetable broth
1 lb. penne pasta, uncooked
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cups broccoli florets
2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
4 oz. reduced fat cream cheese, cut into cubes
Dash of salt
Few cracks of pepper
Grated parmesean cheese

In large pot, heat oil and cook garlic 2 mins. Add broth and bring to a boil. Add pasta, lower heat, cover and simmer 10 mins until pasta is almost done. Add veggies, cream cheese, salt and pepper, stirring until cheese is melted. With heat on medium, cook a few more mins until veggies are tender. Top with parmesean and serve.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix

We go through a lot of hot chocolate mix in our house, Swiss Miss being the preferred brand. In the winter months, about once a week K will make a dinner out of peanut butter toast and hot chocolate, dunking the toast in the chocolate before each and every bite.

When it's pb toast night, I eat mine with milky black tea (no dunking), but I still like a cup 'o cocoa now and then. But have you read the Swiss Miss label? Basically, it's chocolate-flavored corn syrup. I want the real deal, or at least something not involving laboratory food creations.

So I started experimenting with hot chocolate mixes. I tried the one on the side of the Hershey's cocoa powder can...not so good, too chalky and too much stuff stuck on the bottom. I thought about my mom's hot chocolate mix recipe, but knowing it uses a ton of non-dairy creamer, it wasn't an option. I checked AllRecipes.com, Martha Stewart, random holiday blogs, but nearly everything used non-dairy creamer, ugh.

Then I landed on Food Network. Alton Brown to the rescue! His hot cocoa mix recipe is actually hidden within a video clip. His videos are, um, kooky, but his food principles are solid, so I wrote down the recipe and tried it out.

Ding ding ding! We have a winner!

Alton Brown's Hot Chocolate Mix

1 and 1/4 cups powdered milk
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
The teeniest, tiniest pinch of cayenne pepper

Add all ingredients to a clean, dry container with lid (like a large glass canning jar) and shake it up, baby.

Fill your favorite mug 1/3 full of mixture. Add enough boiling water to fill cup halfway, then use a whisk to mix into a slurry (be sure you catch all the mix off the sides of the mug, too). Top off the mug with additional boiling water to fill, mix once more and enjoy.

Peanut butter toast optional.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Scotcheroos

The rest of the world calls 'em Special K bars, but we make this with Rice Krispies and call it a scotcheroo. These bars are so ubiquitous around here, I can only assume everyone sees these at their local potluck dinners, but just in case I'm wrong (and I've been wrong many times), here is the recipe. This is something my mom always makes, and now I do too. Yeah yeah, turning into Mom, but if you've met my mom, you'd know it isn't a bad thing.


Scotcheroos

6 cups Rice Krispies
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips

Put cereal in large bowl. Mix syrup and sugar in a saucepan and cook until it starts to boil. Remove from heat, mix in peanut butter and vanilla. Pour mixture over cereal and mix well. Press into 9x13" greased pan, cool. Melt chips together and spread over bars. Cool.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Cinnamon Ice Cream

I'm sure Amber won't mind if I link her cinnamon ice cream recipe here, right Amber? Plus, there's a great pic of the 'ol ice cream maker in use, dented can and all.

The Death of Dieting

I know, I know. All the articles I link come from the NY Times, but I can't help it, it's just great journalism. So allow me to share one more with this article, and let's hope that the numbers of dieting Americans continues to spiral downward. Food is not the enemy. Embrace food love!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Art of Popcorn

Spending 8+ hours a day in a cubicle environment, I've had plenty of time to observe the habits of office-dwelling natives. Some characteristics of office dwellers include:

a) spontaneous cursing at computer monitors
b) a noticeable reduction in attention by 3 pm on Fridays
c) constant scavenging for sustenance called "snacks"

I'm not going to admit to the first two, but I'm certainly a snack scavenger. There is always food in the office, whether it be bowls of candy, doughnuts, or leftover birthday cake. I can usually leave the sweets alone, but watch out if someone cracks open some potato chips, I'll be diving in head-first.

But no one likes a mooch, so this week I purchased crackers and microwave popcorn with the specific purpose of keeping it at the office. And today, a rainy September day with a chill in the air, I decided to try out the popcorn.

In our house, we make popcorn in a pot on the stove. No, we don't have kerosene lamps and horses tied up out front. I just have a general dislike for one-food-specific kitchen appliances: no rice cooker, no waffle maker, no crepe maker, no salad spinner, no popcorn maker. I must mention two notable exceptions: an ice-cream maker and a toaster. Try taking my toaster away and you'll see two pretty little fists coming after you.

So being accustomed to stove-top popcorn, I forgot how flimsy microwave popcorn kernels can be. I forgot about the filmy plastic grease coating that you get on your hands and in your mouth. I forgot how much the crusty microwave bag stinks. I basically forgot how much microwave popcorn sucks.

And then I realized I'd been had. All this time, I thought only Orville Redenbacher knew the secret to making popcorn conveniently in the microwave. How naive. My buddy Mark has shown me the light by clarifying that YOU CAN MAKE MICROWAVE POPCORN WITH REGULAR POPCORN KERNELS IN A PAPER BAG! Eureka! I tried it, it most definitely works, and I'd show pics to prove it except my dear hubby accidently took the bag with the camera in it to work. So just take my word for it.

B's favorite popcorn topping: lime juice with seasoned salt
B's favorite popcorn-worthy movie: Mean Girls

K's favorite popcorn topping: half a stick of melted butter with kosher salt
K's favorite popcorn-worthy movie: The Godfather

Monday, September 8, 2008

Easy Cheese Fun

Normally I'm suspicious of anything called "cheese product", but I now make an exception for Easy Cheese. After all, nothing says "I Heart You" like sweet nothings written in cheese.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Moose Burritos

What to do with a head of iceberg lettuce, Wisconsin cheese, and a chunk of frozen moose meat? Burritos!

Oops, no tortillas. Let's see, we have a few options here:

1. Eat it without tortillas.
2. Get off my lazy butt by walking to the grocery store to buy tortillas.
3. Get off my lazy butt and make tortillas.

Usually I would go with Door #1, but I must have had a particularly ambitious moment and ended up making homemade tortillas. And actually, it was pretty darn easy.


Assuming you already know how to brown a pound of ground meat with a packet of taco seasoning, try your hand at fresh tortillas. I made them really thin, so they were a little crispier than store tortillas. And they weren't perfect circles. And I think I like that.

Flour Tortillas
(Thanks to Mark Bittman for the inspiration yet again!)

1 and 1/2 cups flour
2 Tablespoons fat (lard is traditional Mexico, but who has lard on hand? I used canola oil.)
Dash of salt
1/2 cup warm water

Mix flour and salt. Add fat and mix. Slowly add water a little bit at a time, mixing after each addition until a dough forms. Knead the dough for a few minutes until smooth. Break dough into six pieces. Heat a cast iron pan on medium heat. Roll out a dough piece until thin. Toss into the warm pan for a few minutes until brown spots appear, doing a couple salsa steps in the kitchen to encourage the cooking along, then flip, and toast on the other side. Repeat with the rest of the dough pieces (and that includes the dance steps). Serve tortillas warm. Buen apetito!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Wisconsin Cheese

We have just returned from a few days of fun and sun in Wisconsin!

I know, I feel like Tina Fey raving about fabulous Cleveland when talking about a Wisconsin vacation (any 30 Rock watchers out there?). Wisconsin is best known for cheese, beer, brats, and overzealous football fans; not really a vacation paradise. However, we did have a great time, and now I can attest to at least one WI hallmark: Wisconsin knows cheese.

Sometime between the waterslides and the Frank Lloyd Wright tour, I found this map of all the Wisconsin cheeseries. Look at that! Every cheese slice on the map is an individual cheese factory or shop.

We were lucky enough to stop by Cedar Grove Cheese in Plain (yup, the town is named Plain). Cedar Grove is a great cheese stop because a) they make great cheese (duh), b) they are super friendly, and c) they have strong environmental principles, with all the waste water from the cheese making process flowing through the "Living Machine" before going down the drain.


On a very basic level, the Living Machine is a waste water treatment process. The water is cleansed by a series of natural filters along with enormous tropical plants in large vats. The roots of these plants act as filters, taking impurities out of the water while providing nutrients to the plants, with some plants growing nearly 6" a week.



Some Wisconsin cheese facts that may come up in your next round of Trivial Pursuit:
  • The average American eats 31 lbs. of cheese each year.
  • 25% of all cheese sold in the US is made in Wisconsin
  • Wisconsin's dairy industry is twice the size of Florida's citrus industry
  • 99% of all Wisconsin dairies are family owned


If you ever plan on visiting Wisconsin, check out the Wisconsin Dairy site to find a cheese factory tour along your route. Plus, there are plenty of breweries and wineries in Wisconsin. Leinenkugel's brewery in Chippewa Falls is always fun, and my friend Amber recommends the Wollershiem winery in Prairie du Sac. I haven't visited Wollershiem, but Amber was generous in sharing their River Gold wine with me. I have fond memories of that bottle...