Monday, October 11, 2010

Eat Pray Love

As you know, I'm a food lover. So when the title of the movie has the word "eat" in it, I'm pretty tempted to go see it. Heather and I were able to go to the movies one night -- part of their frugal fall furlough (say that ten times fast).

This move is based off a woman's memoirs to "find herself." And the three titular elements are what help her find her balance in life. Julia Roberts plays Liz who ends her marriage and goes off to travel the world to find who she is and what's important in life.

Most of the women I talked to gave good reviews to this movie. And Julia Roberts' movies usually don't disappoint. I had never read the book before. But remember it getting good reviews when it came out. In Liz's first venture, she goes to Italy and rediscovers the joy of eating and the community that she builds there. It's the first step in changing her thinking about life. She then ventures India to learn how to pray. Finally she travels to Bali to relearn how to love. The scenery and backdrop of this movie are beautiful. It's always fun to see different places.

I don't know how invested I was in watching Liz try to find herself. Personally, I thought it was a little extreme the extents she went to to find meaning in her life again. Julia Roberts did a decent job. I think she shines most when her character was in Italy and seemed to be really enjoying herself. Roberts does her best work when her characters are happy and sunny.

Not a bad movie. Unless you're a big fan of the book or of Roberts, this movie can definitely wait to be rented and viewed at home. Of course, if you are a fan of the book, chances are the movie won't live up to the book.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cinnamon Rolls

Like I've mentioned before, I like to drool over The Pioneer Woman's cooking blog. More often than not, there's probably a pool of drool right in front of my keyboard. This was no exception with Chocolate Chip Cinnamon Rolls. And so happy was I when I got to actually test this recipe out on the wonderful VanHorns. Always glad to have an excuse to make some sweets! Courtesy of The Pioneer Woman, here is her recipe for chocolate chip cinnamon rolls:

Chocolate Chip Cinnamon Rolls
- serves 24
I halved the recipe and there was more than enough left over.

4 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
1 cup canola oil - I used vegetable oil
9 cups all-purpose flour
2 packages (4 1/2 tsp.) active dry yeast
1 tsp. (heaping) salt
1 tsp. (scant) baking soda
1 tsp. (heaping) baking powder
1 stick butter
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips or chunks
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)

1 package (8 oz) cream cheese
3 cups powdered sugar
1 stick of butter, softened
1 cup whole milk

Mix milk, 1 cup sugar, and canola (vegetable) oil in a pot. Heat until very warm but not boiling. Allow to cool until slightly warmer than lukewarm.

Sprinkle yeast over the surface of the liquid, then add in 8 cups flour. Stir gently until totally combined. Mixture will be very wet and sticky. Cover with a tea towel, keep in a draft-free place, and allow to sit for 1 hour.

After 1 hour, add in an additional cup of flour, as well as the salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Mix until combined. Refrigerate dough, covered, until you need it. (Refrigerating the dough helps make it easier to handle.) I made the dough the night before and made the rolls in the morning.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread melted butter in the bottom of pie pans or 9x13" baking dishes.

Divide dough in half. Store one half in the fridge for another use. Turn the other half of the dough onto a floured surface. Roll into a large rectangle, about 24 inches wide by 10-12 inches deep. Add vanilla to melted butter, then drizzle mixture all over the surface of the dough. Use fingers to spread evenly. Mix sugar and salt and sprinkle it evenly over the butter. Follow with the brown sugar, chocolate chips, and chopped nuts if using.

Beginning at the side furthest from you, roll dough toward you until it's in the shape of a tight log. Pinch the edges to seal. Slice into 1/2" to 3/4" thick rolls and lay, cut side down, in buttered baking dishes. Allow to rise for 20 minutes, then place in oven and bake for 14 to 20 minutes, or until deep golden brown on top.

Make icing: Mix butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar, milk, vanilla, and salt in an electric mixer or until smooth and pourable.

Remove rolls from oven and allow to sit five minutes before drizzling icing all over the rolls. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Does your tooth hurt from looking at all the sugar on this plate?

Holy moly were these yummy and full of sugary goodness. And it made a lot -- two baking dishes full! So definitely halve the recipe, unless you're literally feeding an army. Each person ate about two rolls. Between four adults and two toddlers, we barely finished one pan.

The dough was light and fluffy with a nice golden crust on the top and sides. I really liked that in almost every bite was a little bit of melted chocolate. The icing wasn't super thick. If you like a thicker icing, don't add all the milk right away. Just add enough until you get the consistency you like.

These sweet treats are definitely not diet food. With the whole milk, all the butter, and the pounds of sugar, don't make this recipe if you're trying to keep your figure. They actually hold up well for the next day. Just 'nuke them in the microwave for about 15 seconds, and you're back to the sense of out-of-the-oven rolls.

In terms of difficulty, this was probably more of an intermediate level recipe. If you've worked with yeast and dough before, then this will be pretty easy. But it can be somewhat intimidating if you're unfamiliar with homemade dough. But have no fear, just follow the recipe and directions and you'll end up with a wonderful sugar comma for breakfast.

Or if you're really ambitious, heat a roll up in the microwave and add a scoop of ice cream for dessert. Just don't do it right before bed, because you'll for sure end up with a sugar-rush.

Happy cooking!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Oven Fried Chicken

The VanHorn family took a "Frugal Fall Furlough" to Denver the other weekend and stayed with us while enjoying some free activities. We were happy to host them and their twin girls, as that gives me an excuse to cook and serve some food for friends. I believe this recipe came from Martha Stewart's Real Food magazine and I love it. Who doesn't love fried chicken? And this one is a little healthier since it's "fried" in the oven.

Oven Fried Chicken

1 whole chicken, cut into 10 pieces
1/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt & pepper
Breadcrumbs - make your own or use store-bought

Remove skin from chicken. In a large bowl, toss chicken with buttermilk, garlic, 2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes (or refrigerate up to overnight.)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Set a wire rack over a baking sheet.

Working once piece at a time, life the chicken from buttermilk mixture (letting excess drip off) and dredge in breadcrumbs, pressing firmly to adhere. Transfer chicken to rack.

Bake, without turning, until cooked through, 30-40 minutes, tenting with foil if browning too quickly.

Homemade (healthy) KFC.

So I used two frying chickens and cut them up. I didn't exactly end up with 10 pieces each since I forgot the thighs on once and left all of the chicken breasts intact. Theoretically, you could cut the breasts in half since they are huge. But you should have, chicken breasts, legs, thighs and wings if you cut the chicken correctly. Or, see if the butcher at the grocery store will do it for you. Save time and the ick factor.

I also suggest using flavored breadcrumbs or heavily season plain breadcrumbs. This is what makes the chicken super flavorful. The buttermilk definitely infuses into the chicken meat while it's marinating, creating moist and delicious meat, but you also want that spice flavor from the "batter" too.

Yummy, yummy chicken. And super, duper, SO EASY! The hardest part is cutting up the chicken. But like I said, get your friendly butcher to see if s/he will help you out. Or buy a chicken already cut up if they're available.

A must try and hopefully a staple to your recipe repertoire.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Grilled Flatbread with Beef, White Bean Puree and Sun-Dried Tomato Chutney

Normally I'm not a fan of Bobby Flay. And I'm not sure how I found this recipe, but when I read it, I decided to give it a try. Gotta give Food Network's grill master at least one try before I completely count him out. I personally think he could've came up with a better name for this meal than simply listing out the ingredients. But nonetheless, here it is:

Grilled Flatbread with Beef, White Bean Puree and Sun-Dried Tomato Chutney

1 - 8 oz. beef tenderloin (I used two tenderloins)
1/4 cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

White Bean Puree:
1 cup cooked white beans, plus 1/4 cup cooking liquid or 1 - 15 oz. can white beans, slightly drained
3 cloves garlic, smashed
3 Tb. olive oil
2 Tb. lemon juice
1 Tb. fresh thyme leaves
Salt & pepper

Sun-Dried Tomato Chutney:
6 sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil, drained and julienned
2 Tb. olive oil
2 Tb. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. honey
1/4 chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 1/2 cups warm water (105 - 110 degrees F)
1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2 Tb. olive oil, plus more for bowl

4 roasted shallots, sliced thin

To roast shallots on the grill: place the shallot in the center of a piece of aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bring the edges of the foil together and scrunch to seal tightly. Place on a hot grill, close the cover and "roast" for 25 to 30 minutes or until soft. Remove the skin and slice.

For flatbread: Mix water and yeast in a large bowl and let stand 5 minutes to proof. Gradually pour in 2 cups of the flour and stir to incorporate. Mix for about 1 minute to form a sponge. Let stand, covered, for at least 1 hour.

Put sponge in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the dough hook, add the salt and oil, then add the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, to form a dough. Remove from bowl and knead. Place in a clean oiled bowl and let rise, slowly, about 2 1/2 hours. Divide dough into 4 balls, if desired, let rise again for 1/2 hour and then roll out as desired.

For beef: combine meat, olive oil, and garlic in a large resealable plastic bag. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight.Preheat the grill to high. Grill on both sides for 3 to 4 minutes, for medium-rare. Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes and then slice thinly.

Puree the beans, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and thyme in a food processor until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Mix together tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar, honey and parsley. I ended up just using dried parsley. So I used half the amount the recipe suggests. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Heat grill to high.

Flatten flatbread dough and gently press into a large rectangle ad throw on the grill. Grill on 1 side until golden, about 2 minutes. Remove from grill, turn over and spread each flatbread with a thin layer of white bean puree, sliced beef, roasted shallots and tomato chutney. Return to grill, close cover and cook 2 minutes. Serve immediately.

Fanciest pizza I ever did see.

So this meal seems pretty involved. It's actually not too hard to make, just a lot of steps. I made the tomato chutney and white bean spread ahead of time so that it was ready to go that night. I also made the flatbread dough ahead of time and just kept it covered with saran wrap in the refrigerator until I was ready to roll it out. Of course the marinating takes planning ahead.

When I was ready to make the meal, the meat definitely took longer than the 3 to 4 minutes on each side that recipe suggests. Granted, I like my meat a little more well-done than rare. The flatbread, once rolled out, took no time at all to cook. I ended up making 4 flatbread and each one was about half the size of a baking sheet. With all the ingredients piled on each flatbread, it was more than enough for one person.

So this meal didn't turn out as mouth-watering yummy as I had anticipated. The white bean puree got a little lost as the base. To me, it almost blended in with the bread so much, that it tasted a little like I was eating raw flour on the bread. A part from the bread though, the puree was delicious! The tomato chutney definitely gives this meal the flavor kick with the sun-dried tomatoes and balsamic vinegar. There might have been a little more flavor and texture difference if I had used fresh parsley instead of dried. The meat was a very tender piece of meat. And even though it got cooked to well-done, it wasn't try at all.

Again, with the flatbread being so big, it was a little awkward to eat. You could eat it like a pizza or cut into it with a fork and knife. Wes did the former. I did the latter. If I were to make this meal again, I might even plate the different elements differently which might enhance the dish a little more for me.

Overall, not a bad meal. But not one that stands out as being amazing. It definitely takes a lot of planning and it helps if you make things ahead of time. I'd have to say that Bobby Flay is 0 and 1 in my book for his recipes. But not a bad meal to try if you're looking for a fancy, impressive meal.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Town

Apparently there's a town in the surrounding region of Boston that outputs the most robbers in the country. That's the premise of The Town. Ben Affleck and his buddies are professional bank robbers. One heist goes wrong and they end up kidnapping a bank employee. To ensure she doesn't, Affleck must make sure that this bank employee didn't see anything and doesn't go to the FBI/police.

Preliminary reviews for this movie came back mostly positive. The trailers certainly looked enticing and this movie wasn't disappointing. The plot was actually really good and developed along nicely. The nice thing was that the characters were pretty compelling. They weren't just simple bank robbers with one thing on their mind. Other factors in life steered the decisions they made. Ok, maybe that was just Affleck's character, but he's the focus anyway.

I liked Rebecca Hall as Claire, the kidnapped bank employee. She has such a innocence and sweetness in her voice. Maybe she's just good at playing "the victim" like she did in The Prestige. Jeremy Renner also did a good job as the thug of the movie. He might be the so-called "villain" as his character's main drive is greed. He and Affleck were believable as childhood pals who got wrapped up in the world of thievery. I feel like Renner likes those kinds of tough-guy roles since he was sort of a rebel in The Hurt Locker. And let's not forget Mad Men's Jon Hamm as the FBI agent hot on the gangs trail. He did a commendable job, but his character seemed to get lost among all the other stars of the movie. And then there's Blake Lively who plays Renner's character's sister. She somewhat of a prostitute and definitely hooked on drugs. Lively had a lot of buzz about her performance and she did an incredible job as playing a strung out, high 20-something.

Overall, a great movie. One of my co-workers said that this and Inception were at the top of the movie list this year. And I wouldn't disagree. If it's still playing in the theatre, go see it. Of course you could wait until it comes out on video, but as much of an entertaining movie as this was, I wouldn't wait.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Greek Meal

Who doesn't love some hummus and grilled chicken in a pita? Thanks to a little restaurant chain called Garbanzo's Mediterranean Grill, Greek food is so accessible and even a little addicting. So of course while I drooled over Greek food, I plotted on how to make my own thanks to Rachael Ray!

Spicy Hummus

1 - 14.5 oz. can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained
2 rounded Tb. tahini sesame paste
Drizzle extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flake
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 clove garlic, crushed
Coarse salt
1/2 lemon, juiced

Chicken in a Pita

Juice of a lime or lemon
2 Tb. olive oil
2 garlic clove, peeled
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. cumin
Salt & pepper
1/2 cup mint or cilantro leaves
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced into thin strips
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cucumber, peeled and chopped
2 Tb. chopped mint

In a blender combine juice, 1 Tb. oil, garlic, coriander, cumin, salt, pepper, and mint or cilantro leaves. Process until smooth and pour over chicken to marinate. Refrigerate chicken and allow to marinate for 30 minutes. In a small bowl stir together yogurt, cucumber and chopped mint.

In a large skillet, heat 1 Tb. oil over medium high heat. Add marinated chicken and cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Heat pitas under a broiler or in a toaster oven.

Hummus, grilled chicken and pita. Mmmm!

I ended up grilling the chicken breast strips instead of cooking it on the stove. I also served up some saffron rice and grilled zucchini slices. This was such a nice alternative meal. The chicken was flavorful and the hummus was zesty and delicious. It wasn't until after did I realize that I forgot to add the Tahini paste to the hummus. Despite that, it still turned out really tasty. Although the consistency wasn't as creamy as you normally find. And even though there's red pepper flake in the hummus, it wasn't that spicy. If you're not wanting it spicy, simply just leave it out.

Tahini was a little hard to find and it comes in a large container. So you'll probably end up making a lot of hummus with the jar of Tahini you find. Hope you like hummus. But the good thing is that a can of chickpeas is inexpensive, so hummus will be a cheap snacking dip.

But I was really pleased with this meal. Easy to do and prep. Wes wasn't so excited about the cucumber yogurt dip, but I really enjoyed a little of it on top of the chicken and pita. It added a cool and refreshing sauce to the chicken. This was totally a casual meal - eating with your fingers and mixing your own ingredients to your taste.

Something fun and different to try. If you like Greek food, you'll have to give this a try!

Happy cooking!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Beer Can Chicken

The first beer can chicken I remember having was when a friend's father grilled this up for a family dinner. Except he called it a beer butt chicken. I actually don't remember much about the meal, but it's such a classic meal to grill that I had to find a recipe and give it a try myself. Enter the Neely's from Food Network.

Pat's Beer Can Grilled Chicken

Beer Can Chicken Rub:
2 Tb. smoked paprika
2 Tb. salt
2 Tb. onion powder
1 Tb. cayenne pepper
1 Tb. ground cumin
2 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. garlic powder

For the chicken:
4 lbs. chicken, washed and dried
Vegetable oil
Beer can chicken rub
1 - 12 oz. can beer

For the rub, mix all the ingredients together. I halved the amounts so I wouldn't have any leftover. But extra rub can be stored in an airtight container for up to 6 months.

Preheat the grill to medium-high heat.

Rub the chicken and its cavity with the vegetable oil. Season the chicken with rub mixture, remembering to season the cavity. Pour out 1/4 of the beer and sit the chicken on top of the beer can. Place the chicken in the center of the hot grill and cover. Cook the chicken for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until an instant-read thermometer reads 165 degrees F. Once cooked, cover loosely with foil and let rest for 10 minutes before carving.

Sorry I didn't get a picture of the whole chicken sitting on the can.

So the chicken took about an hour and 15 or 20 minutes to cook. The dark meat definitely takes longer to cook, so test the temperature in the thigh. And one of the legs definitely caught on fire while on the grill. But the meat turned out so moist and tender. The skin was crisp and flavorful.

Other than cleaning out the chicken (gross!) this was easy, easy, easy. If possible set the chicken on the beer can near the grill. That way you don't have to carry the chicken all the way to the grill. And we definitely leaned it against the top part of the grill just to ensure that it didn't topple over in the middle of cooking.

I think this chicken was about four pounds and there was enough for Wes and me to have leftovers the next day, which were still yummy. Give this chicken recipe a try. It's so easy and takes no time at all to prep. Yes, it's a bit gross, but the end result is worth it!

Happy cooking!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Pot Roast & Roasted Veggies

Who doesn't love a hearty pot roast. It's such a classic. I actually came across this recipe while surfing And you cook it in a crock pot so that it's basically ready when you get home. Generally I don't use a lot of Sandra Lee's recipes, but this was a good one.

Pot Roast with Roasted Root Vegetables

Pot Roast
1 1/2 lbs. beef bottom round roast
2 tsp. salt + more for seasoning
1/2 tsp. black pepper + more for seasoning
2 Tb. all-purpose flour
2 Tb. canola oil
2 carrots, cut into 2" pieces
2 stalks of celery
1 medium yellow onion
1 can (15 oz.) beef broth
1 cup water
1 Tb. minced fresh garlic
2 Tb. Worcestershire sauce
4 sprigs fresh thyme

Roasted Root Vegetables
2 carrots, cut into 3" pieces
2 russet potatoes, cut into 1" cubes
1/2 lb. turnips, cut into wedges
2 Tb. canola oil
1 tsp. each fresh rosemary and thyme leaves
1 red onion, sliced

For roast:
Season beef with salt and pepper and lightly coat with flour. Heat the canola oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat and brown the meat on all sides. Remove to a platter and set aside.

Arrange the carrots, celery and onion in the bottom of a slow cooker and top with the seared beef. Add the broth, water, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, and thyme. Set the cooker on low for 8 hours.

When finished, remove the meat. Let the vegetables and broth cool for about 5 minutes, then add to a blender. Slowly blend until smooth and transfer to a serving bowl. Serve the gravy with the pot roast and roasted vegetables

For roasted root vegetables:
One hour before the pot roast is done cooking, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Add the vegetables to a large bowl and add the canola oil, rosemary, thyme, and onion. Season with salt and pepper to taste and arrange on a sheet tray. Roast for 30 minutes, then toss and roast another 30 minutes. Serve on a platter with roast.

These pictures don't do this meal justice.

Nothing's easier than throwing a piece of meat in the crock pot and letting it go all day. And I don't know that this hunk of meat was any different than any other slow cooker piece of meat that I've done before. What did set it apart was the gravy and roasted root vegetables.

How easy is this gravy? Take what's left in the crock pot, throw it in the blender and let it go. And I did use an onion in here because I figured it'd get blended up later and Wes would never know. And he didn't! Granted I did not use all the leftover vegetables and liquid since it would have made a lot of gravy. But this sauce adds a nice, light veggie flavor to the beef. It's not your typical brown or gray gravy.

I loved the vegetables. I only ended up using carrots and potatoes since turnips are foreign and you-know-who has an aversion to onions. I also cut the pieces a lot smaller than suggested and cranked up the heat to about 475 degrees. I originally had it at 500, but then the oil started smoking. I didn't plan ahead for the 1 hour of roasting. The result was that these vegetables were done in 20 minutes instead of an hour. And oh man, where they yummy. Crispy on one side and so full of a nice herbal flavor from the thyme and rosemary. I would make those again with anything. I think roasted vegetables are the way to go.

So an easy meal for when you don't feel like cooking. You can prep the vegetables ahead of time and when you get home or are ready to eat, throw them on the pan and dinner is done in 20 minutes (if you cook them the way I did).


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Warm Doubletree Cookies

Ever had a Doubletree cookie? They are AMAZING. At my first job, we did some offsite meetings at a Doubletree hotel, so they would occasionally send the department cookies. So delicious, we all assumed there was at least a stick of butter in each cookie. They're chocolately and nutty. Just overall yummy.

Well I had to travel for work one weekend for an event we are hosting for a diet company and I had to book a hotel. Scrolling through the list of options I saw a Doubletree. Doubletree cookie for my travels? Yes, please! Done deal. When I arrived at the hotel, around 7:30 PM local time, the front desk girl checked me and and said, "And here are your warm Doubletree cookies." I told her that was why I booked there. I'm not ashamed.

I quickly devoured the first cookie before I even had dinner. Don't ever pass up a warm cookie! I texted my friend from my old job about the cookies and she commented that shouldn't I be counting my calories since I'm going to this diet company's event tomorrow? Nope! I'm not an attendee!

Just look at these babies! I unselfishly saved the second cookie for Wes. I don't think he appreciated them as much as me. This is not a plug for Doubletree, but if you ever get a chance to stay at one, get a cookie! -Or two.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Bolognese Sauce

I've talked about my love of pasta and carbs right? Well, I love a good meat sauce with my spaghetti. So why not try and make my own? I looked up a lot of recipes and many of them incorporated pork and beef. That's a lot of meat. Luckily, the Pioneer Woman had a guest blogger and fellow cook over at her house. And he made Bolognese Sauce. If there's a difference between bolognese sauce and meat sauce, I couldn't tell you. Pastor Ryan has his own blog here, but here's also the recipe on the Pioneer Woman's site. And here's the recipe:

Bolognese Sauce

1/2 cups olive oil
1 1/2 cups grated carrots
1 whole large red onion, diced
2 lbs. ground beef
2 Tb. dried oregano
2 Tb. dried basil flakes
1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 cups red wine
2 Tb. Worcestershire sauce
2 cans (28 oz. each) whole tomatoes - I used a can of diced tomatoes
1 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or skillet over medium heat. Add grated carrots (I grated my own carrots, but you can buy a bag at the grocery store) and onions and cook for a few minutes. Make a well in the center of the mixture, and then add in ground beef. Cook for a few minutes until brown, gradually stirring it into the carrot mixture.

Throw in oregano and basil. Use fresh if you have it; if you don't it's fine. (If you use fresh herbs, double the amount.) When the meat is browned and combined with other ingredients, make another well. Add tomato paste and let it heat. Add garlic and stir to combine.

Make a well in the center of the mixture and add red wine. Stir together. Add Worcestershire and stir. Add canned tomatoes. Finally pour in milk, stir and let simmer for 30 minutes to 2 hours - however long you need. Taste here! I found out it needed some salt.

Serve with pasta and a generous sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

Look at that melted Parmesan cheese!

Ok, I was giddy with how this turned out. I halved the recipe since as it's written above is for 8 servings. And this recipe was super easy! Definitely let the sauce simmer for a while so some of the liquid cooks out. Unless you like a runnier sauce. But the outcome was thick and beefy and so delicious. It stuck to the noodles like a good sauce should.

As I mentioned above, definitely taste the sauce. It ended up needing some salt to give the flavors an extra boost. And once that salt was added, it was so much better. I skimped on the onions for reasons we all know and didn't have any red wine. I almost ended up using red wine vinegar which would've been a big no no. Instead, I substituted some sherry, which I had. If you use red wine, the sauce would probably be a little more robust. If you're not a wine drinker, go buy the little travel/airplane size bottles that you can find. That way you're not left with a big bottle of red wine that you won't drink.

Loved this Italian meal. Of course I served this with some garlic bread, you know, for the added butter and carbs. Forget a nice green salad. Although that would've been refreshing. If you do decide to make the whole 8 servings, you probably could freeze half of it for later. The amount I ended up making was enough for dinner and lunch leftovers for both Wes and me, plus a little extra.

So, so easy and a classic. Hope you give it a try!


Friday, September 17, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs The World

Hi there, ever'body! It is I, the Younger Brother, here to guest-blog every once in a while. You will, of course, excuse me as I get used to the medium.

Let's talk about Scott Pilgrim vs The World! Here's the plot you probably had in mind from the trailers: Scott Pilgrim, a twenty-something slacker in a band, spots the lovely Ramona Flowers at a party and pursues her! But if they are going to continue dating, Scott will have to defeat Ramona's Seven Evil Ex's. And that's all you really need to know! Also, it happens in Canada. Also, it's an adaptation of a 6-book series written by Bryan Lee O'Malley. And it's directed by Edgar Wright, the man who brought you Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead, and Spaced (but not in that order).

If you ended up in the theater on the advice or kidnapping of friends without having seen the trailers or any other kind of preparation, the Universal Studios logo appearing as an 8-bit render, with an 8-bit fanfare, goes a long way towards shaping your expectations: this is a movie for the first generation to grow up with video games.

Scott's confrontations with the League of Evil Ex's are heavily informed by arcade fighting games, visually reproducing the "Vs" screen, continuous hit & combo counters, reversals, and including the awesome "K.O.!" announcement that we all know and love. On top of that, the Evil Ex's respond in defeat in a way that will be familiar to anyone who's ever jumped up to punch a floating block with "?" printed on it.

I'll be honest with you. I watched the trailer because I heard it was Edgar Wright. And then I read the series because I watched the trailer. And between those three (trailer, director, series), I was pretty certain I was going to love this movie. And I do.

I love the fight scenes with the Evil Ex's, especially the choreography, and especially the choreography for Evil Ex #4. I enjoyed the acting, both from the Evil Ex's, and from Scott & the people in his life - to call them Scott's supporting cast is accurate, but if you read the comics, you'll get a better sense that these people all have full & complete lives outside of what's happening with Scott Pilgrim.

If there was anything that didn't sit well with me, it's that Scott & Ramona's romance doesn't get enough time to develop properly, and by the end, you kind of feel like maybe Scott & Ramona don't quite belong together. The other bit is that the movie starts to feel like it's gone on a bit too long: there ARE 7 evil ex's we have to get through and still get the girl, after all. There's a little too much material for one film, and not quite enough for two.

Minor quibbles, easily overcome by the Epic Epicness of the film. It's true, Scott Pilgrim vs The World isn't for everyone, but if you tried to get Mario to jump farther on your NES by leaning your whole body & the controller to the side & almost falling off the couch, you'll "get" this movie. Laughs all around!

~Rambling Little Brother

PS: If you liked the movie, read the book!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The American

Seen the trailer for this movie? It doesn't tell you a whole lot. And it looks like an action movie. But it has George Clooney in it, so it must be decent right? Nope. Ever see a movie called Men Who Stare At Goats. It had George Clooney AND Ewen McGreggor and it was terrible. Nonetheless, Wes and I went to go see this. Although we could've gone to see Eat, Pray, Love. But I digress.

Since I had no clue what this movie was about, I can't give a synopsis before I write my review. So I'll just go right into it. At the theatre, I ran into one of my co-workers who warned me that another co-worker had seen it and said that this is not an action movie. He likened it to more of a love story. Armed with that knowledge, we still bought tickets for this movie. Showing in one of the theatre's largest houses, this theatre wasn't near to being full.

The movie opened, it climaxed and it ended. And that's about all you need to know. This movie, an action movie it is not, is incredibly slow. Hardly any speaking, music or action. I think they put all the action scenes in the trailer, just like they put all the funny scenes in the trailer for comedies. Clooney's character was stoic the entire time. And I'm still not sure what his character's profession was. Was he an assassin? Did he build guns? Did he do both? It wasn't very clearly explained.

The movie slowly, almost painfully builds and actually by the last 30 minutes, it got fairly interesting while still maintaining little speaking, action, or music. Surprisingly I didn't fall asleep. It's definitely a different movie. George Clooney did a fine job I suppose. He didn't have to say a whole lot. I like to play a game during Clooney movies to see how many times he tries to hold back a smile/laugh during a scene. He was pretty successful at keeping this movie to a low number.

More of an artsy movie, I guess. I noticed that this was produced by Clooney (the movie is actually based off a book). I really think it was his excuse to "work" while really vacationing in Italy.

If you're really curious about this movie, definitely Red Box it. I guess it's worth a $1 to see. Oh, and be forewarned, there's a lot of nudity in this movie and one graphically violent scene.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Pesto Cheese 'n Chicken Bundles

When I saw this recipe on Pillsbury's site, I knew I was going to like it. However, I hesitated to make it because of the jalapeno element. What to do? Omit it. Problem solved. With familiar flavors, this is yummy and easy meal; courtesy of Pillsbury.

Pesto Cheese 'n Chicken Bundles

1 - 8 oz. can Pillsbury Refrigerated Crescent Dinner Rolls
1/3 cup light cream cheese with roasted garlic
1/4 purchased pesto
1 Tb. jalapeno or hot pepper jelly
1/2 cup bread crumbs
2 cups cubed cooked chicken
3 Tb. crumbled feta cheese
1 Tb. water or as needed

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Separate dough into 4 rectangles. Firmly press perforations to seal. Cut each rectangle in half crosswise to make 8 pieces; press each to form 4" square.

In medium bowl, combine cream cheese, pesto, jelly and 2 Tb. of the bread crumbs; mix well. Stir in chicken and cheese.

Place 1/4 cup chicken mixture in center of each square. Bring 4 corners of each square up over filling; twist firmly to seal. Brush top and bottom of each bundle with water; coat with remaining bread crumbs. Place on ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake at 375 degrees for 14 to 22 minutes or until deep golden brown. Serve warm.

Don't these look yummy?

While I'm sure the jalapeno would've added a nice kick to this dish, I was very happy that I omitted it. You just can't go wrong with pesto, feta, cream cheese and chicken. While the presentation may look involved, don't be intimidated. This is actually a pretty easy dish to make.

I had some frozen chicken breasts that I thawed, seasoned with salt and pepper and popped in the oven at 450 degrees for about 15 minutes or so. Then I just chopped them up. If you have a rotisserie chicken, you could use that or any other cooked chicken. The chicken mixture you can definitely make ahead. Softening the cream cheese will allow you to incorporate the filling easily.
Do not soften the crescent rolls. They will get stickier and a little harder to work with and to press out into a larger square.

These little chicken bundles were very yummy. I might have added a smidge more pesto for a more prominent flavor. But Wes thought it was fine the way it was. Now, these bundles aren't very big. So definitely plan for two or three chicken bundles per person. Love the sweetness and buttery flavor of the crescent rolls against the creaminess of the chicken filling.

You can definitely tweak this dish to your liking. You could probably even use the bleu cheese and pesto mixture in this chicken dish to give a different flavor. Or you could sprinkle some Parmesan cheese on top of the bundles as well. Lots of things you can do. But something easy and looks impressive. Hope you'll give it a try.

Happy cooking!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Thai Chicken Wraps

I've never had Thai food before. And now that I think about it, it's surprising that I would have saved this recipe considering that until recently, I didn't really like cucumber, still not a huge peanut butter person and all these flavors were some what foreign.

But tastes and recipe reading has evolved, so I tried this recipe out one day. No idea where it came from, but here it is:

Thai Chicken Wrap with Spicy Peanut Sauce

3 - 6 oz. chicken breasts
1 Tb. soy sauce
1 Tb. vegetable oil
1 Tb. grill seasoning

1/2 seedless cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced on an angle
2 cups fresh bean sprouts
1 cup shredded carrots
3 scallions, sliced on an angle
12 basil leaves, chopped or torn
3 Tb. chopped mint leaves (4 sprigs)
1 Tb. sesame seeds
2 tsp. sugar
2 Tb. rice wine vinegar or white vinegar

Spicy Peanut Sauce:
1/4 cup room temperature chunky peanut butter
2 Tb. soy sauce
1 Tb. rice wine vinegar or white vinegar
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 Tb. vegetable oil

12" flour tortilla wraps

Heat a grill pan over high heat. Toss chicken with soy and oil and grill 6 minutes on each side.

Combine cucumber, sprouts, carrots, scallions, basil, mint and sesame with a generous sprinkle of sugar and vinegar. Season salad with salt to taste.

Whisk peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar and cayenne together. Stream in vegetable oil.

Slice cooked chicken on an angle. Toss with veggies and herbs.

Heat tortillas. Pile chicken and veggies in wraps and drizzle liberally with spicy peanut sauce before wrapping and rolling.

Love all the colors in this wrap.

So I tried the salad before putting it in the wrap and I really liked it. I tried the peanut sauce and it was ok, but I went with it. I was pretty conservative with the peanut sauce. The recipe says to add it liberally. Try the sauce after you make it. And if you like it, go ahead and go crazy. I almost tossed the chicken, salad and peanut sauce together and am so glad I didn't.

The peanut sauce was just a little too peanut buttery for me. I didn't use the chunky stuff either. I stuck with the smooth kind. Granted, if I was going to make a PB&J, I like the chunky stuff. Anyway, not being a big peanut butter fan, I wasn't too wild about the sauce. And it wasn't that spicy. Maybe I needed to add more cayenne. But the peanut butter flavor was just too overpowering for me to enjoy.

I did like the textures of this wrap. There was the chicken and the nice crunch of the carrots and cucumber. The salad added a nice refreshing aspect to the wrap. The salad called for three tablespoons of chopped mint. I only used about 1 tablespoon. While it wasn't a standout flavor, there did become a hint of mint at the end of the bite. And the mixture of mint with basil and the other vegetables with the dressing, just didn't do it for me. So, go easy on the mint would be my suggestion. It definitely does add an interesting flavor mix in the salad.

Not a fan of this wrap. So much so, that I didn't even finish one half of the wrap. Luckily the sweet potato fries were able to tie me over. Wes was a little gentler on the reviews, but I don't think he was a fan either.

If you like Thai food, you might enjoy this wrap. Let me know if you do try it and like it. Then tell me where I went wrong!

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Expendables

The action star is not dead. That's the statement Stallone is making with his new movie The Expendables. This movie has the who's who of 90s action stars: Stallone, Stratham, Li, and crew. You don't need to know much more about this movie other than it's an action movie. Stallone has a crew called The Expendables, though they're never mentioned that way in the movie, that are basically hit men for hire. Maybe they have a conscience or not, but if the price is right, they'll do the job.

The movie opens with a job and ends with a job. There are a lot of explosions, car chases, guns, and fighting. The movie didn't end up being as gory as I thought it might be based on the opening scenes. The guys disagreed and thought it was gory enough. Maybe I'm becoming desensitized?

It was an entertaining movie. The return or final shout to the true action heroes. All of these guys have seen better days though and I'm sure a few have had some plastic surgery. Jet Li's fighting scenes were cool but very few. Jason Stratham's character's choice of weapon are knives and that was fun to watch.

I think this movie was best summed up by Eric: It seemed like this movie came about while all these guys were sitting around having a beer and said, "Hey, let's make a movie!" It was basically just all these guys hanging out blowing things up and being their former action hero characters. Though Mickey Rourke didn't do a whole lot other than sitting around talking. And I could've used more Bruce Willis. Of course there was the Ahhh-nold cameo, which was actually sort of a fun scene with the comments that Stallone makes. Something along the lines of, "He's busy trying to become president."

Of course this movie didn't encompass all the old 90s action heroes. They're missing Van Damme, Seagal, and maybe even Chuck Norris. But for these guys, guess it was good to relive old times. Today, it's the comic book hero's turn in the spotlight.

A fun movie to watch if you liked these guys' old movies. Maybe not worth it in the theatre unless you want the full sound of the explosions. I am a fan of the movie poster though.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Stove Top Mac & Cheese

Who didn't have the neon orange Kraft macaroni and cheese as a kid? While some might find it gross, I actually really like(d) it. My mom used to turn it into "tuna mac" by adding a can of cream of mushroom and a can of tuna. She would even go the extra step to bake it in the oven with some French's fried onions on top. Yummy! I've made tuna mac for Wes, but left out the onions for obvious reasons.

I've tried baked macaroni with a twist and have seen a ton of recipes for baked mac & cheese. Until I stumbled upon Alton Brown's Stove Top Mac & Cheese. A non-baked version! I had to try it out.

Stove Top Mac and Cheese

1/2 lb. elbow macaroni
4 Tb. butter
2 eggs
6 oz. evaporated milk
1/2 tsp. hot sauce
1 tsp. salt
Fresh black pepper
3/4 tsp. dry mustard
10 oz. sharp cheddar, shredded

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta to al dente and drain. Return to the pot an melt in the butter. Toss to coat.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, hot sauce, salt, pepper and mustard. I let this mixture sit out next to the hot eye on the stove so the eggs aren't super cold when they hit the pasta. You could also bring your eggs to room temperature. Stir into the pasta and add the cheese. Over low heat continue to stir for 3 minutes or until creamy.

No neon orange "cheese" here!

Does that not look WAY better than the boxed mac and cheese? And oh boy was it yummy! Cheddar cheese deliciousness in every bite. If sharp cheddar is too sharp for you, try a mild cheddar or a combo of the two.

I doubled the recipe because we have a house guest who is a bottomless stomach. So I needed enough to feed him and have some for lunch tomorrow. A huge loaf of garlic bread helped to ensure we had leftovers for the next day. So my experience with the flavors might be a little different since I didn't double the amount of evaporated milk and mustard. But it still turned out really, really good.

And can I say how easy, easy, EASY this was? One pot and a bowl to clean. I love it! Almost as easy as making it from the box. Don't skip the hot sauce. It actually adds a nice, very faint, background zing. And don't ask me what the evaporated milk does. My only guess is that it helps the creaminess of the dish.

Now with the eggs, there is a concern of the eggs curdling while mixing with the hot pasta. So if you end up with a not so creamy dish at the end, you'll know that your eggs cooked a little in the pot. The way to remedy that? You can rinse the pasta under cold water after draining to cool them off and keep the stove on low heat, heat up the egg mixture near the stove so it's not so cold, and best of all, keep stirring the mixture. If you let the bottom sit for a few minutes, some of the eggs will most likely cook. I noticed it on mine a little, but it didn't hurt the texture of the dish so much that I noticed.

The one thing I hated about boxed mac and cheese? The leftovers were disgusting. I had the same fear with this dish. While it wasn't as ooey, gooey, cheesy as the night before, it didn't get as rough of a texture as I thought it might. Good enough for lunch leftovers the next day!

So good and easy. You can't go back to box mac and cheese after this. Although, for the price, I might slip in one or two.

Happy cooking!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Toy Story 3

The lovable Toy Story series continues with a third and maybe final installment of Woody, Buzz Lightyear and friends' adventures. The third movie picks up with Andy getting ready to leave for college. His mom tells him that he has to clean out his room and either store things in the attic, donate them or throw them out. And of course, the toys come into question.

Through a misunderstanding, they end up at a day care center where they think they'll be better off than in the attic or worse, in the trash. What happens to Andy's beloved toys? Do they end up finding a better life at the day care where toddlers chew, drool and mangle the toys or do they meet a fate much worse? You'll have to watch the movie to find out. But keep in mind. This is a Disney movie. *wink*

When I saw that they were making another Toy Story movie, I have to say I was a little disappointed. It had been years since Toy Story 2 came out. Maybe Pixar was grasping at straws for another movie? I'm not sure what prompted them to make a third, but of course the story didn't disappoint.

I wanted to see it because I had heard that it got great reviews. They were talking about it on the radio and people mentioned that they couldn't help but cry at the end too. Our friend saw that it had like a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. So, it had to be good.

Every child who moves out after high school has parents who ask them to clean out their rooms. Maybe not so extensively, but at least a few items here and there. I think my mom finally got all of my stuff either to me, stored or thrown away. And yes, I even have some stuffed animals stored in the attic. Ones that I couldn't part with. And that's the same with Andy. While some toys have gone missing over the years, the key players are still there and Andy can't bare to throw them away or donate them.

But like I said, one misunderstanding lands the toys at a day care where they think they're better off. But the day care ends up being ruled by a stuffed bear who bitterly ended up at the day care by a series of events. Reviews have said that this Toy Story is much darker than the others. And it is, thanks to the tyrannical stuffed bear and an encounter with the town dump.

The movie still had its funny parts and humor. Probably one of the funnier things was Mr. Potato Head using a tortilla as a body. And fun trivia: Michael Keaton voices Ken. Don't think this movie is all dark. It's still a sunny Pixar/Disney movie.

I didn't cry in the movie, but I could see where people could get choked up. Pixar didn't disappoint and it kind of feels like closure for the 20 somethings who grew up with the first Toy Story movie. Definitely recommend seeing this. Especially if you've seen the first two. It's almost out of the theatres, so you'll have to wait until it comes out on DVD.

A classic Pixar movie.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Green Chile Chicken Casserole

Looking for an easy casserole? I think this recipe came from Cooking Light. Easy week night meal. Can even prep ahead and cook the next day.

Green Chile Chicken Casserole

1 1/3 cups fat-free, chicken broth
1 can chopped green chiles, drained
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup fat-free sour cream
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 - 10 1/2 oz. cans of cream of chicken soup, undiluted
1 garlic clove, minced
cooking spray
24 - 6" corn tortillas
4 cups shredded, cooked chicken breast
2 cups (about 8 oz) finely shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the first 9 ingredients in a large saucepan, stirring with a whisk. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

Spread 1 cup soup mixture in a 13x9" baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange 6 tortillas over the soup mixture and top with 1 cup chicken and 1/2 cup cheese. Repeat layers ending with the cheese. Spread remaining soup mixture over cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until bubbly.

Sorry the picture isn't so great.

I like to keep an eye out for "casserole" dishes that don't involve pasta. When I saw this recipe, I thought it'd be a nice change of pace with the green chiles. It was super easy to prepare. The only thing I had to chop was the garlic. And I roasted a chicken in the oven and shredded that meat for this dish. Definitely can cook chicken breasts or use a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store (which are getting really small, by the way).

This wasn't a bad meal. I did expect more of a green chile and spice flavor, but didn't get a whole lot since the cup of green chiles got lost in the big soupy mixture of cream of chicken and sour cream. I also didn't have as much chicken as the recipe called for, so it was lacking in the meaty department a little.

Overall, not a bad meal. It lasted us a couple of days and tasted even better after sitting over night. Definitely use four cups of chicken and maybe even some more to ensure that you get enough meat in every bite. I also went a little overboard on the cheese because I wanted a cheesy bite on each fork. While that might have helped the flavor, the cheese did just melt in with the soup mixture so I didn't get the stringy cheese I was hoping for. You can experiment with the layering if you're looking for different textures.

Easy meal to make and a great one to make for friends or family. It's definitely mild so people who aren't fans of spicy won't get overwhelmed here.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Granola Bars

I love granola bars. Quaker Oats, Nature Valley. You name it, I probably like it. I've made granola before from Everyday Food. But that was more like bite size crunchies and not so much bars. So, I attempted to make real granola bars, thanks to Ina Garten from Food Network. I actually saw her make these on her show one time and thought they were kind of intensive. But reading over the recipe, it wasn't hard at all.

Homemade Granola Bars

2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup shredded coconut, loosely packed
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
3 Tb. unsalted butter
2/3 cup honey
1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 cup chopped, pitted dates
1/2 cup chopped, dried apricots
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 8x12" baking dish, line it with parchment paper and butter. Definitely coat your wax paper with cooking spray or butter!

Toss the oatmeal, almonds and coconut together on a sheet pan and bake for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally until lightly browned. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and stir in the wheat germ. I left out the wheat germ.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees.

Place the butter, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook and stir for a minute, then pour over the toasted oatmeal mixture. Add the dates, apricots and cranberries and stir well. I just added dried cranberries and white chocolate chips. I waited a bit for the mixture to cool before adding the chocolate.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Wet your fingers and lightly press the mixture evenly into the pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until light golden brown. Cool for at least 2 to 3 hours before cutting into squares. Serve at room temperature.

The salvaged granola.

Ok, so mistake #1: I didn't butter the wax paper. I'll admit, that direction, to butter the pan and the lay parchment paper, was a really weird to me. So I ignored it and just laid down wax paper. What ended up happening? The wax paper stuck to the bottom of the granola and I couldn't peel all of it off. I debated about just throwing it all out and starting over. But I decided to salvage whatever granola I could. It's not so pretty, but it sure does taste good.

It is a chewy bar and crunchy on the outside. It is also pretty sweet with the coconut and honey. But I love the cranberry and white chocolate combination. Not sure how healthy this granola bar really is, but it is yummy. Despite the wax paper sticking to the bottom, this is incredibly easy to make. I left it to sit over night and Wes kept asking when he could have some. Oh, did I mention that it makes the house smell amazing?

Of course you can add any fruit or treats you like and leave out what you don't. A fun treat to make. And after Wes did get to have some of the mangled bars, he couldn't stop snacking on them.

Happy cooking!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Pad Thai

I'm a fan of pad thai. The rice noodles, the cilantro and the spiciness is just a yummy recipe. I've been on the hunt for a pad thai recipe for quite a while. However a lot of the recipes have ingredients like fish sauce and other items that I wouldn't be using for other dishes. So I've held off. Until Everyday Food printed this recipe that didn't include fish sauce! Hooray! This is a vegetarian recipe, but I added some shrimp for protein.

Pad Thai

8 oz. dried, wide and flat rice noodles
2 Tb. dark0brown sugar
2 Tb. lime juice
3 Tb. soy sauce
2 tsp. vegetable oil
3 scallions, white and green parts
1 garlic glove, minced
2 large eggs (optional), lightly beaten
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped, roasted, salted peanuts

Soak noodles according to package instructions and drain. In a small bowl, whisk together brown sugar, lime juice and soy sauce.

In a large, nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium high heat. Add scallion whites and garlic and cook, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add egg, if using, and cook, scraping skillet with a rubber spatula until eggs are almost set, about 30 seconds. Transfer egg mixture to a plate.

Add noodles and soy-sauce mixture to skillet; cook, tossing constantly, until noodles are soft and coated with sauce, about 1 minute. Add egg mixture and toss to coat, breaking eggs up gently. Serve noodles with lime wedges, topped with cilantro and peanuts.

Wrong noodles....

This didn't turn out bad. It probably would've been a lot better if I had gotten the right kind of noodles. You'll notice that I got the thin rice noodles. While they still soaked up the flavor well, it didn't have the same texture as the wide, flat noodles that are typically seen in pad thai dishes. But props to Everyday Food for coming up with a recipe that doesn't require the use of fish sauce and kept the same basic flavors.

I do miss the spiciness of restaurant pad thai dishes. So next time, I'll probably try to find a different recipe and maybe bite the bullet and use fish sauce. I'll definitely buy the correct type of noodles too, which would probably help.

But this is a good recipe to introduce people to pad thai if you've never had it before. Super easy and no foreign ingredients, except maybe the rice noodles. Don't skip out on the cilantro! That's a key ingredient to the flavor of this pasta dish. Though the peanuts are probably another key element, I skipped those because I'm not a fan. I have seen some pad thai dishes serve sprouts also. You can definitely cook some up and toss them in this dish. Actually, you could add a lot of different things to this dish and have it come out well.

So this recipe leaves room for improvements and tweaks. Not a bad starter, and if you like the flavor of pad thai, but not the heat, you'll like this dish. Just make sure to get the right kind of noodles!

Happy cooking!

P.S. Happy Friday the 13th.....

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Grilled Pizza

Ever had wood fire pizza? It has that wonderful rustic taste. Well, we don't have the equipment to do a wood fire pizza. The next best thing? Grilled pizza! And guess what? I made my own pizza dough and sauce! It's a big step for me - making my own dough. I'm so proud. Thanks Everyday Food for the suggestion. Here's the recipe:

Basic Grilled Pizza Dough

1 tsp. sugar
1 packet active dry yeast
2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for bowl and brushing
coarse salt & pepper
2 1/4 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface

Pour 1 cup warm water into a medium bowl; add sugar and sprinkle with yeast. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.

Whisk oil and 1 tsp. salt into yeast mixture. Add flour and stir with a wooden spoon until liquid is incorporated (dough will appear dry.) Turn out onto a floured work surface. Knead until dough comes together in an elastic ball, about 2 minutes.

Transfer to an oiled medium bowl, brush lightly with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap; set in a warm, draft-free place until dough has doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes. Punch down dough and cover, let rise another 30 minutes.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide into 4 equal pieces. (To store, refrigerate dough pieces, covered, up to 2 days or freeze up to 1 month. Let rest 15 minutes before using.

Heat grill on one side to medium high heat. Roll out dough to desired thinness (dough gets to about 10" across). Brush with olive oil and salt & pepper. Using your hands, place dough, oiled side down, directly over heat source. Brush the top side of dough with more olive oil and add more salt and pepper. Grill until underside is lightly charred and bubbles form all over top, about 1 to 2 minutes. With tongs, flip dough and cook until lightly charred on the other side, another 1 to 2 minutes. When done, slide dough to cooler side of grill. Shut the grill off, add toppings to the pizza and shut the top until cheese is melted.

Simple Tomato Sauce

3 Tb. extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 - 28 oz can of whole peeled tomatoes
1 tsp. fresh oregano, minced or 1/2 tsp. dried oregano

Cook garlic in oil until fragrant. Add red pepper flakes and then tomatoes. I chop the tomatoes and then add them to the pot. Add the juice as well. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a rapid simmer, stirring often until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. I use a potato masher to finish mashing the tomatoes. If you like a chunkier sauce, you can leave the chopped tomatoes as you cut them. Stir in oregano. Store, refrigerated up to 4 days or freeze up to 1 month.

A little red pepper flake on the finished pizza made it that much yummier.

I was so stinkin' excited that this was a successful meal. I kept the toppings simple and just added mozzarella cheese. That was the only part of this pizza that wasn't made by me. I think making my own cheeses is a long way off.

Making my own dough was intimidating. I wasn't sure what to expect or how it would turn out. It actually isn't too had to make, just time consuming. Kneading the dough was actually kind of relaxing once I got into a rhythm and I've heard other people say the same thing. I did freeze half the dough for later and Wes and I really only ate once pizza together. So we'll see how the frozen dough turns out.

The tomato sauce was a bit sweet and tasted like tomatoes. I like my pizza sauce a little thicker and a little tangier, so I may find a different pizza sauce recipe next time. But with the grilled dough and this sauce, it had a nice rustic flavor to the pizza. It'll be fun to add different toppings next time. With the smaller size of the crust, they're really more like personal pizzas, everyone could customize their own.

If you have the time, at least try this pizza dough on the grill. I did this on the weekend. But with the frozen dough, it'll just take time to thaw in the refrigerator and sit for a few minutes before rolling, so it'll go at lot faster.

I may start making my own bread now that I'm not so scared by cooking with yeast. Hope you try this out!

Happy cooking!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Red Beans and Rice

Remember the recipe for Red Beans and Rice? It was one of the first recipes I posted on this blog. Well, I didn't think to take pictures back then, so I had nothing to show of the finished product. But I made it again and here are some pictures for your reference.

It was Wes's idea to add the spoon.

Hope you've had a chance to try out the recipe. How'd it go? Any tweaks or changes you like?

If you haven't tried the recipe, it's easy and yummy. Try it!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Chipotle Chicken Taco Salad

Anything with chipotle in the title of the recipe has my attention. Reading through the recipe, this sounded like a winner, thanks to Cooking Light. That's right, it's a light recipe. Though, I don't know that I did much to help the lightness.

Chipotle Chicken Taco Salad

1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2/3 cup light sour cream
1 Tb. minced chipotle chile, canned in adobo sauce
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
4 tsp. fresh lime juice
1/4 tsp. salt

4 cups shredded romaine lettuce
2 cups chopped cooked, boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 2)
1 cup cherry tomatoes halved
1/2 cup diced, peeled avocado
1/3 cup thinly, vertically sliced red onion
1 - 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 - 8 3/4 oz. whole-kernel corn, rinsed and drained

To prepare dressing, combine first 7 ingredients, stirring well.

For salad, combine lettuce and remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Drizzle dressing over salad; toss gently to coat. Serve immediately.

I washed all of the romaine lettuce, but only shredded as much as I thought we would need. You'll probably have a lot more lettuce from a head of romaine than you'll need for this recipe. I stored the washed leaves wrapped in a paper towel in a ziplock. I also rinsed the can of corn and beans together. Basically I just added as much ingredients as I thought we would use for ht meal and put the rest in tupperware containers to mix later. Always mix the salad right before eating, otherwise it'll get gross sitting in your fridge.

I then tossed all the ingredients with the dressing and piled it in a warmed tortilla. Wrap it up and serve with chips.

Did a salad ever look so good?

Don't get the title of this post wrong, I did not make a salad for dinner and serve it to Wes. That would not have been enough for him. Me, on the other hand, would've been fine with it. So I took the recipe and turned it into a wrap with homemade potato chips.

With the chicken, you can use a store bought rotisserie chicken and shredded it or just cook up some chicken breasts. I had three chicken breasts that I pounded, dredged in a mixture of salt, pepper, garlic powder, cayenne powder and paprika. I then grilled it to give it a smoky flavor. Oh, boy did it come out smelling good. Could have been because I accidentally added a whole lot of cayenne pepper which gives a smoky heat.

Besides the chicken, this dressing was SPICY! Granted, I probably added more than a tablespoon of chiles (I used about two chiles) and added a little spoonful of the sauce. Wes and I were gulping down the beverages in between bites of the wrap. But the dressing is so good. I didn't use the light sour cream like the recipe suggests and I almost left out the cilantro because I didn't have any. It is so packed full of flavor with the cilantro, cumin and lime juice. You can definitely scale back the heat by adding less of the chipotles. But those nutritionists out there say to eat spicy things because you'll end up eating less. Maybe that's why this meal is light....

For the potato chips, I cut some russet potatoes into thin slices, tossed them with vegetable oil and salt on a baking pan and baked in a 500 degree oven for about 15 minutes or so. Depending on how thin you slice them, the shorter amount of time it'll take. Keep an eye on them so they don't burn. You can flip them over if you notice the bottoms are already getting brown. They're good for that night, but don't do well the next day. Maybe one day I'll fry them and make real potato chips. But for now, these will do.

Love, love the salad. And like I said, it is light if you follow the recipe as is. If you like southwestern food, you'll like this salad. And it's easy to do.


Monday, August 9, 2010

The Other Guys

Will Farrell's new movie, or is it Mark Wahlberg's new movie, looked like a redeeming movie after Land of the Lost. Wahlberg's last movie, Date Night, needed no redemption. The trailers looked funny. With Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson as the cool, hero cops playing against Will Farrell's accounting cop, the movie looked promising.

Basically, Will Farrell and Mark Wahlberg are partners. Farrell's character, Allen, is perfectly content to sit behind his desk without seeing any real action. He even happily volunteers to write up Johnson and Samuel's character's police report after an incident. Wahlberg's Terry, couldn't be more annoyed by Allen. After an unfortunate incident, Terry is forced to sit behind a desk and his career in homicide takes a nose-dive. But Terry gets the great idea to redeem himself and show Allen what it's like to be a "real cop."

Like I said before, the trailer was hilarious and seemed to be well received by audiences. So there seemed to be much anticipation to this movie. And the movie was funny. Much to my surprise (or not) the trailer is basically the first 10 minutes of the movie. Does that mean all the funny parts are in the trailer? I don't know that I'm one to really judge that. After all, I don't think I paid much attention to the movie because I was fighting to keep my eyes open after the first 10 minutes. I heard lots of laughter and it was a classic Will Farrell movie. But after the late night from Dinner with Schmucks, I couldn't concentrate on this movie. A full body twitch in the middle of the movie caused Wes to ask me if I had fallen asleep. So what if I closed my eyes for a few minutes?

Anyway, the movie's plot, from what I could discern, seemed to move a long at a snail's pace. After all, they needed to make room for all the crazy antics and comedy of Will Farrell. While he was in classic form, I did enjoy Mark Wahlberg in the movie as an up-tight cop. His comedy chops didn't quite come through, but I liked him enough in the movie. Michael Keaton, did an ok job as the police captain. Not sure if he's trying to revive his career or not. This wasn't the movie that's going to do that. I actually really enjoyed Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson and wish there was more of them in the movie. I think their characters could have played against Farrell and Wahlberg nicely for a really funny aspect. But that would've been another movie.

If you like Will Farrell movies, then you'll probably like this one. It didn't quite live up to Wes's expectations, but had its funny parts. Me? I don't really have an opinion since I was half-conscious during the movie. (I have a knack for falling asleep during movies - at home or in the theatre.) So if you're even slightly curious, go see it in the theatre. It'll be funnier with a whole bunch of people who think it's hilarious. Or, wait until it comes out on video and watch it with friends.

But don't give this review too much credit. I was the one in the front row snoring.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Dinner for Schmucks

You've seen the trailer for this: Paul Rudd's character Tim is going to get promoted big time in his company. But before it's official, the owner or CEO throws a "Dinner for Idiots" party. The person who brings the "best idiot" wins. Enter Steve Carell's character, Barry. He's the lucky schmuck that Tim decides to take to dinner, much against the advice of his girlfriend.

I think I had somewhat high hopes for this movie. The last time Steve Carell and Paul Rudd were in a movie together, it was The 40 Year-Old Virgin, which is a classic to some. Paul Rudd has been on a roll with leads in various movies (I Love You Man) and Steve Carell wasn't doing to shabby either with Date Night. However, this movie didn't live up to expectations.

Steve Carell's character, Barry, is incredibly, incredibly socially awkward. He's a taxidermist and creates scenes with dead mice that he dresses up. He doesn't know when to shut up and butt out. The insanity begins when Barry mistakes the dinner party for the wrong night. And it just snowballs from there. Maybe I was tired (we saw a 10 PM show on Thursday night), but instead of Barry's antics being funny, I found myself getting incredibly stressed out by all the situations.

Paul Rudd's character, Tim, spends 90% of the movie trying to correct all of Barry's "good-intentions." He gets pulled between what's morally right and what he thinks is right for his future. Of course, a movie like this is somewhat predictable and what's morally right ends the movie. Sorry for the spoiler, if you call that one.

There were a few laughs during the movie. Mostly coming from Wes and mostly because other people in the theatre were laughing. Steve Carell did a good job of being a socially awkward person. He's usually able to play those goofy characters with no problem. Probably pulling from some of Michael Scott. I have to say that I really enjoyed Paul Rudd in this movie. It was refreshing to see him in a role where he's not always the goofball or sidekick. Really glad his career is taking off.

Dinner for Schmucks is probably funnier watching it with a bunch of people. If you enjoy I Love You Man and other Paul Rudd movies, you'll probably enjoy this movie. But maybe save it for a Redbox rental one night. Oh, and side note, I don't think the word "schmuck" was uttered once during the entire movie.

P.S. Saw a trailer for Little Fockers. Yes, Meet the Parents lives on!

P.P.S. Hopefully The Other Guys is a lot funnier than this movie. Stay tuned for a review of that.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Mozzarella & Sun-Dried Tomato Ravioli

In my little herb pot, I started off with thyme, cilantro, basil and parsley. Cilantro and basil are probably my two favorite herbs. Sadly, my cilantro plant didn't make it. It's still there, but apparently it's "gone to seed." No more cilantro. My basil however has exploded. I had to look up basil recipes because I have so much, I don't know what to do with it.

Enter The Pioneer Woman. I like to drool over her cooking and her pictures of food. She had this recipe for basil ravioli.

Mozzarella and Sun-Dried Tomato Ravioli with Basil Cream Sauce

For Ravioli:
4 whole sun-dried tomatoes
4 basil leaves
1 cup mozzarella cheese, grated
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 whole egg, beaten
1 package wonton wrappers (or egg roll wrappers cut in quarters)
1 whole egg white

For Sauce:
10 basil leaves
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 cloves garlic
1 cup heavy cream
2 Tb. unsalted butter

For Ravioli: Rehydrate the sun-dried tomatoes in boiling water for 30 minutes. Pat dry and grind with 4 basil leaves in a food processor. I used tomatoes packed in oil, so I didn't have to rehydrate them.

Mix the tomato-basil and cheeses in a bowl and taste, adding more cheese if desired. Add the egg and mix to coat.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lay out 24 wonton wrappers (give or take, depending on how full you make them) and divide the filling between them. Place a spoonful in the center of the wrapper, leaving space around the edge. I used about a tablespoon of filling in each. Be careful not to make them too full or they won't seal well.

Brush the edges of the wrapper with egg white and place another (new) wrapper over top, sealing the edges together. Pick up the now assembled ravioli and press the edges together firmly and place on the wax paper.

Once they are all assembled, boil a pot of water, add salt, and boil the ravioli for 4 minutes. Keep cooked ravioli warmed on a plate in a 250 degree oven if working in batches.

For sauce: Puree the 10 basil leaves, wine and garlic in a food processor.

Transfer to a saucepan and add the cream. Whisking frequently, simmer over medium/medium-high heat for around 15 minutes or until reduced by half. Add the butter and whisk until melted.

Remove from heat and add salt and pepper to taste. Pour over ravioli and serve.

Note: Sauce will have a mild basil taste with 10 leaves; add more if you prefer a stronger basil flavor.

They may not look so pretty, but it tastes oh, so good!

I wasn't too sure how this recipe was going to turn out. I mean, wonton wrappers in place of pasta dough? Even though the wonton wrappers were a little more delicate than pasta dough, it was actually a nice alternative. It was light and a thin sort of dough. Since I didn't fill the ravioli's very full, there was a lot of extra dough. If it had been regular pasta, that would've been too much pasta with no filling. But with the wonton wrapper, it's not super dough-y.

The ravioli's don't really take 4 minutes. Since the dough is so thin, it took maybe 2 minutes total. I waited until they floated to the top and were translucent to tell when they were done. They're not the prettiest raviolis ever, but they are tasty! The sun-dried tomatoes are nice and sweet and with the mozzarella, it makes them cheesy and gooey. Mmm....

The basil cream sauce is delicious! I did add a few more basil leaves, but I'd probably even add more. It smelled so good and it's garlicky and creamy. The butter at the end adds a silkiness to the sauce that just flows over the pasta. A nice paring with the sun-dried tomatoes. Actually those two seem to go well together. Remember this recipe?

Anyway, the filling only made about 14 raviolis for me. Which was just enough sauce for me and Wes with some leftover. I'd definitely double the recipe next time and fill the raviolis a bit more. Definitely double the sauce if you double the pasta. This would also be yummy as baked ravioli and a pesto cream sauce.... mmmmm...... You can also just use one wonton wrapper and fold it over itself to make a triangle ravioli instead of adding another wrapper on top. This will save wonton wrappers for this dessert and make the raviolis a bit smaller and easier to manage.

Super easy to make and it was yummy! Next time I'll add some grilled chicken so Wes can have a little more subsistence. Happy cooking!