Thursday, June 30, 2011

Italian Sandwich

Often when the kids are away on an overnight at a friends or for their visits with their Mom, I'll splurge a little and make something using a bit more expensive ingredients or ingredients we don't eat as often because the kids don't really like them.   Many times, I've made Italian sandwiches for Steven and I using ingredients like prosciutto or coppa and fresh mozzarella or good quality provolone.  This week, I planned ahead and did just that, but I went the extra mile and used home-made focaccia rolls, roasted red peppers and olive spread.  

For the focaccia, I simply use my pizza dough recipe.  When I make pizza dough, I just throw all the ingredients in my bread machine and set it on the "dough" setting.  It does all the mixing & kneading for me.  For the focaccia, once the dough was ready I divided the dough in half and put half in a zip-lock bag in the fridge for pizza tonight.  Then I divided the remaining dough into quarters and formed them into flat rounds.  I prepared a baking sheet with a coating of olive oil and a liberal sprinkling of salt (both Steven & I feel the dough is bland if it's not salted top & bottom).  Place the dough rounds on the sheet so they are not touching.  Brush with olive oil and any herbs you wish.  For mine, I heated up some EVOO in a small sauce pan, then added a few cloves of sliced garlic and some dried oregano (I prefer fresh herbs, but this is what I had on hand).  Bake at 375 for about 20 minutes.  The top and bottom of each roll should be a nice, golden brown.  Set aside.  

For the olive spread, I started with some olives I had chopped up into a tepenade a few days earlier.  It consisted of garlic stuffed, sicilian style olives, pimento stuffed Spanish olives and ripe olives.  To about 2 tbls. olive tepenade, I added a couple spoonfuls of mayo, 2 small cloves grated garlic, about 1 tbls. grated onion and a bit of EVOO just to thin it enough to spread easily.  

If you've never roasted a red bell pepper before, it's amazingly easy.  I put mine in a cast iron skillet.  Drizzled on a bit of EVOO, then spread it with my hands so the pepper was fully coated.  Placed in a cool oven (preheated just wasn't necessary, but you can if you want to) and turned it on to 425.  Just let it roast until it's charred all over - you don't even have to turn it.  The house smells heavenly while it's roasting, but do turn on a fan prior to opening the oven or your likely to set off your smoke alarm.  When you remove the pepper from the oven, transfer it to a glass bowl and cover it tightly with saran wrap.  Just set it aside and let it cool.  Once it's cool you can peel the skin off very easily.  Then remove the stem and seeds.  Set it aside.

The Italian Sandwich

salami, thinly sliced
prosciutto, thinly sliced
fresh mozzarella, sliced
olive spread
fresh basil
roasted red pepper

Split the focaccia rolls in two, horizontally.  Spread bottom half with olive spread. Top with 3 or 4 slices salami and 2 slices prosciutto.  Top with mozarella slices to taste.  Top with fresh basil leaves and slices of roasted red pepper.  Cover with top half of focaccia roll.  Repeat until you have desired number of sandwiches.  If you have a panini grill or other indoor grill, grill the sandwich until the cheese is melted and the sandwich is heated through.  If you do not, you can put them in a cast iron skillet and top them with a 2nd, heavy skillet (or a couple of bricks).  Turn over 1/2 way through or the bottoms will burn and the top half of the sandwich will be cold.  Serve with rustic potato chips and ice cold beer or ale or a nice glass of Italian red wine.  YUM!


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Spinach Salad w/Honey-Mustard Dressing

So the kids are off to Grandma's for a couple of days and it's just Steven & I.  The weather has been fairly warm, if overcast, and on night's like this we just want to kick back after work and enjoy each other's company over a simple dinner.  Steven's not one to say much about what I cook, he likes my cooking and enjoys everything I fix so I know something is especially good when he says "This salad is really good!", which he did so here's what I did:

Maple Glazed Pecans
Spread 2 cups of pecan halves in a single layer on a cookie sheet.  Place in cold oven & set oven to 350 degrees.  Toast them until the insides start to turn golden brown - about 10-15 minutes. Set aside.  In a medium mixing bowl, measure out 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 c. brown sugar.  Mix well.  Set aside.  Cover a baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper - and set this aside too.  Put 1 tbls. butter, 2 tbls. water and 4 tbls. maple syrup in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the pecans and stir to coat, continue to cook until the liquid has evaporated - about 3-5 minutes.    Pour nuts into bowl with salt/sugar mixture and toss until coated.  Spread onto paper covered baking sheet to cool.

Honey-Mustard Dressing
In a small bowl mix together 2 tbls. grainy, dijon mustard, 2 tbls. honey & enough white wine vinegar to make a smooth sauce.  Stream in Extra Virgin Olive Oil until all are well-blended.  Grate in 1 small clove of garlic.  Add salt & pepper to taste. 

Spinach Salad with Honey Mustard Dressing and Maple Glazed Pecans
baby spinach leaves
cucumber, cut in half and sliced (seed it if the seeds are too large)
scallions, chopped (whites and greens)
Honey-Mustard Dressing
Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled (or any blue cheese you prefer)
Maple Glazed Pecans

Put the spinach greens in a bowl, add cucumber & scallions.  Dress with Honey-Mustard Dressing, to taste, and toss.  Top with Blue Cheese and Maple Glazed Pecans - delicious!

You can store the left over pecans in an airtight container - freeze them if you won't use them within a week or two.  The dressing made enough for a couple large salads or several 2 person salads, store any extra in the refrigerator.

I hope you like it!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

On a Roll With Honey!

I'm really on a roll baking cooking with honey now!  In the past two days I have made homeade granola, honey-roasted nuts and caramel corn (although not technically carmel, more like poppycock).  YUM!  I found a couple recipes on the internet for honey-roasting nuts and also for granola and those are what I used this time around - making only very minor changes. 

The honey-roasting turned out to be super simple:  Roast the nuts in the oven for about 15 minutes.  On the stovetop, prepare a mixture of oil (I used  buter), honey and water  bring it to a boil and stir it until well blended.  Add the nuts to the pan on the stove and continue to cook until the liquid has evaporated.  Transfer it all to a bowl and toss with sugar & salt.  Spread it out on a wax paper or parchment covered cookie sheet to cool.  So TASTY!

For the granola, I specifically searched recipes for "chunky" granola.  I love granola that is like nuggets that you can snack on as well as eat as cereal, but every recipe I've experimented always came out very loose.  Sadly, the recipe I used did not come out very chunky either, although it was slightly less loose than prior experiments.  It was, however, delicious anyway and I look forward to experimenting with granola some more.

Finally, the candied popcorn.  So simple, so quick and so tasty!  Pop up 3 quarts of popcorn - set aside.  On the stove top, melt 1 stick of butter and add 1/2 cup honey.  Heat and stir until they are well combined.  Pour the butter & honey mixture over the popcorn - I did about 1/2 the popcorn, stirred well, then added the rest of the popcorn, poured more butter and honey mixture and stirred, then added 1 cup almonds and poured the remaining honey/butter mixture.  Stir well, then spread in a thin layer on a cookie sheet.  Put in a 350 degree oven and bake for 10-15 minutes. 

If you have a granola or honey-roasted nuts recipe you'd like to share,  I'd love to hear about it!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Getting Sneaky With New Foods

My husband, Steven and I are big rice eaters.  In all honesty, we are big starch fans, bar none.  We love pasta, bread, rice, potatoes - all of it!  When the kids first moved in with us, they thought they didn't like rice and since it's such an affordable grain and a little goes such a long way, I set out to try and show them otherwise.  

I remembered a visit to their grandparents house once when their grandpa had made them pork chops with broccoli rice au gratin (packaged - yuck!) and they were eating it up with no complaints.  So I decided to make my own version.  They had already embraced my mac-n-cheese by then - even though it looked "weird" - so I used the same, inexpensive Velveeta that I use in my mac (I mean really, why not, the kids like it and it works for them?!).  You could certainly dress it up with gourmet cheese, although you may need to make a white sauce base to get the same consistency - but it would be extra-delicious and great for entertaining.

Here's how I did it:

Measure and rinse the rice according to the package directions.  (most types of rice are prepared with 1 part rice to 2 parts water, but I prefer calrose rice which is 3 parts rice to 4 parts water) Cook according to directions or put it in a rice cooker and follow the manufacturers instructions.  While the rice is cooking, cut about 8 ozs. velveeta into 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch cubes (use more cheese for larger batches of rice, less cheese for smaller batches).  Then prepare your fresh broccoli (frozen would work too).  Separate it into florets of whatever size you prefer - I like bite sized pieces.  When the rice is finished cooking, turn off the heat and layer first the cheese, then the broccoli on top of the rice and put the lid back on.  Let it sit about 5 minutes, or while you're completing whatever remaining dinner preparations you need to (setting the table, tossing the salad, etc.).  Remove lid and stir to incorporate all the ingredients.  You may need to add a bit of milk or chicken stock to make it creamy.   Season with Salt & Pepper to taste & serve.

I haven't made this for quite awhile but I still get asked to make it regularly - it has definitely become a family favorite.  

After preparing it for them this way a few times, I started making rice in other ways - for instance, I'd put rice and a can of any kind of beans (rinsed & drained) in the rice cooker along with herbs, spices, onion, etc. and let it all cook together, then serve it with an entree.  

After awhile they were more willing to try it "plain" and now they love it - even without the butter or parmesan cheese which is my favorite way to eat rice!
It is my belief that the key here is to figure out something they do like and incorporated it into your recipes to dress up something they think they don't - in this case the kids just hadn't really eaten rice much prior to living with us - and then mix it up once they've found out they do like it in that particular way.  

I hope you have success with this idea - good luck and happy eating!

Monday, June 13, 2011

What's Up In CJ's Kitchen?

Welcome to my blog - CJ's-Kitchen.  I'll be sharing with you my triumphs, experiments, and yes, even my failures.

What's up in my kitchen?  Plenty!  I've been experimenting lately with substituting honey for sugar in cookie recipes.  I'm planning on selling my baked creations at the local farmer's market this summer. I hope to find there is a market for hand-baked cookies and dream of someday opening up my own shop!

Yesterday, I experimented with a new recipe I've been creating for a granola-inspired cookie.  This is my second attempt - for the first, I modified an oatmeal cookie recipe of my Grandmother's, substituting locally harvested honey for the granulated & brown sugars and adding chunks of coarsely chopped almonds.  Well, the honey flavor was nice but the cookies weren't quite sweet enough and the amount of flour I had to add to offset the added moisture from the honey created a mufin or cake-like texture, although they were a bit dry.  As my family & I analyzed them, I came up with the idea to increase the oatmeal used in the cookies to balance out the moisture content to the point where I would be able to stick with 1 1/2 cups of flour the recipe originally called for.  I also came up with the idea to use a nut-butter - not peanut butter, but almond butter. 

So yesterday, I made a second attempt, now with almond butter & lots more oats.  Still, the cookies were dry, not sweet enough and frankly, a bit bland. I was dissappointed to find the almond butter does not possess the same qualities as it's peanut-counterpart - when you put peanut-butter in a cookie (or anything else, for that matter) you get a very distince and recognizable flavor and quality.  So it's back to the drawing board - my husband suggested trying 1/2 peanut butter 1/2 almond butter and that might be worth trying. 

That's ok, not every kitchen experiment can be a success and I've had more than my share of successes, it's certainly satisfying to come up with your own recipes in the kitchen, to have your family express delight in your creations.

Suggestions anyone?  Please feel free to share your ideas!

Thanks for joining me and I hope you feel inspired to try something new in your kitchen!