27 February 2008

Tag! I am *it* (again)

Lori over at The Recipe Girl (an absolute treasure trove of recipes by the way) tagged me!!

The rules on this MEME:
Answer the questions in a post on your blog. Select 5 people to tag. Next, send them an email or post a comment on their blog to let them know they've been tagged. They are then encouraged to select 5 different bloggers and to tag them.
Rules were meant to be broken, right? Well I am stopping this MEME mid-stream and not tagging anyone else. I am such a babyblogger, that I think I am going to continue working on the food part of my blog for now. However if anyone wants to participate and link back to me - go for it! I like getting to know everyone better!!

What were you doing 10 years ago in 1998?
I was in the midst of my first/second year at University of Wisconsin. I was falling in love with Portuguese, Miller Lite and Wisconsin Winters.

5 snacks I enjoy:
Dill Pickles
French Fries
Super Crunchy, Tart Apples
String Cheese

5 things you would do if you were a multi-millionaire:
Buy hundreds of acres so I could have a really secluded home with plenty of space for animals and vegetables.
Quit my job so I could volunteer.
Give some away to family (and maybe even some friends :-))
Buy shoes. Lots of shoes.
Increase my monthly donation to St. Jude's Children's Hospital.

5 bad habits:
My love of beer.
Picking the split ends on my hair.
Hitting the snooze button on my alarm clock.
Ignoring my phone with no good reason.
Not exercising enough.

5 things I like doing:
Snow skiing (but I don't do it often enough!)
Cooking (duh.)
Hanging out with my family
I *love* anything to do with baseball. Go Indians!!

5 things I'd never wear again:
I hereby delete this one from my MEME because I just don't know what to say. Sorry. :-)

5 favorite toys:
Immersion Blender
My shoe collection (does that count?)
My purse collection (ditto)
GigaPocket on my Computer

Have a great day!

26 February 2008

Jamón Serrano - As Simple As Can Be

I love jamón serrano. I would always choose it over prosciutto. I don't really know why, it just works out that way. The flavor is slightly gamy with just a hint of spice, nice and salty. But it definitely is not overwhelmingly salty. You get a strong flavor of pork and, more importantly, pork fat. When it is sliced paper-thin, the fat melts on your tongue and creates the most amazing taste sensation. It is also delicious cut into thicker chunks and cooked. My sister recently posted a recipe using hers in a pasta dish. The bottom line is that it is flavorful ingredient where a little bit goes a long way. It is a great way to add porky flavor to your dish without using a ton of meat or fat. Seek out this ingredient (especially freshly sliced at a butcher/deli counter if possible, like Jungle Jim's).

I haven't been very inspired to cook recently. Or eat actually. I am just in a funk. But I can tell you that locally grown apples enveloped in a gauzy curtain of jamón serrano make an amazing snack - even when you are in a food funk. Add a little crumble of local Goat's Milk Feta cheese, and I am a happy camper.

I promise to be back soon - and to be less funky. ;-)

20 February 2008

Pesto: Take 2

So what else can you do with all that scrumptious pesto you made for your Tortelloni Salad? Well, the possibilities are endless, but today I will tackle an easy use: Sandwich Spread. Yep, that simple.

But first I must take a step back - I have mentioned Jungle Jim's several times recently, and I really must talk about this mega-store. First of all, you cannot miss this food emporium if you are anywhere near it. There is a gigantic giraffe and waterfall out front, it looks like a mall, there is a weird subway tram shooting out of a roof. You get the idea. Of course the inside is even stranger. According to their website, the entire complex spreads out over 6 acres! Trust me, after you've been in the gigantic grocery for a couple hours, your legs get tired. But you can always pause to rest and watch a performance by the Elvis Gorilla or Pedro the Mariachi Man. And to think I am just scratching the surface of the fantastical weirdness that is Jungle Jim's.

So why am I waxing poetic (well, sort of) about Jungle Jim's? Mostly because of the cured meat counter. Who knew a 28 year old girl could be all a-twitter over cured meats? My sister, who shops at Jungle Jim's as her regular grocery store, had never even noticed this counter until I found it. (As much as I think L should have noticed this haven of all things porky and good, the store is pretty overwhelming, and I am sure you can discover something new every time you go!) I must have spent at least 30 minutes there sampling a variety of cured meats and sausages. I was enveloped in a lovely porcine fog that befuddled me into buying enough bits of salami, mortadella, chouriço, lomo and jamón serrano for a small army. I see several delicious meals in my future. Which brings me full circle...

The pesto from yesterday makes an amazing spread to this simple, yet delicious, toasted Italian sandwich. I don't even really think of this as a recipe - more like a picture of an awesome sandwich that you could make with any combination of ingredients that you had on hand. I have, however, done my best to include links to these two incredible sandwich meats in case you want a sandwich just like mine. Or in case you are inspired and want to make the trip to Jungle Jim's in lovely Fairfield, Ohio. (Okay, maybe not lovely Fairfield, Ohio - I really don't know what else it has to offer; although, I have heard a rumor that an IKEA is opening nearby which makes it a totally worthwhile day-trip!)

Ciabatta Bread, split open and toasted in the oven
Pesto (any kind works)
2 thin slices Columbus Salame Mortadella (or any good mortadella)
3 thin slices Columbus Salame Artisan Collection Finocchiona (or any good salami)
1 roasted bell pepper, thinly sliced
crumbled fresh feta cheese
leaf lettuce
thinly sliced onions

Stack it all up to a make delicious sandwich.

19 February 2008

Brown Baggin' It: Pesto

I am constantly on the look-out for new lunch ideas. I have made a valiant attempt to pack my lunch in 2008 instead of buying. So far it has really worked out for me. I have done a fairly good job of mixing things up and keeping my taste buds interested. I have a couple co-workers who are horrible influences and constantly want to eat out. So my packed lunch must be especially tasty to avoid giving in and eating out.

I currently have a nasty case of spring fever. The weather in Ohio has been up and down, full of false promises and surprise storms. Thunder storms in February? Tornadoes in February? 65 degrees in February? Blizzard-like conditions in February? You get the idea. By no means am I surprised by this unpredictable weather - anyone who has lived in Ohio knows our unofficial state motto is "Don't like the weather? Wait 5 minutes and it'll change." Nonetheless, the weather has made me crave some summertime food. Nothing tastes more like summer to me than pesto.

I think I could eat any pesto concoction. Apparently if you put any green thing with any nut in a food processor, I will eat it. Well, maybe I am not quite that adventurous, but I do love most any variety of pesto, including those made without the traditional herb- basil. As I recently mentioned, I spent the weekend at L's house and spent some time grocery shopping. I should have bought hydroponic basil at Jungle Jim's when I was there with L - if only I had known there would be a basil shortage in Columbus. I think I was so heartbroken that L snatched the last two hydroponic Thai basil plants, that I couldn't think clearly enough to grab some other basil. Woe is me.

Don't worry, I didn't mope around too long after I realized there was no decent looking basil available anywhere in Columbus late Sunday night. I dried my tears and decided to think outside the proverbial pesto box. I came away with a rather large bag of baby spinach and a jar of sun dried tomatoes packed in oil. Two very simple ingredients would come together to make a delicious and nutritious sauce for my lunches this week- a delicious Tortelloni Pesto Salad with tons of vegetables.

Don't let the long list of vegetables scare you off - this recipe is totally worth the effort, especially since it makes several servings.

Tortelloni Pesto Salad

3/4 cup Spinach & Sun Dried Tomato Pesto (or really any pesto you like, use more to taste)
16 oz fresh tortelloni (I used Giovanni Rana Artichoke Tortelloni)
2 roasted, sweet bell peppers, thinly sliced
1 raw, sweet bell pepper, roughly chopped
6-8 oz artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
3 stalks celery, sliced on the diagonal
3 carrots, sliced on the diagonal
1.5 cups cherry tomatoes, halved (or any good tomato)
1 cup sliced English cucumber
1 cup steamed fresh broccoli, roughly chopped
1/4 cup thinly sliced onion
8 oz good quality olives, pitted and chopped into thirds (I used large green Greek olives)
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled (optional)

Cook the pasta according to the package directions (I blanch the broccoli with the pasta during the last minute of cooking the pasta). Thoroughly drain the pasta (and broccoli), add to a large bowl with the onions and pesto. I like to mix these ingredients while hot - the onions lose some of their sharpness and the pesto clings to the pasta. After the mixture has cooled about 10 minutes, add the remaining ingredients and toss thoroughly. Serve on top of greens for an awesome main dish salad.

Spinach & Sun Dried Tomato Pesto

4 oz fresh spinach leaves
1/3 to 1/2 cup sliced sun-dried tomatoes, packed in olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
zest of 2 lemons (at least 3 T)
juice of one lemon
1/4 cup pine nuts
1-2 cups finely shredded Romano cheese (I need to weigh this next time - the cheese is so fluffy when you grate it that it is hard to measure.)
1 T of olive oil from tomatoes
2-3 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 T red wine vinegar

Combine all of the ingredients in a 7 cup food processor and process until nearly smooth. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste - I find it doesn't need much salt since the cheese is so salty. I tend to add the vinegar and extra lemon juice to taste. I prefer a very vinegary pesto, so start light and add to taste. This is a very yummy sandwich spread on its own (more on this tomorrow!) or it can be used anywhere basil pesto is used.

18 February 2008

Happy President's Day

I had a lovely long weekend that, sadly, is coming to an end. I spent a couple days with my sister and her children down in Oxford, Ohio. We made my visit into a fun foodie experience by visiting the local winter farmer's market and Jungle Jim's. I purchased lots of fun goodies that will be showing up in my blog over the next few weeks.

In other news, Michelle at Cooking the Books tagged me to share a little bit about myself. Wow... I have never been tagged before. How fun ;-)

Here are the rules according to Michelle:
1. Link to your tagger and post these rules.
2. Share 5 facts about yourself.
3. Tag 5 people at the end of your post and list their names, linking to them.
4. Let them know they've been tagged by leaving a comment at their blogs.

  • I have an overly-sensitive sense of smell. Scents can ruin my day! I get nauseous when I smell food cooking for a long time. I am incredibly picky when smells bother me - just ask my sister.
  • My dad mows my lawn. I know, I am pathetic. He seems to enjoy the exercise and doing something nice for me, and I definitely appreciate it. I have no interest in pulling out the lawn mower after a long day at work. (Although I could probably use the exercise myself!)
  • My dogs are both named after my favorite movie.
  • My favorite movie is Bull Durham.
  • If I could live anywhere in the world, I think I would move back to St. Paul, Minnesota. (Of course I would drag J along with me to St. Paul in this scenario!) I lived there for a year after I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It is a lovely city with a lot to offer - I love the people (Hi Erica), the restaurants, the markets, the bars... everything. Alas, Minnesota doesn't have one important thing - my family so I guess it is Ohio for me.
I tag the following people:
Laura at The Spiced Life - she is my sister, so let's see if she can think of 5 things I don't know.
Karen at Test Drive Kitchen - she is the reason I broke down and bought Ellie Krieger's cookbook, and it will be fun to get to know her a little better.
Kristi at The Global Kitchen - she is an adventurous cook. Check out her blog for any international eating ideas.
Joe at Culinary in the Country - Joe is a blogger's hero... who knows if he has the time to participate, but I do admire his blog.
Cate at Sweetnicks - she just had the cutest baby so I don't know that we will hear from her anytime soon, but I wanted to point out her great blog anyway (and recently redesigned!).

Come back tomorrow to check out the best Spinach and Sun Dried Tomato Pesto ever!

For tonight, I finally got around to taking a picture of my guacamole. I first blogged about guacamole here - it is still as delicious as ever.

14 February 2008

Valentine's Day Cupcakes

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
I love this blog
And you should too!

Have you visited Farmgirl Fare? Cuz you should. It is absolutely one of my most favorite places on the internet. After I found Farmgirl Susan's blog, I literally went through every single archived post. I love her writing; I daydream about raising sheep and owning donkeys. For now I am content to live vicariously through Farmgirl Susan, but someday I want a life like hers. Oh and the bonus - I get some awesome recipes from her website!

So why bring Farmgirl Fare up all of a sudden? Well, my Valentine inspiration was found on her site a couple days ago. I wanted to bake something sweet for my co-workers. We have had a very dreary and depressing week at work. The weather is horrendous and there is a lot of turmoil regarding our future with our company. Our office is most likely being closed and we are moving to a new location. I am not really worried about anyone's job - more like a cloud of uncertainty hangs over us as far as geography and job expectations. Living in limbo is stressful - but it is nothing that a chocolate cupcake cannot cure!

Farmgirl Susan's Emergency Chocolate Cake is my go-to recipe for cake cravings. I love moist chocolatey cake. I loved boxed cake mixes as a child, and this is that type of cake - but better by several miles. The cake stays moist and tender for several days if kept cool and covered (frosting helps too). The chocolate flavor is not super strong, but for someone like me who doesn't always need extremely rich chocolate desserts, it is perfect. Most of all, I love this recipe for its simplicity. It takes maybe 5 minutes to throw together, plus the additional 10 minutes to very carefully lick the batter from the mixing bowl.

Thanks Farmgirl Susan!!

Chocolate Babycakes (I adapted to make cupcakes)
1/2 cup (1 stick/4 ounces) butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup yogurt or sour cream (or a combination)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until smooth, 1-2 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time. Beat in vanilla. Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture, alternating with yogurt. Beat just until smooth. Turn batter into prepared pans. Bake mini muffin size 10 minutes and baby loaf size 15 minutes, or until a toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean. Do not overbake. Cool in pan. Frost cooled cakes and top with mini chocolate chips or sprinkles if desired.

Mocha Buttercream Frosting
1/4 cup (1/2 stick, 2 ounces) butter, softened
1/4 cup (about 3 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted (or not)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
About 1 Tablespoon milk

Melt chocolate chips and a small amount of the butter in the microwave. In a small bowl, beat remaining butter and powdered sugar until smooth. Beat in vanilla, then cocoa powder, espresso powder, melted chocolate, and enough milk to make desired consistency.

11 February 2008

Bon Appétit Calendar: Take 1

I have an obsession with calendars. A seriously unhealthy obsession. In my office, I have no less than 5 calendars decorating my work space. In my childhood bedroom, I had probably twice as many hanging from my walls. I love calendars. They are the perfect decoration - just when you are getting sick of a picture you get to change it! My most favorite calendars are the page-a-day style. Every morning, I anticipate flipping the page and seeing what my decor will be for the day. My Dog Page-a-Day calendar makes me happy-especially when there is an exceptionally adorable puppy. But 2008 began as a year with new food resolutions, including this blog. I had to incorporate food into my daily calendar anticipation, and so the Bon Appétit Day-to-Day Calendar was purchased.

The calendar itself isn't very beautiful or flashy. It definitely isn't contributing to my decor, but it is expanding my culinary horizons. I am taking the time to read recipes I would normally skim over. The first recipe that really stood out to me was only 9 days into the new year! It didn't take long for Bon Appétit to deliver. I immediately marked the recipe (the calendar came with handy dandy bookmarks!) to sample when I had a chance.

Well I finally had the chance to make the Braised Chicken in Sun-Dried Tomato Cream, and it, too, delivered! One thing that made me very happy about this recipe - it only serves two!! It is nice to have recipes available for just me without having to think about fractions or division. The chicken in this recipe is very tender and the sun-dried tomatoes provide a ton of flavor. I had forgotten about sun-dried tomatoes, and all I can say is a BIG thank you to Bon Appétit for reminding me! The sharpness of the tomatoes was perfectly offset by the creaminess of the sauce. To further contrast the zippy tomato flavor, I served the dish with a quick wild mushroom risotto and arugula. This will definitely be a repeat recipe in my house- and I think you could reduce the amount of cream to be a little healthier.

Braised Chicken in Sun-Dried Tomato Cream Bon Appétit | June 1997

To complement this Provençal-style entre, sprinkle torn radicchio with oil, vinegar and Niçoise olives, and mix chopped chives and grated Parmesan into pasta. Finish with a purchased lemon tart.

Can be prepared in 45 minutes or less.

Makes 2 Servings; can be doubled.

30 Minute Main Course
2 skinless boneless chicken breast halves
1 tablespoon oil from oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil
Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Heat oil in heavy medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken to skillet and sauté until golden, about 4 minutes per side. Add garlic and stir 30 seconds. Add white wine, cream and tomatoes and bring to boil. Cover skillet, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until chicken is just cooked through, about 3 minutes. Transfer chicken to plates. Add basil to sauce in skillet. Increase heat and boil until sauce thickens enough to coat spoon, about 2 minutes. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper; spoon over chicken and serve.

07 February 2008

Learning to Love Pot Roast

I decided, somewhat on a whim, to buy short ribs recently at the Farmer's Market. I am a firm believer that there is a drug pumped into the air of Farmer's Markets. It makes you purchase ingredients you would normally avoid, sample vegetables that look as though they come from Mars and buy cuts of meat you don't eat. I don't eat any meat that needs to be cooked for 12 hours to be tasty. Well... at least I thought I didn't.

Pot roast was a staple of my childhood. I don't think that my mom did anything unusual (or bad) to the pot roast. In fact, I have eaten her pot roast recently and thought to myself, "Huh? Why didn't you like this when you were a child?" I just never really understood why my sister or mom seemed to love the stuff. It was just shredded beef. Well, taste buds change - and I suppose I should be grateful. 2007 was Josie's Year to learn to appreciate just shredded beef. I think it started with a taco. Of course if you put a Mexican twist on a June Bug, I would probably eat it. I think I stole a bite or two of my mom's burrito with shredded beef... and I fell in love. The meat melts in your mouth and has a rich, delicious, beefy flavor that cannot be reproduced through faster methods of preparation.

I began to order braised meat dishes when J and I went out to eat. Suddenly, you couldn't keep me away from Short Rib Osso Buco or any other shredded beefy goodness on a menu. Who knew I had such a shredded beef corner in my stomach? Of course, simply eating this delightful new discovery out at restaurants wasn't good enough for me. What does any self-respecting foodie? Figure out how to make it at home. So maybe the air at the Market wasn't drugged when I randomly purchased short ribs, and later beef shank. Maybe it was just my foodie soul saying, "Get with it girl! Make this stuff at home!!" And so my Red Wine Braised Beef was born.


Red Wine Braised Beef
Serves 4 generously

3 lbs beef with bones (I used short ribs and beef shanks)
2/3 bottle good red table wine
1 large onion, roughly chopped
4 celery ribs, roughly chopped
2 large carrots, peeled & roughly chopped
2 14 oz can fire roasted tomatoes (second can optional)
1 head roasted garlic
6-8 fresh sprigs of thyme
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons flour
salt and pepper
Balsamic Vinegar (optional)
5 quart enameled cast iron French Oven

Preheat oven to 180 degrees F.
Lightly coat the meat with salt & pepper and flour. Reserve left-over flour. Using about 2 tablespoons olive oil, brown the meat in a single layer over medium-high heat in the French Oven. Be sure to brown all sides. Set browned meat aside on a plate. If the pot is really dry, add a tablespoon more of olive oil. Add all the vegetables, except the tomatoes, to the pot along with the extra flour. Allow the vegetables and flour to cook, stirring frequently, creating a bit of a roux-like coating on the vegetables. After the vegetables have cooked for about 5 minutes, add the wine to the pan and scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Be sure to get all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook for about 2 minutes. Stir in the roasted garlic and1 can of tomatoes, add the thyme. Add the meat back to the French Oven, and be sure to nestle it down into the liquid. The liquid should barely cover the meat. If the meat is completely covered, it is okay.
Cover with a tight lid and put the French Oven in the preheated oven. Ignore in the oven for at least 8 hours.

When you are ready to serve, remove the meat from the pan and reserve it on a plate. Put all of the pan juices and aromatics through a Food Mill into a clean pot large enough to hold the meat. Add the meat back to the sauce and allow to barely simmer until ready to serve. At this point I also like to add in a can of chopped fire roasted tomatoes and sometimes a tablespoon or two of Balsamic vinegar. Serve over smashed redskin potatoes with lots of the sauce... delicious!

04 February 2008

Super Bowl Fun

For the Super Bowl yesterday, my brother had a little get-together at his house. I was somewhat anxious about watching the Super Bowl in "public" this year since I had become emotionally invested in the Giants. Fortunately, I tamped down my fears of sitting next to an obnoxious Patriots' fan and soldiered over to Chris and Natalie's house. The fact that Chris assured me there were no New England fans coming helped out a bit, too. Most importantly, the Giants won!!!!! WooHoo!!!!!

Football parties, of course, are the best excuse to indulge in bad-for-you foods, and yesterday was no exception. I brought a vegetable dish though! Guacamole counts as a veggie, right?! I love guacamole. I have always been attracted to avocados, maybe since green is my favorite color. I also think their deliciously creamy texture and delicate flavor always leaves me craving more. Guacamole has been one of my "signature dishes" since way before I fell in love with cooking. As with many of my homemade dishes, I use more of a method than an actual recipe. I think the key to excellent guacamole is ripe avocado, lots of fresh lime juice and my secret ingredient. Unfortunately, my camera's battery died, and I didn't get to take a picture of the guacamole. It is too bad too, since the colors fit right in with my blog!

Josie's Guac

2 ripe avocados, chopped (but not too ripe- buy them a little green and let them ripen on your counter)
3 tablespoons finely minced onion or shallot
juice of at least 2 limes (possibly more to taste)
3-4 tablespoons chopped cilantro (including the stems)
2 minced jalapeño or serrano peppers (more or less to taste)
1 teaspoon freshly ground coriander seed

Mix everything together, add salt to taste. The lime juice will help break down the avocados - I prefer a slightly chunky guacamole so I don't worry much about mashing the mixture. The coriander gives it the best flavor.

I also brought dessert - a spin-off of the M&M Cookie Bars originally posted on Joe's Blog (that I have made a gazillion times with a gazillion variations). Joe's Blog is one of my most favorite places to find a new sweet treat to bake up. I don't think I have ever had a failure from his website. The bars were gone by the end of the Super Bowl - and there were only 5 people there!!!

I halved the recipe and baked it in an 8"x8" casserole dish. The recipe below is the full recipe.

M&M Cookie Bars (adapted from KACC)

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup butter, melted (I did in the microwave)
2 1/4 cups brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups M&M's (I used a package of mixed chocolate and peanut butter chips)

Preheat the oven to 350. Lightly spray a 10 X 15" jelly roll pan with non-stick spray.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In another large bowl, combine the melted butter and brown sugar, stirring until evenly distributed. Allow to cool slightly. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating very well after each one. Mix in vanilla extract. Stir in the flour mixture and when combined add in the M&M's. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 24-26 minutes, until they are shiny and golden brown on top. Try not to overbake these or they will be dry. A cake tester will most likely not come out clean. Remove from the oven and cool completely before cutting.