Sunday, April 4, 2010

Hodge Podge

What do you get when you cross the working mother of a 3-year old without the ability to manufacture time?


Since I've found myself so crazy busy lately, I don't have the time to actually capture a recipe from start to finish. You know, when you have several hours in the day all to yourself? Quiet, and uninterrupted? I long for those days.

But often I look for inspiration in the most strange of places.

Like here.

What on earth could bring inspiration from this cabinet? Maybe it's as simple as a vodka tonic.

But then last night there was grilled salad. It's a culinary triumph.

A head of romaine lettuce, cut lengthwise. Drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper, then placed cut side down on a charcoal grill for a few minutes. Then chop and combine with a few drizzle of good balsamic vinegar. Your tummy will sing.

But today was Easter. And I think someone once told me that any calories consumed on a holiday don't count.

Even if no one told me that, I believe it to be true.

This made for the beginning of a beautiful relationship between starch, cheese and fat. It's from none other than Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

It happens to be a recipe my father made often. In fact, I blame him and his parents for my wicked love of potatoes. No one person should love potatoes the way I do.

After an hour basking in the oven, this emerged.

And when you see this staring back at you, nothing can be wrong.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Butterfingers and the Boss

A woman after my own heart, my boss happens to love Butterfingers. The way you love your children, or your parents. It's a deep, unending love. And few candies can inspire such love.

Except a Butterfinger.

So in honor of the boss's birthday, I've combined her favorite things... chocolate and peanut butter. Once I found this recipe for a Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake with Cream Cheese and Butterfinger Frosting I felt confident I had a winner.

Time will tell. If it's a hit, I'll be disappointed my annual performance review was several weeks ago. If it's a dud, I'll be grateful I have another year before the next one. And hopefully enough time will pass for her memory to fade.

However, I'm feeling confident. I licked the beaters. I know it's good.

The cake started with 3 layers of peanut butter cake. Since you can't go wrong with 2 layers of cake, why not go for 3?

After the cake layers have cooled completely, you can either follow the recipe instructions for a 3-layer cake, or take a walk on the wild side and cut each layer in half for a whopping 6-layer cake.

Glop on a generous amount of hip-expanding, peanut butter chocolate filling.

Next, attempt to wrangle the spoon and bowl of cream cheese frosting from your husband to slather upon the filled cake.

While I love a beautifully smooth frosting, I love the old-fashioned "look" of this cake. Nothing fancy. Just goodness.

Then pile on the chopped Butterfinger bars. And I do mean, pile on. Don't restrain yourself, unless you're saving a bar for yourself as a midnight snack.

It looks heavenly and beautiful, and it smells even better. I'm honestly hoping to find the cake in this same state in the morning. Cream cheese icing-eating husbands have been known to try and sneak a nibble.

And speaking of beautiful, these cubes met a big pot of risotto last night for Ina Garten's Butternut Squash Risotto. Somewhat of an acquired taste, the two youngest at the Tyson Kitchen dinner table last night - a 5-year old and our 3-year old - gobbled it up. Success.

Since every recipe and cooking experience is a lesson in itself, I offer you this lesson.

When you get excited about beautifully presenting your sweet creation in your new cake dome - that set you back a whole $10.00 - consider using a ruler.

To make sure your cake fits under said dome.

Here endeth the lesson.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"Old Bottling Factory"

Ever intrigued by the simplicity of recipes from one of my favorite chefs, Ina Garten, I couldn't wait to try Nick And Toni's Penne alla Vecchia Bettola. Hopeful to learn the recipe was steeped in some sort of rich, Roman history, I was a little disappointed to find out the literal translation of "Vecchia Bettola" is "old bottling factory". However, when digging a little deeper, it also means a cheap, dumpy restaurant.

Regardless, I was ready to try what looked to be a delicious sauce. It has vodka in the recipe. Anything with vodka mustbe good.

And then I looked in the liquor cabinet. No vodka.

In the moments following my despair of no vodka in the house, I decided to press forward and try the recipe with a dry white wine, Pinot Grigio.

A few simple ingredients to make the sauce.

If you're disciplined and follow instruction, you'll buy canned, whole tomatoes rather than crushed.

(Now would be the time to admit I left out the fresh oregano.)

I started by chopping half and onion and 3 cloves of garlic. I cried the entire time. It had nothing to do with the onion. I was still weeping over no vodka in the house.

Next, cook the onions and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until the onions are translucent. It only took me about 6 minutes.

Add the crushed red pepper and dried oregano.

Pour in the white wine. (If you're a responsible cook, you'll have vodka in the house.)

Simmer the onion, garlic and wine mixture until the wine reduces by half.

Pour in the crushed tomatoes.

Then throw a lid on the pot and place in a 375-degree oven for 90 minutes.

After 90 minutes, you'll have yummy, thick and rich sauce. Noticed the difference in color?

After the sauce cools, blend the sauce in a blender in several batches. (I recommend blending about 1 1/2 cups at a time.

Fast-forward to the end of a 5-hour work day (of which I could easily become accustomed). Place the desired amount of the blended sauce into a pan. Add some fresh oregano.

Add heavy cream to thin and enrich the sauce.

Ooooh... velvety, rich tomato cream sauce.

Make sure you have really good Parmigiano Reggiano cheese for this dish. It makes all the difference in the world.

Meanwhile, cook the penne pasta al dente. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and cook for about a minute.

Then, please the tummies of your family.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Drop In & Decorate® - Huntsville

Today our family hosted a Drop In & Decorate® event in our home. The purpose of Drop In & Decorate® is to bake, decorate and donate cookies to a local charity. Our family chose the Downtown Rescue Mission in Huntsville, AL.

On Saturday, we started the weekend off with a kid-friendly breakfast of "homemade" cinnamon rolls. "Homemade" equals one can of crescent roll dough; one tablespoon of softened butter; cinnamon and sugar. Simple enough and really yummy, especially when paired with a sweet and buttery frosting. These definitely ain't your run-of-the-mill Pillsbury cinnamon rolls.

Then it was time to start cutting and baking the cookies.

One batch of dough down, and one to go.

And once all of the cookies were baked (even a few Toll House Chocolate Chip cookies) we were ready for the decorating.

Let the decorating begin!

There were colorful cookies.

And spring-like cookies.

Kid cookies.

And cookies made with love.

Beautiful cookies.

Patriotic cookies.

Even spiritual cookies.

A lot of cookies!

Happy cookies.

More cookies.

Even abstract cookies.

All kinds of cookies.

And, last but not least, one particular cookie by my beloved daughter - because she loves hearts.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ina Garten's Baked Shrimp Scampi

I love shrimp. Ranked right up there with butter and chocolate, I really love shrimp. And besides, any food that comes with it's own ready-to-eat handle ranks high in my book. Even Forrest Gump's pal, Bubba, found a plethora of ways to eat shrimp. And last night, in the Tyson Kitchen, we found another.

Shrimp scampi happened to be one of my mother-in-law's culinary triumphs. My beloved Mr. Tyson isn't terribly fond of shrimp (he also calls them "little tubes of cholesterol) but he loved his mother's shrimp scampi. Personally, I could eat shrimp 365 days a year.

This working mother has very little time during the week to triumph in the kitchen. But last night we discovered a simple, no frills shrimp scampi recipe from Ina Garten. Having modified for our family (specifically, time constraints) by using frozen shrimp (peeled, deveined and cooked), it was a triumph indeed.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Preparing for Drop In & Decorate!

We're hosting a Drop In & Decorate event in our home in a few weeks. And in preparation of the event, I decided to start baking the cookies as early as possible. Since I'm planning to [hopefully] have about 100 cookies, I knew I'd need to "get on the stick". And quick. I'm a procrastinator that should really seek help in the form a 12-step program. But I doubt I'll ever get around to it.

Today was an ideal day for making dough and baking cookies. For the 5th time since January 1st, Huntsville encountered winter weather and today it was snow. We're not setup to deal with icy conditions. And at the Tyson house, our driveway resembled the glaze of a Krispy Kreme doughnut. Sadly, the thought made me hungry for one, but traveling down our driveway had only one likely destination - slipping and sliding through our neighbors front door.

Our Drop In & Decorate cookies will be donated to the Downtown Rescue Mission in Huntsville - an organization that provides services to displaced and homeless persons. We're already considering the next event for our cookies to go to Hope Place.

I devised my own recipe, with the direction of several others. Finding a fool-proof, non-spreading sugar cookie recipe is difficult, if not darn impossible. But I persisted and came up with this.

Sugar Cookies
2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup vanilla sugar (see note)
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
6 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or 3/4 teaspoon table salt)

Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until light, fluffy and pale. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Add vanilla and almond extracts.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add 2 cups at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition, until dough forms a ball.

Divide dough into 3 (or 4, depending on your thickness preference) freezer (gallon sized) bags. Roll dough to bottom corners, cutting a small hole in the corners to allow air to escape. Roll in the bag to create an even square. Seal the bag and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 12 minutes. (8 minutes if you separated into 4 bags. Or 12 minutes if you separated into 3 bags.)

Note: Combine sugar and vanilla beans in a tight-sealing container. When using vanilla sugar from the container, replace the amount you used. That way, you'll always have vanilla sugar.

Using freezer bags allow for even thickness and cooking. It's a trick I will use forever!

These cookies really hold their shape and the spreading is very minor.

We're using several cookie cutters - circle, tulip, heart, star, fluted circles, fluted hearts, cross, butterfly, and geometric circles. Lots of fun shapes for spring and Easter. All in hopes of spreading love and the message of Christ.

I'm thinking of ways to incorporate Bible verses in the cookies, whether something printed and tied on the cookie with ribbon. Or even a label on the bag containing the cookie. Still pondering...