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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Don't forget about us...

but we'll be on vacation for the next week. We're headed to Buffalo to visit my mom, where she will be cooking instead of me. Been trapped in the house for a little too long without much socializing, so it will be a nice change of pace for a little bit. Hopefully, it will help rekindle my waning desire to cook, especially with a husband who prefers eating Hamburger Helper to home-cooked meals.

Upon returning, we should have some tasty new recipes to share with you. So keep an eye out for that!

Until next week...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Craving Chocolate

Lately I've been craving just about anything sweet. I haven't really indulged in anything decadent since the wedding, but over the past few days I've been dreaming about chocolate waterfalls, and pudding rivers. So, since I had bought a bag of sweet cherries on sale at the local grocer last week, and they were still sitting in the fridge on the verge of “use them or lose them,” and there were still six packages of cream cheese leftover from a dessert we had never gotten around to making, I decided to make a chocolate cherry cheesecake. This is the first time I've attempted this chocolatey creation, but it was spectacular. I just had to share the recipe and I hope you enjoy licking your plates clean just as we did!

(Makes 1 Crust)
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
2 tbsp. sugar
¼ cup butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix together the graham crackers, sugar and melted butter. Press mixture into the bottom (and up the sides approx. ½ inch) of a 9-inch spring form pan. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Cool.

(Makes approx. 1 Cup of Sauce)
2 cups sweet cherries, stems removed, halved and pitted
1/3 cup sugar
3 tbsp. water
1 tsp. lemon juice

Place the cherries into the ceramic pot of a small slow-cooker. Add the water, lemon juice and sprinkle with 1/3 cup of sugar. Cover and cook on high for 1 – 1 ½ hours or until very soft.

Remove from cooking pot and blend in a food processor or blender until smooth. Press the puree through a strainer to remove any seeds and skins.

Cover and chill until needed. (This sauce can be stored for up to 5 days.)

(Makes 1 Cheesecake)
3 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
1 ¼ cup sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 eggs
1 ½ tsp. Vanilla extract

Beat the cream cheese, sugar and cocoa powder in a large bowl until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and then stir in the vanilla. Pour approximately one quarter of the filling into the prepared crust. Top this with one quarter cup of cherry sauce and then another quarter of the cheesecake filling. Layer another quarter cup of cherry sauce and then the remaining cheesecake filling. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 45 to 50 minutes, or until set. Remove from oven and loosen the sides from the pan with a knife. Cool completely and refrigerate several hours before serving.

**TIP** Cooking the cheesecake in a water bath will prevent it from cracking during the baking process.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Slow-Cooker Meals

One of my favorite memories from my childhood is that of my mother's cooking. I know I write about that a lot – but somehow just by closing my eyes I can smell her tomato sauce cooking in the slow-cooker - and every fiber in body longs to be in her kitchen enjoying a meal, and her company.

When I was very young, I remember coming home to the smell of my mother's home-cooking radiating from every corner of the house as it simmered undisturbed throughout the day, heaving its fragrant aromas into the surrounding air tempting us all to the table – making us yearn for dinnertime.

I remember sneaking into the kitchen upon getting home from school (when everyone else was still at work – or daycare) and dipping chunks of bread into the soup or sauce cooking and savoring the intense flavors, warm and wet on the flesh of the bread.

Now I find myself pulling out my own slow-cooker(s) on a weekly basis (sometimes even two or three times a week depending on my schedule) to recreate some of my mother's recipes that I miss so much, and even to create a few new ones of my own. I hope that someday those recipes (new and old) will linger in the memories of my children calling them home - much the way my mother's still linger in mine.

The great advantage of cooking soups and sauces in the slow cooker, as I have discovered since moving away from home years ago and being forced to rely on my own cooking skills, is that all the flavors have a chance to thoroughly develop and mingle. This technique is particularly well suited for rich and savory soups, with complex spicing, such as this vegetarian stew which I through together a few years ago after enjoying a similar version at a Moroccan cafe in Madison, WI. The original stew, harira, is traditionally made with the addition of lamb, lentils, fine noodles and egg and is often served to break the fast during Ramadan. My version leaves out the meat, eggs and noodles, but I find the simplified version to still be rich with flavor and hearty enough to be the main course for any dinner meal.

Moroccan Vegetable Stew
(Serves 6)
1 large onion, finely diced
4 cups vegetable stock (near boiling)
2 carrots, finely diced
2 celery sticks, finely diced
1 large Russet potato, finely diced
1 – 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 – 14.5 oz. can chickpeas (drained and rinsed)
2 tbsp. chopped fresh coriander
1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger root
½ tsp cayenne pepper
salt and black pepper to taste

First, throw together the onion and two in a half cups of the vegetable stock in the ceramic cooking pot of your slow cooker. Turn the slow cooker to HIGH, cover with the lid, and cook for approximately 1 hour, or until the onions are tender and translucent.

Once the onions are soft, mix together the cinnamon, turmeric, ginger root, and cayenne pepper with two tablespoons of the remaining vegetable stock to form a paste. Add this paste and the carrots, celery, and remaining stock to the slow cooker. Cook for another hour (on high) and then season the broth with salt and pepper to your personal tastes.

Finally, throw in the rest of the vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes and chickpeas) and cook for 4-5 hours (still on high) until all the vegetables are tender. Stir in the coriander and lemon juice at the end, just before serving. Serve piping hot with a hearty chunk of bread. Enjoy!

Per Serving: approximately 339 calories, 15.5 g fiber, 16 g protein and high in Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Iron

Thursday, August 13, 2009


It never ceases to amaze me how fast the time tick - tick - ticks by. Again today I woke up with a ton of energy, a great outlook on my day, and a lengthy to-do list I was just itching to tackle. But low and behold it is already NOON and I haven't even completed ONE thing off my to-do list.

I can't tell if I'm just underestimating how much time it really takes to complete these projects, or if I'm just moving slower through my days, not getting as much accomplished because I'm constantly being bogged down by everyday anxieties and distractions.

By the end of each day it feels like I'm just dragging my feet through the muck and the only way out is to just give in, go to sleep, and then start over again the following day hoping for a better outcome.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Hubby Creations

Truth be told, Jon doesn't spend a lot of time in the kitchen cooking – cleaning yes, but not cooking. (He says that his constant cleaning and maintenance of the kitchen sink (including the dishes), counters, and floors is what allows me to - as he looks around at the stove - splattered with tomato sauce, and the sink littered with pots and pans and utensils - “do what you do.” Hahaha. Which I must admit is pretty accurate of our relationship – at least in regard to the kitchen.)

But every once in a while he takes the initiative to make dinner (and sometimes it is even something I can eat– unlike his and his brother's disgusting obsession with hamburger helper - which, to me, doesn't even smell like real food). Lucky for me, this weekend was one of those instances where it was something edible, and it was simply great to be able to kick back and eat a good meal without having to have cooked it!

A very simple recipe, Jon's bagel burgers are juicy, robust and delicious. Simple. But GREAT! These are quickly becoming my favorite burgers (changing up the bagel, the cheese and other toppings every once in a while for some variety). We're keeping a log of all the different creations.... just in case we ever decide to open up a burger joint.

Hubby's Basic Bagel Burger Recipe
(Makes 2 Burgers)

The burgers are basically plain ground beef patties (approximately 1/4 pound, but sometimes he overestimates) with a few grinds of our McCormick Steakhouse Seasonings Grinder and some McCormick Signatures Roasted Garlic and Bell Pepper Seasoning Blend and then topped with a few tbsp of A1 Steak Sauce. Then he cooks them (to our personal tastes, mine-medium and his well-done) on our NEW George Foreman grill (a wedding gift that Jon considers to be “for him,” from his step-sister and her family).

The burgers are then placed on a toasted everything bagel and topped with a few slices of tomato (and onion for him), deli-sliced American cheese, ketchup, and (if we had had any) lettuce. Serve with your favorite sides (we chose sweet corn on the cob and potato salad) and enjoy!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Monday night we finally finished off the last of the left-over produce from the wedding. Just wanting to be rid of it at last, I threw together a very quick and simple stuffed bell pepper dinner. We eat stuffed peppers a lot because they're one of the few vegetables that Jon actually LIKES to eat, and since I make them so often I've started changing up the filling depending on what I happen to have on hand.

This week's particular variation to the recipe was new for us, but so SIMPLE and yet full of flavor that I'm planning on adding it to our regular menu. I'm so glad I had a jar of Bella Sun Luci - Sun Dried Tomato Pesto leftover from the wedding – which is nice and sweet, not too oily, and finely processed with whole roasted pine nuts mixed in. It really pulled this dish together!

Peppers and Onions with Rice,
Sun-dried Tomato and Bacon Filling
(Serves 4)

4 Large Bell Peppers (or Combination of Large Bell Peppers and Large Vidalia Onions)
1 cup brown rice (uncooked)
6 pcs. of bacon – cooked to just crispy
4 Baby-Bella Mushrooms
4 tbsp Sun Dried Tomato Pesto
1/3 cup Parmesan Cheese, grated
8-10 thin slices Sharp Cheddar Cheese
Olive Oil

Cook the brown rice as directed by the package instructions. (Lately I've been loving Uncle Ben's 10-Minute Brown Rice, because I don't need to plan ahead a half hour if I decide to use it! It's fabulous and so quick!)

Next prepare the peppers (and/or onions) for stuffing. For the peppers a roast them whole at 400 degrees for approximately 15 minutes. Once cool enough to handle slice off the tops and remove the seeds. For the onions, boil a small pot of water and once boiling add the onions (skins and all) and cook for 10 minutes. Remove and cool – then remove the skins, cut off a section of the top and scoop out the inside flesh (leaving a cup shape of onion rings behind). I also cut a small slice off the bottom to give the onion a flat surface to sit on in the baking step.
**Jon really likes the stuffed onions, but for myself (and many others) they are a little intense, so you can use a variety of bell peppers (red, yellow, green), and even large tomatoes instead.

Meanwhile, wash and finely chop the mushrooms, and crumble the bacon. Combine in a large mixing bowl. Add the sun-dried tomato pesto (home-made or store bought), Parmesan cheese and 2 tbsp. olive oil. Add the cooked rice and mix together thoroughly. Scoop filling into the peppers/onions/tomatoes (this amount of filling should fill 4 large peppers, or 4 large onions, or 4 large tomatoes – or any combination 2-2, 3-1 etc.). Place them upright in a lightly greased casserole dish and top with 2 slices of cheddar cheese each.

Bake at 400 degrees for approximately 30 minutes or until the peppers and onions are of desired tenderness. (I'll often place ½ cup (or so) or water into the casserole dish around the stuffed peppers before baking to help soften the peppers while they cook).

Serve along side a big tossed salad and a thick slice of Italian bread. Enjoy.

Per Serving: approximately 600 calories, 6 g fiber, 26 g protein and high in calcium and vitamins A and C.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Back on the Line

It seems like ages since my last post, when in reality it has barely been two weeks. When I started up blogging again last month I had set out with the best of intentions: posting daily, archiving my family recipes, trying new recipes and so much more – but it seems I couldn't even make it a whole month before I broke all those promises to myself.

But, sitting here now and reaffirming my commitment to myself (and my cooking), I have to accept just how quickly time can get away from you, and how amidst all the chaos you can, despite your best efforts, lose sight of yourself and your goals for a even short time. It is inevitable to find yourself facing projects that have the ability to so totally absorb your focus and energy, that days (even weeks sometimes) start to blur together. In the end you always seem to resurface, and sometimes you even realize your goals may have shifted (without you even realizing it) and you've since set out on a new journey. Either way the experience helps you to grow.

For me the latest all-absorbing project was last month, and it was my wedding.

Jon and I got married exactly one week ago today (which, as it happens, was exactly two years after our very first date). So needless to say, the past two weeks have been a whirlwind of chaos as family and friends came into town (from Wisconsin and Upstate NY) and then left for their return trips - sometimes not even 24 hours later. Hectic – would be an understatement.

Not to mention, in perfect “grace-ness”, by the time people started showing up (as early as 4 days prior to the ceremony) I still hadn't finished making my wedding dress (which, truth be told, got done just about 2 hours before I walked down the aisle – thanks to the help and patience of my maternal grandmother) AND I hadn't even started cooking the food (for 100 people). But again, thanks to the last minute help of some WONDERFUL friends and family, we managed to pull it all off, even in my postage stamp sized kitchen with its even smaller fridge.

So yes, time has certainly gotten away from me. But for all the hard (and exhausting) work, everything certainly came off beautifully. Many of the guests even commented on the simplicity of the affair – and how it put everyone at ease and that it was the “best wedding” they'd every been to. We also had WAY to much food, but that is a disease among Italians – over feeding guests, so I suppose no one was remotely surprised. But all the food was well received and all the leftover produce (and dishes) found a way home with one (or some) of our enthusiastic guests.

We couldn't have asked for a better day or better people to share it with.

So, over the next week or so, as we finally begin to unwind and return to our normal state of things, I will be posting about the planning (and execution) of the whole affair, and I hope you will enjoy the story, and the recipes, as much as we did.
Delicious Intentions - Blogged