Monday, April 30, 2012

Week 17: Something from Childhood - Fish Sticks

This week's theme brought so many good ideas to my mind. Imagined making mac and cheese with cut up hot dogs in it, beef stroganoff, hamburger stew, tuna casserole... the list goes on. My parents fed me well not only in terms of variety, but also quality. They are both very good cooks and they were generous when letting us help out in the kitchen as we were able and interested. Family dinners were a nightly activity and I'm not-so-proud to admit I still win the "Spiller of the Night" award regularly (if it isn't obvious, this is the award given to whomever spills something on themselves or the table). 

We bought a crap-ton (this is a legitimate description of a quantity when you purchase food at Costco for just two people) of talapia recently and I've been trying to decide to do with it. I present: Adult Fish Sticks

I started with the recipe from Jillian Michaels' book Making the Cut (reproduce here) and whipped up the mayo/lime juice coating and got my panko bread crumbs ready. The tomatoes and lettuce you see in this pic are for Andrew's suggested contribution to the dinner: a favorite of his from childhood - iceberg letter wedges with tomato and blue cheese dressing.

I took two talapia fillets and thawed them.  There was no way to get consistency of thickness so I just went with cutting against the grain so the sticks at least wouldn't totally fall apart.

Each fillet made about 8 fish sticks

Andrew came up with the great idea to crush up some seaweed and add it to the panko which made them not only a bit more interesting looking, but also tasting. If you look at this pic closely you can see that each fish stick is very lightly coated in the mayo/lime dressing. I was afraid it wouldn't go far enough, but it was perfect. 

I got away with no butter and no oil in this dish.  Baking stones are the greatest and if you don't have one, get one. 

While they were baking, we ate our lettuce wedges. Such a refreshing and easy basic salad. I don't know why we don't do these more often. Not a lot of nutrition, but I was thinking about hot summer nights when eating just generally isn't all that appetizing and how perfect this would be; cold, crisp, and tasty!

The fish cooked up beautifully. Despite the variance in thickness none of the sticks were too over cooked and the panko got nice and crispy. 

I bought Ivar's tartar sauce and we ate them up quickly while still hot and crispy. Definitely reminded me of childhood, but with a nice adult twist.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Week 16: Asparagus -Steamed

Simple, spring dinners are my favorite. Asparagus is a staple of spring and summer dinners be it on the grill, in the oven, or on the stove top.  I vary my cooking methods but it always ends up eaten in a flash. Andrew and I love asparagus almost as much as we love brussel sprouts.

I made a veggie lasagna  with zucchini, broccoli, and mushrooms so the asparagus was a perfect compliment. I use the tried and true method of snapping off the woody ends, then put about 1/4c water into a saute pan.

I added some garlic and got the whole thing to steamin'

A little bit of salt and pepper when they are close to being done, also a dash of lemon juice, gives a little flavor complexity to the asparagus.

We devoured the asparagus and if I do say so myself, the lasagna was downright delicious!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Week 16: Flowers - Total Flower Failure

I admit I wasn't even excited about this challenge.  As you may have gathered from this blog, I tend toward easy, quick recipes, and cooking that allows for flexibility and invention.  Piping flowers requires careful delicate movements and most of all, patience.  Not my cooking forte to say the least - especially when I'm not that interested in the result.  

All that aside, I present to you my awful flowers.  Rather than cook something to pipe onto, I went for the classy paper plate.  I knew my product would not be that great, since this is my first time really trying this type of piping and I didn't want to waste awesome treats with bad visuals. 

I glanced at a few websites and youtube videos but mostly just dove in and tried my own feel-it-out method with very little success.

I think perhaps when if this one was on a cupcake it wouldn't be too offensive looking, 

I tried some leaves and a few different things, very few of which looked remotely appealing. 

I think part of my problem was my lack of willingness to make more than two colors of frosting.  If I'd had more, I could have tried to make some layers or depth, but again, my heart just wasn't in this one.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Week 15: Kids -Flourless Chocolate Walnut Cookies

For the kid theme this week I went for something that would be fun and easy to make with kids.  I used a 5 ingredient recipe and they were delicious!  I think if I were to make them again, I'd use this 6 ingredient recipe from  The salt would have made a big difference I think. 

It is a one bowl, throw it all in, and mix it all up recipe.  Easy to make and easy to clean up after.  

I used a mixture of walnuts and pecans for the nuts and after mixing it up it turned into a sticky chocolately goop.

They spread quite a bit so spacing was important.  I dropped smaller blobs than called for in the recipe since my goal was to have plenty to share.

Even with the smaller cookies they were chewy on the inside and crispy on the outside.  They were somewhat like cookie brownies.

This is a good gluten free cookie for those of you with that nutritional limitation (or if you have friends/family who need gluten free treats).  I will most likely make these again in the future!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Week 15: One Pot - Paella

While it traditionally includes seafood, there is a restaurant near us that does a veggie paella that Andrew and I love. I decided to try and recreate it for this one pot challenge. It was pretty easy and flavorful and we had leftovers for days which is always awesome. This stuff just got better as it marinated in its spices. I modeled my recipe after the Easy Paella recipe found on the Martha Stewart site but definitely took liberties with what to ingredients add (like I said, I went with lots of veggies) and also went a little heavy with spices since several of the reviews said it was bland. 

I started by sauteing chicken sausage and onion in a deep saute pan till the onions were clear and the sausage was slightly browned. 

Next, I added green pepper and the rice for just a few minutes till the rice started becoming opaque. 

I wasn't thinking when I added my rice and forgot that I was using brown rice which needs more liquid and  takes longer to cook so I had to adjust throughout the cooking process. I really love brown rice though, so the end result was great, it just took longer than I had anticipated. 

Next, I added a can of diced tomatoes...

2 Cups of chicken broth (later I added a third cup when the rice had soaked up all this and still wasn't tender - again, the brown rice issue)...

and a small can of green chilies, paprika, chili powder, tumeric, salt, and pepper then mixed it all up. I brought it to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, then covered it for about 40 minutes stirring occasionally. 

I waited till the rice was pretty much done before adding zucchini and mushrooms. I wanted them to hold their shape and texture somewhat and didn't want total mush. 

About 10 minutes later we had paella! We ate it on some awesome handmade (though not handmade by me!) chipotle tortillas.

It was filling and flavorful and I think we finally just finished those leftovers - 5 days later!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Week 14: Rainbow - Rainbow Cone Ice Cream Cake

I'd like to preface this post with an apology for the length and extensive use of pictures.  I went a little nuts. But, I am quite proud of myself with this creation and so far in these challenges, this is my favorite thing I've made, so bear with me. 

For those of you who are not from the Southside of Chicago, there is a magical place there called Rainbow Cone.  It is the most delicious ice cream treat I've ever had and on a hot, sticky, summer night there is just nothing better than a rainbow cone. Rather than scoop the ice cream they use a spade and sorta slab on the rainbow of flavors you see below. 

On the heels of several birthdays, including my fabulous mother and my loving husband, I found myself looking for something that was half birthday cake half Easter dessert. The rainbow theme could not have fallen on a better week!

While I didn't use a recipe exactly, I will share with you my process and give you tips to help you avoid my pit falls -of which there weren't many thank goodness. This is a day-ahead process so start early and make sure you have freezer space.

First, buy a yellow cake mix (or make your own, you show off), whole walnuts (maybe 1/2c. depending on your love of walnuts), a small jar of maraschino cherries, and the following ice creams:
  • Orange Sherbet (any vanilla/orange mix will not do. You must get the good stuff which means buying a tub of it... for some reason it is next to impossible to get orange sherbet in a reasonable sized container)
  • Pistachio 
  • Neapolitan (chocolate, strawberry, vanilla) in the rectangular box for easy cutting
Make your cake and let it cool. While it is cooking or cooling cut your Neapolitan into three flavors -allow some of the vanilla to be in the chocolate and strawberry since it will blend right in, but try to get your vanilla to be just vanilla. 

To make the Palmer House - which cannot be bought that I know of, throw the whole walnuts into the vanilla as it is getting melty...

then add about a handful of rough chopped maraschino cherries and mix! I put this back in the freezer to chill and to try and hope the flavors would meld a bit. It totally worked, but I've never done it any other way, so who am I to say!

 I used 9" rounds same as the actual cake size so the layers would fit on top. If I'd had parchment or wax paper I would have used that to line the pans, but the tin foil worked just fine.  I was nervous but the ice cream came out  of these easily. This whole process of melting and spreading the ice cream reminded me of making ice cream soup as a kid.

I wished I'd had an articulated frosting spatula to get a flatter surface, but the back of a spatula worked fine for spreading. I stuck this in the freezer and brought out the strawberry to melt.

The melting doesn't take long - maybe 5 to 10 minutes - and that was long enough for the chocolate layer to harden enough to make spreading the strawberry layer fairly easy.

SO pretty! The strawberry and chocolate are the only two layers in this cake pan. I would add a third layer to this cake pan if I had it to do over. Any Rainbow Cone enthusiast knows that the orange sherbet needs to be the thickest layer so I would only put two layers in that pan next time. 

Palmer house out of the freezer while the strawberry and chocolate layers harden up.

Palmer house on the bottom of the second pan then threw it in the freezer to harden while the pistachio melted.

I used Ben and Jerry's pistachio ice cream and it is a boring natural cream color so I had to dye it green. I went a little over board but it turned out a nice green in the end.

Here is the dye all mixed in.

Pistachio on top of the now frozen Palmer House.

And, finally, the orange sherbet! This melts the weirdest due to it's sherbet-ness, but it just required a bit more patience.

Mmmm. I'm drooling now the way I was while making this. 

Again, the orange sherbet is the thickest layer so it really filled the pan.  

At this point I put it all in the freezer and started investigating how to travel with this still frozen. I forgot to mention Easter was going to be celebrated at my Mom's house 2 hours away. Saturday night I ended up putting the ice cream into a cooler,  putting a cardboard box upside down over them to insulate them, pouring an entire bag of ice on top of and around the cardboard box, then putting dry ice on top of that. The dry ice basically keeps your ice from melting and keeps the air cold. There are several dry ice protocol you'd want to pay attention to if you are going to do this,  but won't bore you with them here. 

I was nervous about the ice cream traveling but we had NO problem at all! It was frozen - not solid but very firm - and when we got to my Mom's we put the cake together and then put it in the freezer to harden before frosting it. Here is where I discovered I should have built the ice cream layers in reverse order so getting them onto the cake would have been easier. But with a friendly pair of hands and a amazing helper, we managed a flipping system to get the layers in the correct order. 

Right here is where I started kinda freaking out - in a good way. I couldn't believe it was all coming together and working out so perfectly. I was really prepared for this to be a total disaster, but as you can see - it's a butte. The scene in our house went a little something like this.

I didn't want to mess around too much with frosting so I decided to go with a simple, light layer of whipped cream. Nothing should distract from the rainbow cone flavor. 

We decorated it with a rainbow of jelly beans just to really get into the theme and as soon as we sang Happy Birthday to Andrew and Mom, we dug in.

The knife smeared some of the layers so it was hard to specifically see all 5 layers, but you sure could taste them and it was still so fun to look at and eat. The fact that you couldn't necessarily distinguish the layers wasn't an issue.  For any one experienced in trying to eat a rainbow cone on a hot sunny Chicago summer day, you know that eventually they all sorta melt together anyway and that is part of the delicious fun.

I want more of it right now. What a treat. 

Whew, thanks for hanging in there and indulging my excessive description and post. Can you tell I'm really excited about this creation? :)