Kitchen Concoctions: October 2010

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

Well the day is finally here! The day we have been waiting for all week long (for some all year); Halloween! If you need some last minute Halloween goodies check out all the spooktacular treats I made all week as part of "Ghoulish Grub" week on Kitchen Concoctions! Happy Trick-or-Treating!

Skeletons and graveyards go together like witches and broomsticks, and are so spooky and creepy! They also make cute mini cakes!

Halloween couldn't exist without candy corn! And yes you either love it or hate it! But whatever your feelings are on this classic holiday treat, try it in frosting form for a new twist on this old tradition.

Eyeballs you can eat?!? Yes my friends these gruesome cute treats are as easy as can be and are a treat that even the kiddos can make!

This chocolate cake with cookies n' cream frosting is to die for! Please make this cake and frosting combo stat (it can even be made year round)! Top with a fun spider ring and you've got an amazing cupcake with a Halloween souvenir too!

Besides actually trick-or-treating, pumpkin carving is one of the last fun things enjoyed by many during this bewitching holiday! But don't let all those pumpkin seeds go to waste... roast them up to have a tasty treat!

Hope you all have a safe and happy Halloween! Still trying to figure out a last minute costume for myself! Anyone got any ideas?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pumpkin Guts

Ghouls and goblins everywhere are preparing for a big night of haunting! Cauldron. Check. Flying broomstick. Check. Spells and hexes. Check. Check. Jack-o-lanterns and pumpkin guts. Check. Wait pumpkin guts? What!

I am sure many of you in your last and final hours of preparing for the spooky and fun day coming tomorrow are carving pumpkins. I know I am! I love pumpkin hunting, then pumpkin carving, and then eating pumpkin guts. Ewww. Nasty. Ok I really don't eat the slimy, pumpkin innards, just the seeds. Oh how I love the seeds! I look forward to some nice toasty, seasoned pumpkin seeds every year! Below is my go to pumpkin seed recipe I have been making these for years. Easy. Yummy. Halloweenie!

Seasoned Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
By Heather of Kitchen Concoctions
Prep Time: 5 minutes Cook Time: 60 minutes Makes 2 cups

2 cups pumpkin seeds (about 1 cup of seeds comes from 1 medium pumpkin)
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
Rinse pumpkin seeds and let dry on paper towel.
Once seeds are dry, mix Worcestershire sauce with butter and toss with pumpkin seeds. Combine seasonings and sprinkle over butter coated seeds. Toss seeds to evenly coat.
Line baking sheet with foil. Spray foil with non-stick spray. Spread prepared seeds evenly over prepared pan.
Bake at 250 degrees for 60 minutes until brown, stirring every 15 minutes.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Spiders, Cupcakes, and Giveaways... Oh My!

Wow! I can't believe that I have written 200 blog posts! 200 bits of my random thoughts... Not quite 200 recipes but a good majority of these 200 posts have recipes (I would guess 90 percent are recipes, and that's a lot!)

Thank you to all of you who have continued to read this blog day after day, post after post. Because I am so happy I have reached 200 posts and still have all of you in tow I have a giveaway to share later today! But first today's Ghoulish Grub recipe!

Today's Halloween themed recipe is actual a twofer, a frosting and a cake, (and a giveaway) oh my! This Halloween recipe is not necessarily just for Halloween but could be made any time, and should be made regularly because it is so dang tasty. It is Halloweenish because it has that dark spooky look going for it. And topped with a fake spidey these cupcakes will be perfect for any Halloween get together you may be having this weekend.

First the cupcakes. These chocolate cupcakes were unbelievably moist and full of flavor. To make this cake even 'sweeter' it takes only seconds to whip up and has only three (yes only 3) ingredients AND (this is huge, so listen closely) each of these cupcakes ONLY count as 1.75 Weight Watchers points! Now that's something to write home about. These cakes are super tasty plain or topped with a little Cool Whip. Also they are so versatile and the cake/soda combinations are endless. But of course I had to go and take a somewhat 'healthy cupcake' and ruin it make it better by adding a crazy good frosting.

Diet Soda Cake
Prep Time: 5 Minutes Bake Time: 25-30 minutes Serves: if baked in a 9x13 pan serves 12 or makes about 20 cupcakes

1 (18.25 oz) dry box cake, any flavor (I used chocolate for these cupcakes)
1 (12 oz) can diet soda, any flavor (I used cream soda this time)
2 egg whites
Baking spray

Preheat oven according to box directions. Spray 9 x 13 pan (or for cupcakes you can use paper liners in the cupcake pan). Beat cake mix, diet soda and egg whites. Pour into pan. Bake as directed on box, or until toothpick comes out clean when inserted. Let cake cool about 10 minutes before cutting. Cut into 12 pieces. Top with fat free whipped cream if you wish.

adapted from Gina's Skinny Recipes
So the frosting. This frosting. Is great. Is good. Is perfect. Is a must. Beat it less for a grayish tent beat it more for a darker shade. Just what ever you do... Don't eat all this frosting before you put it on your cupcakes!
Cookies 'n Cream Frosting
Prep Time: 8 minutes Makes enough for approximately 18-20 cupcakes
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 1/2 cups sifted confectioners sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
25 finely crushed Oreos
In a medium bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter until creamy. Mix in the vanilla, then gradually stir in the confectioners' sugar. Gently stir in Oreo crumbs. The more you mix the more gray in color the frosting will appear so do not over-mix. Store in the refrigerator after use.
adapted from Baked Perfection

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Eyeballs. Eyeballs. And More Eyeballs.

(Right in the middle of my Ghoulish Grub week my internet provider decided to not 'provide' properly... thus causing a kink in the week long Halloween posts and putting me a day behind. Grrr. But it looks like we are back up and running so I will just be a day behind in my Halloween posts, which I hope is not too late considering Halloween is Sunday! But stay tuned because of the little mishap I will be having a giveaway soon! YAY!)

Squishy. Gooshy. Eyeballs. Why are eyeballs considered so creepy around Halloween? Is it because they are squishy and gooshy and look even more frightening and grossly when bloodshot?!?! But that's why they make a great Halloween treat! LOL!

Today I have 2 sweet ways you can 'spy' some eyeballs and eat them too! Both versions of the eyeballs I am sharing today have a similar ingredients with just a different ingredients for the 'base' of the eyeball (obviously I am no biology major so I don't know technical eyeball terminology).

These are so easy to make and are easy enough that kids can get in the kitchen and help. Again this is really just an idea and not really a recipe. But they sure do look cute creepy!

Edible Eyeballs
Heather of Kitchen Concoctions

Powdered donuts or white chocolate covered Oreos (you can buy the Oreos already covered or melt white chocolate and dip your own)
Gummy Lifesavers
Red decorator frosting

Squeeze some red decorator frosting on the back of a red Gummy Lifesaver. Place Gummy Lifesaver frosting side down in the center of the donut or chocolate covered Oreo. Next place some red decorator frosting on one side of the M&M and place in the middle of the Gummy Lifesaver. Last use decorator frosting and draw red squiggly lines around the 'retna'.

"Donut Eyeballs"

"Oreo Eyeballs"

One Year Ago: Deviled Egg Eyeballs

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Candy Corn Madness

Its madness I tell ya! Complete madness! Ghoulish grub week on Kitchen Concoctions and today is Candy Corn Frosting... Brew haha... (as I type this is I am saying it out loud in my best creepy/monster/tales from the crypt voice. Sad thing is not that I am talking out loud to myself but that I am getting a kick out of it and actually find it quit hysterical. I know...I am weird.)

 Yes today I bring you Candy Corn Frosting. Some of you Candy Corn lovers maybe drooling and the haters among us might be shaking their heads in disgust. But wait, Haters, hear me out.

I was inspired to create a candy corn frosting when I saw Peabody create a candy corn ice cream. At the first thought of candy corn ice cream I didn't want to have anything to do with it. I love candy corn but only in small dosages. Then the wheels in my head started turning and I thought if I was going to have a candy corn flavored anything, frosting paired with cake sounded nice. Well this frosting turned out great! It is light and fluffy. It is sweet but not that overwhelmingly hurt your teeth sweet that is often associated with candy corn. And it is Halloween at it's best!

Notes: I put this frosting on chocolate cupcakes because I already had them made for a recipe I will be sharing later this week. But I think it would taste even better on vanilla or yellow cupcakes... Plus a yellow cupcake with the orange candy corn frosting would look more like a candy corn. Although the chocolate cupcake with the candy corn frosting has that classic orange and black Halloween look going for it.

Candy Corn Frosting
By Heather of Kitchen Concoctions
Cook Time: 10 minutes Chill Time: 2+ hours Prep time: 15 minutes Makes 1 1/2 to 2 cups frosting

1 cup candy corn (I used half traditional candy corn and half candy corn pumpkins)
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons corn starch
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 cup butter

Heat milk over medium high heat. Add candy corn and cook until dissolved, stirring constantly. After all the candy corn is dissolved, while continuously whisking, whisk in the flour and corn starch. Cook until milk/flour mixture is thick, whisking constantly, for about 5 - 10 minutes. Let cool completely (for several hours or overnight). Once milk/flour mixture is completely cooled to room temperature; using an electric mixture cream 1 tablespoon butter, sugar, and vanilla together. Once creamed together add milk/flour mixture. While beating continuously add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time. Continue to mix until all butter is fully incorporated and frosting is light and fluffy, approximately 10 minutes.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Ghoulish Grub

I am a complete kid at heart! I love cartoons, I love cereal, and I love holidays! I love the decorations, the traditions, and of course the food!

And Halloween is so much fun! It is fun to have a holiday that is all about being silly, candy, dressing up, and oh yeah creepy, crawly, scary things that can be cute too!

So this week to celebrate Halloween and all it's funness; I will be sharing Halloween themed recipes! A week of 'ghoulish grub' of sorts! It should be a spooktacular good time!
First fun thing up is not really a recipe but an idea; individual graveyard cakes. These were really easy to put together and I thought they turned out so cute!

Notes: I found the skeleton candy mold at the craft store with all the other Halloween themed items. You can make your mini cakes as thick as you want and in what size pan you want.

Mini Graveyard Cakes
by Heather of Kitchen Concoctions
  • Recipe for chocolate cake or boxed chocolate cake mix prepared according to package directions
  • Chocolate frosting
  • Oreo cookies, crushed
  • White chocolate chips
  • Red/black decorators frosting 
  • Milano cookies
  • Candy corn pumpkins
Make cake according to directions and bake in mini loaf pans until done, about 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean. While cakes are cooking, place white chocolate chips in microwave safe bowl and microwave for 15-20 seconds. Remove and stir until melted. Pour melted chocolate into skeleton candy molds. Let filled molds sit several hours or overnight to harden.

Once cakes are cooled frost the top of cake with frosting. Sprinkle top of cake with cookie crumbs. Use decorator frosting to write on Milano cookies. Add candy skeleton pieces, prepared Milano cookie and candy corn pumpkin. Enjoy your scary treat!

One Year Ago: Z'Tejas Cornbread

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Week of Gluttony

I was so happy with the results of October's cookbook of the month! Every recipe I made was delightfully delicious! When I choose a CBOM and carefully choose the recipes I will make and feature of course I hope that they will all be a success. However despite my careful and through picking process some recipes don't turn out as great as I would hope. But I am so happy that all of the recipes from Giada's Family Dinners turned out delicious!

This cookbook, of course, is chalk full of some fine Italian food! From side dishes, to salads and sandwiches, to main entrees and (most importantly) desserts. The recipes in Giada's Family Dinners are easy to read, and although there are some specific 'Italian' ingredients needed for most recipes, a lot of these ingredients are readily available at your standard grocery store or are pantry staples. This book has a good number of pictures and has servings listed for each recipe but unfortunately does not have prep and cooking times listed (however I did try to include this information on my blog posts). Another great feature of this cookbook is a measurement conversion page and ingredient substation page. I also liked that there were 'menus' listed using recipes from the book (what a handy tool for party planning or to plan a big family dinner). This book is so worth the buy and is a total keeper and complete success! I will defiantly be going back to it to make additional recipes and soon!
This Herbed Cheese Polenta is a great Italian twist on a classic Southern favorite.

OMG this Chicken Carbonara was sinfully delicious and surprisingly extremely easy! I think Eric told me that he loved me 5 times while eating it and told me that he loved this dish about 10 times during the course of dinner! With that sort of praise this will be made again and again!

Pasta e Fagioli is a basic Italian soup that is full of flavor and extremely filling despite it's short and simple list of ingredients. And better yet I made my version vegetarian!

These Espresso Brownies were rich and decadent and got rave reviews from the numerous friends I "pawned" them off on. Believe me you will have BFF's for LIFE if you share these.

Another great Italian side dish or a fantastic vegetarian main dish is this Penne with Spinach Sauce which is truly versatile. It is extremely easy and will add extra nutrients to your meal with the 'hidden' spinach.

This surely was a week fill of gluttony sin but totally worth every delicious, mouth watering calorie!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Seriously,How Does She Do It?

Good gracious, how does Giada De Laurentiis stay such a skinny Minnie. I mean with cheese smothered pasta dishes like the chicken carbonara from the other day and rich espresso brownies to today's cheesy pasta side dish, she must have either serious self control or an amazing personal trainer or a metabolism to be envious by all. All I know is that come Monday (because new diet and exercise plans can never start over the weekend) I am going to have some serious gluttony sins to repent for. This amazingly simple pasta side dish did not help these problems.

Pasta graces our table on a regular basis (probably more than it should). However, usually it takes center stage as the main course and not a side dish. However this penne pasta with spinach sauce was the perfect accompaniment to some leftover chicken that needed to get eaten. This sauce was smooth and creamy and with the 'hidden' spinach kids and adults alike won't know what hit them (it can be our little secret!). Plus adding spinach to a cream sauce makes it healthier and more forgivable... right?

Notes: I modified the original recipe quite a bit by adding cream and extra cheese for additional flavor. Also the recipe for the 'sauce' minus the reserved pasta water would make a tasty veggie dip if you ask me! This made a perfect side dish but could also serve as a great vegetarian main course!

Penne with Spinach Sauce
Printable Version
Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 10 minutes Serves: 5-6 as a side dish, 2-4 as an entree

1/2 pound penne
3 garlic cloves
1/4 cup mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 ounces cream cheese
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves
3 tablespoons pasta water

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the penne and cook until it is tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

Mince the garlic in a food processor. Add the mozzarella cheese, cream cheese, heavy cream, salt, pepper, spinach leaves. Blend until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Transfer the cheese and spinach mixture to a small sauce pan.

Drain the pasta, reserving 3 tablespoons of the cooking liquid. Add the reserved pasta water to cheese mixture in the small sauce pan. Heat cheese mixture over medium-low heat for 1-2 minutes. Scrape the cheese and spinach mixture over the pasta and toss to coat. Season the pasta, to taste, with additional salt and pepper if needed and serve.

adapted from "Giada's Family Dinner" by Giada De Laurentiis

One Year Ago: Restaurant Review- Z'Tejas

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"Espresso" Your Self

As I mentioned earlier this week, this past month has been a rather difficult one for Eric and I. It has been completely surreal and my head still doesn't feel like it is in the right place. In the mist of everything was one of my good friend's birthdays. I totally forgot about it and missed it. I felt so bad and of course she understood in light of everything. I wanted to show her some birthday love and also to express a thank you to her for all her and her fiancé's (who is also a close friend) help during our difficult time. I wanted to make something special but it has been a very hectic and busy time right now so I need something special and something quick. I was so happy when I saw this brownie recipe in this month's CBOM. It uses a brownie mix from a box so it was going to be quick and easy; but since the brownie mix is altered and 'dressed up' a bit it would still be a special treat.

These Espresso Brownies were a perfect belated birthday treat and my coffee fanatic friend loved them! The perfect combination of bold and rich chocolate and coffee flavors... the perfect way to 'espresso' (haha... I know I am so clever) my appreciate for her help and send birthday wishes!

Espresso Brownies
Printable Version
Prep Time: 12 minutes Cook Time: 30-35 minutes Makes: 36 bite-size brownies

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons espresso powder
1 (19.8-ounce) box brownie mix
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Spray a 9 by 13-inch baking pan with nonstick spray. Whisk 1/3 cup of milk, oil, eggs, and 2 tablespoons espresso powder in a large bowl to blend. Add the brownie mix. Stir until well blended. Stir in the chocolate chips. Transfer the batter to the prepared baking pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, about 30-35 minutes. Cool completely.

Meanwhile, dissolve the remaining 2 teaspoons of espresso powder in the remaining 2 tablespoons of milk in a medium bowl. Whisk in the vanilla. Add the powdered sugar and butter and whisk until smooth. Pour the glaze over the brownies. Refrigerate until the glaze is set. Cut into bite-size pieces. Arrange the brownies on a platter and serve.

adapted from "Giada's Family Dinner" by Giada De Laurentiis

One Year Ago: Sesame Crackers

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lighter, Simpler Fare

After my sinfully delicious, creamy, cheesy pasta indulgence yesterday I figured something something lighter was in order. And I think soup fits the bill perfectly. Light but filling and great for the cooler fall weather (ok in actuality it has been warmer here and not really 'cool,' considering I have still been getting away with wearing shorts).

Pasta fagioli is another Italian classic. And while it is a rather simple and basic soup, it is full of flavor. I loved how quickly this soup came together and how all the ingredients were pantry staples (perfect for say, when you forgot to plan dinner or when you are stranded at home in the dead of winter).

Notes: The original recipe had pancetta and used chicken broth. I opted to go vegetarian and omit the pancetta and substitute vegetable stock. I am so happy with this decision and how the soup turned out! I have been wanting to try and incorporate more vegetarian meals into mine and Eric's diet but was worried about the complaints from the anti-vegetarian Eric. But good news we were both completely satisfied with our vegetarian soup, salad, and hot, crusty bread. Yay!

Pasta e Fagioli
Printable Version
Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 12 minutes Serves: 6

1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups low-sodium vegetable stock
2 (14.5-ounce) cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
3/4 cup elbow macaroni or small shell pasta
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup mozzarella cheese

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and butter in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until the onion is tender, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes more. Add the stock, beans, and herbs. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat, then decrease the heat to medium and simmer for about 5 minutes.

Puree 1 cup of the bean mixture in a blender until smooth*. Before putting the puree back into the soup, add the macaroni and boil with the lid on until it is tender but still firm to the bite, about 8 minutes. Return the puree to the remaining soup in the saucepan and stir well. Remove and discard bay leaf.

Season the soup with black pepper and salt. Ladle the soup into bowls. Sprinkle with some mozzarella cheese just before serving.

*When blending hot liquids: Remove liquid from the heat and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes. Transfer liquid to a blender or food processor and fill it no more than halfway. If using a blender, release one corner of the lid. This prevents the vacuum effect that creates heat explosions. Place a towel over the top of the machine, pulse a few times then process on high speed until smooth.

adapted from "Giada's Family Dinner" by Giada De Laurentiis

One Year Ago: Sesame Crackers

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sinfully Delicious

Ohhh this is good. Real good. Too good.

The second (and very classic Italian) recipe I made from the CBOM was Chicken Carbonara. I have had Chicken Carbonara before but had never attempted to make it on my own. I don't know why though, because this was so easy (maybe too easy and convenient). This cream sauce is smooth (real smooth), decadent, and rich. It is fabulous! I love a good rich and creamy classic white sauce (alfredo) but with the addition of herbs and the secret ingredient, egg yolks, (ok really not so secretive if you know what makes a carbonara, carbonara but saying secretive is fun and intriguing!).

Need further proof this is make your heart cry good: Eric is sometimes skeptical of new dishes and requested me to make traditional alfredo sauce as well in case he didn't like this. Well folks, the alfredo sauce was made but never touched. And Eric ate 3 bowls* of this raving all the while that he was so glad his "other" girlfriend could teach me a new and insanely delicious recipe! HaHa!

*A note from Eric: Just to clarify things I ate 3 bowls through the course of one day... not all in one sitting.

Chicken Carbonara
Prep Time: 15 minutes Cook Time: 22 minutes Serves: 6

4 sliced bacon
2 large chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces and seasoned with salt and pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups whipping cream
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
8 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon dried parsley leaves
1/2 tablespoon dried basil leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound spaghetti
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Heat a heavy large frying pan over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until it is brown and crisp, about 3 minutes. Remove cooked bacon from pan, leave drippings. Add prepared chicken to pan with bacon drippings and cook until done, about 8 minutes. Add prepared garlic to pan to cook during the last 1 or 2 minutes with chicken. Remove cooked chicken and garlic from pan and drain any remaining grease.

In a large bowl, whisk together the cream, cheese, yolks, basil, parsley 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper; to blend.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the spaghetti and 1/2 a teaspoon salt. Cook until it is just tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Drain.

Crumble the bacon and add it back to the pan over low heat. Next, add the cream mixture. Let the cream/bacon heat through. Add the cooked pasta and chicken and toss over low heat until the sauce coats the spaghetti thickly, about 3 minutes (do not boil or you might end up scrambling the eggs). Transfer the pasta to a large wide serving bowl and serve.

adapted from "Giada's Family Dinner" by Giada De Laurentiis

One Year Ago: Red Bell Pepper Hummus

Monday, October 18, 2010

Eric's Other Girlfriend

I recently found out that even though I have been absent from my blog and just came back yesterday, that I have had an influx in readers. Yay! I am so happy to have you all here. So for you new readers that don't know, every month I feature a cookbook of the month and write a little review and share a few recipes from said chosen cookbook. I am not paid or asked to do this. I have this little feature because I have a little bit of a cookbook hoarding collecting problem and since I have way more cookbooks, which contain way more recipes than I could possibly make in my life time, I thought this would be a good way to actually 'use' my cookbooks and at least make a few things from each book (before it gathers perma dust on the bookshelf).

At times I have thought of stopping this feature because I don't want to infringe on copy write issues, but I figure that since each recipe I find in my trusty cookbooks I take as inspiration and transform them into my own unique version, all is well (right? also other blogs share recipes from cookbooks too so I am not the only one). And, since I have a huge slight obsession with the Food Network and all of their famous chefs and own a lot of their cookbooks, a lot of theses recipes can be found on the Food Network website.

Like this month's cookbook author (or Eric's 'other girlfriend' lol): Giada De Laurentiis. This month I am featuring the cookbook "Giada's Family Dinner". I was excited to feature this cookbook because I wanted to really hone my Italian cooking skills (one of the main reasons I think Eric likes Giada so much is because of his own Italian roots and love of their food). There are so many great Italian recipes in this book. From soups and salads to sandwiches and main entrees and my favorite dessert.

There are a fare amount of of photos and each recipe has the number of servings listed but not the total cook and prep time. : ( Even though this is a regional cookbook and there are specific well known Italian ingredients needed for these recipes, most are pantry staples or can be found at your local grocery store. I also like that at the end of the book there are 'sample menus' using recipes in the book for different holidays and special events. And there is a much needed accessory for every cookbook a conversion chart and ingredient substitution page. So follow me this week as we go Italian!

First recipe up is Herbed Cheese Polenta. I love polenta. It reminds me of a Southern favorite: grits. It is so versatile. Add some cinnamon sugar to have a sweet breakfast polenta. Add salt, pepper and cheese to have a savory side with dinner. This version kicks it up a notch and with a variety of herbs that add a lot of flavor.

Notes: I adjusted this recipe to use ingredients I had on hand. Instead of fresh herbs I used dried. Instead of regular milk I used buttermilk. Another tip of advice: when you are adding your cornmeal to the boiling water make sure and gradually whisk it in and do not just dump the cornmeal in all at once. If you just dump it in, the cornmeal will clump up and it will be hard to get it thoroughly mixed in. As always my changes are reflected below.

Herbed Cheese Polenta
Printable Version
Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 20 minutes Serves: 5-6

5 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups yellow cornmeal
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon dried Italian parsley leaves
1 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves
1 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Bring the water to a boil in a heavy large saucepan. Add 2 teaspoons of salt. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender, stirring often, about 12-15 minutes. Add the cheese, milk, butter, parsley, rosemary, thyme, and pepper, and stir until the butter and cheese melt. Remove from heat and transfer the polenta to a bowl and serve.

adapted from "Giada's Family Dinner" by Giada De Laurentiis

One Year Ago: Red Bell Pepper Hummus

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Choppin' Broccoli and Ranch Dressing For Joe

I am sure you have noticed that I have been missing from this blog and the blogging world in general for about a month now. I have missed blogging and baking and all of y'all! And I do want to thank each and everyone of you that have still been stopping by and reading Kitchen Concoctions and creating and being inspired by the recipes on here even in my absence. Thank you!

You see this past month has been a tough one for my family and I. My brother-in-law, Eric's brother, Joe passed away unexpectedly back in September. He was only 33 and had a heart condition that no one knew about. Eric was extremely close to Joe and there for I have become extremely close to Joe over the years. Understandably it as been a very hard time on everyone. And while I know Eric and his family know how much I love and care about them and how much Joe means to mean personally it was hard for me to verbalize these feelings to them at the time Joe passed away and even still a month later. I have never been good about sharing my feelings out loud but have always expressed myself through the written word.

So I wanted to do something to remember Joe in my own special way and writing and cooking have always been things that bring me happiness and have always helped me. But because this is such a public blog and because I try to keep things light and funny on here I did not know if sharing this would be appropriate. However, I needed to do this.

Joe was such a great guy and touched every person he came in contact with. He and a big heart, a big sprit, and a big personality. Joe helped me and cared about me, which was evident in several situations that I will never forget and I will forever be grateful for. Several people that I didn't even know came up to me after he passed away saying that Joe used to talk so highly of me and how he was so happy his younger brother had such a great girl. Joe loved to eat and for someone who loved to cook this was a great thing! The very first Thanksgiving I made entirely by myself (from stuffing, to turkey, to dessert), I made for Eric and his brothers and cousins when our parents were all going to be out of town and we were ft to 'fend for ourselves'.

I wanted to create a recipe for especially for Joe. One of his favorite foods was chicken parmesan and mashed potatoes. We had many a dinners with Joe where Eric and I made these family favorites. And although Joe loved to eat he was a picky eater about a few things... Like he hated mayo, butter only on his sandwiches. And don't even get him started on ranch! Joe also had many quirky sayings one being "choppin' broccoli" (which he also hated). So in honor of Joe and to keep these funny memories alive, I am sharing a ranch dressing made in honor of Joe with broccoli florets for dipping. Joe I hope you are having a good laugh about this one! We love you man!

Ranch Dressing for Joe
Prep Time: 15 minutes Servings: 8

1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried chives
1 teaspoon dried dill
3/4 cup (real) mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika

Mince the garlic with a knife and then sprinkle ¼ teaspoons of salt on it and mash it into a paste with a fork.

In a bowl combine the dried herbs and spices to the garlic. Add all of the remaining ingredients whisking together to incorporate. Taste and adjusting seasonings as needed. Serve with chopped broccoli, carrots, or veggies of your choice, or with a salad or hot wings.

adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Flavors of Fall

At the beginning of September Foodbuzz and Nature's Pride Bread asked food bloggers if they wanted to create a recipe using Nature's Pride Bread. I signed up because I knew I could create a tasty, original, one of a kind recipe using Nature's Pride Bread. Because I wanted my recipe to be something different, I didn't want to go the traditional route of a sandwich or bread pudding. So the wheels in my head started turning and I thought of stuffing. But I didn't want to create any 'old' stuffing I wanted something different, something special, something new.

This Breakfast Stuffing was the end result: full of all the flavors of fall apples, cinnamon, pecans, and cranberries. This stuffing had a hint of sweetness and was perfect paired with some breakfast sausage and eggs. What a great breakfast for a nice cool and crisp Autumn morning!

Breakfast Stuffing
by Heather of Kitchen Concoctions
Prep Time: 15-20 minutes Cook Time: 45 minutes Serves 5-6

2 medium green apples; peeled, cored, and diced
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 slices Nature’s Pride Oven Classics Honey Wheat bread
3 slices cinnamon raisin bread
3 slices pumpkin bread
1/3 cup apple cider
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8x8 inch pan with non-stick spray.

Slice bread into 1/2 inch square pieces. Add cranberries to apple cider and let sit.

Place prepared apples, brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter in saute pan over medium-high heat. Cook for 3-4 minutes.

After apples are done cooking add bread pieces to pan and stir. Pour apple cider and cranberries over the cooked bread and apples. Stir in pecans. Let cook for 1-2 minutes. Pour mixture into prepared 8x8 inch square pan. Cook for 45 minutes or until set. Serve hot with breakfast sausage and eggs!

Disclaimer: I received a coupon for a loaf of Nature's Pride Bread and Foodbuzz to participate. Of those who participate Nature's Pride and Foodbuzz will select 6 bloggers who submitted a recipe to present their recipe at Foodbuzz Blogger Festival 2010, all travel expenses paid by Nature's Pride Bread.
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