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Adventures in early literacy


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Crepes, Crepes, and More Crepes!

Yep, that’s right. We ate crepes three times (actually I ate them four times!) the last two days. On Sunday morning we went to breakfast with some friends from Seattle and I had super delicious apple crepes. As soon as we got home I knew crepes would be the challenge for this weekend. Since we ate them at a cafe in Santa Monica I have been dreaming of crepes filled with ham and cheese followed by one filled with chocolate and strawberries. First, though, I had to learn how to make the actual crepes. Luckily crepes don’t require any strange ingredients so we didn’t have to go to the store first.

Here’s how to do it:

In a large bowl whisk together: 4 eggs, 1 1/3 cup milk, 2 Tbsp melted butter, 1 cup flour, 2 Tbsp sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, 1/2 tsp salt.  Whisk until smooth. If you are having a hard time getting rid of lumps you can transfer the batter to a blender and mix it that way. Or, just mix the whole thing in the blender to start with!

Heat a medium sized skillet (one with low edges) or a crepe pan, lightly greased with a little butter, over medium heat.  Spoon a small amount (about 4 Tbsp) of batter into the skillet. Tilt the pan so the batter spreads out across the bottom of the pan. You have to do this fairly quickly because the batter starts to cook pretty fast. Cook the crepes until they are light golden brown on each side, about 1 minute on each side.

Cooking Crepe

Monday morning we ended up spreading raspberry jam on them with a little sprinkling of powdered sugar. It was really tasty! After dinner (delicious flank steak from Trader Joe’s) I made a chocolate ganache (1/2 cup milk brought to a boil in the microwave and them poured over half a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips and whisked until smooth) and chopped up some strawberries.  Then I cooked up some more crepes and filled them with chocolate and strawberries. When I say they tasted like heaven, I’m not exaggerating. So yummy I dreamt of them last night.

Ganache and Strawberries

 

Inside of the Crepe

Finished Dessert Crepes

Before I made the chocolate and strawberry crepes I made miniature Key Lime Pies. Isn’t this one cute!?

Mini Key Lime Pie

I still had some crepe batter left over so I covered it with saran wrap and stuck it in the fridge (you can keep it like this for about 2 days). This morning I heated some smoked ham from the deli and grated some monterey cheese to fill the remaining crepes. Oh so good!

Ham and Cheese Crepe

If you are ever in need of a quick, easy meal I can highly recommend whipping up some crepes and filling them with whatever kind of yummy stuff you have around. You won’t be disappointed!

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Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes

Due to a lack of time and energy this weekend I made breakfast instead of a big dinner. Hopefully my energy will be back next weekend because my goal is to make a pie since I haven’t done so for about 10 years.

This morning I made homemade ricotta pancakes with fresh blueberries. They were pretty easy and really yummy. We didn’t think the ricotta made a super huge difference, but they were a lot more moist than my pancakes in the past.  The recipe is from Food and Wine. My only advice: half the recipe. It make a lot of pancake so unless you have a big family, or a small one with a really big appetite, you are going to want to half it or third it (it calls for 3 eggs so thirding might be easier). Recipe here.

It was a really nice breakfast and we look forward to leftovers all week long!


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Chicken Marsala…for weeknight cooking? Yes!

Tonight Kev is sick so I decided to force him to rest and make dinner myself. I’ve been wanting to make Chicken Marsala for a while and didn’t realize how simple it actually was. It always looks so fancy! I started cooking about 6:20 and we ate about 7:15. Not too bad for the first time I’ve every made something, if you ask me! It would probably look a lot nicer on the plate if you added some asparagus or a sprig of parsley, but we didn’t have either. Oh well, how it looks isn’t the most important thing for Thursday night dinner.

Chicken Marsala and Pasta

Basically, roll your chicken (I had 6 tenders) in this flour mixture: 1/8 cup flour, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp black pepper, 1/4 tsp oregano (or more if you like it a lot). In a large skillet melt 4 Tbsp butter in 4 Tbsp olive oil. Lightly brown one side of the chicken in the oil. Flip the chicken and add about 1 cup sliced mushrooms (fresh makes all the difference), 1/2 cup marsala wine and 1/4 cup cooking sherry. Put a lid on your skillet and let the mixture simmer for 10 minutes, turning the chicken half way through. That’s it! You have chicken marsala. How easy is that? Because chicken seems pretty sad by itself I cooked up some angel hair pasta and dressed with my made up pasta sauce: a few Tbsp olive oil, 1 Tbsp butter, 3 cloves of pressed garlic, 1 tsp parsley. Toss the pasta in the sauce and then add some freshly grated parmesan to the top. Yum.

http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Chicken-Marsala/Detail.aspx

This is the recipe I followed, although not exactly. Instead of pounding chicken breasts thin I just used chicken tenders. Either way apparently works because this dish was really tasty! I really love the gravy-like smooth and creamy consistency.


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Linguine in Vodka Sauce

This is a super easy dish even though saying it out loud “Linguine in Vodka Sauce” in a very Italian-like accent makes it sound really fancy. You could easily add some chicken and a side of asparagus to really jazz it up and add color.

The vodka sauce was really tasty, but way too runny. I cooked it and cooked it trying to thicken and it never did so we just ate it as is. Next time I’ll leave out the water the recipe calls for. Still, it was super easy to make and really tasty! I added a little extra red pepper flake because we like things spicy, but you could certainly do everything exactly the way the recipe asks and it would be very good.

For those of you with an aversion to clicking on links, here’s the basic recipe:

You first have to make a marinara sauce. I used a recipe for Perfect Marinara Sauce, which in my humble opinion is nowhere near perfect. So I suggest making your favorite marinara sauce. Mine involves browning some garlic and onions very finely chopped in olive oil then adding a can of tomato sauce (a small one because you only want about 2 cups of sauce), basil, oregano, black pepper and a pinch of brown sugar. If you like chunkier sauce use the Perfect Marinara sauce link above. They call for a can of whole peeled tomatoes. They make it taste really good, but also make it too thin for my liking. My Mom would most likely enjoy the chunkier version. 🙂 Whatever you decide, leave out all the extra goodies like olives, zuchinni, etc. in this sauce. Save those things for spaghetti.

After you have made your basic marinara sauce however you like to make it, saute a couple of shallots (or finely dice some sweet onion) in 2 Tbsps of butter. Add the marinara sauce to your shallots or your shallots to your sauce depending on what kinds of pans you use. Then add 3/4 heavy cream to the mixture and heat through. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes and stir in 1/4 cup grated parmesan. Add 1-2 Tbsps of vodka and stir well. That’s it. Told you it was easy.

While you have the vodka out… try my drink of the night: Slutty Shirley. I find having a drink or two while cooking makes the experience twice as nice. To make this drink do a shot of vodka (if you have raspberry vodka use that, but regular works fine) in a glass with a few cubes of ice. Fill the glass almost full with Sprite and add a little grenadine for color. Plop in a maraschino cherry and drink.

Now for dessert: Decadent Raspberry Brownies. They are so amazing they need their own post so check back later for the word on the brownies.


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Homemade Cheese Ravioli in Marinara

  

    

Does this look like something you’d like for dinner? If so, you have three choices: follow the directions below and make it, go to your local Italian restaurant and pay for it, or head over to my place and I’ll share! 🙂      

 Anne Burrell scares me. But she also makes really delicious looking pastas on Food Network. As luck would have it we received our monthly Food Network Magazine the other day and she had a recipe for homemade ravioli inside. So I decided to conquer my fear of Anne and pasta and beat those eggs like I mean it. Be aggressive!  Even though Anne scares me, I actually really admire her.  After making this ravioli my admiration is greater than ever. While not too terribly hard, this dish is very time consuming and physically demanding. Seriously, kneading pasta dough for 10 minutes really takes it out of you!     

Kneading

  

That said, the taste of fresh, homemade pasta is SO worth the work. However, if you have never made this before I’d allow at least 2 hours for the whole meal. The pasta dough has to rest for an hour, and if you are like me you constantly check the recipe to make sure you are doing it right. That eats up a lot of time. Anyway, on to the recipe.       

Pasta: 3 eggs, 2 1/2 cups flour, 2 Tbsp olive oil, dash of salt       

Pile the flour on a large cutting board or the counter and make a well in the middle. Put your eggs, oil and salt in the well. Beat the eggs in the well with a fork. Then use the fork to break the flour wall and gradually incorporate the flour into the egg mixture. Here is a youtube video to give you a visual http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xXr5kQphmJs.       

After the flour and eggs are mixed, gather the dough into a ball and knead. Continue to knead until dough is “smooth and supple”, about 10 minutes. If the dough is too dry (mine was a little dry) get your hands wet and knead the moisture from your hands into the dough. After the dough is kneaded wrap it in plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for at least an hour.  

While the dough is resting prepare your filling: 1 cup ricotta, 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan, 2 eggs, 1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley, 1/8 tsp salt. Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Transfer the filling from the bowl into a pastry bag (or a ziploc you don’t mind ruining) and refrigerate.    You can also put in some tallegio cheese, but we didn’t have any.  

 

Ricotta Filling

  

Now you have to think about your sauce. I chose to make a marinara because I didn’t have any of the ingredients for Anne’s pancetta mushroom sauce. However, I will be making these again with the pancetta sauce because it looks awesome. The marinara was pretty good. It would have been better with fresh tomatoes, or at least whole canned ones. All I had was tomato puree so that had to work. Here’s how it went: In a large saucepan (big enough to hold your ravioli and sauce) combine 3 Tbsp olive oil, 6 cloves of garlic thinly sliced, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Cook on medium-low heat until garlic is golden, about 5 minutes.      

Cooking Garlic and Oil

  

After the garlic is browner than in this picture, add 1 can of tomato puree, 1 can of water, 1 Tbsp basil (or a handful of fresh basil leaves if you have it), 1 tsp salt. Let the sauce simmer for about 20 minutes (it can simmer longer if you need it to, though). Once your raviolis have boiled you will add them to the sauce before serving.      

Your dough should be ready by now. Unwrap it and separate it into 3 pieces. If you have a kitchenaid mixer with a pasta roller attachment you can use it for this. If not you will need a crank pasta roller like mine (you can get one for about $30 at Bed Bath and Beyond and they are super cool!). With your hands, slightly flatten a piece of dough and crank it through the roller on the widest setting. Do this a couple of times. Fold the dough over itself in thirds and feed it through the roller again on the highest setting. Continue to crank the dough through the roller, taking the width setting down one place each time you feed the dough through. When you feed it through on setting 4 on a hand crank roller the dough is done (stop on the second to last setting on a kitchenaid mixer). If your dough gets sticky you can lightly flour it before sending it through again. Your dough should be about 1/16 of an inch thick when finished. Lay the sheets of dough on a lightly floured surface. Very lightly brush the bottom half of the sheet (the half closest to you) with water. See pictures below for visuals for all of this.

Rolling the PastaPasta Sheets

  

   

Pasta Sheets

  

Cut a hole in the corner of your bag of filling and pipe a one inch ball of filling onto your pasta sheets. Pipe the filling on to the damp part of the pasta. Space the filling balls about 2-3 inches from each other.   

Piped Filling on Sheets

  

After you have piped all along the sheets of dough, fold the dough over the filling and use your fingers to press the two sides of dough together around the filling. Try not to have any air bubbles in the filling section. This isn’t super easy. I messed up a couple of times and filling came oozing out of unsealed holes. DON’T PANIC! Just squeeze the edges a little more tightly and everything will be fine, I promise. Use a cookie cutter to cut the ravioli into their round shape . When all the ravioli are cut place them into a pot of boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and into the sauce when they finish boiling.   

Fold Dough Over Filling

  

Press Dough around Filling

  

Cut Ravioli

  

Finished Product

  

Now put the food on your plate and top with some grated parmesan. Voila! You made a delicious dinner!    

I made lemon bars out of the Food Network Mag as well but they are terrible in comparison to my tried and true recipe so I’m not even going to post them. Maybe I’ll post my fav lemon bars soon. We had kind of a strange and busy weekend so the chocolate covered cherries never happened. I will make them soon.   

Until then, Happy Eating!


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Sweet and Sour Chicken Stir Fry

Today we had company for dinner so I made stir fry with a homemade sweet and sour sauce. It was very tasty, although next time I will try to add or change some things to spice up the flavors a bit. Kev loved it, though, and that’s what really counts.

I also used our rice cooker for the first time. How did we ever live without it?! Fresh rice is so much better than instant and so easy with the rice cooker! For three I used 1 1/2 cups of rice and 2 cups of water. It worked out really well with only a tad bit left over.

For the stir fry I use 2 small carrots, one green bell pepper, one red bell pepper, half of one white sweet onion, and one pound of chicken breast tenders, sliced into bite sized pieces. Somehow my brain locked up and I cooked the chicken first, which I wouldn’t recommend. Stick the chicken in a medium hot pan with some oil and the sliced onions and carrots. After the onions are cooked to the desired consistency add the peppers and sweet and sour sauce.

Sweet and sour sauce: 3/4 cup chicken broth, 1/4 ketchup,  1/4 cup sugar, 2 tsps cornstarch, 2 tsps soy sauce, 3 Tbsp rice vinegar, 1 tsp sesame oil, 1/2 tsp salt

Cook all ingredients until sauce begins to thicken. That’s it. Stir fry is super easy! It is a really healthy, simple dinner for those nights when there isn’t a lot of time to put a really big dinner together. My favorite part about stir fry is that you can put any kind of vegetable or meat in it. If you don’t have time to go to the store use whichever veggies you have around. You can use teriyaki sauce, or some other kind of bottled sauce instead of making your own. Get creative!

Lemon bars just came out of the oven. I’ll try to get a picture of them-unfortunately we ate too fast to get a picture of the stir fry.

Happy eating!


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Pork Chops

We had such an amazing day, my menu for the evening was comfort food to reflect that wonderful day. We had a lovely breakfast out, took a long walk in the dog park with Sierra, went grocery shopping, cleaned up the front and back yards, and took a second walk around the neighborhood to take advantage of every drop of sunshine we could. Then we hurried inside so I could get cooking.

For dinner I decided on Italian Breaded Pork Chops. I’ve only made pork of any kind a couple of times, and never breaded so this was definitely new to me. As with every new dish I start, I make sure to give myself lots of time to muddle through the recipe. This dish is so easy, there was no muddling. 

So good we forgot to take a picture until it was almost gone!

To start with, I modified the heck out of the recipe linked above. I used only 2 pork chops, and therefore half the other ingredients. You can make your own Italian breadcrumbs if you don’t have them by using regular breadcrumbs, or Panko, and adding about 1/4 tsp of each of the following spices: parsley flakes, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, sugar, plus a dash of oregano. The recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups of breadcrumbs-this is way too much and you will waste a ton of breading! For 2 chops use about 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs.  Use one egg and about 1 Tbsp of milk for dipping. After browning the garlic I set the cloves in a bowl and placed them on top of the browned chops before I put them in the oven. We never waste garlic in this house! 

After browning the chops in the pan, I moved them to a warm casserole dish to continue cooking in a preheated oven. They cooked for about 15 minutes and were prefect-right at 160 degrees. To me, plain breaded pork chops sounded a little dry. So, I decided to make some red sauce to put on top. One small can of tomato sauce, oregano, basil, pepper, garlic powder to taste, and you have a pretty darn good marinara sauce. Usually I add a tsp of brown sugar (that idea came from by best friend-thanks Mel!) to tomato sauce, but laziness took over and the brown sugar didn’t make it out of the cupboard.  It was pretty good without it, though. The whole meal took maybe 30 minutes. Definitely a good one for nights when you don’t feel like going into a lot of prep.

Stay tuned for fudgy brownies. They’re in the oven now-if they taste half as good as they smell we may be up all night on a sugar high!