cafela: (nutmeg)
I love mac & cheese, and this recipe has become a favorite with my dad's side of the family. You can use any shape of pasta you want--I prefer gemelli or mini bowtie instead of the traditional macaroni, but that's fine, too.

And yes, nutmeg sounds like a weird ingredient (my mom honestly sounded scared when I made it at her house and asked where she kept the nutmeg), but it's essential in this dish. You only need a dash or two (I wouldn't use more than 1/2 tsp), and it makes a huge difference. Also, feel free to substitute other cheeses, though you will want to keep at least one milder cheese like fontina or mozzerella in the dish.

1 lb of pasta
4 oz fontina (or similar mild) cheese, shredded
4 oz gruyere or parmesan, shredded (not the cheap parmesan that comes pre-grated in a big plastic shaker, the real stuff)
8 oz sharp cheddar, shredded
2 tb butter
2 tb flour
1 1/2 milk (or cream if you want)
dash of nutmeg
salt & pepper to taste
4-6 pieces bacon (you can omit this if you're making it for vegetarians, but it does take the flavor up a notch)
panko breadcrumbs

Cook bacon, let cool, and chop into small pieces. Reserve bacon fat. Make the pasta. While it boils, make a basic bechamel sauce/roux on the stove in a large skillet(melt the butter, whisk in the flour and let brown, heat the milk, whisk in milk slowly). Add the nutmeg, and some salt and pepper, then stir in the cheese until melted. Remove from heat.

Pour your pasta into your casserole/baking dish. Drizzle with reserved bacon fat. Mix in your cheesy bechamel sauce and bacon pieces. Once mixed, top with breadcrumbs. Cook in oven at 350 for about 20 minutes (until the breadcrumbs brown and the mac & cheese is bubbly.
cafela: (nutmeg)

I am not terribly breakfast-inclined. At least, not when it comes to making my own. Most weekends, I scrounge up some leftovers to reheat rather than eat cereal or poptarts. It's not that I don't like breakfast foods--I love breakfast foods! But I'm not a morning person, and if I take the time to cook breakfast, it's automatically going to end up as brunch, or possibly lunch. I never cook breakfast on weekdays because I'm always scared I'm going to forget to turn off the stove or the oven. But breakfast is an important meal, and I try not to skip it. Most of the time, that means I take an apple to work, or maybe a fruit cup, because they're easy to pop into my purse and I can eat them at my desk with little fuss. I tried the pop-tart route when I was a teacher, but since I quit teaching, eating pop-tarts just reminds me of how dreadful my weekday mornings were back then, so they're not an option.

However, sometimes I get sick of apples and fruit cups. Fortunately, we always seem to have bananas that sit on the counter, not getting eaten. Yes, they're still fruit--but they're fruit that can be turned into delicious muffins. I arrived at this recipe through some trial and error--the original recipe called for coconut flour, which I don't keep and which is basically the alternative baking flours opposite of almond flour. The great thing about it is how good for you it is--almond flour is just very finely ground almonds, so you get lots of fiber and healthy oils and cut down on carbs. Also, there's no added sugar, but it doesn't taste as though it's missing. They're good for breakfast, a snack, or a simple dessert.

I will say, these have a slightly weird texture, and they're one of the few foods that are much better eaten after waiting for them to cool--when they're hot out of the oven, they're not quite set up, no matter how long you've left them in the oven. It's like they need to sit and dry out a bit. The great thing about this quality is that they stay fresh and really get better with each day; they last up to a week if you keep them covered.

Banana Bread Muffins
3-4 very ripe bananas
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 cup almond flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp kosher or sea salt

Mash or whip bananas in your mixer until nearly liquefied. Add the other ingredients in the order given, beating slightly after each addition. Pour into well-greased muffin tin. Bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for about 40 minutes (check at 30 minutes) or until a toothpick comes out clean. The muffins will look very dark brown, but that's okay, they're not burned, it's just a super dark muffin. Makes about 18 regular muffins.

*Note for those with gluten allergies: You can make this without the all-purpose flour, using just almond flour, but you should omit the vegetable oil and add another egg if you do.
cafela: (Default)
It's nearly Thanksgiving, and it's later than normal this year. I've managed to get a lot of Christmas shopping done already, and I already have Christmas cards ready to go out, so it seems wrong to not make Thanksgiving food until next week. So I've gone ahead and made my family's cornbread dressing. There are a lot of great variations on dressing/stuffing, but this is my favorite.

Dressing is actually really easy to put together--it's just the prep that takes work, especially if you don't like crunching on pieces of onion or celery. To avoid that, I always chop the onions and celery into very tiny little pieces--basically, I mince it, so that once it's cooked down, it essentially melts into all the other ingredients. Also, I hate celery in everything--except this dish. Including celery does make a big difference in the flavor, so if you don't like it, don't leave it out if you can help it, because I promise, it won't taste like celery. When celery cooks down the way it does in this recipe, it tastes nothing like celery normally does.

Also, while a lot of cornbread dressing recipes include just cornbread, I've always found that it has a better overall texture if you use a combination of bread and cornbread, so that's what I use. If you're hell bent on just having cornbread, make 2 recipes' worth of cornbread and omit the sandwich bread.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Southern Cornbread Dressing
1 recipe's worth of Buttermilk Cornbread (or any cornbread that has no sugar in the recipe)
4 tbsp butter
1 cup finely chopped onions
2 cups finely chopped celery
1 large chicken breast (you can increase the amount of chicken if you want, or use leftover turkey)
salt & pepper
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp chicken broth
9 slices white sandwich bread, torn into small pieces
1 1/2 tsp rubbed sage
3/4 tsp black pepper
4 cups chicken broth
3 eggs, lightly beaten

First, make your cornbread.

While your cornbread cooks, chop your onion and celery. Melt 4 tbsp butter over medium high heat in a pot/skillet large enough to hold all the celery and onion. Add the celery and onion, cover and let cook (stir occasionally).

Take a small pan and melt 1 tbsp butter in it. Season the chicken breast with salt and pepper, then add it to the small pan. Add 2 tbsp chicken broth, cover and let cook over medium high heat until cooked through.

By this point, the cornbread should be done, so when it is, remove from oven and from the skillet so it can cool.

Get a large bowl (large enough to hold all the ingredients combined) and tear up the sandwich bread. Add the torn up pieces to it. Once the cornbread is cooled enough to handle, crumble it into pieces (2 inches or so) and add it to the bowl as well. When the chicken has cooked through, remove it from the pan and chop or shred it into small pieces. Add the chicken to the bowl.

Sprinkle the sage and the pepper into the bowl. Mix everything that's in the bowl at this point. Add the 4 cups chicken broth, then add the beaten eggs. Mix everything in the bowl again. Add the celery/onion mixture, and mix once more. The mixture should be somewhat soggy--if it is still dry, add another 1/2 cup of chicken broth. If it goes into the oven dry, it will be too dry once it's cooked (though if it does turn out dry, a quick fix is to pour 1/4 cup warm chicken broth over the top).

Uncooked Dressing

Spoon into two pans or casserole dishes, or one large casserole dish. Cook in the oven at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for about 25 minutes if you have two pans, 30-35 minutes if you have one large dish. It is done when the top turns golden brown. Serve with gravy or cranberry sauce or even just by itself.

cafela: (salt is magical)
It's finally starting to feel like fall, and that means it is the best time to try out new soup recipes. I love this soup; the recipe is based heavily on one by Cook's Illustrated. While most butternut squash soups are sweet, this one is not. It's similar to the first soup recipe I posted, the French Vegetable soup, but I like this one better, and it is much quicker to make.

A quick note: if you don't have butternut squash handy, any similarly orange/slightly sweet squash will work, including pumpkin. If you want your soup to have a slight sweetness to it, increase the amount of squash and decrease the amount of potatoes by the same amount.

Savory Butternut Squash Soup
1 3/4 pounds butternut squash--seeded, peeled, and cut into 2-inch chunks (about 4 1/2 cups or one 2-lb squash)
1 pound potatoes (I used yukon gold)--peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks (about 2 cups)
2 tb butter
salt and pepper
1 large leek or 2 smaller leeks, dark green top part cut off, sliced thin, washed thoroughly
1 shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
4 cups chicken broth (veggie broth can be substituted)
1-2 cups water
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese (plus more for garnish if desired)
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
pinch cayenne pepper
1/4 cup cream (or creme fraiche if you can get it) --You can omit this if you want.

Vital tools: immersion blender OR regular blender

First, prep your ingredients, particularly the squash and potatoes. Place squash and potatoes in microwave safe bowl, and microwave for 14 minutes. Stir halfway through the microwave time. I used the microwave time to prep the rest of the ingredients.

Next, melt butter in dutch oven/heavy duty soup pot, over medium-high heat. Add leeks, squash, potatoes, shallot, garlic, and 2 tsp salt. Cook, sometimes stirring, for about 14 minutes, until the potatoes and squash break down and the bottom of the pot begins to develop a fond (basically, browned residue from the cooked veggies).

At this point, add the broth, and stir while scraping the bottom of the pot to release the fond. Add 1 cup of water (and up to 1 cup more if you want a thinner soup). Add cheese, thyme, bay leaf, and cayenne. Increase heat and bring everything up to a high simmer. Reduce heat to medium and cook at least 10 more minutes. You can cook up to 30 minutes more if you want to continue to develop the flavors, but you don't have to.

Remove and discard the bay leaf and the thyme. Process soup using either immersion blender or working in batches with a regular blender. Return soup to the pot and bring up to a simmer again. Stir in cream/creme fraiche. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with drops of cream or with more parmesan cheese. Serves 6-8.

cafela: (Default)
Here is the wreath that I made to replace the umbrella one I made for the summer:

It was surprisingly easy to make, but slightly time-consuming. I bought a Styrofoam wreath, some grey yarn, turquoise yarn, and 1 sheet of purple felt. First I cut the felt into equal-sized squares. I made them somewhat small since I only had the one sheet; if I make this again, I might buy a second sheet and make the squares bigger. Then it took about 2 hours to wrap the grey yarn around the Styrofoam wreath, being careful to wrap it tightly and so that none of the white showed through. I arranged and pinned the felt squares to the wreath after that, and then I wound the blue yarn over them, again being sure the yarn was wound very tightly. I removed the pins, looped the ribbon to hang the wreath under some of the grey yarn at the back of the wreath, and it was finished!

If you want a simpler look, you could always forgo the second color of yarn and simply hot glue the felt pieces to the wreath. You could also add some flowers or your street number to jazz it up some more. I prefer this way because it will be easier to re-use the wreath.
cafela: (Default)
I haven't posted in ages, I know. Life has been busy. But today I have pictures of a quilt I made for a friend's daughter's first birthday. Here's a couple of pics of her enjoying the finished quilt:

cafela: (nutmeg)
It's the height of peach season here in Georgia, and I've had several peaches sitting on my counter, waiting to be used ever since I bought them at the local farmer's market. A few days ago, I went ahead and peeled, pitted, and sliced them, then mixed them in a bowl with sugar and lemon juice. It took me awhile to decide whether I should do a cobbler, or a cake, or any of the other myriad things you can do with peaches. Finally, I decided to keep it simple and just make a pie. Now, you can always make your own pie crust, but I had some puff pastry dough taking up space in my freezer, so I decided to cheat and use that for my crust. Normal pie dough works and will taste just fine, but it doesn't rise to quite the heights that puff pastry will, so just keep that in mind if you use a different dough.

Also, while I love Georgia peaches, the peaches that are truly the best come from Chilton County, Alabama, so if you can get your hands on those, they are amazing. And any peaches will work for this pie--really, any fruit ought to be fine. I have some fresh blueberries from my mom's backyard that might get turned into a similar pie once this one has been eaten.

Georgia Peach Pie
3-5 peaches, peeled, pitted, and sliced (about 2 cups, maybe less)
2 tb brown sugar
2 tb white sugar
1 tb lemon juice
2 tb butter
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
pie crust/dough for one pie (I used 1 puff pastry sheet)

Prep your peaches a day before if you can--peel, pit, and slice them, then toss them in a bowl with 2 tb brown sugar, 1 tb white sugar, and the lemon juice. You don't have to prep them a day ahead, but I prefer to.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Put your pie dough onto your pie pan; don't cut the excess off unless you just want to.

Drain excess juice/liquid from the bowl the peaches are in. Spoon peaches into the pie pan. Sprinkle the remaining 1 tb of white sugar, the cinnamon, and the nutmeg over the peaches. Cut up the butter into tiny cubes, and place them around the top of the pie.

Fold the excess pie dough/edges over the fruit. Place pie into the oven, cook for about 20 minutes (check on it at 15) until the pie crust is golden brown.

Serve with vanilla ice cream if you have it.
cafela: (salt is magical)
I have a couple of tomato plants. We don't have enough of a yard for an actual garden, but we have a couple of large planters, and we get a lot of sun. So this year, I decided I was going to try to grow our own tomatoes. The main motivation is the fact that we go through at least one tomato a week, and I thought that a couple of tomato plants would probably net us one or two tomatoes a week. As it turns out, it's more like 4 or 5 tomatoes a week, and so when I realized we had 10 tomatoes waiting to be eaten (with at least 15 more growing) I decided it was probably time to do something with them. Spaghetti is the obvious thing, but it seemed too heavy. So I decided I'd try my hand at a tomato soup.

Tomato soup is not my favorite kind of soup; it's generally not even in my top 5 kinds of soup, because I'm picky about it, and few places make it the way I like it. Every summer, I test out a new tomato soup recipe, but while those soups have turned out okay, they've not been what I want them to be. My favorite tomato soup is served at a local restaurant called Plates; it is amazing, and everything a tomato soup should be. I always want my soup to taste as fresh and scrumptious as theirs, and until tonight, I've failed. Something was missing.

Tonight, however, I hit upon the missing ingredient. Or at least, a missing ingredient: bacon. You don't need much--I used one small slice. It took my tomato soup to a whole new level. As did roasting most of what went into it. It is the best tomato soup I've ever made. I will actually make this tomato soup again.

Roasted Tomato & Bacon Soup
about 2 lbs fresh tomatoes (I used about 10 plum-sized tomatoes), quartered
six large garlic cloves
1 vidalia onion (a large yellow onion will suffice if you can't get vidalia)
olive oil
2 tb butter
1 large shallot
1 more clove of garlic
1 slice of bacon, diced into small pieces
5 sprigs of thyme (or 1/2 tsp dried thyme)
10 basil leaves (or 1/2 tsp dried basil)
10 sage leaves (or 1/2 tsp rubbed sage)
3 cups of chicken stock
1/4 cup cream
a blender
parmesan cheese (for garnish)

Get a large, shallow pan with an edge to it. Quarter your tomatoes and slice your onion. Place tomatoes and onion into the pan along with your six garlic cloves (cloves should have the skin still on). Drizzle olive oil over the veggies (you don't need much) and salt and pepper. Put them into a 400 degree oven to roast for about 35 minutes.

While the veggies roast, mince your shallot and your other clove of garlic. Add to the pot you're making your soup in, along with the butter. Turn to low (or if your oven vents through one of the stove eyes, just put it there and use the residual heat). If you're using fresh herbs, also use this time to chop those. Dice your bacon.

When the veggies are done roasting, turn your soup pot to medium heat, and add the bacon. As soon as the shallot starts to go translucent, add your roasted tomatoes and onion. Remove the roasted garlic cloves from their skins, and add them (not the skins). Let cook for maybe 5 minutes, until it gets thick, and add the herbs and the chicken broth.

If you have an immersion blender, now is the time to use it so that you have a super smooth soup (if you want that; it will be good chunky, too). If you just have a regular blender, that works, too; you'll just have to blend in a couple of batches, and be careful to blend slowly at first (and take the lid off in between pulses to keep steam from building up). Return the blended soup to the pot. Stir in the cream. Let simmer another 10 minutes; it can simmer longer, but give it at least that long so all the flavors have time to develop. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Yields about 3 medium bowls of soup--add more chicken stock or more tomatoes to get more. Garnish with parmesan cheese or a few drops of cream. Perfect when accompanied by a grilled cheese sandwich.

cafela: (fried chicken)
I just finished making/eating the following recipe for lunch. It was so good, I had to write it up immediately, both so I could share it with everyone, and to be sure that I don't forget exactly how I made it.

Coconut-Ginger Braised Chicken
3 to 6 chicken thighs (or 2 chicken thigh/leg quarters)
garlic salt
approx. 2 tsp each of ground ginger, garam masala, and turmeric
2 tb sesame oil (or vegetable oil)
1 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tb minced/grated fresh ginger, divided into 1 tb each
zest of one lime
1 can coconut milk, shaken well
2 tb brown sugar
1 tb thai fish sauce
juice from one lime
1/4 c chicken broth or 1 chicken bouillon cube dissolved in 1/4 water

Also necessary: dutch oven or other stove-to-oven pan w/ oven-safe lid

First, season chicken all over with garlic salt, ground ginger, garam masala, and turmeric. Go easy on the garam masala if you don't want anything too spicy. In dutch oven, heat sesame oil on medium high. Brown the chicken in the dutch oven (about 5 minutes per side). Remove chicken.

Add the onion, garlic, 1 tb of fresh ginger, and lime zest to the pot, and let simmer for about 2 minutes. Shake the can of coconut milk up well, then open and add. Add brown sugar and thai fish sauce. Stir well. Add chicken (and any residual juices) back to the pot. Drizzle chicken with lime juice from 1/2 lime (save the other half of the lime). Cover with lid and put in oven. Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

About 20 minutes before pulling out the chicken, make some rice (I prefer jasmine, but any kind is good).

When you remove the dutch oven from the oven, remove the chicken--put it in a bowl, drizzle with a little more lime juice, and tent with tin foil. Add the rest of the lime juice to the pot, along with the other 1 tb of fresh ginger and the chicken broth/bouillon. Simmer until thick (may already be rather thick).

When rice is done, plate with rice, then chicken, then pour sauce on top. Chicken should be tender enough that you don't need a knife. Enjoy!

cafela: (chocolate)
A few weeks ago, I made Homemade Twinkies, and that got me to thinking--what about other homemade versions of that kind of snack cake? One of my husband's favorites is Hostess cupcakes, so after I looked through a few recipes, I gave it a try.

It's actually a super easy recipe for what it is. All you really need is a solid chocolate cupcake recipe that you like, essentially the same inner creme recipe used for the Twinkies, and some chocolate ganache. And a little patience when it comes to those well-known curlicues that grace the top of the cupcakes.

I'll confess: after making enough cupcakes with curlicues for blog picture-purposes, I stopped doing them. I did not have the patience (plus the plastic bag I was using to pipe the icing burst open) to do more than five like that. There was no difference in taste between the ones that had the curlicues and the ones that didn't, so only do them if you want the look.

Homemade Hostess Cupcakes
1 batch chocolate cupcakes (approx. 24)

For the filling
1/4 tsp salt
1 tb hot water
7oz marshmallow fluff
1 1/2 sticks butter (12 oz)
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Extra powdered sugar (to thicken remaining filling to pipe curlicues)

Chocolate Ganache
1/2 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips (Hershey's special dark or Ghiradelli are perfect)
1/4 c cream
1 tb butter

First, bake your cupcakes--use whatever your favorite chocolate cake recipe is, so long as it's sturdy enough to hold frosting on top (a box mix is fine). Let them cool. While they cool, make your filling.

Start by dissolving the salt into the hot water; set aside and let cool. Mix all the other ingredients together until fluffy, then add the salt water and beat another couple of minutes. The filling should be *almost* the consistency of frosting, but not as stiff.

Once the cupcakes are cool and the filling is prepped, scoop the filling into the appropriate device (injector or decorator bag). To get the filling into the cupcake, jab the injector or the decorating tip into the cupcake as shown in the picture, and squeeze the filling in. Don't put too much, or the cupcake could bust. If you're planning to make the curlicues, set aside about 1/3 c of the filling to use to make them.

Now you get to make the ganache, which is SUPER easy. I don't get why everyone freaks out about making it, but it does taste amazing. All you do is dump all the ingredients into a shallow pan, and whisk them slowly over low heat until everything melts together. Don't rush it, or you will burn it, and don't add any more cream or butter after you start, or it could thicken and become awful. If you keep it low and slow, everything should melt into a delicious swirl of smooth chocolately awesomeness. When it does, take it off the heat.

Now you can dip the tops of the cupcakes into the ganache. I used a small icing spatula to smooth the top out, very much the same way you smooth icing--the only trick is once the ganache cools, it's harder to work with, so try to smooth it out somewhat quickly. They should end up looking something like the pictures below:

Now, you can stop at this point, and you will have delicious cupcakes. But if you want the curlicues, take that filling that you set aside, and thicken it with more powdered sugar. I honestly don't remember how much, but at least a few tablespoons. Get it stiff enough to pipe. Then you just draw the curlicues on, which may take a little trial and error.

And that's all there is to it!

April 2014

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