Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pumpkin Cake

Not pumpkin flavored, but ...

... pumpkin shaped!!!

Ok, ok it's not nearly as cute as the one Mara posted on the Fall edition of Cute Food Saturday, but I loved it so much I wanted to re-create it ASAP!

I'm bringing it for Johnny's mom's birthday today. Last year I brought Low Fat Raisin Bread Pudding and I think her and I were the only ones who ate it! Hopefully this year's contribution will have more fans!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Not Blog-worthy

My meals this past week have not been blog-worthy.

I just have not been in that much of a cooking mood and I found out why. (More on that in a minute!)

We've been surviving on Amy's Organic frozen meals, Rick Bayless' frozen pizza, take-out, and these beauties...

Yes, fish sticks. Johnny plated them for us today and said he went with an Asian-inspired plating.

I followed suit with Dollar Tree instant garlic mashed potatoes and a beautiful schmear of homemade tartar sauce. Truly epic!

Ok, so back to the food "blah" mood. I figured it out. It's the Freezer Meat Challenge!

Currently, all I have left are a 2 pound pork roast, a corned beef brisket, and some seafood.

Johnny does not like seafood and the other two meats are a bigger meal, larger challenge. I haven't been in the mood to cook them, so I've been avoiding all cooking like the plague. I decided almost three months to the day of not buying meat, I did a good job! I cleaned our freezer of over 20 pounds of meat in three months, and did not buy 1 meat item during that time!

I am officially closing the Freezer Meat Challenge because I needed to purchase some new items before I drove myself crazy on those last few remnants. Tonight I bought meat for the first time since June! I started off on some easies that I haven't used in months - ground beef and thin sliced chicken breasts! And you know what? I'm happy!

I will of course cook the last of the items, but just needed some options in the meantime.

Thanks for following along, and I have another challenge up my sleeve to reveal soon!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Croissant-Wrapped Baked Brie

Don't blink or you'll miss this recipe I served at our food blogger potluck.

Brie (a wedge, or a wheel depending on how much you'll need)
1 refrigerator can of croissants
sesame seeds
olive oil

Unwrap the can of croissants and leave the triangles connected. You should have one long rectangle, or two smaller squares. (I used the two small squares in this case.)

Pinch the dough's seams together, unwrap the brie and place it on the bottom square. Pinch the 2nd dough seams together and place the 2nd square over the brie. Crimp or fold the edges, cutting off any excess. You can use the excess to make pretty designs on the top.

Before baking. (I assembled mine until this point the night before, then sprayed plastic wrap with a tiny bit of non-stick spray and covered it in the fridge.)

When ready to bake, brush the top with a little bit of olive oil and sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Bake according to the package instructions for the croissants. It might need a few more minutes, just watch it closely - you can tell by the golden brown color and it will start to look flaky.

I would recommend waiting a few minutes to cut into this, as the brie will be very hot. You can even let it sit out and cool completely, coming to room temperature. (Brie is best served warm or at room temperature, not chilled.)

Serve with extra crackers to schmear the brie that has escaped from the croissant crust.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Thingies

Yes, that's their official name, according to Pioneer Woman, Ree. This was the first thing I decided I would make for the food blogger potluck. I'd been drooling over them for weeks.

You'll need:

Cream cheese

Just adjust quantities to how many you're making! Couldn't be simpler.

I bought 20 jalapenos for a total of 40 poppers.

Cut the jalapenos in half, lengthwise.

Scoop out the seeds. I also removed the stem, so they could be popped as one-bites. I noticed Ree left hers on.

Invest in some gloves. I got mine at the Dollar Tree, it was a small investment, but a wise one.

Fill the halves with cream cheese.

Cut the bacon slices into 3rds and wrap around the jalapeno halves, securing with a toothpick.

At this point you can store them to bake later, either in the fridge or by freezing.

When ready to bake, line them up on a cookie rack over a baking pan. This allows the bacon grease to drip down.

Bake for 20-25 minutes in a 375° oven until the bacon is cooked. Ree doesn't suggest going much further than that because the bacon will shrink and start to squeeze the jalapenos. If your bacon needs a bit more crisping, pop them under the broiler for a minute to do the trick.

Serve warm or at room temperature. Just don't cook them too far ahead of when your guests are meant to arrive. You'll have a really, really, really hard time not eating them all. That's my prediction anyways, it's not like I would know or anything...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

White Wine Sangria

I made this white wine sangria for a refreshing drink during our food blogger potluck. It's a compilation of many googled sangria recipes and what I thought looked pretty!

1 orange, thinly sliced
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1 lime, thinly sliced
~ 1 cup stemmed and quartered strawberries
4 oz Brandy
2 bottles white wine (see note below)
healthy squeeze of agave to sweeten
~2 cups chilled club soda

Place the fruit in the bottom of the glass. Add the agave and Brandy, and stir to mix. Add the two bottles of white wine. (Note: I went to Trader Joe's and asked their suggestion for a sangria I was making. I forget the name and already recycled the bottles, but it was a crisp apertif from Portugal. Don't be afraid to ask for suggestions, especially at Trader Joe's - they're great!)

Cover the pitcher with plastic wrap and let sit in the fridge for at least 4 hours, or overnight. Right before serving add club soda.

It's traditional to serve with a long-handled wooden spoon. This enables guests to use it either to help spoon out fruit into their glass, or to hold it back as they pour, whichever is their preference.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Roasted Acorn Squash with Corn Pudding

I saw this recipe on 101 Cookbooks earlier today and thought I'd make it later this week because I happen to have two acorn squash in the pantry. Then I thought more about it and decided to make it tonight! We were just talking about stuffed acorn squash at yesterday's food blogger potluck, so I think I was in the mood!

I tweeked it quite a bit because Heidi warned about a lot of extra filling and I also didn't have the spices, scallions, or cheese she used to flavor hers on hand. I improvised, but it still has the feel of the original recipe and was great!

1 medium acorn squash, cut in half lengthwise and seeded
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
1/2 cup frozen corn
~2 Tbsp chopped green pepper
~2 Tbsp chopped celery
1/2 of a jalepeno, seeded and chopped
1 slice of bacon, uncooked and chopped
1 clove of garlic minced
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 375°. Cut the acorn squash in half and scoop out the seeds. (You can roast these for a crunchy snack by the way!) Rub the flesh of the squash with the oil. Place in a baking dish, cut side up. Make sure the squash sits flat and is semi-stable (mine were actually a little too angled). Cut the bottom with a knife for it to sit stable if necessary. Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes.

In a medium bowl mix the remaining ingredients, reserving the last 2 Tbsp of Parmesan cheese for later. After the 40 minutes, remove the squash from the oven and spoon the mixture into the cavity of the squash.

Leave uncovered and without spilling, very carefully move the pan back into the oven. Bake an additional 40 minutes. Sprinkle each half of the squash with 1 Tbsp of the reserved Parmesan cheese and place under the broiler to crisp up the cheese.

The corn pudding had almost a custardy texture - similiar to a quiche. It was very good, I was sad there wasn't more. I think in the future I might scoop out more of the squash to create a bigger cavity to house more filling! Or, cook extra filling on the side (like Heidi did) and re-fill the squash as necessary! It was really tasty and I'm glad I threw the bacon in there for some smokiness.

Blogger Potluck

A handful of my favorite bloggers don't live too far from me, we have a nice little cluster here in the Chicagoland area. While emailing back and forth with a couple a few weeks ago I thought "I wonder if they'd be up for a potluck at my house?" and asked their thoughts on it. Surprisingly they all immediately said YES!!! without a moment's hesitation!

I've seen pictures of blogger meet-ups at restaurants and events, but I thought it'd be really cool to have a potluck because we all read and follow each other for our cooking and recipes! I decided to just make it simple - meet at my house at the set date and time and bring whatever you wanted! No expectations, no limits, because I wanted them to just cook whatever they felt like, without having to be pinned into "you need to bring a dessert." Thankfully, none of us cooked any repeats and it was a super well-rounded spread!

Biz of Biggest Diabetic Loser arrived first. I was so nervous and excited beforehand with the anticipation. I knew these people from their blogs, but I wasn't sure if we'd get along in real life too, but thankfully Biz has a really strong personality that burst forth within 20 seconds of meeting her and I felt like I'd known her for years! Within a few minutes Mara of What's for Dinner? arrived with Michelle from Lucky Taste Buds. Again, it was like we'd known each other for years once we started assembling the food and "talking shop."

Biz brought us each a jar of her made from scratch tomato sauce that I can't wait to try! I've never canned home-made sauce, just made extra and frozen it. I think that's a terrific idea to have some easily on hand! Then, she got to work making her famous no-rise pizza dough pizza! I've made her pizza three or four times before, but seeing her make it in person was great and she had a few little tricks that made it taste so much better than my versions! The basil shreds really made this!

Mara came to the door with a crockpot full of her Chicken Chili Blanco and also assembled her addictive (and unpictured) buffalo chicken dip within minutes of unpacking her bag! After everybody left Johnny came downstairs hungry and attacked some of the leftover chili I snagged! He really liked it, so I'll have to make this easy recipe in the future - so much flavor from so little ingredients! That's my kinda dinner!

Michelle made a delicious pasta salad that she presented beautifully with lettuce leaves around the bowl. I might have had two servings of this! She said she only used about a tablespoon of mayonnaise in it, and it made it so light and refreshing, not bogged down like other pasta salads! She also presented me with my huge bag of goodies from winning her giveaway a few weeks ago and an adorable little treat bag with a sweet note in it! I've already broken into both! She was also the only one to bring a sweet item! A delicious (and unpictured) banana bread with cashews (!!!) and chocolate chips. I enjoyed a slice last night for a snack and it's so moist and flavorful. I'll have to add cashews to baked goods more often!

We were all talking and having so much fun I totally forgot to take pictures of US. I also meant to ask Johnny to grab a group photo of all of us with our cameras, but only remembered after everybody had already left. Here's a small idea of what the spread looked like (with Mara on the left and Michelle on the right) - this was before everything was even put out! We ate for a good solid hour until we were all stuffed!

Here's the dishes I brought to the mix:

White wine sangria. (post forthcoming)

Pioneer Woman's bacon-wrapped jalepeno poppers. (post forthcoming)

Veggie tray with unpictured dip

Croissant-wrapped baked brie with crackers (post forthcoming)

...and finally the secret family recipe of zucchini pie!

Thanks again Biz, Mara, and Michelle! I sent them each home with some homemade sausage I made during my dad's visit in these adorable foodie Dollar Tree bags! I can't wait to see what they cook with them!!

Check out Biz's recap and Mara's recap for their take on yesterday's fun with pictures!

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Congratulations to Sarah from NoWheyMama!!! Coincedentally 4 is my favorite number! I was excited to see it pop up and also that it's one of my favorite bloggers! Sarah, e-mail me your address at christina at dinneratchristinas dot com and I'll pre-order your cookbooks to arrive later in October when they're released. (I might accidentally have to order myself copies too!)

Speaking of contests, Laura's Best Foodie Foto voting is underway today and tomorrow. I have two photos entered, so go check it out and vote!

And, in super exciting news, I had a blogger meet-up at my house earlier today with Biz of Biggest Diabetic Loser, Mara of What's for Dinner?, and Michelle of Lucky Taste Buds! I was so excited to meet them and they all brought some amazing things to share at our little potluck. I'll post a full update about it tomorrow, with recipes for the things I made to follow in upcoming posts!Thanks for coming guys!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Oven Baked Sweet Potato Fries

Here for the giveaway??? It's thatta way!

Truth be told I'm not a fan of potatoes. White potatoes have just always been ... blah. They're starchy and dry and boring and plain.

If my mom baked potatoes for us, she'd always throw a sweet potato or two in there and I'd opt for that instead. I love sweet potatoes, but I've only ever had them three ways: baked whole, mashed with brown sugar and marshmallows on top, or deep fried fries at a restaurant.

While passing the sweet potatoes at the grocery store they just called out to me. They looked so beautiful and vibrant, so I picked out two large ones and was on my merry way. I decided that they would become oven fries.

Biz of Biggest Diabetic Loser has perfected the Best Oven Fries Ever (the picture is proof enough)!! I decided to throw caution to the wind and use the same technique, but for sweet potatoes instead.

My version was:

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4" to 1/2" slices
~5 Tbsp vegetable oil
onion powder
garlic powder

Preheat your oven to 475°. Then, peel and slice your sweet potatoes. Mine were very large so I cut the potatoes in half and then made strips. Be very careful cutting sweet potatoes! They're pretty resistant to a knife, so you have to use a little more muscle - you don't want that slipping and coming down on a finger!

Once the potatoes are sliced, soak them in water for about 10 minutes. I think this is key in successful oven fries because it'll help with getting them fully cooked in the beginning, leaving time for better browning in the end.

Prepare the baking pan by coating the bottom with about 4 Tbsp of the oil, salt, pepper, garlic and onion powders. Pat the potatoes dry (I didn't, but I'm lazy!!) and toss with about 1 Tbsp of the oil. Lay the potato slices evenly on the baking pan.

Place the pan on the bottom rack of your oven, covered in foil, for 5 minutes. Again, this is key to the overall success. By being in the bottom of your oven, it is very close to the heating element, and by covering for the first five minutes you cook the potatoes through and can then start on the browning.

Remove the foil and then continue baking for 30 minutes. Every ten minutes remove the pan from the oven, flip the fries and then place it back in for another 10 minute round.

Mine were looking great until maybe the last 4 or 5 minutes, when I smelled that they were getting a little too dark. I think maybe because of their higher sugar content, they were more susceptible to burning. We happen to like the darker bits, but admittably some were a little charred.

I think this method would work perfectly for regular potatoes, but if using it to cook sweet potatoes keep a close watch on it the last 5 minutes! It happens fast and you'll want to catch them before they get black!

Overall, VERY delicious and easy to pop back into the oven and warm up leftovers. I dunked mine in ketchup, just as you would a "normal" fry. I look forward to cooking them with different spice experimenting in the future!

And, in other news, I successfully cleaned and cut my very first whole chicken all by myself! We made the Chicken Under a Brick again tonight with the jerk seasoning. Mmm good stuff and the 2nd Freezer Chicken used up!! I'm getting close to the end!!!

Mara of What's for Dinner is having the biggest giveaway I've ever seen! Go check it out!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

One Year Ago

It's my one year blogiversary!!

One year ago today I started this blog!

To celebrate, let's have a giveaway, shall we?!

Two other food bloggers that I've followed faithfully, cooked many of their recipes, and plan to cook many more of in the future have written their very own cookbooks. I'll treat one of you lucky ducks to a copy of both!

Ree, of Pioneer Woman with The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl, set to release October 27th.

And Stephanie of A Year of Crockpotting with Make It Fast, Cook It Slow, set to release October 13th.

For your chance to enter please leave a comment. Need something to comment about? Tell me a recipe you've tried or a recipe you'd like to try that I've posted!

For a second chance to enter linkback to this post on your blog or Twitter! Leave a second comment letting me know you've done so!

I'll collect all of the entries and announce the winner next Sunday, September 20th.

Thank you for the wonderful year! It's been so much fun and I've met a bunch of wonderful people!

(Alisa of One Frugal Foodie has also written a cookbook, Go Dairy Free. I chose the other two for the give away because I know many of you aren't affected by food allergies, I still wanted to give her book a shout out!!)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

BSI: Chocolate (Entry 2: Chocolate Covered Coffee Bean Ice Cream)

Chocolate inspirations left and right this week for BSI, being hosted by London Foodie in NY!

In case you missed it, my first entry was Banana Boats. This is the second entry - another homemade ice cream. Both Johnny and I agree that it's our favorites of the ones we've made so far!

We followed the recipe for Coffee Ice Cream from Perfect Scoop, but as an extra somethin' somethin' included cut up chocolate covered coffee beans!

(Makes 1 quart)

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups whole coffee beans (we used decaf)
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
5 large egg yolks
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp finely ground coffee
1/2 cup chopped chocolate covered coffee beans

Because of the inclusion of egg yolks, this was also the most labor intensive of the recipes we've made so far!

Warm the milk, sugar, whole coffee beans, pinch of salt (see below), and 1/2 cup of the cream in a medium sauce pan. Once warm, remove from heat and let steep at room temperature for 1 hour. (Oh. Em. Gee. The smell!!!)

Johnny got to whip out his "pinch" measuring spoon for this one, too! (He's a measurer, I'm not.)

Pour the remaining 1 cup cream in a large bowl and place a mesh strainer on top. In a separate, medium bowl whisk together the egg yolks (the pic has a little cream around the edge because we swapped bowls!) . Rewarm the coffee-infused milk mixture.

Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly so you don't cook the yolks. Pour everything back into the saucepan and over medium heat, stir constantly until a spatula is coated.

Pour the custard through the mesh strainer, pressing down and moving the beans around to extract as much flavor as possible. (We found it helpful to scoop some of the cream from below over top the coffee beans periodically to loosen up the custard mixture) Discard the beans, mix in the vanilla and finely ground coffee and stir until cool over an ice bath.

Chill the mixture and freeze per your machine's instructions.

We froze for about 15 minutes, then added the 1/2 cup chopped chocolate covered coffee beans for the final 4 or 5 minutes.

This smells, looks, and tastes delicious. It's rich, creamy, and full of hearty coffee flavor. The ice cream alone would be delicious, but the crunchy, chocolatey bits in there give it an extra level of flavor and texture.

Don't forget to head over to Hey What's for Dinner Mom? tomorrow to vote for my Best Foodie Fotos (BFF) in Laura's contest!!!

Friday, September 11, 2009

BSI: Chocolate (Entry 1: Banana Boat)

Hold onto your seats, you're not going to believe this.

I don't like chocolate.

There, I said it. Yes, I know I'm a woman and I'm supposed to genetically not be able to live without the stuff, but really it just does nothing for me.

Growing up I traded all of my Halloween or Easter candy with my brother, or I'd just give it to my parents. My parents would always buy me a white chocolate version of the Easter bunny, or my Easter basket would instead be filled with trinkets and toys.

So it's actually kind of funny that this weeks BSI (hosted by London Foodie in NY) is chocolate and I'm not only submitting 1, but 2 entries!

This is the first one, inspired wholeheartedly by Honest and Truly's banana boat shot that won Laura's BFF contest!

A banana boat! I hadn't remembered them in years, but as soon as I saw the picture I remembered my Girl Scout years, with camping trips in my backyard (my mom was the leader) and tossing these foil wrapped packages into the campfire for an ooey, gooey warm dessert.

You will need:
1 banana, sliced lengthwise
stuffings of choice (chocolate, marshmallows, jams, fruit, peanut butter, nuts, etc.)

To start, slice a banana lengthwise, and pinch both ends to pop it open some. Don't cut all the way through, just through the top peel and the fruit.

Next, stuff it with anything your heart desires! For this particular banana I used cream cheese, mini marshmallows, and Nutella!

Wrap the foil around the banana and make a little pouch. You can bake it, throw it on the grill, throw it on a campfire, or be like me and throw it in a toaster oven! 400° for about 15 minutes and I could smell it was ready!

Unwrap the foil carefully, avoiding any steam, and simply eat right out of the peel! The first bite took me back to childhood, just like an old, familiar smell!

What is it about bananas that makes them 3,000 times better once they're warm? This was delicious - chocolate and all!

Mmm, all gone!