Monday, September 27, 2010

Project Food Blog - Challenge 2 Voting Open Now!

Thank you, sincerely, for your votes that got me through to Challenge #2. I was so nervous checking the site on Friday. When I saw the little trophy next to my name and the Congratulations e-mail I was ecstatic! I shrieked and leapt around my office like a lotto winner, and by the end of the day my cheeks hurt from grinning so much! It really means a lot to me to have received your votes, so thank you again!

Voting for challenge 2 begins today (Monday, Sept. 27th) and will remain open until Thursday, Sept. 30th at 6 PM Pacific Time.

To vote, you need to be a Foodbuzz member. If you have not already registered, click here and use the "Join Foodbuzz" link in the upper right-hand corner.

Each voter has 200 votes to give for this second round. You can only vote for each contestant one time, though.

Other fantastic Challenge #2 entries I highly recommend are:

Biz, who made a full Nepalese meal.

Allie, who mastered beautiful French crepes.

Maggie, who stir-fried Japanese noodles.

Christo, who did a great Morrocan lamb.

Mara, who took a trip to the Bayou for gumbo.

My Barbarian Table, who crafted stunning Manti.

Ethan, who let his Grandma inspire Curry chicken and Naan.

And Sophia, who shaped beautiful Tibetan momo dumplings.

What are some other great entries I missed?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Project Food Blog - Hot Tamales!

Newburgh, New York has always been a special place for my family. It is where my mom went to college, where my parents were married, where I was born, very near where my brother went to the Culinary Institute of America, where some relatives still reside, and where other relatives, including my Grammy, are laid to rest.

There is this tiny, little box of a Mexican restaurant in Newburgh where every Thursday is tamale day. You have to let them know in advance how many you will be ordering and when they're sold out, that's it. You have to wait until the next Thursday for another chance!

Perhaps this introduction to tamales fueled my belief that they are special. I knew them as something that was coveted, that were a lot of work, and definitely worth it in the end.

If I see tamales on the menu at an authentic Mexican restaurant, you better put money on the fact that I'm going to order at least one to try. There is something so poignant to me when I see this dish on a menu, moreso than any other dish. I know that the recipe is most likely a very old one, taught to the maker by their mom or grandma. I also know that it is a recipe of love, with so much time and hands-on work put into it. How can I help but want to try it?

Up until this point, I had never made my own tamales. It never even occurred to me, until I learned that my dad had been mastering the skill and I got to watch him this summer. Isn't it funny how watching somebody else do something makes it less scary and intimidating?

I visited a cramped Mexican grocery in a strip mall and purchased dried corn husks, masa, and lard. Then, I turned to the king of Mexican cooking, Rick Bayless, for recipe inspiration. I've never been one to follow recipes to a T, so I read through a variety of Rick's dough and filling recipes until I decided what I wanted to do with mine.

I set aside my own tamale day, since I knew I'd be in the kitchen for hours on end. Johnny was warned, I mentally prepared myself, and looked forward to it on the calendar with great anticipation and slight anxiety.

First, I started the filling, which consisted of the meat and sauce. I knew it had to simmer for a long time, so I wanted to get it set up and cooking so I could concentrate on other things.

3 oz. dried chiles (I used Anaheim)
8-10 cups water
2 tsp salt
~5 lbs pork (I just grabbed the cheapest cut available)
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp crushed black peppercorns
1/4 cup raisins
1 Tbsp lard

Begin by breaking the dried chiles open and removing the seeds and membrane. Then rip the chiles into large pieces and toast in the bottom of a dry, heavy-bottomed pan over high heat (I used my dutch oven). Press down with a metal spatula until the chile's skin begins to blister and darkens. It will start to smell like popcorn with a bit of a chile kick. Once the chiles are toasted, move them to a small bowl and cover with hot water. Place a small plate over the chiles to keep them submerged.

In a large pot (I continued to use my dutch oven), bring 8-10 cups of water to a boil. Meanwhile, cut the pork into 1" cubes. Add the salt and the pork to the water. For the first few minutes, use a large spoon to skim off any foam. Lower the heat to medium, partially cover the pot, and let the meat cook for 40 minutes, until it is really tender. Remove the meat to a large bowl with a slotted spoon, reserving the cooking liquid in another bowl.

Drain the chiles and put them in your food processor along with the garlic, cumin, pepper, and raisins. Add 2 cups of the reserved cooking liquid and blend until smooth. In the same large pot, over high heat, melt the lard. Transfer the chile mixture to the pot and add an additional 1 cup of reserved liquid. Stir to incorporate, and let the sauce sear and thicken for about 5 minutes, covering with a mesh splatter lid. Lower the heat and let the sauce continue to reduce for another 15 minutes.

While the sauce is thickening, shred the pork with your hands. Once done, add the sauce and stir. Set the filling aside until you're ready to make the tamales.

Clean out your kitchen sink and fill it with very hot water. Separate the dried corn husks and drop them into the water. Place a large plate or dish on top to keep them submerged. These will soak while we move onto the dough.

6 ears of fresh corn
8 cups masa
1 lb. lard
2 tsp salt
6 tsp baking powder
reserved cooking liquid from the meat

The above amounts are quadrupled. I made four smaller batches in the food processor, then transferred to a large bowl.

Begin by cutting the kernals off the corn. Then with the back of the knife or a spoon, scrape the ears to get the remainder of the kernals and sweet juice. Add to the food processor bowl and process until it's pureed. Add the remaining ingredients and run until it is a thick dough.

Once the four batches were in the large bowl, I used a hand mixture and slowly incorporated the remainder of the reserved cooking liquid (about 3-4 cups). The consistency will be like a thick cake batter.

Now you are finally ready to start filling!

Clear a large area on the counter or a table. Place the bowl of your dough, the bowl of your filling, and a steamer basket within reach. Grab a pile of the corn husks and wrap them in a kitchen towel, which you will also need within reach.

First, take a husk and pat it dry. With the thin side facing you, spoon about 3 Tbsp of the dough onto the husk. Smooth out until the masa is about 4" x 2". Next, spoon about 1 Tbsp of the filling down the center of the dough. Now, grab both sides of the husk and bring up and inwards so the masa touches and "seals" in the filling. Continue rolling the excess husk into a tight packet, then bring the thin end upwards into a fold. Place seam side down into a husk-lined steamer basket.

Repeat, repeat, repeat - until your steamer basket is full.

Place over boiling water, cover, and steam for 1 hour. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes for the dough to firm up a bit.

Two batches of baskets were steamed, resulting in a total of 71 tamales and 7 hours in the kitchen.

Was it worth it?

That question was answered in the first bite.


The excess tamales were wrapped individually in wax paper and placed in zip bags destined for the freezer. They will keep for several months and can be reheated quickly and conveniently for a quick snack, or a tasty dinner in no time!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Friday Firsts - Basmati Rice

Friday Firsts

Happy Friday everybody!! If you need more information, click the icon above or in my sidebar for more information. Thank you to all the new readers stopping by from Project Food Blog and anybody who has taken the time to vote for me!

My first for this week was cooking my own Basmati Rice. I had eaten it before, but never bought and cooked it myself. It's a new favorite around here. I'm also looking forward to trying Jasmine rice, as many of you suggested!

Now it's your turn to tell me about your first! To participate in Friday Firsts create a blog post featuring a "first" of yours. Next, link that blog post below and tell us about it! If you don't have a blog or a specific post to link to please tell us about your first in the comment section! Any and all participation is welcome!

If you would like to display the Friday Firsts button as a badge in your post or on your side bar, you can copy and paste the following code:

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Top Chef Gnocchi

If you're like me, you love watching Top Chef. The past few seasons have featured a Quickfire Challenge where the winner gets their dish featured as a Schwan's frozen meal. I am familiar with Schwan's from a previous job where the office, and a few co-worker friends ordered from them. Everything I've tasted from Schwan's had been really great, so I trusted them enough to try the Top Chef meals.

I ordered two. One was Ed's (from this season) Gnocchi, which featured mushrooms, asparagus, snap peas, edamame, and a chicken broth with Parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top.

The instructions were pretty straight forward and easy, done within 15 minutes and only dirtying one pot. I really liked that the gnocchi were allowed to sear and brown, getting crunch and flavor on them.

It was meant for three 1-cup portions, but we split it into two servings, having a large salad on the side.

Did I like it? Yes and no. I think the sauce might have killed the dish, or the cheese. Some component in there was ridiculously salty. The combination, however, was great and I'd be happy to eat it again with minor adjustments.

If I ordered this in the future I would add water to thin the sauce, not add as much sauce, and definitely not add the cheese. But it was a cool experience to eat something we saw made on TV.

This is not a compensated review. Top Chef and Schwan's have no clue who I am. I bought this meal with my own money and this is my honest opinion of the product.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Basmati Rice

Long time readers of my blog will remember that last year Johnny and I took a trip to Washington D.C..

While there, we ate at Lebanese Taverna, a Zagat rated restaurant hailed as being "consistently excellent and authentic Middle Eastern fare." I showed a (very bad) photo of my plate and gushed over the delicious rice that I could not stop eating, even though I was stuffed.

Later, my cousin told me it was called Basmati rice. Aha! I love when I get answers to questions I didn't even know I had! I tracked it down in my store and made it for the first time this week.

Basmati rice (on the left) has long, thin grains in comparison to the shorter, stubbier grains of white rice. When cooked, Basmati also remains free flowing, versus becoming sticky like other rices.

The cooking instructions are similiar to white rice. It is still 1 part rice to 2 parts liquid. However, it is a shorter cooking time of about 12 minutes, instead of the white rice's 20 minutes.

I cooked mine in vegetable broth for about 12 minutes. Then I let it sit for a few minutes and fluffed it with a fork.

Served with baked butternut squash, and a mixture of roasted veggies seasoned with sundried tomato oil.

It was not as good as I remember the restaurant version to be, but still far superior to white rice, in my opinion. I have a hard time eating white rice plain, but this-- this I could shovel in my mouth with no problem or complaints! It's definitely a keeper!

Have you ever tried Basmati rice? If so, did you like it more or less than white rice?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Project Food Blog - Challenge 1 Voting Open Now!

Ok, voting for Challenge #1 begins today (Monday, Sept. 20th) and will remain open until Thursday, Sept. 23rd until 6 PM Pacific time.

To vote, you need to be a Foodbuzz member. If you have not already registered, click here and use the "Join Foodbuzz" link in the upper right-hand corner.

Each voter has 400 votes to give for this first round. You can only vote for each contestant one time, though.

Who do I think you should use some of your 400 votes for?

And a few other great Dinner at Christina's friends I'd love to see advance:

Sophia from Burp and Slurp - I Am a Food Blogger

Beth from Biggest Diabetic Loser - Ready, Set, Blog! Welcome to My Bizzy Kitchen

Mara from What's for Dinner? - Project Food Blog Challenge #1: Ready, Set, Blog!

Christo from ChezWhat? - I Cook with Color - Project Food Blog

The Diva from Beach Eats - Project Food Blog Challenge #1: Ready, Set, Blog! ... Diva Style

Maggie from Say Yes to Salad - Why I Am A Food Blogger {Project Food Blog}

Allie from Live Laugh Eat - Project Food Blog: Fit For the Crown

Please, I encourage any visiting contestants to leave your blog in the comments here. I'd love for my readers and me to have a chance to read your entries and offer you one of our 400 votes!

Thank you everybody and I can't wait to start cooking for Challenge #2!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

2nd Blogaversary Surprise Giveaway Winner

Wow, such a long title for a relatively short post!

First, the prizes (I decided to go with two winners) you were secretly vying for (drumroll) ...

One (1) of these adorable dish towels that were handmade by volunteers for a gift shop at a local charity center by my house.

And either the cute little Tabasco sauce fiesta guy (also handmade from the gift shop) or a hot pink portable tote to go.

And the lucky winners are:


Beth and Amy!!! Beth is a new favorite bloggie friend and Amy has been following me almost since the beginning. I can't believe this is the first time you've won one of my giveaways, Amy!

Congratulations, guys! Please send your mailing address to christina at dinneratchristinas dot com and I'll get these out to you! (Let me know if you have a towel preference and if you want the Tabasco guy or the tote, too. I'll try to accomodate, otherwise I'll pick for you!)

Thank you to everybody else who stopped by to say Happy Blogaversary! I wish I could mail each of you a prize, I really do!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday Firsts - Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

Friday Firsts

Happy Friday everybody! I finally feel like I'm on top of things again. Just in time for my new semester, which started this week. I'm taking International Management for Hospitality and Tourism and (gulp) Business Accounting.

My first for this week is making whole wheat pizza dough! I simply switched out whole wheat flour in place of all purpose flour. It turned out really great and I think I'll make it this way from now on!

Remember, my two year blogaversary surprise giveaway is going on until tomorrow (Saturday). For each "first" you link to below, click here and leave a comment because it counts as an extra entry!

Also, please take a few minutes to read my Project Food Blog entry. Then come back Monday for information on how to vote!

Now it's your turn to tell me about your first! To participate in Friday Firsts create a blog post featuring a "first" of yours. Next, link that blog post below and tell us about it! If you don't have a blog or a specific post to link to please tell us about your first in the comment section! Any and all participation is welcome!

If you would like to display the Friday Firsts button as a badge in your post or on your side bar, you can copy and paste the following code:

Don't forget to go collect your extra giveaway entries for linking up!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

You have two days left to enter my surprise giveaway!

I've made Biz's pizza crust several times, but in an effort to eat healthier, I made it with whole wheat flour. The verdict?! Still just as delicious as the white flour version. In fact, it has a little more flavor!

1 cup warm water
2 1/4 tsp active dried yeast (or 1 packet)
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 1/2 - 2 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp Kosher salt
1 tsp garlic powder

Add the yeast to the warm water and let sit about 5 minutes to activate and become bubbly. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl combine 2 1/2 cups flour, salt, and garlic powder. Once the yeast mixture is ready, stir the olive oil in and add to the flour mixture bowl. Stir until everything is combined, adding more flour if necessary. The dough will still be slightly sticky, but don't over-flour because you will need to add more flour while you roll it out. This is enough to make two 12" pizzas.

I usually have the oven on at 400° to 425° and pre-bake for 5 minutes or so. Then I spread on the sauce, cheese, toppings and pop back in the oven for about 20 minutes.

This night's toppings were leftover roasted broccoli, fresh spinach, green peppers, onion, and garlic. What are your favorite pizza toppings? And have you ever tried a whole wheat crust?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pork and Apples

After reading Biz's beautiful, brightly colored post the other day I had pork and apples on the brain.

So when I saw a 6 pack of boneless pork chops for a mere $3 I jumped at the idea of making my own version of this sweet and savory combination for dinner.

Growing up we usually had apple sauce with pork chops or pork loin, how about you?

6 boneless pork chops
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
salt and pepper, to taste

1 small onion, sliced thin
1 apple, chopped (I used red delicious)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup your favorite BBQ sauce (I used Jack Daniel's No. 7)
1/4 cup water

Begin by seasoning the chops with salt and pepper. Let the oil heat in the pan and then cook the pork for 2-4 minutes per side, depending on how thick they are. Once they are browned on either side, remove from the pan and place on a plate.

To the same pan add the onion, apple, and garlic. Allow to saute for a few minutes until everything begins to caramelize. Add the BBQ sauce and the water to thin it out. Simmer over medium high heat, uncovered, allowing to reduce for about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, return the pork chops (and any residual juice) to the pan. Cover the chops with some of the mixture and put a lid on the pan for 10 minutes, flipping the pork chops once halfway to make sure they are coated thoroughly.

This really hit the spot! Thanks for the idea, Biz! The pork was still moist and tender, while the sauce hit several notes of smoky, tart, sweet, and savory.

The above plate was Johnny's. I ate one very small pork chop and some of the roasted broccoli. I've been trying to make at least half of my meals be a big, loaded salad after failing miserably at the 101 Days of Summer Challenge. My goal had been to move more and tone up. While I did move more, unfortunately it did not counteract all the delicious food this summer! I ended up adding back any inches I had lost from the halfway check-in and I gained a whopping 7 pounds from the start of the challenge!

I had done a lot of chopping for dinner, so this particular salad wasn't that loaded. I usually start with a big bed of mixed greens and/or baby spinach. To that I like to add some mixture of avacado, fresh apples, oranges, and vegetables, canned beets, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, grated cheese, smoked salmon, boiled egg, and whatever leftovers I deem appropriate. It helps to have a wide variety of salad toppings to mix up so you don't get bored. My go to dressings are usually some variety of Newman's Own.

Don't forget to enter my giveaway before this Saturday!

And please take a few minutes to read my Project Food Blog Challenge #1 entry!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Project Food Blog - Ready, Set, Blog!

I am meant to describe myself as a food blogger.

(Excuse me a minute while I hyperventilate and get writer's block.)

I've never been good at writing about myself. I find it awkward and out of my element, as if I'm setting up an online dating profile.

"My name is Christina and I like quiet walks on the beach..."

No really, I do.

I started this blog almost exactly two years ago. After researching my boyfriend Johnny's whey allergy online for hours, I eventually came across a few blogs.

I had kept a LiveJournal online for years, so the idea of a digital record of my life's occurances was not foreign to me. However, in my mind the term "blogger" seemed to be reserved for political ranters and contributing news correspondants. Up until this point, I had no idea regular, everyday people also kept blogs. I was hooked right away. I read a few blogs daily for a couple weeks until I got the guts to start my own.

The topic of my blog was an easy one because I love food. My love for food came from several relatives and the way in which I was brought up.

This is my dad, Michael. He worked for a butcher when he was younger and makes homemade sausage from their secret family recipe. He also cooked dinner several nights a week while I was growing up, so I never learned the kitchen was a gender-specific place. He was very good about letting my brother and me watch and help so we learned through doing. With almost everything my dad cooked, he'd make a little "taste tester" and let my brother and me try it first to see how it was coming along.

This is my mom, Debbie-Lyn. She packed my lunch for me every day of school. And I don't mean peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with a bag of chips and a juice box. I mean sandwiches on potato bread or pitas with things my classmates had never heard of like alfalfa sprouts. There was also a variety of sides including fresh veggies and fruit, yogurt, and applesauce. A lot of nights she worked teaching piano right up until we ate dinner. I learned many meal planning routines and crockpot recipes from her. She never had the excuse that it was too late, or there wasn't enough time. Regardless, we had a home-cooked meal on the table.

This is my brother, also Michael. Oh, wait - wrong picture.

There we go, much better! I've written in length about him in a previous post. He was the pickiest eater growing up and I was so annoyed by it. But, he's since graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and gone on to earn his Wine Professional Certification. He has worked at some amazing restaurants, including Studio at Montage Resort and Spa, a Mobil 5 Star winner and Elizabeth's Cafe and Winery, which has waaaaay too many awards for me to list here and stay within the word restraint.

These are my Grandmas. Antoinette, my late paternal "Grammy" is on the left and Deborah, my maternal "Gramma" is on the right. Grammy had 6 children - 5 boys and 1 girl. Gramma had 5 children - 4 girls and 1 boy. As I cook for two I don't know how they did it, but they did. Grammy was 100% Italian and the majority of my sauce, lasagna, and parmigiana recipes are modeled after watching her. She also loved my blog from the beginning, always asking about it. Gramma sure can cook, but is really known for her baking. Every Christmas she would bake up literally thousands of everybody's favorite treats, each of us grandkids helping. For many years, she baked hundreds of breads and pies every week to sell at a local farm stand.

With a family like that, it's no wonder food has manifested in my life in some form, right?

I'm a firm believer that food is love. The recipes and meals I feature are made-from-scratch, at home, in my kitchen. These are meals like my grandparents fed to my parents and my parents fed to me. Tried and true, I never post anything unless I have made it first and can vouch for it.

The recipes might not always be the hippest, I might not take the best photographs, my stats might not be as high as more popular blogs, but this is me. Food is love and I love to share food with the world, just as my family shared food with me. This blog is my outlet and resource to do that, that's why I believe I should be the next food blog star.

You're a guest here for "Dinner at Christina's," so pull up a chair to my table and enjoy!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Italian Cabbage Casserole & 2 Year Giveaway

Johnny's sister, Di and I have been crafting our little hearts out lately. We both love Halloween, and it's never too early to start celebrating!

It was both Di's and my first time jigsawing EVER. I think we did a fantastic job, if I don't say so myself! The templates are from Martha Stewart's web site.

In a special Taste of Home fall craft and recipe magazine Di got, this Italian Cabbage Casserole caught my eye. The original recipe can be found here, and my adaptation is below.

1 medium cabbage, shredded
1 pound loose Italian sausage
1 green pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
29 oz. can of tomato puree
6 oz. can of tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp parsley
1 tsp basil
1 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (I used part-skim)

Place the shredded cabbage in a steamer basket over about 1 inch of boiling water. Cover and steam for 6-8 minutes, or until tender. Rinse with cool water, drain, and set aside.

In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the sausage, green pepper, and onion until the sausage is no longer pink. Stir in the tomato puree, paste, and seasonings. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Place half of the cabbage in a greased 11" x 17" baking dish. Top with the sausage mixture, then 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese and 1 Tbsp Parmesan cheese. Repeat layers. Bake uncovered for 15-20 minutes at 350°. Finish under the broiler to brown the cheese. Serves 6-8 and reheats nicely.

This was absolutely delicious. Johnny and I both loved it. It hits all the same notes of a lasagna, but uses the cabbage instead of noodles, which would make it a nice substitute for a gluten-free lasagna. The next day we ate it reheated for lunch with Di and she loved it too. It will definitely become part of our rotation. Plus, I love that it makes a huge pan and we have leftovers for a few days.

And I TOTALLY forgot about my own giveaway! Sorry, guys.

My two year blogaversary was yesterday, Sunday, September 12th. Hard to believe it's been two years already.

Although at the same time it feels like I've been doing this forever. I can't remember back to a time it wasn't "normal" to take pictures of my food before digging in!

As I said, this will be a surprise giveaway! You (and I) don't know the prize yet, but a prize is a prize, so it's still worth fighting for - amiright?

To enter:

Leave a comment below letting me know how long you've been blogging! (If you're not a blogger, feel free to leave any ol' comment!)

For an extra entry, tweet about this giveaway and leave a 2nd comment with @yourhandle.

For additional entries, link up to this week's Friday Firsts. Leave a separate comment for each linkback on this post.

Giveaway will end Saturday, September 18th at midnight. I will announce the winner soon thereafter.