Friday, April 30, 2010

Friday Firsts - Artichokes

Friday Firsts

Happy Friday everybody! Thank you so much to those of you who link up every week and have the buttons on your blogs. It really means so much to me to have your support and I honestly love seeing each of your contributions every week. It gives me so many new ideas and confidence for my own firsts! One of my favorites from last week was Jessie's use of green garbanzo beans! I didn't even know such a thing existed - so cool to learn a new ingredient!

When I started Friday Firsts artichokes were one of those things I knew would make it here eventually. I like them, but have never made them myself because they intimidated me so much! I'm very proud to say that this week I tackled that fear and made Johnny and myself two beautiful stuffed artichokes to enjoy!

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, April 29, 2010

BSI: Artichoke (Stuffed Artichoke)

Coincedentally, the Blogger Secret Ingredient (BSI) for this week is artichokes, hosted by Affairs of Living. I already planned on making artichokes for my Friday Firsts this week, so it was perfect timing!

My dad used to make stuffed artichokes every once in awhile for company when I lived at home. This is the only way I've ever eaten artichoke besides the jarred or canned hearts and I love it! I have not had it since the last time he made it (two Christamases ago) because I've always been afraid of artichokes!

One of the things that made me nervous was wondering how in the world do I choose one? Well, a little Googling can do wonders!
  • Artichokes are available in the Spring - look during March through May for the best ones.
  • Look for an artichoke without a lot of brown on the leaves.
  • Hold the artichoke and it should be heavy for its size - this means it's still full of its juices.
  • Fold back the bottom leaves and see if they are still crisp or have turned limp and rubbery.
  • The top of the artichoke should be tightly formed.
  • A fresh artichoke will "squeak" as it compresses when you squeeze it in your palm.
Woo, now that we got that out of the way, I was set with my two fresh artichokes! Next thing that made me nervous was how in the world do I tackle it?! One of my cookbooks actually helped with this one!
  • Pull the bottom leaves off the artichoke and any outer ones that look worse for wear.
  • Using kitchen shears, snip the prickly tips off the leaves along the side of the artichoke.
  • Cut the top 1" off the top of the artichoke, exposing the inner leaves.
  • Trim the stem to leave about 1 1/2" below the bottom of the artichoke.
  • Rinse the artichoke under cold water, making sure to get in between the leaves.


Place the prepared artichokes in a big pot with squeezed segments of a lemon and a palmful of peppercorns. Once the water comes to a boil add about a teaspoon of salt and let boil for 20 minutes. (I used a lid slightly smaller than the pot to keep the artichokes submerged.) Once done, drain the water and allow the artichokes to sit upside down to drain and cool for about 15 minutes.

Once cool enough to handle use a small paring knife to remove the center leaves, which have a little purple on them. Then with a small spoon, scoop out the fuzzy "choke" until you can see the tender heart.

At this point your artichokes are fully cooked and ready to be eaten. Feel free to enjoy with melted butter or other dip.

However, if you're like me and want to stuff them you still have a little bit of work ahead of you!

My stuffing (enough for two artichokes) included:

1 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp parsley
1/2 tsp basil
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
4 cloves garlic, minced

Separate the leaves of the artichoke so there is room for the stuffing. Starting at the outside leaves and working your way to the center, deposit a little bit of stuffing in each layer.

Place the artichokes in a covered baking dish and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the cover and broil for the last 5 minutes to brown the stuffing, keeping a close eye on it.

Remove leaves starting at the outside and scrape the "meat" and stuffing with your teeth. Work your way to the center until you are left with the tender, flavorful heart - the best part of the artichoke!

Serve as is, or with melted butter for dipping. Also make sure to place a discard bowl at the table for the leaves!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Baked Chili Rellenos

Johnny's absolute favorite meal is chili rellenos. I had never even heard of it before I moved in with him, but silly me offerred to make it for his birthday dinner. Wow, I was nervous! First of all, his ex Mother-in-law was a Mexican immigrant and used to make it for him, so that's tough competition. Second, it's a pretty labor intensive dish. I was determined so I googled around and found a few recipes and resources to make it. It was a smashing success and I've cooked it a handful of times since. The problem is that it takes so darn long and usually makes a mess out of the kitchen with all the battering and deep frying.

I was flipping through my Better Homes and Gardens Vegetable cookbook I still had out from the beet recipe, and found one for baked chili rellenos! Could it be?! I immediately put the ingredients on the next grocery list!

I made some changes to the recipe including using fresh poblanos instead of canned chilis, as well as using Chihuahua cheese instead of Monteray Jack cheese. Feel free to use what you prefer, the technique is pretty much the same, regardless!

5 poblano peppers
6-8 oz Chihuahua cheese
4 eggs
1/3 cup milk
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup shredded Chihuahua cheese

Raise the top rack of your oven and turn the broiler on. Lightly coat the poblano peppers in oil and place on a baking sheet. Broil for about 5 minutes a side, flipping 3 times to char each side of the triangular shaped peppers. Remove from the oven and place in a heat-proof bowl with plastic wrap sealed over the top. Let sit for about 15 minutes to steam the skin and become cool to the touch.

Lower the oven rack and turn the temperature to 350°. While waiting for the peppers to cool, slice the cheese into small rectangles and grate 1/2 of a cup. Prepare the batter by whisking together the eggs, milk, flour, baking powder, and salt until smooth.

Once the peppers have cooled, hold them by their stems and gently peel off their waxy skin. Pull off the stem and gently cut a slit through one side of the pepper, taking care not to cut all the way through. Using a spoon, gently scrape the membrane and seeds from the poblano. (These are where the heat is and once you remove these, there is just a delicious chili taste left, but if you prefer spicy then you can leave some.)

Lay the peppers flat and arrange a rectangle or two of the cheese in the center. Wrap the roasted pepper around the cheese and place seam side down in a small to medium sized greased casserole dish.

Pour the batter over the peppers. (Here is where I realized I used too large of a baking dish - oops!)

Sprinkle the remaining shredded cheese over top. Pop in the oven for 30 minutes until the top is golden.

You can see how it puffed up beautifully and browned. If I had used a smaller baking dish it would have been more on the peppers, not along the sides so much.

This was just as delicious as the deep fried version! It hit all the same notes with a fraction of the prep and mess! I'll definitely be adding this one to the "keeper" pile!

If you have been nervous to try chili rellenos before, I think this version is perfect for starters. Keep in mind that you could also use canned chilis if you don't want to go through the trouble of roasting fresh ones, which would cut down even less on the time and mess!

Ooey, gooey, cheesy, and chili roasted battered goodness! What more could you ask for in a dinner?

Hey What's For Dinner

I'm submitting this delicious and fulfilling meat-free dish to Just Another Meatless Monday. I think Mexican is a great way to add vegetarian meals to the dinner plan. Cheeses, beans, and mushrooms can replace meats as a hearty flavor and filling for fajitas, tacos, or burritos.

Yoplait Winner

The winner of the Yoplait "Nourish your Inner Goddess" prize pack and free yogurt coupons was lucky number 65! (Note: There were 96 comments on the giveaway post but two did not follow entry rules so were omitted to remain fair for other's chances.)

Dawnjane congratulations!

Please email your address to christina at dinneratchristinas dot com so your package can be mailed to you!

Thank you to everybody that entered and helped spread the word!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Glazed Carrots with Pecans

Growing up my mom would sometimes cook fresh carrots with a hint of something sweet like honey or orange juice. I think it's a pretty unique flavor profile, so I experimented with it.

2 large carrots
2 garlic cloves, minced
healthy sprinkle of black pepper
dash Kosher salt
1 Tbsp real maple syrup
2 Tbsp water
handful of pecans

Wash and cut the carrots and add to a pan with the minced garlic, pepper, and salt. Cook for a few minutes on medium heat until the garlic softens and the carrots lose some of their bite. Add the maple syrup and pecans and turn the heat to medium high. Let the syrup carmalize around the carrots a bit and form a glaze for just a minute or two. Add the water and reduce the heat back to medium. Let cook for about 5 minutes until the water evaporates, the carrots are soft, and the pecans are toasted.

These turned out really delicious and I'm so happy I thought to include the nuts. The glaze on the carrots was just a "hint," not a thick, cloying sweetness.

I served alongside baby lima beans and a chicken breast I "grilled" under the broiler with Jack Daniel's No. 7 BBQ sauce. The carrots' bold flavor held its ground against the stronger flavor of the charred chicken.

Also, I've been forgetting to include this for a couple weeks now! Jessie at The Happiness in Health gave me an award! Thanks Jessie, sorry I'm so slow!

The rules say to list 10 things that make me happy before passing it onto other bloggers.

1) This semester being OVER, which means no more Macroeconomics!
2) A surprise week break before the next semester starts.
3) My new bowl!
4) I have already procured my mom an awesome Mother's Day gift!
5) Corn on the cob will soon be in season!
6) Reading a good book on a sunny day. (Thank you all for your suggestions!)
7) Friday Firsts and all that participate weekly!
8) Learning to can this summer (hopefully)!
9) My comfy bed and pillow.
10) My new(to me) bike! (Thanks mom and dad!)

I'm going to take the easy way out again and pass it onto all of you and ask that you tell me at least one thing that makes you happy in the comments!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Empty Bowls Benefit

Thursday night Johnny, Goran, and I went to a community event to help combat hunger by Johnny and Goran's work. It was a really unique charity event, I've never been to anything like it. Two local food pantries will receive the proceeds.

First, you got in a long line outside of Terra Incognito, a pottery studio that also teaches classes. Their students had made hundreds and hundreds of bowls for the event.

$20 got you a ticket to go inside and pick out your bowl. There were three rooms with tables lined up. There were bowls made by kids, bowls made by the highly talented, normal bowls, unique bowls, and every color bowl you could imagine. You were able to choose any one you wanted and then traded your ticket for it.

For the rest of the night the bowl acted as your "admission" to about two dozen restaurants that had generously donated food for the event.

I did not get pictures of all the food, but I will share each stop and what we had. As the night progressed I had to use the flash, sorry!

First up was Knead and all 3 of us chose the beef steak chili. It was really full of flavor and a nice start to the event.

Second, Noodles & Co. gave us a seasonal asparagus and lemon linguine. It was ok, but not something I'd pay for a whole bowl of. It is nice to see they offer asparagus as an option when it's in season, though.

Third, Kama Indian Bistro, was my favorite of the evening. There was a sweet potato with chutney and this other fried vegetable thing that wasn't on the menu. It was really delicious, but unfortunately the tray ran out while we were there and Johnny only got the sweet potato!

Fourth, a Chicagoland pizza chain, Aurelio's had little pizza squares. I'd never had their pizza before, but it was pretty tasty. I enjoyed their sauce, it had a nice flavor - it wasn't overly sweet like it usually is around here.

Fifth, Marconi's had cheese tortellini with peas in vodka sauce. Pretty tasty, but the tortellini was overcooked.

Sixth was Nickson's and their "mini" crab cakes with basil pepper remoulade. Personally I would have been embarrassed at how mini they made these. They were about the size of a nickel. The tray ran out while we were there so I was the only one who got to try this. They served a smoky macaroni and cheese to Johnny and Goran, who really liked it.

Seventh, Casa Margarita, Johnny's and my favorite local Mexican restaurant by our house (there's 2 locations). For some reason they chose to serve their chicken soup instead of any Mexican fare, which I think was a big mistake. Nothing to write home about and why not showcase your specialty?

Eighth was Bella Bacinos, another favorite of the evening. They served two pastas - one was a rigatoni with sausage and the other was a vegetarian orecchiette with an orgasmic sauce and little bits of mushrooms I gave to Johnny.

Ninth stop was Magic Wok, where we received fried rice and BBQ pork. The sauce and pork was delicious, but I've had better fried rice.

Tenth was Palmer Place, by far the most generous of the evening. We received a serving of fries, fried green beans (they had run out of the advertised fried green tomatoes), wasabi dipping sauce, and a General Tso's chicken wing that was spicy, but really flavorful.

Eleventh was Q BBQ, where we were served up their famous southern Mac-Q-Roni with crumbled Cheez-it topping and a mini hushpuppy. Would you believe neither Johnny nor Goran knew what a hushpuppy was?!

Twelfth was a new green restaurant called Prasinos. I thought it was pretty goofy because all of the "artwork" on the walls were TVs displaying paintings and their menu was projected on TVs. Wouldn't framed artwork or a menu board be more eco-friendly? We waited in line a really long time for their smoothie. Ours was pineapple, orange, mango, and lime. It was shockingly high on the lime and tasted kind of woodsy. I didn't finish mine and another customer shared her disappointment with us outside. She said she didn't think the mango was ripe, that's where the hint of "pine" might have come from.

Thirteenth was Francesca's Belleza, where the boys enjoyed bruschetta with tomatoes, fresh mozarella cheese, and basil. I don't like raw tomatoes so Johnny ate mine too. They looked beautiful and smelled really fresh though!

Fourteenth stop was at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory where we were each given a massive slab of fudge to go. I chose peanut butter and Johnny got coconut.

Fifteenth was DiNico's Pizza & Gelato where I chose the melon gelato and it was absolutely delicious! A refreshing treat to wind down with.

Sixteenth and last stop was at Caribou Coffee where we all chose hot chocolate and whipped cream to warm up, since it started to get really chilly!

Not a bad deal for $20! We got to sample a lot of delicious food, come home with one-of-a-kind hand made bowls we love, and help a local food banks fight the war on hunger!

My bowl - I thought it'd be perfect for veggies and dip and the glaze is beautiful!

Johnny's bowl - has a really unique swirl pattern down to the center and along the outside too.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Friday Firsts - Strawberry Sour Cream Loaf

Friday Firsts

Happy Friday everybody! It's always so exciting to see your Friday Firsts because most of the time they're things I have yet to try too! I keep getting new ideas each week, I'll never run out of a possible "First!" If this is your first Friday Firsts click the link above or on the side bar for more information!

This week I baked Strawberry Sour Cream Loaf for the first time! Strawberries are in season and cheap, so this bread was begging to be made! It was so delicious it's already gone!

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. It could be the first time you've eaten a new fruit or the first visit to a new restaurant in town! 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!

Thank you for helping me spread the word each week! 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 enter my Yoplait giveaway for FREE yogurt coupons, a terry wrap, slippers, and a bath set!

Also, Alisa from Dairy Free and Fit is hosting a HUGE Amazing Grass giveaway here. (I've written about Amazing Grass here.) Enter for a chance to win two 30 day tubs, Amazing Meal packets, a selection of bars, and a t-shirt.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

BSI: Sunflower Seeds (Sunflower Seed Butter Cookies)

Alisa from One Frugal Foodie is hosting this week's Blogger Secret Ingredient (BSI) challenge and she chose sunflower seeds!

She said in the rules that you could use sunflower seeds or sunflower seed butter, but I decided to use both! Sunflower seed butter is amazing. If you haven't tried it yet, you need to. Hands down, it is my favorite item at Trader Joe's and that is saying a lot if you've ever seen me tackle their roasted plaintains.

This was inspired by a recipe I found online. The contributor said she originally got it from a Trader Joe's publication. A few ratings mentioned the centers of the cookies might turn greenish from the baking. (Something about the heat and sunflowers' makeup?) Mine did not do this, but if it bothers you a suggestion was to add a splash of lemon juice.

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sunflower seed butter, chilled
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups flour
sunflower seeds, for garnish

Preheat oven to 375°. Beat butter, sunflower seed butter, and both sugars until fluffy. Add the eggs, vanilla, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, mixing well. Gradually add the flour in 1/2 cup increments, beating until fully incorporated to a stiff cookie dough.

Roll into 1 1/2" balls and place a couple inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet.

Using a fork, mush down on the ball in a criss cross pattern. Add a pinch of sunflower seeds to the top and push into the dough a little so they do not fall off during baking.

Bake for 10 minutes and let cool on the baking sheet for a minute or two before removing to a wire rack. Yields about thirty 3" cookies.

Although these look almost exactly like peanut butter cookies, there were subtle differences! These were not nearly as sweet, which I really liked. Also, they had a bit more of a bite to them and were firmer, not as airy and crumbly as my peanut butter cookies usually are. I especially loved the extra sunflower seeds on top. They got toasted to a nutty crunch in the oven and added a salty/sweet dimension.

And we weren't the only ones who enjoyed a sunflower seed butter treat! Ally from Sweet & Savory shared a photo of her two pups having fun with a peanut butter jar a little while ago. I'm way too cheap to get Corky a Kong toy and it never occurred to me to give him an empty jar to enjoy in the same manner! Thanks for sharing, Ally - he was out there for half an hour in pure heaven! (Doesn't his shadow look exactly like Yoda, or is it just me?)