Saturday, February 26, 2011

Spinach and Tomato Open-Face Sandwich

Looking for a quick and easy lunch or dinner just for you? Whip this sandwich up in about 15 minutes. It's tasty layers will have you making extra the next time around.

- 1 thick slice of crusty bread, ideally from a bread boule or otherwise hearty loaf
- 1 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, diced
- 1/4 tsp dried parsley
- 1/2 cup grape/cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise
- 1 cup spinach
- 1/8 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
- 1/8 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

How to Cook It
1) Turn your oven to "broil" and set your bread slice (I used homemade herb bread) on a small oven-safe tray or a piece of foil.
2) Heat the olive oil in a small pan and begin sautéing garlic. Add spinach and toss in the oil and garlic. Cook until the spinach is slightly wilted, but still a nice bright green. Your garlic should just be starting to get a little color.
3) Time to layer! Evenly spread half of the spinach, oil, and garlic over the top of the bread, being careful not to drizzle too much oil in any one spot.
4) Put about half of the sliced tomatoes down.
5) The next layer should have half of each cheese and half of the parsley.
6) Repeat the layers again with the remaining ingredients: spinach and garlic, then tomatoes, then cheese and parsley.
7) Put your open face sandwich under the broiler for about 5 minutes, or until everything looks golden brown, bubbly, and delicious!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Chocolate Layer Cake

This is the cake to make for the chocoholic in your life. I most recently made this one for my husband Greg's birthday. To balance the copious amounts of chocolate in this dessert, I recommend adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt on the side. I think you'll really find that the coffee brings out the chocolate flavors more than you might think!


For the cake you'll need...
- Butter or vegetable shortening to grease your cake pans.
- 1 3/4 cups flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 3/4 cup cocoa powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup coffee
- 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the frosting you'll need...
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, brought to room temperature
- 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- An additional 1/4 cup chocolate chips set aside. Don't put these in the frosting.
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
- 1 TBSP instant coffee powder
- 2 tsp hot water

How to Cook It

The cake...
1) Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and grease two 8-inch cake pans.
2) Combine the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt) in a large bowl.
3) In a separate bowl, mix in the oil, eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla.
4) Set your hand or stand mixer to a low speed, and gradually add your wet ingredients to the dry.
5) Pour in the coffee and mix until blended.-- For this cake, the fresher the coffee, the better! Make sure you let it cool first though. Too hot, and you'll scramble the eggs. Yuck.
6) Divide the cake batter between the two greased cake pans.
7) Bake for 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
8) Allow cakes to cool completely before you frost them.
9) Put the first cake on a cake plate or pedestal, round side down in preparation for frosting.

The frosting...
1) Melt 1 cup of chocolate chips using either a microwave or double boiler. Be careful not to burn the chocolate! While the chocolate cools to room temperature, you can get the rest of the frosting ready.
2) Using a hand or stand mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until fluffy.
3) Add the vanilla and egg yolk. Continue to beat for 5 minutes.
4) On low speed, add the powdered sugar and blend until smooth.
5) In a separate bowl, add the 2 tsp of hot water to the instant coffee powder. Stir until dissolved and blend into the frosting mixture.
6) Using a spatula, scrape the chocolate in and mix until well-blended.

Time to frost your layer cake...
1) Spread a thin layer (about 1 cm) of frosting on the flat side of the bottom cake layer you set aside.
2) Place the top layer above, being sure it's rounded side up.
3) Scrape the rest of the frosting onto the top layer.
4) Use a flat spatula or knife you're comfortable using to spread the frosting evening over your cake.

The chocolate drizzle...
1) Time to use that 1/4 cup of chocolate chips you set aside.
2) Use the same method to melt these that you decided on for the chocolate you added to the frosting.
3) Once melted, let cool a little, but not to room temperature.
4) Drizzle over the top of your cake randomly for an abstract effect. Delish!

Cauliflower and Tomato Bake

I don't know about you, but chilly, cloudy, February weather has me yearning for comfort food. This vegetarian bake reminds me of macaroni and cheese, but without the elbow noodles. I recommend serving it fresh and steaming right out of the oven!


For the sauce you'll need...
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 2 TBSP butter
- 1 small onion, chopped finely
- 4 cloves garlic, diced
- 3 TBSP flour
- 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
- 1 TBSP dried parsley
- 1 tsp paprika

- 2 cups grape tomatoes
- 24 ounces cauliflower florets
- 3 medium potatoes with their peels, chopped

How to Cook It
1) Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2) Boil potatoes until tender, drain, and set aside.
3) Steam the cauliflower al dente. It should still be a little crunchy.
4) Get a 2 1/2 quart baking dish and add cauliflower and tomatoes. Toss/stir gently to combine. Spread the chopped potatoes over the top.
5) Melt the butter in a medium sauce pan.
6) Add onions and garlic. Sauté for about 2-3 minutes.
7) Gradually add flour to the pot, stirring constantly until combined for an additional 2 minutes or so.
8) Pour in milk, and add the salt, pepper, parsley, and paprika.
9) Add approximately 2/3 of the cheddar and parmesan. Stir so that the cheese melts and all ingredients meld together. Bring up to a boil.
10) Remove from heat, and pour evenly over your dish of vegetables.
11) Place in oven and bake uncovered for 20-25 minutes, or until cheese starts to bubble and brown.
12) Enjoy!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Wine Poached Pears

Please don't be afraid of the word "poached." This really is an easy dessert. "To poach" is simply to cook something in simmering liquid, in this case that liquid is wine.

- 2 pears, cored and sliced
- 1 cup red wine (extra for the cook in a separate glass if desired)
- Freshly ground pepper to taste.

How to Cook It
- Pour your wine into a pan or pot large enough to fit your pear slices in a single layer.
- Stir in the ground pepper and heat the mixture until it just barely simmers.
- Add the pear slices. Poach them for 5-10 minutes depending on the thickness of your slices. Turn them halfway through your cooking time so that you get wine on both sides. 
- Once soft, remove the pears from the wine. 
- From here, you can either discard the wine or continue to simmer until it turns into a syrup.  
- For a light dessert, serve your pears solo. Feeling more indulgent? Add them to a couple scoops of french vanilla ice cream.

Friday, February 18, 2011

"Ever Changing" Chili

Most Fridays, I host a family-style dinner for our friends. It's so much fun cooking a good meal for folks who usually have to eat on the fly!

On the menu this week is freshly baked Broa (Portuguese Corn Bread) alongside my "Ever Changing" Chili. As you might expect, this chili is never the same twice. I don't always have the same beans, veggies, or spices in stock, so I use what I have. There have been times when I've made this dish using onion and garlic powder instead of the fresh stuff, and it still turns out just fine. I promise, you won't miss the meat!

- 4 cups dried kidney beans
- 1 cup dried black beans
- 1 cup brown rice
- 6 tomatoes, chopped
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 large head of garlic (Yes, the whole thing... I love garlic.), diced
- 2 poblano peppers, diced
- 1/8 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 tsp cumin
- 1/4 tsp chipotle chili powder
- 1 TSBP chili powder
- 1 TBSP salt
- 2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
- 32+ ounces vegetable broth

How to Cook It
1) Put your beans in a large mixing bowl and soak in water overnight. Once soaked, rinse the beans and put them in a large crockpot.
2) Add the rice, tomatoes, brown sugar, cumin, chipotle chili powder, chili powder, and salt to the crockpot.
3) Heat up the olive oil in a medium to large pan and sauté your onion, garlic, and peppers until they just barely begin to brown.
4) Add the contents of your frying pan to the crockpot.
5) Using a large spoon, gently stir the ingredients together.
6) Pour at least 32 ounces of vegetable broth over the top of your mixture. There should be about an inch or so of liquid covering everything before you turn on the crockpot.
7) Time to cook your chili low and slow! Cover, and set your crockpot to cook on low for 8 hours.
8) Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
9) As the crockpot chugs along, you can add more broth if you prefer a soupier chili, or let things be if you like your chili on the thicker side.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Curry Vegetable Couscous and Chickpeas

- 1 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
- cooked chickpeas
- 1/4 tsp curry powder
- 1 small-medium onion, chopped small
- 4-5 cloves diced garlic
- 2 cups cooked carrots, sliced thin
- 14.5 ounces vegetable broth
- 1 box of Mediterranean-style couscous (I used Near East's Couscous Mediterranean Curry)
- 1 TBSP dried parsley

How to Cook It
1) If you're planning ahead, soak desired amount of chickpeas (if not, just use canned, drain, rinse, and heat through after cooking your couscous) overnight.
2) If you've chosen to use dried chickpeas, take the soaked peas and put them in a pot. Add water until the pot is filled twice as high as the chickpeas. Toss in a dash of salt and boil until the chickpeas are tender-- about 30-40 minutes.
3) Meanwhile, prep your garlic cloves, onion, and carrots.
4) Using a medium pan, heat the olive oil and add the onions, garlic, carrots, and curry powder. Cook until garlic and onions start to get translucent-- about 4-5 minutes.
5) Add the vegetable broth and bring everything up to a boil. Stir in the couscous, parsley, and contents of the included spice bag.
6) Cover, remove from heat, and let stand for 5 minutes so that the dried couscous absorbs your tasty blend of broth and spices.
7) Mix in chickpeas to taste or serve them on the side.

Voila! You have a delish dish to eat solo (and have copious amounts of leftovers) or to share. My son? He's glad I opted to share.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Welcome to My Hearth

If there's one thing I never thought I'd do, it is writing a blog about what goes on in my kitchen. I'm not a trained chef; I'm a mother, wife, daughter, and friend.

Here's the deal: Cooking is a lot of fun, I like writing, and I love to share the dishes and treats I make with the people I care about. Welcome to the family!