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Friday, July 31, 2009

Laughing Hysterically

I never really understood the term “laughing hysterically” until now. Anyone who knows me well knows I like to bake cakes, well any kind of baked goods really, but there’s nothing like a really pretty, (and tasty!) homemade cake.

I haven’t been sleeping well, well since LAST YEAR! I don’t know what it is, maybe its anxiety, thyroid, hormones, but somehow my body forgot how to fall asleep. So, mix that loverly, unrelenting condition with this website and well, I laughed until I choked. Maniacally. No control. I mean leave-your-desk-cuz-people-are-looking type of laughing.

Please, by all means, give yourself a good laugh today and check out Cake Wrecks. Flashbacks of The Seasonal Non-Sequitur, Santapillar cakes and The Holland Belly Cake will have people giving me strange looks all day.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Baked Ziti Representin'

Baked ziti is the Rodney Dangerfield of the pasta family. It gets no respect.

Thrown together with a jar of store-bought pasta sauce, some grainy ricotta, sprinkled with bagged, shredded cheese, and baked till dry as leather, baked ziti is often sadly used as a cheap, main dish for feeding a lot of people without much effort. Now, don’t get me wrong, those church potlucks can be expensive and your group of picky pre-teens may turn their noses up to anything else, so cheap and easy have their place in the kitchen. It’s just that, well, it can be so much different than that. Oh yes, it can be VERY different!

In the past, baked ziti was too saucy, too dry, too cheesy, too mushy from overcooked pasta, too bland. Too many extremes. Sometimes a ground meat of some sort is thrown in the mix, but really, most baked ziti simply poses as spaghetti in a different shape and acts as a vehicle for all that melted cheese.

Upon eating this last night, hubs proclaimed, “This is probably the best baked ziti I’ve ever eaten in my life!” That’s quite a compliment, huh? Trust me. Step away from the jarred pasta sauce and preshredded cheese. It’s time we got a little respect around here!

Baked Ziti
Recipe source: Cooks Illustrated, April 2009

1 lb. whole milk or 1% cottage cheese
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 oz. grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 1/2 cups), divided
Salt
1 lb. ziti
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
5 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 (28 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. chopped fresh basil leaves, divided (or 1 tablespoon dried)
1 tsp. sugar
Ground black pepper
3/4 tsp. cornstarch
1 cup heavy cream (or whole milk)
8 oz. low-moisture mozzarella, shredded (not preshredded!)

Directions:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350° F. Whisk cottage cheese, eggs, and 1 cup Parmesan together in a medium bowl; set aside. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta; cook until pasta begins to soften but is not yet cooked through, 5-7 minutes. Drain the pasta and leave in colander.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and sautee for 1 to 2 minutes, do not brown. Stir in the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and oregano; simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. Off the heat, stir in 1/2 cup basil and the sugar, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a small bowl stir together the cornstarch and heavy cream. Transfer the mixture to the now-empty stockpot over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened, 3-4 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and add the cottage cheese mixture, 1 1/2 cups of the tomato sauce and 3/4 cup mozzarella. Stir to combine. Add the pasta and toss to coat thoroughly with the sauce.

Transfer the pasta to a 9×13″ baking dish and spread the remaining tomato sauce evenly over the top. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan over the top. Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove the foil from the pan and continue to cook until the cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown, about 30 minutes longer. Cool for 20 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons basil and serve.

Photo from: http://www.castellofoodcompany.com/

Monday, July 13, 2009

Chicken Pot Pie

Oh, July.

I’d say that I dislike you almost as much as August, but at least August has back-to-school sales, which means the fall merchandise will be making an appearance soon. But, July has that extra holiday thrown in there, so it’s a toss up. Sigh.

You know how I feel about pretending it’s fall in the middle of the summer. Some people start putting up their indoor Christmas decorations in October, so why can’t I start wishing for fall in July? That means I'll usually make fall-type foods on a regular basis, even though it’s too bloody hot outside to even go check the mail. I guess it’ll do until the real thing gets here.

This is an EASY pot pie to make. And everyone loves chicken pot pie, right? You don’t even have to make the crust, and who doesn’t love that? This recipe is adapted from the book Kitchen Sense, and is perfect for those days when you wish it were cooler outside, even when it’s not.

Chicken Pot Pie
Adapted from Kichen Sense

3-1/2 cups cubed cooked chicken (a generous pound by weight – Precooked rotisserie chickens work great for this)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, sliced
1 celery stalk, chopped
6 oz small mushrooms, quartered
1 tsp thyme leaves (stripped from the stem or ½ tsp dried)
Salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup sherry or dry white wine
5 T all-purpose flour
2 cups poultry stock
1 bay leaf
1 T chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen
Your favorite pie crust dough (enough for 9-inch pie pan)
1 small egg, beaten with 1 T cold water

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion until soft, then add the carrot and celery and continue cooking for another 3 to 5 minutes, until soft. Add the mushrooms and thyme and cook until the mushrooms give up their liquid. Add salt, and pepper to taste; stir and cook for a couple of minutes. Deglaze the pan with half of the sherry; remove the cooked vegetables and their juices to a bowl and set aside.

Melt the remaining butter in the skillet, then whisk in the flour to make a roux. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes until the paste takes on a blonde color, Whisk in the stock and the remaining sherry, then add the bay leaf, parsley, salt, and pepper to taste. Simmer until thickened.

Add the cooked chicken and sauteed vegetables, and peas to the sauce. Transfer the mixture to a 1-1/2 quart baking dish (such as a deep-dish pie pan) and set aside in a warm spot near the oven.

Roll out the pie dough about 1 inch larger than the diameter of the baking dish and about 1/4-inch thick (or like me, I made a bit more of the filling and put it all in a large casserole dish and used 2 pieces of prepared pie dough (Pilsbury) pinched together in the middle). Place the dough atop the pie filling, and press the overlap to the outside of the dish. Place the filled and covered pie on top of a rimmed baking sheet. Brush with the beaten egg, then make a few slits to allow steam to escape.

Bake for 20 minutes (depending on size of pot pie) at 425°F until the crust has risen and begun to take on color. Reduce the heat to 350°F and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the crust is a deep golden brown. Remove from the oven and serve.
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