May 27, 2011

Creamy Caprese Pasta.

Raise your hand if you love basil.

You better believe my hand is up high in the air. Fresh basil is one of my very favorite things. The smell, the taste, I love it all. And when summer starts rolling in and the basil is super fresh? Mmmmm.

I saw this recipe on How Sweet It Is on Monday & put the ingredients on my shopping list right that very second. When a restaurant has a Caprese sandwich or salad, I almost always order it. Juicy ripe tomatoes? Yes, please. Basil? Obviously. Fresh mozzarella? Heck yes. Perfection! (And it doesn't hurt that a favorite sandwich at a local restaurant adds proscuitto, too!)

This pasta is all of that Caprese yumminess in a baked pasta. It's good. Really good.

Creamy Caprese Pasta
Slightly adapted from How Sweet It Is

1 lb pasta (I used whole wheat penne)
1 1/2 C pasta/tomato sauce
1/3 C heavy cream
1/3 C freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
8 oz fresh mozzarella - 4 oz cut into cubes, 4 oz cut into thin rounds
1 pint of grape tomatoes, halved
5 - 7 (depending on size) basil leaves, plus more for ganish
Preheat oven to 350°.

Boil water and cook pasta according to directions.

While pasta is cooking, heat tomato sauce over low heat in a large saucepan. Once warm, stir in heavy cream and grated parmesan.

Once pasta is done cooking, drain and return to the large pot, off heat. Pour warmed tomato sauce + cream onto pasta, mixing to coat. Fold in mozzarella cubes and tomatoes, and chopped basil leaves.

Spray a baking dish with non-stick spray and pour the entire pasta mixture into the dish.

Top with fresh mozzarella rounds. Bake for 25 minutes, or until cheese is golden and bubbly.

Top with additional fresh basil and grated cheese.

May 13, 2011

Lemon Frosting.

We celebrated my husband's 30th birthday last week. For the party, I made a cake & cupcakes, but wanted to try a new frosting. I saw Pioneer Woman's post for the Best Frosting I've Ever Had a while back, and decided to give it a shot on for his birthday. 

The frosting recipe is just vanilla though, and since I was pairing it with vanilla cupcakes, I wanted to add more flavor. I used lemon curd, since (1) I had it in my refrigerator, and (2) I love lemon. 

And the frosting? It might really be the best I've ever had (cream cheese frosting excluded, which does have place & time). I made a little bit without the lemon curd, too, so I could sample both ways. The frosting is light and sweet. And with the addition of lemon curd, perfectly tart. I received several compliments at the party - It is SO good!, I've never had frosting like this before!, It is so light & almost tastes like whipped cream!.

A new go-to that we will be using again & again.

Lemon Frosting 
Slightly Adapted from Tasty Kitchen  

5 Tablespoons Flour
1 cup Milk
teaspoon Vanilla 
1 cup Butter 
1 cup Granulated Sugar
1/3 C lemon curd

In a small saucepan, whisk flour into milk and heat over medium, stirring constantly, until it thickens. You want it to be very thick - thicker than cake mix, more like a brownie mix. Remove from heat and let it cool to room temperature. Stir in vanilla.

While the mixture is cooling, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy and until there is no more sugar graininess.  Add the completely cooled milk & flour mixture and lemon curd. Beat it on high speed, until it all combines and resembles whipped cream. If it looks grainy or separated or weird, beat it longer.

Spread onto a cooled cake or cupcakes.

April 27, 2011

Orange Ricotta Pancakes with Strawberry Sauce.

I don't have a picture of the final product because, um, well, we ate it too quickly. These were so, so good.

Sometimes my favorite recipes come out of necessity - I will have a certain ingredient in my refrigerator or pantry that I used for one recipe, but it isn't something that I use in my everyday cooking, so I go searching.

In this case it was ricotta cheese, that I used to make a lime tart for Easter. I have pasta recipes that use ricotta, but I wasn't in a pasta mood yesterday. So I hunted. I remember seeing recipes for lemon ricotta pancakes and thought that sounded like a good place to start. So I Googled around and found one from Two Peas and Their Pod with a blueberry sauce that looked great.

However, I had a bunch of oranges from my in-laws' tree and fresh strawberries that needed to be used, too. So I improvised and made a couple changes. And now this will be a recipe we make over & over again, for breakfasts on the weekend or breakfast-for-dinner, like we had last night.

Orange Ricotta Pancakes with Strawberry Sauce
Adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod

For the sauce:
1 1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
2 C fresh strawberries
3 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp water
Splash (3 Tbsp or so) fresh orange juice.

In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice and cornstarch and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine the strawberries, sugar, water, and orange juice. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer and stir in lemon juice and cornstarch mixture. Stir until the sauce thickens slightly. Cover to keep warm and set aside.

For the pancakes:
1 1/4 C all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 C ricotta cheese
1 large egg
2 large egg whites
1/2 C fresh orange juice
2 tsp grated orange zest
1 Tbsp canola oil
1 Tbsp milk

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda & salt.

In a medium bowl, whisk together ricotta cheese, egg, egg whites, orange juice, orange zest, canola oil, & milk. Gently fold this mixture into the dry ingredients until flour disappears. Don’t over mix; the batter will be quite thick.

Heat a griddle or a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Spray with cooking spray. Drop about 1/3 cup of batter onto the hot griddle or skillet. Cook the pancakes until browned on the underside and beginning to set, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook the pancakes on the other side, about two minutes longer. Continue making pancakes until batter is gone. Serve warm with strawberry sauce.

April 22, 2011

Curried Chicken Salad.

I often get in a lunch rut - skipping it altogether, grazing, or eating a simple salad. For Christmas, my mother-in-law gave me a cookbook from Alice's Tea Cup in NYC, featuring many of their popular recipes. I bookmarked their curried chicken sandwich, thinking it was a fun twist on a classic & would add some pizazz to my otherwise boring weekday lunches.

It is one of those recipes that is perfect on a day where you want something different, but don't have the time or energy to go to the store; chances are you have all the ingredients in your refrigerator/pantry right now (& if not, simple substitutions can be made). The recipe makes enough for 4-6 sandwich servings, but can easily be scaled up or down.

The chicken was perfectly moist from being roasted and the salad was a perfect combination of tangy & sweet. This was a wonderful addition to my lunches this week and will be a recipe I make again.

Curried Chicken Salad
Alice's Tea Cup

4 medium boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 Tbsp curry powder
1/4 C apricot jam
1/4 C sour cream
1/4 C mayonnaise
1/4 C finely chopped celery
1/4 C finely chopped red onion

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Rub the chicken breasts with 1 Tbsp of the curry powder, place them on a baking sheet, and roast until a meat thermometer registers 160° F, about 20 minutes. Let cool.

Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining 1 Tbsp curry powder with the apricot jam, sour cream, and mayonnaise.

When the chicken is cool, cut it into 1/2-inch cubes. Add the chicken, celery, and onion to the bowl and stir well. Season to taste with salt & pepper.

Serve on sliced bread, in a wrap, or over a bed of greens.

April 6, 2011

Easy Granola.

Greek yogurt + granola + a drizzle of honey is one of my favorite breakfasts. I'm not quite sure why, but I have always bought my granola - in the form of a cereal or in the bulk section of my local market.

I had pulled a granola recipe from Real Simple a while back & finally decided to make it. It was easy, easy - although I wish I would have stirred a little more carefully midbaking, as I got oats all over the inside of my oven. And it was good too - not too sweet (maple syrup is the only sweetener), good crunch, and yummy chewy bits of dried fruit.

Stored in an airtight container, the granola will keep for 3 weeks.

Easy Granola
Real Simple, April 2010

4 C old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick cooking)
1 C sliced almonds
1/2 C shredded coconut
1/4 C unsalted pepitas or shelled sunflower seeds
1/2 C pure maple syrup
2 Tbsp canola oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 C dried fruit (I used a berry blend)

Heat oven to 350° F. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the oats, almonds, coconut, and pepitas with the maple syrup, oil, and salt.

Bake, tossing once, until golden and crisp, 25-30 minutes.

Add the dried fruit and toss to combine. Let cool.

April 1, 2011

March wrap up.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the challenge for March!!

Let's recap the recipes...

Looking for a great appetizer or snack? Try Brooke's 7 Layer Dip or Unflame's Pretzels.

Stumped when it comes to side dishes? Try Carol's Cuban Sweet Potato Salad or Uniflame's Squash Risotto.

Main dishes this month: Michelle made Creamy Chicken Taquitos, Bev made Pulled Pork with Root Beer, JoAnn gave Sloppy Joe's a vegetarian spin with lentils & seitan, Uniflame made Spanikopita, Trish made Chicken Pot Pie, & Kristina made Chicken Penne.

Need something for your sweet tooth? Try my Lemon Blueberry Crumb Bars, Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies, or Strawberry Shortcakes, or Margot's Hot Date Bars.

And for the two most unique (to me) recipes this month that had me quite interested? Judith's Soy Sauce Eggs & Uniflame's Danish Stamppot (Lettuce Mash Pot).

Lots of fun recipes that I can't wait to try!

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Michelle is hosting for April, so be sure to head over to post your new recipes!

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And now, for the random winners of this month's giveaway...
Number 3: Michelle & Number 7: Judith!!

I have two cookbooks to giveaway: Four Ingredient Cooking or Salads: delicious, fresh & healthy

Whoever responds first can have their choice and I will send the other book off to the second winner. Both cookbooks are brand new, never used.

Email me at elise (dot) hope (at) gmail (dot) com with your shipping information so I can get your prizes off to you!

March 24, 2011

Strawberry Shortcakes.

We are getting together with family tonight & I volunteered to bring dessert. After making super rich chocolate mint brownies last week for St. Patrick's Day & then a chocolate peanut butter torte when we had friends over on Tuesday, I thought it would be best to make something lighter this time. I had a huge container of strawberries in my refrigerator that I needed to use sooner rather than later. So naturally, my thoughts drifted to strawberry shortcakes, one of my favorite light(er) desserts.

Now, I have made strawberry shortcakes a few times before, but I never was crazy about the shortcake recipe I used. It was alright, but not anything special. So today, I turned to one of my older cookbooks & decided to use their shortcake recipe, that I had bookmarked sometime ago.

I had a big oops when I was making this... When I "made" my buttermilk, I accidentally poured the entire cup of liquid into the flour mixture, instead of the 3/4 C the recipe called for. I didn't realize it until I turned out the dough to cut the shortcakes & had a sticky, wet mess in front of me. I would have just doubled the recipe, but I didn't have another cube of butter. So I improvised by adding more flour, until the dough seemed to be the right consistency, and then added just a touch of sugar to balance out the additional flour. But I didn't think to add more baking powder, so my shortcakes didn't rise like the should have. None of this impacted the taste (which was amazing), but it did mean that I couldn't cut my shortcakes in half and instead just used one flat shortcake for the top & one flat shortcake for the bottom.

Taste wise, this recipe blows my old one out of the water. I loved it. The shortcakes had just the right amount of sugar (which one was thing I didn't like about my old recipe - not sweet at all). And the lemon zest? Such a great addition. I loved tasting a bit of lemon with every bite. These are a perfect treat to welcome spring!

Strawberry Shortcakes
Williams-Sonoma Desserts

For the shortcakes:
1 2/3 C all purpose flour
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp lemon zest
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 C cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 C buttermilk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

4 C strawberries, hulled and cut into slices
1/4 C sugar
Sweetened whipped cream

Preheat the oven to 400°.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, zest, and salt. Using a pastry blender (or your fingers), cut in the butter until the pieces are no larger than peas. Add the buttermilk and vanilla and gently toss with a rubber spatula until the flour is just moistened and the ingredients are blended.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Gently press the dough into a thick rectangle about 6 x 4 inches. Trim the edges with a large sharp knife, then cut the dough into six equal squares.

Place the squares on an ungreased baking sheet, spacing them well apart. Bake until they are puffed and golden, 15-18 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack & cool slightly or completely.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, toss the strawberries and sugar. Cover the berries and refrigerate until well chilled, or until ready to use.

To serve, split the shortcakes in half horizontally and place the bottom halves, cut side up, on serving plates. Spoon some of the strawberries, including the juices, over each half and top with a dollop of whipped cream. Top with remaining shortcake halves, cut side down. Serve immediately.