Friday, July 1, 2011

Feast Like You're on Vacation: Appetizers

In part two of this four part series, I'm sharing recipes for delicious appetizers.  Sorry it took so long, I guess I was just too busy enjoying the fabulous drinks from the first Feast Like You're On Vacation post!  These appetizers aren't fancy and they shouldn't really be classified as authentic, but they are definitely tasty!  They remind me of better days when I was sunning myself on vacation, enjoying great food and the company of my wonderful family.  If you're looking for a little taste of vacation, these appetizers aren't a bad place to start.  After you've had drinks of course!

Tostones: Fried Green Plantains (printable recipe)
I have had tostones on numerous occasions while vacationing in South Florida and eating at Cuban restaurants.  If you've never eaten tostones or plantains, they are starchy and have a flavor that is reminiscent of a potato.  If you have had them, maybe you know of a better way to describe them besides delicious.  They are popular in the Caribbean and all across Central and South America.  They're also pretty easy to make, as long as you don't mind a little frying.  What makes something fried taste even better?  Frying it again.  That's right, tostones are fried twice, and worth every calorie!

3 green plantains
Corn oil
Kosher salt

Peel plantains and slice into approximately 1 1/2 inch slices.  Fill a large skillet about 1/3 full with corn oil, and set over medium heat.  Heat the oil until it reaches around 300 degrees.  Fry the plantains in batches for about 4-5 minutes, turning once, or until they begin to soften, but don't get brown.  Remove from pan and drain briefly on paper towels.

Use a plantain press (or you can do what I did and put each plantain piece in between two pieces of parchment paper, and press with the bottom of a small plate), and smash the plantains to about half their thickness.

Bring the oil back up to temperature, this time set over medium-high heat, or about 375 degrees.  Fry each side of the plantain again, until it is golden brown.  This will take about 4 more minutes, but don't quote me on that.

Transfer the tostones to paper towel and immediately sprinkle with sea salt to taste.  Let cool slightly and serve with one of the great dips below.

From left:  Fresh Tomato Salsa, Guacamole ala Rocco, Mango Salsa

Guacamole ala Rocco (printable recipe)
I hate avocados, or so I thought.  That all changed with one stop at Rocco's Tacos in West Palm Beach, Fla.  My brother ordered the house-made guacamole, and with one bite, I was hooked.  Once we got home from vacation, we wanted guacamole every day!  After a little searching online, I found a video of this wonderful guacamole being made.  There was one major ingredient missing though.  As the video stated, I needed half a demitasse spoonful of Rocco Spice.  What is Rocco Spice you ask?  It's a blend of 27 different spices that you have to buy at Rocco's Tacos.  Thanks, that helps me a lot all the way over here in Wisconsin.  So I went to my pantry and grabbed every "Mexican" spice I could find, ultimately coming up with the perfect plan and the best guacamole I've ever had (next to Rocco's of course).

2 ripe avocados
Juice of half a lime
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. adobo seasoning
1/8 tsp. cumin
1 Tblsp. tomato, chopped
1 Tblsp. cilantro, chopped
1 Tblsp. onion, chopped
1 Tblsp. roasted poblano pepper, finely chopped
1 Tblsp. jalapeno, finely chopped

Cut avocados in half and remove pit.  Scoop out avocado and place in medium bowl.  Squeeze lime over avocado and sprinkle with salt.  Mash avocados until desired consistency.  If you want your guacamole like they serve it at Rocco's, it will should be pretty smooth, with just a few small pieces of avocado.

Add remaining ingredients and stir until well combined.  Serve immediately.

Mango Salsa (printable recipe)
1 mango, chopped
1/2 c. english cucumber, seeded and chopped
1 Tblsp. jalapeno, finely minced
1/3 c. red onion, chopped
1 Tblsp. lime juice
1/3 c. cilantro, chopped

Combine all ingredients in medium bowl.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cover and refrigerate for 30 mins. to let flavors combine.  Serve with tortilla chips, or use as a topping for fish, chicken or anything else you can think of.

Fresh Tomato Salsa (printable recipe)
1 lb. tomatoes (about 4 regular-sized or 8 plum)
1/2 lg. onion
1 jalapeno, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 c. cilantro

Place tomatoes and onion in food processor and pulse a few times until they are in a large dice.  Add jalapeno, garlic and cilantro.  Pulse until the mixture gets the consistency you desire.  For restaurant style salsa, I let it go until it is pretty finely chopped.  Remove from food processor and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Alternately, you could chop everything finely and just stir it together.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour to let flavors combine.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Feast Like You're On Vacation

My husband and I recently went on vacation to visit family in West Palm Beach, Fla.  While there, we all took a short cruise to the Bahamas, with stops in Grand Bahama and Nassau.  We saw beautiful beaches with crystal clear water, had delicious food and drinks, and were able to just relax.  It was such a great trip that we have been trying to delude ourselves into thinking we’re still on vacation, even though it has been almost a month since it ended.  During the Memorial Day weekend, we kicked our “vacation” back into high gear with great music, movies, food and drinks that sent us right back to the Caribbean.

Since everyone can use a vacation, I thought I would share the ways my husband and I have managed go with the flow and ride with the tide as if we were still in the Caribbean.  Over the next few days, you'll see recipes for a full Caribbean meal that will have you feeling like you’re on vacation.


The Drinks
If there’s one thing you do when you’re on a cruise, in the Bahamas/Caribbean, or on any vacation for that matter, it is drink.  Hopefully that isn’t just me, otherwise I may just have a little bit of a “problem.”  After a quick stop at the liquor store to stock the bar with coconut rum and little umbrellas, it was on to taste-testing as we tried to recreate drinks we had on our trip.  Through several trials, we were able to come up with a few cocktails that can shake you right into vacation mode.

Goombay Smash (printable recipe)
Prior to our vacation, friends had told us that if you’re in the Bahamas, you have to get a Goombay Smash.  I thought, yeah, sure…no one will know what I’m talking about and I’ll look like an idiot.  But, when we stopped for lunch in Nassau, there it was on the drink menu.  We ordered and were not disappointed – it was smooth and delicious, with flavors of coconut and pineapple.  It tasted nothing of alcohol, but we soon realized the “Smash” really stands for something!  If this isn't the exact recipe, it's pretty close, and absolutely spectacular!

5 oz. pineapple juice
3/4 oz. simple syrup
1 oz. dark rum (Pusser’s Navy)
1 ½ oz. coconut rum (Cruzan)
¼ oz. fresh lime juice

Shake all ingredients with ice & strain into a glass with ice.

Singapore Sling (printable recipe)
Okay, so Singapore has nothing to do with the Caribbean, but a Singapore Sling is a “boat drink” if I’ve ever tasted one.  The drink originated at Raffles Hotel in Singapore in the early 1900s and people have been trying to duplicate it for ages, with the recipe changing over time.  My husband had his first Singapore Sling at At Random, located at 2501 S. Delaware St. in Milwaukee, a dimly lit 60s-style lounge that only serves specialty drinks.  After more than 5 years, I think he finally cracked the case.  And even if he didn’t figure out the real drink, or even the one served at At Random, who cares when it tastes this good?

1 1/2 oz. gin (Bombay)
1 oz. Cherry Heering
1/4 oz. triple sec (Cointreau)
1/4 oz. Benedictine
1/4 oz. fresh lime juice
3 oz. pineapple juice
1 dash Angnostra bitters
2 dashes grenadine
4 oz. Ruby Red Squirt soda

Shake first eight ingredients with ice and strain into balloon glass filled with ice.  Fill to top with soda, stir and garnish with an orange slice and a cherry.  Please note that the Cherry Heering liqueur is an absolute must-have.

Bahamian Breeze (printable recipe)
This drink is similar to the Malibu Twist, but the beautiful color as well as coconut and citrus flavors can transport you straight to a Caribbean paradise.

1 oz. coconut rum (Cruzan)
2 oz. cranberry juice
2 oz. grapefruit juice

Shake with ice and strain into a high ball glass filled with ice.  Garnish with orange or grapefruit slice and a cherry.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dinner Impossible to Dinner Fabulous

Pan Seared Halibut with Lemon Caper White Wine Sauce and Saffron Rice: It might seem like a long title, but in reality this dish was pretty easy to prepare, really delicious and would make a lovely week-night dinner.

After a long day of yard work this Sunday, I looked in the kitchen to figure out what to make for dinner. We were starting to run out of things, so I was little worried about what I would come up with. I was so tired, it seemed impossible. After rummaging through my freezer and fridge, I found a couple of frozen halibut fillets, a lone lemon rolling around in the crisper drawer, some leftover chopped onions, and a jar of capers. Halibut is a mild white fish that is really versatile, and I knew that with the ingredients I had on hand, a lemon-caper sauce seemed pretty easy to top it off. Once I noticed white wine in the wine rack, I knew that couldn't hurt either.

Now I just had to decide what would go with it. White fish with white rice just didn't seem appealing to me, but yellow rice would at least give the plate some color. I remembered I had a packet of saffron threads in the pantry, so the rice would be pretty easy too.  I had some baby spinach, so I threw together a little spinach salad on the side and dinner was set!   Pretty tasty if I do say so myself. 

First things first, start the saffron rice, since that will take a little while to cook.  "Steep" your saffron threads in a little bit of warmed chicken broth before adding them to the mix.  Now, on to the details:

Saffron Rice (printable recipe)
2 Tbsp. butter
1 shallot, chopped
1/4 tsp. saffron threads
1 c. white long-grain rice
2 c. chicken broth

In a medium saucepan with a tight fitting lid, melt butter over medium heat. Add shallot and saute until it becomes translucent.   Add saffron and continue cooking for another minute.  Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until rice is opaque and starting to toast.  Add chicken broth and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Fluff with fork and serve.

Pan Seared Halibut with Lemon, Caper & White Wine Sauce (printable recipe)
2 halibut fillets, skin removed (about 1 lb. total)
2 Tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter
1 shallot, minced
1 Tbsp. capers
1 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
1 glove garlic, minced
1 c. white wine
Zest of a lemon
Juice of half a lemon

Pat halibut fillets dry with a paper towel. Combine flour, salt and pepper in small dish or on small plate. Heat oil in a 12 inch skillet over medium high heat until it begins to shimmer. When oil is ready, press top and bottom of halibut fillets into flour mixture, then transfer to hot pan. Cook halibut until browned, about 4 minutes, then flip fillet over and continue cooking until the other side has browned, about 4 minutes. Remove fish from pan and set aside.

Lower the heat to medium, and add the butter. Let the butter melt, then add the shallot, capers, parsley garlic and lemon zest, sauteing for about a minute (don't let the garlic get brown). Then add the lemon juice and white wine. Simmer over medium heat until the sauce has reduced by about half. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Pour over the fish fillets and serve immediately.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sign of Spring: Rhubarb at the Farmers Market

Most of the farmers markets in southeast Wisconsin open the first weekend of May.  Since I was too busy sunning myself on vacation in Florida and the Bahamas that weekend, I missed the first one.  As much as I didn't want to on this past cold and rainy Saturday, I dragged myself out of bed because the farmers market was calling my name.  I wasn't sure what I would find, because I've never actually gone to a farmers market this early in the season.  I usually wait until summer is in full swing to venture out, since that is when most items are ripe for the picking.

I could tell at first glance the items in abundance this early in the market season.  There were tons of hanging baskets and flowers, as well as various vegetable and herb plants.  If I wanted to start a garden, this felt like the place to go!  If I didn't live in a condo, and if I had even the palest of green thumbs, I would have come home with a lot more than I did.  There were also the usual bakery items, kettle corn, cheese and mushroom vendors who keep me coming back over and over again.  I purchased some huge molasses cookies, a basil plant which I thought would be easy to manage out on my deck this summer, and a couple of huge portabello mushrooms (may be posting something about those later).

Valentine Rhubarb
I stopped in my tracks when I spotted the rhubarb.  Beckoning me in beautiful red bundles were one of my favorite flavors of spring.  I couldn't even remember the last time I had rhubarb, but I knew I loved it.  Growing up, I was lucky enough to reap the rewards of the plant that our best friends/neighbors were willing to share with us on occasion.  I think I might have stolen some rhubarb my aunt had given my mom a few years ago too, but since then, I have missed it!  My husband had mentioned strawberry-rhubarb pie a few times over the last couple of months, so when I saw the rhubarb, all I could think of was that I wanted pie ASAP.  I love the tart flavor of rhubarb, especially when it it is mixed with sweet strawberries in a tasty pie.  I opted to by the Valentine rhubarb which is a little less acidic and a little thinner than the standard type.  Since it is still early for strawberries at the market, I made a quick stop at the grocery store and them home to bake.

This pie could be one of the easiest you could ever make, especially if you buy pre-made pie dough from the grocery store.  I opted to make my crust from scratch using an America's Test Kitchen recipe.  It is a little more time consuming, but the crust is just so fantastic, it is worth the effort - buttery and flaky, with just a hint of sweetness.  When coupled with the tart rhubarb filling, optimum deliciousness is achieved.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie (printable recipe)

3 1/2 c. rhubarb, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
3 1/2 c. strawberries, sliced
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. instant tapioca (uncooked)
Juice of half a lemon
Zest of half a lemon
Double-crust pie dough (recipe follows)
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
2 tsp. sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the first 6 ingredients in a large bowl and set aside for 15 minutes.  Depending on the sweetness and amount of liquid produced by your rhubarb and strawberries, you can adjust the sugar and tapioca measurements accordingly.

Roll half of pie dough into a 12 inch circle and place it into a 9 inch pie plate.  Spread the rhubarb mixture over the unbaked crust.  Roll the other half of the dough into a 12 inch circle and place on top of the rhubarb mixture, crimping the edges to seal both layers together.  Make several slits in the top of the pie to allow the steam to escape during baking.  Alternatively, you can do a lattice top like I did.  Brush top of pie with egg yolk, then sprinkle with sugar.
Place pie on a rimmed baking sheet in the center of the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for an additional 35-40 minutes or until crust is golden brown and juices are bubbling.  Transfer the pie to a wire rack and let cool completely before serving.  Cooling is necessary to allow the filling to thicken properly.

Basic Dough for a Double-Crust Pie 
from America's Test Kitchen

2 1/2 c all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
2 T. sugar
1 t. salt
1/2 c. vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2 inch pieces and chilled
3/4 c. unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch pieces and chilled
6-8 T. ice water

Process the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor until combined.  Scatter the shortening over the top and process until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal, about 10 seconds.  Scatter the butter over the top and pulse the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs, about 10 pulses.  Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

Sprinkle 6 tablespoons of ice water over the mixture.  Stir and press the dough together using a stiff rubber spatula, until the dough sticks together.  If the dough seems dry, add the remaining water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it does.

Divide the dough into two even pieces, form into a 4 inch disk and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for about an hour.  Before rolling the dough out, let it sit on the counter to soften slightly, about 10 minutes.  Dust rolling pin and board with flour to prevent sticking.  You can also roll the dough out between two sheets of wax paper or parchment.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Easter: I'm in it for the Sweets

Easter celebrations in my home were always fun.  Dressing up, spending a day with family, great meals, and the feeling that Spring was here (even if it was snowing - we do live in Wisconsin after all).  Easter signifies rebirth, or is it chocolate bunnies and jelly beans?  I don't know about you, but I'm in it for the sweets!  My favorite part of any holiday is the food, and Easter is no exception.  Whether it is the delicious glazed ham and cheesy potatoes that graced our dinner table, or Easter baskets filled with candy that spoiled our dinner before we even got to it.

Our baskets were always hidden somewhere in the house.  Much like an Easter egg hunt, we had to search for our baskets to get the goods.  I'm not sure if that was typical for all families, or just ours.  I think my favorite hiding spot was the year I found my basket in the oven.  Thankfully it wasn't on, so all of the chocolate was fully intact.  Our baskets were always overfilled with hard boiled eggs, a couple of toys or games, candy and other sweet treats.  This year, even though I don't have any baskets to fill, I thought it would be fun to make my own treats.  I made macaroon bird nests using an Ina Garten macaroon recipe and Cadbury mini eggs, homemade marshmallows, and chocolate covered peanut butter eggs. 

Macaroon Bird Nests (printable recipe)
adapted from an Ina Garten recipe

1 14 oz. package shredded coconut
1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp. vanilla
2 lg. egg whites
1/4 tsp. salt
Chocolate egg-shaped candies, jelly beans or similar

In a large bowl, combine coconut, condensed milk and vanilla.  Combine egg whites and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.  Beat at high speed until nearly stiff peaks form.  Gently fold egg whites into coconut mixture.  Scoop by tablespoonfuls onto parchment paper lined baking sheets.  Bake at 325 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove macaroons from baking sheet and top with candies, pressing to adhere them to the macaroon.

Homemade Marshmallows (printable recipe)

3 packets unflavored gelatin
1/2 c. cold water
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 c. corn syrup
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. water
1 tsp. vanilla

Grease a 9x13 pan and dust generously with powdered sugar.

Combine gelatin and cold water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.  Let the gelatin and water sit while you prepare the syrup mixture.

In a medium sauce pan, heat sugar, corn syrup, salt and water over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally.  When sugar has dissolved, turn the heat to high and cook until the mixture has reached soft-ball stage on a candy thermometer.

Add the syrup mixture to the to gelatin and turn mixer on at low speed.  Add vanilla, then turn speed to high.  Mix on high speed for 15 minutes, then transfer to the prepared 9x13 pan, spreading marshmallow so it is in an even layer.  Dust top of marshmallow with additional powdered sugar.  Let the pan sit on the counter overnight to allow the marshmallow to set.  Remove marshmallow from pan and cut into cubes.  Roll in additional powdered sugar or colored sanding sugar.

Peanut Butter Eggs (printable recipe)

I wish I had graham crackers in the pantry when I made these.  The addition of graham cracker crumbs would have made the peanut butter mixture easier to work with.  Without the crumbs, the filling of these chocolate covered peanut butter eggs is much lighter and fluffier than what you would find in a store-bought peanut butter cup.  I could have just added powdered sugar until the proper consistency was achieved, but I didn't want the end product to be overly sweet.  Graham crackers would have given me the proper consistency, without adding a lot of extra sweetness.

1 c. smooth peanut butter
1 c. powdered sugar
1/4 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs, optional (see note above)
2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted

Combine peanut butter, powdered sugar, butter and graham cracker crumbs in a large bowl.  Beat with electric mixer until ingredients are well-mixed.  Add a few more graham cracker crumbs or powdered sugar to get the consistency and flavor you desire.

Refrigerate or freeze the mixture until it is firm enough to work with.  Using a cookie scoop to make sure the end products are similarly sized, form the mixture into egg shapes and place on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet that will fit in your freezer.  The number of eggs you get will depend on how big you make them.  I used a slightly over sized scoop and got 2 1/2 dozen.  Freeze the peanut butter eggs for about 10 minutes before dipping in chocolate.  This will make the chocolate set up faster and will keep the filling firm enough to handle once it hits the warm chocolate.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lasagna: Simple & Hearty

Why is it that the work days drag, but the nights and weekends fly by in the blink of an eye?  I had such good intentions of making a spectacular Sunday dinner, but it was suddenly four o’clock in the afternoon and I hadn’t started a thing.  I was craving lasagna something awful, and there was no way I was making a labor and time intensive meal during the week.  Once it got past four on Sunday, let's face it...I wasn't making a labor and time intensive meal then either.

I turned to my America's Test Kitchen cookbook, expecting to find a recipe that was equally as involved as my family recipes which require boiling noodles, pulling out the blender to make the cheese filling, and simmering the sauce for hours on end.  Alas, the cookbook did not disappoint with its "Simple Lasagna with Hearty Tomato-Meat Sauce."  After a slight misread of the recipe, and a few substitutions, the end result was a wonderfully hearty, yet fresh tasting lasagna that was ready in about an hour.

Simple Lasagna with Hearty Tomato-Meat Sauce (printable recipe)
adapted from The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook, Season 3


2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 lg. garlic cloves, pushed through a garlic press (about 2 Tbsp.)
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. ground pork or bulk italian sausage
1/4 c heavy cream
1 lg. can tomato puree (28 oz)
1 lg. can diced tomatoes, drained
1 Tbsp. Italian Seasoning
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper

Ricotta Filling
1 15 oz. container fat free ricotta
1 5 oz. container freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/2 c chopped fresh basil (one 3/4 oz. package)
1 lg. egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

Noodles & Cheese
12 no-boil lasagna noodles
4 c reduced fat mozzarella cheese, shredded

Adjust an oven rack to the middle-top position and heat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until softened.  Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Stir in the meats, salt and pepper.  Use a wooden spoon to break up the meat as it cooks.  Cook until the meat is no longer pink, but not browned.  Stir in the cream, bring to a simmer and cook until the liquid evaporates and only the fat remains, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the tomato puree, diced tomatoes and Italian seasoning.  Bring to a simmer and cook until the flavors have blended, about 3 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

While sauce is simmering, you can easily put together the ricotta filling.  Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

To assemble lasagna, spread 1 cup of the sauce over the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish.  Place 3 noodles in a single layer over the sauce.  Spread 1/3 of the ricotta mixture over the noodles, then sprinkle with 1 cup of the mozzarella.  Spoon another cup of the sauce evenly over the cheese layer.  Repeat the layers two more times.  Top with 3 remaining noodles, the rest of the sauce and the last cup of mozzarella.

Cover dish tightly with a sheet of aluminum foil that has been sprayed with cooking spray.  Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and continue baking until the cheese has browned in spots, about 25 to 30 minutes longer.  Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

To make ahead:  Prepare lasagna as directed, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  When ready to bake, remove plastic wrap and cover dish with foil.  Increase initial baking time to about 25 minutes, or until the edges begin to bubble.  Then remove foil and continue baking as directed.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Come For Brunch

Every other month, my book club gets together to discuss our latest read.  I think we usually end up spending more time eating and socializing than we do actually discussing the books we read.  A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hosting a brunch for our group.

I have a chronic habit of undertaking too many projects at once when it comes to having people over to my home for any reason.  Whether it is my mom coming over for a simple supper, a birthday dinner or a holiday spread for family, I always tend to overdo it, resulting in my still being in the kitchen an hour or two after people have arrived.  I don't think that creates a very welcoming environment.

When making brunch for our "Chick Lit" book club, I realized that it is all about the prep work or mise en place if you want to get all technical about it.  If you read over all of your recipes, prepare what you can ahead of time, have all of your ingredients in place for the day of, and create a simple schedule, it will make preparing for a party or any meal a breeze.

The Brunch Menu:
Homemade Granola
Honey Vanilla Yogurt
Fresh Fruit
Super-Size Cinnamon Rolls (by far, the star of the show)
Stuffed Baby Bellas
Potato, Bacon, & Spinach Frittata

 The Recipes:

Honey Vanilla Yogurt (printable recipe)
from Ina Garten

2 c plain yogurt
2 Tbsp. clover honey
1/2 tsp. vanilla
Seeds scraped from 1/2 vanilla bean (optional, but adds a really nice touch)

Combine the ingredients in a bowl and set in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Fresh Fruit
I used a mixture of strawberries (cut into 1/2 inch pieces), blackberries and blueberries.  I combined them in a large bowl and then placed a ring of sliced kiwis around the rim.  This made for a pretty presentation.  Use whatever fruit you like or whatever looks good at the market that day.

Super-Size Cinnamon Rolls (printable recipe)
1 c milk, warm
1 packet active dry yeast
1/2 c sugar
1/3 c margarine, melted
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
4 c flour

1/2 c margarine, softened
1 c brown sugar
2 1/2 Tbsp. cinnamon

Cream Cheese Icing:
1/2 pkg (4 oz) cream cheese, softened
2/3 c margarine, softened
1 tsp. vanilla
3 c powdered sugar
Pinch of salt

Combine dry ingredients for dough in large bowl.  Dissolve yeast in warm milk (I use fast-acting yeast so that the dough rises quicker).  Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, then add eggs, margarine and milk/yeast mixture.  Mix well, then knead with hands into a large ball.  Put in greased bowl, cover and let rise until the size has doubled, approximately 1 hour.

Combine brown sugar and cinnamon in small bowl.  When dough has risen, remove from bowl and roll with rolling pin into a large rectangle that is a 1/4 inch thick.  It should be somewhere around 21 x 16 inches in size.  Spread the dough evenly with 1/2 c margarine, leaving about a 1/2 inch edge at the bottom of the dough.  Top evenly with sugar/cinnamon mixture.

Starting from the top (which should be the 21 inch side), roll tightly and evenly until you have reached the bottom.  By leaving the 1/2 inch gap at the bottom, the roll should sort of seal itself.  Slice the roll into ten 1 3/4 inch thick slices.  I find the best way to slice the rolls is to use unwaxed, unflavored dental floss.  Slide the floss under the roll, then criss-cross the ends like you're tying a knot.  You'll get perfect slices every time!

Place rolls in buttered 8 or 9 inch round or square pans with five rolls per pan.  Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes or until rolls are light brown.

Combine all icing ingredients in mixing bowl.  Starting on slow speed, begin mixing.  When ingredients start to come together, beat at high speed until mixture becomes soft and creamy.  Top warm cinnamon rolls with 2 Tbsp. icing each.  Serve remaining icing in small bowl in case people want extra! 

Stuffed Baby Bellas (printable recipe)
1 lb. baby portabella mushrooms
1 lb. breakfast sausage
1/2 pkg. (4 oz.) cream cheese
2 tsp. chopped parsley
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
1/4 c parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 c panko bread crumbs

Clean mushrooms with a damp cloth and remove stems.  Chop stems into a fine dice and reserve.  Cook breakfast sausage until barely pink, then add reserved mushroom stems and continue cooking until sausage is fully cooked and mushrooms have released a majority of their liquid.  Transfer sausage mixture to a bowl and add cream cheese, parsley, garlic, onion, and cheese.  Mix ingredients until well combined, then add salt and pepper to taste.  Toast bread crumbs in the same skillet that you cooked the sausage, until they just begin to turn golden brown.

Fill mushroom caps with a heaping spoonful of sausage mixture so that each cap has a mound of it, then top with toasted breadcrumbs.  Place on baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes, or until  mushrooms are fork tender.

Potato, Bacon & Spinach Frittata (printable recipe)
1 med. red potato, scrubbed clean and cut into 1/4 inch dice
1 pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
6 slices bacon, chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 c Gruyere cheese, shredded
9 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp. pepper

Place potato on microwave safe plate, and cook until just shy of done, about 3 minutes.  Meanwhile, begin cooking bacon in skillet set over medium heat.  Cook for about 2 minutes, then add onion and cook another 2 minutes.  Add potato and continue cooking until onion is translucent and potatoes are fully cooked and beginning to brown.  Add spinach, stirring with a wooden spoon to break up pieces and combine ingredients.  Let cool slightly, then add eggs, cheese, and pepper, making sure ingredients are well combined.

Transfer mixture to a lightly greased 8" pie plate.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until eggs are fully cooked.

The Planning:
If this all seems like a lot of work, don't be scared.  It may seem like a lot of steps, but if you read over the recipes, and make yourself a simple schedule, it really won't seem like that much work.  With a little planning, you'll even have time to enjoy a mimosa before your guests arrive!   

Two Days Ahead

One Day Ahead
Prepare Honey Vanilla Yogurt
Prepare Cream Cheese Icing, then store in an air-tight container
Cut up fresh fruit and keep in refrigerator
Measure out dry ingredients for Super-Size Cinnamon Rolls
Shred cheese for frittata and keep in refrigerator

Brunch Day
You'll want to start about 2.5 hours before your guests' scheduled arrival.  This will give you enough time to complete everything, but not enough time for food to get cold.

Start by mixing up the dough for the Super-Size Cinnamon Rolls, so it has time to rise.  While the dough rises, you can prepare the mushroom and frittata ingredients.  About a 1.5 hours ahead of time, bake the mushrooms.  When they are done, cover them with foil and place on the stove top, since the oven will be warm while you bake the cinnamon rolls and frittata.

While the mushrooms bake, you can put together the cinnamon rolls so that when the mushrooms come out of the oven, the cinnamon rolls go in.

While the cinnamon rolls bake, put together the frittata.  When the cinnamon rolls come out, frittata goes in.  While the frittata bakes, frost cinnamon rolls.

Put out plates, glasses, serving pieces, etc., do a little clean up (may require hiding some items in the dishwasher for the time-being), and make yourself a mimosa for a job well done!

Just as your guests arrive, pull the frittata out of the oven and voila...brunch is served!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Homemade Granola

I have been wanting to make my own granola for years, and now that I have done it, I have no idea why I ever purchased granola from the grocery store!  To be honest, my first batch was an epic fail due to the fact that I left it in the oven too long, but the second batch was absolutely delicious.  I combined oats, nuts, coconut and dried fruit to make a delicious granola that can be served by itself, with yogurt and fruit, over ice cream, with milk or whatever else your heart desires.

Fruit and Nut Granola (printable recipe)
2 c rolled oats
1 c almonds, sliced
1 c coconut, shredded
1/2 c walnuts, chopped
1/4 c wheat germ
1/4 c brown sugar
2 Tbsp. flax seeds
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c dried apricots, chopped
1 c dried cranberries
1/2 c dried figs, chopped
1/3 c honey
1/3 c vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Combine the oats, almonds, coconut, walnuts, wheat germ, brown sugar, flax seeds, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl.  Whisk the oil, honey and vanilla together in a small bowl.  Pour the liquids over the oat mixture and stir until all ingredients are evenly coated.  Transfer to a large sheet pan.  Bake, stirring occasionally, until mixture is golden brown.  This will take 20-30 minutes.  Watch closely as mixture can go from brown to burned relatively quickly (as learned in my earlier trial).
Remove the granola from the oven and add the apricots, cranberries and figs.  Let the granola cool on the sheet pan, stirring occasionally to break it up.  If you like your granola a little chewy, store in an airtight container as soon as it has cooled.  If you're a fan of crunchy granola, you might need to let it sit on the pan and dry out overnight.
Note:  If you don't like or are allergic to any of the ingredients in the recipe, just omit them.  If you omit the nuts from the recipe, add in more oats or reduce the amount of liquids (oil & honey) you use.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Peanut Butter Split Smoothies

If peanut butter was its own food group, it would be one of the largest tiers on my husband's food pyramid, probably right after chocolate.  By the spoonful, slapped between two pieces of bread, on a bagel or English muffin, in a recipe; there's really no way he doesn't eat it.

I thought I would reward my husband with a post-workout smoothie that highlighted one of his favorite foods.  I modified a recipe from the Food Network, with the result being a creamy blend of bananas and yogurt with a great peanut butter taste.

Peanut Butter Split Smoothies  (printable recipe)
adapted from an Ellie Krieger recipe


2 ripe bananas
1 cup milk
1/2 cup plain yogurt
3 Tbsp. peanut butter, creamy variety
2 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. wheat germ

Place all ingredients in blender.  Mix until smooth.  Pour into two glasses and enjoy!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Winter Farmer's Market

The calendar says today is the first day of spring, although I am sure there is still time for another snowstorm to hit Wisconsin before we can really call it spring in this state.  So, I suppose it really wasn't too late to visit the Winter Farmer's Market held at Wisconsin's State Fair Park yesterday.

Overall, the market wasn't as large as I had expected and the variety was a little lacking.  Three quarters of the room was made up of vendors selling meats, syrup/honey/jarred sauces, and baked goods.  I was really hoping to get more produce such as potatoes, onions and other root vegetables, but left somewhat disappointed.  There was one vendor who had nice looking onions (that sounds oddly dirty, doesn't it?), so I purchased a few, but all other vegetables looked pretty sad.  I suppose this could be due to stock running low this late in the winter.  There were also a couple of people selling homemade soups and pastas, but as someone who makes their own pasta from scratch, it didn't seem necessary to pay the price when I could make it myself.

From a few of the remaining vendors, I purchased a package of handmade whole wheat tortillas, a wonderful raw milk Gouda, unique herbal tea for calming the stomach of my over-indulging husband and some beautiful portabello and baby portabello mushrooms.

I marinated the large portabellos with a mixture of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic and herbs and grilled them with steaks for dinner.  The portabellos were so meaty and delicious, I could have eaten them as the main course.  I will be using the baby portabellos to make stuffed mushrooms for a brunch I am hosting next week.  More to come later on that.

The farmer's market had more of a craft fair/bake sale vibe than I was expecting and some of the vendors were really pushy, which turns me off pretty quickly.  One of the things I did like was that several vendors had free recipes available, so I snagged a few of those.  My goal from this point on for the year is to make at least two new recipes a month.  So, stay tuned to see my successes and failures.

Winter Farmers Market Star Rating:  3 out of 5
Grilled Portabello Star Rating:  4.5 out of 5