Monday, September 23, 2013

Menu Plan Monday Week 39 (2013)

My husband informed me that yesterday was the official first day of FALL!!  Yay, I'm so excited.  I love fall probably more than anything, although spring is a close second.  Fall just brings feelings of comfort and peace.  There is so much beauty to behold as we watch the world change color right before our eyes.  I love drives and hikes up the canyon in the fall and the cool mornings, even early morning walks while there's still peace and quite on the streets.

Another great love of mine in the fall is fall cooking and baking...think pumpkin, squash, soup, warm and hearty.   I can't wait to get into all that.  The first weekend in October we also spend the better part of two days listening to a church wide broadcast (see here for more info).  During that weekend I always make huge batches of cinnamon rolls and I like to try a new kind every year.  One year I made these Caramel Apple Cinnamon Rolls, another year I made some Pumpkin and Pepita Cinnamon Rolls and, of course I've made loads of my regular cinnamon and Orange Rolls.  This year, I'm not sure which direction I'll go in but I'm sure it'll be delicious.

So, for this week's menu, I'm going to try and do a zero budget, meaning I'm going to try my hardest to use what we have without having to buy anything extra.  With that money I would have spent on groceries, instead I'm going to stock up on some ground beef and chicken that's on sale at Sprouts.  We may be scraping the bottom of the barrel on fresh stuff by the end of the week, but I think we can make it!

Dinner Menu Week 39 (2013) 
Thai Eggplant Stir-fry
Thai Coconut Rice 

Steamed Green Beans

Beet Gnocchi with Lemon Pesto

Black Bean Soup
Artisan Bread

Fish Tacos
Southwest Cabbage Slaw

Sweet and Spicy Shredded Pork over Polenta

Tomato-Basil Pasta (One Pot Wonder!)
Artisan Bread

Friday, September 20, 2013

Almond Joy Granola

I love making my own granola.  It's so versatile and it's great for breakfast, brunch or even snacking.  Usually before I make a batch, I scour my cupboards and pull out all the little bags of dried fruit and nuts then toss together what looks good. 

So, right before I made this I had the contents of two cupboards all over my counter.  At the last minute I decided to scratch everything and just throw together some almonds, shaved coconut and chocolate.  Totally uncomplicated and easy.  Totally delicious!

I LOVE anything coconut and I about died when I found these Roasted Coconut Chips at Trader Joe's.  Then I found them at Sprouts and saved them because I knew I'd eventually use them for my granola.  Let me tell you, they're fabulous in this granola. My other favorite part...the chunks of chocolate...duh!!  The trick here is to add the chocolate after the granola has baked and cooled about 10 minutes.  Then only slightly stir them in so they kinda melt.  When they harden, you have these delicious little bites of almond joy!

Almond Joy Granola
3 cups rolled oats
2 cups shaved coconut
1 cup chopped almonds
2 Tbsp. coconut butter
2 Tbsp. coconut oil
2 Tbsp. honey
1 1/2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl, toss together oats, coconut and almonds.  Set aside.

In a smaller bowl, add coconut butter, coconut oil, honey and brown sugar.  Gently heat until coconut oil is melted.  Whisk until smooth.  Pour over oat mixture and fold in until completely coated.

Spread mixture out evenly in a large cookie sheet.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven, stir and spread out again.  Return pan to oven and cook another 10 minutes.  Remove and stir again.  If it's not golden enough to your liking bake UP TO 5 minutes more. 

Cool granola in cookie sheet set over a wire rack about 10 minutes.  While granola is still slightly warm, sprinkle chocolate chips over the top and stir just a little bit, so there's chunks of chocolate rather then melting the chocolate completely and having it cover all the granola.  Cool granola completely.  Break up any large chunks and place in an airtight container.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Grilled Ratatouille Polenta Stack

Most of what you see here is either from my garden or was given to me from a friend's garden.  Gotta love it!  I wish my garden were bigger, I wish I could grow everything I wanted and I wish I could have my own tomatoes the whole year long.  But alas, 'tis not so.  So, for now I'll take what I can get.

Last summer I played around with ratatouille a bit and really enjoyed the flavor profile.  I also started liking eggplant a little more.  When my friend brought me three eggplants a while back I immediately knew I wanted to do something ratatouille-like but wasn't sure what.  Then I got inspired and pulled this dish off.

This totally hit the spot and was a great meatless meal.  I was a little nervous at the lack of seasoning (other than salt) on the veggies but I forget just how delicious grilled or roasted veggies are by themselves.  They were anything but flavorless.  Then the marinated fresh tomatoes and herbs up the anti even more.  All that sat on top of a creamy polenta cake, giving the dish both flavor and substance.

Grilled Ratatouille Polenta Stack
for the ratatouille:
1 medium zucchini, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 medium eggplant, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 large yellow or orange bell pepper, sliced 1/2 inch thick

for the polenta:
3/4 cup polenta/corn grits/cornmeal
3 cups chicken broth or water
3/4 cup freshly shredded parmesan cheese
1/3 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper, to taste

for the marinated tomatoes and herbs:
3-4 medium tomatoes, diced
2 Tbsp. fresh herbs, chopped (I used basil)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste

Slice eggplant and zucchini.  Place on a wire rack fitted over a cookie sheet.  Alternately you can place them on a paper towel-lined cookie sheet as well.  Sprinkle with salt and let sit about 10 minutes to draw the water out.  Flip, salt again and let sit another 10 minutes.

Dice tomatoes and place in a bowl with vinegar and olive oil.  Add chopped herbs. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Set aside until ready to plate and serve.

Bring chicken broth or water to a boil. Gently whisk in polenta.  Reduce heat and simmer 7-15 minutes.  Cook time will depend on coarseness of the grain.  If you are using a fine cornmeal, it may only take 4-5 minutes.

While polenta is cooking, preheat outdoor grill or indoor grill pan and grill zucchini, eggplant and peppers on both sides until tender.

When polenta is finished cooking, remove from heat and whisk in cheese and cream.  Pour into an 8x8-inch pan, buttered or sprayed with cooking spray.  Allow to set until firm.  You can briefly refrigerate it if necessary.  Cut into 6 squares. 

To assemble, place polenta cake on a plate.  Layer with about 2-3 slices each eggplant, zucchini and bell pepper.  Top with marinated tomatoes and herbs and some of the liquid.

Serve warm.

SOURCE: Slightly adapted from Project Domestication

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Biscuits and Peach Jam Ice Cream (Jeni's CopyCat)

If you haven't heard of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams it's worth a look into!  My friend introduced me to her ice creams last summer and I almost immediately bought her book, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams At Home.  The ice cream flavors are so unique and so delicious, and her method gives you thick and creamy, yet scoopable ice cream.  Love it!

So, this flavor you see above is a only available for a limited time in Jeni's scoop shops and online because, obviously, fresh summer peaches are only available for a limited time as well.  The flavor profile: buttermilk ice cream swirled with peach jam and crumbled biscuits. I knew I could hack it.

The verdict: Well, I don't know exactly how Jeni's tastes but I think I nailed it pretty good.  It's seriously fabulous.  The ice cream base has just a hint of buttermilk, making it slightly sweet and tangy.  The peach jam is incredibly easy, infused with bourbon vanilla, and the biscuits add yet another dimension of flavor and texture.

Biscuits and Peach Jam Ice Cream
for the ice cream:
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 oz. (4 Tbsp) cream cheese, softened
1/8 Tbsp. fine sea salt
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
2 Tablespoon light corn syrup
1/4 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup Vanilla Bourbon Peach Jam
1 cup biscuits, cut into small chunks

Mix 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl and make a slurry.  In a separate bowl, whisk the cream cheese and salt until smooth; it may help to microwave the cream cheese for 5-10 seconds first so you don't get any lumps.

Combine remaining milk, cream, sugar and corn syrup in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Boil for 4 minutes.  Remove from heat and gradually whisk in the cornstarch slurry.  Return pan to heat and bring to a boil.  Cook, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened; about 1 minute.  Remove from heat.

Gradually (AKA: very slowly!!) whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth.  Add the buttermilk and blend well.  Pour into an airtight container and chill overnight or until completely cooled.

Pour ice cream base into freezer canister and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions.  Pack the ice cream into a freezer-safe storage container.  Stir in biscuits, then drop jam by the spoonful and gently swirl, trying not to fully incorporate the jam into the ice cream.  Place in freezer until firm.

SOURCE: Ice cream base from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Vanilla Bourbon Peach Jam {Low Sugar, No Pectin Recipe}

I've been  up to my elbows in peaches lately, but I'm not complaining. They are one of my most favorite things of summer.  I usually make freezer jam, but my freezer is full of ... peaches.  Go figure.  Although I do prefer freezer jam most of the time, peaches are one fruit that make good cooked jam.

I actually decided to make this jam to go with some ice cream I'd planned on making as well.  I chose to do it old-school with no pectin because every time I go to make jam it seems I'm always out!  I also wanted to control the amount of sugar, so this method worked out perfectly.

I love the addition of cinnamon and bourbon vanilla in this jam; it spices it up just a bit.  If you can't find real bourbon vanilla, you can substitute regular vanilla extract or even the real thing!

Vanilla Bourbon Peach Jam
makes about 3 half-pint jars

2 lbs peaches, peeled and pitted
juice of a small lemon
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp. real bourbon vanilla extract (or you can use real bourbon)

Place peaches into a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.  If you like chunks in your jam, you can puree it a little less.

Add peaches to a heavy saucepan along with lemon juice and sugar.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat.  Continue boiling until candy thermometer reaches 220 degrees F, stirring frequently (this may take up to an hour or so).  Be careful when stirring and scraping off the bottom, mixture will bubble and pop.

When mixture reaches desired temperature, remove from heat and give it a good stir.  Add in the cinnamon and vanilla and stir to combine.  Taste and add more flavoring as desired.

Ladle into half pint canning jars and secure lids.  Cool on counter then keep either in fridge or freezer.  If you want to can the jars in a water bath canner, follow instructions for your particular canner.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Menu Plan Monday Week 37 (2013)

Oops, it's been a few weeks since I last posted a menu plan.  I've gotten a local CSA basket a few times recently and I've been trying to work with that kind of on the fly...not so sure that's working out the best for me.  I think I work better when I plan for what I'm going to buy so I make sure I'll use it all up.  We got a TON of anaheim peppers last week and I'm still trying to figure out what to do with them, other than salsa, cause their kind of hot and I'm sure too hot for my kiddos.

Anyway, fall is definitely in the air!!  I'm totally loving it.  We've had rain and cooler temps the past couple of days and it makes me want all things soup and baked goodies and anything with pumpkin. I don't know about you but my fall food pinterest board is ever growing and I can't wait to start tackling it.

For this week though, I'm going to hold onto summer just a tad bit longer.  I still have a bunch of garden produce I need to use up and lots of salsa to make.  I am hoping to throw a couple more peach recipes at you this week as well. So, here's the quick and dirty....

Dinner Menu Week 37 (2013)
Ratatouille Polenta Stacks

cabbage and radish slaw
fresh fruit

Crunchy Coconut Chicken Fingers with Peach Mustard Dipping Sauce
Greek Panzanella

Brown Butter Tilapia with Basil Breadcrumbs
wild rice
steamed peas

Fideo (Cafe Rio Copy Cat)

Beet and Basil Pesto Pizza 


Cube Steaks Dijon
mashed potatoes
steamed green beans

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Homemade Peach Pie with Vanilla Bean Crust

So, apparently August was National Peach Month.  Had no idea.  Peaches are just about my favorite thing to eat in the summertime.  I usually buy a bushel of local peaches every summer to can and freeze but this year they kept evading me!  Finally I got my hands on some and couldn't wait to bring them home.

So, after I took care of most of the peaches I asked my husband if he wanted me to make anything special with them. He immediately went to pie.  Surprised?  Not a bit.  He likes pie, I don't so much, hence the lack of pie posts on the blog.  However, it is my duty to be a good wife and actually bake him what he wants once in a while.  So, I happily obliged.

I get a bit obsessive when trying to find a recipe, because it has to be PERFECT!  This time was no exception, I think I combined about three recipes to get what I wanted.  The result: hubby loved it! The crust was nice and flaky with just a hint of vanilla bean and the filling was every bit as it should have been; soft, juicy peaches, nice warm spices and slightly sweetened.

Since I don't do pie, the crust kinda freaks me out.  Obviously I wanted it to look perfect but since I hardly ever make it, I have little experience.  Instead of lopping one whole crust on the top and pinching and pressing until it could get it to look right, I decided little circles would be perfect and a little unique to boot.

Peach Pie with Vanilla Bean Crust
for the crust:
2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
1/2 cup ice water
1 Tbsp. vanilla bean paste (or 1 vanilla bean, scraped)

for the filling:
8 cups fresh peaches, peeled and sliced
1 1/2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice (about 1 small lemon or 1/2 a large)
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
pinch sea salt
3 Tbsp. flour

1 Tbsp. milk
Coarse sugar, for sprinkling

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the flour, salt, sugar and chilled butter.  Pulse until mixture resembles a coarse meal.  Transfer to a mixing bowl.  Add ice water and vanilla bean paste. Fold dough until it comes together and forms a ball.  Don't work it too much or it will turn out chewy.  It's ok if there's a few crumbs, just press it into the dough.  Divide the dough in half and form two discs. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl, add peaches, lemon juice, sugars and spices, salt and flour.  Stir to combine.

Roll out each disc of dough into about a 13-inch round.  Lay the first one into the pie pan, cutting off any extra and fluting the edges.  Pour the pie filling on top of the crust.  Using a cookie cutter or whatever you can find, cut small circles, about 1 1/2-2-inches, from the second round of dough and place them on top of the filling, in concentric circles.

Brush the top and edges of pie with milk and sprinkle with coarse sugar.  Place pie pan on a cookie sheet and put in the oven.  Bake for 20 minutes.  Reduce heat to 375 degrees F and continue baking another 40 minutes or until filling is bubbling and crust is slightly browned.

Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack at least 3 hours.

Source: Crust adapted from Hot Polka Dot, and filling adapted from Sift and Whisk.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

So, instead of continually updating my old bread recipe that I posted in 2010, I decided it was time for a complete rehaul.  Over the years as I have gained much experience and learned the art of bread making, I have tweaked the recipe to fit our tastes and needs.

This bread is delicious!  I have been making it (or a version of it) for my family for close to 4 years, I think.  We don't eat store bought anymore, usually unless it's an artisan loaf or something.  Bread making is a wonderful investment of your time because it brings such great reward!  Sure, it takes more time in the beginning to learn the art, but once you've got it down, you can practically do it with your eyes closed.

I love being able to make bread for my family and to know that it is fresh and healthy.  Eating a hot slice barely out of the oven never gets old either. 

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
makes 2 loaves
5 cups fresh ground whole wheat flour, or whole wheat bread flour
3/4 Tbsp. instant yeast
3 Tbsp.  vital wheat gluten
3/4 Tbsp. salt
½ cup potato flakes
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. honey
2 cups warm tap water

In a mixing bowl, fitted with a dough hook, measure in the flour, yeast, gluten, salt, and potato flakes. Pulse to evenly distribute, for a second or two. Add oil, honey and water and mix for about 30 seconds. If the dough is too dry, add more water, about a tablespoon at a time, and if it is too wet, add more flour, a tablespoon at a time. The dough at this point should be wet enough to leave a little residue on the sides of the bowl. (It is better to err on the side of too wet than to dry.  A wet dough is still manageable, although messy, but a dry dough will give you a brick when cooked.) Mix for 10 minutes. Do not add any more water or flour at this point, it will not incorporate well.

When it's done mixing, the dough will look smooth and elastic. If it seems a little sticky, it will still be ok, most likely. If you have a Kitchen Aid-type bowl, remove dough hook and ball of dough. If you have a Bosch-type bowl, you’ll need a separate large mixing bowl. Spray the inside of either bowl and put the dough back in the dough to rise. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled. (Time will vary greatly here, anywhere from 30 -60 minutes or so, so just watch over the dough.)

After the first rise, gently deflate the dough (spray your hands with cooking spray) and separate into 2 dough balls. For a perfect looking loaf, roll each dough ball out (on a counter coated with cooking spray not flour) the width of your loaf pan, and about 12 inches long, getting all the air bubbles out. Then, tightly roll the dough up, pinch each side closed and tuck them under a bit and lay it in a greased loaf pan. (Don't worry about the dough touching all the sides yet, as it raises, it will fill in.) Repeat with remaining dough ball. Cover bread pans with a light kitchen towel. Let dough raise again until about doubled; it should rise just above the top of the pan. Near the end of the second raise, preheat your oven to 350 F.

Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and let loaves cool for 10 minutes, then take the bread out of the pans and completely cool on a wire rack. (Do not let the bread cool completely in the pans, it will become a sticky mess and ruin the bread.)

If you are new to bread-making, here are some tips from King Arthur Flour:
-If you're kneading bread by hand, it's tempting to keep adding flour till the dough is no longer sticky. Resist the temptation! The more flour you add while you're kneading, the heavier and drier your final loaf will be.

-The amount of liquid you use to make the "perfect" dough will vary with the seasons. Flour is like a sponge; it absorbs water during the humid days of summer, and dries out during the winter. Your goal should be making the dough as it's described (e.g., cohesive, soft but not sticky), rather than sticking religiously to the amount of liquid.

-When making yeast bread, let the dough rise to the point the recipe says it should, e.g., "Let the dough rise till it's doubled in bulk." Rising times are only a guide; there are so many variables in yeast baking (how you kneaded the dough; what kind of yeast you used) that it's impossible to say that bread dough will ALWAYS double in bulk in a specific amount of time.
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