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Archive for June, 2009

Skillet Lasagna

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The. Best. Idea. Ever.

I seriously love lasagna but could never figure out why so much time must be spent layering its components and fussing about broken noodles and generally coddling a rather time-consuming casserole when all you do to serve it is dig into the beautifully constructed layers and then dump them unceremoniously onto a plate. In my family, lasagna was such a favorite that my mom would spend three hours making it and it would disappear in under thirty minutes. Come on, people. We can do better than this. If all the layers and flavors blend together when you serve and eat lasagna anyway — and that blend, after all, is what makes lasagna delicious — surely we can skip a step (or five) and come up with something a little better.

Meet Skillet Lasagna. Some might argue that it is less esthetically pleasing, given the absence of long, lovely layers, but…. just look:

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Who can argue with the creaminess of the ricotta, the spiciness of the sausage, the sweet aroma of tomato and basil? I think, personally, that it’s beautiful.

To be honest, this dish still did take a little longer to make than I usually spend on dinner (although it was less than an hour). Nevertheless, it was exactly the kind of meal that I love to prepare — the fantastic ingredients had me convinced from the start that the meal was going to be a success, so all I had to to was chop, combine, and occasionally stir. There was plenty of down time when I could walk away and do something else, and since there was no rush to get dinner on the table, I could just enjoy the process of knowing that a really nice meal was coming together. That sensation is one of the most rewarding aspects of cooking — it’s so creative, both in the imaginative sense as well as the sense in which each preparation takes raw components that may or may not be exciting on their own and creates something totally new and inspiring out of them. What other hobby lets you create something so pleasing and satisfying out of practically nothing?

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This was another recipe from Ezra Pound Cake……. get on over there for the full recipe! The only change I made was to use 1/2 lb ground beef and 1/2 pound spicy italian sausage. I wouldn’t use a full pound of the sausage, since my version had plenty of sausage flavor and plenty of spice, as well. I think the dish would be overwhelmed by a higher proportion of flavored meat. Perhaps a mix of spicy and sweet sausage would work… basically, you can’t lose with this recipe!

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When I was growing up in Chicago, our suburb was so diverse that we got school holidays for just about everything: all the Jewish holidays, Christian holidays, Martin Luther King Day, Columbus Day, President’s Day, Casimir Pulaski Day… yep, we even celebrated the contributions of a Polish military officer to the American Revolution. It was a good life. I’m neither Jewish nor Polish, but hey — when you’re eight years old, the more school off, the better. It wasn’t until I left Chicago that I realized not everyone celebrates Casimir Pulaski Day. And perhaps a little more significantly, not everyone comes from a neighborhood in which all those holidays would mean so much to so many people. I was lucky to grow up where I did, in more ways than one.

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Back in February the food blogging world celebrated another beautiful but random holiday: World Nutella Day. This event probably deserved way more fanfare than it received in the world outside the cyber loony bin that is the food blogging community. Nutella is a total obsession… my best friend from college likes to tell about when she lived in France and would sneak downstairs to her host family’s kitchen at night to eat Nutella from the cupboard with a spoon.

All the sudden a comparison between World Nutella Day and a certain day in late April seems appropriate, but I won’t go there. My blog is still too young and tender.

I can’t think of a more perfect combination of textures and flavors to celebrate our chocolate-hazelnut drug of choice than these Nutella Cheesecake Squares, which I made using a recipe from Coconut & Lime. I love this blog and feel slightly nervous about posting a recipe from it, since all the recipes it features are 100% original. Soooo once again, please pop on over to get this lovely recipe. The crust is chewy and chocolately in the best way, since the chew comes from Old Fashioned Oats and the chocolate flavor comes from the bitter cocoa, and the cheesecake layers are tart and sweet with that nutty aroma from the Nutella.

I made these with my friend Kate who had never had Nutella before (I know! SO weird). She was leaving for seven weeks in India the next morning, and I’m pretty sure that the jar actually went with her. There’s always room for Nutella, right? So go make these bars!

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Peppery Brown Sugar Salmon

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I love salmon, but I admit that it can be a little… uninspiring. At our house, we tend to lightly season and grill it, which is a great way to enjoy the fish, but sometimes you want something a little different. I found this recipe last fall over at Ezra Pound Cake, and immediately thought that I would make it for my fiance sometime, since he really likes fish and almost never makes it for himself. This was probably around the time that my father-in-law to be announced to us that we really should be eating more healthy foods, like salmon, and my fiance pointed out that regular salmon-eating might be slightly out of our price range. Thanks to the magic of Costco, however, salmon actually can be on the menu around here. (Cue the legitimate, but very wearying, concerns about the sustainability of eating farmed fish from big box stores. My sincere apologies to the world. One day, very soon, I will care. That’s a promise.)

The second obstacle in our way to fish bliss (other than the actual cost) manifested itself when my fiance’s boyfriend — erm, roommate — announced that their oven was inexplicably out of commission. “We turned it on one day… and it just started smoking!! It was unreal!! I thought the whole apartment was going to burn down!!” OK, man… let’s think about why the oven might smoke. “There’s all this nasty black stuff in the bottom. It’s awful. I have no clue what it is.” Does it really matter what it is, guys? If you got rid of it, the oven would probably stop smoking, and we could eat roast salmon. And cookies. And baked french toast. And so many other good things that I would LOVE to make you, but never do, because you can’t scrub an oven.

Yeesh.

So, when I got to my parent’s house last month, and my dad announced that there were salmon fillets in the freezer if only we knew what to do with them, I jumped at the chance to make this delicious recipe I had been saving. And then I made it again this week. Seriously people, it’s that good. Sweet, peppery, flaky, and about 3 minutes to prepare. And I bet you have everything you need to make this in your cupboard right now. Except maybe the salmon, which I will definitely NOT reccommend you go buy from Costco. No sir. Don’t do that.

But you probably should go ahead and clean that oven before it smokes you out of your own house, OK?

Again, I am not going to post the recipe… I didn’t really change anything, so just go get it here at it’s semi-original home. Here are some picures of the process, though.

Getting ready to pack on the rub…

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Everything all laid out and ready to go…

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You’ll notice that there are only three filets and no scaling back of the recipe. There were three of us eating dinner together that night, and nobody complained about the amount of seasonings.

I didn’t really think they would 🙂

Ready for the oven:

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Getting roasted:

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A little more roasted… see how the sugar is baking into a glaze? It’s lovely to watch it happen in the oven! The sugar bubbling on the foil makes it seem even sweeter…

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And this is when I found the macro function on my camera.

Yeah, yeah… it’s about time.

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Look at that peppery, glazy goodness!

Enjoy the weekend, folks!

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Did you know that Bridezilla not only bakes, but she also makes salad?

Shocking, I know. I bet there are more things you don’t know about me, but we will fix that, soon.

Yesterday morning I had one of those beautiful blogging moments where a recipe from one of my favorite blogs turned up, immediately peaked my interest, and (cue the chorus of angels singing) we had most of the ingredients in the fridge! I had already asked my mom to let me cook dinner since I needed a little cheering up, and this salad fit the bill perfectly.

I think that my name for this salad — and this post — could actually use a little tweaking, since “Black Bean & Spinach Salad” sounds like something your Aunt Tilly threw together with a box of frozen spinach and some leftover bean dip. This is not that salad! This is a fresh, flavorful, filling main course that gets some sweet-and-sourness from the dressing, some bite and creaminess from the feta, some crunch from the greens and the almonds, and a lot of honey-lime-jalapeño zestiness all around.

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I am not going to post the recipe, since you should obviously just pop over to 101 Cookbooks and get it for yourself, but here are some pictures! We had a huge bag of fresh spinach in the fridge, so I used that instead of the arugula that Heidi suggests. Oh, and my almonds are slivered and not sliced, but that’s what was on hand, so that’s what I used! Served with some nice hot bread and butter, this made a flavorful, easy meal for my parents and I.

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This Saturday was my dad’s birthday, and my mom and I thought we would make some cinnamon rolls to celebrate. Ever since I got my Kitchen Aid stand mixer for graduation (thanks, parents!), I have wanted to start bread making. Not that the Kitchen Aid is actually necessary (or even very useful, as we shall see) in the art of making bread. But the thing is, every time I walk into the kitchen, there is the mixer, so shiny and beautiful and professional-looking on my counter. It begs for a new project, a new challenge. And although my baking/cooking/food porn addiction phase has lasted at least a year by now, I have never (gasp) used yeast! This was a situation that my mother, dutiful 4-H graduate that she is, felt the need to rectify before I leave home and attempt to feed myself and the unsuspecting character that I am marrying.

So, we chose a recipe that we thought would work, got up Saturday morning, sent my dad to the grocery, and set about making him some birthday cinnamon rolls!

Before getting into the results, there are two things you need to know about these birthday boy cinnamon rolls. The first is that Saturday was not actually my dad’s birthday. His birthday was Sunday, in fact, although I was entirely under the impression that it was Saturday and advertised the fact to everyone we know. I declined an invitation to an open house Saturday night because it was my dad’s birthday and we would be spending the day together. I told at least ten family friends that Saturday was my dad’s birthday. I informed my fiancée, who dutifully texted Saturday morning to wish my dad a very happy birthday. Most of the family friends, incidentally, were at the open house (which we attended after all, since it was not Dad’s birthday), and they were kindly, but mistakenly, wishing him a happy birthday all night long. Dad got more “Happy Birthdays!” on the day before his birthday than he did on the actual day. Whoops. But at least we were all thinking about him, right? Maybe it doesn’t matter when the well-wishers were doing their wishing. It’s enough they were whishing at all, right? Right. Wish wish wish.

The second important fact about these cinnamon rolls is that they purport to be the self-same rolls served in Ann Sather’s restaurant. Ann Sather’s is a Swedish restaurant in Chicago that serves all kinds of yummy Swedish food (if you find Swedish food yummy, which, to be honest, requires a constant desire to consume only foods that are rich and creamy). They are especially famous for their breakfasts, and specifically for their cinnamon rolls. My mom had found a recipe for these that we had clipped a while back (probably while we were still living in Chicago) and decided what with the combination of my need to learn to use yeast, the deliciousness of Ann Sather’s cinnamon rolls, and my dad’s birthday (on SUNDAY), we would use these as both a learning experience and a celebration.

As it turns out, the rolls were both of those things! Their flavor is excellent, just the right mix of that comforting yeast-bready taste (yes! my first time!) and the sweetness of a pastry. The combination of the right amount of browning and a sweet glaze spooned on while the buns are still hot meant that they were crisp on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth soft on the inside.

Dang. Hang on while I go get me another one…

Just kidding. Kind of. Ah, the magic of the internet – you’ll never actually know if I went to eat one more. Or if I went to go eat ALL the rest. Mwahaha…

Alright already, onto the details of the cinnamon roll-making process.

Here we have our main players of the day… simple ingredients, right? Not pictured is the confectioner’s sugar and vanilla used in the glaze, but pretend they are there. Behind the milk or something.

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First we had to do a little ingredient prep. Here is Mom, showing me that the milk is scalded, since it sticks to the spoon…

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Then comes the dough-making process. Here is the dough in the baby stages, right after adding the yeast to warm water and bit of sugar:

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After the yeast is dissolved:

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See? The yeast ate the sugar. You go, yeast!

(Give me a break, it’s my first time… I’m allowed to be exciting about things like dissolving yeast)

This is after adding some flour. Sorry for the ugly flash effect… I promise to get better at this whole food photography thing.

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Here it’s getting a little thicker…

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OK, this is where it gets tricky. The recipe (like most bread recipes) gives you a range of how much flour to add. This one tells you to add 2 ½ to 3 cups, enough to form “a soft dough.” Since I have no idea what “a soft dough” actually looks or feels like, I let my mom handle this. The thing is, she has always mixed yeast breads by hand, and with the stand mixer, you don’t have the benefit of feeling the dough to really know if it is the right texture. So, take a close look at this next picture:

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See what the dough looks like at this point? And how we are taking it out of the mixer to let it rise, confident that we have added enough flour?

Take a close look. Think you have it down?

OK… now forget it. That isn’t what the dough is supposed to look like. I wish you could reach through the computer to handle the dough, and then you would know what the dough is NOT supposed to feel like, either. We definitely did not add enough flour, which eventually (after the first rise) led to the following situation:

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Hmmm.

I am trying to avoid a terrible pun about so-called sticky situations here…

Anyway, thanks to the mad skills of my mother, we eventually got the dough rolled out:

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We then got in there with our fingers to slather some (OK, a lot) of butter all over the place (OK, mostly on the dough):

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Got some brown sugar action goin on:

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And started a-rollin those buns (when did this recipe start to get a twang?):

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If you look carefully at the above picture, you can see a gap in my rolling. See it? It looks like I am doing more of a folding motion rather than rolling a tight roll. I remember from a Paula Deen show I saw a while back (yes, I watch Paula) that she warns against gaps while rolling up cinnamon rolls. I guess some things you see on TV are actually true, because the combination of those spaces and the insufficient amount of flour in the door contributed to some droopy buns:

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Notice especially the bottom rack, which is the handiwork of yours truly. The top rack is my mom’s more professional result.

Alright, so the mixing and rising and rolling was a long, adventurous process. But then they came out of the oven, the frosting went on…

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And the glaze started to set…

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And we had us some delicious (if not overwhelmingly attractive) yeast-risen cinnamon rolls!

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I feel pretty darn good about this whole experiment! They weren’t the best looking, but I think we have learned a lot about yeast, using the stand mixer, rolling, etc. And seriously… the taste of these cinnamon rolls is out of this world. The smell isn’t even worth trying to describe. The combination of cinnamon and sugar and yeast smells like home, but better. The best version of home.

Try the recipe! Here it is, with my additions and tweaking. We borrowed the glaze from another recipe, doubled it, and spontaneously added more powdered sugar and vanilla. The recipe below is my best guess at what we actually ended up with, but don’t worry too much about getting the glaze perfect. It’s sugar and butter – are you seriously going to stress about actual measurements?

I didn’t think so.

Ann Sather’s Cinnamon Rolls, adapted from the Chicago Tribune Magazine circa 1988 (or something…)

  • 1 envelope (1/4 oz) active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup warm water (110 degrees)
  • 1 cup milk, scalded and cooled
  • 1/4 cup (2 ounces) butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) butter, room temperature (I would just go ahead and divide it now)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (Ditto on the dividing)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon (Yep… divide it)
  • Powdered sugar glaze, recipe follows

1. In a large bowl, stir the yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar into the warm water and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in milk, melted buter, 1/3 cup sugar, salt, and 1 cup flour. Beat with a spoon or an electric mixer until smooth.

2. Gradually stir in 1 1/2 cups flour, keeping the dough smooth. If the dough is still moist, stir in 1 tablespoon flour at a time to make a soft dough (Seriously, stir in enough flour). Cover with a dry cloth and let it rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

3. Divide the raised dough in half. On a lightly oiled board, with a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out and stretch 1 piece of dough to make a 12-by-8-inch rectangle. Spread 2 tablespoons of the soft butter over the top of the dough. Sprinkle with half of the brown sugar and cinnamon. Beginning on the long side, roll up tightly, jelly-roll fashion. Repeat with remaining dough.

4. Cut the dough into 2-inch slices. Place on greased and floured baking sheets. Let the dough rise (in a warm place) until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.

5. Bake in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Take the baking sheets out of the oven and place the cinnamon rolls on a wire rack to cool.

6. Top rolls with a sugar glaze immediately, if desired (ha! If desired? yes, I desire…). Serve warm!

Powdered Sugar Glaze, adapted from From the Heart of our Homes, our old church’s cookbook

  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla exract
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons hot water

1. Combine confectioner’s sugar, butter and vanilla in a bowl, mix until smooth. Add several teaspoons hot water to thin mixture to the consistency of whipping cream.

2. Drizzle gaze over hot rolls.

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