Sunday, April 30, 2006

Bacon Onion and Cheese Torte

This morning I was watching Food Network and Giada was making a Pancetta and Parmesan Torte. While I was watching I thought that I should make something similar and use my new torte dish that I got for my birthday.

Originally I was going to try to make the same torte which Giada had made, but once I got to the grocery store and saw that I would have to buy much larger portions of pancetta and parmesan then I needed, I opted to go with bacon and a blend of italian cheeses. I also decided to add a sauted onion and some garlic to the other ingredients of parsley, salt, pepper, and cream. For the cream, I wanted to make this a little healthier so I used 1/2 cup of half and half (in place of the 2/3 cup heavy cream) and 1/2 cup skim milk (in place of the 1/2 cup whole milk).

The trick to making this torte super easy is that the base is a store bought pie crust. In a smaller sized torte pan the crust would have come up to the top edge, but my dish is pretty big and the pie crust just fit. Everything worked out alright since the amount of filling was also meant for a smaller dish so it wasn't too thick either.

Even with the reduction of fat in the liquids, the torte came out perfectly. The flavors are all very mild and blend well together. I cooked the onions and garlic over very low heat for about 10 minutes and that really took away their bite. I'm usually not a fan of onions but these came out very soft and slightly sweet.

I think this would also work really well in an individual size, served with a salad, or even smaller sized as an appetizer. I'll be keeping this recipe on file.


Monday, April 17, 2006

Carrot Cake and Bellinis

So although it wasn't my plan to be making any desserts any time soon, I was asked by my Mom to make her Signature Carrot Cake. She got the recipe for this cake back in 1992 and has been making it often since then. The cake is from a restaurant called Egg Castle which went out of business years ago. I know that the article was from 1992 because my mom got the recipe from the newspaper and she still has the original article (I made myself a copy of the article this weekend).

So this past Saturday when we started baking, my mom got busy with other stuff so I ended up putting it together myself. In the end, I had some extra icing so I decided to do a little decorating too. If anyone wants the recipe for this cake, email me; I might be willing to share.

The inset picture is when we cut the cake at Easter dinner at my Aunt and Uncle's place. This year my Aunt had everyone over and we had all the usual Easter foods (ham, eggs, etc.).

And also for Easter, I brought the makings for Bellinis.

A bellini is a drink which is typically made from peach juice and sparkling wine. For my take on a bellini I made a punch by combining peach, orange, and pear juice. I wanted this drink to be available non-alcoholic too so I also had lemon-lime soda available in place of the sparkling wine. For the wine I served Prosecco. The punch was well liked and very refreshing.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Shrimp with Broccoli, Cauliflower, and Chive

Its time I got back to preparing dishes of a healthier sort. Today I present Shrimp with Broccoli and Cauliflower in a lemon-butter Chive sauce.

The simplicity of this meal is that the vegetables and the sauce come packaged together. Bird's Eye recently introduced a new line of frozen vegetables called The Herb Garden Collection. If you click on that link you can find out about other varieties. I've tried them all but for the green beans and the mushrooms and liked every variety. Each box of vegies comes with a little packet of seasoning that adds great flavor to the vegetables. Its suggested that you cook the vegetables in the microwave (they tend to take about 6 minutes) and then add the seasonings at the end.

For my dish I quickly thawed precooked, frozen, deveined shrimp (which I pulled the tails off) and added them to the vegetables in their last minute of being microwaved. I did this to just get a little warmth to the shrimp. All that was left was to mix it all together with the seasoning packet. To finish off the plate I cut a slice of whole wheat bread into wedges which I ended up using to make little shrimp sandwiches of a sort.

I'm not sure about the nutritional stats right now, but I know that this was a healthy mix of protein, carbs, and a little fat; and best of all, it tasted great. By the way, I made a larger portion than would be normal. I used 1 box of vegetables and about 27 shrimp which split in half would be enough for two to share (I would probably serve with some brown rice on the side instead of the bread in that case).


Monday, April 03, 2006

Birthday Party = Lots of Food

Saturday, April 1st, was my 25th birthday and my uncle's 55th. To celebrate I invited the whole family up to my house. The plan for the party was a casual get together with lots of good food and good drinks. I think I succeeded.

The food plan was to have a wide variety of appetizers. There were simple snacks like chips and vegetables (with homemade dips) and then slightly more elaborate hot foods. The vegetables were all purchased fresh from the West Side Market on Friday morning and I washed, cut, blanched (the ones that required it), and arranged them all. The hot foods consisted of skewered chicken (with either a Thai peanut sauce or an Italian basalmic sauce), mini hamburgers, sausage cheese balls, savory parmesan bites, and mini-new potato bites. A few of the foods have links to the Kraft Foods website where I got a lot of my inspiration. The plan for the vegie tray was in my America's Test Kitchen cookbook (which is highly recommended!) and the skewered chicken and mini-burgers were my own creations.

Everyone really liked the mini-burgers and they were the first food to run out. To make the burgers I used an 80/20 beef to which I added some French onion soup mix and some bacon fat (the bacon was required for the potato bites and bacon fat adds a lot of flavor so I figured why not splurge). I cooked the small burgers on the griddle until they were mostly done then placed each patty on a brown-and-serve roll that had been cut in half and topped with colby cheese. The burgers were then tossed into the oven to finish cooking and let the buns brown up. The end result was some really tasty little burgers.

The chicken was fairly simple too. I cut up breast meat into strips and marinated them in either the peanut sauce or the balsamic sauce. The peanut sauce had peanut butter, peanut oil, water, ginger, sesame seeds, soy sauce, and a few other spices. The balsamic sauce was a combination of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, water, salt, pepper, rosemary, and spices. Both batches of chicken marinated overnight. In an ideal case I would have grilled the chicken but since I was making a lot and didn't have the time to stand by the grill I baked the skewered chicken. Everyone seemed to really enjoy these too.

There was a wide variety of drinks for the party but the one that stood out the most was a new rum by Bacardi. It called Ciclon and is infused with Agave Tequila and Lime. When I saw it at the store it looked interesting so I picked up the bottle. And as it turns out, it tastes really good. I thought it was best mixed with a lemon lime soda but my dad preferred it as a shot. He was encouraging others to give it a try too.

And I almost forgot to mention the cake. As I continue to master my skills at cake baking I made this cake. The whole cake was iced in buttercream icing and then I colored a bit of the icing blue for decoration. The border around the cake came out looking nice but my hand writing with icing needs major work. One evening I should put together a small batch of icing and just practice writing. But, back to the cake; the cake is half chocolate and half vanilla and was filled with vanilla pudding (the cooked variety, not instant). The pan I used was an 11x14" pan which I think is a half-sheet size. Everyone enjoyed it and many went back for seconds (or thirds).

By the end of the evening very little food (and Ciclon) remained. There was one piece of the parmesan bites and some vegetables left as well as some cake. I was wore out, but it was worth it. I think everyone had a fun time and that was my goal.

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