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Friday, January 29, 2010

Corn Bread

This side dish was born of desperation because I got home from a dentist appointment with one of the kids too late to make yeast bread. Corn bread is something that can be made quickly. It proved a wonderful change of pace. And, since this is a Marie Callendar-style corn bread (meaning it's quite sweet, almost more of a corn cake than a corn bread), it put smiles on faces all around the table. It's also heavy enough to fill everyone up on soup night.

Corn Bread
2 cups flour
2 cups corn meal
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 Tablespoons baking powder
2 eggs
2 cups milk
2/3 cup oil

Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the wet ingredients and stir until they are thoroughly combined. Pour in a greased 9 x 13 inch pan and bake for about 30 minutes at 400 degrees.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Chocolate Pecan Pie

David chose chocolate pecan pie for his birthday dessert. He is old enough now that we can't afford a candle for every year. One candle also looked much prettier than 19.

Previously, I did not have a chocolate pecan pie recipe. Bob and I had eaten it a few times at Mimis, and it's one of the desserts that he seems to get cravings for. My dad requested a pecan pie for Thanksgiving dinner, so I made one using this recipe, which I discovered on my friend Kip's blog. (I tried the Dear Abby's version because I didn't plan ahead very well and wasn't sure I had a full pound of brown sugar). I actually think it is the best-tasting pecan pie I've ever had.

Every time I've made the pie since then, Bob has magically appeared at the perfect time to drop in a handfull of chocolate chips. This seemed to delight everyone, so last night I carefully placed the chips on the bottom of the pie. You can't see them, but they're there and they are delicious. I recommend warming the pie and putting vanilla ice cream on top.

1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
9-inch unbaked pie crust
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 heaping cup pecan halves

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine corn syrup, sugar, eggs, butter, salt, and vanilla; mix well. Place pie crust in a pie plate and scatter chocolate chips on top of the pie crust. Pour filling into unbaked pie crust; sprinkle with pecan halves. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until center is set. If crust or pie gets too brown, cover with foil for remaining baking time.

Carne Asada Salad

As with many salads, this is more of a salad idea than a recipe.

Another favorite family meal is carne asada burritos. This meal has been made possible by the proliferation of Mexican markets in our area. It is also enabled at our house by my Spanish-speaking husband, who has thoroughly interviewed each of the butchers at the three stores nearest our home. But never fear. I don't speak Spanish and have successfully ordered the meat from the aforementioned butchers on numerous occasions with no problem. It does help to have the advance information, though.

We made carne asada burritos for our dinner group last weekend. I'll post a photo with instructions as soon as I get a good photo to post with it. A couple of days later, Bob and I used the leftover meat to make carne asada salads for lunch.

The easiest way to make carne asada is to buy the pre-seasoned meat at the market. Then you just have to grill it. We've used both diez millo preparada and ranchera preparada. Diez millo is less expensive; ranchera is a much nicer cut of meat (Bob suspects that it is very thinly sliced ribeye steak). But the diez millo is also quite tasty. Both cuts of meat are also sold without seasoning (simply diez millo or ranchera), which we use for beef teriyaki.

Carne Asada Salad
1 head romaine lettuce, cut in bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup carne asada, heated
1-2 Tablespoons green enchilada sauce
diced tomatoes or pico de gallo
Sliced avocados or guacamole
Fresh ranch dressing

Arrange salad ingredients in the order they are given. Top with ranch dressing. A word about the green enchilada sauce: we also used leftovers for this particular salad. After searching high and low for the perfect enchilada sauce, we've actually found that we like the store brands the best (Western Family, Kroger, etc.) If you look for sales, you can usually buy it for about 50 cents per can.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Bahn Mi Sandwiches

Here is one of our favorite meals, staged for a photo on our favorite Correlle ware. And I haven't posted nearly as many birthday week dishes as I had hoped. What can I say? I've been busy cooking.

This is a meal that Bob prepared for Jenny's birthday. Driven by his love of Vietnamese food (see here), he figured out how to prepare Bahn Mi sandwiches. We've noticed that in large metropolitan areas, Bahn Mi's are quite hip, especially in areas like southern California where there are large Vietnamese populations. There are entire sandwich shops devoted to them. There are only one or two places in all of Utah to purchase them, so we make our own.

One thing I love about this meal is its historical significance. When I first heard of this dish I wondered how an Asian sandwich could be required to be on a French baguette. Then I remembered the French colonization of Vietnam in the first half of the 20th century. This is surely one of the best things that came out of that relationship.

At most of the Bahn Mi shops we've visited, the sandwiches are spread with chicken pate. Bob's not a fan of pate, so we make them without. When you eat this, you will see why it's Jenny's favorite meal. It's a combination of flavors that is unique and unbeatable.

Bahn Mi Sandwiches
2 pounds of pork shoulder, thinly sliced (we have found thinly sliced pork butt steaks or chops that are cheap and that worked quite well. You can also buy thinly sliced pork at the Mexican market. Or have the butcher thin-slice a butt or shoulder roast for you. This works a lot better if the roast is boneless.)

8 cloves of garlic, minced
4 Tablespoons of sugar
5 tablespoons fish sauce (this is available at all Asian markets and some super markets. It stinks, but trust me when I say you will like the finished product)
½ teaspoon ground black pepper

Mix all of the ingredients except the pork. Stir well. Marinate the pork in the sauce for several hours. Then grill until lightly browned on the barbecue. Chop into small pieces.

Sandwich ingredients (in order of application):

A baguette, cut in half length-wise

Mayonnaise, spread on one side of the baguette
Grilled Pork, place on top of the mayonnaise
Cilantro, put a thin layer of leaves over the pork
Pickled carrots - marinate matchstick-sized carrots in the nuoc cham sauce
Nuoc cham sauce, see recipe below

On the other side of baguette:
Soy sauce, drizzled across the bread
Cucumber - layer a thin row of thinly sliced cucumbers
Red onion - thinly sliced, layered over the cucumbers
Black pepper - sprinkle over vegetables

Nuoc Cham Sauce
(Note: This is also an incredible egg roll dip)
¼ cup sugar

Juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup fish sauce
½ cup water
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 carrot, thinly sliced or julienned (depending on your preference)
1-2 teaspoons chili paste

Mix together and drizzle over the sandwich. You will wonder how in the world something that smells like that can taste so good.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Dipping Sauce

This is one of my favorite recipe acquisition stories ever. A few years ago we invited a few friends over for a potluck dinner. One couple volunteered to bring the bread and they thought it would be a great idea to also bring a Carrabba's-style dipping sauce. The husband set to work trying to replicate the recipe from one of everyone's favorite Italian restaurants. "Why don't you just call them and ask them what they put in it?" the wife asked.

"They'll never tell me that," replied the husband. The wife got on the phone and asked the hostess who answered the phone, "Can you tell me what's in your dipping sauce?"

The hostess put her on hold for a moment and then came back. "I'm only going to say this once," she said, "and I'm going to go fast. Write it down." She then listed off the ingredients, if not the proportions, of their herb mix.

I'm quite sure that we don't have the perfect Carrabba's proportions, either, and we use dry herbs instead of fresh because they store much easier. So I won't go on record as calling it Carrabba's sauce. But it's good. You'll like it.

Italian Dipping Sauce
Granulated garlic (or mince fresh garlic over the final mix as you serve it)
Cayenne pepper
Black pepper

I usually mix in a teaspoon or so of each (except for the cayenne and maybe the black pepper, which I do to taste) which makes enough for several meals, even with our tribe. Just store it in an airtight container.There are wonderful ways to vary this recipe. Sometimes I minimize the granulated garlic and then add a bit of fresh minced garlic when it's served. I've also added a little bit of grated parmesan at serving time.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Ham Pasta

As you may be able to guess from the plate featured in this photo, this is birthday week at our house. Not one, not two, but three kids have birthdays in a period of five days. It's exhausting but fun and it's also a major food fest.

The tradition in our family is that the birthday person gets to choose a special breakfast, a special dinner and a favorite dessert. Anna was overjoyed to discover this year that her birthday fell on a school holiday, so she was also allowed to choose what we had for lunch. Usually the kids choose family favorites. We know that a meal is getting a figurative big thumbs up when we try something new and the kids say something like, "This is birthday dinner material!" So I'll try to feature a few of our birthday favorites over the next couple of weeks.

I was actually surprised that this dish made the birthday list this year. It's an often-requested dish but it's a little on the simple side to qualify for the usual birthday meal standards. But Anna realized that we hadn't had it for a long time and settled on it as her birthday choice even after I offered her what I thought were more alluring options.

I sort of made this recipe up. I say sort of because it was inspired by a sauce that one of my Italian friends used to make when I lived in Sicily about 30 years ago. It's not especially healthy but it's simple and delicious and, I might add, a great way to use up leftover ham.

Ham Pasta
2 c. diced ham
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 cups heavy whipping cream
1 c. shredded mozzarella
1/2 c. frozen peas
½ c. grated parmesean

Cooked and drain pasta while you are preparing the sauce.

Cook ham, onion and garlic in skillet in a small amount of oil. As ham begins to brown, pour in cream and stir. Add mozzarella and frozen peas. Cook until well-blended, about ten minutes. Simmer on low heat for 10 to fifteen minutes. Add grated parmesean cheese. Stir until smooth. Stir in drained pasta and stir until pasta is coated. Serves about 8.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Cabbage Nut Salad

Cabbage was on sale today at the local supermarket for a very good price. I bought one head to make stuffed cabbage rolls for dinner tomorrow night, and bought an extra one just because it was cheap (and remarkably healthy).

I found this recipe, which was actually quite a hit with my family. The soy flavor of the dressing was a little too intense, and I will scale it back a little next time. But the crunch of the nuts and the cabbage seem like the perfect complement to any Asian meal.

Cabbage Nut Salad
1 cabbage, cut into thin strips
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1/3 cup roasted sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar

Fry almonds, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds in a small, hot frying pan until they are toasted (be careful not to burn them). Mix cabbage and nuts together in a large bowl.

Make the dressing by mixing the oil, soy sauce and sugar in a small bowl or in a jar with a lid on it. Microwave the dressing for one minute and stir to dissolve the sugar. Pour the dressing over the cabbage and nuts and toss well. Let the salad marinate in teh refrigerator for a few hours before serving.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Brown Rice Pilaf

A few months ago we decided to buy some brown rice for the sake of our health. Not long after that, we realized that we had no idea how to cook brown rice. This started us on the search for brown rice recipes. We tried it simply boiled; while this was certainly bearable, it wasn't something that called out to anyone. We discovered this brown rice pilaf recipe and, voila-- everyone likes brown rice.

We've eaten this as a side dish with many different entrees, but perhaps our favorite combination is this recipe with chicken stir fry. This recipe serves 4 to 6 people; I usually make one and a half times the amount here.

Brown Rice Pilaf
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup long grain brown rice (not instant)
2 1/2 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth

In a medium-size sauce pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; cook, stirring until onion is golden, about five minutes. Add rice and saute for 1  minute.

Add broth and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer until rice is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 50 to 60 minutes. Uncover rice and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Chicken Stir Fry

My last post was on Kirkland Stir Fry Vegetables, so it's no surprise that this post is an actual stir fry recipe.

This recipe grew out of our desire to both eat healthier food and eat more Chinese food. We found this recipe somewhere on line and have (of course) modified it a bit. We usually use the Kirkland mix for most of the veggies, although we have made it from scratch, which gives you a lot more control over which vegetables are actually included.We've tried it with both chicken and beef; both are good, although we still need to perfect the beef version. We also like to add a handful of cashews just before we serve it. As with most Chinese dishes, we prefer this one over steamed white rice or a lovely brown rice pilaf.

Chicken Stir Fry
1 bunch broccoli
1 sweet red bell pepper
2 large green onions or 1 medium yellow onion, julienned
3 chicken breast halves
1/2 cup chicken stock (divided)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon oyster sauce (available in the Asian section of most grocery stores)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Dash of dried red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger root, or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried ginger
1/4 cup cashew nuts (optional)

  1. Chop vegetables into thin strips. Cut chicken into thin strips. Set aside.

  2. Whisk together 1/4 cup of the chicken stock, soy sauce, cornstarch, oyster sauce, sesame oil and red pepper flakes; set aside.

  3. Heat wok or deep skillet over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil; heat for 30 seconds, swirling to coat pan. Stir-fry half the chicken for 3-4 minutes or until no longer pink inside; remove and set aside. Repeat with remaining chicken, adding some of the remaining oil if necessary. Add to reserved chicken.

  4. Add remaining oil to wok. Stir-fry garlic and ginger for 10 seconds or until fragrant; avoid overcooking because the garlic will burn and become bitter. Add vegetables and stir fry for two minutes. Pour in remaining chicken stock; cover and steam. Stir once; cook for two minutes or until broccoli is tender crisp.

  5. Stir chicken back into wok; push to side of pan. Pour soy mixture into the center of the wok; cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes or until thickened. Stir chicken mixture into sauce until coated. Sprinkle with cashew nuts. Serve over rice.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Favorite Things: Kirkland Stir Fry Vegetables

This year I'd like to try something new by posting occasionally on food-related or cooking-related products that make my life easier or better. My first candidate: Kirkland Stir Fry Vegetables.

You can probably guess that feeding a large family is made much easier with a Costco membership. I had a membership there when I was single, but it was exclusively for my own entertainment. I got serious about warehouse shopping when seven children came into my life. There are many items that are never on sale at the grocery store below the every day price at Costco. There are some items that you can only get at Costco. And the product quality is generally very good.

A few months ago we discovered their frozen stir fry vegetables. This takes most of the hassle out of making a healthy dinner of meat and veggies. In addition, the mix of vegetables is much more diverse than I would ever come up with by cleaning and chopping from scratch. Who buys water chestnuts and snow peas for an every day dinner? But with the bag-o-stir fry, we simply prepare the meat, prepare the sauce, and TA DUM! Dinner is served.

The mix includes (in addition to water chestnuts and snow peas): green peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, carrots, red peppers, and a little bit of onion. I like considerably more onions in my mix than the bag provides, but it's easy enough to chop one up and toss it in.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Easy Chicken Dinner

Bob tried this meal after spotting the recipe in a grocery store circular a few years ago. The name of the dish is exactly as we found it in the paper - Easy Chicken Dinner. Our family joke is that the dinner isn't really all that easy. It's not complicated, but takes a little bit of time. But it's delicious comfort food that all of us enjoy.

Easy Chicken Dinner
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded until flat
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 16-ounce carton of sour cream
1 8-ounce package of mushrooms, sliced
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup flour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Season flour with salt and pepper and dredge each chicken breast in flour mixture, coating well. Heat oil in a large skillet. Brown chicken on each side in hot oil and then place in a 13 x 9 x 2 baking dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Mix the soup, sour cream, mushrooms, milk and cheese together in a large bowl. Pour over chicken breasts and bake for one hour. Serve over steamed white rice. Serves 6 to 8.

Friday, January 8, 2010

White Chili with Chicken

This year I was asked to be a judge for our local high school's faculty cook off. Like many organizations, the school found itself short on Christmas party budget and turned the potluck into a fun event by making it a contest. Teachers and administrators were invited to bring chili and pies. I should note that I got the job because of the volunteer work I do at the school, not because of my culinary expertise.

One of the other judges told me that white chilis are especially good. Two different pots were entered in the contest, and they were both excellent. I liked them enough that I searched out a recipe to try it at home. This one isn't exactly like my favorite at the party, but it was very good and was a big hit with the kids. I started with a recipe from Betty Crocker's More Slow Cooker Recipes and adapted based on some online versions.

White Chili with Chicken
1 pound boneless, skinless, chicken thighs, cut into strips
1 cup dried great northern beans, sorted and rinsed
1 medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 can (10 3/4 ounces) condensed cream of chicken soup
5 cups water
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 can (4.5 ounces) chopped green chiles, undrained
1/2 cup frozen corn

Mix chicken, beans, onion, garlic, oregano, salt, soup and water in 3 1/2- to 4-quart slow cooker. Cover and cook on low heat setting 8 to 10 hours or until beans are tender and chicken is no longer pink in the center.

Just before serving, stir in cumin, chiles and corn. Serve with corn chips and top with grated colby jack cheese.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Vietnamese Glazed Pork Chops

We got a new cookbook over the holidays. American Express gave away the 2009 Food and Wine Annual Cookbook to card members who were willing to pay shipping. We are always easily persuaded to indulge in free cookbooks, so we signed up and have been pleasantly surprised. The book now has lots of little post it pages on recipes that we'd like to try in the future.

This was Bob's first effort. I have learned from him to love Vietnamese food. This dish reminded me of a pork chop that we've eaten at our favorite New York Vietnamese restaurant, Saigon Grill on the upper west side. We tried a similar dish at a restaurant in Salt Lake last week. While Bob felt that these pork chops weren't perfect for the dish (they were a little on the thick side), I thought the flavor was remarkable. We cut the meat into strips to make it easier to manage with chopsticks.

Vietnamese Glazed Skinny Pork Chops
(Serves 4)
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup Asian fish sauce (available at Asian or international grocery stores)
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 medium shallots, very finely chopped
2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
8 think-cut pork loin chops on the bone (about 6 ounces each)
1/4 cup chopped salted peanuts

In a large bowl, combine the vegetable oil with the honey, fish sauce, garlic, shallots and pepper. Add the pork chops, turn to coat thoroughly with the marinade and refrigerate over night.

Light a grill. Lightly season the pork chops with salt. Brush the grill with oil and cook the pork chops over very high heat until nicely charred and just cooked through, about three minutes per side. Scatter the peanuts on top and serve right away over Jasmine rice.

Monday, January 4, 2010


Homemade pizza is probably our family's favorite meal. Our teenage kids have been known to change plans and stay home (on weekend nights, even) when they hear we are having pizza. We've tried a variety of toppings. In a later post (after we make them again), I'll include the recipes for our Chicken Feta Basil pizza and Bob's barbecue chicken pizza. I'll also try to post the recipe for the somewhat involved pizza sauce that I make from garden produce and bottle every summer.

The first time we made pizza at home was with the help of our friends Blake and Catherine, who are true experts. They introduced us to the magic of the pizza stone (which we had stored in our pantry since our wedding but had never used). We've actually gone through several stones in the meantime, and now have two that are well seasoned and well used--they are also great for baking bread, giving the finished product a lovely crust. See here, for example.

Our crust recipe has evolved somewhat over time as we've experimented with and combined different recipes. This recipe makes three large pizzas, which is usually enough to feed our crew for dinner and a rewarmed snack the next day (warm the pizza on the pizza stone for best results).

Pizza Crust
2 T. + ¼ t. instant yeast (if you aren't using instant yeast, activate the yeast in the warm water. Adding the sugar will make it come to life faster).
2 ½ cups warm water
2 ½ t. sugar
2 ½ t. salt
5 T. olive oil
6 ¼ cups flour

Mix together in stand mixer or large bowl; knead for 7-8 minutes. Let rise until double. Divide into three equal portions and roll out flat (we make them as close as possible to the size of the pizza stone). Add sauce and toppings and bake at 550 degrees for about six minutes.

We have found that order matters when it comes to toppings. Here is the preferred order for our three most frequently made pizzas. Use any basic tomato or pizza sauce for the sauce. We prefer grated mozzarella cheese, which we buy in bulk from Costco and then freeze in smaller portions.

Sausage/Mushroom Pizza: Crust – 1 ½ ladles of sauce – cheese – sausage – mushrooms – onions – cheese

Combination Pizza: Crust – 1 ½ ladles sauce – cheese – sausage - onions – mushrooms – peppers – sliced olives - pepperoni – cheese

Pepperoni Pizza: Crust – 1 ½ ladles sauce – cheese – pepperoni – cheese

Here is a photo of Bob's fine assembly work on a combination pizza just before it goes in the oven (although we do put another layer of cheese on). As you can see from the photo, we use a wooden pizza peel covered with corn meal as the base for the pizza. This allows it to slide easily onto the pizza stone, which we pre-heat for 30 minutes or so in the oven.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Mimi's Buttermilk Spice Muffins

One of my earliest posts last year was about finding the recipe for Mimi's corn chowder on the Mimi's website. We were also happy to discover the recipe for their buttermilk spice muffins. I have to confess that I've never actually made this recipe. However, Bob has perfected it. This week he found some oversized muffin tins at a very good price, so now they're ready to be shown off in public.

I should note that they work perfectly well in standard-size tins, but they aren't quite as pretty (and don't make you think you're actually at Mimi's quite as much).

Mimi's Buttermilk Spice Muffins

Muffin Batter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine
3 eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon buttermilk

Nut Topping
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Grease baking tins with butter or margarine.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a mixing bowl, cream the sugar and the butter together with an electric mixer. When they are thoroughly mixed, add eggs and beat one more minute.

Sift the flour into a separate bowl, together with the baking soda, nutmeg and the cinnamon. Add the flour and the buttermilk. Mix at low speed until smooth. To avoid lumps in the batter, add the wet and dry ingredients alternately, in small amounts.

Make the nut topping by combining all ingredients together in a small bowl.

Fill each muffin cup 3/4 full of batter. Add a full, rounded tablespoon of nut topping on top of each muffin cup of batter. Bake immediately or the topping will sink to the bottom of the muffin.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. Recipe yields 12 standard-size muffins or six jumbo muffins. If using the jumbo muffin pans, reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees and increase the baking time by 5-10  minutes.