Thursday, August 19, 2010

Cherry Cookies

Last night, at 8PM, Elizabeth and I decided to bake cookies. I'm not entirely sure how this came about, but we decided on a recipe that I copied from my mom that I haven't eaten for at least ten years. I remember the cherry cookies being pretty close to heaven; soft and sweet, with creamy icing. Despite my childhood memories, I had no real idea what they actually were like, nore do I bake often, if ever.

Elizabeth's baking passion is the same as the passion I have for cooking. We're both proud foodies. We were watching the Food Network channel a few nights ago, and a commercial for a pre-cooked frozen meal came up, asking sarcastically, "Who wants to come home to chopping and peeling?" We both raised our hands, realized what the other had done, and laughed.

After we came back from Meijer with our specialty ingredients, we spent the next two hours preparing the dough and icing, and thinking about ideas for the pictures I would take (as it was my first time taking pictures of cookies), along with a few phone calls to confirm things with my mom.

Cherry Cookies

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
3 1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped maraschino cherries
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 375.
Mix sugar and shortening by cutting with knives continuously.
Add the sugar mixture to a stand mixer, and set on a low setting.
Add butter and eggs.
Stir in sour cream.
Sift dry ingredients and mix well.
Stir in cherries and vanilla.
Spoon on ungreased sheets 2 inches apart.
Cook for 10 to 12 minutes.
Frost when cool.


2 tablespoons cherry juice
3 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 tablespoons softened butter
2 3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla


The first thing we had to ask my mom about was cutting the shortening and sugar together. We were told to cut in a criss-cross motion, with the end result resembling snow. When finished baking, the cookies are pink at the top, and slightly brown at the bottom. The icing can be made with individual preference in mind, with regards to both thickness and flavor. You can change how thick it is by adding more powdered sugar to make it thick and goopy or more runny by adding less. The flavor can be adjusted by adding more cherry juice.

I'm definitely not going to wait another 10 years to do this again.

Tuna Parmesan

One night, early in my cooking adventures, I wanted to make a dish with canned tuna. I looked online for some sort of sauce recipe, preferably with cheese. I had some Kraft Parmesan cheese in my refrigerator, and I found a recipe online that was simple enough to try. The sauce started with a rue (a starter for a sauce consisting of butter and flour), then I slowly added milk (to change a rue into a sauce, a cream product is added). I added the powdery Parmesan with a few other spices to the mix, and it came out with the texture of slop. Tasty slop.

This dish ended up being completed with the addition of the tuna, Campari tomatos, pasta, and mushrooms. It was tasty, and it turned into one of Jeff's favorite meals. The only problem I continued having was too large of portions.

In celebration of discovering true Parmesan cheese, and not using the crappy powder, I wanted to rediscover this dish.

2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
2/3 cup milk
2/3 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, shredded
pinch salt
pinch pepper
pinch paprika
1 can tuna
4 Campari tomatoes, quartered
2 ounces pasta, rotini (or similar sized pasta)
4 ounces mushrooms, sliced

Cook pasta according to directions.

In a different pot, melt 1 tablespoon butter in skillet over medium high heat.
Sprinkle flour into melted butter, whisking constantly.
Cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute or until mixture is golden and lumpy.
Gradually whisk in milk and bring to a boil.
Cook, whisking constantly, 1 to 2 minutes, or until thickened.
Add parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and paprika, whisking until smooth.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms, stir occasionally, until cooked.
Transfer sauce to skillet.

Add tuna, tomatoes, pasta, and mushrooms.
Simmer for five minutes on medium heat.

If I was being quick about this recipe, I would use a can of mushrooms, and add them at the end. Using real mushrooms produces a better result.

Using the real Parmesan cheese yielded a few different changes in the end result. The most significant to me was the taste. The cheese flavor was a whole lot bolder than before. Another interesting note was it lessened the proportions enough where it wasn't overbearing any longer. Wonderful.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Stir-fry Shrimp (Kind of fail)

Originally called Spicy Red Shrimp Stir-Fry in the Knack Quick and Easy Cooking book, I've shortened it to Stir-fry Shrimp because I can't handle the spicy. The only thing I had changed was removing the red pepper flakes.

The recipe called for a sauce that was based from cocktail sauce and chicken broth. In continuation of the idiotic 'grabbing without looking' phase I'm in, I found out that the cocktail sauce was a spicy version.

So, I tried making my own. I looked online for the common ingredients: ketchup, horseradish, worcestershire sauce, and lemon juice. Small problem, no idea what horseradish is. Turns out, it's some sort of spice to add heat. The only thing I have close to that is chili powder.

In my courageous way, I decide to make my own blend of cocktail sauce. I started out by adding an even amount of everything. This a terrible idea, mostly because of the chili powder. While it was way too hot for me, I let Jeff taste it, and he enjoyed it.

I made a similar combination with less chili powder and more ketchup, and it tasted like creamy cocktail sauce. I think if I had made a ketchup-like sauce from actual tomatoes, it would have had more texture. But, I got the taste right, and that's what mattered.

The recipe uses frozen stir-fry vegetables, which work wonderfully for simplicity's sake, along with shrimp and fresh onion. Even though the frozen vegi's tate good, I'd like to experiment with a similar combination of fresh.

The only problem I had with the recipe was the aftermath; it tasted fine, but it didn't sit well in my stomach. (I have a sensitive stomach, something I may or may not discuss in a later blog.) Hense, kind of fail.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Taquito Burgers

Having only another shrimp dish on this week's menu, I asked Jeff if he had any better ideas for dinner tonight. He suggested taquito burgers.

Taquito burgers came to be because his family came to town. Apparently that is constant motivation to perfect a meal. We had made burgers from scratch a few times before, but I wasn't going to settle with good. I wanted freakin awesome.

I grew up eating pre-made frozen patties, so when Jeff and I handcrafted burgers for the first time, I was in awe. Last summer, we tried a few basic recipes, consisting of mixtures with different spices, breadcrumbs, egg, and of course, beef. We also tried using ground turkey once, but I think I enjoy the rich beef taste better.

We ended up finding the perfect burger recipe one night when we were making taquitos. We often have a little leftover meat, and I was eating up the delicious flavor as quickly as I could. Then it occurred to me: this combination of flavors would make an amazing burger. And it did.

On the way home, I had the choice of going to Martins or a family run grocery store that I had passed by more than a dozen times. I chose the more adventurous route. And it was worth it.

This place smelled like my grandma's house, and looked like an Italian restaurant. In short, heaven. They had ground chuck that was ground in the store, from local beef. They had ridiculously huge (and delicious) tomatoes from Michigan, which I'm convinced I would be in heaven if I were to eat them like apples. Freshly baked bread that I sliced to make into buns. Heaven.

(4 Servings)

1 lb ground beef
1/2 cup mild salsa, lightly strained
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup onion, minced
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Combine ingredients.
Heat grill to 500 degrees.
Cook for 3 minutes on each side, burgers will be fragile.

When we first made the burgers, we didn't strain the salsa, and the burgers were super-fragile. Without those extra juices, the burger is significantly sturdier; but don't be fooled, you still need to be gentle.

Jeff wasn't sold on the fancy buns, he said that they were rather dry. I agreed, but I enjoyed the texture of them. Honestly, even if we used the cheapest buns we could find, I'd still be happy to eat this burger up.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Italian Shrimp

Rarely do I make a meal for the first time and be completely happy with it. On top of that, rarely do I make a meal right the first time if it's coming from a new source. Tonight was one of those rare nights where almost everything turned out perfectly. This is, to my own shock, a recipe card post.

Tonights dinner was a recipe card from Meijer, originally called Festive Shrimp Capellini. Capellini is a spaghetti-like pasta, thinner than angel hair. Because of my general frustration with long pasta, I decided to switch out the capellini for penne rigatoni. I changed the name of the recipe to reflect this.

Due to the fact I grabbed the wrong size shrimp (it was a theme in my shopping this week, apparently), the shrimp was a little overcooked. I hope with the correct shrimp size, this will be fixed.

(Serves two)

1/2 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 cup Italian dressing
5 oz penne pasta
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon butter
3 green onions, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 large tomato, seeded and chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 tablespoon Italian seasoning

Place shrimp in a medium bowl; add dressing.
Cover and refrigerate up to 30 minutes.
Cook pasta according to package directions; drain and return to pot, set aside.
In a large skillet, heat oil and butter over medium high heat.
Add onions, garlic, and parsley; cook and stir 2 minutes.
Add shrimp and dressing; cook until shrimp are opaque, stirring occasionally.
Stir in tomato, bell pepper, Italian seasoning, and salt and pepper to taste; cook and stir until heated through.
Add shrimp mixture to pasta in pot; toss to coat.

Turkey Spaghetti (fail)

Last night's dinner was from a Knack book I own. The recipe uses ground turkey cooked with onion, garlic, and diced tomatoes. Everything is mixed with the spaghetti, and topped with shredded Romano cheese.

It was so spicy, I couldn't taste anything. Apparently, I grabbed the diced tomato can that includes green peppers. I've learned my lesson, and will make sure to check for the rest of my life.

You will probably never see me make too much Mexican food, because of my low spice tolerance; however, I am interested in experimenting with non-spicy Mexican food some time in the future.

I also have trouble with the spaghetti, as a personal issue. I've never been fond of the struggle and mess during eating, so I expect next time I make the dish I will use a different pasta.

I plan on redoing this dish next week. I'm still hopeful.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Red Pesto Kabobs, take two

My second attempt at these kabobs went a little bit better. They also looked more delicious.

I made a small adjustment to the pesto, which will be updated soon in the recipe post. I used 1/3 cup of olive oil, rather than the 1/4th cup used before. To counteract the added taste of the olive oil, I added another tablespoon of sun dried tomatoes. It made it a bit creamier, and I was pleased to see it stuck to the food a bit better.

On the kabobs, we had a bell pepper taste test. We used red, orange, and yellow peppers, along with pre-sliced button mushrooms, and shrimp, of course. I'm not a fan of bell peppers, but I'm occasionally willing to try food I don't like in different ways. Jeff and I agreed that the red peppers tasted the best, so we may have a keeper for the final recipe. I prepared the mushrooms in two different ways; since the slices were so large, I kept some whole, and others I split in half. I found that the smaller pieces were better cooked than the others. I'm still not completely happy with the taste of the mushrooms, so I may continue to experiment with different smaller types.

I want to continue to experiment with onions and pineapple, and anything else I might think of.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Red Pesto Kabobs, take one

I made a fancier version of the shrimp kabobs for Jeff last night, because somehow, logic told me I couldn't be spoiled and have a whole kabob of just shrimp. I went out and bought some baby bella mushrooms, an onion, and some cherry tomatoes.

The only difficult part I found was figuring out how to cut the onion for a kabob; all I had ever done was chopped them completely. I ended up cutting the ends up, cutting it in half, then half again. It worked for large enough pieces.

Thankfully, there were no large booms when starting up the grill. I think I'm getting the hang of it. I brushed the kabobs with olive oil, and chose to flip them once every two minutes, a total of two times. I managed to burn my thumb a bit without contacting anything hot besides the air, I'll be sure to move a little faster next time.

I had a little trouble trying to make the pesto stay on the kabobs. I wonder if adding a little more olive oil to the pesto would fix this. We'll try next time.

The shrimp turned out perfectly, but I found the other items didn't match the rich flavor the shrimp had. Everything but the tomatoes and shrimp weren't cooked long enough. The mushrooms were alright, but I think smaller or a different type of mushroom would be better to use for next time. The onions were undercooked, but if they were cooked correctly, I have a feeling they would be a good match. I'm not sure if I can cut them into smaller pieces to make them cook better; they may have to be removed from the final recipe.

I want to experiment with some other items, and I'm going to do some research. Pineapple, normally a friend to shrimp on kabobs, may be too sweet. One way to find out.

Jeff and I think that the final kabob may end up being just a few tomatoes and mostly shrimp. If this is what it turns into, I'd still be happy.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Sun Dried Tomato Pesto

A note about the cheese in this recipe: We left our parmesan cheese at Jeff's parent's house, accidentally, and we have this block of cheese in the refrigerator. I like to call it "mystery cheese". We only used it a month ago, so I know it's alright. I'm pretty sure it's asagio. Anyways, you can use whatever cheese you like.

(Makes about 1/3 cup)

2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup cheese, shredded
1/4 cup basil
2 tbsp pine nuts (or walnuts)
1/3 cup sun dried tomato
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp lemon juice

Blend garlic, cheese, basil, pine nuts, and tomatoes in a blender or food processor.
After well mixed, slowly add the olive oil and lemon juice.

Red Pesto Shrimp, take one

Last night, I did something that is contradictory to the point of this blog. I cooked for myself. And it was delicious. And lonely.

Jeff was having dinner with his family again, and I didn't go. After doing all that research for pesto, I was curious to try sun dried tomato pesto. We had some sun dried tomatoes in the refrigerator, so I considered making some. When I'm not eating with Jeff, I either eat horribly, or treat myself in some way. Usually its the first one. Last night, it was the latter.

I did some quick research before my shift ended at work, about what ingredients were usually in red pesto. Turns out, it's usually the same stuff in regular pesto, plus one. So, I hurry home, take puppy out, bring her back in, and start blending.

I decided to not use a recipe, which usually ends horribly, especially for things I've never made before. I was smart enough to record the amount of everything I used, and it just so happened that I did amazingly well. It looked good, and the texture was alright, if not a little chunky. The different layers of flavors that occurred even from a small taste is what amazed me. The olive oil, the basil, then the tomato and lemon.

After the pesto was made, I set about preparing shrimp to eat it with. I decided to grill a kabob of shrimp, which was a brave move on two fronts; one, the fact I was using a grill without Jeff around, and two, the fact I havent cooked anything besides burgers on a grill.

I had turned the grill on once before, but only under supervision (I insisted). This time, I was able to turn it on successfully with the first try, but then I turned the knobs the wrong way and the flame died off. I opened it to let the extra gas out, closed it, pondered a moment about what I turned wrong, lit it...and BOOM. Oh ****. I stood there, frozen, while the dog and I just stared at the grill. That could have been much worse. My moment of pondering had been too long.

After shelling and deveining the shrimp, I stuffed them on the skewer and coated the shrimp with a layer of olive oil. I kept the basting brush and olive oil outside with me, so I could continue coating occasionally on the grill. Once I achieved what I guessed might be a good temperature in the grill, I put my one skewer in. I've cooked shrimp enough on a skillet to confidently know when it is done by sight, but I wasn't entirely sure how long it would take out here. It ended up being three minutes, flipping once each minute, coating again each time I flipped. I wonder now if I only need to coat it once, as the end result was a little oily (on top of the pesto having oil in it too). Does anyone have any suggestions regarding this?

They tasted AMAZING. This has to be the luckiest I've ever gotten with cooking without a recipe, on the first try. Of course, I made too much pesto (what else is new), but I'm planning on trying the recipe with a few more kabob items tonight with Jeff, so it will be used.

Too bad Jeff's brother doesn't eat anything that swims, otherwise this would be a great recipe to make them.

Monday, August 2, 2010

About Pesto: Basil, Garlic, and Pine Nuts

Since I'd spent a fair amount of time last week making pesto, I figured I would take the time to research more about it.

Pesto, as we know it, originated around Liguria, Italy. Before the time of blenders, they ground pesto with a mortar and pestle. The word pestle is where pesto found it's name from, meaning to pound or crush. Traditional pesto uses various amounts of basil, pine nuts, cheese, garlic, and olive oil.

While pesto has been a staple in Italy and France for hundreds of years, pesto only became popular in the United States in the 80's. Since then, many variations of the recipe have come to be, replacing basil with other greens such as spinach, parsley, mint; and some not so greens, such as olives, tomatoes and peppers. The pine nuts can be easily replaced with a less expensive nut, such as walnuts.

Pesto can be used as a topping on pretty much anything, such as bread, pasta, meats, or even in soup. And, in case you don't want to spend the time to make your own, most grocery stores sell it in a jar.

Let's discuss some of the ingredients most commonly used in pesto.

The key ingredient to most pesto sauces is basil.

Although basil is a staple in Italian diets, it actually originated in India. There are many different varieties of basil available to plant, the most common being sweet basil (what I plant). Other varieties include Thai basil (which I was given, along with another one I can't name), lemon basil, and holy basil. The variety of flavors in the different plants are also extensive, including lemon, cinnamon, mint, and licorice. The size of the plant depends on the type; sweet basil can grow up to 3 feet.

Basil thrives in full sunlight, but will die quickly once the first frost of the year hits. To keep the leaves flavorful, any flowers that begin to develop must be clipped. When cooking with basil, it is best to leave it until the end of the recipe, as overcooking makes the leaves bitter.

If growing basil isn't an option, it's commonly available in the produce section.

Garlic, unlike basil, comes in one standard variety with lots of different forms. In the produce department, it normally rests by other members of the onion family in bulb form. Garlic cloves are the individual pieces of the garlic once unwrapped from the bulb. (I wish someone had told me that when I started cooking, I thought that a clove was a bulb.)

Besides being available in bulb form, you can also purchase it pre-chopped in jars, pickled, dried, and frozen. The downsides to these alternate formats is the loss in flavor. I've never been able to taste garlic in dishes, but I still feel it's necessary to use the fresh bulbs in meals I make.

A side note about garlic: Don't eat it raw. Jeff tried once, and regretted it.

The most expensive ingredient, pine nuts, come from pine cones, which come from pine trees. Don't go looking around in your back yard for them, however, as they come from specific types of pine trees in the genus pinus. Pine nuts are harvested by hand all over the world, including the U.S., Europe, and Asia. They're commonly used in Italian cooking, as well as in desserts and salads, and can be eaten raw or toasted.

Take caution if you eat pine nuts regularly, as a condition called "pine mouth" can happen. No one is sure why pine mouth occurs, but theories include the nuts coming from certain trees in China. The main symptom is having a bad, metallic taste in your mouth, and it can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

Although cheese and olive oil are important ingredients too, they're worth saving for separate posts in the future.


Lemon Pesto Chicken with Sauteed Mushrooms

Last night went really well. I think that it was the first time I've ever cooked for 9 people at once. A lot of the times had to be adjusted; with 9 chicken breasts and a total of about 25 ounces of mushrooms being cooked at the same time, I was thankful the oven was there to keep the food that had been cooked warm.

The only thing that went astray during the two hours spent prepping/cooking food was the pesto. Jeff figured out, with our blender, the best way to successfully blend things is to have the blender on and then drop items in. At Jeff's parent's house, we were using an unfamiliar blender, and so he struggled with it a bit (basil flew everywhere). Because we doubled the recipe (mistake, too much pesto left over), the blender was left on while he put the ingredients in. He ended up making what I call "pesto smoothie": all the goodness of pesto flavor, now in a creamy drinkable form. Honestly, I'm amused by the whole thing. It was a good learning experience. The other thing that I messed up on was forgetting to add the lemon juice to the mushrooms. Whoops. (It wasn't missed.)

So, in it's completed form...

(Reused picture, not featuring pesto smoothie.)

Serves 2

Pesto (makes 3/4 cup):
Note: You can use your own Pesto recipe for this if you please, however, this one works well with this dish because of the lemon juice.

3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts
1 1/2 cups basil
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Mix garlic, nuts, basil, and cheese together in blender until blended.
Continue blending, and slowly add the lemon juice and olive oil.


1 chicken breast
2 tbsp flour
1 lemon's zest
pinch salt
pinch pepper
1 tbsp butter
1/4 cup pesto

Pound chicken breast as much as you can, then cut it in half or thirds, depending on how large of portions you want.
Continue pounding until chicken is about a little less than a half inch thick.
Mix the flour, lemon zest, salt, and pepper in a shallow bowl, and coat the chicken pieces thoroughly.
Melt 1 or 2 tablespoons of butter on a non-stick skillet on medium heat.
Cook chicken for 3 minutes on each side.
After plating, top chicken with a layer of pesto (add as much or little as you want).


1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
2 shallot, minced
3 oz shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and halved
4 oz baby bella mushrooms, halved
1 clove garlic, minced
thyme, dried, to taste
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 1/2 tbsp heavy cream
2 oz pasta
2/3 cup cheese, Parmesan, grated
1 teasp lemon juice

Heat oil and butter over medium heat in a skillet until butter is melted.
Add shallots and cook until softened, 2 to 3 minutes.
Increase heat to med-high, stir in the shiitake mushrooms, and cook for 1 minutes.
Stir in the baby bella mushrooms and 1/8 teaspoon salt, and cook until softened, about 6 minutes.
Stir in the garlic and thyme, cook for 1 minute.
Transfer mushrooms to a bowl and cover.
Stir the broth into the skillet and bring to boil.
Stir in the cream, bring to a simmer, and cook until sauce has thickened slightly and reduced, about 4 minutes.
Cook pasta.
Add the cooked mushrooms, sauce, Parmesan, and lemon juice to the pasta and toss to combine.

All these recipes were developed from other recipes, and I feel it's appropriate to list the sources.
Chicken:Knack Quick & Easy Cooking
Mushrooms: Cooking for Two: 2009

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Chicken Pesto, Take 3

Last night, I made the third practice for this dish while Jeff watched (which is ironic, considering he was the one who thought we needed a third try). The main thing we wanted to make sure of was timing aspects, because we've modified the cooking time of the chicken and the mushrooms slightly.

The chicken has turned out consistently wonderful. I absolutely adore how the breading of the chicken turns into the yellow color of the lemon zest after it cooks. The pesto has also been consistently good after finding this new lemon pesto recipe. Unfortunately, I was only able to scrounge up a full cup of pesto this time rather than the 1 1/2 cups for the full recipe (how does Martin's not have basil?), so I adjusted the recipe slightly in size. I also changed the pine nuts to walnuts, and I was pleased to find that I couldn't taste the difference. Once the pine nuts we already bought are gone, we will be using walnuts for future pesto.

I remembered to add the thyme to the mushrooms at the right time, and did some sample tasting to see if it was actually enough. It wasn't, so I added more until I could taste enough to be flavorful. Unfortunately, I really have no exact idea how much I added, so I'll have to guestimate and continue taste testing. The only other problem I've been having with this dish is serving it warm enough. This might be solved if/when we use the oven to keep them at temperature before they're served.

If you're paying enough attention to when this is being posted, you may realize that the final dinner was supposed to be tonight. Unfortunately, Jeff's niece is sick, so they left a little later than expected. The dinner has been postponed until tomorrow night.