Saturday, January 30, 2010

Lemon Ricotta Biscuits, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways....

Where oh where do I begin? Let's start with the texture... One of my favorite things about these "biscuits" is that they are more like a cross between a biscuit and a scone- which I just looove.  The melt-in-your-mouth kind of scone or biscuit, the kind that makes you reach for your coffee, close your eyes and say "mmmm." 

Don't believe me? Well let's talk flavor. The lemon, almond and ricotta are like best friends in this recipe.  The subtle tangy lemon, the sweet but bold almond, and the fluffy creamy ricotta create an impressive balance.  With none too overpowering, the results are pure perfection. 

Nonna's Lemon Ricotta Biscuits: Courtesy of Giada de Laurentiis
2 c. all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling 
1/2 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tbsp. finely grated lemon zest (from 2 lemons)
1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 large egg
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/2 c. thinly sliced almonds

Yield: 12 Biscuits

1. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl to blend. C: Use the paper cups!! I did not, and wish I would have because, although they still tasted great, the outside layer of the biscuit that touched the pan was a bit more cooked than the top of the muffin. (See pictures below)  

2. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat 1 cup sugar, butter , and lemon zest until light and fluffy

Beat in the ricotta. Beat in the egg, lemon juice and almond extract. Add the dry ingredients and stir just until blended (the batter will be think and fluffy).  C: In my opinion, the batter will resemble sticky mashed potatoes. 

3. Divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle the almonds and some sugar over the muffins. C: Pretty please don't forget the sugar on top!

Bake until the muffins just become pale golden on the top, about 20 minutes. Cook lightly serve warm or at room temperature. C:Definitely serve warm!

C:Notice the bottom of the muffin is a little more cooked, it could be that I left them in too long, but I bet using the muffin cups would have helped.

A note on lemon zest: 
The white, inner part of the rind holds the bitter taste, so be careful not to over-grate the lemon.

Over-grated lemon

Nicely-grated lemon :)


Monday, January 18, 2010

DIY: Not-Your-Average Pizza

So let me tell you about me and pizza.  I really can't say that I have a favorite food (it's too hard to pick!), but if I had to narrow it down, pizza would definitely be on the list.  I just can't turn it down - the sauce... the cheese...mmmm!  Now don't ask me New York or Chicago - I love both, but since I don't live in either city, and it isn't exactly a healthy meal, I learned how to make my own, and let me tell you, it definitely satisfies the craving.

You can put just about anything on a pizza, so I'll tell you the basics, my favorite ingredients, and you can go from there!  

1 pre-made pizza crust (thin crust works best, and if making a personal sized pie, pita bread is the way to go)
1 jar of your favorite 'spaghetti' sauce (you can use marinara, it has the most consistent texture, but I prefer sauces with a little added flavor like garlic, herb and fire-roasted tomato) 
1-15 oz can of reduced sodium, fire-roasted tomatoes (I LOVE chunks of tomato, and canned is the definitely the best for pizza)
1 package of Italian (or Mozzarella) shredded cheese
Sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
Roasted red bell pepper, chopped (you can roast a bell pepper ahead of time in the oven or on a comal/cast iron skillet)
Fresh basil, thinly sliced
1-4 oz. can of sliced black olives

First pre-heat the oven to 425 (if the directions on the crust packaging states a different temperature, go with it).  Next, brush the pizza crust lightly with olive oil and place in pre-heated oven for 8-10 minutes until lightly toasted.  Remove crust and layer generously with tomato sauce (1 full sized pizza takes about 1/3 -1/2 a jar of tomato sauce).  Add vegetables and basil:

Cover with shredded cheese. I've found that if you put the vegetables under the cheese it keeps them from over cooking. When they're on top (especially the basil) they tend to cook faster than the time it takes to melt the cheese and heat the pizza throughout.  You can also layer the veggies and cheese for a more cheesy pizza, just make sure the cheese is on top and veggies underneath. 

Remove from oven and enjoy!

My other favorite, Pesto Chicken, follows the same directions but with the following ingredients:
1 pre-made pizza crust (or pita for personal pies)
1 small jar of pesto (or make your own!)
2-3 cooked chicken breasts, sliced (use light seasoning, you don't want the flavors to compete with the pesto)
1-4oz. can of sliced black olives
1/2 cup of chopped jarred artichokes 
1 small container of goat cheese crumbles
1 package of Italian (or Mozzarella) shredded cheese

Spread pesto on lightly toasted crust.  Add sliced chicken, olives, artichokes and top with shredded and crumbled goat cheese.  Again, you can layer alternating ingredients for a more cheesy taste, just make sure a layer of cheese is on top.

Aside from being one of my favorite things to make (and one of my most requested recipes), this elegant twist on pizza makes for an amazing dinner date.  The whole experience is fun, affordable and something you and your significant other can easily do together.  My husband Matt and I made these for Valentine's day one year, and it was so fun!  Just top it off with a glass of pinot noir, and that's what I call the perfect evening. 

Give it a try, I promise you'll love 'em. 


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Versatility of Omeletes

I have to admit, I'm pretty partial to pancakes (apple... banana... chocolate chip... mmmm), but every now and then, when I'm in the mood for something different, I'll go for an omelette.  They're easy, full of protein and the possibilities are endless when it comes to ingredients. 
Sunday morning I went through my fridge and was able to round up the following:
  • Sun-dried tomatoes
  • goat cheese 
  • fresh basil
  • red bell pepper
  • 2 eggs
First heat up a drizzle of olive oil in a small non-stick pan.  Then whisk eggs in a small bowl with a tlb or so of milk and set aside.  Once the oil is heated, add all ingredients EXCEPT for the cheese.  (Side Note: I had always mixed the ingredients in with the egg and poured it all in at once, but on my honeymoon, I watched a resort cook make them, and she would always sauteed the ingredients first, it made such a difference! Since eggs cook so quickly, sometimes the ingredients will stay cold, so sauteing before adding the egg is a must).  
After about 3 minutes, give the eggs another quick whisk to reintroduce air bubbles, this makes the omelette nice and fluffy.  (I completely forgot this part during this go-round).  Add the egg to the veggies, sprinkle on the cheese and let cook for about 30 seconds... 

or until the top no longer has that glossy look. Now I had always tried flipping to help cook the egg on top, but then I always end up with more of a scramble then an omelette... I did a little research, and learned that if you cover the pan while the egg is cooking, the steam will help cook the top.  Now, according to Wikipedia, it's normal for the top to be a little raw, but that's just not my style so I think I'll try covering it next time.  Once it's cooked, you fold it in half and serve. 
Overall, the omelette tasted AMAZING. Every flavor was so noticeable, and the goat cheese was an awesome alternative to your regular old shredded cheese.  But like I said, the great thing about omelets is that they're so versatile, so get creative!  Put your thinking cap on! This dish is almost impossible to mess up, and chances are, you've already got a handful of ingredients that would go great together. I will definitely make this again for breakfast OR dinner, and hope you'll give it a try, too!

P.S. Try it with a grapefruit mimosa - You'll never go back to the traditional version, trust me. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

"Healthy" Stromboli?

...Well, not quite.  Let me back up...  Making "healthy" decisions has always been important to me, but last year I set out to make better decisions and get in better shape.  I  became much more aware of what I was eating, and after many hours at the gym, I trimmed off 23 pounds (totally thought that was impossible when I started!).  Ever since then, I've been making an effort to keep it off (although I could probably be doing a better job) by watching what I eat and trying to make healthier meals.

In the midst of all of this, I picked up the Better Homes and Gardens "Dieter's Cookbook," and tonight was the first time I actually used it.  I'm a pizza lover, I mean serious pizza looooover, so of course "Quick Stromboli" seemed perfect for me.   

Better Homes & Garden's "Quick Stromboli"
1 16-ounce loaf frozen wheat or white bread dough, thawed
8 ounces lean ham, thinly sliced
1/4 cup pitted ripe olives, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup pimiento-stuffed green olives, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tbsp reduced-fat milk
1 tbsp shredded parmesan cheese (optional)

1. Line a 15x10x1-inch baking pan with foil; grease foil. Set aside. On a lightly floured surface, roll bread dough to a 15x8 inch rectangle. (If dough is difficult to roll out, cover and let rest a few minutes.)  Top dough rectangle with ham within 1/2 inch of the edges.

Top ham with olives, mozzarella, and crushed red pepper flakes. Brush edges with water

*The cheese was left out of the pic...

2. Starting with a long end, roll into a spiral, pinching edges to seal.  Pinch ends and tuck under.  Place, seam side down, on prepared baking pan.  Brush surface with milk. Using a sharp knife, make shallow cuts diagonally a 2-inch intervals along the top to allow steam to escape.  If deisred, sprinkle with Parmesan.

3. Bake in a 375 oven for 25-30 minutes or until brown.  (If necessary, cover loosely with foil after 20 minutes of baking to prevent overbrowning.)

Overall it turned out pretty good, but here's a couple of things I noted:

1. Don't forget to make the cuts in the dough. I forgot to do this and after 30 minutes the inside was still uncooked.  I then cut it into slices, covered it in foil and baked it for another 15 minutes, that did the trick.

2. Brush the stromboli with whisked egg whites to give it a golden coat.

3. If you grew up eating Pillsbury biscuits like I did, think twice about using Pillsbury pizza dough.  It worked fine, but to me, it tasted just a little too much like biscuits. If anyone knows a good pizza dough brand, let me know.

4. Serve with marinara - duh!

5. And finally - The recipe which was only 206 calories per serving said it made 16 slices at 2 slices per serving.  I only got about 8, 1-inch slices out of mine (which seems to be about the same size of the picture in the book), and still ate two and a half, so yeah, you do the math. Doesn't seem so healthy after all.... 


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

DIY: Croutons

Let's talk Croutons.  Last night I decided to make my own, and I have to say, they turned out great! We're talkin' I-vow-to-never-buy-again good. Here's an original from your's truly!

Homemade Croutons
1 small baguette - I used a frozen loaf. I wouldn't recommend using fresh bread (aka the kind you eat half of on the drive home), it's just too soft. Semi-stale bread or bread that's a few days old works well. 
Olive Oil
1 tbsp dried Italian spices (or whatever spices you want)
Butter - I prefer butter made from yogurt, it's lighter and not as caloric as regular butter
1/4 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Pepper

Preheat the oven to 400.  Cut baguette into small crouton sized pieces. Place pieces in a medium sized bowl, drizzle with olive oil and toss until coated.  Add very small pieces of butter (the reason I don't add this before cutting is because that can get messy), then add spices, salt and pepper. Place pieces on an oven-safe pan covered in foil and bake for 12-15 minutes or until desired crispiness.

My Pick:

A few of the leftovers post bake:

The perfect addition to a turkey chef salad:

And just for laughs... Matt likes to point out that I often leave the oven on....


Monday, January 4, 2010

Steak + Rosemary Roasted New Potatoes = Delicious

Last night I went to my parent's house for a little "goodbye" dinner for my brother who is headed back to school after a nice little holiday break (oh how I miss those!).  On the menu was New York strip, broccoli, and green beans, so of course I offered to bring my favorite steak side: Rosemary Roasted New Potatoes.  If you haven't made them before, do it! They're super simple, very tasty, and absolutely perfect with steak.    

Here's my favorite recipe courtesy of Luby's: 
5 lbs small red potatoes, halved 
1 cup olive oil 
2 tbsp chopped fresh garlic
2 tbsp of chopped fresh rosemary
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350. Put potato halves in a large mixing bowl and add olive oil, garlic and rosemary.  Toss ingredients together well. Place seasoned potatoes on a foil-lined large baking pan and place in oven. Roast about 45 minutes until the potatoes are slightly browned and tender. Remove pan from oven and place potatoes on a serving platter. Season with salt and pepper.  Stir roasting potatoes a few times during cooking to achieve even browning. 

1. Be sure to rinse the potatoes! Sometimes they have bits of dirt...

2. After rinsing the potatoes, be sure to dry them well, it'll help the olive oil stick.

3. I like to quarter the larger potatoes otherwise the potato to skin ratio just doesn't seem right! Especially with the larger potatoes... 

4. Use extra virgin olive oil, it has a lighter taste.

5. In my opinion, chopped Rosemary tastes just as good as fresh! However, when buying dried herbs, remember that they only keep their flavor for 6 months to a year, so buy small. 

6. Use less salt then specified. You can always add more, but if you overdo it, you're just stuck with salty potatoes. Also, be sure the salt is relatively fine. The first time I made these, I used "coarse" sea salt and the crystals were too big.

7. Bake them about 5-10 minutes longer than specified. After 45 minutes they still seemed just a tad bit too light.  This could just be my oven since it runs about 5 degrees cooler than what it's set to.

Lastly, I like my potatoes kind of crispy, so I think next time I'll bump up the temperature to 375 or 400 to see if that helps. (If you have any tips for crispier potatoes, please let me know!)  Either way this side is a definite crowd pleaser!

Before baking, note the light color:


And just to make your mouth water, here's what it looked like when it all came together! Delicious!


Sunday, January 3, 2010


Hi, I'm Claudia - new wife, food lover, and wannabe wine connoisseur.I have the best sous-chef I could ever ask for, a 3 year old yorkie pup named Wrigley. 

I created this blog for two simple reasons: 
1. I love food (who doesn't?) 
2. To share my lessons-learned in the kitchen with the world 

I'm no professional chef, but I do have a passion for cooking, and LOVE teaching myself how to do things in the kitchen.  But before I go to work on a new recipe, I like to do a bit of research and read what other people have to say about their go at it. Did it need a bit more of this or that? Another 10 minutes make a difference? It's these tips and tricks that are usually gained only by experience, but often make a world of difference!

I've also come to realize that no matter how much research I do on a particular dish, I always learn something new in the process. This is where I will share those learnings with you! Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and remember that each recipe is an opportunity to create a unique experience for yourself and those you love!