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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Family Friendly Cheese Board




So, maybe you're looking at the title of this post and thinking how stuffy a cheese board sounds. And I agree with that sentiment. There's just something that feels very pretentious about the term. We should really call it something else, am I right?

But it doesn't have to be stuffy, in fact I think it makes a great casual supper. Everyone just snacks on this and that it until tummies are full. It can be a delightful way to sample new cheeses and pair them with fun combinations. It can also serve as a fun, no-pressure way to get "picky" eaters to try something new.

You know that scene from Ratatouille where Remy is talking to his brother about the endless possibilities of flavor combinations? It's like that.

Here's how I do it:


The first trick to a family-friendly spread is to pick cheeses that your little ones can have. Be sure they are made of pasteurized milk. If your kids are new to sampling cheeses, keep it simple. Pick one soft or semi-soft cheese, and one firm, aged cheese. We chose semi-soft Port Salut and aged Black Pepper Toscano. Neither of them were too pungent.


Depending on where you come down on feeding your kiddos cured meats, salame might not be your first choice. I'm still not sure where I come down on the issue, so we didn't give any to our son. Pepperoni might be a fun option for the younger set -- just grab a pre-sliced bag and stash what you don't use in the fridge for pizza night. Want to go meatless? Sub in some briny olives for some tender, salty, savory flavor. Plus, kids can slip them onto their fingers, which always made a meal more fun when I was a kid.



Cheese boards are generally paired with wines, but even the adults in our family do not drink alcohol, so we subbed in a couple of bottles of crisp, sparkling water. This means that the whole family can join in the fun! If your kids don't like sparkling water on its own, try a sparkling fruit juice drink, like Izze. Or give DRY sodas a try -- they're meant to pair with food, like wines, but without the alcohol element. (Both of these are available in my local Kroger-owned grocery store in the natural foods section. Also, I'm not being compensated in any way for mentioning them here. I just like them.)


Gotta have some fruit -- extra nutrients, a juicy complement to crackers and cheese. Berries or grapes work well. Melon is another great option.


Something crunchy is a must as well. I have a gigantic crush on these Marcona Almonds with Rosemary from Trader Joes. I cannot get enough!

I like to make sure most of the different textures of food are represented: smooth, creamy, crunchy, crispy, juicy, bubbly. And a nice range of tastes as well: salty, savory, sweet, tart. Finish with a little something sweet, like dark chocolate covered cherries or sea salt caramels.


Use whatever you like best. Pick out something you've always wanted to try! Invite some friends over or pack it up and take it on your next picnic -- indoor or out!

Monday, February 25, 2013

No-Knead Crusty Bread


"If this works, I will flip out!" I tell my husband as I set the loosely-covered bowl on the countertop before heading to bed for the night.

I don't believe that it will.
Seriously.

But we're giving it a try anyhow, because, well, what have we to lose? A couple cups of flour, some salt, yeast, and water and a night's sleep of time to proof? I can deal with that.

The next morning, I surveyed the damage. A slight bulge to the plastic wrap covering the bowl, bubbles on the surface, and a doubling rise -- the yeast has been hard at work despite the cold water dumped dubiously in the night before.

All that now remains is to bake it.
With flour-encrusted hands, I plop the dough into a hot pan and lid it. In 20 minutes, a heavenly aroma perfumes the air, and my thoughts are dancing with dreams of crusty, bakery-style bread. And in 30 minutes, I got to peek at my loaf as I removed the lid, but still had to wait another agonizing 10 minutes. After 40 minutes, the moment of truth had arrived.

There in my French oven lay a perfectly-crusted, bakery beautiful, rustic loaf of bread!


And, true to my word, I flipped out.

It went against every breadmaking instinct I have. No kneading, no proofing yeast, no warm water to activate things, no long second rise. And, best of all, hardly any work on my part.

No, best of all, it was amazing!
The crisp-but-not-too-thick crust, the perfect texture and flavor.
I'm actually still a little speechless about it, to tell the truth.

This recipe is everywhere by now -- I'm late to the game, but I know I'm not the only one. I found this recipe via Simply So Good. Head over there for more beautiful pictures, ideas about how to change it up, and a TON of good information on this method, including a very helpful FAQ section.

Here's my take, to add to the many voices already singing a chorus of praises for this simple method:


No-Knead Crusty Bread

Ingredients:
3 c. flour (I've only tried unbleached all-purpose, because that's what I always have around)
1 3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. yeast
1 1/2 c. cool water
a sprinkling of cornmeal

Directions:
In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, salt, yeast, and water. I use a spatula, but a wooden spoon would probably suffice. One thoroughly combined, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and set aside in a draft-free spot for 12 - 24 hours. Don't refrigerate.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 450º. Place a heavy metal pot with a tightly-fitting lid -- I use my LeCreuset 5.5 qt. French Oven, but an unenameled Dutch oven or other heavy, lidded pot will also work) in the oven as it heats, and set a timer for 20 minutes. While you wait for the oven and pot to heat, punch down the dough and shape into a shaggy round, using plenty of flour for your hands and the counter, as the dough will be very wet and sticky. Alternately, generously flour a banneton and scoop your dough into it to shape without any thought whatsoever.
After 20 minutes have passed, pull the pot out of the oven, and grab some cornmeal. Dust the bottom of the pot with cornmeal, and carefully (so you don't burn yourself on the HOT pot) place your dough in on top of the cornmeal.
Replace the lid, and put it all back in the oven for 30 minutes. Don't peek.
After 30 minutes, unveil your masterpiece. Let bake, uncovered for another 10 minutes. Carefully remove from oven and transfer loaf to a wire rack to cool. (Use oven mitts, my children!) Slice as desired, or just rip off hunks as you whip together another batch of dough so you can make the magic happen again tomorrow!

Giveaway!

**Giveaway Closed**

I've waffled on and off about adding ad space to this site, but late last week I finally took the plunge. It meant a bit of a redesign for the layout, and I am just thrilled with how it turned out! What do you think?

I'm so excited about it, in fact, that I'm hosting my first ever giveaway! I'm hoping I can entice some of you lurkers to come out of hiding and say hello.

So.

I picked a few of my favorite things to give you! Here's what's on the table.

One lucky winner will win:
- a 12 count case of KIND snack bars in the flavor of your choice
I'm obsessed with KIND bars -- they are such a satisfying snack. I always have one in my bag to curb the munchies while out and about. And now you will, too!

- a Victorinox 4" paring knife
On the excellent recommendation of Cook's Illustrated magazine, I recently got a Victorinox chef's knife, which I'm loving, along with a 4" paring knife. Both are workhorses in my kitchen! And very sharp. You can never have too many good paring knives.

and
- 60 days large ad space here on PKK or a $10 Trader Joe's gift card
In honor of the new layout and this brave new world of monetizing my blog, those of you who would like to promote your website can win 60 days of free space. If you don't have a website to promote, there's a TJ's gift card in it for you!

Want to win?
You can earn up to 5 entries. Each entry needs to be notified in the form of a comment here on this post -- a separate comment for each entry.
1. Leave a comment. You can say whatever you want -- I just want to hear from you!
2. Subscribe to my RSS feed or Follow using Google Friend Connect (link in left sidebar)
3. "Like" pretty kitten's kitchen on Facebook
4. Follow me on Twitter
5. Follow me on Pinterest

Winner will be chosen at random and announced on Friday, March 8th, 2013.  **Giveaway Closed**
Good luck!

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any of the brands listed here. I'm simply giving away things I enjoy as a consumer and hope you will enjoy them, too!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Homemade Spaghetti O's



Hello my little childrens. It's early on a Monday morning as I write this, and my husband has the day off, and we're going to the aquarium today, and I just have this general good feeling about life.

Plus, there's this awesome recipe to share with you!

I babysat for a certain family for 5 full years as a teenager. They had two darling girls whom I adore still, and a chihuahua, whom I didn't so much adore as tolerate. But I digress. I loved babysitting those girls -- I did it every Saturday night through my Senior year of high school when they were both much too grown up for babysitters, but nobody wanted to admit it.

They always seemed to have Spaghetti O's with meatballs in the cupboard. I had never had them until I warmed them up for the girls' dinner one night, but once I tasted them, I was hooked. It bordered on obsession, actually. I couldn't tell you why, but I honestly couldn't get enough of the mushy pasta, the tangy sauce, the overly-processed meatballs. I'm sure if I had them today I wouldn't see the appeal, but we did have a moment way back when.

I also had a moment with The Swan Princess, so, you know...

Anyway...

When I was greedily flipping through the America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook a few Christmases ago, when I received it as a gift, I was drawn to the homemade version of this canned delight, for obvious reasons. And it really does stack up! It's different, true, but it has the essence of the original. Plus, no mushy pasta here, and everything is so much fresher-tasting! My toddler gulped it down. Gulped.
And, a little guiltily, so did I!

Now, who wants to watch The Swan Princess with me?

Anybody?

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Homemade Spaghetti O's with Meatballs
from The America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook

Ingredients:
6 oz. ground chicken or ground turkey (not ground breast meat -- there should be some fat)
3 Tbsp. plain breadrumbs -- I used panko
3 Tbsp. prepared pesto
salt & pepper

oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 small rib celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 c. chicken broth
1, 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 c. ditalini or alphabet pasta

Directions:
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine ground chicken/turkey, breadcrumbs, and pesto, along with a dash each of salt and pepper. Divide into 3/4" balls (should be about 28 or so), and set aside.
In a large pot, heat about 1 Tbsp. of oil over medium heat. Add onion, caarrot, and celery, along with a pinch each of salt and pepper. Saute until onion is softened and translucent -- about 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute 30 seconds or so more.
Stir in the chicken broth and diced tomatoes, scraping up any bit from the bottom of the pan as you do. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and continue to simmer until carrot is fork tender. Blend this mixture CAREFULLY. I use my immersion blender, but it did splatter quite a lot. Puree until smooth and return to pot (if you used a regular blender or food processor), and bring back up to a simmer over medium heat.
Gently stir in reserved meatballs and pasta. Continue to simmer until pasta is tender and meatballs are cooked through -- about 12-15 minutes.
Taste and adjust seasoning to taste. Serve warm.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Heavenly Meyer Lemon Pudding


Merciful heavens.
Is it really Valentine's Day tomorrow?

I can't say it really snuck up on me, but it came up fast in any case.
I think I've been too busy falling completely and utterly in love with Meyer lemons. On a whim, I grabbed a bag from the store to find out what all the fuss was about. I mixed them into some blueberry pancakes and I was floored by the subtly floral citrus flavor they imparted.
I had to have more.

My mind began to race from lemony application to lemony application. Lemon curd, lemon cake, lemon meringue pie... But something in me called out for simple, creamy, dreamy pudding.

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And, of course lemons go well with berries, but the floral notes in Meyer lemons in combination with the sweet, fruity berries... Wait, can you hear that? It's the Hallelujah Chorus, my friends.

What more could there be to love? Well, it's quick and simple. The hardest part will definitely be waiting for it to set and chill. It makes a fantastic treat to top off a special meal without weighing you down -- it's lusciously light and refreshing. And it tastes special without requiring all kinds of intense legwork. Winner winner, Valentine's dinner.

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Meyer Lemon Pudding
Adapted ever so slightly from Crumbs and Chaos

Ingredients:
3/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. corn starch
2 1/2 c. milk (the original recipe calls for whole milk, I used 2% and it worked out fine. I imagine skim might work as well.)
4 large egg yolks, beaten
2 Tbsp. finely grated Meyer lemon zest (about 2 lemons worth of zest)
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 c. freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice (about 4 lemons worth of juice)
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into cubes

berries (my favorites are raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries, but blueberries would be lovely, too)
sweetened, whipped cream

Directions:
In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and cornstarch. Whisk in milk, egg yolks, zest, and salt. Over medium heat, cook until thick, stirring frequently at first, then constantly as the mixture thickens. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice, vanilla, and butter. Divide mixture among serving dishes, cover with plastic wrap, and chill thoroughly -- at least 3 hours or up to two days. Serve cold with berries and whipped cream.

Top with a scoop of berries and a generous mound of whipped cream.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Italian Shepherd's Pie

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There's this recipe I loved from the first time I made it. It's from a Rachael Ray cookbook given to us for our wedding. It's called "Italian Chicken Pot Pie from the Boot". It layered prepared polenta over top of a creamy chicken mixture. And it's a lovely recipe, but the more I made it, the more I wished it was something else. The polenta didn't do it for me as a stand-in for biscuit topping. It kept reminding me of mashed potato. Which means it's still yummy, and I do recommend the recipe, but to me, mashed potatoes layered on top of something equals Shepherd's Pie.

I love a good Shepherd's Pie -- or more accurately, a Cottage Pie, since I prefer beef to lamb. But tomato, tomahto. I have a great recipe for it, which I hope to share with you someday. Someday soon.
So anyway...
When I went home for the holidays I had this Italian Meatball soup at a friend's house and I liked it a lot, so I got a copy of the recipe. And the more I thought about it, the more I knew that I was going to turn it into Italian Shepherd's Pie and top it with creamy polenta. I could not rest until it was a thing.

So that's what I did. And it's wonderful! A lovely tomato-y beefy sauce, wrapped around veggies -- carrots, mushrooms, onions, green beans, savory meatballs (I used frozen, but you could make your own), smooth and creamy and filling polenta.
Yes. Please.

This is just what the doctor ordered for a chilly evening. Promise.

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Italian Shepherd's Pie

Ingredients:
1-2 Tbsp. oil
1 c. diced onion
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can green beans, drained
1/2 c. sliced mushrooms
3 c. beef broth or stock
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. basil
salt & pepper to taste
bay leaf
1, 20 oz. pkg. prepared mini meatballs
cornstarch slurry (3 Tbsp. cornstarch + 3 Tbsp. cold water, whisked smooth)
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

1 c. polenta meal
3 c. water
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 c. Parmesan cheese

Directions:
Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion, carrots, and celery, along with a pinch of salt and a shake of pepper. Saute until onions are translucent. Add mushrooms and saute a minute or two more. Scoot everything away from the middle of the pan, and add tomato paste to the cleared area. Stir it around to heat it up for a minute, then stir it into the vegetables to coat evenly.  Pour in diced tomatoes, green beans, and beef stock. Add oregano, basil and bay leaf, along with the prepared meatballs. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or so, until carrots and celery are tender. Pour in cornstarch slurry and stir occasionally while the mixture thickens. If it doesn't thicken to your liking, feel free to add in more slurry (just use equal parts cornstarch and cold water). Stir in balsamic vinegar and lemon juice. Taste and adjust salt and pepper to taste.
 While the meatball mixture is simmering away, start on your polenta: Bring water to a boil over high heat. Add salt. Whisk in polenta meal a little at a time. Simmer, stirring frequently, until very thick, about 30 minutes. Stir in butter and polenta.
When both mixtures are ready, grease a 9x13" pan and pour in meatball mixture. Top with polenta. Serve immediately if you like your polenta softer. Let stand 10 minutes or so if you like it firmer.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Roasted Cherry Dark Chocolate Truffle Brownies with a Kick



Mom, if you're reading this, I know you are balking -- balking, I say! -- at the idea of me making and eating and LOVING spicy brownies. And to that I say, "Balk all you want, lady. You wish you were in on this action". And also, "Hi, Mommy!"

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To this day, I can be found giving spicy dishes a wide berth. My tummy doesn't like them. Or they don't like my tummy -- I'm not really sure which. But someone isn't playing well with others in there, is all I'm saying. My poor mom frequently bemoaned the "bland" food she was forced to prepare for my father and me. I felt for her, but I felt for my tummy more. Can't blame me, can you?

So why the spicy brownies?

I do not know.
I don't.

They just sounded good. And let me tell you, they are. There's sweetness from the cherries, richness from the brownie, and a hint of spice that hits you in the back of the throat after the first couple bites. I used just a pinch of cayenne, but if you're a heat seeker, feel free to add more. I might even add a bit more next time I make them. Maybe I'm not such a wimp after all.

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Nevermind.
Someone pass me that glass of milk. Or some vanilla ice cream.
Please.

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Roasted Cherry Dark Chocolate Truffle Brownies with a Kick
Adapted from Simply Scratch and The Pastry Affair

Ingredients:
2 c. cherries (pitted and halved) -- a little less than 1 lb.
8 oz. extra dark chocolate, broken into pieces
1/2 c. butter (1 stick), cut into pieces
1 c. granulated sugar
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/4 c. flour
1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more for dusting if desired {I use Penzy's natural high fat cocoa}
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper, or more to taste
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
4 large eggs, at room temp
1/4 tsp. vanilla


Directions:
Heat oven to 450º. Place cherries in a roasting pan (I used a pie plate) in a single layer and roast in oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool. Reduce oven to 350º.
Meanwhile, place butter and chocolate in a microwaveable bowl and microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring between each interval, until melted and smooth. Stir in sugars and set aside.
Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, cayenne, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
Once chocolate mixture is barely warm, mix in eggs, one at a time, then vanilla. Fold in dry ingredients a little at a time until just incorporated.
Fold in cooled cherries, and spread into 8x8", 9x9", or 9x13" pan, which has been lined with parchment. Bake at 350º for 35-40 minutes for an 8x8" pan. A 9x13" pan will need less time -- more like 20-25 minutes.
Brownies are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with some moist crumbs. (If you're crazy and like your brownies less fudgey, you can keep baking until a toothpick tested in the center comes out cleanly.)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

{Unbelievably Incredible} Savory Cornmeal Waffles

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Can I tell you about these waffles?
I mean, I know that's why you're here, but can I just tell you about these waffles?
They. Are. Amazing.
Amazing, I tell you!

I don't know how to begin to tell you how satisfying they are to me. They fill up something in my soul as they fill up my tummy.

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One of my favorite things about this meal is its versatility. I could eat this any time of day: Breakfast, yes; Brunch, for sure; Lunch, don't mind if I do; Dinner, double yes. Midnight snack? Probably! (Especially if you stashed some away in the freezer for just such an occasion.)

You can dress it up any way you like, but the essentials are the waffle (duh), an egg on top (poached, fried, scrambled, what-have-you), and good salsa (I use Yellow Chile & Tomatillo Salsa from Trader Joes -- my favorite!). After that, it's up to you. Sour cream, cheese, avocado -- all good ideas.

But the best idea is these waffles.

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Savory Cornmeal Waffles
From Joy the Baker

Ingredients:
1 1/4 c. flour
1/4 c. cornmeal
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. coarse ground black pepper
1/3 c. unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs
1 1/4 c. buttermilk
3 Tbsp. chopped scallions (chives are lovely, too!)
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley (when my fresh parsley is out of commission for the winter, I use 1 Tbsp. dried)
salsa and eggs

Directions:
Set your waffle iron in a level, clean surface and turn on to preheat.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, sugar, baking soda,  and salt. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, butter, and buttermilk.  Add the wet ingredients, all at once to the dry ingredients.  Add the scallion and parsley.  Stir until just incorporated -- batter may be lumpy.
Cook according to your waffle machine instructions and your preference of crispiness.
While the waffles cook, fry up some eggs in a nonstick frying pan. I like fried, but sunny side up and scrambled are both divine. I do scrambled for my toddler.
Serve waffles with good salsa and hot eggs.  Top with extra scallion, if desired.  Waffles are best served immediately, but they can also be frozen for later: Allow waffles to cool completely.  Store them in a ziplock bag, and stash in the freezer.  In the morning, gently reheat waffles in the toaster.


Friday, February 1, 2013

Super Bowls with Lemon Basil Vinaigrette

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So, once again I must admit that I don't watch the Superbowl. Never have, and likely never shall. I don't get what the big deal is -- maybe if it was college football and my home team was playing, but even then you'd be hard pressed to find me catching the big game.

Maybe that's why this is definitely not typical football fare. This is my take on the much-pinned Superfood Salad from Iowa Girl Eats. I didn't change it too much, because on its own it's completely fabulous, but among the other things I don't do is include cilantro in a recipe if I can easily substitute something I like better -- like, say, basil. Which I did do in this case. And there are a couple of other tweaks here and there.

Anyway, while everyone else is watching football and eating loaded potato skins this Sunday (not that I have anything against loaded potato skins, mind you), make these yummy Super Bowls, and catch up on Project Runway or watch The West Wing on Netflix (my current obsession). 
I, myself, will be at church wrangling my wiggly toddler and then the three-year-olds I teach during Sunday School. And then I'll be Skyping with my family whilst frantically trying to get dinner on the table. So you see, I have a full day mapped out already. I can tell you wish you were me...

Superbowl Schmuperbowl.

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Super Bowls with Lemon Basil Vinaigrette
PRINTABLE RECIPE

Ingredients:
15 shrimp
salt and pepper
oil
1 1/2 c. cooked quinoa, cooled
1 orange, supremed and chopped into large pieces
1 avocado, diced
1 c. canned cannellini or black beans, rinsed and drained
1 c. craisins
1 c. frozen corn, thawed
1 c. red grapes, halved if on the large side
1 scallion, sliced (optional)


for the lemon basil vinaigrette:
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
dash of sugar
salt & pepper
1 Tbsp. very finely chopped basil
6 Tbsp. oil

Directions:
Heat oven to 400º. Toss shrimp with salt, pepper, and oil. Spread evenly on baking sheet ins single layer and roast 6-8 minutes, until pink and opaque. (They overcook quickly, so don't forget about them.)
Meanwhile, combine all ingredients for vinaigrette in a jar with a tight fitting lid, and shake to combine.Set aside.
Combine cooled quinoa with orange segments, avocado, beans, craisins, corn, and grapes (and scallion, if using). Pour vinaigrette over the salad and toss to combine. Serve cold or at room temperature. Top each serving with a few shrimp.

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