Sunday, April 27, 2008

Root Beer Pulled Pork

No baking this weekend; there was too much cake left over from my baby shower on Saturday for me to justify bringing even more sweets into the house!

Saturday was a busy day all-around, and since I knew I just wanted to relax today, for dinner tonight I wanted something very low-maintenance. Pulled pork sandwiches have sounded good to me for quite a while, so I thought I'd try a recipe I've seen variations of on a lot of food blogs: root beer pulled pork cooked in the slow cooker.

This was an absolutely delicious meal! The root beer added a nice, subtle flavor to the pork, and the meat was so tender it just fell apart. Very, very yummy -- I can't wait to have the leftovers for lunch tomorrow! My changes are in purple.

Root Beer Pulled Pork
Source: All Recipes

1 2-pound pork tenderloin
Salt, pepper and garlic powder
1 12-ounce bottle or can of root beer (I used A&W)
1 18-ounce bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce (I used KC Masterpiece honey-flavored)
8 hamburger buns

1. Season pork tenderloin with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Place the pork in a slow cooker and pour root beer over the meat.

2. Cover and cook on low until well-cooked and the pork shreds easily, 6 to 7 hours. Drain well.

3. Stir in barbecue sauce and serve over hamburger buns. Top with cole slaw, if desired.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Cheese-Filled Meatloaf; Mashed Cauliflower

Meat loaf and mashed potatoes is one of those meals that just screams comfort for me. After a long day at work today and a baby kicking me persistently in the ribs all evening, some comfort was just what I needed.

Last year, I saw a recipe for meat loaf in one of my Taste of Home magazines that, for some reason, just stuck with me. It was a stuffed meat loaf, filled with sour cream, cheese and pimiento-stuffed olives. I'd been wanting to try it for a long time, and tonight seemed like the perfect opportunity. I decided to try something new with the "mashed potatoes" portion of the meal: I mashed cauliflower instead. I've seen this idea floating around on a couple of the food blogs I frequent, and I wanted to create my own spin on it.

The meat loaf turned out great, besides the fact that it fell apart and thus ended up looking nothing like the pretty picture in my cookbook. Yeah...I'm not so good at rolling things up, apparently. I may want to avoid jelly rolls this holiday season until I practice a little bit more. The meat loaf itself was delicious, though, despite its appearance: very moist inside, and crusty on top just like I like it. The pimientos gave it a nice tang, and the sour cream added a nice flavor and interesting texture. The cauliflower was delicious, too; I chose not to puree mine and instead left it a little bit chunky -- just like I enjoy my mashed potatoes. The verdict: Mashed cauliflower really does provide the same comfort factor as a steaming pile of mashed potatoes. I'll definitely make both dishes again. My modifications are in purple.

Cheese-Filled Meat Loaf
Source: Taste of Home 2008 Annual Recipes

1/2 cup milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 cup crushed cornflakes (I didn't have any, so I used regular potato chips instead)
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
3 tablespoons finely chopped celery (I omitted)
1 teaspoon salt (I used 1/2 teaspoon, since I used salty potato chips)
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
1 cup (4 ounces) finely shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup sliced pimiento-stuffed olives

1. In a large bowl, combine the first 10 ingredients. Crumble beef over mixture and mix well. On a large piece of heavy-duty foil, pat beef mixture into a rectangle. Sprinkle sour cream to within 1/2 inch of edges. Sprinkle with cheese and olives.

2. Roll up, jelly-roll style, starting with a short side and peeling away foil while rolling. Seal seam and ends. Place seam side down in a greased 13-inch x 9-inch baking dish.

3. Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 65-75 minutes or until the meat is no longer pink and meat thermometer reads 160°. Let meat loaf stand for 10 minutes before slicing. 6 servings.


Mashed Cauliflower
Source: Cassie

1 medium head cauliflower
1 can chicken broth
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon cream cheese
1/4 cup shredded cheese (I used colby-jack)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook cauliflower in a saucepan over medium-high heat in chicken broth until tender, 10-12 minutes (add some water to cover, if necessary). Drain.

2. Mash cauliflower with a potato masher (or puree, if desired). Stir in sour cream, butter, cream cheese, shredded cheese and salt and pepper.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

LiveSTRONG: Glazed Pineapple Cookies

When I think of the words "live" and "strong," the first person that comes to mind is my mom, because strongly is exactly how she lived her life. That's why, when I recently learned about the A Taste of Yellow blogging event (hosted by Barbara at winosandfoodies) I knew I had to take part: to remember my mom and others who lost their battle with cancer, to celebrate those who won, and to raise awareness for this horrible disease.

My mom's battle with cancer began when I was nine years old. She was diagnosed with brain cancer on Halloween of 1992. After two surgeries, two rounds of radiation and some intensive chemotherapy, she was declared cancer-free, which she remained until 2005. In February of 2005, though, her routine yearly MRI revealed that the cancer had returned to her brain, and this time it was determined to take her. She had two more surgeries and countless rounds of chemotherapy, but she finally succumbed to the disease on January 22, 2007.

My mom was the strongest woman I have ever known and will ever know -- independent, with an engaging personality and a smile that was a more brilliant yellow than any food I could possibly make. People gravitated towards her for a reason; she exuded confidence, strength and faith every single moment she lived. Even as she died, her faith and her strength remained. I can't even begin to describe what it felt like to lose her -- what it still feels like as I wake up every day without her in my life. I hope that I can be half the mother -- half the woman -- she was.

It's shocking how many lives and how many families are affected by cancer. That's why the work that Lance Armstrong's foundation and other organizations around the country do is so important. I have to believe that, with enough awareness and research, our world can be free of this terrible disease.

Okay, enough seriousness! On to the food. As soon as I learned about this event, I knew I wanted to use pineapple as my "something yellow." Spring is upon us now, and nothing says spring to me like a deliciously tangy and juicy pineapple. I found a scrumptious-sounding recipe for pineapple cookies in one of my cookbooks, so I decided to go for it. They don't really look very yellow after baking, but they're wonderful cookies. Their texture is both moist and cake-like, and I love the little explosion of pineapple flavor in every bite. I think the addition of some toasted coconut mixed in with the glaze would add a nice tropical flavor, so I may try that next time. Hmmm...And now that I think about it, some white chocolate chips and macadamia nuts would be a nice addition to this cookie, too! Really, though, they're delicious just as they are. (Also, I know I glazed my cookies when they were still too warm, because the glaze ran everywhere...but I just couldn't resist! I had to try one of the cookies immediately, and it was worth it!)

Glazed Pineapple Cookies
Source: The Ultimate Cookie Collection (page 52)

1 can (8 ounces) crushed pineapple
1/2 cup shortening (I used butter-flavored)
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

1. Drain the pineapple, reserving 3 tablespoons juice. Set pineapple aside; set juice aside for glaze. In a mixing bowl, cream shortening and sugar. Add egg; mix well. Add pineapple and vanilla; mix well. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; stir into the creamed mixture.

2. Drop by tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto greased baking sheets. Bake at 325° for 17-20 minutes or until golden. Immediately remove to wire racks to cool.

3. For glaze, in a small bowl, combine confectioners' sugar with enough of reserved pineapple juice to achieve a smooth consistency. Spoon glaze over cooled cookies.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Creamy Red Pepper Chicken Pasta

While this recipe isn't exactly in our regular rotation, it's definitely one that I keep coming back to again and again because it's so easy to make and so unbelievably delicious. I can't even remember how this recipe originated -- I think I was making some type of pasta with red pepper sauce, and I thought how good the sauce would be if it were creamier...and then this dish was born.

This dish is so Sandra Lee of me, since it uses jarred Alfredo sauce. You could definitely make your own sauce, but I find that my brand of jarred sauce (Ragu) imparts a lot of flavor and saves a lot of time. The resulting dish is flavorful, creamy, and totally irresistible. It's light enough to eat in the spring and summer months, but hearty enough for fall and winter. I just know you'll love it!

Creamy Red Pepper Chicken Pasta
Source: Cassie

1 box fettucine or linguine
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts
Italian seasoning to taste
Garlic powder to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
1 yellow onion (2 if the onions are small), sliced
1 jar Alfredo sauce
1/2 cup milk
1 jar roasted red peppers, drained
1 cup mozzarella cheese

1. Cook pasta according to package directions.

2. Meanwhile, season chicken breasts with Italian seasoning, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Cook in olive oil in a skillet until juices run clear. Remove chicken from skillet and let rest.

3. In a medium saucepan, cook onions over medium heat until they just begin to caramelize. Season with salt and pepper. Place peppers in a food processor or blender (the Magic Bullet works perfectly for this!) and pulse until peppers form a puree.

4. Add Alfredo sauce to onions, then add milk and mozzarella cheese to desired consistency. Stir in the red pepper puree and heat through.

5. Once chicken has rested, slice at an angle and mix with pasta, reserving some strips for presentation. Add sauce to pasta and chicken. Top with additional mozzarella or parmesan cheese, if desired.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Rich Chocolate Chunk Brownies

The purpose of this weekend's baking was to feed a craving...and, surprisingly, it wasn't even one of my own! Before my kitchen was finished, I took a vow that, when the room was finally done, I would try to bake something every weekend. For my inaugural weekend baking session, I decided to ask Joe what he wanted. Personally, I have been craving everything strawberry lately, so I was thinking about some strawberry scones or strawberry muffins. My husband, however, has taste buds that are set to "all chocolate, all the time" (I swear, he's as bad as a girl when it comes to chocolate), and he requested chocolate chunk brownies. After perusing through my baking cookbooks, I came across a recipe in The Taste of Home Baking Book that sounded like it fit the bill almost perfectly; and with only a few alterations, it became my idea of the perfect brownie -- ooey gooey and deliciously chocolatey and super-rich. My modifications are in purple.

Rich Chocolate Chunk Brownies
Source: The Taste of Home Baking Book (pages 96 and 97 of hard-bound edition)

For the brownies:
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup baking cocoa
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
half of an 11.5-ounce bag of semi-sweet chocolate chunks

For the frosting:
3 tablespoons baking cocoa
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules (I omitted)
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons warm water

1. In large mixing bowl, beat the sugar, eggs and vanilla. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt; add to batter and mix well. Stir in chocolate chunks.

2. Pour into a greased 8-inch square baking pan. Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

3. For the frosting, combine the cocoa and butter. Gradually stir in confectioners' sugar and enough water to achieve a spreading consistency. Frost brownies.

Monday, April 7, 2008

"Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Cake

Today is Joe's birthday; his grandpa's birthday was last Wednesday. Yesterday, we had a little get-together for both of them at our house, and when I asked Joe what kind of cake he wanted, his answer was definitive: "Chocolate."

I'd heard plenty of good things about Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Cake, so I couldn't resist trying it. And I'm so glad I chose to go with this recipe. This cake was super-moist and decadent and absolutely delicious. The frosting was outstanding, too, although next time I make this cake (and I'll definitely make it again!) I'll probably make more frosting. I'll also flour my pans a little bit heavier next time, because this cake is so moist that I had some difficulty getting it out. This made the cake a little lopsided, but no one really cared; half of it was gone within five seconds of it hitting the table!

Incidentally, I think the baby liked it too; he was squirming around pretty intensely while I was eating my piece. Sooo...I indulged him and had a second piece. Hey, I'm pregnant -- if I can't get away with it now, when can I?

(By the way, the "100" candles represent Joe's and his grandpa's combined ages. I thought it was pretty clever, although his grandpa did do all the blowing out himself!)

Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Cake

Source: Hershey's

For the cake:
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup Hershey's cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

For the frosting:
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter or margarine
2/3 cup Hershey's cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Heat oven to 350°. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.

2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.

3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost. 10 to 12 servings.

4. For the frosting, melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency. Add small amount of additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. Makes about 2 cups frosting.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Mom's Potato Salad

Some people have a certain dish that they're known for, a dish that they're always asked to bring to family gatherings, church dinners, potlucks and other functions involving food. For my mom, that dish was her potato salad. People raved about it everywhere she took it, and no one could ever get enough. Unfortunately, she never wrote down the recipe before she died, and I only had the opportunity to watch her make it one time. For her, making that potato salad must have just been second nature; for me, though, duplicating it was a much more daunting task.

We're having a gathering at our house tomorrow afternoon for Joe's and his grandpa's birthdays, both of which are this week. I thought this would be a good time to try my hand at Mom's "signature dish," especially considering that Joe's family never had my mom's version and wouldn't be comparing the two in their heads. Some of the pressure relieved, I set out to try to duplicate my mom's potato salad. I sneaked a small helping for myself before storing it in the fridge, and I have to admit: I came pretty close to Mom's recipe. Of course, nothing ever tastes as good as it does when your mom makes it, right? It must just be some magic "mom" thing. I'm guessing this is as close as I'll ever come to her recipe. Hopefully Joe's family will enjoy it!

Mom's Potato Salad
Source: my mom
For the dressing:

2 to 3 cups Miracle Whip (depending on how "saucy" you like it)
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon celery seed
Salt and pepper to taste

For the salad:

3 pounds potatoes, peeled and diced
5 medium-sized dill pickles, finely diced
3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1/2 of a medium-sized onion, finely diced or grated

1. Cover potatoes with cold water in large pot and bring to a boil. Cook just until fork-tender.

2. While potatoes are cooking, mix dressing ingredients (except paprika). Taste for seasoning. Add the diced pickles, eggs and onion to the dressing.

3. Drain potatoes and let cool. Add dressing to the potatoes and mix. Sprinkle paprika over the top. Refrigerate before serving.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Ultimate Lasagna

To decide what to cook for our first meal in the new kitchen, I turned to my husband. I could already guess what he'd choose for his "First Supper," if you will, and I was right: He chose lasagna, which he thinks is the most perfect food on the planet. In fact, in our house, we call my lasagna recipe a "Homer Simpson recipe," which is basically a dish that makes my husband say, "Mmmmm...[insert name of dish here]," followed by that noise Homer makes and a little bit of drool. Joe said that, during those long months of remodeling, the only thing that got him through was the thought of a steaming pan of lasagna waiting for him at the end.

My recipe for lasagna started years ago with -- I think -- the recipe for Italian Sausage Lasagna in The Betty Crocker Cookbook. However, when I make it now, it's really nothing like that recipe. I've modified it so much over the years that it's really become completely my own. I made it last night for the first time in over a year, and it was just as delicious as I remembered. (Joe enjoyed it, too, of course -- there was definitely some drooling going on while it was in the oven and the smell of it began to permeate throughout the house.) This lasagna is spicy, hearty, saucy and cheesy; in one word, it is perfect.

Ultimate Lasagna
Source: Cassie

12 lasagna noodles, cooked according to package directions
1 pound spicy sausage
1 pound ground chuck
1 package diced pepperoni
2 medium onions (or 1 large onion), chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 to 1 cup red wine
1 jar of your favorite tomato sauce
2 cans diced tomatoes
Your favorite blend of Italian herbs & spices
1 32-ounce carton of ricotta cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning blend
4 cups Italian shredded cheese blend

1. Brown the sausage in a large pot; when the sausage begins to caramelize, add the ground chuck. When the meat is only slightly pink, add the pepperoni. Add the onions, bell pepper, and garlic. Season the meat and vegetable mixture with salt and pepper. When the vegetables start to become translucent, deglaze the pot with the red wine.

2. Once the alcohol has cooked out, add the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and your blend of Italian herbs and spices. If the sauce needs more sweetness, add a bit of sugar. Bring to a simmer.

3. While the sauce is simmering, cook the lasagna noodles according to the package directions. Mix the ricotta cheese, parsley, Parmesan cheese and Italian seasoning in a bowl. If the mixture is a bit thick, add a small amount of milk to thin it out.

4. In a large casserole dish or lasagna pan, ladle enough of the sauce to cover the bottom. Top with four lasagna noodles, 1/3 of the ricotta cheese mixture, and 1/3 of the shredded cheese (about 1 1/3 cups). Repeat layers, ending with the ricotta cheese mixture and the remaining shredded cheese.

5. Cover with foil and bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake 15 to 20 more minutes or until cheese on top is bubbly and the edges are brown.

This recipe makes a very large lasagna, so be prepared to have leftovers (unless you live in my house, that is). You could probably make two small lasagnas using this recipe and freeze one for later. It tastes even better the next day, so it's perfect for lunches the rest of the week. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Joining the food bloggers of the world...

So, I've decided to start my own cooking blog. I was inspired by the multitudes of other food bloggers out there -- it's a community I didn't even know existed until very recently, and I'm so glad I found it! You "fellow foodies" have made me realize, with much relief, that I'm not the only person obsessed with cookbooks; that I'm not the only one who devours anything and everything on the Food Network; that I'm not the only one who looks at food not just as necessary sustenance...but also as therapy, as an insatiable passion, as a voracious way to enrich my life (and my stomach). I am so excited to join this community!

I think it's only appropriate to start by telling you a little bit about myself. My name is Cassie, and I live with my husband Joe and our dog, Daisy, in Central Ohio. I graduated from The Ohio State University in June of 2005 with a B.A. in English. Now, I work for an investment bank in Columbus, where I actually get to use my degree. I love to read, and I'm pretty much always reading something. I'm also slightly (okay...totally) obsessed with Judge Judy, Target, candles and body lotion.

If I were a Food Network chef, I'd probably be a cross between Rachael Ray and Giada de Laurentiis, but without Rachael's annoying catch phrases and Giada's amazing rack. I would like to think I have Rachael's creativity, though, and Giada's philosophy on food. I wish I were more like Paula Deen, but I don't say "ya'll" nearly enough, or pronounce "olive oil" as "olive all," although I suppose I could start doing both of those things. I love Italian food and I love comfort food. I also like canned cream of mushroom soup and Velveeta cheese, and I use both of those ingredients in many of my recipes, so clearly I'm far from a chef. I'm just a Midwestern girl who loves to cook.

Joe and I bought our first home in March of 2007, and since then we've been working on some serious remodeling. It's been a long, stressful, money-guzzling process, but one good thing has come out of it: I now have a beautiful kitchen to cook in that my husband and I designed and built ourselves! There are some last minute touch-ups to do and, because I am a perfectionist, I won't post pictures until it's entirely done.

The kitchen was the last room we remodeled -- it took the longest and it was the most expensive. But we were so glad to finally have it finished! Until the kitchen was completed, we basically lived on restaurant food, which was bad for the body and the soul. This lack of a kitchen was especially torturous for me, as someone who pretty much would rather be cooking or baking than doing anything else. I spent months and months looking at my cookbooks with longing, bookmarking recipes to try when I was finally able to cook again. I suppose it was also pretty torturous for Joe, who has always enjoyed the finished products of my cooking escapades.

In the midst of this remodel, we got a little surprise -- two pink lines on a pregnancy test (okay...on FOUR pregnancy tests, so I guess that's technically eight pink lines, right?). We are expecting a little boy at the end of the May and we're very excited (and a little terrified, too, I won't lie) to become parents!

My culinary inspiration, hands down, was my mom, who I lost after a long battle with brain cancer in January of 2007. Losing her was a huge blow to me...but I find that she comes alive again in the recipes she left me as a legacy. You'll probably see a lot of her recipes on this blog, and it's so rewarding to be able to share them with all of you.

I hope this blog can serve a few purposes in my life. I hope it'll encourage me to break out of my normal ruts in the kitchen and embark on new and different culinary adventures. I hope it'll lead me to eat a more healthful diet, especially after months of fast food consumption in the absence of a working kitchen. I am also on a mission to change Joe's mind about four ingredients he can't stand, which happen to be four of my favorites: mustard, olives, cottage cheese and shredded coconut ("It's a texture thing," he says). I also hope to change my own mind about a couple of ingredients I've never liked: basically all types of fish (shrimp excluded) and bleu cheese.

So, that's me. If you want to know more about me, you can visit my regular blog here.

So here we go, then. I'm so excited to get cooking!