August 15, 2009

Basics: Roasted Red Bell Peppers

Posted in Basic Techniques tagged at 7:20 pm by jenniec00ks

I know you can get these in a jar, but for that extra special occasion, try roasting your own.  They’re truly amazing.  This is the broiler method, as I’ve never had a gas stove.  You can rinse the peppers if you’d like, but make sure they are completely dry before roasting them.

roastedredpepper 001Just put the whole pepper as close to the top heating element as possible without touching it.  I also rolled up some foil and stuck it in the doorway to keep the heating element on all the time.

roastedredpepper 002Each side only takes 1-2 minutes to blacken, so I’d stay near the broiler.  Use tongs to rotate the peppers approximately a quarter turn to blacken all sides.

roastedredpepper 003When they’re fully blackened, put them in a paper sack.  Alternatively, you could put them in a bowl and put some plastic wrap on top.

roastedredpepper 004After about 15 minutes, they should be cool enough to handle.  The left one above could be a little more blackened.  Just pull on the skin and it should slip right off.

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That’ll make them nice and pliable to slice right up.  =)  Enjoy!


August 13, 2009

Turkey and/or Veggie Lasagna in Photos

Posted in Pasta: baked tagged , , , , , at 9:09 pm by jenniec00ks

lasagna 047Phew.  I am blogging my butt off, and I have a BAJILLION pictures of this recipe.  So might as well take advantage of it, this will be a follow the pictures kind of recipe.  I did a turkey AND veggie lasagna, so my 9″x9″ dish was filled to the brim.  I was originally going to do 2 smaller lasagnas, but then I realized I cooked the turkey before the veggies, and therefore contaminated the pot and decided to throw it all together.


9 x 9 inch glass dish (9×13 would prob work, may need a lil more sauce)
1 box lasagna noodles (9-12, bake/no bake, up to you)
1/2 lb turkey
1 bell pepper (any color will do)
6-7 large mushrooms quartered, ~8 oz.
S&P to taste
5 cloves garlic
3/4 jar (~20 oz) of your favorite spaghetti sauce
1/2 cup diced onion (or whatever you have around)
1 small container ricotta (15 oz? sorry it’s been a while)
1 large egg
8 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese or Italian white cheese blend*

* Don’t get the 2% or fat-free cheese, it just WON’T MELT!!  >O

Brown the turkey.

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For the vegetarians, cut the bell pepper (click for a link to my new basics posts to keep recipes shorter) and mushrooms into large chunks & dice the onion.

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Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in the pan and toss the bell peppers in for a minute or two to give them a head start.  Then toss the mushrooms in and saute them for 3-4 minutes until the mushrooms are soft.

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With that extra room on the cutting board, finely dice the 5 cloves of garlic and add them to the pot.  Just as a refresher since I haven’t posted a garlic mincing basic – pull the cloves apart and lay them on your board.  Lay the knife flat on top of each and give the knife (not the blade side) a good whack with your fist.  Then you should be able to pull the paper right off.

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(Click the photos for a larger image.)

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Add it to the pot and give it a stir for a 1-2 minutes until the garlic is fragrant.  Then add about 2 cups of your favorite spaghetti sauce (3/4 of a 24 oz. jar), sorry this amount isn’t more precise.  Also stir in the onions and cover the pan so the sauce can simmer and soften the onions.

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Time to boil the noodles and drain them according to the package.  Or you can skip this step by buying those no-bake ones – so long as you’ve got enough sauce, the no-bake ones are great because they save time, energy AND a pot while not missing any flavor.

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Last step is to beat the egg and ricotta together in a bowl – you can throw in any grated parmesean cheese for extra flavor if you’ve got it around.  Make sure this layer is mixed well!

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Finally, the layering.  Well, better get your oven preheated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit right about now.  We’re going to do pasta, ricotta, sauce, shredded cheese.  But we’re actually going to start with an exception, and put an extra layer of sauce on the bottom.  Some say to do it to prevent sticking, but it’s pretty much required if you’re using the no-bake noodles.  If you’ve got boiled noodles, I think it’s optional.

lasagna 033 Sauce at the bottom, still piping hot!

lasagna 034Noodle layer and half of the ricotta/egg mixture.  Don’t need to spread it all that evenly, it will melt in the oven and make a nice layer.

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Sauce, again.  I had veggies + meat in the sauce, but you might want just one or the other.lasagna 037Shredded cheese!

Then we do it again, but use up all the ricotta you’ve got left.

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Then the final layer of pasta, sauce, and shredded cheese for the topping:

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Pop this heavy sucker into the oven for ~45 minutes (uncovered!) or until the cheese is golden brown.  I put it on a foiled sheet pan in case anything boiled over, it didn’t mess up the oven.

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w00t! Golden brown! Time to eat!

Basics: Dicing an onion

Posted in Basic Techniques tagged at 9:00 pm by jenniec00ks

prep-010Cut off the top and bottom of the onion.prep-011Make a shallow cut down the side.prep-013Peel the papery layer off the onion. If the layer underneath doesn’t look so good, then you can pull that too, but it’s not necessary.prep-016

Cut the onion in half and lets start dicing! We’re going to make several cuts in 3 different directions.prep-017Step 1. Leave the onion connected at the end farthest from the knife (the part where my fingers are holding the onion)prep-021Another view of the onion after step 1.prep-022Step 2. The cuts are horizontal, with the knife parallel to the cutting board. Keep your fingers out the way by pressing down on the top of onion.prep-030Finally, make the third cut and you’ve got nicely sized pieces 🙂prep-032Since they’re still connected at the edge, I give that extra piece a rough chop; holding the tip of the knife steady.

Basics: Dicing a bell pepper

Posted in Basic Techniques tagged at 5:13 pm by jenniec00ks

lasagna 005Turn the bell pepper upside down (stem side down) and cut about halfway down.

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Pull the bell pepper apart to expose the seeds.lasagna 008

Pull the seeds out and the top around the stem should come with it.lasagna 011

Cut each half into strips from the inside out, makes it a little easier I find.lasagna 012

Then collect the large strips and hold them together to make a cut through all.

lasagna 013Voila!

August 12, 2009

Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies in Photos

Posted in Dessert tagged , at 10:35 pm by jenniec00ks

So as I’m on a baking kick, here are my all-time go-to cookies!  They’re super simple, and I originally found them from food network but usually make a half batch and cut back the vanilla a touch, I find they turn out much better.  Tthis is the full recipe by the way, it makes a TON (I’d approximate over 2 dozen hefty cookies…but you’ll see)

2 sticks butter (1 cup), softened a bit (let them sit @ room temp for a bit).
3/4 cup white & brown sugar (each)
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt, cinnamon, baking soda
2 cups oatmeal
1 tsp water, vanilla extract
1 cup raisins, gold or black, whatever floats your boat.

***Alternatively, you can go with 3/4 cup raisins and 1/2 cup of walnut pieces. I personally enjoy a walnut-raisin combination much more.  If you’ve only got whole/half walnuts, put ’em in a bag and whack ’em with something tough – a rolling pin, cookbook, meat tenderizer, whatever you’ve got around.

Use an electric mixer (on low) on both the sugars and slightly softened butter until they become one big pile of paste.  This procedure is called ‘creaming’ the butter and sugar together.

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Before - butter & sugars

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After - a nice creamy looking paste

Don’t toss those beaters from the electric mixer yet!  Add in the 2 eggs and beat it a little more, just ’til it’s incorporated.  Then you can ditch the electric mixer and use a spatula to stir in everything else EXCEPT the raisins, water, and vanilla (that’d be the flour, salt, cinnamon, baking soda & oatmeal).  The oatmeal and flour will really dry up the mix, so make sure you keep stirring until everythings incorporated.  It might take some muscle, but I’m sure you can do it!

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Finally, add the rest of the ingredients: the raisins (walnuts if you’re going that way), water, and vanilla.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit while you drop spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet – doesn’t need to be greased, these things are loaded with enough butter they won’t stick.  Bake the cookies anywhere from 10-15 minutes until your home smells good and the cookies are a touch brown on the edges.  =)oatmealraisincookies 004

Well…drop spoonfuls if you want traditional single serving cookies.  I am lazy sometimes, so I dump the whole batch onto a sheet pan and spread it out with a silicone spatula.  Then I either cut it afterwards into squares or cut it into a cute shape (like my favorite mushroom shaped character, see below!)

oatmealraisincookies 007mybirthday_austin 006toad1

PS, you can use margarine if you want.  Yes, it probably has trace amounts of trans fats from partially hydrogenated oil.  But it’s probably less than half the price of real butter.  Take your pick, as they say in designing embedded systems, everything’s a tradeoff.

Red Velvet Cupcakes in Photos

Posted in Dessert tagged , , at 8:54 pm by jenniec00ks

Hey y’all. So I’ve been relocated to Atlanta, Georgia and it’s different. Anyway, I’ve got a few days before school starts so I’m going to try to catch-up on my blogging! As requested, red velvet cupcakes are up first. I brought some of these to work, and one co-worker exclaimed “it’s like a heaven in my mouth” and another exclaimed “it’s an all-day sugar rush,” so let me assure you, these things are SWEET.

So there are these books that I enjoy when I have a quick cake/cupcake to make, they’re called “The Cake Doctor.” The concept is simple, start with a box cake and add a few special things to make them decedent.  I got the red velvet cupcake recipe from Cupcakes: From the Cake Doctor – originally posted here.  This makes 24 regular cupcakes, so you’ll need a muffin pan (or 2) and those paper liners.  I only had a muffin pan that would hold 12 cupcakes, so I used these stand alone heart-shaped foil ones I had.  I believe they were discontinued by Reynolds.   Anyway, without further ado:

1 package (18.25 oz) plain German chocolate cake mix
1 package (3.4 oz) vanilla instant pudding mix
1 cup low-fat sour cream (I found an 8 oz container)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Red food coloring*
3 large eggs
1 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips

*The original recipe calls for 1 whole bottle (1 oz.) but I found this was way too much.  I think .5-.75 ounces should be just fine for a dark red.  Also be careful, this red stuff is a pain to clean up; so if you don’t want to hassle, skip the red.

redvelvetcupcakes 002redvelvetcupcakes 003redvelvetcupcakes 004

Here’s a simple grouping of the ingredients, piled together.  Lump everything into the bowl except for the chocolate chips and blend w/ an electric mixer on low for 30 seconds so nothing goes flying onto your counter/floor.  Scrape down the sides so you get it all and mix some more on medium-high for 2 minutes.  The batter will be pretty thick – mine is bright red since I used 1 whole oz.

redvelvetcupcakes 005

After it’s all nicely mixed, fold in the cup of chocolate chips with a spatula.  If you’re not into the super sweet, I don’t think it would hurt to cut this back by a bit too.

redvelvetcupcakes 006redvelvetcupcakes 007

By the way, by fold, I mean gently stir.  Pull your spatula down the middle and run it in a semi-circle along one side of the bowl – I drew some skimpy blue arrows on the picture in paint to give you a better idea.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Farhenheit while you load up the cupcake liners.

redvelvetcupcakes 009redvelvetcupcakes 008

Then pop ’em in for about 20 minutes.  They’ll look darker and cracked, something like this when they’re done:

redvelvetcupcakes 010

As you can see, I overfilled my heart ones a bit.  They got a little sloppy.  Meh.  I ❤ you anyway.  The cake doctor recommends a white chocolate peppermint cream cheese frosting, which sounds equally decadent, however, it is far more complicated than I wished for at midnight on a weeknight.  So I went with just a bit of pre-made cream cheese frosting, but a very very slim layer.  They didn’t need much, if any at all.  I had one for breakfast, with lunch, and after dinner.  I hope you ❤ them as much as I did.


July 27, 2009

Ugh – so many recipes, so little time

Posted in Rambling at 11:40 pm by jenniec00ks

I’m cooking but not blogging, I’m so sorry. I will hop to it, just FYI, here’s what I’ve got backlogged…again.

Spring Veggies in Mascarpone cheese
Roasted Red Pepper pasta sauce
Spinach mushroom alfredo lasagna
Oatmeal raisin cookies
Red velvet cupcakes
Arugala salad on endive
Macaroni and beef bake

June 19, 2009

Garlic Spinach Alfredo

Posted in Pasta: stovetop tagged , , at 12:14 am by jenniec00ks

salmonalfredo 001


So I forgot to take pictures while I was cooking again – but here’s the quick and dirty of what I made for dinner tonight:

Makes ~3 servings (Vegetarian suggestions/changes at the end!)

7 large garlic cloves
1/2 stick of butter (1/4 cup)
1/4 cup of flour
1 1/2 cups of milk
1 box of frozen spinach (10 oz.)
Dash of nutmeg, S&P
1/4 cup of mozzarella or Italian blend shredded cheese (optional)
1 package of smoked salmon (4 oz. – taste for saltiness first!  You’ll be surprised)
8 oz. long pasta (spaghetti was good)

1. Get the pasta on to boil for however long the box says (I did al dente spaghetti for 10 minutes).  Drain well when ready.

1.5.  Pop the frozen spinach in the microwave and cook according to the box.  Something like 5 minutes on high sounds about right.  Squeeze and drain off as much water out as possible with a fork.

2. Melt the butter on medium-low heat.  I used my typical 10″ saucepan thingie.

3. While the butter is melting, finely chop the garlic.

4. Once the butter is melted, add the garlic.  Cook for about 5-6 minutes, until the garlic is very fragrant.

5. Add the 1/4 cup of flour to the saucepan and stir.  You’re making a roux and it should be very clumpy and pasty looking.  No worries, we’ll smooth it out soon.

6.  Pour the milk slowly into the pan (over about 30 seconds time window), stirring as you go.  Try to mash up the roux pieces as you pour.

7.  Stir the alfredo sauce constantly, making sure the roux is completely dissolved (the chunks left will be garlic of course).

8. Add the dash of ground nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste.

9. Add the cheese if you desire, and stir.  This should thicken up the sauce considerably.  Turn the heat off after the sauce coats the back of the spoon (i.e. dip the spoon in, run your CLEAN finger on the back, the sauce should not encroach over the area where you just ran your finger).

10.  Add the drained spinach, drained pasta, and smoked salmon pieces to the alfredo sauce.  Toss and serve!


Just a few notes, if your sauce turns green, then you just didn’t drain the spinach very well.  No big deal, try again next time.  It won’t damage the taste at all.  Secondly – WATCH your sauce once you get the milk in.  After about 3 minutes it should start to thicken up, and once it begins to thicken, it will get very dense, very fast.  Get it off the heat if it looks like your sauce is turning to solid.

For my vegetarian buddies, omit the smoked salmon, and cook 8oz of quartered white button mushrooms (or creminis for an extra punch of flavor!) before you start step 2 (the butter).  The mushrooms will give off some water and darken your alfredo sauce, so you want to cook them separately and add them in at the end in place of the smoked salmon.  salmonalfredo 002

May 27, 2009

Chili Pasta in Photos

Posted in Pasta: stovetop tagged , , , at 8:47 pm by jenniec00ks

chilipasta 008So this past Memorial Day weekend I was at home with some big appetites to feed.  This recipe will feed 4-6 people.  The picture on the left was taken after 2-3 helpings were gone.  Most all of my other recipes are really designed for 2 servings (I eat one for dinner and bring the other to work the next day).  While this recipe can be enjoyed piping hot, it also tastes great at room temperature; and can easily be made in proportions to feed an army.

My mom found the original recipe in a Cooking Light magazine, but here’s how I made it.

ChiliPasta 001


1 lb. ground turkey
1/2 box of wagon wheel pasta
8 oz. can of tomato sauce
14.5 oz can of fire roasted tomatoes (they’re becoming more common these days)
1 cup chopped onion (1 medium white)
1 can of pinto beans (~14 oz?)
2 cups water
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp chili powder*
1 tsp ground cumin*
1 tsp dried oregano*

* Don’t forget – if you don’t keep these spices on hand, try to find bulk bins that seem to be growing more popular at local grocery stores. I get mine from HEB, Sprouts, or Central Market.

For this recipe, you’re going to want to use a saucepan that you have a cover for.  If none of your pans have a cover, you can use a large piece of foil if you must.

ChiliPasta 002Add a teaspoon of oil over medium heat and add the onions, garlic, and ground turkey.  I really like the taste and lack of fat in ground turkey – but if you must use ground beef that’s any less than 96% lean, you probably don’t need the oil to begin.  And you probably should drain the fat after this step.

ChiliPasta 004

Anyway, season this mixture with salt and pepper to taste if you’d like.  Cook until the turkey is fully cooked (see above).  Then add the oregano, chili powder, cumin, fire roasted tomatoes, tomato sauce, and the pinto beans.  Give this a stir for ~1 minute.

ChiliPasta 004Then add the 2 cups of water and 1/2 the box of pasta.  Let this come to a simmer, cover the pan, and turn the heat down to low (enough to keep a simmer though).  Let this bubble for about 18 minutes or until the pasta is soft.

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Dish into bowls and top with your favorite cheese – I had a cheddar and monterey jack blend on hand and it blended well with the flavors.  As a side note, you can double the chili powder portion to 4 teaspoons of chili powder if you like it spicy.

Bon appetit!

Bon appetit!

May 26, 2009

Simple Chunky Guacamole inspired by Ellie Krieger

Posted in Appetizers tagged , at 10:53 pm by jenniec00ks

rocketsfood 006So back when the Houston Rockets were in the NBA playoffs, I promised my best buddy that I’d watch the game with him and make some “game” food to go with our beer (Shiner Blonde and New Belgium Sunshine Wheat). I tried a chunky guacamole in a restaurant recently and decided I liked it a lot better than a smooth creamy one. Here’s Ellie Krieger’s recipe which inspired me, but I adjusted the amount of ingredients to suit my tastes.  I also didn’t take pix the whole way through, but here’s the recipe.

So 2 big things about working with avocados – one is to work quickly and get some acid (lime or lemon juice) on them so that they don’t brown.  The second is that when you store guac or avocados, push the plastic wrap flat on the surface of the guacamole so that minimal air (oxygen is really what we’re concerned about) gets in.  Following these two steps allowed me to keep the guacamole fresh tasting for 2 full days!

3 small hass avocados – a little over a cup diced rather small – about 1/2″ pieces.

1/4 cup of red onion, finely diced

2 tablespoons of lime juice

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

Toss all the ingredients together in a bowl just until their combined.  You can mash it together with a fork if you’re not as keen on the chunkiness as I am.  I served it with Tostitos Scoops.  I’d say this makes enough for about 3-4 people to snack on, triple or quadruple it for parties.

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Let me know what you think – I know there are many people who do guacamole *their* way that have a lot more ingredients than this.  I really like the clean taste of this recipe, but I also haven’t tried too many others.

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