Thursday, January 27, 2011

Roasted Peanut and Dark Chocolate Cheesecake!

I checked my blog today, looking for this recipe, and was shocked that I had forgotten to post it. I have been savoring every bite of this thing for almost two weeks now and I didn't post it! I'm so sorry that the few people who read my blog have been deprived of this recipe for so long. It really is inexcusable. My heartfelt and humble apologies to all of you.

So this recipe was inspired by my lunch with Eric at Centro a couple weeks ago. The Centro Roasted Peanut and Dark Chocolate Torte was better than this cheesecake, but this recipe was a pretty tasty starting point. I even had some friends try it and got their feedback, which helped me tweak the recipe for the better, I think.


Wednesday Lunch Date at Jill's

Eric and I went to Jill's for lunch yesterday for our weekly lunch date. The atmosphere was okay and so was the food, but it wasn't great. Eric had the Cuban panini with sweet potato fried and I tried the chicken ravioli. The ravioli tasted okay. The presentation was pretty, but the flavor was a bit lacking. When Eric tried it, he said it tasted like hot dogs. And it kinda did. The best part of the lunch was Eric's sweet potato fries. Those were yummy. Everything else, I could have done without.

I think that the thing that bothered me the most was that when I left the restaurant after finishing my "meal," I was still hungry. I'm not usually a lunch eater. Most days when I'm home alone, I tend to skip lunch. But I left this restaurant hungry, at lunch time. Not a good recommendation in my mind. I may go back and give it another try sometime, but not any time soon. StumbleUpon

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Apple-Cinnamony, Warm-You-from-the-Inside-Out Oatmeal

We got some snow last night. Enough to make driving a huge pain in the hind-end, but not enough to close schools. I figured that everyone needed a warm breakfast. The kids laid claim to the last of the eggs, so Eric and I had to come up with something else. We had some muffins that I bought from Costco, some apple muffins with maple icing and some double chocolate ones. What besides eggs would go well with them? Oatmeal. Since I have decided to try to lose a few pounds, I wasn't going to have a muffin, but the apple cinnamon flavor sounded so good this morning.

The result of the craving for that apple flavor was Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal. Unlike most of my creations, this one came right out of my head, no real measuring, just eyeballing everything. And it was delicious!

Here is how I threw it together:

Peel, core and chop one large Fuji apple. I chopped mine into about 1/4" x 1/2" pieces. Heat a large sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add about 1 tsp of unsalted butter. When the foaming subsides, add the chopped apple. Cook the apple until the liquid has cooked away and the apples start to slightly brown. Sprinkle in about 1 1/2 Tbsp of cinnamon sugar, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, a pinch of fresh nutmeg and a pinch of salt. Continue cooking until everything looks sticky and caramel-y. Hit it with 3-4 Tbsp of Applejack Brandy and boil it down until it is thick and syrupy. Add 1 1/2 cups of old-fashioned oats and 3 cups of water. Bring it all to a boil and lower the heat to medium-low. Boil, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add brown sugar to taste (I used about 1 packed tablespoon) and serve. This serves 2-3 people.

This oatmeal was pretty amazing. I think next time I make it, I'll cut the oats back to 1 cup and the water to 1 3/4 cups so that there is a bit more apple flavor. Still, a pretty great breakfast for about 10 minutes of work.

If you don't have any Applejack on hand, try using about 1/4 - 1/2 cup of apple juice or 3-4 Tbsp of apple juice concentrate. It may end up a bit sweeter, but you can just cut back on the amount of brown sugar that you add at the end.

Enjoy! StumbleUpon

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Going Simple with Inside-Out Burgers

So Eric got the idea to make hamburgers with all the cheese and bacon and yummy stuff on the inside. He tried it while I was at my Monday night meeting a couple weeks ago so, sadly, I missed out. We had another go with them last night and I was so excited. I tried to stretch one pound of beef into five burgers, and they turned out well, but they were a bit to small for their buns. Next time I'll used two pounds and make them a bit bigger. I had bacon, blue cheese and grilled onions in mine. (Had HUGE flavor!) I was going to have jalapenos on mine as well, but since Eric wasn't having any, I chose to skip them. I wanted him to spend time with me after dinner, and that's easier to do if you both have dragon breath. Either way, I was so psyched! It was truly one of the best burgers I'd had in a very long time. I think that the organic ground beef had a lot to do with that. There is such a huge flavor difference between vacuum-sealed organic beef and the stretch-wrapped hormone-filled beef that you buy in the little foam trays. The organic beef usually costs about twice as much, but for something like burgers, the extra expense is SO worth it. We like our burgers medium to well done and with the organic beef, they still turn out juicy and tasty. I think these tasty morsels are going to find their way into our regular rotation of recipes. Definitely worth the extra time and effort.

There really isn't a recipe for these, but I'll tell you how we put them together. Divide your ground meat up into as many portions as you plan on making. Divide each portion in half and press the meat thin to make two patties. Condiments such as mayo, ketchup and mustard still go on the bun, the cheese, bacon, onions, peppers, etc. go between the patties. Place your favorite burger toppings on the first patty and  top it with the second patty. Cook the patties as you would a regular burger. They are so yummy. StumbleUpon

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A New Food Adventure

My husband and I got to lunch together every Wednesday. We used to debate about where to go, what's good, what we were in the mood to eat. Instead of keeping with that pattern, we have decided that we are going to visit every restaurant in the downtown Boulder area. We started at the West End of town and are systematically working our way east. Although there are many restaurants we have already tried and really liked, we're skipping them for this adventure. It will probably take at least 3 years to complete this goal, but by the time we're done, we'll know downtown Boulder's restaurants really well. Of course there are some restaurants that are only open for dinner. I suppose we'll have to find a babysitter so we can try those ones. I'm pretty sure we'll both be okay with that.

We started last week with Sushi Tora. It was really good. I had the sushi lunch and pork shumai. Everything was very tasty. Then, even though we didn't have room for it, we split the apple dessert. It was kind of like an apple crisp without the oats and was topped with really good vanilla ice cream. It was so delicious. I really liked this place. Partly because of the food and partly because of the atmosphere, very relaxed and comfortable. And since the servers leave a pitcher of water on the table, I always had a full glass. That's a very big thing for me. When I go out to eat, I can easily drink an entire quart of water and still need more. Sushi Tora gets a big thumbs up from me.

This week, Eric and I tried Centro Latin Kitchen and Refreshment Palace. It was pretty good. We arrived just after they opened, so it was pretty empty still. Again, water pitcher was left on the table and quickly replaced when it was emptied. Centro has a nice atmosphere and friendly staff. Eric and I split an Empanada Platter and the Chicken Enchiladas. They were both tasty, but not the best I've ever had. I think my favorite part of the meal was the achiote rice. It was so good. I could have eaten just that and been satisfied. But then came the dessert. We split the Roasted Peanut and Dark Chocolate Torte. (My mouth is watering just thinking about it.) It was amazing! Creamy roasted peanut flavored filling with a cheesecake texture on a blond cookie crust, topped with a thick, dark chocolate fudge layer, sprinkled with roasted peanuts and covered in whipped cream. If that isn't the epitome of decadence, I don't know what is. It was like a gigantic peanut butter cup but a thousand times better. I've come up with a recipe that I think might work to replicate this dessert, but I still have to try it out. If it turns out well, I'll post it right after I'm done eating way too much of it in one sitting. If it isn't up to snuff, I'll just have to keep trying until I get it right. *sigh* The daunting tasks that I set for myself, but I'll power through somehow. Not sure I can say the same for my waistline though. StumbleUpon

Harper's Baby Blanket

I finished my newborn niece's baby blanket. I got it all blocked and everything. It's been forever since I've blocked a blanket, but this one needed it. It was only about 2/3 the final size before blocking and didn't look quite as nice as I had hoped. Once it was blocked, it looked just like I had imagined when I started it. And it was an easy pattern too. Those are my favorite patterns, easy to make and beautiful when they're finished.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tuscan White Bean Soup

I love soup. At times, when I get on a soup kick, my family can really get fed up with how much I love soup. I grew up eating soup all the time. Soup, chili, stew, all kinds of brothy concoctions. So I think that has something to do with why I love soups so much; to me, soup is comfort food. Another reason: they can be so dang easy to throw together that soup is a great meal for a busy weeknight. Chop up and brown some onions, maybe some carrots and celery and meat of some kind, add broth, salt, pepper and herbs and let it simmer for a while. How easy is that?!

This recipe is so easy that I got it done in about 45 minutes, start to finish. And most of that time, I was just waiting around, getting hungrier and hungrier as it started filling my kitchen with wonderful aromas. I adapted this recipe from a Cook's Illustrated recipe. (Again.) I do that a lot, take one of their recipes and add my own little something. Here's how I tweaked it:

The CI recipe called for pancetta, I opted for Italian sausage instead. I used a local brand that was flavored with Merlot, Asiago cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. I figured that would be a tasty substitute, and it was. I could have used bacon, but this sausage sounded so yummy that I couldn't pass it up. I also added a big chunk of Parmesan cheese rind that I had in the fridge, about 2 cups of homemade chicken stock and an extra can of cannellini beans. I had some dried out french bread laying around from a few days ago, so we cut it into hunks and put it in the bottom of our bowls. I think that was my favorite part. The bread soaked up the flavorful broth and got all soft and chewy again. It was delicious! Definitely going to make it again. Already bought the ingredients.

A few days after the leftovers (sadly) were gone:
I made the soup again when I was at a loss as to what I was going to fix for dinner. This time I used only 1/2 pound of the same sausage but removed the casings and broke it up while I browned it. The first batch had too many BIG pieces of sausage, this time it had more pieces, but less sausage and therefore less fat. I also used 2 sprigs of Rosemary, a pinch of red pepper flakes and about 3 1/2 cups of chicken stock. The day after I made the soup the first time, it was too thick from the beans releasing their starches into the broth. I off-set that this time by adding a little more chicken stock at the beginning, rather than having to thin it down the second day. I decided to take the time to skim the fat off of the top of the soup while I simmered this time too. Removing the casings seemed to allow a lot more fat to float out into the soup. I can't stand to see fat floating on the top of my soup. If you're the kind of person who doesn't mind it, you can skip this step. But I was feeling rather anal that day and felt the need. All of my new tweaks worked well.

So here's the tasty, yet simple recipe. Sorry there aren't any pictures. I was so impatient to eat it, I forgot to snap a picture.

Almost Cook's Illustrated Tuscan White Bean Soup

1/2 to 1 lb Italian sausage links
2 Tbsp olive oil, if needed
1 med onion, chopped
1 Tbsp chopped garlic, about 3-4 cloves
3 1/2 c water
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 c chicken stock
5 - 14oz cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1-2 sprigs Rosemary
Parmesan rind, about 3-4" piece
day-old French or Italian bread

In a large stock pot, brown sausage links. (Alternately, remove the casings and brown sausage. Leave in pan while browning onions.) Remove from pot and set aside.
Add oil to pot if there isn't enough fat from sausages. Saute onions until soft.
Add garlic, cook for about 1 minute, or until it is fragrant.
Dump water, stock and beans into pot. Put sausages back in along with Parmesan rind and Rosemary
Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower heat to medium-low and simmer until sausages are cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. (Chicken or Turkey = 160-165 degrees, Pork = 170 degrees)
Remove sausage links, slice them into rounds and return to the pot. (Skip this step is you browned the sausage without the casings. Instead, skim fat off of the top of the soup.)
Let simmer for 5 more minutes.
Season with salt and pepper, remove Parmesan rind and Rosemary.
Place a chunk of dry bread in bottom of bowl and ladle soup over the top.

Serving suggestions:
 - Drizzle with good extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a little extra yummy-ness.
 - Grate Parmesan cheese on top
 - Smash up some of the beans for a thicker broth StumbleUpon