Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Wanderer by Robyn Carr


Love, love, love Robyn Carr! I truly enjoyed every part of this story. What Carr does best is make interesting characters and interesting secondary characters as well, so I loved reading every page. I'm excited for this new Thunder Point series.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Homemade Flour Tortillas


Growing up, my working single mom arranged for me to go to a friend’s house after school in sixth grade. My friend is Mexican and her mother would make the most delicious flour tortillas just as I was leaving (around dinner time). If I was lucky, I was offered one of the soft, thick, velvetly flour tortillas, and I’ve never forgotten them. Thanks to Facebook, I was able to reconnect with my sixth-grade friend and ask her for her mom’s recipe. Of course, her mother didn’t make the tortillas from a recipe, but she looked on the internet and found a photo tutorial by Cynthia Detterick-Pineda. By the time this information was passed on to me, I had already mixed the ingredients following Pioneer Woman’s recipe. So, below is a blending of the two.  I follow Pioneer Woman’s list of ingredients for the tortillas (we LOVE these tortillas so much, I’m scared to try anything different now), and I follow the methods of Cynthia Detterick-Pineda.

Ingredients
2-1/2 cups All-purpose Flour
2-1/2 teaspoons Baking Powder
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/2 cup Lard Or Vegetable Shortening
2 Tablespoons (additional) Lard Or Vegetable Shortening
1 cup Hot Water
*Note: I used butter flavored Crisco and that’s why mine turn out with a slightly yellow tint. I want to try real lard next.

In a large bowl, blend the flour, baking powder, and salt together.
With a pastry cutter/blender (unless you are one of those, like my teachers, who always used their hands) cut in the lard or shortening. You want these ingredients to cling together slightly and hold a form when squeezed in your hands.
If the mixture crumbles, you do not have the shortening mixed in well or have too little (if it makes a hard clump them you need more flour and less shortening).
Add the water all at once and mix the dough quickly with a fork or by hand until the dough forms a mass.

Work it in the bowl, moving it around the sides to pick up any flour remaining in the bowl.
Knead the dough by folding it in half, pushing it down, and folding again. It should take about a dozen folds to form soft dough that is no longer sticky. 

Cover the dough with a towel or plastic wrap to let it rest for about 5 to 10 minutes.
Allowing the dough to rest lets any of the liquid absorb into the flour, which will give you a softer tortilla after cooking.
Take your ball of dough and begin pinching off 1-inch diameter balls. Knead each of these into a tight ball by folding them over with your fingers, turning and repeating until it is shaped like a fat disk. Place it to one side of the mixing bowl and continue to do this until you have used all of the dough. Before rolling out the tortillas, allow the dough balls to rest at least 10 minutes. This will permit the gluten to relax and make them much easier to shape and roll.

On a lightly floured surface take one of the dough balls and begin to roll it out. To keep a somewhat round shape, roll one directions, make a 1/4 turn and roll again, make another 1/4 turn and roll. Continue to roll and turn until you the dough is about 1/8-inch thick and 8 to 10 inches in diameter. NOTE: You can roll the thinner or thicker, if you like. Just remember to adjust the cooking time for how thick they are rolled. I roll mine the way they are done in New Mexico – slightly thicker than any store bought ones.


Heat a Comal, cast-iron griddle, or small skillet to about 450 degrees F. over medium to medium-high heat until water droplets "dance" when dropped on the surface. You might have to increase or decrease the heat after you cook your first tortilla, but you should be able to tell if the tortilla is cooking too fast on the outside and still raw on the inside, or increase it if your tortilla is taking more than 30 seconds to begin to “puff” when placed on the comal.
Place the raw tortilla on the preheated Comal and allow it to cook until it begins to puff up with air pockets, turn carefully since not only is the comal hot, the tortilla is hot and the air pockets may release steam that can burn. Each side should cook about 30 seconds, leaving the tortilla puffy. Press on a center part of the tortilla slightly to be certain the inside is cooked. If it looks as though it has compressed down and is a darker color, your dough is not cooked in the center and will need to be returned to the comal.



  • The tortillas can be place in bags or containers and kept for several days in the refrigerator, and they can be frozen (although I do not recommend this as the taste changes some when they are thawed).
  • The dough can be frozen easily before cooking and thawed later.
  • Store extra tortillas in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Since they don't have preservatives, they will spoil after a couple of days on the counter. 

Comal Definition - Mexican Comal or cast iron plate used to make tortillas. If you do not have a comal, a large cast iron skillet or griddle works well, or even an electric griddle can be used when heated up to 400 to 450 degrees F.
Notes on cooking tortillas: I, along with others who have been making tortillas for quite some time, will roll the next tortilla while the previous is cooking. Unless you feel very comfortable doing this, I would recommend either having someone else flip the tortillas and pull them off the comal, or wait until the present tortilla is cooked before starting to roll a new one. You will find that tortillas can cook very quickly (approximately 1 minute), and they can burn very quickly! If you are using a cast iron comal, and the tortilla burns you will need to scrape off the char and use a damp rag to wipe down your comal before continuing to cook. The flavor of one burnt tortilla can ruin the remainder of the batch. 
As you pull the tortillas off the comal, place them in a tortilla warmer or on a plate (lined with a dish towel or paper towels to keep them warm).
Storing fresh-made tortillas:

The House that Love Built


Beth Wiseman's The House that Love Built is an easy and comforting read. This is my first Beth Wiseman book, and based off this one, I would be interested to read more of her work.

The Love Shack (Beach House No. 9 series)


The third in Christie Ridgway's Beach House No. 9 series, The Love Shack is a good read. I've read the first and the third in the series now, and am waiting for my copy of number 2 from the library. Four out of five stars!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

1 Year Old

I had the privilege of photographing a returning client. First I got to meet and photograph him at 5 days old, and now I get to see him nearly a year later almost ready to turn one. This little guy is full of smiles and we had a great day at the park playing with bubbles and watching him walk.







Crush on You by Christie Ridgway


My first Christie Ridgeway book was Beach House No. 9 (the first in the series). I really enjoyed  Beach House No. 9, so while waiting for the second and third books in the series to come out this summer, I ordered her other books from the library. First up was Crush on You.  ...sigh... The two main characters were disappointing. It took a long time for me to get into this story, and the only reason I kept reading was because of the story of the secondary characters, which I found much more realistic and endearing that the story of the main characters (that and I had NO other books to read at the time!). I give this two out of five stars.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Books!

Okay, I've read a lot since my last post about a book from July 2012. I read about one book a week, and welp, I just don't know why I didn't take the time to write about it. But here it goes, I'm going to start blogging (again) about what I'm reading. I hope you enjoy!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Brisket



A couple of month's ago, I saw one of the Pioneer Woman's episodes where she cooked brisket. It looked so good, so I saved the episode and now for Memorial Day weekend, I made it, and boy am I glad! It was so easy and so delicious. I served it on delicious Kaiser rolls, and with PW's Smashed Potatoes. We also made her broccoli with cheese dipping sauce that she features on the brisket episode. Recipe from The Pioneer Woman.


Tangy Tomato Brisket
Ingredients
One 5- to 8-pound beef brisket, trimmed of all fat (the butcher can do this for you!)
One 24-ounce bottle ketchup or chilli sauce
1 package dry onion soup mix
Several dashes hot sauce
Directions
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.

Place the brisket in an oven-safe pan. Combine the ketchup and soup mix in a bowl, and then stir it around to mix. Pour in 1 cup water and stir to combine. (You can add more water if needed!)

Pour the sauce all over the brisket, and then flip the brisket over to coat the other side. Now just cover the pan with foil and roast in the oven for 6 to 7 hours.

Remove the pan from the oven and test the brisket to make sure it's fork-tender. The brisket should fall apart if you look at it! Slice the brisket into thin strips, then return the beef to the sauce and keep it warm until you're ready to serve.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Giant Reese's Pieces Chocolate Chip Cookies

I found my new favorite cookie. Being a lover of Reese's Pieces (and peanut butter cups, can't leave those out), once I saw these delicious looking cookies at Handle the Heat, I knew I had to make them. These cookies are easy and fun for the kids to help with - they get to roll the dough into balls. These cookies really are as good as they look. They're soft and chewy without falling apart when you pick it up. Recipe from Handle the Heat.


Ingredients:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup peanut butter chips
1 cup Reese's Pieces

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats.

In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking soda, and salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter, peanut butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar on medium-high speed until very well combined, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, milk, and vanilla and beat until combined. On low speed gradually add the flour mixture and beat until just combined. Add the chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, and Reese's Pieces and beat until combined. You may need to do this by hand with a spatula if your mixer isn't strong enough.

Roll the dough into 1/4-cup balls and place on the prepared baking sheets. Flatten the dough balls into 1/2-inch thick disks. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the cookies are light golden brown at the edges. Place the baking sheets on cooling racks and let cool completely. Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Makes 18-20 giant cookies.

Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker

Pork with Maple Dijon Sauce


We like to eat pork about once a week or so, and recently, my husband asked if I could make pork with sauce. So that's what I entered into my Google search, "pork with sauce," and I found the three ingredients for the sauce below, combined with my seasonings on the pork, and it turned out delicious! Give it a try!



Pork with Maple Dijon Sauce

4 boneless pork chops, thin cut
2 Tablespoons Onion Powder
2 Tablespoons Garlic Powder
1 Tablespoon Ground Mustard
Salt and Pepper
1 Tablespoon butter

Sauce:
2 Tablespoons maple syrup
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard

Mix maple syrup, brown sugar and mustard together and set aside.
IMG_2024-psRemove visible fat from pork. Mix onion powder through pepper in a small bowl. Sprinkle each side of each pork steak with the seasonings (about 1 teaspoon for each side) and spread it around with a butter knife or the back of a spoon so the chop is fully coated.

IMG_2020-psHeat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add butter. When butter is melted, add pork and brown (approximately 2 minutes each side). If you weren't able to get thin-cut pork chops, lower heat to medium, add a couple of Tablespoons water and cover with a lid and cook 2 minutes or until the pork is cooked through. A meat thermometer should read 160 degrees. Remove to a plate. Add sauce to skillet and heat several seconds, scraping up any brown bits in the skillet.


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Serve pork with sauce spooned on top. 


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This pork is delicious and is good served over a bed of greens, or with rice and a green vegetable. The kids and I like to spoon the sauce over our rice, so if this sounds good to you, I would suggest doubling the sauce recipe.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Spaghetti with Browned Butter and Myzithra


My family loves to visit The Old Spaghetti Factory and eat pasta. One of our favorite dishes is the Spaghetti with Browned Butter and Myzithra. When my husband and I were living in Idaho, the closest Spaghetti Factory was 6 hours away, so we decided to try and make our own. This is where I learned my lesson on butter verses margarine. Yes, we were in our young 20s and didn't know the difference. We used what we had in his fridge, which was margarine. As you can imagine  it did not brown like the butter would have and our first try was a big disappointment. Since then, we've made it many times with real butter (which is all we ever keep in the house) and it is delicious. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.
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Spaghetti with Brown Butter and Myzithra
Serves 4

12 oz. dry spaghetti
1.5 sticks butter (or 12 Tablespoons)
4 oz. shredded Myzithra
2 oz. Parmesan

Cook spaghetti according to package directions. After adding the spaghetti to the boiling water, heat the butter in a large nonstick pan over medium-low heat. Use a high temperature spatula to keep stirring the butter. Melt the butter and while stirring, wait for it to start turning brown. By this time, the spaghetti should be cooked. Drain the spaghetti and then add it to the pan with the browned butter. Stir the spaghetti so the browned butter coats all the noodles. Put a quarter of the spaghetti on each of 4 plates, and then add 1 ounce Myzithra and half an ounce of parmesan to the noodles on each plate. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Strawberry Apple Crisp


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We had a lovely (and rare) day of sunshine this past weekend, and I was inspired to make a strawberry apple crisp. I think a crisp is one of my favorite desserts ever. Here's the recipe I always use:

Apple Crisp
6-8 medium cooking apples (about 6 cups sliced)
½ cup sifted flour
¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar
½ cup old fashioned oats
¾ tsp. cinnamon
¾ tsp. nutmeg
1/3 cup butter

Serves 8
Butter a 9x9x2 inch baking dish. Wash, pare, core, and thinly slice apples. Arrange in an even layer in baking dish. Set aside. Mix together flour, sugar, oats, and spices. In a food processor, if you have one, with a pastry blender if not, cut in the butter, until mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle flour, sugar, butter mixture over apples. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes or until crust is crisp and apples are tender. Serve warm, garnished with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

*Strawberry variation: I used about 6 cups worth of sliced strawberries and added two sliced apples. It was very juicy due to the strawberries, so next time, I might try adding ¼ or ½ cup of oats in with the fruit.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Cherry Oreo Cheesecake



I had the opportunity to have the big family Christmas celebration at my house this year (first time for me!). Since I love desserts, in addition to the ham, I assigned myself the pies. Now, my husband's family usually has 2 pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving and 2 pumpkin pies for Christmas (and that's it!). So at Thanksgiving, I asked some of the cousins what their favorite desserts are. I heard cheesecake and anything with chocolate. I saw this lovely recipe for cherry cheesecake and decided to make it with an Oreo crust to incorporate the chocolate aspect and it was delicious and visually stunning. Enjoy!


Cherry Oreo Cheesecake
Serves 12

Ingredients
1 Oreo Crust, see below
3 8-ounce bars cream cheese, at room temperature
1 ¼ cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups sour cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ cup cherry preserves

Directions
1. Heat oven to 350° F. 

2. Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and 1 cup of the sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Beat in ½ cup of the sour cream and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla.

3. Pour the mixture into the crust and bake until just set, 40 to 45 minutes. (I recommend putting foil on the shelf below the spring-form pan in case it leaks – yes, this happened to me.)

4. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the remaining 1 ½ cups of sour cream, ¼ cup of sugar, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Spread over the hot cheesecake and bake until set, 3 to 5 minutes more. Let cool in the pan, then refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Run a knife around the edge of the cheesecake before unmolding.

5. Spread the preserves over the cheesecake before serving.

The cheesecake can be baked up to 2 days in advance; refrigerate loosely covered. Before serving, unmold and top with the preserves.

Oreo Cookie Pie Crust Recipe
Ingredients:
24 whole Oreo cookies
1/4 cup melted unsalted butter

Preparation:
In a medium-sized bowl or a food processor, add the Oreo cookies and blend until the texture of coarse meal or crumbs. Add the melted butter and blend until well combined.
Place the ground crumb mixture into a 9-inch spring-form pan and press onto the bottom and up the sides evenly with a straight-sided dry measuring cup. Try to make the crust about 1/8 inch (1/3 cm) evenly all around.
Makes 1 pie crust.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Chicken Marsala

Third time's a charm, right? I made Chicken Marsala the other night in honor of me not being sick and being able to actually cook. I made a whole extra plate so that after dinner, I could take a picture of it (thus practicing the use of all artificial light for the food photo), and my husband would have leftovers to take for lunch the next day. So when he was at lunch, a coworker asked for the recipe, and my husband told me that he directed her to my blog. Blerk! I hadn't yet posted my photo (or recipe) of Chicken Marsala, but (to my horror), my husband told me that I've actually already posted the recipe (and picture) of Chicken Marsala twice before. He also informed me that the picture I took this past week is way better, so here it is. I guess it's good to know that I'm improving! (Use the search engine at the top left if you want to see my progression of food photo-taking skills throughout the years. Simply search for "chicken marsala.")

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Chicken Marsala

4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup pre-sliced mushrooms
½ cup Marsala wine
½ cup fat-free less-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Place chicken between 2 sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap; pound each piece to ½-inch thickness using a meat mallet or rolling pin. Sprinkle both sides of chicken evenly with salt and pepper. Place flour in a shallow dish. Dredge chicken in flour, turning to coat; shake off excess flour.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook 3 minutes on each side or until browned. Remove chicken from pan; keep warm. Add mushrooms, wine, broth, and juice to pan; reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes or until mixture is reduced to 2/3 cup. Return chicken to pan, turning to coat well. Cover and cook 5 minutes or until chicken is done. Sprinkle with parsley.

*Special notes: you’ll notice that I have used canned mushrooms (that way I can make Chicken Marsala whenever, despite the fact that I don’t have fresh mushrooms, but it really is better with fresh mushrooms. And, I obviously forgot to use the parsley.

Recipe Source: Cooking Light magazine