Thursday, January 29, 2009

Chinese New Year Feast

Don't worry if you missed the first night of Chinese New Year's. (I know it was keeping you up at night.) The wise Chinese, along with other Asians, will continue to celebrate for two glorious weeks. Oh how I love a prolonged party! One little box on a calendar just doesn't suffice. Plus once you make a little Chinese food, you'll want to eat it much more often, like almost every day for two weeks. (But you'll have to take a break for Super Bowl Sunday, since Chinese food and football just sound wrong together.) Our "Year of the Ox" dinner included steamed white rice, stir fried noodles, a sweet and sour sauced orange and sesame chicken, and honey soy broccoli, topped off with brown sugar-almond cookies with tangerines for dessert. I think you're really going to love this menu, but most particularly this chicken. I mean weak-at-the-knees love it. Our dinner guests were smitten, and the usually cryptic Mr. Quiet Man even got a little verbose (for him), and I also found myself scraping the pan for the last of that syrupy- vinegary sauce. Good heavens, I'm always a little ashamed of myself when I scrape the pan. I'll just have to make it again. (And my little boy requested it for dinner again tonight. Yep. I think we must.) We've got almost two more weeks of Chinese good wishes. What a way to start a New Year! Money Saving tips: Sesame Oil is pricey but a little goes a long way. Try using it to drizzle on finished dishes for the most bang for your buck. (Use cheaper oils for the actual cooking.) The orange chicken is based on a knock off recipe from Panda Express (I know, I know, unauthentic), only this one is ten times better and will cost you considerably less, especially if you got your chicken on sale. Plus you can control the amount of oil that goes into this recipe, which normally consists of deep fried batter coated chicken. I've used plain old pasta noodles in my recipe below also, since that's going to be your cheapest option. Check out your produce section and compare prices for the cheapest broccoli: loose or bagged. For the cookies, you can swap out any nut you might have on hand, or leave them out all together and swap in a bit of almond extract.

Orange Sesame Chicken
Estimated Cost: $5.00 for six servings
Notes: The preparation on this one is a bit messy, so try to have everything ready ahead of time. I never do, of course, but then I always make a tremendous mess. Just trying to save my wise readers a little clean up.
Ingredients:
1 and 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken pieces, cut into 2 inch chunks
1 egg
about 1/4 cup oil (for light frying), plus 1 tablespoon
1/2 cup cornstarch PLUS 2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup flour
1 tablespoon minced ginger root
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 dash crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup chopped green onions
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/3 cup orange juice, plus zest of one orange
5 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons vinegar (I use rice, white, or even cider)
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Directions:
Place chicken pieces in bowl. Stir in egg, and about 3/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper , and mix well. In a separate bowl, stir 1/2 cup cornstarch and flour together. Add chicken pieces, stirring to coat. Heat oil for frying in wok or large skillet. Add chicken pieces, small batch at a time, and fry 3 to 4 minutes or until golden and crisp. (Do not overcook or chicken will be tough.) Remove chicken from oil with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Set aside. Clean wok with paper towel and heat 15 seconds over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil. Add ginger and garlic and stir-fry until fragrant. Add and stir-fry crushed chilies and green onions. Add soy sauce, orange juice and zest, sugar, and vinegar to the wok; bring to a boil. Add cooked chicken, stirring until well mixed. Stir about 1/4 cup water into remaining 2 tablespoons cornstarch until smooth. Add to chicken and heat until sauce is thickened. Stir in 1 tablespoon sesame oil. Serve at once.
Year-Long Noodles
Traditionally, long life noodles are served at Chinese New Year's Feasts to represent best wishes for a lengthy life. I call mine Year Long noodles, since I can't think that far ahead. I'm just hoping for a good long year.
Estimated Cost: $3.00
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 cup matchstick cut carrots
2 cups shredded green cabbage
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 bunch green onions, cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2 lb. noodles, cooked according to package directions, and drained well
2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Heat oil in large pot over high heat. Add carrots and cook for 2 minutes, until tender crisp. Add cabbage, garlic, and green onions. Cook for 1 minute. Add noodles and stir fry for 3 minutes. Add soy sauce and drizzle with a bit more sesame oil.
Honey and Soy Broccoli and Mushrooms
Notes: I should have made a double batch of these vegetables, since they were the first thing devoured from our feast.
Estimated Cost: $3.00
1 teaspoon oil
4 ounces sliced mushrooms (Use whatever you can get on sale)
2 cups chopped broccoli florettes
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons honey
pinch of red pepper flakes
In a small skillet, heat oil over high heat. Add mushrooms and cook for two minutes. Add broccoli and stir fry for 3 minutes, or until tender crisp. Stir in soy, honey and red pepper flakes. Cook for 1 minute more. (You can thicken this sauce with cornstarch if desired, but I leave it a little bit thin to go over rice.)
Almond Brown Sugar Cookies
Notes: These cookies could be made without nuts, or with any nut at all. I made them with almonds to bring back memories of those giant almond flavored cookies from Chinese restaurants of my youth. Serve them with tangerine or orange wedges and a nice cup of herbal tea.
(Thanks to Amber for catching my temp error. Fixed it-350 is correct!)
Estimated Cost: $3.00
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar, plus more for tops
2 teaspoons vanilla
about 1 and 1/2 cup flour, plus more if needed
about 1 cup chopped sliced almonds
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add vanilla. Stir in flour lightly until dough forms a "play dough" type consistency. It shouldn't be too sticky, but you should be able to form a ball of dough without having it crumble. Stir in almonds. Form dough into 1 inch balls and place on cookie sheets, about 2 inches apart. Place about 1/4 cup sugar in a small bowl. Take a drinking glass and wet the bottom. Press the glass into the sugar, then press onto the cookie to flatten out. Repeat process with all cookies. Bake cookies for about 8-10 minutes or until crisp and browned on edges. Makes about 2 dozen.

Up Next:
Twice Baked Potato Appetizers for Super Bowl Sunday

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Gingerbread with and without Chocolate

Welcome, fellow penny pinchers! On Tuesdays, I particpate in a baking club with hundreds of other bakers. Click here for more information. Today's assignment: Chocolate Gingerbread

Alas, for me the combination of chocolate and gingerbread was a poorly arranged marriage. (I even tried to perk it up with whipped cream, but alas...)It's a bit like the brief business partnership between Donald Trump and Martha Stewart. Who really thought it would last? How can two bull-headed, type A, oldest children possibly cooperate? Trump and Stewart, Chocolate and Gingerbread. Both are fighting for top billing, and instead of noticing their separate strengths, I only noticed their collective failure. It's really better that they live quietly apart. I could have gone away and thrown out the whole recipe, like the proverbial baby with the bathwater, but because the recipe is from Dorie Greenspan, THE Dorie Greenspan, I gave the gingerbread another try, sans the chocolate. This time, I hooked the gingerbread up with a silky cream cheese icing. They fell in love immediately and were last seen thumbing through wedding magazines and picking out names for their babies. I knew true love would win out in the end. For my fellow penny pinchers, bake up Dorie's recipe in two loaf pans so that you have one to share with a friend. Head over the lovely Sherry Trifle for the recipe.
Estimated Cost: $4.00 for two plain loaves
P.S. I loved reading your sweaty, weak-kneed, panicky comments from my last post. I almost got hives reading about your nervous moments. Thanks for cheering me up! I've got to write more about this topic; it's way too good!
Come Back Soon for that Chinese New Year Dinner:
Sesame Orange Chicken, Year Long Noodles, Soy and Honey Broccoli and Brown Sugar Almond Cookies

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Toasted Walnut Pasta

It isn't that I'm particularly shy. It's just that playing the piano in public makes me, well nervous, sweaty, and generally uncomfortable. It started in first grade at my first recital at Gladys Simcock's school of piano. I'd always enjoyed playing "Papa Haydn" at home with my wild brothers and sisters running around, but my fingers felt like uncoordinated blocks of wood when people sitting in folding chairs were sitting still and actually listening to the music I was producing. Gradually with time and multiple disharmonious errors, I was able to overcome my fear and play an occasional hymn at church, accompany the random soloist who couldn't find anyone better, and substitute for children's singing time for Sunday school. But now that my children are becoming better violinists with more and more opportunities to play in public, I've been forced into that awkward spot of lengthy public piano playing. Like today. The two charges were asked to prepare a special musical number for today's services. They shimmied proudly to the front of the congregation and put their bows into playing position. I, on the other hand, gulped, walked stiffly to the piano, with several sheets of music crammed into sweaty armpit. Doggone it, I thought I'd already conquered this Goliath. Only now, it's worse. Much worse, because not only am I nervous for myself, I'm also nervous for them. (Especially because they don't have the good sense to be nervous at all, counfound it! They don't even consider the what ifs, the maybes, the potentials for imperfections. And I sure don't want to tell them.) So instead of just my fingers feeling like blocks of wood like before, now my whole body feels like a double for Robocop. Robocop just can't be that artistic on the piano in church, no matter how many hours he practices at home. Truthfully, the music came out just fine, actually beautifully, if you were only listening to the violins, and just fine if you were listening to the pale-faced and clammy accompanist.
So here's my question for you, dear readers:
What makes you nervous? Is it public speaking, dancing, going to a restaurant alone, playing an instrument on stage, giving a speech, delivering a presentation at work, asking for a raise, getting weighed at the Dr.'s? What is it? Leave me a comment and help me feel better about my own adolescent bout of panic.
In the meantime, here's a simple recipe that so simple that it wouldn't cause the least anxiety in anyone. It's fast-20 minutes, healthful (think heart-healthy nuts), and downright creamy and delicious. This luxurious blender sauce will be ready in the time it takes to boil your pasta. (You can always add some cooked shrimp or chicken for a fuller meal, too.) It's so perfectly delicious that I dub it my new favorite. Now at least I don't have to panic over dinner. Phew!
Money Saving Tips:
If you are a nut lover, buy the big bags and save a few pennies. If not, and they end up going bad before they can be used, try buying from the bulk bins, a cup or two at a time. They may cost a little more, but it's worth it not to waste. Pasta dinners are still one of the cheapest choices around, so keep your cupboard stocked with a variety of shapes.
Toasted Walnut Pasta
Slightly Adapted from Nigella Lawson
Estimated Cost: $5.50

3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 clove garlic, minced
1 slice bread, crusts removed
2/3 cup milk (I used 2 percent)
1 ounce grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 pound any flat short pasta (I used whole grain)
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley, for garnish
Directions
Put a large saucepan of water on to boil, and toast the walnuts in a dry frying pan until they begin to make a nutty aroma. Put the bread in a bowl and cover with the milk. Put most of the toasted walnuts (reserving about 1 ounce for garnish) into a blender along with the garlic, bread soaked in milk, and Parmesan. Blend until it turns smooth and creamy, then pour in the oil and season well with salt and pepper before blending again.
Pour into a bowl, and set aside.
Add pasta to boiling water with salt and cook for the required amount of time. When pasta is al dente, reserve a cup of the pasta cooking liquid and then drain the pasta, but put it in to a large bowl while it's still dripping slightly with water. Sprinkle a little olive oil over the pasta to prevent it sticking together, and then add the walnut sauce, mixing it into the pasta (splash in a little pasta cooking liquid to make the sauce less thick if needed).
Roughly chop the remaining walnuts and toss them over the top along with some more Parmesan and the chopped parsley.
Come Back for a Chinese New Year Dinner:
Orange Sesame Chicken, Year Long Noodles, Soy-Honey Broccoli and
Almond-Brown Sugar Cookies

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Good For You Creamy Tomato Soup with Rosemary Focaccia

Hey-Hello everybody, and welcome to any newcomers!

Someone once tried to tell me that soup wasn't dinner. (I don't want to name names, but he's five years old, keeps rocks in his pockets, owns five light sabers, has big brown eyes and lives at my house.) To him I say, have two bowls. Maybe even three. And with soup as good for you as this one, you could probably get away with four. And who's counting, anyway? Darn it, it's January and we're all counting. Counting calories, counting pennies, counting minutes. Fortunately, this soup measures low on all of the aforementioned categories, with an exceptionally high rating in taste. I know, because I'm the judge. (In fact I'm all three judges and I give it three tens.) As for calories, it's good and low since you are swapping out the heavy cream that usually makes soup so luxurious. Instead, you've got three options below: evaporated skim milk, low fat cream cheese, or fat free half and half. As for pennies, this soup is particulary easy on the pocket book, since you're using canned tomatoes (stock up during sales!), humble vegetables, and pantry staples for seasonings. And as for minutes, head directly to the kitchen because you could be having soup in about 25 of them. As an added bonus, I've included my recipe for rosemary focaccia. With this rustic flatbread baking in the oven and tomato soup simmering on the stove, the whole house will smell like an Italian villa. And even five year old little charges will be won over by such savory charms and be forced to admit that dinner, yes-this soup dinner, is down right delicious. (By the way, he had three bowls.) But who's counting?
Money and Time Saving Tips:
Keep the pantry stocked with canned tomatoes for fast dinners. I buy cases of tomatoes when they go for 50 cents a can. Use stock, broth or even bouillion cubes, depending on what you've got. You can also make the soup creamy with regular milk, but it may not be as luxurious. For the focaccia, use dried rosemary or swap it out for dried basil. But wedges of parmesan when on sale; they keep well. Baking your own bread, especially specialty bread, will save you oodles over bakery prices. If you're pressed for time, you can use purchased pizza dough or a roll of Pillsbury french bread.
Good for you Creamy Tomato Soup
Estimated Cost: $5.50 for four servings
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 (14 ounce) cans Italian style diced tomatoes, undrained
2 cups chicken broth or stock
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon balsamic or red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
3/4 cup evaporated skim milk, or 4 ounces 1/3 less fat cream cheese
chopped fresh basil or parsley for serving
In a large pot, heat oil over medium high heat. Add oniion and carrots and saute for five minutes. Stir in garlic and saute an additional minute. Add tomatoes, broth, red pepper flakes, vinegar, and honey. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes, or until all vegetables are tender. For a creamy soup, transfer to blender and blend, or use an immersion blender directly in the pot. (Immersion blenders are a must have for soup lovers!) Soup can be made up to 2 days ahead of time to this point. Just before serving, add evaporated skim milk (or cream cheese of half and half) to pot. Warm through, but do not boil. Serve immediately with basil or parsley, and hopefully some warm focaccia. Rosemary Focaccia
Estimated Cost: $3.50 for 12 wedges
Notes: My favorite yeast is SAF, which many professional bakeries use. It may not be available at your store, so ask your supermarket baker which yeast they use behind the counter and buy that one. If you get a truly reliable yeast, and you make sure your water isn't too hot, you almost can't fail.
2 teaspoons rapid rise yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water (think baby bottle warm)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried rosemary, chopped, or 1 tablespoon fresh
3 cups flour (I use half whole wheat)
For Top:
2-6 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup to 3/4 cup parmesan cheese
additional chopped dried or fresh rosemary
black pepper
In a large bowl, combine yeast, sugar, water, olive oil, pepper, salt, rosemary and half of the flour. Stir with a wooden spoon. (Alternately, if you have a free standing mixer, put in all of the flour and let the machine do the work.) Work in the remaining flour, using your hands and kneading when necessary. Knead dough for five minutes. Cover and let rise for one hour. (The dough can be made up to 24 hours in advance. Cover with saran wrap and store in fridge.) Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Press dough into a 12 inch circle. Don't worry about being perfect; you're going for rustic Italian here. Press the dough all over with your fingertips to make indentations. Cover dough with olive oil, cheese, rosemary and black pepper. Bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown. Cut into wedges and serve. Any leftovers make a killer sandwich for the next day.
Up Next: My New Favorite Dinner
20 minute Toasted Walnut and Garlic Pasta
plus a burning question....

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Patriotic Cake for Inauguration Day

It's a brand new year with a brand new president. It seems fitting to celebrate-yet again. Or else I'm just looking for excuses to perpetuate the party. And even though 2009 won't be without bumps and challenges, I also know that it will bring a measure of happiness and blessings to all. One thing's for certain, even in these uncertain times: I would never ever want to be President of the United States. (Why restrict it to the United States? I wouldn't even want to be president of anything, not even a book club, or the PTA, or even Penny Pinchers Anonymous, or the Rare and Exquisite Sock Hunting Club, or the Association of Disgruntled Dishwashers, or the Pink Ladies, etc, etc, etc and so on and so forth.) Nope. Poor presidential guy's got his work cut out for him. No matter who got your X on the ballot, the new Mr. President deserves our hope and respect. So bake up a patriotic cake and tune in to watch history in the making. And sit back and enjoy the fact that you're not in charge. Phew. Lucky for me, It's Tuesdays with Dorie and Mary Ann over at the deliciously prolific Meet Me in the Kitchen chose this adapatable recipe with a surprise filling. (Hence the name Berry Surprise Cake, Penny Pinching Estimate: $6.00 for half batch with frozen berries.) I chose not to use the actual cake portion of the recipe, since many fellow bakers reported problems with sagging middles. (I don't even like the sound of that, especially in January...) Any cake should work just fine, including a store bought angelfood cake if you're short on time. Besides its the creamy filling, berries and whipped cream icing that really make this cake a Yankee Doodle Dandy of a treat.

Bake one tall layer of cake. I used a moist buttermilk recipe from Joy of Cooking to make this 5 inch diameter dimunitive dessert. Slice the layers in half. Excavate a circle of cake to make a nest. Fill it with cream cheese thinned with whipped cream and sweetened with a bit of sugar. Nestle the berries atop the cream cheese filling. Use raspberries and blueberries to be extra patriotic. Mine were of the frozen defrosted variety, the only choice for winter penny pinchers.Replace the top. Frost with sweetened whipped cream and refrigerate until serving time.
Poke in a few American flags and leave it in the fridge till it's time to indulge. Try not to steal any whipped cream, OK? Oh, all right. I won't tell. But steal it from the back so you can still take a good picture.
P.S. I was able to squeeze out a couple of cupcakes for the two little charges, since they like surprises in every other context except food. The rascals.
Coming Next:
That Good For you Creamy Tomato Soup and Rosemary Focaccia

Friday, January 16, 2009

Jiggety Jig, Home Again

In November, it was a European vacation with my family, capped off by a visit to New York. We were home just in time for Thanksgiving and houseguests and more celebration. December brought the holidays with all the requisite parties and festivities. January is supposed to be the month to clean up your act, settle down, shed a few pounds, do some penance, button down your collar, and get going on your resolutions. So I feel a little sheepish to admit that we haven't stopped our extra long holiday fiesta yet. Quite the opposite; we've been at Disneyworld all week. I only paused a moment between my steady Disney diet of popcorn and churros to reflect on our gluttonous good fortune. We're not quite as devil-may-care as it might seem. We're lucky. See, this trip to Disneyworld was a prize from a cooking contest I entered in 2008. Grandma's Molasses was looking for favorite holiday recipes. I entered my recipe for a succulent beef tenderloin with a balsamic-molasses glaze over blue cheese mashed potatoes. They liked it enough to send the four of us packing to Orlando for a chance to draw out the holidays for a little longer. But starting Monday, it's back to business. Especially since January is half over, and February is packed full of holidays. So, yes sirree. You won't catch me having too much fun. At least not on Monday. I promise to spend a full 24 hours dedicated to lengthening my stride, trimming my sails, and battening down the hatches. After that, I can't promise anything. After all, you only live once.

Some pics from our trip....
Belle and Obi Wan at Epcot, getting the most from those Halloween costumes
Seen on the side of the road on the way to the Kennedy Space Center. Better hope you never get a flat tire there.
At Cocoa Beach. And to think, the week before they were sledding...
And building snowmen.
My gallant young hero and his souveneirs from the venerable Vikings.
Coming Next:
Good for You Creamy Tomato Soup and Rosemary Focaccia

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Green Chile, Cheddar and Sour Cream Mini Muffins

Ooh, I do like good cornbread. And this qualifies as really good cornbread, no matter how you shake it up. Dorie Greenspan's recipe for Savory Corn and Pepper muffins has good bones, so add or take away mix ins and it's still going to work out great. At my house, the two little charges turn up their young noses at bits of jalapeno and red bell pepper in their corn muffins. It was easy enough to churn out a plain batch of Dorie's recipe, sans the spices and lovely bits that the Quiet Man and I would have enjoyed. Sniff, sniff. So after I'd made a wee batch and popped it into a 24 cup mini muffin pan, I felt a little deprived of all the savory add ins. Rather than wallow, which I often do if deprived of food, I simply topped half of the muffins with about 1/4 teaspoon each sour cream, green chilies, and a bit of shredded Tillamook cheddar. Warm out of the oven, they tasted almost like short cut green chilie and cheese tamales. Make yourself a wee batch to perch on the side of your soup bowl, or better yet, next to your Super Bowl serving of chili. Be sure to leave a few plain ones, if you've got your own little charges. I love it when I can make everyone happy. It doesn't happen often, but I sure love it when it does.
Money Saving Tips: Making Cornbread from Scratch is super inexpensive and fairly easy, too. If you don't have buttermilk on hand, squeeze a teaspoon of lemon into a half cup measure; fill to the top with milk and let stand for ten minutes.
A Plain Half Batch of Dorie's Recipe:
Estimated Cost: $1.50 for 24 minis
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon soda
1/2 cup buttermilk
4 tablespoons butter, melted, and cooled
1 egg yolk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a mini muffin pan with 24 paper cups, or coat the cups with cooking spray. Combine dry ingredients in medium bowl. In small bowl, combine buttermilk, butter, and egg yolk. Gently fold into dry ingredients. Fill muffin cups about 2/3 full. Top some muffins with 1/4 teaspoon each green chilies, sour cream and cheddar cheese.
Coming Next:
A Post Holiday Confession

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cupcake of the Month: Winter White Snowflake Cupcakes

I need food and shelter and oxygen, it's true. But I also, need cupcakes often, at least every month. They're not all for me. Although they could be, if I wasn't careful. Somehow, there's an occasion to bake a cupcake at least 12 times a year, evenly spaced into perfect calendar pages. This year, I'm going to take the time to make them memorable and as fun to look at as they are too eat. That sounds like a lovely resolution for 2009, so watch for a new cupcake of the month right here at Prudence Pennywise. Oh, I know it's January and we're pinching our inches as well as our pennies, but that's precisely why I love a good cupcake: portion control and share-ability.

You could use your own white cake recipe (I love Joy of Cooking's), or simply bake up a box from a mix. Promise not to tell. (Especially if you swap the oil for butter and and switch the water for buttermilk.) Next, frost the cupcakes with a smooth cream cheese frosting. I like to use about 4 tablespoons butter, 4 ounces cream cheese, and about 2 cups powdered sugar, with a little drizzle of vanilla and lemon juice. And to top it off, you need a sprinkling of coarse sugar and a purdy little snowflake. You could use melted white chocolate, of even easier discs of vanilla candy melt. (I use Wilton white candy melts, found at most craft stores.) Melt the discs CAREFULLy in the microwave in a little squeeze bottle or plastic bag. Line a cookie sheet with waxed paper and pipe some pretty white simple snowflakes. Put them in the fridge for a minutes to set. Perched on your all white cupcake, they'll be a snow white beauty that's not only good to look at but good enough to eat. Best of all, you'll save a bundle over bakery prices since you'll be making your own sugary magic at home. Coming Next:
Green Chile, Sour Cream and Cheddar Cornbread Mini Muffins

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Banana Sour Cream Pancakes

Who wants a pancake, sweet and piping hot?
Good little Grace looks up and says, "I'll take the one off the top."
Who wants a pancake, hot off the griddle
Terrible Teresa grins and says, "I'll take the one in the middle."
Remember this silly Shel Silverstein poem with an illustration of a sky high pancake tower? Well, I wish I had a mountainous stack of these sour cream banana pancakes, dripping with maple syrup, slices of banana, a sprinkling of crunchy pecans and a dollop or fluffy whipped cream. (I'd want the one in the middle too, since it would have stayed nice and warm.) These pancakes will make you do a backflip and a somersault! I wouldn't normally go around craving banana pancakes, but now I know what I've been missing. They are fantastic! Count on Ina Garten to create a perfectly not-too-sweet, rich-but-light griddle cake. There is no butter or oil in the batter, just a bit of sour cream, and reduced fat worked just fine, plus I put in half whole wheat to boost the nutrition. Chopped bananas are added to the pancakes as they cook, so it's easy to leave them out for any of your banana-lambasters, like my sister Leslie. The next time I make pancakes, this will be THE recipe. And I'd be happy to eat one off the side, bottom or middle. Wish I had one right now.
Money Saving Tips: A half batch is perfect for a family of four. Use yogurt, sour cream or even buttermilk, depending on what you have on hand. We only used one banana, since half of our group preferred plain, so plan according to your family's tastes. Either way, you'll be saving a stack of cash over a pancake's house prices.
Estimated Cost for a 1/2 batch: $2.50

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Tuesdays with Dorie: French Pear Tart


My computer is having a terrible temper tantrum. She's kicking and screaming and refusing to let me download any photos. I've been coaxing her for hours, but she is stubborn when she's grouchy. Until she calms down a bit, you'll have to use your imagination to picture the most fantastic pear tart imaginable. (Imagine indescribly delicious looking photo here...)
Today's pick for Tuesdays with Dorie is special, not just for the recipe, but also because it was picked by baking maven Greenspan herself! I think I know why she chose it, too. If you didn't try it for yourself, it might not be one to jump out at you. There are no unusual ingredients, except possibly for the option of using canned pears. Canned pears! Canned pears? Yep, only I didn't use them. I happened to have a lovely ripe pear on hand (imagine photo of curvy golden pear), but you can bet your sweet syrup that I'll be trying this one again with CANNED pears soon. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Ideally, these pears canned or fresh, will be placed in an almond and butter crust (which I left out in a time crunch), and then baked in an irresistible luscious almond cream. Not knowing the greatness that lay ahead, I made only a wee crustless 1/2 batch in two ramekins and topped them warm with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of warm maple syrup. It won't be long before I make the whole thing again, with canned pears and a crust, too.
To get your hands on that recipe, visit Dorie Greenspan's baking blog here.
For my penny pinching friends, betcha can make this impressive tart for about $7.00
Coming Soon:
Photos, I hope
Banana Sour Cream Pancakes

Monday, January 5, 2009

It's Still Christmas in Italy and Make One/Freeze One Lasagna

Happy New Year; but don't finish celebrating quite yet....

If you're an Italian, then you are still celebrating the Christmas season. If you are an American than you are already on a diet and your full trash can is by the curb. But what do you do when you're both????
In Italy, the festivities begin on Christmas Eve with a family fast, solemn gathering around the nativity set, an evening at church, and fast breaking feast. In the morning, families return to church, and continue to attend for the next twelve days, stretching the holiday well into January. On January 6, the Epiphany, a good witch comes bringing gifts. It is said that "La Befana" lost her way when trying to visit the Christ Child, so instead delivers gifts to well-behaved little children on the very day of the Three Kings. My two little charges are always happy to receive a last little Christmas present from the kind Italian witch, and I'm always happy that I could buy that little Christmas present at an After Christmas Sale.
In our house, we eat Italian food through the holiday season. It looks so festive on the plate to be eating tomato sauces with fresh basil and oregano, deep red and lively green. For Christmas Eve dinner, as I mentioned, we feasted on bruschetta, lasagna, fettucini alfredo, salad and Italian bread. I'm dismayed to realize that I didn't take a single picture. Sometimes as the hostess, all of your time and attention are needed to make the party a success. And sometimes you are a forgetful little twit. What happens when you are both???( I have so many New Year's Resolutions to make this year. I should have saved my last year's list. I'm still working on the same things. )
Thank goodness that I had these lasagna photos in my archives. This is not my grand "Christmas Eve Sausage and Four Cheese" version of lasagna, but my weeknight version of lasagna, a kinder, gentler recipe for January. Let it be known that not many Italians would really be having lasagna for Christmas Eve dinner. Traditional meals center around eel and panettone, but my Italian family-like most Italians I know-have their own ideas about how things should be done. Why let tradition stand in the way? Since there are only four for January weeknight dinners at my house, I make a quickie version of lasagna in a loaf pan. The no cook noodles from Barilla fit perfectly. And while I'm at it, I make another loaf pan to freeze.
Buon Natale and may your holiday season last throughout 2009!
Money Saving Tips: If you have leftover cooked pasta, skip the lasagna noodles and follow the recipe to make a layered pasta dish instead. If you are short on loaf pans, line the pan with tinfoil with a large overhang. Freeze the lasagna, remove it from the pan and wrap it tightly in foil. Make a big batch of your own marinara from the big economical cans of tomatoes and freeze it in zip top bags for future dinners.
Make one Freeze One Lower-Fat Weeknight Lasagna
Estimated Cost for 2 loaf pans: $7.50
Tips: Add cooked, crumbled sausage to the top of ricotta layers, if desired, for a heartier dish.
2 cups part skim ricotta cheese
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1 egg
1 teaspoon each dried basil and pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 and 1/2 cups part skim mozzarella, divided
4 cups Tomato and Basil Marinara Sauce, from a jar or your favorite recipe
6 no boil lasagna noodles, (I use Barilla)
In a small bowl, combine ricotta, parmesan, egg, basil, salt and pepper. Coat a loaf pan with no stick cooking spray. Spread bottom with 1/2 cup marinara sauce. Top with one noodle. Spread thinly with heaping 1/2 cup ricotta mixture. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup mozzarella. Top with 1/2 cup marinara sauce, another noodles, 1/2 cup ricotta mixture and 1/2 cup mozzarella. Top with 1/2 cup marinara sauce, another noodle and 1/2 cup more marinara sauce. Sprinkle with 3/4 cup mozzarella. Coat a sheet of tin foil with no stick cooking spray. Place on top of pan. Repeat process for another lasagna. Bake for 40 minutes at 400 degrees. Remove foil and bake an additional ten minutes. (Thaw frozen lasagna completely before baking.)
Coming Tomorrow:
Tuesdays with Dorie FANTASTIC Pear and Almond Cream Tart