Thursday, September 30, 2010

Caramel Apple Cupcakes

It's amazing how much these actually taste like caramel apples. I want to say they taste more like caramel apples than cupcake, if that's possible. I made a bunch of heavy appetizers for a gathering of Colorado's Young Life wives tonight and made these for the dessert. Heavy appetizer duty doesn't usually include dessert, but I had to make them. Had to. The lighting on these babies is rough. I apologize for that since the coloring looks off. They were beautiful and glossy and drippy in person.

I was running late tonight try to get out the door on time to deliver all my food. I looked like a nutcase running to and fro through my kitchen. Cut the veggies for the tray! Plate the tomato and brie turnovers! Turn the oven off! Cover the hummus! Wipe the counter! Take the ravioli out of the oil! Get the garnish! Close the refrigerator! Wheres my saran wrap!? Grab the parsley sauce! Is Jeremy putting the kids in the car? What's that beeping?! If you know me at all, you know I cannot multitask worth a darn so it was quite, that is. All the while, I am trying to not drop my huge camera, carting it around and randomly snapping pictures hoping the shots will somewhat represent accurately what I have made. The lighting was far from ideal. I am far from knowing how to manipulate the lighting in a picture, and I was definitely not going to try then in the midst of all that madness. So we get what we get and we don't throw a fit. Can you imagine the state I left my kitchen in after all that mess? It was well...a mess. A disaster area actually. I cannot remember the last time my kitchen was that dirty. And do you know that my wonderful husband has just spent almost the last hour cleaning it for me? Yeah, he's a sweetie.

Now that we have that out of the way, let me tell you a little bit about these little darlings. The "caramel frosting" on top is just some caramel candies melted with a little cream. Once you pour the sticky caramel on top of the cupcake it almost immediately starts to harden somewhat back to it's original texture. Unless you eat these straight away the topping will set back to chewy caramel. I like that so I didn't mind, but I thought you should know. They are not incredibly sweet and might be described as somewhat mild with the apple flavor really coming through. If you nixed the caramel it could pass for a fine apple muffin and be fit for breakfast with some coffee. And with the start of the new month upon us, these quite fittingly, scream October.

Caramel Apple Cupcakes
adapted from Silvana Nardone, Rachael Ray Magazine, October 2010

Makes 12

1 1/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 rome apples (or another dry apple) peeled and shredded on a cheese grater
1 1/2 cups chewy caramel candies
1 tablespoon heavy cream

Arrange a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line a cupcake pan with baking liners. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar and granulated sugar until smooth. whisk in the oil and vanilla.

Stir the sugar mixture into the flour mixture until just combined; stir in the apples. Spoon the batter into prepared pan until almost full. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry, 25 to 30 minutes. transfer to a rack to cool completely.

In a small, microwaveable bowl, combine the caramels and cream. Microwave for 1 minute at medium power, then stir; repeat in 30-second intervals until melted and smooth. Let cool. Spread the frosting generously on the cooled cupcakes.

Well, I have absolutely nothing else to say. It's been a long day. Need sleep. Goodnight. Goodnight moon. Goodnight cow jumping over the moon. OH, yeah it's time. Really now, goodnight.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Greek Salad 3.0

How can this Mediterranean classic get any better? Serve it chopped! And with shrimp! (If you are me, anyway). I made this the other night for dinner and it was completely satisfying. If I'm going to have a salad for dinner there are going to be a couple requirements. The first is it must have some sort of protein or else I just won't fill up. This salad already packs a dose of that with garbanzo beans, but I up it one with grilled shrimp. The other is that it must have a lot of things going on in it in order to satisfy me. This Greek salad is the perfect answer and meets the said requirements. Fresh crisp romaine, garbanzo beans, cucumber, artichoke, feta, red bell pepper, fresh mint, red onion and plenty of kalamata olives for that olive-oily salty bite. The original recipe calls for chopped tomatoes and yellow bell pepper instead of red, but anyone who's been reading this blog long enough knows I have a hate relationship with fresh tomatoes and so I left them out. If you love them add them in. The only reason I chose red bell's was for the color since I was missing the tomato.

We have mass amounts of veggies and protein going on in this dish but if you are more of a carb person just add some torn pita bread (whole wheat recommended) on the side and you have a perfect, light dinner. The dressing to this salad is light and refreshing and finishes it off perfectly. That being said, I have to confess I used a luxury item in the dressing. Instead of regular olive oil, I used a Tuscan blend olive oil my Grandma brought me back from Napa Valley and it upped the flavor quotient five fold and made the salad more interesting. You can buy flavored olive oils in the regular grocery store usually right by the other oils and if you have access to them they are fabulous. If you can't find a Tuscan blend, I imagine basil olive oil would work great with this. This is ready in 20 minutes.

Greek Salad 3.0
Recipe adapted from Lori Powell and Health Magazine

Serves 4

1/4 cup lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (I used flavored olive oil)
1 1/2 heads hearts of romaine, chopped
1 cup canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 small red bell pepper
1 cup chopped cucumber
1 can quartered artichoke hearts (or marinated if your feeling zippy)
1/2 small red onion, chopped
1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
pitas, toasted for serving, optional

Whisk together the first 5 ingredients (through the black pepper) in a bowl. Slowly whisk in olive oil until well combined.

place romaine in a large serving bowl. Arrange chickpeas and next 6 ingredients (through feta) on top in sections. Sprinkle mint leaves over the salad. Drizzle with the dressing just before serving and toss. Serve with pita bread and grilled shrimp if desired.

Grilled Shrimp: skewer 4-5 medium sized, peeled and deveined, tail on shrimp for each person. Turn the grill to high. Coat the shrimp in olive oil, salt and some Chesapeake (or old bay) seasoning. Grill for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes per side until shrimp are just cooked through.

Since this recipe came from health magazine, I have some stats for you. Based on the serving size of 3 1/2 cups of salad and 1/2 pita plus 1 1/4 tablespoons of dressing: Calories 278; fat 14g (sat 3g, mono 8g, poly 2g) Cholesterol 11 mg; carbohydrate 32g; sugars 11g; Fiber 7g; iron 3 mg; sodium 537mg; calcium 163mg.

Or if you are like me you could not care at all what the nutritional information says because, heck, you are eating salad for dinner. How bad can it be?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pineapple-Black Bean Enchiladas

This is not something I would usually make. I say that because the recipe is written from a convenience perspective and uses a lot of pre-made products, such as canned enchilada sauce and canned pineapple. When I first read the recipe I had full intentions of tweaking it, using fresh pineapple, and my own homemade enchilada sauce, which would have be delicious, but not fast. Also, although I make my own enchilada sauce, I realize not everybody does this, so I didn't want to post a complicated recipe when, originally it was meant to be simple. So I decided to try this recipe exactly as written and guess what? I really liked it. Everyone in my family liked it and I have made it twice since stumbling upon it about a month ago. This must be serious because I rarely repeat dishes in the same season. Fresh pineapple is my preference if it's available, though.

My very pregnant cousin Camryn posted a Facebook post about making these enchiladas for dinner. She quickly got a mixed reaction. A few people, including myself wanted the recipe and said they sounded delicious. Another group of people told her she must be pregnant because that combination sounded awful to them. That group must be from the mid-west. No offense or anything but the midwest is not known to be very daring or adventurous or original with their cooking. Any Latin girl would probably know that black beans and pineapple are perfect partners! I'm a quarter Spanish, does that count? Because I knew. And I was right.

These enchiladas are different from other recipes in that they use a soft whole wheat flour tortilla instead of a fried corn one. Upping the fiber? A plus in my book! You can even use Ezekiel tortillas for this which would make them even better for you. Yes, it uses a few canned items, but you can easily substitute for fresh if you want to carve the pineapple and seeding peppers for sauce, but there were plenty of fresh ingredients in the original recipe to make me turn a blind eye. Just as a warning. The enchilada sauce is very thin. It doesn't stay on top of the tortillas like regular enchiladas. It's strange, but it tastes good. If you use a different brand of sauce, let me know how it turns out!

Pineapple-Black Beans Enchiladas
adapted from the Pillsbury really, it was.

Makes 8 servings (2 enchiladas per person)

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 medium bell pepper, chopped
1 can (20 oz) pineapple tidbits in juice, drained, 1/3 cup juice reserved (or 1 1/4 cups fresh pineapple chunks, no juice reserved)
2 cans (15 oz) black beans, drained, rinsed
1 can (4.5 oz) Old El Paso chopped green chilies
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, some reserved for garnish
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (I used less. About 1/2 cup overall)
2 cans (10 oz) Old El Paso mild enchilada sauce
16 whole wheat flour tortillas (8 or 9 inch) or Ezekiel tortillas

1/2 cup Greek yogurt or sour cream, for garnish, (optional)
sliced avocado, for garnish and serving, (optional)
Shredded lettuce, for serving, (optional)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 2 13x9-inch (3-quart) glass baking dishes with cooking spray. In a large non stick skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and bell pepper; cook 4 to 5 minutes or until softened. Stir in pineapple, beans, green chilies and salt. Cook and stir until throughly heated. Remove skillet from heat. Stir in 1/2 cup cilantro and 1/2 cup of cheese.

Spoon the filling generously into the flour tortillas and fold like a burrito to keep the filling from falling out when you transfer them to the dish and lay them seam side down. Line the filled tortillas right up next to each other until they can't fit into the pan anymore.

In a small bowl, mix the reserved 1/3 cup pineapple juice and remaining enchilada sauce (skip this step if using fresh pineapple); pour over entire surface of the enchiladas in dish. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. Spray sheet of foil large enough to cover baking dish with cooking spray; place sprayed side down over baking dish and seal tightly. ( I forgot to do this both times I made it and it was still yummy. The tortillas got crunchy on top. So if you like that, skip the foil step. I imagine they would be scrumptious and soft if I had covered it though.)

Bake 35 to 40 minutes, removing foil during the last 5 to 10 minutes of baking until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbly. Top each baked enchilada with 1 tablespoon sour cream or Greek yogurt and 1 teaspoon cilantro and chunks of avocado, and shredded lettuce if desired.

This recipe feeds a crowd! The only way to cut the recipe in half would be to use half cans of various ingredients and I hate using only half a can of anything so I make the whole batch. They are good for leftovers and lunch the next day, anyway. Obviously, feel free to cut it in half if your family is smaller. Your gonna like this one. I can feel it. Whip up a batch of frozen margaritas or mojitos, cook some Spanish rice and have a fiesta on a Wednesday night! Or Thursday. Any day is a good day for a margarita.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Banana Layer Cake

Oooooh, doggie, this cake is scrum-diddily-yum! Actually we, at the MacGray house, say "scrum-didily, yone" The way you say "yone" should rhyme with "cone". Really we mean, it's delicious, but I didn't know if you would get I changed the ending to "yum" so you'd get the point. Good? good.

This is the BEST banana cake out there. I assure you that. When I was testing out cake recipes for Sugar Me Sweet (my cake I dedicated some serious time to banana cake. I actually ended up with two on my menu, this version and also a bananas foster cake. Both are scrum-didily...well, you get the point. With this cake, I ended up hodge-podging different recipes together and adding my own ingredients to finally come up with this homey banana cake nirvana. I don't generally recommend tweaking cake recipes. Baking is a science and a little tweaking could cause you a big problem. But, on the other hand, I was making 3 cakes a day sometimes, trying to test recipes out and come up with my menu. I got to know cakes pretty well and could easily come up with acceptable proportion changes and add-ins to form my own recipe.

The only thing you have to have on hand, which could be sort of a pain if you are wanting to make this cake, like now, are very ripe bananas. This sadly is not an option. You simply cannot make banana cake or banana bread for that matter with anything less than dark, heavily spotted, or even black bananas. An unripe or even just ripe banana, does not a great cake make. Say that three times fast. OK, but seriously, If you need ripe bananas pronto, toss your bunch into a paper sack along with an apple and seal it up and leave on the counter overnight. It should speed up the ripening process. I don't know...Something to do with the gasses an apple gives off and how a banana reacts to it (it gets ripe). If you simply can't wait you can do what I do and as bananas go bad, or are in other words, prime for some cake, chuck them in the freezer, skin and all. When you need ripe bananas on the fly you can pull them out of the freezer and defrost them at room temperature for a couple hours. Make sure they are on a plate because some liquid will ooze out. When ready, just cut the skins off and mash the bananas and juice together. However, if you have not prepared in advance for the time when you would need absolutely overly ripe bananas, I'm sorry, but the only thing to do is buy the ripest ones you can get your hands on and wait patiently. I know you didn't want to hear that but it is what it is.

I team this cake up with a creamy vanilla icing that is perfect. It's technically a buttercream, although a little less sweet and a lot creamier. Also you can leave out some of the sugar and make it less sweet if you want without affecting the outcome. I love it because the frosting on this cake is like putting butter on your banana bread. We all know banana bread is fine on it's own, but warm it and top it with some butter and you've taken it to a whole new level, AND managed to add another pound to your thighs. Personally, I like my butter best when it's about room temperature so it stays nice and creamy instead of melting into the bread. It's basically "frosting" if you will be so kind as to go with me there. buttercream frosting is butter, sweetened, is all. So the parallels are appropriate. Behold, the BEST banana cake!

Banana Cake


3 1/2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup (packed) brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 cups mashed very ripe bananas (4-6 large)
6 tablespoons sour cream (or buttermilk)
2 tablespoons dark rum
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Butter and flour two 9" cake pans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift first 4 ingredients into a medium bowl. using electric mixer, beat butter and both sugars in a large bowl until blended. Beat in eggs one at a time, then mashed bananas, sour cream, rum, and vanilla. Beat dry ingredients into the wet in 2 additions until just combined. Spoon batter evenly into pans.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 40-45 minutes. Cool 15 minutes in their pans, then turn out the cakes onto wire racks to cool. When cool, you can frost the cake.

makes 2 layers


Creamy Vanilla Frosting
adapted from the Magnolia Bakery

3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar (I use bakers granulated sugar b/c it's finer and dissolves quickly)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Whisk milk into flour in a medium sized saucepan. Place over medium heat and stirring constantly, cook until mixture becomes very thick and begins to bubble, about 15 minutes. (I stir constantly after it begins to bubble for about 3-5 minutes, just to make sure the flour taste is cooked off). Take the pan off the heat and cover with waxed paper placed directly on the surface and cool to room temperature.

Beat butter until smooth; gradually add sugar beating continuously for 3 minutes, until fluffy. This beating is important as it help to dissolve the sugar granules. Add vanilla and then the cooled milk mixture, which will have gotten very thick, and beat on medium-high speed for 5 minutes.

Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Use immediately.

If you are planning on doing a lot of decorating or pipework on the top of your cake, you might want to double the frosting recipe, or maybe even more appropriately, just 1 1/2-ing it. I one and a half recipes quite a lot. Mostly because doubling it would yield more than I need, but if that messes with you, just be on the safe side and double it. I just used the same word twice in one sentence ("double"). Dang, I hate that, but I don't want to go back there and try to re-structure the sentence to make it proper. A ha! I will just divide both thoughts here and create two separate sentences for those of you are bothered by it too. Here it goes: Mostly because doubling it would yield more than I need. If that math messes with you though, just be safe and go ahead and double it. Oye, (no, i'm not Jewish) the things one thinks about while blogging. The joys and grammar. OK, now make this cake! And no, I don't really say "oooooh, doggie!".

Ok, I'm writing this to disclose something. I'm writing this about 5 days after I originally posted this but I just realized that I didn't make this recipe up. I totally thought I did and might be a genius if it was true, but sadly I didn't. It's eerily similar to a recipe over at smitten kitchen, and so I must have gotten it there. It would not be the first time!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

You-Won't-Be-Single-For-Long Vodka Cream Pasta

Yes, "You-Won't-Be-Single-For-Long Vodka Cream Pasta" is the actually name of this dish. It originates from Rachael Ray if that's any explanation. I know you noticed the bottled, Parmesan cheese in the background too (don't act like you didn't) and for that I don't happen to have a good explanation. The truth is I was out of the good stuff and I had this left over from a SK8 church dinner.

I've begun to notice a few things since I started this blog. One of them is that it takes me about 5-7 tries with the camera before I get a good picture of the food that I can use for this blog. I shift the angle, I adjust the light, I move what's in the background until I find a suitable picture. This particular night, I had 7 faces at the table staring, anxiously waiting for me to be done so they could eat already. So, alas, this is the picture you get, with fake Parmesan cheese in the background and half of Shawn's corona on the side. Actually, after all my complaining, I find it rather charming and real. Another, is that I like to make pasta. A lot, apparently. And this pasta? It's good.

I compared other pasta vodka recipes and decided on this one for it's complexity. It wasn't hard, it just had more going on than the other recipes. It incorporated chicken stock, shallots and fresh basil to beef up the flavor, along with a hefty cup of vodka added to the sauce. In the end it was comfort food done extremely well. The sauce is a bit on the thin side, so allow the pasta to sit in the pan and absorb it some before serving. It all comes together in about 30 minutes, true to Rachael's word.

You-Won't-Be-Single-For-Long Vodka Cream Pasta
adapted from Rachael Ray's 30 minute meals 2

serves 4

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup vodka
1 cup chicken stock
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup heavy cream
12 ounces pasta, such as penne rigate
20 leaves fresh basil, shredded or torn
crusty bread (optional)

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil.

Heat a large skillet over moderate heat. Add oil, butter, garlic, and shallots. Gently saute garlic and shallots, 3 to 5 minutes to develop their sweetness. Add vodka and reduce by half, 2 to 3 minutes. Add chicken stock and tomatoes. bring sauce to a bubble, then reduce heat to simmer. Season with salt and pepper.

While sauce simmers, cook pasta in salted boiling water until al dente, a bit firm to the bite. While pasta cooks, prepare your salad or other side dishes.

Stir cream into the vodka sauce. When sauce returns to a bubble, remove from heat. Drain pasta. Toss hot pasta with sauce and basil leaves. Serve immediately, along with crusty bread.

Rachael says that she originally published this recipe in her first cookbook, but let it have a come back in her second for a reason: a fan of the show wrote to say that she made this menu for her boyfriend who had seconds just before he proposed. Really. He said it was the second helping that did it. Hence the cutsey name. Although, my friend Deb over at the Smitten Kitchen website made this for her then boyfriend who then proposed not long after and is now her husband...Cue up the Twilight Zone music. Let me know if it works for you!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Gruyere-Zucchini Sandwiches with Smokey Pesto

I made this sandwich a while ago actually, maybe in late July. I have been wanting to blog about it ever since but around that time I was up to my ears in food I wanted to talk about so alas, it got pushed to the back of the pile. It's not because it wasn't delicious, it was. It was just one of those oversight things.

I made this one afternoon at lunch for my friend Danielle and me. We ate it under my pergola with some mint iced tea. Twas a fine day.

Theres a couple of things you should know about this sandwich. 1) It's kind-of a lot of prep for a sandwich. You have to make the pesto (which you could do in advance) then grill the zucchini, then finally assemble the sandwich. 2) It's not that big a deal and it's totally worth it. My grill wasn't working that day so I just cooked my zucchini in a little olive oil in a skillet until it was soft and done. Either way works, but grilling would impart a better flavor. The bread is crucial to this sandwich. It will make the difference of it being good or fantastic. Make sure you choose a crusty hearty bread. I used a hearty 9 grain from my local farmers market. The original recipe actually calls for an english muffin, which would be fine, but in my opinion a hearty bread, ciabatta or focaccia might be better. I used a magic bullet to make my pesto and it was wonderful to not have a big mess. If you don't have one, you should consider buying it.

Grilled Gruyere and Zucchini Sandwiches with Smokey Pesto
adapted from Food & Wine magazine, June 2009

4 generous servings

1 cup packed basil leaves
1 large garlic clove, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon hot smoked paprika
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
2-3 zucchini, cut into rounds, or if small, lengthwise slices
8 slices of hearty bread of 4 english muffins, split
4 ounces Gruyere or Appenzeller cheese, cut into thin slices (I used a little more)

In a mini food processor (or magic bullet) combine the basil, garlic and paprika and process until finely chopped. With the machine on, gradually pour in the 3 tablespoons of olive oil until blended. (If you are using the magic bullet, just add the oil in and blend to combine.) Season the pesto with plenty of salt, to taste.

Light a grill. brush the zucchini slices with olive oil and season with salt. Grill over high heat until nicely charred and just tender, about 2 minutes per side. Cut each zucchini to fit the sandwich, if necessary.

If using english muffins: grill cut side down over low heat, until just soft, about 30 seconds. turn and grill until the muffins start to brown, about minute. Spread the cut sides of the muffins with the pesto. Layer some cheese, zucchini pieces and more cheese on top. Close the sandwiches and brush the tops and bottoms with olive oil. grill the sandwiches over low heat, turning, until they're crisp on the outside and the cheese is melted, about 4 minutes total. Cut the sandwiches in half and serve right away. If you don;t want to grill these, see another method down below.

If using another type of bread: You can use the grilling method above, but I feel it's much simpler to assemble the sandwiches with the pesto, cheese and zucchini, making sure cheese is both on the top and bottom of the sandwich, not brushing them with oil (I prefer a dry sandwich), and pressing them in a panini press until melty. If you don't own a panini press, you could also cook them a' la grilled cheese style, in a skillet.

If I were you I wouldn't leave the smoked paprika out in the pesto. It's what carries the flavors in the sandwich and makes it so appealing with it's smokiness. Even if you just buy it to make these sandwiches, the $4.00 purchase is worth it.

Anything herby or vegetabley is usually great with Sauvignon Blanc, so if you are serving this sandwich for dinner (with maybe a little tomato soup? or a great salad?) drink that.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Cheating Spaghetti Sauce

Ok, so the name of this dish is all you need to know. It's spaghetti sauce and it's "cheating" to make it. Mostly, because you don't make the sauce at all. I'm usually opposed to such things. I am, by nature, a "from scratch" sort of girl, but on occasion, I can utilize a great shortcut. Especially if it has sentimental value. My Grandma Burgos who is a fabulous cook used to make this sauce. Hers was the only red spaghetti sauce I loved growing up. Of course, back then I had no idea it came from a bottle and she just embellished it a little. Enhanced is probably a better word. You know this type of shortcut, it's the type of thing that makes Sandra Lee's "Semi-Homeade" so successful. I can't believe I even finished that last sentence since I hate, no...HATE Sandra Lee. She makes some pretty sick stuff, after all (fresh berries on steak with gravy? Carrot baby food in cake?--yak!)

My Grandma Burgos was my first example of a great cook. She mostly stuck to more simple fare (except for Christmas Eve's Danish goose) like grilled steaks (which my Grandpa grilled, so the only thing I can give her credit for is the seasoning, which by the way is perfect...lemon pepper and garlic salt) and pot roasts, perfect steamed zucchini from her garden, perfect steamed green beans, outrageous lasagna, great iceberg lettuce salad, Danish raspberry dessert and this spaghetti sauce. She was a rockstar with her all-clad cookware and William's Sonoma plates. I wanted to be just like her. I remember My Grandpa would come home from lunch and she would make him a perfect sandwich. Everything was neat and tidy with a thick slice of jack cheese, lettuce, mayonnaise with butter (gotta love the Dane's) and turkey or ham or salami on sheep hearders bread. It was perfect people, perfect, everything about it. I never knew back then that my appreciation of her lunches and dinners was developing a "foodie" in the making. I probably never told her. In fact I know I didn't. But I'm saying it now...Her cooking was in a word, special.

This sauce is a perfect shortcut on a busy night. I promise you, no one will ever know you used jarred sauce as a base, unless they ask you for the recipe, anyway. My Grandma always used ground beef as her meat of choice and it is very good that way, but I prefer sausage. Feel free to use the beef if you fancy it because the secret ingredient is the Lipton Onion Soup mix. All this sauce consists of is meat, sausage in this case, Classico jarred sauce, and Lipton Onion Soup mix. The picture shows me using the Classico Cabernet Marinara sauce but It's supposed to be the mushroom and (onion?) it's the mushroom and something-sauce. If you can find that, get it, otherwise the marinara works fine.

Cheating Spaghetti Sauce
adapted from Paula Burgos

1/2- to 1 lb. mild or sweet Italian sausage, depending on your preference (or ground beef)
1 jar Classico brand Mushroom and Olive (or Cabernet Marinara) spaghetti sauce
1 packet Lipton Onion Soup mix

Saute the sausage in a little olive oil over medium heat until cooked through. Add the spaghetti sauce and Lipton Onion Soup mix and bring up to a simmer and cook for at least 10 minutes until the flavor develops. Serve and toss with 1 lb. spaghetti.

Yield: enough sauce for 1 lb. spaghetti

If you prefer lots of sauce, you can add another half a jar without disrupting the recipe. The Italians prefer "just enough sauce", which is what this recipe provides. I love my Grandma Burgos!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Peach and Raspberry Crisp

That is a picture of fresh peach and raspberry crisp...on a paper plate. I served this gorgeous dessert on a paper plate. I know, it's just not right, is it? Paper plates don't ever do food justice, unless it's something nasty like KFC.

I'm not in the writing mood today. I just picked up Isabella from school, and since it's Friday, she was out at noon. I was starving already when I called and realized my Aunt, who is coming over and nice enough to bring us lunch, was not going to be here anytime soon. Since I couldn't wait, I ate a peach and some pita chips to hopefully tide me over. Now I'm full. This makes me sad and also a little spacey feeling. Food coma if you will, which is strange given what I ate. I mean, it's not like I stuffed a big mac down. In any case, I feel a bit discombobulated and would rather nap than write this post. Why am I? To put it simply, I have two kids napping, an occupied older daughter and the house is clean and quiet. This is optimal writing time, so I am trying to snap out of it.

Honestly, cooked peaches are not my thing. Fresh peaches are however, and I thought they have been so good and juicy lately that I just might like them cooked as well. So I decided to try this recipe out. My very favorite is apple crisp, but this peach one is nice and summery and that's why I chose it. It's awful looking when you pull it out of the oven, but trust me when I tell you, it's only a facade. Cooked peaches might not be my favorite, but the punch-iness of the raspberry came through and then there's all that butter and brown sugar, and really, what's not to love? Labor Day is upon us. There will be no shortage of cook-out and BBQ's around town (and the whole country for that matter) this weekend. You should consider bringing this crisp. It's good, no matter what you serve it on.

Peach and Raspberry Crisp
adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

10-12 firm, ripe peaches
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 cups plus 2 to 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 pint raspberries
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup quick-cooking oatmeal
1/2 pound unsalted butter, diced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the inside of a 10x15x2 1/2-inch oval baking dish.

Immerse the peaches in boiling water for 30 seconds, then place them in cold water. Peel the peaches and slice them into thick wedges and place them into a large bowl. Add the 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup crown sugar, and 2 tablespoons of flour. Toss well. Gently mix in the raspberries. Allow the mixture to sit for 5 minutes. If there is a lot of liquid, add 1 more tablespoon of flour. Pour the peaches into the baking dish and gently smooth top.

Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, salt, oatmeal, and the cold butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the butter is pea-sized and the mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle evenly on top of the peaches and raspberries. Bake for 1 hour, until the top is browned and crisp and the juices are bubbly. Serve immediately, or store in the refrigerator and reheat in a 350 degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until warm.

When I made this, I didn't want to dirty my kitchen aid so I just mixed the topping ingredients in a glass bowl and melted the butter, for easier incorporation. It works fine.

Well, it's the end of my post and I still feel sick full. My Aunt is still not here, so maybe I'll take a little 5 minuter--I'm not good at that though. If I nap, which is rare, I need at least 2 hours. Well I can rest my eyes, anyway.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Watermelon Lemonade

This picture reminds me of the very essence of summer. Jeremy bought me the big glass jug from Ace because I'm the kind of girl who needs one. No matter that the valve on it bites the big one and trickles out very sloooooowley. No matter that once the liquid gets below the spigot it's a major pain the ass to get out, because this glass jug? It's HEAVY to tip and breakable. I love it though; especially if it's filled with watermelon lemonade and Tom Petty's "American Girl" and Bob Dylan's "With a Little Help from my Friends" (aka "The Wonder Years" song) is blaring in the background. Oh yeah, we know how to rock summer BBQ's at the MacGray house. Don't be jealous. I wish you were there...and if you were, I wish we were doing it again.

Watermelon lemonade has got to be my new favorite drink. And that's without vodka. I have not tried it with vodka, mostly, because my friends, cough...husband are boring (actually not true). The truth is hard alcohol and I don't get along. We can, on occasion, if I am able to sleep in come morning. And I'm not talking about hard core drinking. Even If I wanted one hard alcohol cocktail, I would need to sleep in. It's just a necessity, and I like my mornings, so I usually refrain.

I am amazed at how much the watermelon taste comes through. I thought the delicate flavor might get lost among the more pungent lemon juice, but I was most definitely wrong. The process might seem a little on the daunting side. It's not, but I realize that the straining step of the watermelon pulp (which is essential) might turn some people off. Just use the smallest/tightest mesh strainer you have. It seriously takes only a few minutes. If you don't own a mesh strainer, just buy some cheesecloth next time you are at the store, line a bowl with it and strain the watermelon through. I used a food processor to whiz up my watermelon puree.

Watermelon Lemonade
Adapted from Bubby's via Smitten Kitchen

makes 1 pitcher (about 6-8 servings)

1 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
2 cups fresh watermelon puree, strained through a course strainer to remove seeds and pulp
12 tablespoons simple syrup
3 cups cold water

Stir it all together and serve over ice. Garnish it with a thin watermelon or lemon wedge, if you are feeling fancy.

Spritzy variation: swap one-third or more of the water with seltzer or sparkling water
Boozy variation: add a splash, or two of vodka

You can make your own simple syrup by boiling together equal parts of water to sugar until the sugar dissolves. Cool before adding to the lemonade, or add lots of ice, take your pick.