Wednesday, January 20, 2010

We are not the Neelys, but . . .

We have discovered how much fun it is to cook together!

When I have watched the Neelys' Food Network show, Down Home with the Neelys, they work together in that kitchen like a well-oiled machine. And, they enjoy working together and helping one another. They also flirt an awful lot, but I find that cute, because, well, I'm married to the biggest flirt on the planet, and we do our fair share of flirting!

Our usual routine for cooking dinner was one person would cook and the other would clean. That seemed fair to us, and it worked out good for us, too. In the beginning of our marriage, I was not a cook. Like I said before, Hamburger Helper was my Go-To meal. But, I was an ace at washing dishes. And, he is an outstanding cook, so it worked out well.

But, now . . . I enjoy being in the kitchen and want to cook. And, I want to help. And, sometimes, I need his help. Still learning, you know, and well, math was never my strong subject and doubling or halving a recipe requires some math!

Recently, we had dinner at our house with some friends. Our dinner menu was Almond Crusted Chicken with a white sauce (a Rachael Ray recipe, minus the scallions for the non-onion eaters, and minus the wine for the momma-to-be), mashed red potatos, roasted carrots, and green beans. We decided to split up the cooking duties - I would make the chicken and the sauce, while he did the veggie side dishes. I also made a soy dessert, which I will post later, once I figure out what to call it. . . pudding? pie? pudding pie?

We were cooking, and drinking wine, talking, and singing along with the music, and generally having a blast, and that was before the company arrived! Once our friends did arrive, it was just like more people joined the party. The more, the merrier!

We enjoyed cooking with each other so much, we decided to do it again. And, we didn't even have company coming! We decided to make a dish called Shakshoukah, made with tomatos and eggs - I'll post this one, too, eventually - with polenta, and hummus and pita bread. He made the Shakshoukah and polenta on the stovetop, while I made the hummus in a blender and made the pita bread (from my new favorite book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day).

We didn't talk as much this time around, but I chalk that up to trying a new recipe. It was the first time for him making Shakshoukah, and it was my first time making pita bread (I will be posting about this later, too). However, I still enjoyed being with my husband, doing something together, and doing something new together. And, the food was delicious! Eating our creations was just as much fun as making them together!

Doing something simple and everyday can be refreshing and fun if done with someone you love!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Maggie Biscuits

Our dog, Maggie, is most definitely Food Motivated. She likes her tennis balls, and ropes for tug-of-war. She even likes her Couch Time. But nothing, absolutely nothing, focuses her like food. I suppose I can't blame her!

One day, while browsing our local library for some good reads I came across K-9 Nation Biscuit Book: Baking for Your Best Friend, by Klecko. (Here is a link to the book at I immediately picked it up. It fit right in with my new desire to avoid packaged, processed foods and all the preservatives that come with them. Why not bake for our dog, too? We want her to be healthy and live a long happy life.

As books go, I enjoyed the personal stories that prefaced each recipe. As recipes go, I only tried two recipes in the book, mainly because I had all the ingredients on hand, except for one ingredient in each, and they were ingredients I would always have on hand. The first on I tried was called "Auggie's Doggie Biscuits", and consisted of all-purpose flour, tuna, milk and water. The original recipe calls for chervil (a member of the parsley family) which I do not have on hand. So, it was omitted. Maggie liked those very much. The second I tried was "Meatball's PBJ Biscuits", and has whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, cracked wheat, water, olive oil, and of course, peanut butter and jelly. The original recipe also has orange flower water as an optional ingredient. I left that out. I also left out the cracked wheat since I don't usually have that either. These PBJ Biscuits were a big hit with Maggie.

These biscuits are easy to make and last a long time -- provided they store well and don't get moldy! I have had two batches go moldy on me, so I put half of the baked biscuits in the freezer now. That will be a nice cooling treat in the summer here for Maggie! Iced biscuits!

The latest batch of biscuits I made was the PBJ biscuits, but I altered a lot, and they still turned out great for Maggie. She loves them still, even with the changes.

Maggie knows when I am baking them, too, and will follow me around the kitchen. When I return to the kitchen to turn the baking sheet around (for even baking in my old oven), she will follow me and sit behind me, waiting. When I take the biscuits out of the oven to cool, she jumps for pure joy and excitement, I'm sure. Maggie is such a smart dog, she has come to know my kitchen timer bell means I am headed to the kitchen, the Land of Yummy Things!

Here is the recipe for the last batch I made for Maggie, with all my changes.
3 cups flour
1 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. peanut butter
1 Tbsp. strawberry preserves

Put flour in a large mixing bowl. Fill a 2-cup measuring cup or small bowl with water and add oil. Stir together to combine as well as water and oil can mix!

Add to the flour and stir to combine. Before it is mixed really well and becomes dough, add the peanut butter and preserves. Mix well until dough is pliable.

Place the dough on a floured surface and press out to about 1/2 inch thick. I just use my hands, but you cna use a roller if you'd like. Also, I try to make my dough rectangular to make the pieces even.

Cut the dough using a pizza cutter or long serrated knife into cubes that will fit your dog's jaw comfortably.

Place the biscuit pieces on a non-stick baking sheet.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown. One note here: Klecko says you can't really overbake these biscuits, and I think he's right. I've had a few at the edges of my baking sheet get slightly burned and Maggie still loves them. They have a little extra crunch!

Let cool completely (24 hours is recommended) before storing. Like I said before, I freeze half the baked biscuits after they have cooled for 24 hours. The remaining half I leave on the counter in a tupperware.

I would highly recommend Klecko's book if you have dogs. It is easy and fun to bake these biscuits, and the stories are interesting, funny and sweet.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Baking Bread - Rosemary and Olive Oil Focaccia

We rang in the New Year with family and lots of laughter, and of course, food!

We traveled to spend time with Grandpa Joe and Connie in Bullhead City, AZ. As a gift, we brought champagne, which, incidentally, we did not open at New Year's, and two loaves of bread, a sourdough loaf and the focaccia.

The focaccia recipe came from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day, by Jeff Hertzber and Zoe Francois, a book I received as a Christmas gift. Check out their blog (it's also one I follow). The recipe in the book calls for onions, which I omitted because we are not fans of onion and never have them in the house . . . except after Nana has visited.

Funny side story - after our daughter's graduation, Nana left one yellow onion, and after Nana's Thanksgiving visit, she left one red onion. The yellow onion sat on our counter for months, unused and ignored, until it started to sprout. The same happened with the red onion, except it was only about one month before it actually started to sprout. Both have now been planted in our backyard. That's how we like onions!

Anyways, back to the focaccia. I received the book as a Christmas gift (from my most awesome hubby - thank you, Love!), and absolutely could not wait to try something. We have rosemary in our garden, and I had all other ingredients on hand for this recipe, in addition to not having to buy special equipment, like a pizza peel or baking stone for the oven.

Their method is so easy, and almost foolproof. I say almost because, well, focaccia is a flatbread, so it's supposed to be flat, and as you can see, mine definitely were not flat. Maybe I am too critical; they were flatter than my other loaves. Everyone enjoyed the focaccia, even me! So, it could not have been bad that they were not flat.

I only made half a batch because I didn't think my bowls were big enough to handle the rise for the full recipe, and ended up baking two loaves with the entire dough batch. Had I thought about it more instead of being so ultra-excited to bake, I could have made the full recipe and split it into two containers. The dough would have aged in the refrigerator while we took our trip, and been even more yummy when we returned. Ah, the adventures of a beginning baker. Well, that is another lesson learned!

That night, we had one focaccia loaf with out Spicy Mac-n-Cheese dinner (the hubby's take on Macaroni Grill's Penne Rustica). It was so delicious - the dinner AND the bread! I was very excited to share this with Grandpa Joe and Connie. At Connie's, she served it with a spaghetti dinner the first night of the New Year. It was a nice addition to the meal.

What a way to ring in the New Year! Surrounded by family, sharing good food, wine and lots and lots of laughter, I felt optimistic about 2010. Happy New Year, everyone!


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