Archive for category In the Kitchen

Robin Egg Meringues Recipe & Tutorial

I had one of those nights where I felt inspired.  Not by a recipe, or an ingredient but just an idea: Create meringues that look like Robin Eggs. You know, those pretty teal blue eggs with brown speckles on them?  Unfortunately, by the time I thought of it, it was much too late to start a baking project and I didn’t think I had all the ingredients.  But I did it anyway…

Robin Egg Meringes

If you’ve never had meringues before, they are a fairly simple treat. Mostly sugar, egg white and a lot of air.  They melt on your tongue like cotton candy and they are one of the daintiest desserts you can make.

 

Usually they are made in the shape of a rose, a drop or star, but I’ve also come across these realistic-looking meringue mushrooms several times.  These gave me hope that you could make just about anything with meringue, but first I set out on a trek around the interwebs to find any previous attempts at a Robin Egg version.  To my surprise, I learned a lot about Robin Eggs and a lot about meringues, but nada on combining the two!

Finished Robin Egg Meringes

 

So here it is folks, my late night, super fluffy original Robin Egg Meringue treats!!

Tada!!

I kept a couple and sent the rest of these off to work with Jason.  I’ve decided what I really need are more friends/occasions to bake for here in Atlanta!

Here they are in their final habitat:

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Budget Friendly Creamy Tomato Bisque Recipe

An abundance of canned tomatoes from a recent coupon shopping trip left me thinking up a multitude of ways to use this versatile ingredient.  Y’all know I’m a frugal gal, some might even call me cheap (and I’d take it as a compliment!).  Often times, shopping what’s on sale leaves you with an interesting combination of ingredients on hand.  A little creativity and you can get dinner on the table:

Creamy Tomato Soup Recipe

 

Here is a (very short) snippet of my grocery shopping list from this week.  I scored 8 huge cans of tomatoes for 43¢ a piece, 12¢ sour cream, 67¢ shredded mozzarella and paid 69¢ for 7 delicious ciabatta rolls. (If you have a Publix nearby and want to grab these deals yourself check out SouthernSavers for the Publix Weekly Ad w/ coupon matchups for more details.. you have until 4/23!)

 

SouthernSavers Publix Weekly Ad

A kitchen full of assorted random ingredients just leads to me get creative and after a few suggestions from Twitter and Facebook friends, I decided to make a chunky tomato bisque, (thanks @mariafrey!) Except that I made it chunk-less (you’ll see what I mean)…

 

Making this soup allowed me to reconnect with two of my kitchen utensils that don’t get a lot of action: My big ol’ stockpot, and  the stick blender that I used to puree this chunky soup silky smooth!

 

Stockpot with Onions and PeppersCuisinart Stick Blender

I followed the recipe pretty closely, making small adjustments based on what I had and seasoning to my taste. Its a big batch so you can feed 6-8 easily depending on whether its an entree or starter.

If you add up the extra produce, I made this whole pot of soup for less than 4 bucks! And you know tomato soup gets even better the next day so we’ll be chomping on this with half a sandwich for lunch tonmorrow!

I have a couple more recipe suggestions to try including a super simple tomato sauce (thanks Kristy!) and a tomato eggplant sausage penne that my sis likes to make. I’ve still got 6 cans of tomatoes left so I’ll be adding these to our menus for the next few weeks!

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Confetti Chicken Pasta Recipe

Confetti chicken pasta is a “recipe” my I-can-make-anything-with-what’s-on-hand momma whipped up back when I was little.  It took no time for this to become a family favorite and now she makes it with a rainbow of bell peppers and a spicy cream sauce each time.

Confetti Chicken Pasta with Veggies Recipe

Actually, I don’t have her recipe (she’s probably afraid I’d share it… hehe), but I do have a very clear memory of what Confetti Chicken is supposed to taste like. Most of my cooking is that way and I learned how things should taste from the best cook I know!

For me dinner is about sitting down with your family to something that might have taken hours to make, but only a few minutes to eat and savor. You always want more, but there’s no room in your belly so you wake up the next day thinking about those delicious leftovers you’ll have for lunch.  Its about layering flavor – opening up the fridge to see what you have on hand that will work well together – and whipping up something you want to eat again and again! (psst…. you are getting a peek of the kitchen in the new place we’re renting)

Confetti Chicken Pasta with Veggies Recipe

Here are all the colorful veggies and chicken heading into the sauce and pasta!! Don’t mind the Amy vs. Oven burn on my right hand.  That happened the last night before we moved when all was packed and nothing was left in the freezer but a frozen pizza and no utensils…

Here’s the version of Confetti Chicken Pasta that I made last night, but feel free to switch out the type of cheese, veggies and shape of pasta depending on what you have in the house (or what’s on sale!) as I frequently do.

Ok, I’m hungry now, time to start on tonight’s dinner….

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Tres Leches Cake Recipe with Toasty Meringue Frosting

One of my favorite birthday traditions growing up was that my mom would always ask us what special meal & cake we wanted and then she’d slave away in the kitchen until it was just perfect. I’ve decided to continue that tradition, so I asked J-Bird for his special request. This year it was Tres Leches!

Tres Leches Cake Recipe with Toasted Meringue Frosting(instagram photo courtesy of Jason)

We were celebrating a BIG birthday – my hubs turned 30!  He was out of town for work on his actual b-day, so we decided to gather up some friends and have a night out at the Japanese Steakhouse (his favorite).  After slathering white sauce over everything and eating about a pound of rice, everyone came back to our place to sing & eat cake!

Torching the Meringue Frosting

His choice of cake actually surprised me because I’ve only made Tres Leches once for a Cinco De Mayo party.  It was kind of fitting for a 30th birthday – I told everyone it was a “Tres Cero” Leches Cake (three zero in Spanish).  Oh the wit.

As far as I’m concerned, any cake you need a torch to make is a winner! The frosting is particularly forgiving because you don’t have to be too exact with your piping skills. You could even make it spiky with a spoon before torching instead. After it was all toasted,  I garnished the top with some strawberry “roses” and blackberries.

Fruit Arranged on Top of Tres Leches Cake

I was so busy baking that I forgot to buy candles, so we got creative with a taper and then had to go a little overkill with lighting it. (Jason REALLY wanted to play with the torch!) Jason Lighting the Candle

Tres Leches is a sticky, buttery cake with most of the sweetness coming from the frosting and berries. The meringue adds that extra touch of caramely flavor that is hard to resist.

Don’t tell, but we ended up sharing leftovers for breakfast with a hot cup of coffee!

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Red Velvet Cake with Beets?!

I love an excuse to try a new recipe, really I do… but when my good friend Jenny raved about a red velvet cake with made with beets, I made lots of funny faces – until I realized she was serious. Not to mention that it was her birthday, so I couldn’t possibly say no!

Jenny has been on a quest to get healthier and as her workout partner, I figured I had to oblige her request for a lighter version of this quintessential southern cake (after all she could only save up so many Weight Watchers points!)

The recipe comes from Spotted Salamander Catering in Columbia, SC who introduced Jenny to beet red velvet cupcakes at one of her recent couponing workshops. They kindly shared their recipe, so I set out to recreate it and hopefully not fail at my first encounter with beets.

I had two initial observations. (#1) Fresh beets turn everything fuschia and (#2) they smell remarkably like dirt. No worries, that must mean they are filled with antioxidants and vitamins and stuff, right? Now I know where the phrase “beet red” comes from, just be sure to wear appropriately colored clothing!

As I always do when trying a new recipe, I did some pre-baking research and found lots of details and variations of beet red velvet cake. This post in particular highlighted the effect of pH on the color of the final cake and the chemical engineering nerd in me couldn’t resist an experiment of my own. Beets are naturally red from betalains, compounds whose color is very sensitive to temperature, pH and moisture.

The original recipe from Spotted Salamander really only made enough for one 9″ round cake pan, so I made two layers exactly the same way, but added lemon juice (1/4 c.) to one to see if it resulted in a brighter red cake. (if you stare at the picture below long enough you’ll notice the top layer is darker brown and the bottom layer with lemon juice retained a more reddish tone.. too bad I didn’t have any litmus paper on hand!)

The icing on the cake (heh) is that I reserved some of the beet juice to tint the cream cheese icing on the cake. No Red #40 here!  When I’m piping words I like to print out the size and spacing of the text as a guide and then freehand it. This font is Minya Nouvelle for anyone interested.

Beet Colored Frosting

And of course you need the action shot of the birthday girl blowing out quite a few glowing candles 🙂 The cake was really delicious and thankfully didn’t taste (or smell) like beets at all!

Here’s the full recipe from the Spotted Salamander with my notes added in blue:

Update: If you’d like to know more about the science and history of Red Velvet Cake, check out my guest post on ChEnected.

As it turns out, you can have your cake and eat your beets too!

Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Pound Cake Recipe

Sometimes all it takes to inspire a new recipe is a fun new ingredient to experiment with, a special occasion or a cool new tool you are just dying to try out.  The cake I’m going to share with you today was really a combo of all three, as I set out to use a new fun mini bundt pan set to make a vanilla infused pound cake for two very important occasions!

Let’s start with a sneak peek inside my kitchen when I’m baking. Here is what it looked like after a recon trip to Publix to acquire all necessary ingredients:

Using the iPad in the Kitchen
We got an iPad last year and as you can see, it’s quickly become our most used kitchen tool!  Its so handy when you need a quick recipe idea, want to do a conversion and I’ve even starting saving our weekly meal plan to it for quick perusing.

More on using the iPad in the kitchen in a later post, for now lets get back to the vanilla cream cheesy goodness.

The star ingredient in this cake is Vanilla. I used two delicious forms to get the rich robust flavor I wanted: Nielsen Massey Vanilla bean paste and Khoisan Tea Bourbon Vanilla powder. Both of these were gifts from my super awesome momma, and both were picked up in the TJ Maxx food aisle for a fraction of what you would pay elsewhere.

Nielsen Massey Vanilla Bean Paste & Khoisan Tea Bourbon Vanilla

The bean paste is a thickened vanilla extract flecked with sweet, flavorful vanilla bean innards!

Vanilla Bean Paste Closeup

Also a gift, but this time from Jason’s mommy, I had been dying to try out this fun Nordicware bundt pan (ps… If you ever don’t know what to get me for Christmas… kitchen toys are always a winner!) With bundt cakes its important to spray your pans very well and I use an icecream scoop to distribute the batter evenly.

Nordicware 4 Shape Bundt Pan

 

You’ll notice a few air bubbles in my final product. I’m so used to trying to keep things light & fluffy that I forgot with bundt cakes you should tap on them to settle out the air prior to baking.  Mini Bundt Cakes

The three round cakes were a surprise for our good friend James’ birthday.  His wife was out of the country and after some prodding she informed me that he loved pound cake with glazey stuff on top. It was the funniest thing when his sister also dropped off a pound cake the same day!

 

The remaining heart shaped cake (not exactly appropriate to share for a dudes bday when his wife is in another country) stayed home and got a special Valentine’s day treatment for me and J-Bird to enjoy.   I sprinkled these sweet Wilton Hearts under the cake like confetti and drizzled the glaze over the contours of the cake for a dramatic effect.

Heart Shaped Bundt Cake

I also cooked down some frozen strawberries in confectioners sugar and water and served that with the sliced cake. Apparently we were too busy savoring it to take a photo! At any rate, here’s the recipe so you can whip this up in your own kitchen.

 

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Cheesy Souffle & Mixed Green Salad Recipe

I have been mixing things up for dinner lately and trying to incorporate healthy satisfying dishes that are also light. Cheese is my weakness so I’ve been hunting for ways to incorporate it wisely without going too crazy.

My sweet mom gave me a beautiful red Emeril souffle crock for Christmas and I just love that having the right equipment can make a girl confident enough to attempt even the toughest of recipes. Turns out my preconceived worst-case-scenario visions of catastrophically collapsing souffles were unwarranted and this recipe is actually pretty easy!

I served this along a mixed green salad topped with Craisins and drizzled with The. Best. Salad. Dressing. Evar. Period. (see recipe for that below)

Cheesy Souffle Recipe

Cooking Spray
2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. light butter
1/2 tsp.table salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
2/3 c. Monterrey Jack cheese
2 large egg yolk(s)
5 large egg white(s), beaten
16 fl. oz.Fat Free Half & Half

Preheat your oven to 375°F. Spray a 2 qt. soufflé pan with cooking spray.

In a saucepot over medium heat melt butter and whisk in flour to make a roux.

Whisk in 1/4 c. of Half & Half until the flour is dissolved.  Add the remaining Half & Half and whisk until smooth and slightly thickened.

Remove from heat adding in the spices,  cheeses and egg yolks.

Beat the egg whites using high speed in a stand mixer until stiff and airy.

Gently fold 1/3 of the eggwhites at a time into the cheese mixture until completely incorporated. This will appear a bit lumpy, but not to worry.

Pour into soufflé pan and bake for 40 minutes

Salad Dressing Recipe

some vinegar (preferably Vincotto Hot Pepper Vinegar)
some Olive Oil (preferably Frantoia)
a little Salt/Garlic/Pepper spice blend

Ok, busted – this really isn’t a recipe. I pour some vinegar into a bowl and whisk while streaming in a similar amount of olive oil.  Once its whipped and thick, I grind some spice blend on top and drizzle it over mixed greens. -Booyah!

For a girl who grew up hating leafy greens & salad dressing,  and whose still not a fan of tartness, this vinaigrette is totally r.o.c.k.i.n. Yes you have to have Frantoia Olive Oil and the Vincotto Hot Pepper Vinegar (which is actually very sweet and not hot in the slightest).  You will never look at salad the same way again!!

Souffle and Salad

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Baby Brioche Recipe


Before I attempt anything crazy like croissants, I though it wise to try my hand at a few simpler breads first.

Brioche is one of those breads I’ve seen used to make fancy french toast or bread pudding on TV, but I’ve never come across it in any of my local spots. I’d heard its a sweet, eggy, dense bread with a funny round puff on top that is generally cooked in a big fluted pan.

Three things pushed me over the edge to give it a go at home:

  1. These adorable mini-brioche pans (mama is the traditional one in the back)
  2. Cooking Light December 2010 Issue staring at me with a lightened up recipe for brioche rolls.
  3. This awesome Taylor Digital Measuring Cup Scale that my sis gave me for Christmas (just had to test it out and it worked like a charm!)

The recipe made way more dough than I needed for my 6 cute tins. Not to worry, I just put the extra dough in muffin tins and they actually turned out really similar!

Be forewarned, its not a difficult recipe, but there are several very LONG waiting periods.  I would suggest starting the dough the day before you want to eat it! It’s really an exercise in patience, not baking.

Here’s the recipe:

Baby Brioche Rolls

1 package of dry yeast (2 ¼ tsp.)
1/3 c. warm 1% milk (heated to 100°F)
15.75 oz. flour (3 ½ cups)
1/3 c. sugar
½ tsp. salt
4 eggs, lightly beaten
6 ½ tbsp.  unsalted butter, softened and cubed
Cooking Spray
1 tbsp. water
1 egg

Combine the yeast and warm milk in the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment.  Let the yeast dissolve for 5 min.

Add flour, sugar, salt and eggs to the milk mixture. Beat on low speed until smooth and scrape the bowl as needed.

Switch to the dough hook attachment and use it to knead the dough on low for 5 minutes. (It will look soft and elastic and the dough will begin pulling away from the bowl)

Add half of the butter at a time to the dough. Mix on medium after each addition until incorporated.

Knead the dough in the mixer for an additional 4 minutes until smooth and elastic again. Mine was pretty sticky at this point.

Cover and allow to rise in a warm place for 1 hour. The dough should double in size and two fingers pressed into the dough leave an indention that doesn’t spring back.

Punch the dough down, cover with plastic wrap and then refrigerate for 8 hours or until morning.

Remove the dough from the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature (90 minutes).

Divide it into 4 equal pieces.

Cut the dough portion into 6 equal pieces and roll them into a 1.5 in ball.  Place into sprayed muffin tins and allow to rise another 45 minutes.

Mix water and egg white and gently brush the top of each roll with the mixture. This is what gives you the pretty golden outside!

Bake at 350 in a preheated oven for 14 minutes or until golden. Cool on wire racks. Serve with butter because it tastes amazing that way!

These are totally worth the wait.  I microwaved a little butter and spread it over each one. They were fluffy, sweet, buttery, soft in the middle and chewy on the outside!  The fluff in the center slipped over to one side on several of them, so I will skip that part when I make them again.

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Ten Kitchen Tips: Meat

Photo Courtesy of TheBusyBrain

I have to admit, when Jason and I first got married, I was more than squeamish about handling meat.  Growing up, I was grossed out by fat, bones, skin and because my mom is awesome, she would trim up and cook my meat longer than everyone else in the family. Call me spoiled, but I was all about lean, pristine cuts (boneless skinless chicken breast, pork loin, ultra lean ground beef).  These lean cuts are not only more expensive, they can also be very dry and chewy.

Over time, I have branched out to less perfectly trimmed meats because they are typically cheaper and more flavorful. However, I’m still not a fat and gristle kinda girl.  Here are my top 10 ways to make any cut of meat delicious and save money doing it.

1.  Shop when the meat is on sale.

I have a stock up price for most cuts of meat that we enjoy.  Make use of your freezer to buy when its cheap and then use over time.

Cut of Meat Good Price Cut of Meat Good Price
Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast $1.99/lb Whole Chicken 99¢/lb
Split Chicken Breast 99¢/lb Pork Loin $1.99/lb
Boston Butt $1.69/lb Pork Chops (Bone-In) $1.59/lb
Lean Ground Beef $2.99/lb Steak $4.99/lb
2.  Trim and bag into family-sized portions.

For our family of 2, that’s two chicken breasts, a lb of ground beef, or two 1″  thick pork loin medallions,  which fit nicely into a quart-sized freezer bag. If you have a family of 4, double it and use a gallon size storage bag.  Trimming the meat in advance means its ready to use, saving you time on weeknights.

3. Marinate

Marinades and dressings are one of the cheapest and easiest ways to doctor up your meat. (They are often B1G1 and have coupons too!) It requires a little bit of planning ahead, but you can pull something out of the freezer, dump some marinade in the Ziploc and throw it in the fridge overnight to thaw.  Or, if you are really organized, you could add the marinade BEFORE you freeze it and then just take it out the night before you want to cook it. My favorite marinade is sun-dried tomato vinaigrette!

4. Brine

Brining is not technique used that often by home cooks. My dad brines fish and meat before he smokes it to help it cure and flavor it.  But I learned recently that you can brine anything and it results in an oh-so-tender grilled hunk of meat.  Try a sugar brine on porkchops – just make sure you rinse or pat the brine off before you cook it (if you don’t it will be too salty).

5. Slowcook

The slowcooker is one of my ultimate time-savers. Who doesn’t love a hot meal ready and waiting for them after a long day, especially when its cool outside? This works great for cheaper cuts of meat because you always end up with a tender flavorful result. My dear friend Erica introduced us to Chicken Parisienne and its one of our go-to favs!

6. Jaccard


Most people have never heard of this tool. Actually, it looks more like a weapon.  My Jaccard has 48 tiny blades that pierce meat with spring-loaded action! Tough cuts are broken down, and marinade can penetrate better into the meat. It also evens out the thickness for more uniform cooking.  I see them at TJ Maxx/Ross frequently for $20, or you can find one at Amazon for about $25. We’ve give away several as gifts because its just that awesome!

7. Skip It

One of the best ways to save on meat is to skip it all together.  I’m not suggesting becoming a vegetarian by any means, but skipping meat just one night a week is great for your wallet and your waistline.  Also, eating low on the food chain helps save energy and natural resources (that’s the hippy in me talking 🙂 ) Try my roasted tomato pasta for a tasty meat-free dinner. If you can’t go totally meatless, try reducing your portion size at each meal instead!

8. Roast

My favorite way to cook pork tenderloin is to season and pan sear it on all sides and then roast it in the oven for a good 40 minutes. A nice crust forms on the outside of the meat and the inside stays very tender. We love this Pork tenderloin with roasted grape sauce.

9. Don’t Overcook – Pretty Please!

At first, I cooked everything to death for fear it wasn’t done (did I mention my squeamishness).  Even now, I have trouble eating a steak that isn’t well done.  But, overcooking is a surefire way to end up with a dry, rubbery piece of meat.  You can look up the cooking times for various cuts of meat and levels of doneness.  A simple thermometer lets you check the internal temp of the meat and decide if its done.

Cut of Meat Perfect Temp Cut of Meat Perfect Temp
Poultry 165 F Pork 165 F
Steak, Med 160 F Steak, Well 170 F
10. Let it Rest

Its tempting to pull a steak off the grill or a pork loin out of the oven and immediately slice it.  But there is good reason to let it sit for 10-15 minutes tented with foil.  High temps release the moisture in your meat as steam. If you immediately cut it open, that moisture is lost to the air. Oops! By letting the meat cool down some, the moisture is redistributed within the meat instead of escaping meaning a more juicy steak for you!

Sunshine in a Glass

In honor of my FL Gators playing my next favorite, SC Gamecocks, Jason and I whipped up a cocktail to demonstrate our loyalties. You’ll note its orange, and contains fresh squeezed Florida Tangerine juice. Sorry Carolina, you’ll always be my #2.

Here’s the sunshiney goodness:

3 oz fresh squeezed Florida Tangerine Juice (sub OJ if you want)
3 oz pineapple juice
¾ oz Vodka
¾ oz Triple Sec (or orange liquer)
¾ oz Peach Schnapps

Shake and serve over plentiful ice in a tall glass. Or you can split it between two martini glasses like we did.

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