Thursday, December 27, 2007

Ravioli, Meatballs & Chocolate Pie - 12/27/2007

One of my family members, Sandy, (I am not sure what the name is for our specific familial relationship), was intent on teaching me to make traditional ravioli, so here is what happened.


Every great pasta dinner needs a sauce and every great Italian dinner needs too much food, so here is the sauce with the meatballs that were the side dish to our pasta. The sauce started with sauteed garlic, some browned sausage and pork loin strips. To make more of a sauce, Sandy added crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water. We let the sauce cook for a while before adding meatballs (prepared with beef, breadcrumbs, parmesan, parsley, garlic, and salt). Then this mixture simmered for many hours until dinner.

Cheese Ravioli

The first set of ravioli was made in half-moon shapes with ricotta-parsley filling. Let me tell you, creamy fillings are very tough to make into ravioli since they interfere with the seal-ability of the dough. I failed on about 6 of these because of this problem. But these ravioli, despite their simplicity, ended up very light and delicious.

Beef Ravioli

The second set of ravioli were meant to be heavier so we made a slightly thicker dough. The filling is mostly beef, but it was surprisingly lighter because of some added spinach and lemon juice. These were made in a simpler fashion that yielded rectangular ravioli of varying sizes.

Chocolate Pudding Pie

While making ravioli, I commented that I have had previous difficulty with doughs, especially pastry dough. So Sandy made it her mission to teach me to make a pie dough. We cut some butter into a flour-salt mixture, then slowly added water to make the dough. After some help rolling the dough out, I baked it until golden brown. The filling is sugar-free chocolate pudding (blech, I know but it was all we had at the time), topped with home-made whipped cream (with vanilla and cinnamon), some crumbled no-bake cookies (my stepmom made a batch that didn't turn into cookie, but makes a pretty good topping), and a sprinkling of hot cocoa mix.

Stuffed Tomatoes & Gluten-Free Biscotti - 12/25/2007

As my contribution to Christmas Day dinner, I wanted to make stuffed tomatoes. Ordinarily, I would probably have stuffed them with a couscous mixture and done something a little Italian with a little lemon. My mom, though, has a gluten allergy, so I could not use couscous since it is a small pasta. Instead I used quinoa, a grain rich in protein and deficient in gluten.

Stuffed Tomatoes

I first cooked the quinoa according to the package directions except I used a mixture of 2 parts chicken stock to 1 part white wine to give it some flavor. While it cooked, I took out the centers of the tomatoes and sauteed some zucchini, onions and garlic. Once everything was cooked, I combined the quinoa, saute mixture and some lemon juice. I wanted the primary taste of this dish to come from smoked paprika, a spice I've never used previously. I slowly added smoked paprika along with a bit of salt until the flavor was strong but not overpowering. It is slightly smokey and slightly spicy, but not overwhelmingly so. Once it was all combined, I loaded up the tomatoes and baked them for about 15 minutes. The flavors blended well and I'm proud to say this dish was a success.

My mom enjoyed some gluten-free ginger biscotti I made for her on her trip to Michigan, so I decided to make a couple other varieties as a Christmas gift. Here is a photo of her and her present on Christmas Day:

GF Biscotti

The top set are Michigan cherry-walnut that have been dipped in chocolate. The bottom set are peanut butter. She was very happy and surprised with this gift (which is amazing because she has gift ESP). These "biscotti" are really just a gluten-free cake mix that has been baked, cut into pieces and re-baked until golden brown. Most biscotti are baked as a loaf that is then sliced and re-baked. That is what gives them their characteristic squat-loaf-slice look. But I guess it does not matter since rumor has it everyone enjoyed the first batch of biscotti, gluten tolerant and intolerant alike.

Hark! the Herald Angel Food Bites - 12/24/2007

I've seen enough of the fake sugared fruit as decorations this holiday season that I wanted to make a dessert featuring some. The end result were my Hark! the Herald Angel Food Bites (punny enough for you?).

Angel Food Bites

The original idea was to make a two-layer angel food cake topped with meringue and studded with three rings of sugar-covered cranberries; however, the angel food cake tipped itself over and broke in two. After some brainstorming, I decided to make these bite-sized versions. The bottom layer is an angel food cake made from a mix and instead of water, I added a mixture of whole-berry cranberry sauce, tangerine juice, tangerine zest, cinnamon, and sugar. On top of this layer are, in order, orange marmalade, home-made meringue (egg whites beat with some sugar), and a cranberry rolled in sugar. Here is a close-up:

Angel Food Bites Close-Up

I received many compliments on the look and taste of these treats and most of them went very quickly. Overall, I learned to not give up on my ideas even if they do not go the way you originally intend.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Gingerbread Men & Candied Nuts - 12/18/2007

My roommate bought me a gingerbread dough kit for Christmas, so I thought I would give it a shot. It was rather straight-forward and simple. The cookies came out nice, soft and tasty. I did not decorate them, mostly because their heads kept popping off. It looked like they were having their own French Revolution in their plastic bag, though I could not tell which one was Robespierre.

Gingerbread Men

The majority of my holiday work has been spent working on tweaking my step-mom's recipe for candied pecans. Here are the final results:

Candied Nuts 1

On the left are green tea flavored pecans using some grean tea powder I bought at the local Asian market. Top right are nutmeg-clove-cinnamon pecans. The usual recipe uses only cinnamon so I thought I would "spice it up" a bit. Bottom right are almonds made with rosemary, garlic powder, and Worcestershire sauce, among other ingredients.

Candied Nuts 2

Going clockwise from top left: cardamom-ginger-cinnamon pecans, cinnamon-clove-nutmeg cashews (my favorite), cocoa pecans, and orange pecans (second favorite). Many of these varieties came out very good and I would recommend them to all. Tip of the season: watch what measuring spoon you are using. I used a 1.5 tsp (who makes a 1.5 teaspoon?) instead of a 1/2 tsp and tripled the amount of salt in the orange pecans. Needless to say, I remade the batch normally and had to throw out the first batch.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Greek-loaf - 12/14/2007

As promised, here is post number two: Greek meatloaf. I made some very quick Greek chicken yesterday for lunch (cooked chicken + Greek spices + vegetables + 5 minutes), and it inspired me to make this concoction.


Here is the general recipe:
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
5-6 garlic cloves, minced
1T fresh mint, chopped
2T fresh oregano, chopped
3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed
12oz tomato sauce, divided
1 egg
2T Worcestershire sauce
1 cup fresh spinach
7 sun-dried tomatoes, sliced into strips
6oz feta, divided
1/2 cup bread crumbs
Salt and pepper, to taste
2lbs gound beef (probably should be 3lbs)
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix all ingredients except 4oz tomato sauce, 3oz feta and the ground beef. Add in beef and mix with hands. Do not overwork the meat or else it will make a tough meatloaf. Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray. Press meat mixture into pan. Spread remaining 4oz tomato sauce on top of the loaf. Sprinkle with the remaining 3oz of feta. Put in oven and bake 30-40 minutes until meat is firm to the touch and has pulled away from the edges of the pan. Let cool a few minutes and serve.

Greek-loaf Dinner

To accompany the dinner, I made some quick couscous into which I mixed some fresh time after it had set up as well as a Greek-style salad. I cut up the remaining red onion, some cucumber and 4 small tomatoes. For a dressing, I mixed together olive oil, red wine vinegar, dried oregano, dried mint, and lemon juice. The dinner came out pretty well considering I made up most of it. My meatloaf probably could have used more meat and less filler since it was a little fragile to cut and serve, but it was still moist and tasted good.

Gingerbread House & Gift Tins - 12/12/2007

I'm sorry I have not posted in a while. I have still been a busy (cooking) bee, I swear. Final exams, graduate school applications and research have dominated my free time. But now exams are over and I have one application left, so here's the latest on my cooking: one post is sweet and the other one is savory.

Gingerbread House

Don't be too impressed because this house is from a kit. I decorated it initially and lost some interest. Then I decorated it again the other day to finish it off. I'm glad with how colorful it is, but the gingerbread is rather hard and not that delicious. Anyways, now for the good stuff:

Christmas Tins

For two of my lab friends who are leaving this semester, I made gift tins filled with some goodies. Above are my cranberry-pistachio coconut macaroons that have been streaked with chocolate. Below is an assortment of spiced, sugared pecans. Here is a close-up:

Christmas Tin Close-up

The pecans are different spins on my stepmom's classic recipe that uses cinnamon. In these tins, I put the sets made with the following: cocoa powder; cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves; and, lastly, cardamom, ginger and cinnamon. I have some other versions of these nuts to make, so expect to see more variations plus other holiday treats coming soon.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Mini Mince Pies - 11/29/2007

For a Secret Santa gift, I was given the ideas of "something sports, something candy or something meat." I made some Gator-colored candy and peppermint bark (possibly pictured later) for the first two and I had to brainstorm for a while to cover the third. Then I remembered mincemeat pie. Old versions of this filling did contain meat, but modern versions are comprised of dried fruits, nuts, spices, and a little liquor.

Mini Mince Pies

Mini Mince Pies Close-up

I will admit that I Sandra Lee-ed this recipe. I bought the dough (after the fiasco with the apple pie) and the mince filling and "jazzed" up the presentation. I used a biscuit cutter to make rounds of dough that I put into cupcake cups. I filled each dough cup with mince filling. Then I made 12 different mostly holiday shapes (my Secret Santa recipient's name starts with W and we use piglets for our research, but otherwise they are holiday-themed) out of dough to put on top. Amazingly, I cut dough better than I draw, so these turned out quite well.


If we ever had leftover pie dough, my mom would always make a ladyfinger or two. I do not actually know how she made it, so I tried my best. I rolled out the dough (with my hands because I was too lazy to use my rolling pin) in an oval shape. Then I put a heap of sugar, some cinnamon and a few small cubes of butter in the center, followed by a wrapping it all up and baking it until golden. It probably needed some more sugar and cinnamon, but it was flaky and delicious anyways.

Chicken Primavera - 11/28/2007

One of my default recipes for the last few years is my primavera sauce. I wanted to make a vegetable tomato sauce and I ended up making my own version of primavera. This time around I made it with angel hair pasta and chicken cutlets.

Chicken Primavera

You start with chopped garlic and red onion cooking in some olive oil. Then add the mushrooms, zucchini and some salt and pepper, cooking until they are about half done. Next, add drained canned garbanzos (chick peas), drained canned green beans, canned tomatoes plus their juices, and tomato sauce. Mix everything together and cook until heated through. Now is the time to add spices: oregano, parsley, basil, salt, pepper, thyme, and rosemary. This same recipe can be used with different vegetables (I've used yellow squash, before and you can add spinach, carrot, or pretty much any other vegetable that would withstand simmering) and spice combinations (including red pepper flakes or bay leaves). This sauce is excellent with pasta, chicken and fish, though I would imagine you could use it for seafood, pork, or veal too. Most of the veggies can come canned, so if you buy all of the basic ingredients and keep them on-hand, you can make it any time you want. For those who follow my blog, this is proof that I can make non-dessert items. ;-P