Sunday, February 28, 2010

My Favorite Recipe Sites

I love cookbooks.  I own at least 50 cookbooks and I subscribe to at least five food magazines at any given time.  I have three-ring binders full of recipes torn from magazines, hand written, or printed from the Internet.  My cooking skills have been much improved through cable television programs (shout out to The Food Network) and web searches.  I believe it's best to get as many of the best recipes possible, then test and alter them to suit your taste.  Always become a member of your favorite sites (it's free), so you can save and organize your recipes and access them at any computer. 

There are many, many online recipe sites.  Here are a few of my favorites:

All Recipes (
I joined this site almost ten years ago when I was a college student.  Many recipes are submitted by real home cooks (not professionals) and there are plenty of reviews available.  Some of my favorite recipes are based off ideas from this site. 

On the positive, you can find a recipe for just about anything.  There are even some technique videos and holiday features.  On the negative, some of the recipes are bad.  Really bad.  Read reviews.

The Food Network (
If you ask my husband, he'll tell you that The Food Network is my favorite channel.  Period.  At any given time, at least one television in our home is tuned to Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics, or Giada at Home, or Tyler's Ultimate.  Yes, I even DVR my favorite cooking shows so I can watch them when The Food Network shows my least favorite programs, like any show involving a cooking competition.  Boo.  I like to stick to the how-to programs, thank you very much.

I love that I can search for recipes by the date and time they were aired, or by chef, or by show.  Or I can just do a random search.  The site even has clips from popular episodes.  Love it!

Epicurious ( 
I've only recently started using this site, but I find it more sophisticated than my other favorites.  It features recipes from "real" cooking magazines like Bon Appetit and Food and Wine.  User reviews are super critical, so I learn a lot about cooking just from reading the reviews.  The photography is fantastic.  Also, like The Food Network website, it cross references recipes from recent issues of a few of my favorite magazines, so if I forget to clip a favorite, I can likely find it on the site. 

If you're out and you taste a food you love, I strongly suggest doing a Google search for the recipe, or checking for popular versions on one of these sites.  Several years ago my husband tasted tres leches cake for the first time at a Marriott in Brooklyn, NY.  Unfortunately, his favorite cake wasn't a permanent item on the menu, and we spent years trying to find a restaurant that served an authentic version.  I even called Mexican bakeries and asked questions in my broken Spanish.  In the end, we found a fantastic recipe on The Food Network website that surpassed any we'd had in a restaurant.  My husband no longer searches for tres leches because we can make it at home.  That's the beauty of combining your Internet research skills with cooking.  Happy searching!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Green Tea Ice Cream

No, I didn't make this from scratch, but I just have to tell you how my I enjoy this ice cream.  Okay, I just love Haagen-Dazs.  And no, I don't work for them. 

I LOVE ice cream.  Sometimes I don't eat it because I'm a bit lactose intolerant, but in small quantities, I'm fine.  I've had green tea ice cream a few times at Japanese restaurants, so imagine my surprise when I realized that Haagen-Daz makes it, too!  What will they think of next?

The ice cream is a beautiful mint green color and it's super smooth.  The best part is that it's not as sweet as other flavors.  It has the sophistication of mint chocolate chip (although not minty), but this fresh, mild taste that doesn't really remind me of tea.  I ate it straight up, but I bet it would be even better in a waffle cone.  The extra cookie sweetness of the cone would really make this suble ice cream stand out.

Unfortunately it's normally around $4 a pint, but sometimes I can get it on sale for $2.  Once in a blue moon, my store breaks it all the way down to $1.66 and then with a coupon... well, it's practically free!  Plus, March is Frozen Food Month, so maybe I'll find more frozen delights on sale. 

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Banana Bread

My husband and I dream of owning a coffee shop.  We'd have great music, great drinks, and of course, fabulous baked goods.  If we ever got that coffee shop, this banana bread would be on the menu.  I love using overripe bananas (I don't like eating them plain if they even have the slightest brown marks) to bake up a loaf of this moist, hearty banana bread on a Sunday morning.  We brew a pot of coffee, pull out our laptops and just sit at the kitchen table and enjoy the last few moments of our weekend.  The best part is that I can reheat a slice the next day and enjoy it with my coffee during my commute.   I also don't feel to guilty eating this bread because it has a minimal amount of sugar and it's made with whole wheat flour.  (It does have a stick of butter, but...)

In a large bowl, mix 1 stick of softened (room temperature) butter with 2/3 cup of brown sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract (use the real stuff, it's better).  Use your electric hand mixer and beat it until it's smooth and fluffy.

Then, add the bananas.  (Peeled and broken into chunks.)  Beat the mixture for a few more minutes.

Add two eggs and beat for one additional minute.

Now, work on the dry ingredients.

Sift together flour and baking soda.  Mix the dry ingredients into the wet mixture by hand.  At this point, you could add some nuts.  Toasted walnuts would be great.  I decided to just top my loaf with almonds, 'cause that's what I had on hand.  It's really good with or without nuts.  

Prepare a loaf pan by spraying it with nonstick spray (even if it has a nonstick coating) and lining the bottom and sides with parchment paper.

Bake for 65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  This bread is really dense and could take up to 90 minutes to bake.  Just don't burn it. 

Banana Bread
adapted from this recipe

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon flour
2 eggs, beaten
2 1/3 cups mashed overripe bananas (about 4-5 bananas)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan. (I spray mine with Pam and line it with parchment paper.)

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture; stir just to moisten. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.

Bake in preheated oven for 60 to 65 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of the loaf comes out clean. Let bread cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sweet Basil

I admit that I consider Valentine's Day to be a "fake holiday".  Others may refer to it as a Hallmark holiday.  I put it in the same category as Mother's Day, Father's Day, and St. Patrick's Day.  It's another non-religious holiday that is celebrated by going out and spending money.  On most of these holidays you are supposed to treat a certain person in a special way, but in reality you should always show your appreciation for those you love.  My husband and I refrain from going overboard on Valentine's Day because our wedding anniversary is a short three weeks later (March 6th).  We consider that to be our real special day.

Despite my concerns about major crowds with a weekend Valentine's Day, my husband surprised me with a 6:00 reservation on Saturday, February 13th at my favorite local Thai restaurant:  Sweet Basil.  I had my first Thai food experience about five years ago when I spent a lot of time traveling in North Jersey for work.  A colleague suggested dinner at a Thai restaurant and I fell in love with the cuisine.  It's generally spicier than Chinese and is full of fresh seafood and fresh vegetables.  From my experience, the food is never over cooked, salty, or soggy.  The veggies are always crisp and fresh.  Many Thai ingredients include peanuts, coconuts, and spicy chilis.  When I first got into Thai food it was pretty difficult to find it in Delaware.  However, in the past few years we've seen several new Thai restaurants outside of Philadelphia.  We like Sweet Basil for it's romantic, contemporary atmosphere and the creative menu.

The music is soft and smooth, the colors are muted, the furnishings are rich and cozy.  I also love that it's BYOB with no corking fee.  My husband loves red wine, but he always lets me pick a nice bottle of white (my favorite) for us to share at Sweet Basil.  It's the little things.

This place isn't necessarily inexpensive, so we'd come for lunch if it wasn't a special occasion.  However, every single course is unique and well worth the price. 

We each started with soup.  I had lemongrass (which was spicy and filled with chunks of tomato, onion, and large shrimp).  My soup was had a nice level of spice, but it wasn't so spicy that I couldn't enjoy the individual flavors.

Our next course came from their Asian Tapas menu.  I guess every restaurant is jumping on the tapas bandwagon.  We normally opt for one of their standard appetizers (like satay chicken), but we wanted to switch it up.  We had the tamarind shrimp with chili sauce and the crab roll. 

The tamarind shrimp was just okay.  It was grilled and although it wasn't technically overcooked, we tasted more char than shrimp.  This wasn't helped by the fact that the chili sauce was sweet, not spicy as we expected.  But we ate all four shrimp!

The crab roll was basically a big crab spring roll.  It had plenty of crab, plus carrots and cabbage.  It came with a vinegary dipping sauce.  We enjoyed it, but we both felt that we could see the crab, but we couldn't taste it.  Then again, we admit that we've never had crab without Old Bay, so maybe we just associate crabmeat with that Maryland seasoning.

I chose Stir Fried Shellfish for my main course.  It's a combination of scallops, shrimp, mussels, and squid in a spicy broth with vegetables (peppers and onions) and white rice.  It was delicious, especially considering that the squid was tender (not chewy).  It was also light, so I was able to enjoy every single bite.

Since the food was so light, I had room for dessert.  Regardless of what they offer, I always ask for Coconut Ice Cream with Warm Sticky Rice.  I can't explain to you the deliciousness of this dessert.  The coconut ice cream is light in texture and topped with chopped peanuts.  There's some clear fruit (I don't think it's a lychee, but I'm not sure) that is also placed on top of the ice cream that is sweet and slick and just fits in with the creamy texture.  The absolute best part is the warm layer of sweet sticky rice at the bottom of the bowl.  I don't like rice pudding, and I didn't think I'd like coconut with rice, but this dessert is so unique and so good. My only complaint is that they were stingy with the rice this time.  It's the best part!  Just writing about it makes me wish I could make it.  Does anyone have a recipe for this? 

So that's my recap of my delicious experience at Sweet Basil.  If you haven't tried Thai food, I highly recommend it.  If you live in the Philadelphia area, I highly recommend Sweet Basil.  There are some fantastic restaurants in China Town in the city, but Sweet Basil is pretty good for those of us who are suburbanites. 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snow Days Are The Best Days

Last summer I complained that Delaware (well, the Mid-Atlantic, in general) doesn't get snow anymore.  Our past few winters had only a few dustings of snow and many cold, rainy nights.  If you are going to live in a climate with four seasons, I think you should experience all four seasons!  I couldn't remember the last time we had a white Christmas and we hadn't had "real" snow in a few years.  I love summer as much as the next person, but winter had become so pathetic that I was pretty sure that global warming was ruining our seasons much more quickly than anticipated.

Winter 2010 is everything I hoped for and more.  We had a white Christmas and our first snowfall arrived before the first day of winter!  We're on our second (or is it third?) major winter storm.  To make the deal even sweeter, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey are all under a state of emergency so there's no way that my husband and I would have to go to work, even if our employers tried to be tough.  I mentioned before that we have long commutes (hubby works in over an hour away in PA and I work about an hour away in NJ) and we really appreciate our time together and just relaxing at home.  These storms over the past two weeks have forced us to slow down, get some rest, and enjoy our home (and some great home cooked meals).  Plus, we're saving money on fuel and we're not relying on restaurant meals (which we sometimes do when we're exhausted after work). 

My husband and I have made some difficult career and educational choices that have left us with insane schedules.  A forced slowdown (like a snowstorm) is a blessing for us.  Some people dream of vacationing to exotic places, but these days we dream of sleeping late and spending time together in the home that we work so hard to maintain.

If you're in this mess of a snowstorm, be safe.  If you are fortunate enough to have the time and resources to be with the ones you love, be thankful.  I know we are.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Super Bowl Meatballs

This is a true diet-busting weekend.  It's Super Bowl Sunday and the Mid Atlantic was just hit by a huge snowstorm/blizzard.  We've been confined to our home for the past 36 hours (it was wonderful) and we woke up this morning to sunny skies, cold weather, and over two feet of snow.  We spent yesterday eating pizza, watching movies, and sleeping for hours.  It's absolutely wonderful.

Although our team isn't in the Super Bowl, we'll take any excuse to eat chicken wings and potato chips, so we're planning a special menu for this evening.  We're headed to my mom's house.  She made up a batch of sangria and I'm bringing homemade meatballs and potato skins.  We'll also be picking up some wings from a local restaurant and spending several hours laying on the couch with our dogs and not sticking to our healthy diets.  Good times!  (Oh, and we'll be back in the gym tomorrow).

My mom and I have been making these meatballs for at least 15 years.  When we first moved to Delaware from New Jersey, my mom ran into a restaurant chef who gave her his secret ingredients for great meatballs:  Stove Top Stuffing mix and grape jelly.  I know it sounds crazy and not authentic Italian, but then again, I'm not Italian (although I've had some really delicious Italian food and I watch Giada deLaurentis on the Food Network, but I digress). 

To make a long story short, his recipe morphed into my version that I use today.  It's really easy and you could use ground turkey, pork, beef (or a combination).  I almost always use beef.  We serve these meatballs with marinara sauce on hoagie rolls as meatball subs or with spaghetti.  They freeze really well and make a great weeknight dinner.  I've carried a Crock Pot full of these meatballs to work for several occasions and everyone seems to like them.  We nearly had a riot at our home when we ran out of these meatballs at our 2008 Christmas Party.

First you dump all the ingredients in a large bowl:  ground beef, an egg, bread crumbs, seasonings, Parmesan cheese, and grape jelly.  I know the grape jelly sounds insane and I would never eat it on its own, but it's good in this recipe, trust me.

Then you mix it all up with your (very clean) hands.  It'll be cold and mushy, but the best way to get it all together is to squeeze and knead it well with your hands.

Next, you use your hands to form the meat into golf ball sized meatballs.  Place the meatballs on a baking sheet (lined with foil and sprayed with non stick spray, just in case there's not enough fat in that meat!).

Bake them for about 20 minutes, let them cool a bit.  Then, enjoy them with pasta, or on a sandwich, or straight up off the baking sheet.

Remember, these freeze well and they travel well in a Crock Pot, too.  I don't normally eat beef, but I like these meatballs.  My family enjoys these and I believe you will, too.

a family recipe

3 pounds ground beef (you can also try turkey, pork, veal, or a combination)
1 cup bread crumbs (I use Italian style) 
2/3 cup grape jelly
1 egg
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons seasoned salt (I use Lawry's, you could just use salt)
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Use your hands to mix all ingredients in a large bowl.  Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with nonstick spray.  Create golf ball-sized meatballs.  Place them close together (but not touching) on the baking sheet.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until meatballs are evenly browned.  Remove meatballs from baking sheet and transfer to a plate to cool.

Serve with marinara sauce and pasta or as meatball subs.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Parchment Paper

Here's one of my kitchen secrets:  parchment paper.  Yes, I know it's basic, but believe it or not, I really didn't start maximizing the utility of this product until a few years ago!

You can pick up a roll of parchment paper in the grocery store for about $3.  You'll find it in the aisle with waxed paper, foil, and plastic wrap.  I always bake my cookies with commercial grade 1/2 sheet baking pans lined with parchment paper.  For years I used Silpat.  Silpat is a wonderful reusable silicone baking mat with  many uses beyond baking cookies, but it isn't cheap ($26/sheet) and it is kinda stinky (like burned rubber) when it gets hot in the oven.  Silpat also needs to be washed after each use and I'm not about doing dishes.  I tried parchment paper about 4 years ago after my mother accidentally took a knife to my Silpat in an attempt to cut freshly baked pepperoni bread.

I use parchment paper to line pans of brownies and pumpkin bread.  You can bake savory foods on it without worrying about using extra oil to prevent sticking.  When you are finished with your recipe, you simply throw the paper in the trash.  I've found that it's much easier to lift dense quick breads, bars, and desserts out of pans when I line them with parchment and let the paper overlap out of the sides of the pan.

Parchment paper equals easy cleanup, smooth baked surfaces, and an instant non-stick surface.  If you hate scrubbing pans or washing dishes in general, but you love to bake and roast, try parchment paper.
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