Wednesday, January 26, 2011


One of my goals for this year is to learn to make yeast bread. Knowing that this process is both part science and part art, I felt I needed to step outside of my usual Better-Homes-and-Gardens-Cookbook box... I needed a book specifically about bread. I needed a book that would simplify things at first, and something that preferably included pictures... a bread-baking-for-dummies, if you will. But I didn't want to get bored either. I needed something that would continue to challenge me as I master the simpler recipes. I needed something on my level, but that would still keep things interesting... a tall order, I'm well aware.

Well, what I found, after a bit of searching, was this lovely book called Dough: Simple Contemporary Breads, by Richard Bertinet. 

This book delivered exactly what I was asking for. I wanted simple - how does only four ingredients sound? I wanted pictures - there are over 20 how-to photographs of everything from how to work the dough to a color guide for baking. It even came with an instructional DVD, where you can watch Mr. Bertinet's interesting technique! It really makes bread-baking pretty much idiot proof. And I'm certain that I won't be bored with it anytime soon... there are enough recipes of various skill levels and flavors to keep me (and my taste buds!) entertained for quite some time.

I tried my first recipe out of it this weekend, with much success. I chose the Epi for its pretty (but simple!) shape, and invited a couple friends over for homemade stew and bread. The little wheat-shaped loaves made a lovely centerpiece, and no one guessed how easy they were to make! This was really the perfect bread to serve to a crowd... the little "leaves" were easily torn off to be eaten as individual rolls, and the crunchy outer crust was perfect for dipping into the stew. All four loaves were quickly devoured between the four of us, to both my pleasure at their popularity and my disappointment that there wouldn't be any leftovers. :)

Since I've only tried this recipe once, I'm not quite ready to post it as a recipe for you all just yet. I made a couple of rookie mistakes, like using all-purpose flour instead of bread flour as the recipe called for, and I haven't yet perfected my technique. But trust me, I'll be using recipes from this book quite frequently and there will be recipes from it in the future!

But for now I'm happy enough to have had a successful first attempt. :)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

My apologies for being gone so long! With my birthday last weekend and the spring semester starting this week, things have been a little busy around our place. I've barely had time to cook, let alone to blog, and I'm sorry to say that this may be the way things are this semester. My goal is to post at least once per week, so let's hope that school and work don't keep from maintaining that!

Last week I mentioned that I'd be making Butternut Squash Soup, and indeed I did! This is a soup that I had never even tried until a few months ago... and even though my only experience with it had been the kind out of a V8 box, I've been in love with its smooth texture and sweet flavor since my first sip. I'd been wanting to make my own since the first time I tried it, and I even asked for an immersion blender for Christmas just so I could make my own. Thanks Mom, for obliging me! 

Since I'd never made a soup like it before, I searched for a relatively simple recipe. As usual, I settled on a recipe by Giada de Laurentis (my foodnetwork favorite, by far). I was drawn to this one mostly by the list of ingredients... pungent, earthy sage, plenty of garlic, and chicken stock. Many of the other recipes I'd seen called for cream - which I'm trying to avoid these days since my wedding is only 7 months away now - so I was very excited when I discovered that this recipe called for a much lighter yet equally flavorful liquid. And the cream was not missed at all... the soup still turned out sweet and creamy and packed with savory goodness. Somehow it tasted better knowing I didn't need to feel guilty about it. :)

Giada simply cubed the squash and allowed it to cook as the soup boiled, but I opted to roast mine before making the soup. This is, of course, totally optional, but I thought it really brought out the flavor of the squash and added just a little somethin' extra to the dish. The extra step is totally worth it if you have the time. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Italian Club Sandwiches

I wasn't planning to post about these.

No, my next post was going to be about the butternut squash soup I'm going to try my hand at tonight.

These were simply supposed to be an easy weeknight dinner, with a little something different for a change of pace.

But after one bite out of these savory... flavorful... heavenly sandwiches... 
...I knew I had to share.

This is quite possibly the most delicious sandwich I have ever eaten. Chewy focaccia, light, fluffy egg crepes, salty, crispy bacon, savory, thin-sliced turkey,sharp provolone cheese... and all with that distinctive zing of pesto. The only problem I have with this sandwich is that I can't stop eating it. 

I got the recipe from Giada De Laurentis on the Food Network website while I was looking for appetizers. She recommends cutting them up and serving bite-sized portions as finger foods... and they would be perfect for any kind of get together. But trust me, once you take one bite of these delicious sandwiches... you won't want to share.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Dinner Party: Italian Cream Cake

I am a firm believer that one cannot have a party without dessert. :)

This cake was the crown jewel of my dinner party. All things considered, it turned out quite beautiful... as a very novice cake decorator, my frosting didn't turn out quite as smooth as I had hoped, but it still made a pretty centerpiece for the table, nonetheless. And that's just the outside. The cake itself was light and melt-in-your-mouth moist with a mature, sweet flavor thanks to the toasted pecans and coconut that went into the batter. And while I was afraid that the cream cheese frosting would be too rich, it was the perfect compliment to the nutty, decadent cake... creamy and sweet without overpowering the other flavors in the cake. The three layers were pretty to look at once it was cut too, and gave a little testament to the amount of work than went into it, as well.

Dinner Party: Crostini Alla Romana & Toasted Ravioli

Crostini Alla Romana
from Food Network

Crusty bread, salty prosciutto, melty mozzarella... what more could you ask for?

12 1/2 slices baguette or ciabatta
12 thin slices prosciutto
1 pound fresh mozzarella, cut into slices

1. Preheat oven to 375. Bake slices of bread until crispy and golden around the edges, about 8 minutes. Place prosciutto slices and mozzarella on the crostini and return to the oven to melt the cheese, about 8 minutes more.

I think next time I will improve this by doing 2 things. First, I will prebake the crostini for about half the time - after baking for a total of 16 minutes the bread was almost too crunchy, and was a little painful to eat. Secondly, I will use more of both the prosciutto and the mozzarella, so we will have more flavor from the toppings and less of the bread. The recipe from food network also includes a sage butter for drizzling, which I opted not to make because I ran out of time. Including the sage butter may also improve the dryness of this crostini.

Toasted Ravioli
from Cookbook Confessions

These tasty little numbers were a huge hit. Crispy on the outside, soft, gooey cheese on the inside, and the perfect size for an appetizer... 2 bites and you're done. They paired well with both marinara and alfredo sauces for dipping, as well. If you plan to make these for a dinner party like I did, plan to make a lot... these guys go fast!

2 tablespoons whole milk or buttermilk
1 egg
1/4 cup Italian breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 package refrigerated ravioli
3 cups vegetable oil for frying
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese
marinara and/or alfredo sauce for dipping

1. Combine milk and egg in a shallow bowl. Place breadcrumbs and salt in a shallow bowl. Dip ravioli in milk mixture, then coat with breadcrumbs.
2. In a large heavy pan, pour the oil to a depth of 2 inches. Heat oil over medium heat until a small amount of breading sizzles and turns brown when added. Fry ravioli, a few at a time, 30 seconds - 1 minute per side or until golden. Drain on paper towels.
3. In the microwave or on the stove, heat desired sauce for dipping. Sprinkle the ravioli with Parmesan cheese and serve immediately with the hot dipping sauce.

Dinner Party: Winter Minestrone

Hot soup is always a comfort. Whether you're sick with the flu or simply trying to beat the winter chill, even a can of hot condensed soup will do the trick. But this soup... this is no meager can of chicken and stars. This soup is hearty.

With its large chunks of carrot, celery, and potato and the creamy cannellini beans, this soup is almost more like a stew, and it'll keep hunger at bay for hours. The pancetta adds a deep, savory flavor that takes this dish from a decent vegetable soup to a flavorful work of art. Serve with a hunk or two of crusty bread and you've got a hearty, comforting meal, that I'd wager would even melt the icy heart of the abominable snow man.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Rookie Throws a Dinner Party

This year, I'm pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I've vowed to try new things, to test my own boundaries, and to put myself out there for the world to see. My first step? Throwing a dinner party.

I've been dreaming about this dinner party for months now. It's kept me up at night, brainstorming about what theme to go with, what entrĂ©e to serve, which appetizers would be easy and light, even down to what I was going to serve each dish on. It's been a blast planning it all out and buying all the new serving wear that I didn't have. One shopping trip included a lovely afternoon hitting antique shops with my girl friend, Shiann, searching for the perfect cake pedestal... and I actually wound up with two! Determined that this party was going to happen, I marked it on the calendar and sent out the facebook invitations. As long as people showed up, a dinner party was going to happen... no backing out.

The Menu

Crostini Alla Romana
Toasted Ravioli, with Marinara & Alfredo for Dipping

Winter Minestrone

Vodka, with Cranberry and Lemon-Lime Soda

            Italian Cream Cake

But as the date approached I found myself becoming very apprehensive. I had chosen to keep the guest list small to keep costs and stress down for me, since it would be the first dinner party I'd ever hosted, and when one of my guests came down with pneumonia and couldn't come I was afraid I might have to cancel it. All that dreaming and planning and anticipation... I saw it all ending in a disappointing night with Dane and I stuck eating pizza and watching movies by ourselves. But I quickly invited a few more people, and by Saturday morning it looked as though we'd have enough people to have a successful party.

And then I started cooking.

Looking back now, it probably would have been a good idea to have tested my recipes before the day of my party. But due to financial and time constraints I never got around to it, and I found myself cooking recipes I'd never tried before, hoping to all-mighty God that they tasted as good as they sounded. My heart sank as I noted an unfamiliar (and not necessarily pleasant) odor coming from my pot, while my pancetta sauteed with the rest of the base for my minestrone soup. I'd never cooked with pancetta before... was it supposed to smell like that? What if the soup - my main course! - tasted terrible? What if everyone left my party hungry and unsatisfied? What if I didn't have enough of everything else to fill everyone up? What if my party was a complete failure?

But by this point, I had no choice but to run with it.

And guess what... the party was a huge success. :)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Beginning of a Great Year

Well friends, here we are... nearly the end of the first week of 2011. 

Like many people I know, I love the new year. Somehow the starting of a new calendar always feels like a good time to start over completely. The first of January always seems to be the perfect time for reinvention, for dreaming of better things... for taking steps to make the next year ahead of us better than the last. And in those ways, this year is no different.

But this year will be different for me in many other ways. 

For one, I will be graduating from college in May. This, in itself, is a huge accomplishment for me. Even though it isn't quite the end of my college career just yet (I'll still be taking a few online courses in the fall, to be completely finished in December), it does mark the end of my career as a full-time student and the beginning of my career as a full-time respiratory therapist. Having been in school full time since the age of 5 (as many people who jump into college immediately after high school can say), I must confess that I'm not sure what I'll do with myself once I no longer have school to occupy my focus. It's difficult to dream of other things when class, studying, working, and surviving daily life take up all of your time. But I am immensely excited for the prospect of free time... of having the freedom to chase other dreams, and to make myself into someone other than a student and an employee. I feel like so much of my life has been building to this point... as if once I am finished with school my life can truly begin. So I look to this milestone with great anticipation, and an excitement I can hardly contain.

Secondly, I'll be getting married in August! After dating for 3 years and with almost a year of engagement under our belts, Dane and I were beginning to feel as if a wedding would never come. But here we are in 2011, with only 7 months to go! This step, too, makes me feel as though my life is truly beginning this year... I will be a college graduate, a full-time RT, and a wife! Although the wedding won't change much for us - we're basically married as it is - it will be another wonderful milestone for our relationship, worthy of the great celebration we will have for it. I can't wait to share the rest of my life with this man. :)

However, the first week of 2011 has been less than picture-perfect for me. My wallet was stolen on Sunday, and over $1300 was stolen from me as a result. Most of my week so far has consisted of dealing with the fraud department of my bank and the police department, trying to get things resolved and the thief caught. On top of this, I've developed patellar tendonitis in my right leg, which makes doing just about anything quite painful. My house is a mess and I'm having a dinner party on Saturday (which, trust me, you'll be hearing about!), but my leg hurts too much to do much about it right now. After these last few days I feel beaten up and violated, and I'd love nothing more than to go back to bed and start this whole year over again. 

But I will persevere. 2011 will be a great year no matter what is thrown at me. 
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