December 17, 2015

Cranberry Cheese Braid (gluten-free)

DSCN3496_thumb8December’s Improv Challenge ingredients are cranberry and orange. There were sooooo many directions I wished to go with them, but finally settled on baked goods. I was wishing to try Pamela’s® Bread Mix, and here was my opportunity…
I’d made the cranberry sauce to go in a cream cheese schmear for Thanksgiving, so it was just sitting in the frig waiting for baking day.EJ_cran_orange-31_thumb8
Because I was multi-tasking, I tossed the dough ingredients into the bread machine:
  • 1/2 c. warm water
  • 1 T. yeast
  • 1/4 c. honey
  • 1 t. Kosher salt
  • 1/2 c. yogurt
  • 1/2 c. softened butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 T. fresh orange zest
  • 4 c. Pamela’s® Bread Mix
When it was finished with the first rise, I divided the dough in half then rolled it out onto silicone baking sheets.EJ_cran_orange-10_thumb8Down the middle third I spread half this cream cheese mixture:
  • 16 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 c. honey
  • 2 eggs (lightly beaten)
  • 1/4 c. Pamela’s® Bread Mix
EJ_cran_orange-12_thumb2The two side of dough needs to be slashed about every inch, or so.
EJ_cran_orange-9_thumb9On top of the cheese I spooned 1/2 - 2/3 cup of the cranberry sauce. Then the strips of dough were crossed to form the braid.
(Of course, all this is repeated with the other half of the dough…)
The braids were covered with plastic wrap & let raise for an hour. They were baked in a pre-heated 350° oven for about an hour until they were nice & browned.
As they cooled, I prepared the vanilla cream glaze:
  • 2 c. powdered sugar
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 6 T. heavy cream (or as needed for desired consistency)
EJ_cran_orange-17_thumb11This was a delicious gluten-free addition to my breakfast.EJ_cran_orange-19_thumb14(If you think I ate this only at breakfast time, you are mistaken!)EJ_cran_orange-30_thumb9(Actually, I’m eating a slice right now…)
Need holiday menu ideas? Then please check out these wonderful recipes from my friends:

November 19, 2015

Butternut Carbonara

Squash is not a popular item on our table, unless it comes from the grill… So this time, I neglected to inform my taste-testers of this month’s Improv Cooking Challenge ingredients. I just knew that if I tossed in some bacon, chances of the dish being devoured would go way up!EJ-squasage6

For this recipe you will need:

    • butternut squash
    • drizzle of olive oil
    • 4 oz. salted butter
    • 12 fresh sage leaves (small to medium)
    • 3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
    • 2 oz. bacon crumbles
    • Parmesan cheese (freshly shred about 2 oz.)

I went to Sprouts and bought the largest butternut squash I could find -- which proved to be slightly problematic for my little Veggetti. Cut off the bulbous portion, seed it & roast separately for some other use. Cut off the stem end and peel the rest of the squash.  Use a spiralizing tool to make “noodles”.  Place the butternut noodles onto a silicone baking sheet in a pan and drizzle with a little olive oil.EJ-squasage1Bake at 400° for about 7 or 8 minutes. (We prefer most pastas al dente, so I didn’t want them too soft…)

While the squash is baking, brown the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.EJ-squasage3When it starts browning, add the sage leaves and minced garlic. It takes only a minute or so for them to cook.EJ-squasage4Gently toss in the butternut noodles from the oven.EJ-squasage2Add the bacon.EJ-squasage5After plating the finished noodles, sprinkle with a generous amount of Parmesan.

I was pleasantly surprised at how much the fellas enjoyed dinner! They had seconds and asked for more, but the skillet was empty…EJ-squasage6


Want some more squash & sage recipes? Click the links below to see what my fellow Improvers prepared for you today:

October 15, 2015

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Kalamata Olive “Pesto”

There was quite the dilemma at our table when I told the fellas their choices for the “Orange & Black Improv Cooking Challenge. They wished to try “all the above”, so we made two meals -- one over here, which was slightly Southwesty, & this one, was moderately Mediterranean. E.J. gnocchi (21)

We served the gnocchi with blackened salmon, for one more layer of orange & black…

    • 2 c. mashed sweet potato (bake sweet potatoes @ 400° for about an hour, let cool)
    • 1 c. ricotta cheese (let drain overnight until it’s about 6 oz.)
    • 1 t. kosher salt
    • 1 egg
    • 1 1/4 c. gluten-free flour, plus some for the work surface

I started out by draining the ricotta overnight so it would be nice & dry for the gnocchi. I also baked the sweet potatoes ahead of time.E.J. sweet potato gnocchi(This was my first time using Bob’s Red Mill® Gluten Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour. It worked, but tasted slightly “rice-y”, I thought…) You can see I tried to make the ridges with a fork, but that wasn’t working for me. I’ve since picked up a gnocchi board at the kitchen store to use on the next batch…

E.J. kalamata pestoAfter the gnocchi was sitting around drying a little before cooking; I started the tedious process of hand-chopping the pesto ingredients. (Using the food processor would’ve made this too pasty, I think.)

    • 1/4 c. olive oil
    • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
    • 6 oz. Kalamata black olives, pitted and chopped
    • Freshly ground black pepper
    • 1.5 oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese
    • 1/2 c. fresh basil leaves (about 2 oz.) chopped

Time to brown the gnocchi in butterE.J. gnocchi (19)I may or may not have eaten half while waiting for everyone to show up from school/work.E.J. gnocchi (20)

The salmon was simple. It wasn’t truly blackened. E.J. gnocchi (18)I used a tablespoon each of dark brown sugar, espresso powder & Cajun seasoning. E.J. gnocchi (17)I stuck it in a 425° oven for 10-12 minutes. Came out perfect!

The fellas love the Kalamata condiment! This nacho plate happened more than once with the leftovers:E.J. gnocchi (6)Yes! That’s tortilla chips, salmon, pesto & a little Colby-Jack… to. die. for.

Here are the links to the other Orange & Black participants’ foods:

Cilantro-Lime Black Rice & Southwest Grilled Shrimp

There was quite the dilemma at our table when I told the fellas their choices for the “Orange & BlackImprov Cooking Challenge. They wished to try “all the above”, so we made two meals -- this one, which was slightly Southwesty, & the other one, moderately Mediterranean.E.J. orange-black (4)
We’d had black rice before, so I knew its color wouldn’t be black black, but I went with it anyhow…E.J. orange-black (2)
Started out by getting the shrimp a-marinating. E.J. orange-black (1)OH   MY   WORD! This marinade is awesome & I will most definitely be trying it out on other proteins!
    • 1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
    • 3 T. chipotlé sauce
    • 3 T. tequila
    • 1 T. coconut oil
    • 1 t. crushed red pepper
    • ¼ t. Chipotlé Tabasco®
    • 1/2 t. kosher salt
    • 6 garlic cloves, pressed
    • 1 t. cumin
    • 1 ½ pounds unpeeled, large fresh shrimp
I cooked the rice according to the package directions, and then stirred in the cilantro lime elements which I’d run through the Blendtec. E.J. orange-black (3)So simple!
    • ½ t. pink Himalayan sea salt
    • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
    • 1/3 c. fresh lime juice
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 2 garlic cloves
    • 2 cups uncooked black rice
    • zest from one lime
Next time I will probably add a bit more cilantro. I went pretty light with it, ‘cause the fellas are not huge fans… You might notice from the picture that my limes are yellow. When they ripened on the tree they turn that color. (Plus, they’re slightly sweet. So, if you’re using store-bought green limes, you might wish to add a little sugar or honey to sweeten the rice a bit.)

I bet you’re curious to see what my fellow Improvians cooked up this month, right? Just follow their links here:

September 17, 2015

Pink Lady® Rose Tarts

The September ingredients for the #ImprovCookingChallenge are apples & oatmeal. Yea! Now I can try a recipe I’ve been drooling over for years.EJrosetarts

I chose Pink Lady® apples so that the flesh would impart a nice tinge on the “rose petals”…EJrosetarts (10)

First thing I had to do was to transform the oatmeal into a flour. That was accomplished in about 50 seconds with my Blendtec.EJ-rosetarts

I made my tart dough and let it set for a bit while I prepared the apples. (I sliced them nice & thin with the mandoline.) EJrosetartI rolled out the pastry & cut out rounds to fit my muffin tin. Rolling up the petals was a pretty slick job; I had a little difficulty transferring them neatly to the pastry.EJtherosetartEJrosetarts (22)Mmmmmmmmm, they smelled so lovely whilst baking…EJrosetarts (28)Delicious!EJrosetarts (29)Here are the recipes:EJrosetartPASTRY

EJrosetartFILLINGEJrosetartGLAZECheck out what my Improv friends did with their apples & oatmeal:

September 16, 2015

Sweet Birthday Weekend

Last month we were thankful to spend Keith’s birthday out of the harsh Phoenix temperatures which neared 120° by the end of the week. hot!Tucson was a much cooler 104°! Winking smile

We were fortunate to get a reservation at the beautiful Loews Ventana Canyon Resort. Loews-Ventana-entrance-sign

The tub,20150814_193323

the room,20150815_102357

the food,20150814_204021

& the views made for quite a lovely getaway!loews

Thanks for the great rates, Groupon!

August 20, 2015

Grilled Eggplant Caprese

August’s ingredients for the Improv Cooking Challenge are Tomatoes & Herbs. Which is unfortunate for my garden, ‘cause those items  burnt  were ruined  expired at the end of June with our extreme heat! (Actually, I do have one basil plant left, so I used that with tomatoes from the market…)EJ-grilledcaprese
First off, I made what would be kind of a pesto salt.EJ-herbsalt I chopped (and chopped and chopped and chopped…)  a cup (lightly packed) of basil leaves, 5 cloves of garlic, and half a cup of kosher salt. EJ-dried saltThe mixture was spread in a baking pan and spent the day  at the spa  dehydrating under the oven light. The finished salt was then bottled to await its ultimate purpose. (BTW -- that stuff is awesome on olive-oil-popped popcorn!)
The morning of “recipe day” I put together the drizzle for the salad. EJ-sweet basil drizzleInto the pitcher of my Blendtec went 1 tablespoon red wine, 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons honey, a clove of garlic, 2 cups (kinda sorta packed) fresh basil leaves (weighed about 2 oz.) and a couple grinds each of Himalayan salt & black pepper (to taste). When that became all nice & relatively smooth, 1/3 cup of olive oil was trickled in to blend up a sweet basil vinaigrette. Sooooooo tasty -- mmmmmmm!
I sliced an eggplant and brushed both sides of each slice with olive oil. Then I lightly sprinkled on some of that pesto herb salt. EJ-eggplant roundsThose pretty little rounds got grilled until they had some lovely stripes criss-crossing their surface. I put them in a covered dish to chill until the ultimate assembly before dinner.
I’ve had my share of good caprese salads at restaurants (I’ve had at least one not quite so good caprese…) But let me tell you -- the addition of those grilled eggplant slices sends this salad into a whole different stratosphere!EJ-grilled eggplant caprese salad
The subtle flavor just melds so deliciously with the tomato and fresh mozzarella slices.
…and the drizzle -- ah, that sweet basil drizzle…
the endIt was good to the last, ummmmm, drip… (you probably can’t tell I spooned some more on, right?)

Check out what my friends created with tomatoes & herbs: