About Me

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Hello! I am Diana, wife to Ted. We are the parents to one miraculous 6-year-old little princess. Aside from my daughter my earthly passions include home-cooking at an intermediate level, Music, knitting, photography, learning Adobe Photoshop, digital scrapbooking, and online social networking.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Recipe: For The Love of Leftovers (Spaghetti Pie & Roasted Garlic Bread)

I never intended for this blog to become a forum dedicated to reviewing Pampered Chef products, but I have realized that a good portion of my heavy rotation kitchen tools come from Pampered Chef. Also, the fact that I just got a shipment of new Pampered Chef stuff from the party we had a few weeks ago adds to my enthusiasm! Actually, the shipment came the day before we left for our trip to Vermont. Talk about torture! New kitchen tools and no time to use them, hehehe.

Here was the haul from the latest party (keep in mind I got some of the items at half price and 20% because of hosting a kitchen show). It includes: Deep Dish Baker (stoneware with cranberry enamel), Classic Batter Bowl with Lid (will be AWESOME for jelly-making, it's the perfect thing to make and store the infusion in), Deluxe Mini Muffin Pan with Mini-Tart Shaper, and the Medium and Large Scoops (for size versatility in cookies & meatballs):

I am looking forward to making some yummy deep-dish pizzas with the new baking dish, but with stoneware you have to season it a bit with more oily foods before doing bread products in it (the process also darkens the finish of the stoneware). I have a large Pizza Stone that was my very first Pampered Chef purchase about 5 years ago, and it is very well seasoned as you can see:

I was rooting around in my freezer and found a package of frozen leftover chicken spaghetti. I typically freeze leftover pasta with the sauce for use in making pasta casseroles or spaghetti pie. SO I decided to do the maiden run of the Deep Dish baker with spaghetti pie - sans the crust.

I thawed the leftover spaghetti (only keep frozen cooked pasta for 2-3 months in the freezer, otherwise it will become freezer burned), added some pizza sauce, and topped with Monterrey jack cheese. I baked it in a 350 degree F oven for about 25 mins.

It's a great use for leftovers, and the new baking dish makes the presentation so pleasant that it doesn't feel like you are eating leftovers.

However, this batch did make too much for our family of 3. So, you guessed it, we ate left over spaghetti pie leftovers the next day, hahaha. To make this meal feel less like leftovers, I decided to try a new garlic bread recipe that I found on http://www.allrecipes.com/ (of course). But the french bread recipe that I have been using hasn't really wowed me, so I also decided to try a new recipe for that as well.

Here is the french bread recipe (bread machine technique - where I make the dough in the machine and then form the loaf by hand):

Sweet Honey French Bread

3/4 cup water
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons olive oil
2/3 teaspoon salt
2/3 teaspoon white sugar
2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

Here is what my loaf looked like:

In the past I have made garlic bread by buttering the loaf and sprinkling on garlic powder and garlic salt. It's OK, but I wanted to try something a little different, so I tried a recipe for Roasted Garlic Bread . Roasted garlic has been a topic that has intrigued me for quite some time.

3 bulbs garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 (1 pound) loaf Italian bread
1/2 cup butter
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (optional)
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

The recipe calls for 3 whole garlic bulbs, I only had two, so I had to make do. The tendency is to think that is an outrageous amount of garlic. I had seen cooking shows where they roast the whole bulbs and they always say that roasted garlic loses most of it's pungency and turns sweet, but I have been too intimidated to try it. Well now was the time!

Cut the tops off the garlic bulbs to expose the tops of the cloves, then place them in a baking dish and drizzle with a TBSP. or two of olive oil:

Then roast in a 350 degree F oven for about 30 mins. I had to do a little more than that, probably and extra 10 mins. When the garlic comes out it is very soft. Let it cool enough so you can touch it and pull off a clove at a time and squeeze the bulbs (which are now more like a paste) into a small bowl.

Smash the garlic up with a fork until you have a nice paste. Add the remaining ingredients, except the cheese, to create a sort of garlic butter. I used about 1 tsp dried parsley instead of fresh and I used about 3 TBSP of fresh grated Asiago cheese (my staple hard cheese). Split the french loaf in half, place on a metal baking sheet, and butter each half with the garlic butter/paste. lightly sprinkle the top with the grated cheese. Turn on the broiler.

Broil the loafs, butter side up for about 2 minutes. The finished result is GORGEOUS garlic loaf, and the flavor is incredible! You definitely have to be a garlic lover (which we are), but like I said before the flavor is garlicky but not pungent, it is very sweet and buttery. The only thing I would have changed, is the fact that my brain wasn't working, and I should have used 1/3 less butter as I used 1/3 less garlic...so our loaves were very buttery (or margeriney), but still very delicious.

This roasted garlic bread definitely spiced up our leftover leftovers! In addition, the french loaf recipe was way better than the one I had been using and will now be part of my regular recipe rotation AND in making the leftover spaghetti pie, I got to try out one of my new cooking toys, the Pampered Chef Deep Dish Baker. Thanks for reading!

-Diana, The Ivy Kitchen

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

OOOPs, I did it again...

Except that it wasn't particularly by accident and there were no plaid mini-skirts or bobby-socks involved. I would tell you to go back and re-read my posts on violet & dandelion jelly and re-imagine it all back in purple again...except that lilac jelly does not turn purple the way violet jelly does, it turns a sort of amber color. That's right, yet another abundant spring flower that I found out could be made into that sweet, jiggly sandwich spread. How could I resist? I made 4 large jars of it, it tastes fantastic, and I didn't die from eating it, so that's a plus.

Here is a recap of the recipe that has worked for all three incarnations of flower jelly thus far:

2 heaping cups of edible flower blossoms

2 cups boiling water

4 cups white sugar

1 packet of certo liquid pectin

Wash and de-stem blossoms, place in a glass bowl. Pour 2 cups of boiling water over blossoms, cover and let infuse (in the fridge) for 24 hours.

Using cheesecloth, strain the infusion into a large sauce pan and mix with 4 cups of sugar. Bring mixture to a rolling boil, add liquid pectin, and boil for 2 minutes more. Can it.

For more details on canning it read my entry on making Wild Violet Jelly from May 2008: Violet, You're Turning Violet, Violet! Thanks for reading!

Diana, The Ivy Kitchen

P.S. Please note, in my left sidebar, that we are all still praying for Baby Avianna, and ask that you do the same. I will post updates as I get them. Thank-you.

P.S.S If I don't seem very forthcoming with the blog entries recently, it is due to my unexpected bout with Shingles...craziness...but I will try to go into my cooking photo archives (yes they exist) and post some recipes I have done in the past few months!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Fresh Off The Needles: Cabled Baby Sweater & Hat

I finally finished the cabled baby sweater that I mentioned in the blog entry where we met Woobster (who I haven't seen since that day). This was one of the hardest projects I have ever done, not because the pattern itself was difficult (it was pretty basic for my skill level, actually) but I just could not concentrate on this project for whatever reason.

I was adamant about finishing it though, as it was a gift for a very dear friend of mine who is pregnant with baby boy #2 after she and her husband suffered the heartbreaking loss of their first newborn son in November of 2006. Her baby shower was being held where she lives in Vermont, so Dear Husband, The Little Princess, and I took a 2 day trip down to Vermont this past weekend.
A few of the things that went wrong included me gabbing away and knitting one of the panels 3 inches too long (I also mis-read the pattern) and having to frog back those three inches of knitting. I forgot to write down what changes I had made to the first panel so when it came time to knit the front panel (identical piece) I had to figure it all out again. I brought the project with me to work on during a long-ish car ride last Thursday and forgot to bring my cable needle, I sewed a seam that I later had to rip out...getting the picture of how this project went?

Despite having worked on the sweater for three weeks prior (I probably could have finished it in a week if I had not been so distracted) I was still working on it in the car on the way down (and holed up in the back bedroom during breakfast the day of the shower...). Knitting in the car presents a whole host of other difficulties, including loosing my tapestry needle and needing to stop at a random Wal-Mart to get a new one. But I finally finished it and it is too cute, and I also made a hat to go along with it. All the mishaps just make finishing the piece that much more gratifying.

They both really liked it and it got all the "oooohs and awwwes" at the baby shower that you might expect, hehehe. I am just glad she got to have a shower, and it was nice to see her and her DH with hopeful smiles on their faces! Also the 5 hour trips to and from Vermont were a fun family adventure and we saw a lot of the New Hampshire country side, as DH likes to take back roads:

The trip back was interesting because we have no a/c in the car and Sunday June 8 has been the hottest day of the year so far. Here is a picture of our car's thermometer (EXTERNAL!) just after we crossed the bridge back into Maine:

Here are some photos of the finished sweater and hat (the first one is before sewing the side seams):

Well, thanks for looking!

-Diana, The Ivy Kitchen

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Recipe: Hearty Healthy Heroes - Italian Food

Heroes, subs, Italians, grinders, hoagies, sammies: if I had learned one thing during my 4 years working as a Subway "sandwich artist" it was that there were many, many names that people called sandwiches, and it mainly depended on what region of the country they came from.
When people would come in and order a "roast beef grinder" it would be relatively easy to figure out what they wanted me to make, and relatively easy to figure out that they probably weren't from Maine.
It was the term "Italian" that gave us trouble at a little Subway restaurant here in Maine. Here we call them ALL Italians (pronounced "eye-talian"). Go into a local, non-franchised, sandwich shop and order a "hoagie" or "sub" and you are bound to get a puzzled look, and don't count on them having lettuce to put in there. The term "Italian" extends to all sandwiches, no matter what the filling, prepared on any form of elongated bun. However, if a Mainer orders an "Italian" with no other specifics given he/she wants Ham, American cheese, onions, tomatoes, pickles, green peppers, black olives, oil, vinegar and salt & pepper on a bun, wrapped in wax paper with a rubber band around it. No shredded lettuce involved.

That's all fine when you live and work in Maine and everyone knows what everyone else is talking about. The problem comes in when you work at a place like Subway that is a chain, and is world-wide. You see, Subway has two sandwiches The Italian BMT and the Spicy Italian, neither of which are the type of sandwich mentioned above. The BMT has ham, bologna, pepperoni, and Genoa salami (the whole "what does the BMT stand for?" is another post entirely) and the Spicy Italian is a concentrated amount of pepperoni and Genoa salami. These sandwiches are probably more appropriately called "Italians." So you want to confuse a Mainer, tell him to walk into a Subway and order an "Italian."

From the Sandwich Artists' point of view, the trick is to observe age and listen for accent. If the person ordering the "Italian" (pronounced Ah-talian) is below the age of 25 and has a southern, Canadian, or non-regional diction they most likely want something directly off the Subway menu and will want to pick and choose their own veggies, including lettuce. If the person is older than 25 and orders an "eye-talian" then the only question you need to ask is "turkey or ham?" This person does not want any more involvement and the making of the "Italian" until it is time to pay at the cash register.

All of this was to say that I made big yummy sandwich for dinner last Wednesday night, and I am calling it a "hero" for my readers' sake even though in my native tongue we would call it a big "eye-talian."

The idea of making a large "community" sandwich for dinner, may seem like a novel one, but it really is economical, and if you are not making your own bread, time saving. And we all know from Subway's formerly fat spokesperson who shall remain nameless that meat & veggie subs are good for you and melt all your fat away almost instantly. Please note sarcasm.
I started with a fresh batch of homemade Honey Wheat Bread...a recipe that I found a long time ago on allrecipes.com . Simply assemble all ingredients given below in the order they are listed into the pan of your bread machine and set it on the dough cycle.

This is, by far, my favorite bread recipe:

1 1/4 cups warm milk
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 cup honey
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 3/4 cups bread flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 package of active dry yeast
2 tablespoons butter, melted

The only thing to keep in mind is that this makes way too much dough to actually bake in your bread machine and you will have to lift the cover about 30 mins. before the dough cycle is done to give it room to rise.

Next, turn out the dough onto a floured surface, divide as needed and shape into loaves. For my purposes I divided the dough in half and made one large baguette and one traditional pan loaf for use as sliced bread in later meals:

Allow bread to double in size (45 mins. to 1 hour) and bake in a preheated oven for 35-40 mins:

Allow bread to cool on a wire rack.

A good sandwich spread can make or break a sandwich...it can be the deciding factor between bland and bold. Regular mayo and mustard are fine, but I prefer a more gourmet sandwich spread. I have come up with a few yummy ones, most notably roasted red pepper mayo and sweet garlic mayo. I decided to go with the sweet garlic mayo for this sandwich. Here is how you make it:

You will need 1/4 cup of mayo or salad dressing (I prefer to use the salad dressing - Miracle Whip - type for sandwiches because it is already seasoned), 1/4 cup of Newman's Own Light Honey mustard dressing (the BEST honey mustard dressing on the market) and one small CLOVE of fresh crushed garlic. Yes, I know I put a BULB in the picture, but it was prettier!

I Mix the 1/4 cup of mayo with the 1/4 cup of honey mustard, then crush the fresh garlic directly into the bowl using my Pampered Chef Garlic Press (easily on of my top five favorite Pampered Chef products):

Stir very well with a fork, cover and keep in the fridge until it is time to make the sandwich.

Old habits die hard, and though Subway restaurants have moved on to the "Hinge Cut" I still maintain that their original method of the "U-Gouge" is the best way to cut bread for making a sandwich. It is hard to describe in words how to do a "U-Gouge" but you are basically cutting a wedge out of the top of the bread to form a walled gully in the bottom for holding sandwich ingredients:

Now for the fun part, filling the sandwich with whatever you like (or in my case, whatever I happened to have on hand):

I did sweet garlic mayo, Monterrey jack cheese, Swiss cheese (I put the spread on top of the cheese in these photos because the bread was still PIPING HOT when I made the sandwich, and I prefer the cheese to be a little melted and the mayo not be quite as warm), sliced turkey breast, onions, tomatoes and sea salt and black pepper. I served pickle slices on the side because Dear Husband does not like them on his sandwiches, and wouldn't you know, when we sat down to eat he put pickle slices in his part of the sandwich. :

I serve heroes on a cutting board so that each person can cut off the amount that they like:

Cut off a hunk of hero (or "eye-talian") and enjoy!

-Diana, The Ivy Kitchen

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

My Crock Pot is on Crack...

I seriously think it is! If not crack, then it at least has a heavy caffeine addiction going on. Meet my crock pot:
Innocent and unassuming. That is until you ask it to cook something. Then it becomes hopped-up demon crock pot that cooks everything TWICE as fast as the directions say, and TWICE as fast as any crock pot I have ever seen or used. When I relayed this info to a friend last night she told me it seems to be an issue with oval-shaped crock pots.

I was determined not to let it get the better of me this time. I had a beef pot roast thawing, I was in kind of a hurry when I was putting the ingredients together yesterday morning, so it was still a lil' frozen when I put it in, which I have read you should never, ever do with a crockpot - but everybody does it anyway. I didn't think it would matter since I knew about my "slow" cooker's drug habit, I figured it could handle a frozen roast. I was set on watching the roast VERY carefully this time so it would not be over cooked, plus I figured since it was frozen there is really no way it could cook too fast.

So I assembled and cut the veggies, celery, baby carrots, onions, and fresh garlic:

I covered the veggies with about 2 cups of water and added salt and pepper.

Then on goes the meat. Since I didn't have much time, I didn't bother to sear it in a skillet beforehand, although in hindsight think it would have been a good idea to lock in some of the moisture:

I rubbed the top with thyme, crushed rosemary, black pepper and sea salt (also, in hindsight, I should have added 1/2 the spices to the water so the gravy would have turned out a little more flavorful).
Soooo...because I was somewhat short on time I resolved to let it cook for 4 hours on high (most recipes say 6 hours on high or 8 hours on low). Well, around the 3 hour mark I started to feel sleepy, The Little Princess was down for her nap and I wanted one too. I had been folding laundry all morning and afternoon, I "deserved" one, hehehe. So here is how my reasoning went: I will turn it down to low and that will give me an extra hour to sleep (yes, amazingly The Little Princess naps for about 3 hours in the afternoon). A total of 3 hours on high and two hours on low. Sounds reasonable, right?

Well, I slept the whole 2 hours, and actually was awakened by Dear Husband arriving home from work. I immediately checked the crock pot...and it is like it knew I was out of commission and decided to take an extra dose when I wasn't looking! I could tell the meat was going to be overdone...but at this point it was just too late in the game to do anything about it. Crock pot demon drug fiend had won again...

Oh well, there is no crying in cooking, so on to making the gravy. I poured the veggies and juice into a metal mesh strainer placed in a large sauce pan, the water with the drippings from the meat produced about 3 cups of liquid.

Next, since I had a little more liquid than I was anticipating, I dissolved about 6 TBSP. of cornstarch and 1 TBSP of flour in a little bit of water, using my handy-dandy Pampered Chef Mini-Whipper to make sure it was completely dissolved. Then I added the mixture to the warm (NOT HOT!!!) pan of drippings. I turned on the heat and brought the gravy to a boil, whisking constantly with the mini-whipper:

The gravy thickens when it starts to cool (I like a thicker than average gravy).

So here is the finished meal, I also made instant mashed potatoes to go with it. The meat was a little dry and it shredded when I tried to slice it, but it was still pretty tasty with the seasonings. The flavor of the gravy was a little lacking (see my note about seasonings above), but the texture was perfect. Even though the meal didn't turn out "perfect" by my standards, it was still pretty yummy.

As for my crock pot? I think it is time for an intervention...

-Diana, The Ivy Kitchen

Monday, June 2, 2008

My Birthday Present: Just Tri - it!

So my birthday was Memorial day weekend this year, but I won't say how old I turned (let's just say that people tend to stay my age for many, many years). All spring I have been dropping hints to Dear Husband about the food processor that I inexplicably don't have in my kitchen after almost nine years of "keeping house." Well on the big day he handed me a long skinny package which I knew could be none other than NOT a food processor. So much for hummus!

When I saw what was in the package I was still excited. It was just as good a gift as a food processor, just a different hobby.

He got me a Platinum Plus 7500TM Tripod by SUNPAK. I have been wanting a tripod for awhile now. We have a digital camera with good image stabilization software (it's a Kodak EasyShare z612 - a great little camera that I hope to blog more about in the coming months), but a tripod really helps any camera reach it's full potential.

Yes, I realize the irony in the fact that this picture is crooked, hahaha.

I won't get into all the gory specs (it is "sick" as the young people say these days), but I will mention that it is a tripod that can grow to a taller height than I am personally capable of operating, and the center part detaches and extends to become a portable mono-pod. Pretty sweet.

I still have a lot to learn about using a tripod, but one of the ways that it will improve my photography became evident when I was playing with it at dusk yesterday evening!
In low light situations (such as at dusk, when there are so many beautiful photos to be had), the camera needs to either use the flash or hold the shutter open long enough to let in a proper amount of light. When the shutter is being held open for a longer period of time it is much harder for the camera to focus and any slight movement is amplified by the amount of time the shutter stays open. So without some sort of system for holding the camera steady you get lots of pictures like this one:

One option is to use the flash, which helps the focus tremendously, but does no favors to the natural colors and lighting of whatever you are photographing. It also darkens the background:

A tripod allows the photographer to take a low-light picture without the flash by keeping the camera very steady while the shutter is being held open to let in the natural light. And you get clearer photographs that are much closer to what you are actually weeing with your eye!

These are some examples of how a tripod made my lilac-at-dusk photos so much better:

Thanks for checking out my birthday present with me! I hope you enjoyed your digital photography lesson. I can't wait to post more about it as I learn more. Class dismissed!

Diana, The Ivy Kitchen

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Recipe: Spicy Garlic Lime Chicken

Recipes are a regular thing I would like to feature on my blog, and today's entry is one I have never made before. Spicy Garlic Lime Chicken is a recipe that I got from my most trusted recipe website http://www.allrecipes.com/ . I try a lot of recipes from that site and as long as I stick to the 4-5 star recipes, I really cannot go wrong!

Anyway...I am in love with savory citrus dishes recently (my SIL made me a special lemon-garlic-pasta dish for my recent birthday meal and it was yummy), so this recipe looked like something I would really enjoy, and that I was confident Dear Husband would dare to try it as well. In addition to that, when I was at my Pampered Chef party earlier in the week I was reminded of a kitchen tool that I have that I haven't tried yet. Pampered Chef makes a citrus press that is sort of similar to a garlic press. You'll see a demo of how it works later in this post.

So here is the recipe (found at http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Spicy-Garlic-Lime-Chicken/Detail.aspx?prop31=2 ). My notes on the recipe are in red.

3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper *I THOUGHT I had cayenne pepper from a previous shopping trip, but couldn't locate it anywhere in my spice drawer, so I reluctantly substituted chili powder. I must've imagine or dreamed about buying cayenne pepper, hahaha.
1/8 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried parsley
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (I used three large ones and the seasoning was exactly the right amount)

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons garlic powder
3 tablespoons lime juice

Combine the salt, black pepper, chili powder*, 1/4 tsp. garlic powder, onion powder, dried thyme, and dried parsley in a small bowl:

This is the point where I started preparing the side dishes. I chose Zatarain's yellow rice (let me tell you, Zatarain's is a life savor in the kitchen because it is one of the few instant side dishes you can buy that actually tastes like FOOD! I have liked everything I have tried by Zatarain's).

For a SUPER simple veggie side, I sliced up some summer squash and roasted it for about 1/2 hour in a 350 degree F oven:

After I assembled all the spices that the Spicy Garlic Lime Chicken recipe called for, I juiced 2 limes using my Pampered Chef Citrus Press. The citrus press is a cross between one of those old fashioned glass juicers and a new-fangled garlic press. It is a tiny little thing made out of all metal, and you kind wonder how it can possibly squeeze a piece of fruit. You just have to go for it and see what happens.

Cut the limes in half and place a half, flat side down (which seems counter-intuitive), and squeeze it just like a garlic press.

The citrus press is such an efficient use of force, that not only does it squeeze every bit of juice out of the lime, it is a VERY easy and fluid motion! You can get all the juice out of a lime in seconds, it is amazing! It inverts the lime rind and you just take it out and replace it with another. With the Pampered Chef Citrus Press you could squeeze enough fresh limes or lemons for lime-ade or lemon-ade in a matter of minutes. In fact, I can't wait to buy some more limes and make lime-ade!
Anyway...now back to the chicken! In a large skillet, heat 2 tbsp. butter and 1 tbsp. olive oil. Rub all the spices into the chicken breast, coating the top and bottoms, and place int eh hot oil:

Brown both sides on the chicken breasts (approximately 6 minutes on each side - I used my lidded skillet on low-med. heat for about 10 mins- removing the lid to flip over the chicken at the 5 minute mark).

When the chicken is browned on both sides (see above), sprinkle the 2 tsp. of garlic powder into the skillet, and add 3 tbsp. of fresh squeezed lime juice. Turn the heat up to high and cook chicken for 5 minutes more. Keep flipping it around in the pan to coat with the seasonings. Here is what it looks like when it is done (it came out looking so yummy):

Here it is plated up with the yellow rice, roasted summer squash, and limes for garnish.

What a delicious Sunday dinner this turned out to be! I finished cooking mid-afternoon just after The Little Princess went down for a nap. DH and I poured some Cokes and went outside and ate by the river. The recipe got two big thumbs up from DH...which means I will definitely be making it again. The fact that the recipe uses mostly dried seasonings makes it a very time/money saving meal, and it was sooo tasty, to boot. The only change I will make next time is to make sure that I have the cayenne pepper on hand (and not just hallucinate about it), because the spicy element was kinda lacking.

Thanks for sharing our meal!

-Diana, The Ivy Kitchen