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Parmesan Cream Crackers (Going to Heaven with Five Ingredients, Three of them Dairy)

June 20, 2012

The two of us sometimes disagree about what cheeses are best.  If Amanda is picking a cheese recipe, you can bet goat cheese or pecorino will be involved, whereas Emily is responsible for most instances of feta in our shared menus. A mutual awesome friend is allergic to a protein in cow’s milk, so when she’s sharing a meal with us, anything goes as long as it’s made from non-cow’s milk.

The one thing we don’t disagree on, ever, is that cheese is delicious, and recipes incorporating cheese are good candidates for our Smitten Kitchen cooking extravaganza menus.

These crackers are addictive.  As a result, it’s pretty handy that you can make and cut a whole batch, flash-freeze the unbaked crackers on a cookie sheet, and then store the unbaked crackers in plastic bags or tupperware and bake a few at a time.  If you don’t bake all of them at once, you can’t eat them all at once.

Based on Deb’s suggestion that Romano would work well, too, we tried them with both Parmesan and Romano.  However, the Parmesan crackers turned out much better.  That may have just been a difference in how well the cheese was ground, as I think we may have had to hand-grind the Romano, whereas we purchased the more finely grated Parmesan cheese already grated.

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Blueberry Mini-Muffins

June 18, 2012

My fella likes blueberries, so when they were on sale recently, I revisited this much-beloved blueberry muffin recipe.  Muffins are usually not my go-to breakfast food.  Scones are just so . . . scones.   And then there are my mother’s biscuits.  And if we’re going to sit down for breakfast (wait, that happens?), pancakes or cinnamon rolls sounds best.

But blueberry muffins are something special.  And these blueberry muffins are moist and soft and put all those store-bought imitations to shame (which, honestly, not all homemade muffins do).

Also, mini-muffins bake so quickly, and they make such a great little snack – although the downside is that there is more messy blueberry bubbling with mini-muffins.   However, I can certainly provide a first-hand account of how tasty these muffins are when baked at the regular size, too.

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Pasta Salad with Peas and Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette

June 15, 2012

I’ve never been a pasta salad person.  Sorry, that’s incorrect.  I used to not be much of a pasta salad person, but after discovering this pasta salad and then, shortly after, my grandmother-in-law and mother-in-law’s macaroni salads, I probably qualify as a convert.  I’m still suspicious of the kind that looks like you mixed an entire jar of mayonnaise with overcooked pasta.

This pasta salad is surprisingly crowd-pleasing, considering it uses a vinaigrette, which often causes at least a few people at a party to turn up their nose – or at least turn away.  In fact, a couple of years ago, I made this pasta salad for a potluck event held by my little brother’s Boy Scout troop.  That’s right, Boy Scouts.  Boys ranging from about 12 – 18 and their families (read: lots of even younger kids).  And you know what?  This stuff moved like hotcakes.  I don’t even think there were any leftovers, which I remember being a little disappointed about.

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Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette

June 13, 2012

This vinaigrette is very versatile, and very crowd-pleasing.  Soon, I’ll share my version of the pasta salad recipe from which it hails, and I’ll tell you what a picky crowd it was served to (with great success).  Honestly, I don’t even like most vinaigrettes, and I love this stuff.

One of my favorite non-pasta salad uses of this is with coleslaw.  I never thought I liked coleslaw, but it turns out I just don’t like coleslaw that’s drowning in mayonnaise.  I do like coleslaw that’s got a light mayo sauce or, even better, this kind of tasty vinaigrette.

One thing, though – I stored it in an emptied out olive oil bottle, as pictured, but it’s really too thick for that.  I had to turn the bottle upside down and beat the heck out of it to get the vinaigrette out.  I’d recommend storing it in tupperware or any other non-bottle storage container.

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Pasta with Pea Pesto

June 11, 2012

You don’t have to go outside to know it’s summer.  Just go to the grocery store and check out the produce.  Okay, I guess that involves going outside, but you know what I mean.

One of my favorite fresh vegetables is the simple pea.  It’s just a little, humble vegetable, but it packs a flavorful whallop.  At the same time, I often have the frozen variety laying around, and this is one of many recipes that makes good use of a leftover bag of frozen peas.  But use fresh peas if you can.

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It’s Never Too Much Cheesecake (Strawberry Cheesecake Truffles)

June 8, 2012

Strawberry season is winding to a close, so you’d better go out and get some strawberries and make these ASAP.  Also because they’re delicious.  And because they keep well in the refrigerator (or even freezer), so you can make them well in advance of the day you intend to serve them and then pull them out of the freezer and be all, “Yeah, Martha Stewart ain’t got nothin’ on me.”  Or something.

We made pretty lines on some of them, which you can sort of see in this here photo below, but we didn’t do it all at once, and I vaguely remember finding it super frustrating.  I did not use the Ziploc bag method described below – I wish I had!  I think that was also at the low point after the sugar high that was our August cooking extravaganza.   Whatever, the pretty stuff is not crucial to the taste.

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Quick and Easy “Ice Cream” with Frozen Bananas

June 7, 2012

This was a delicious experiment back in August, but I think the experimenting will continue – I can see lots of fun variations on this theme.  It’s really surprising  how well pureed frozen bananas can mimic the creamy texture of ice cream.

Make no mistake, though – although this is significantly healthier than ice cream, it’s not like it’s calorie-free or even super low on calories.  That’s the trouble with tasty foods, they actually have calories.  Yeah, yeah, fruit, vegetables, celery, negative calories, bla bla bla.  I hear you, but you sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher.

Anyway, this is also a great use of extra bananas, so it also suits our general waste not, want not philosophy.

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Cheese Ball with Roasted Red Peppers

May 16, 2012
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Sometimes, you have a lot of roasted red peppers on your hand, and you start experimenting.

While I was experimenting, I thought about that lemon cheesecake ball Em and I made and devoured in a single day of marathon cooking.  That was so tasty, and I crave it on a regular basis, but I don’t dare make it because I might eat all of it by myself.

I thought that I might have a better chance of pacing myself with a savory cheeseball that incorporated roasted red peppers, and I was right.  It lasted four whole days.

In many ways, this cheeseball is an homage to my childhood and family.  With the roasted red peppers, it’s reminiscent of pimento cheese (my mom’s pimento cheese is better than your mom’s pimento cheese).  Rolled in crumbled Wheat Thins, it also reminds me of my dad, from whom I have inherited an addiction to those yummy, salty crackers.

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Dark Chocolate Strawberry Swirls

May 14, 2012

You know those chocolate almond swirls I made recently?  Well, as delicious as those were, I couldn’t help but wondering what other fun types of cookies I could make using the swirl concept.  I decided to make good use of the strawberry extract I have lying around.

These dark chocolate strawberry swirl cookies were inspired by Italy.  Yes, the nostalgia is getting pretty intense lately.  When I was studying abroad, I ate gelato probably five times a week.  I gained at least ten pounds and I wouldn’t change a thing (especially since at the time, I was in college, and could gym it up relatively easily when I got back to my normal life).

My favorite gelato flavor combination was cioccolato e fragola, or chocolate and strawberry.  So I figured that chocolate and strawberry would make a pretty good swirl cookie, too.

An important note on fruit extracts – I did a lot of research before purchasing the Frontier Co-op fruit extracts, and from what I’ve read, the brand makes all the difference.  All of the Frontier Co-op extracts I’ve tried so far work very well, and none have tasted like fake fruit or like candy fruit, in my opinion.  And their almond extract is fantastic.  All of this is to say that I can’t tell you what this recipe would be like if you used a different strawberry extract, but I recommend that  if you don’t want to buy Frontier Co-op extract, you look around and read reviews before you purchase the extract. Read more…

Easy Margherita Pizza, Arugula and Corn Pizza, Or Any Kind of Thin Crust Pizza You Want

May 12, 2012

The beloved carnivore and I are taking a much-needed vacation to Italy at the end of the month, and I could not be more excited.  I have not been back since studying abroad there, and I have been trying to keep the Italy nostalgia at bay for a long while.  Now that we are going, I have no need to keep the nostalgia at bay, and the floodgates have opened.   I am dreaming of ruins, pizza, cobblestone, and gelato.

When I came back from studying abroad, I was equally filled with longing for the motherland (I can call it that even though I’m not Italian, because I am Catholic).   To help ease my pain, my uncle shared a recipe for easy margherita pizza.

Not only is this pizza capable of soothing the lonely souls of those who are longing for Italy, but it is also one of the easiest meals to make, especially for a large crowd.  One of my favorite nights in college was when my roommate and I hosted a bunch of people and made a ton of these pizzas.  Ah, college.   I was in so much less debt then — thank you, law school.

Speaking of debt, this pizza is very budget-friendly.  All you need is tortillas, shredded cheese (you can even use the pre-shredded kind), tomatoes, olive oil, and a little fresh basil (but dried basil works in a pinch).

See, I was in a pinch and used dried basil.  Not as pretty, but pretty delicious.

This pizza is also incredibly versatile.  I have a ton of favorite variations.  I’m including my absolute favorite variation below, but there are so many.  You can spread pesto on the tortilla and top with cheese.  You can even use some arugula pesto and add a bit of corn before sprinkling the cheese on top.  You can make a red-sauce version, spreading tomato sauce on the tortilla and topping with cheese.  I’ll admit, however, that I haven’t tried any meaty variations.  Because the pizzas do not bake for very long, I’d recommend only topping with cooked meat. 

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