Thursday, August 30, 2012

romantic dinner for two

You get a special treat today.  Not only am I featuring an entire romantic meal for two, but my friend Luci over at Luci's Morsels will be sharing with you her tips for creating that perfect romantic dinner environment!

Why romance?  Well, Cookie Bandit and I just celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary!

We used to celebrate our anniversary by going out to a fancy restaurant, but we've recently learned that babies and fancy restaurants don't mix.  The last time we ate out, we took turns juggling Pebbles and our dinners while trying to keep her hands from our dinner plates.  Then we got looks from everyone every time she made a noise, no matter whether she squealed or cried.  And nursing...well, that's generally something that I avoid doing in restaurants (I'm too klutzy, and Pebbles is too much of an acrobat, to ensure that we do it without any peep shows).

And so, this year we decided to make dinner together.  We pranced around the kitchen, kissing one another as we chopped our veggies.  Birds sung music composed just for us, and the dishes magically cleaned themselves.  NOT! :)

Actually, the sink is still full of dishes, and instead of kissing we took turns running to stop our crawling baby from getting into things she shouldn't.  But, despite the craziness that is our life right now, dinner was amazing and romantic.

Here was the menu:

Appetizer: Assorted Cheeses

Okay, you are probably wondering about the cheese board.  The traditional gift for anniversary #5 is wood, and the modern gift is silverware.  Following that custom, I got Cookie Bandit a cheese board and did my own custom wood burning of one of his favorite Everybody Loves Raymond quotes (season 7, episode - "Baggage,").  Thus, I combined wood and silverware into one clever gift - he loved it! 

Entree: Saucy Steak Strips with Bacon-Infused Risotto and Marinated Vegetable Salad

Dessert: Individual Strawberry Shortcakes

It all sounds fancy, but it was so easy to put together!  The recipes are below...but first, here's how this all came together...

  • Night before:  Wash and prep fruits and veggies (except for avocado - you don't want it to brown!)
  • 1 1/2 hours before dinner: Put together marinade for salad.  Toss veggies in, cover, and refrigerate.  (This step could also be done the night before.)
  • 45 minutes before dinner: Begin making risotto.
  • 35 minutes before dinner: Make shortcake batter and put into prepared muffin cups.  Don't forget to keep stirring the risotto.
  • 20 minutes before dinner: Begin cooking the steak.  Keep stirring the risotto!
  • 10 minutes before dinner: Check risotto (it should be done).  Chop lettuce and plate salads.  Garnish with avocado slices. 
  • Dinner time!  Slice steak.  Plate risotto and steak and place on table with drinks.  Before sitting down, put shortcake batter into the oven, being sure to set the timer (that way it will be ready and warm by the time you are done). 
  • Enjoy your meal.
Forty-five minutes of cooking  is all you need for a fabulous meal!

Other tips for cooking up a romantic dinner:
  • Do any cleaning the night before and make sure you start the morning off with a clean kitchen.
  • Do the dishes as you go (if you can).  Make clean-up as easy on yourself as possible - you'll probably want to be doing something else besides dishes after you've had that glass of wine (wink, wink)! :)
  • Now is the perfect time to try something new!  Nothing says romance like cooking some strange and exotic dish together.  Just make sure you have a back-up plan in case it doesn't work out.
  • Choose dishes that make good leftovers.  Once you plate, put the leftovers away immediately so that you don't have to worry about them.
  • Plan a menu by taking into account your cooking space and time.  You only have so many burners on the stove and shelves in the oven.  Plan accordingly.
  • Try to include some make-ahead items.  Examples would be desserts, breads, or salads.  Having these made in advance leaves you more time for kissing.
  • Don't forget the environment!  Check out Luci's post on creating an intimate dinner atmosphere for some ideas..
Pebbles enjoying her feast during our romantic dinner. :)

And now...for the recipes!

Saucy Steak Strips
2 T. balsamic vinegar
2 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 T. spicy barbecue sauce
1.5 to 2 lbs. sirloin steak
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
pepper to taste

Mix the balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and barbecue sauce.  Rub the steak with pepper and broil about 4 inches from the heat source for seven minutes. Then flip the steak, spoon roughly half of the sauce over the top, cover with sliced mushrooms, and broil another five to seven minutes. Slice steaks into thin strips and mix with mushrooms and remaining sauce.  Serves 6-8.
Bacon-Infused Risotto
3 slices bacon, diced
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 cup baby carrots
1 cup Arborio rice
Garlic powder (to taste)
Oregano (to taste)
Black pepper (to taste)
4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth, warmed
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Cook bacon in a nonstick skillet until crispy.  Remove bacon for later use, leaving bacon grease in skillet.  Saute mushrooms and carrots in bacon grease until the mushrooms are tender.  Add rice and saute for 3-4 minutes.  Add spices to taste.  Pour 1/2 cup of chicken broth into skillet; cook and stir until liquid is completely absorbed.  Continue adding chicken broth (1/2 cup at a time, letting it absorb in between each addition) until rice is al dente or reaches desired tenderness.  Stir in Parmesan cheese; allow cheese to melt.  Top each serving with cooked bacon pieces.  Serves 4.
Marinated Vegetable Salad
1 lb. fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
8 medium fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 large tomato, seeded and chopped
1/2 medium red onion, sliced
2 T. lemon juice
2 T. olive oil
1 T. balsamic vinegar
1 t. Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 t. dried basil
1/2 t. dried thyme
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
romaine lettuce, chopped
1 large ripe avocado, peeled and cubed

Place asparagus and 2 tablespoons of water in a microwave-safe dish.  Cover and microwave on high for 3-6 minutes, or until crisp tender.  Drain and cool.

In a large bowl, combine the asparagus, mushrooms, zucchini, tomato and onion; toss gently.  In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine the remaining ingredients (except lettuce and avocado); shake well.  Pour over veggies and toss gently to coat.  Cover and refrigerate until serving.  
To serve, place lettuce on plates.  Top with marinated veggies and garnish with avocado slices.  Serves 7.

Individual Strawberry Shortcakes
1 cup flour
1 t. baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 t. vanilla
butter, to taste
strawberries, hulled and sliced
whipped topping and/or ice cream to garnish

Combine flour, baking powder, and sugar; blend in egg, milk, and vanilla.  Pour into a heavily greased muffin tin; bake at 350 degrees for approximately 20 minutes (checking often).  They are done when golden and puffed.  While warm, split each shortcake and butter the inside.  Stuff with strawberries and top with whipped topping.  Consider serving with ice cream for a special treat.  Makes 6 shortcakes.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

grandma's bread

It's been deliciously cool outside the past few mornings.  With the chill in the air, I almost forget that it's still summer (although the 95+ degree weather later in the day shocks me back into reality).  One of the things I love to do once the weather starts to turn is make bread.  There's just nothing better than warm bread in the oven on a cool day! 

This bread comes from a Gooseberry Patch cookbook, and it is sooooooo delicious.  The texture is amazing, and the flavor is perfect. I love it toasted with homemade peach jam. :)

My cousin and I nicknamed this bread "all day bread" because it seems to take all day to make.  It rises not once...not twice...but FOUR times!  But even though it's time consuming, it's totally worth it.  Trust me.

First, you dissolve your yeast in water.

Then, put salt, sugar, and shortening (the three "s's"!) in a large mixing bowl.  Pour boiling water over everything and stir until the shortening melts.

Add some milk...

...and some eggs...

...and then toss in the yeast and some flour.

Mix it all really well for a few minutes (stimulated gluten production), and then add in more flour until you get a stiff dough.

Turn your dough out on a floured surface, and knead, knead, knead!

Put it in a bowl to let it rise.  I usually grease my bowl first and cover it with a moistened flour sack towel.  Then, I place it in the sun beneath a window for maximum rising potential. :)


Toss the dough back onto a floured surface and knead it again.

Let it rise some more, and then punch it down (always my favorite part).

Let it rise some more, and then divide into two loaves.  Place in greased loaf pans and...yep, you guessed it...let it rise!

Yes, it takes quite a bit of time, but after you bake it, you'll want to make it again and again.

Grandma's Bread
from Gooseberry Patch's Country Baking

1 pkg. active dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 1/2 t. salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 T. shortening
1 cup boiling water
1 cup cold milk
2 eggs, beaten
6 1/2 to 7 cups all-purpose flour

Dissolve yeast in lukewarm water.  Place salt, sugar, and shortening in a large mixing bowl.  Pour boiling water over mixture, stirring constantly to melt shortening.  Add milk and eggs; mix well.  Add yeast and stir until well blended.  Add 3 1/2 cups flour and mix for 3 minutes.  Add enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately stiff dough.  Turn out onto lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Shape into a ball, place and let rise in a warm place until double, about one hour.  Turn out onto lightly floured surface and knead again, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Place dough back into bowl and let rise about 45 minutes. Punch dough down, turn onto lightly floured surface.  Divide dough in half and place each half into a 9" x 5" loaf pan.  Let rise until double in size.  Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes.  Remove bread from pans and cool on wire racks.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

hamburger stroganoff

This is one of the best easy meals I've had in a long time.  I mean, besides a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  And pancakes...who doesn't love pancakes?  Oh, oh, oh!  Pigs in a blanket!  Awesome easy meal!

But seriously, this stroganoff is awesome.  Most stroganoffs I've seen use steak, so they take a while to cook.  This one, however, uses hamburger meat.  As a result, it's fast and easy to light up - just replace the hamburger with some ground turkey for a lighter option.

And have I mentioned that it has bacon in it???  Yeah...everything is better with bacon. :)

Once the bacon and hamburger have browned, you add mushrooms and onions and stir those around until tender.

Then, add in your spices and cream of mushroom soup and let it simmer away!

Just before serving, stir in some sour cream and let it heat through.

Serve it over egg noodles or rice, and you've got a fantastic 30-minute meal that the whole family is sure to love.

Hamburger Stroganoff
1 lb. ground beef
3 slices bacon, chopped
1 onion, diced
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1/2 t. paprika
1/4 t. tarragon
salt and pepper, to taste
10 3/4 oz. can cream of mushroom soup
8 oz. sour cream

Brown beef with bacon; add onion and mushrooms and cook until tender.  Drain if necessary.  Add paprika, tarragon, salt, and pepper; mix well.  Stir in soup; cook, uncovered, over low heat for 20 minutes, stirring often.  Add sour cream and heat through.  Serve over noodles or rice.  Serves 6.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

lemony crock-pot chicken

Okay, folks, check this out.  It's one of the easiest ways to get lemon chicken without breaking your budget or heating up your whole house.  And it's just plain fun!  (If you like chicken, that is.)

Grab a whole bird and make the man of your house rinse it off.  After all, dainty fingers don't need to be touching slippery raw chicken...gross!

Make sure all of that junk they stuff in the middle is out and then pat the chicken off with a paper towel.'s the cool a whole lemon inside the chicken!  No need to poke holes in it, cut it into slices, or do anything fancy.  Just plop the whole sucker in there.  (I would remove the sticker and wash it, obviously...never know where those things have been.)

Drop it in your slow cooker and rub seasonings over the top.  Here, I used minced garlic, fresh parsley, and salt and pepper.  I think basil, rosemary, or thyme would also be delicious.  Be creative!

At the point, put the lid on it.  That's right!  You don't need to add any water or soup or anything else.  Just put the lid on.  Cook it on high for 1 hour and then on low for an additional 6-7.

What happens?  The lemon cooks inside the chicken and releases juice.  Between the lemon juice and the chicken juices, you've got a delicious marinade by the time you are finished.  Check it out!

This is a great meal served with brown rice and steamed veggies (if you want to go healthy), or you can just chop up the chicken to use in other recipes.  I livened up my chicken salad with this chicken, and it was excellent. 

Lemony Crock-Pot Chicken
3-4 lb. roasting chicken
2 T. olive oil
1 whole lemon
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Pat chicken dry with a paper towel; rub with oil.  Put whole lemon inside chicken; place in slow cooker.  Sprinkle with garlic, parsley, salt and pepper.  Cover and cook on high setting for one hour.  Turn to low setting and cook an additional 6-7 hours.
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