Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Skillet Ziti

Dear Kate,

It always seems like a victory when I find a meal that everyone in the family will eat.  Grammy was telling me just the other day how frustrated she used to get by trying to find meals that made everyone happy.  Even when she made something we all liked, it didn't necessarily mean that we all felt like eating it the night she made it. She also said it only got worse as we got older.  When I apologized, in typical Grammy fashion, she said that's ok, it isn't your fault.  Then we both laughed because, in fact, it was definitely my fault, at least in part.  I was, after all, one of the complainers making mealtime difficult!

This ziti recipe is one of those meal victories where we all sit down together and eat the same thing.  Ok, maybe your brother doesn't love it, but he will eat some and knows better than to complain.  That's victory enough for me.

I love to make baked ziti, but it can be time consuming.  This version is pretty quick (4 steps! and one of those is preheating the oven!) and uses just one pan.  I appreciate this fact more than ever now that your dad is laid up with his hurt ankle and I no longer leave the big pile of dinner dishes for him to clean up - I have to clean it myself!  You will definitely want a 12-inch oven-safe skillet and a lid to make this.  I recommend a non-stick skillet, but a regular skillet works without a huge mess.

Skillet Ziti
(Adapted from The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook)

1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 Tablespoons minced garlic (about 6 cloves)
Pinch red pepper flakes (more if you like a little more spice than your brother)
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
3 Cups water
12 ounces ziti (uncooked)
1/2 Cup heavy cream
1 ounce grated Parmesan cheese (about 1/2 Cup)
1/4 Cup chopped fresh basil leaves
Ground black pepper
Table salt
4 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese

1.  Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
2.  Heat oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat.  When it is hot, add the garlic, red pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, cooking about 1 minute.  
3.  Add the tomatoes, water, ziti, and another 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Cover and cook, stirring regularly, simmering until the ziti is nearly cooked, about 15 minutes.
4.  Mix in the cream, Parmesan and basil, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.  Sprinkle mozzarella evenly over the top, place in oven uncovered, and bake 10 minutes.  Remember the handle will be hot for a while after you remove it from the oven.  

Monday, May 9, 2011

Homemade Oreos

Dear Kate,

You seemed a little put out that I would post a recipe for fajitas, which you have no interest in ever eating.  The whole vegetarian thing.  But you could make the fajitas without the meat and it would still be very good.

To make up for it, today is homemade oreos.  They don't quite taste the same as an oreo, but they are so yummy and much better than Poor-eos (your dad's name for the generic brand imitation oreos). Other than the obvious reason for liking these, namely that they taste pretty darn close to an oreo, there are few reasons why I think these are great to make, but you have your own reasons for liking them. 

My reasons:

1.  No eggs required.  Perfect when I want to make something sweet, but I'm out of eggs.
2.  You don't have to soften the butter.  Perfect for when I forget to set the butter out at room temperature.
3.  You mix the whole thing in the food processor.  No sifting flour, no mix liquids in one bowl and dry ingredients in another.  Dump it all together and let the food processor do the work.
4.  You can make the dough the night before, refrigerate, then cook and assemble the next day.  Spreads out the labor.  (It can be a little labor intensive to do all in one day.)
5.  Chocolate yummy goodness.

Your reasons:
 1.  No eggs required.  You can eat the dough raw.
2.  The recipe says you have to roll the dough into a log.  That makes you snicker, especially when you look at the chocolate log.  Really?  Does the bathroom humor never get old?

Homemade Oreos
(Adapted from a couple of different recipes on SmittenKitchen.com)

 1 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour
3/4 Cup dutch cocoa powder (hard to find in the grocery store, but Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa works fine).
1 Cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 Teaspoon salt
1/4 Teaspoon baking soda
14 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
3 Tablespoons milk
1 Teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine the flour, cocoa, sugar and salt in food processor and pulse a few times to combine.    Add cut butter and pulse several times.  Mix the milk and vanilla together, then add gradually while the food processor is running until combined.

Dump the dough onto the counter or a large cutting board.  You may need to knead it a little to mix it evenly.  Form the dough in a log (snicker) about 1" in diameter.  Wrap the log (snuck) in wax paper or foil and refrigerate for at least one hour.

The oven racks should be positioned with the upper rack in the upper third of the oven and the lower rack in the lower third of the oven.  For me, the means the upper rack in the second highest position and the lower rack in the second lowest position.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Remove the log (hee hee) from the refrigerator, unwrap, and cut into thin slices (about 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick) and place about an inch apart on the baking sheets.

Place one baking sheet on the upper rack and one on the lower rack, bake for 5 minutes, then rotate the sheets back to front and upper to lower.

Cool on the baking sheet 5 minutes, then cool on a rack.


1/2 Cup (one stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 Cup vegetable shortening
4 Cups powdered sugar
4 Teaspoons vanilla

Cream the butter and shortening in a stand-mixer on medium-low for 1 minute.  Scrape down sides of bowl.  Add powdered sugar and vanilla, mix on low until mostly combine, then increase speed to medium-high and beat 2-3 minutes until fluffy.

Assembling the cookies:

Assembling is easy, but it looks best if you use a pastry bag for the filling.  You can use a knife, but it won't look as good.  With a pastry bag with a large plain tip, pipe a layer of filling, leaving a small border at the edge of the cookie.  I have this silly frosting contraption I got from Pampered Chef, a hard plastic thing you fill with frosting, with these large tips.  (You can see it in the last picture.) It isn't very good for frosting cakes, but it is perfect for this.  The assembly is the tedious part, but the finished product is worth the effort.  

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Grilled Pork Tenderloin Fajitas

Dear Kate,

Life has been a little crazy around here.  Two weeks ago your dad was hurt at a fire.  Thankfully it was only a ligament in his ankle, but it hurts, he can't drive, and he is hobbling around on crutches.  Having to take over some of the things he does has me just a little busy.  And maybe a little grumpy.  Sorry about that.  You and Jake have been a great help to your dad, carrying things for him and making sure he is comfortable, plus you haven't complained about the extra things I've asked you do as well.

As if that wasn't enough going on, you got braces!  As I've told you, you look remarkably normal in braces, not just one big metal mouth.  And you've handled it bravely with very little complaint.  (Complaining about getting braces is perfectly acceptable!)  Finally this week you have been able to start chewing and soon I hope you are back to eating without any discomfort.  We had a brief return to the chocolate shake for breakfast, making us remember those days in kindergarten. Which reminds me, time to make some muffins...

This recipe came from Family Fun magazine.  I'm kind of sad that you've outgrown that magazine.  I have fond memories of craft projects and games we used to play based on ideas from the magazine.  Do you remember the crazy car wash sprinkler your dad made for you and Jake to play in?  It was made out of PVC pipe with holes drilled in various spots, hooked up to a garden hose.  You and Jake LOVED it!

We also made some the April Fools food gags and you thought you were really fooling everyone.  One year we made a pretend hot dog and fries out of a pound cake and brought it to your Pops to fool him.  (I don't think it was actually April Fool's Day, but that didn't matter.)  Of course, he played along and was "fooled" by your trick.

We didn't make too many of the recipes from the magazine, but the couple I tried were pretty good.  I always got a laugh out of the idea that the recipes were kid friendly just because they had a fun name or shape, but knew you wouldn't be fooled by those recipes into eating something healthy!  This recipe makes yummy fajitas using pork rather than beef or chicken and the pineapple salsa gives it a vaguely Caribbean flavor. 

If you prepare everything in advance, all you need to do is throw it on the grill at dinner time.  You will want a grill basket for the veggies.

Pork Tenderloin Fajitas with Fresh Pineapple Salsa
(Adapted from Family Fun Magazine, June/July 2009)
1/2 Cup canned pineapple juice
2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Teaspoons cumin
1/3 Cup vegetable oil
1/4 Teaspoon pepper

Combine the marinade ingredients in a small mixing bowl and pour over tenderloin in baking dish or gallon-size zip lock bag.  Turn or toss to coat.  Marinate for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.  

2 pork tenderloins
2 large red onions, cut into eighths
2 green bell peppers, cored, seeded, cut into eighths
2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, cut into eighths
8 flour tortillas, wrapped in foil

Heat the grill on high heat for 15 minutes.  Brush or toss peppers and onions with a little olive oil.  Grill the vegetables and the tenderloin over medium heat for about 20 minutes (internal temperature should be 145 degrees) turning occasionally.  (Vegetables will be easiest to cook in a grill basket.)
Transfer vegetables and tenderloin to a serving dish and let sit for 5 minutes.  With grill turned off, place foil-wrapped tortillas on grill to warm. Slice the tenderloin into strips and serve with vegetables, warmed, tortillas, pineapple salsa, and sour cream.  

Fresh Pineapple Salsa
2 Cups fresh pineapple, chopped
2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 Cup cilantro
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 Teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until slightly chunky.  Cover and refrigerate 2 hours or more.