Tag Archives: easy

Strawberry Jam Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies

<img alt="Strawberry Jam Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies"/>

After swearing off most things sweet for the first six months of the year,  I did make a few desserts this summer for holidays, birthdays, and a get together or two, and these Strawberry Jam Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies were a perfect choice.  Go ahead.  Just try and say that three times fast.  I dare you. I dare you while you’ve got a bite of one in your mouth.

I love the bit of sweet tartness that either raspberries or strawberries add to any chocolate dessert so have always wondered about how that would work in brownie.  If you’ve known me for a while, then you know I feel I’m brownie challenged.  I have been known to make Blondies, or Salted Fudge Brownies with some success, however.  But I have to say, these swirly, jammy wonders were a success.  Or should I say I succeeded in making a recipe that didn’t turn out brownies hard as a rock or worse, raw in the middle.  Perhaps I’m not giving myself enough credit!

They’re moist, full of flavor that will have your taste buds squelching, and best of all, satisfy a sweet tooth with just a smidgen of a sliver of one.

I only had one.  I promise.

A very small one.

Make a batch and send it to your kids’ teacher — or the hubster’s work — after you sample one.

(Insert evil laughter here.)

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Simple Daily Recipes: Readers’ Favorite Recipes — An eCookbook Review

I have always wanted to cook.

Whether it was the simple family recipes my mother showed me how to make when I was very young, or something new I found in her Betty Crocker cookbook and decided to try on my own, I was always interested.  As much as I followed my mother’s recipes fairly closely when I made them, I couldn’t resist trying a new ingredient or two when each dish showed up in our weekly rotation.  I never veered too far off the path, because we didn’t have the pantry to support that kind of diversion — and I think I may not have wanted to risk the wrath of my unpredictable step-father by ruining a meal and having to waste food. But that’s another story.

When I was a young mother of 24, I remember that cooking helped keep my wits about me.  I loved my two little boys intensely but remember feeling at times like I’d lost touch with the world in general.  Many years before the Internet existed, even local telephone calls accrued long distance charges, and our television antenna afforded us three channels with reasonably good reception if I was able to twist the antenna to just the right position.  I remember being incredibly lonely.   To keep my brain occupied, I dug into the few magazine subscriptions I kept to try new recipes.

Although most of the recipes I tried came from Good Housekeeping and Ladies Home Journal, the recipes in Food & Wine are what intrigued me.  The mix of ingredients — many I hadn’t heard of and doubted I could find at my local market — sounded exotic.  The recipes seemed well beyond my ability as well, so I can remember being frustrated by not being able to try more of them and actually wondered, who really ate like that?

Years have gone by, and thankfully, I am now able to get just about any ingredient I want for any recipe I’d like to try.  With much trial and error, and a sense of adventure, I have developed my cooking and baking skills and will continue to do so.  That doesn’t mean we don’t eat simply, because we do.  The type of food and recipes I was raised on, and to a lesser extent, raised my three sons with will always be a part of how we eat.  It isn’t always complicated or what some may call fancy, but the ingredients are always wholesome, fresh, and as much as possible, the food I make is “from scratch.”

It makes sense, then, that when Jill Mc Keever of Simple Daily Recipesa friend I met through blogging years ago announced the newly published compilation of her food blog readers’ favorite recipes, I knew I had to check it out.  Not only have I been interested in the idea of self-published books in general, I wanted to be able to help get the word out about Jill’s new eCookbook, Simple Daily Recipes:  Readers’ Favorite Recipes which is available at iTunes.

I read through all the recipes on a quiet Saturday morning with coffee on my iPad– something not too unusual since I read cookbooks and food magazines like novels and often far more quickly.  Immediately, I was reminded of the recipes I grew up with — busy family, easy to make, wholesome recipes made with ingredients a home cook has on hand.  I also realized the book exudes Jill’s energy and engaging personality.  The recipes are primarily organized by main dinner courses featuring poultry or seafood, for example.  There’s also a chapter that includes rubs and marinades.  Bright photos of process and finished product fill the book.  It’s important to read the “Keep in Mind” section where Jill explains her decision to use liquid aminos instead of salt and low-fat margarine instead of butter.  We all have particular needs or preferences for basic ingredients and although I use neither, a bit of olive oil and pinch of salt work fine for me and are easily substituted in these recipes.  It’s rare that I made a recipe with my own little preferences, so this was no different.

As I read through the recipes, I wondered what would I sample first.  The “Smoky Sweet Rub” recipe since our summer is finally showing itself?  The “Kale, Sausage & Tomatoes with Pasta” reminded me of my mother’s “Goulash” so that got my attention as well.  “Beef Ragout” is earmarked as something I’ll try when the weather accommodates it because I’m a sucker for beef braised in red wine.  But I decided the “Chicken with Tomatoes and Zucchini” was what I’d try first.  It sounded like a pretty lean dish with lots of flavor and I knew the guys would like it.

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Apple Tart Alsatian Style

You’ve promised your body that you will adopt a healthier lifestyle — something just shy of a “diet” because you know yourself too well.  If what you’ve taken on is reduced to that, it’s probably not going to last because you don’t believe in diets — and for good reason.  You’ve seen too many people begin with all the motivation they can muster, then when they realize the pounds aren’t falling off as quickly as they’d like, or that after what is considered a good effort, they’ve plateaued, motivation dwindles and the “diet” is quietly ignored.  I can’t risk that because my knees will never forgive me for having to carry around 50 pounds they hadn’t counted on at their age.

Poor knees.

Last September when I began to think about more obsessively about my weight and lack of routine exercise (no coincidence since I’d just turned 55) I began to find reasons to avoid the kitchen.  Meals became food I could easily pick up and eat with little or no thought.  I stopped looking at new recipes and rarely used one to try something new for dinner.  And baking?  I stopped that almost completely because it seemed pointless to bake something, taste it, then try to find a home for it outside of mine.  I’ve never been a big sweets eater, but I thoroughly enjoy spending a morning in the kitchen baking something — especially if it involves a little thought or teaches me something new.  I miss that and know baking needs to be a part of my life — as does dessert.

Dessert is a food group, isn’t it?

I’m kidding, of course, but the point is I want to bake and enjoy dessert occasionally so have to find a balance with desserts that showcase a simple fruit without a lot of added sugar or an excessive amount of fat, for example.

Something classic, satisfying.  Elegant, but not fussy.

With apples.

Glorious apples.

Just a small slice?

Yes, please.

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Roasted Tomato Soup with Bacon, Cheese & Orzo

My meager pot of tomato plants has finished producing and been cut back to a few stalks jutting from the dark soil they’ve been planted in since May, waiting for me to pull them up.  But I’m lucky to have friends whose plants are still producing and thankfully willing to share.  The challenge for me at times is knowing what to do with them because my own plants have rarely produced more than what we can eat in a salad.  Often my timing is bad in being able to enjoy the lot — just how many tomatoes can two people eat at one sitting, right?  Especially when my husband forgets to bring them home right away and they’re, well, soft.

Into the freezer they go — stems and all.  I put them on a metal tray until they’re hard as rocks, then pour them into a plastic bag for later use.  Last year I managed to save a bag until mid-February when it was a welcome addition to a hearty tomato squash soup.  This year, I’ve already used one frozen bag, but still have two more in the freezer and will enjoy deciding what to make with them.

I’ll have to blame my need to use some of my frozen homegrown tomato stash on this Irish Blue Cheese and Tomato Soup recipe from Soup Chick.   I’m a pushover to begin with because I love tomato soup, but I’ve never had it with blue cheese — let alone bacon.  I was completely intrigued, so of course I had to try it.  I had the tomatoes, but the recipe requires that they are roasted.  Roasting isn’t a problem because I’ve roasted tomatoes several different ways and truly enjoy the flavor.  However I’d never roasted thawed, frozen tomatoes.

I love a good food experiment, don’t you?  Especially when the result is such a satisfyingly, tasty soup.

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Easy Duck Confit

There was a time when the idea of eating duck wasn’t something I was interested in.  It’s not that I  was avoiding it.  To some extent, duck hadn’t been a part of my life, excluding the mallards allowed to quack freely around a neighbor’s yard when my boys were in diapers and obsessed with poking their chubby baby fingers through the fence, tempting the ducks.  My mother never prepared it because her mother never prepared it.  I don’t think I ever saw it in any of my neighborhood grocery stores.  In fact, I worked in a grocery store for many years, and never remember seeing duck.  Pig heads, sheep heads, cow’s stomach lining, kidneys, and head cheese, yes, but not duck.

On the occasions we dined out, I don’t recall whether duck appear on a menu or not, but if it had, a l’Orange or Peking might have been the choices.  This isn’t surprising considering dining out was more an early Sunday dinner at the Chief’s Club on my dad’s Navy base, but the base was in Spain so the potential for some kind of influence was there.  Even the food magazines I’ve always subscribed to published little information about or recipes for duck, so how could I develop any kind of a real interest in trying something I never had the opportunity to consider?

Call me duck deprived.

A few years ago, duck began to show up more often in my world — or did I just become more aware of it, spending more time on the web with people who love food as much as I do? I saw it nestled up alongside the chickens and turkey breasts in the market meat case more often, or glistening in roasted splendor on magazine pages and websites I enjoy.  It also became an unexpected ingredient in some traditional recipes.  One of our favorite local restaurants put duck quesadillas on their tapas menu, and I was finally able to sample it.  Bear in mind I still had no idea that duck confit existed.

Duck confit?  What exactly is confit?  A confit is produced when food is preserved in fat, salt, or sugar.  The method not only preserves the food, it enhances the flavor.

Remember the Cassoulet I made not too long ago – the one missing the traditional ingredient of duck confit?  At the time, I’d purchased the duck legs just in case I had enough time to prepare and include them in my cassoulet.  I didn’t, so they stayed in the freezer waiting for me to decide what to do with them.  Seeing Chef Jose Andres’ recipe for “Duck Confit Tacos” published in Food & Wine last month urged me to finally thaw those duck legs.  The recipe calls for purchased duck confit as many recipes do, but I almost always think it’s more interesting to make something myself — especially if I’ve not made it before.

I decided that’s what I’d do — make it myself.  And because I’d done quite a bit of research for the cassoulet, I found a great recipe for duck confit without the quantity of duck fat normally used.

I finally understand the wonder of duck confit — sans the taco, unfortunately.  We had no left overs to make them with.

It’s a perfect excuse to make more duck confit.

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