Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Homemade Refried Beans

My mom and I love Mexican food, but sometimes refried beans can be very bland. This recipe was not only easy, but it gave our dinner a fabulous flavor!

Refried Beans (Serves 4 to 6)

3 (15 oz) cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed (I used light red kidney beans)
1 cup water
5 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 large jalapeno chile, stemmed, seeded, and minced
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves (optional)
Hot pepper sauce (optional)

1) Process the beans and water in a food processor until smooth, scraping down the sides of the workbowl with a rubber spatula as necessary, about 30 seconds; set aside.

2) Put the oil, onion, chile, and 1/2 tsp salt in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens and just begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cumin and cook, stirring frequently, until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Stir in the bean mixture until thoroughly combined, then reduce the heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans have thickened and the flavors have blended, about 10 minutes. Stir in the cilantro, if using, and adjust the seasonings with salt and hot pepper sauce to taste. Serve immediately.

Observations/Suggestions: My biggest mistake was not using a jalapeno. When I went to make the recipe, that was the one ingredient that I had failed to purchase. (Urgh, right?) But, I will definitely add it next time. As a substitute, I increased the cumin to a heaping tsp and added some cayenne pepper. Then, at the end, I also added about 1 tsp of a spice mix designed for bean dips. It really kicked up the flavor. Instead of stirring in the cilantro leaves at the end, I let everyone decide whether or not to add them on top. (I don't mind cilantro, but I by no means prefer it). In this recipe, there is a lot of room for interpretation, so feel free to have some fun!

Recommended? A cautious yes. Although refried beans are great homemade, I felt it could have had more to offer. Next time, I'm adding additional spices and mixing salsa into it.

Glazed Maple-Pecan Oatmeal Scones

Not only do I love scones, but I've had a recent infatuation with maple flavoring, so this seemed an instant hit.

Glazed Maple-Pecan Oatmeal Scones

1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats or quick-cooking oats
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
       *I substituted the whole milk and heavy cream for 1/2 cup half and half
1 large egg
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 cups lower-protein unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar, plus 1 Tbsp for sprinkling (Omit the 1/3 cup sugar if maple syrup is very sweet)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
10 Tbsp (1.25 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

3 Tbsp maple syrup
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar

1) Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread the oats and pecans evenly on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven until they are fragrant and lightly browned, 7 to 9 minutes; cool on a wire rack. Increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees. Line a second baking sheet with parchment paper (or nonstick cooking spray). When the oats and pecans are cooled, measure out 2 Tbsp (for dusting the work surface) and set aside.

2) Whisk the milk, cream, egg, and maple syrup in a large measuring cup until incorporated; remove 1 Tbsp to a small bowl and reserve for pre-bake glazing.

3) Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the workbowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and process until combined, about four 1-second pulses. Scatter the cold butter evenly over the dry ingredients and process until the mixture resembles course cornmeal, twelve to fourteen 1-second pulses. (A hand mixer will work fine as well) Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl; stir in the cooled oats and pecans. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the liquid ingredients until large clumps form. Using your hands, gently knead the mixture in the bowl until the dough forms a cohesive mass.

4) Dust the work surface with half of the reserved oats and pecans, turn the dough onto the work surface, and dust the top with the remaining oats/pecans mix. Gently pat the dough into a 7-inch circle about 1 inch thick. Using a bench scraper or chef's knife, cut the dough into 8 wedges and set on the parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Brush the tops with the reserved milk-egg mixture and sprinkle with 1 Tbsp sugar. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 14 minutes. Cool the scones on the baking sheet, set on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then remove the scones to the rack and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

5) When the scones are cool, whisk the maple syrup and confectioner's sugar in a bowl until combined; drizzle the glaze over the scones.

Observations/Suggestions: First off, I used quick-cooking oats and felt that the consistency was just fine, no worries as to using the old-fashioned. Also, the half and half mixture was amazing because it cut costs and cut calories (we only use fat free half and half). My baking time for the scones was probably only about 10-11 minutes, so you may want to keep an eye on them in the final minutes. Lastly, the glaze was delicious, but horribly sticky. In fact, it never quite set up due to the maple syrup. Next time, I'll try using maple flavoring instead.

Recommended? Yes. I found them to be delicious (and impressive to our guests), but I did feel that the glaze was way too sticky. The consistency of the scone was just right because it was dense, but flaky. Delicious!

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Honestly, who doesn't love a warm chocolate chip cookie? It's taken me a while to find a recipe that keeps the center chewy without it being undercooked. Overall, a great recipe!

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies (Makes 3 dozen)

2 cups plus 2 Tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
12 Tbsp (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled until just warm
1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

1) Adjust the oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or spray them with nonstick cooking spray.

2) Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.

3) Either by hand or with an electric mixer, mix the butter and sugars until thoroughly blended. Beat in the egg, yolk, and vanilla until just combined. Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed until combined. Stir in the chips to taste.

4) Roll a scant 1/8 cup of the dough into a ball. Hold the dough ball with the fingertips of both hands and pull into 2 equal halves. Rotate the halves 90 degrees and, with jagged surfaces facing up, join the halves together at the base, again forming a single ball, being careful not to smooth the dough's uneven surface. Place the formed dough balls on the prepared baking sheets, jagged surface up, spacing them 2 1/2 inches apart. (Sounds complicated, but you can do it!)

5) Bake until the cookies are light golden brown, the outer edges start to harden, and the centers are still soft and puffy, 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through the baking time. Cool the cookies on the sheets. Remove the cooled cookies from the baking sheets with a wide metal spatula.

Observations/Suggestions: Overall, I didn't change a thing. My one warning is to make sure that you pay attention to when the cookies are done. The insides will look puffy, but the outer edges will harden up. Just remember, they will continue cooking on the baking sheet. The brown sugar makes the batter darker, so also keep on eye on the edges for browning. Next time, I may try oatmeal to add a little more texture.

Recommended? Definitely. Relatively easy to make and very soft/chewy. They really tasted like cookies you buy from an upscale bakery. I made them last minute for a party and they went immediately! (That's why I have no pictures to share, I'm sorry!)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Wonderful Meal by a True Culinarian

Last night, I had the wonderful privilege of enjoying food cooked by a true culinarian, my good friend, Cori. What's great about Cori is that she has the natural talent of traveling recipeless. She can sense a recipe's ingredients and recreate it with her knowledge of basic ingredients. And yesterday, for dinner, she created one of our favorite appetizers, Applebee's Chicken Wonton Tacos. (Except she made the recipe into tostados and they were even better!) Her recipe was very simple and it let the ingredients speak for themselves. In fact, the whole meal tasted like summer with its fresh ingredients and vast textures.

Chicken Wonton Tacos - (Deep-fried wonton wraps, grilled marinated chicken, an Asian coleslaw, fresh cilantro, and a squeeze of fresh lime)
Zucchini and Snow Peas (Fried in soy sauce, garlic and butter)
Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream

If that doesn't get your palate excited, then I don't know what can. It was delicious!

* This recipe was incredible, so I shall consult the chef to see if she is willing to share.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Kettle Corn -- My First Recipe Disaster!

Popcorn is one of my true food loves. It has been a constant classic in my home for as long as I can remember and it is a staple for nights/weekends. My recipe totally exists out of habit. The butter isn't measured, the salt isn't measured, and the popcorn is measured by the hot air popper cup. It is one of the few recipes that I add ingredients without needing to taste.

When I saw this recipe by an esteemed chef friend, I was immediately interested. (Plus, I'm going through a kettle corn phase due to the number of events we've been to lately!) Although I love my popcorn buttery and salty, I decided to try this recipe as an afternoon sweet 'n salty snack. And tragically, I ran into my first recipe disaster...

Kettle Corn

*You'll need a large pot with a handle or lid and a large bowl

1/8 cup canola (coconut oil was suggested)
1/8 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
1/4 tsp salt

In a large pot, melt the oil and butter over high heat. Add the popcorn, sugar, and salt, and stir constantly until you see the first pop. Immediately turn off the heat, and vigorously shake the pot so the popcorn won't scorch. Transfer immediately to a large bowl.

Observations/Suggestions: FYI - I have a gas stove, so I'm not sure if that affected my recipe results or not. Everything was going well until the first pop. I followed the directions and started to shake my arms off only to realize that it was no longer popping. So, I hesitantly placed the mixture back on the burner and kept stirring it. (Note: Be careful, the oil mixture is extremely hot! I received four lovely burn welts during the stirring process.) Finally, after some minor additionally popping, I decided that the mixture must be hot enough and began shaking again only to realize that the mixture was semi-stuck to the bottom of the pan. So, I proceeded to shake it upside down. By this point, I realized that the popcorn was scorched and shamefully put it on the deck to cool off. Fortunately, the lid was on for the last part so the smell did not permeate our kitchen. Whew!

Recommended? Wholeheartedly yes. Just because I ruined this batch does not mean that it's a bad recipe or not worth trying. I know the chef and she is amazing, so I trust this recipe. I encourage you to try it and share your tips, suggestions, techniques, etc. I want to try it again and will not be defeated, so I need your help!

*No image was included for this recipe because the popcorn looked pretty ugly.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Chicken Caesar Club

Besides grilled cheese, my favorite sandwich is a BLT. So, when I discovered this recipe, which I have deemed a "BLT On Steroids," I had to have it...and soon!

* Because this recipe had familiar ingredients and I knew what to expect in terms of flavor, I made lots of changes. See note by each ingredient.

Chicken Caesar Club (Serves 3-4)


2 chicken breasts; bone in, skin on (Although I originally planned on making the chicken breasts, I opted for Sara Lee's Roasted Chicken Breast in the deli section. About 1/2 pound was perfect.)

4 oz thinly sliced pancetta (My grocery store did not carry pancetta, so I opted for 3 slices of thick peppercorn bacon, which I crumbled)

Homemade Caesar dressing (The hassle isn't worth it, but if you want the recipe, leave a comment. I really like Ken's Steakhouse Lite Caesar)

1 large ciabatta loaf

2 oz baby arugala, washed and spun dry (Again, not available at my store, so I substituted romaine lettuce)

12 sun-dried tomatoes in oil (Since we had lots of tomatoes on hand, I went with fresh)

2 to 3 oz Parmesan, shaved


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the chicken breasts on a sheet pan skin side up. Rub the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 35-40 minutes until cooked through. Cool slightly, discard the skin and bones, and slice the meat thickly. Set aside.

Meanwhile, place the pancetta on another sheet pan in a single layer. Roast for 10-15 minutes, until crisp. Set aside to drain on paper towels.

Slice the ciabatta in half horizontally and separate the top from the bottom. Toast the bread in the oven, cut side up, for 5-7 minutes; cool slightly. Spread the cut sides of each piece with the Caesar dressing. Place half the arugala on the bottom piece of bread and then layer in order: the sun-dried tomatoes, shaved Parmesan, crispy pancetta, and sliced chicken. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and finish with another layer of arugala. Place the top slice of ciabatta on top and cut in thirds (or fourths) crosswise. Serve at room temperature.

Observations/Suggestions: Besides my ingredient swaps noted above, my main recommendation would be to not toast the ciabatta loaf. By nature, the crust is already very hard and by toasting it, it made the bread very difficult to chew, not to mention noisy. Also, I think you could easily substitute a focaccia loaf and it would be delicious. Lastly, I only did one layer of all the ingredients to make the sandwich thinner, which I appreciated.

Recommended? A definite yes. This sandwich was delicious, simple, and light. My ingredient switches also made it a lot less expensive. A great summer lunch/dinner!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Fresh Mozzarella Pizza (Fast & Low-Fat)

I am an "I Love Pizza" kind of gal. Honestly, it's so insanely good! I have a deep dish recipe that I am known for, so I was very skeptical (and nervous) to try a new pizza recipe, especially a thin crust. But, I must admit, this was more delicious than I was imagining.

Fresh Mozzarella Pizza (Makes 2 pizzas; 8 slices each)

2 1/2 to 3 cups all purpose (or bread) flour
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 package regular yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup very warm water (120-130 degrees F)

My Choice of Toppings:
Homemade Pizza Sauce (Top Secret Recipe)
Green Pepper
Basil Leaves
Fresh Mozzarella

In large bowl, mix 1 cup of the flour, the sugar, salt, and yeast. Add olive oil and warm water. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed for 3 minutes, scraping bowl frequently. Stir in enough remaining flour to make sure dough is soft and leaves sides of bowl. Place dough on lightly floured surface. Knead for 5 to 8 minutes or until dough is smooth and springy. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease 2 cookie sheets or 12-inch pizza pans with oil (olive or canola). Divide dough in half. Pat each half into 12-inch circles. Partially bake for 7 to 8 minutes or until crust just begins to brown. Add toppings and bake for an additional 8 to 10 minutes.

Observations/Suggestions: I actually used less flour than anticipated. For me, when I added 2 1/2 cups, it was too much. Therefore, I was able to use the loose flour in the bowl to flour my board and continue flouring while I kneaded the bread. So, less is more. By the way, nothing makes me feel more like Betty Crocker than kneading dough -- I love it!! Okay, back to the recipe. In the dough, I always secretly add a few shakes of garlic powder and oregano leaves before I start kneading. It adds a little something extra to the dough. (And it smells heavenly!) For toppings, feel free to use whatever you would like. I know they recommend tomato slices instead of sauce, but at my house, we're sauce people and we love my recipe. So, I could not make that sacrifice. Go with your favorites --

Recommended? Most definitely yes! The crust had a wonderful texture. It kept its shape when you picked it up, but it was soft and chewy on the inside. A perfect consistency for crust in my mind and I am not a thin crust person. This pizza was the perfect light, bistro pizza. It didn't feel heavy and it's low in calories, so it's guilt-free. Then again, I think every piece of pizza should be eaten guilt-free!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Garlic & Herb Tomatoes

There is a fabulous restaurant in the Twin Cities called Crave. While there, I ordered a delicious chicken breast with a side of garlic mashed potatoes. What made the garlic mashed potatoes so amazing was instead of a gravy or butter, they topped the potatoes with garlic herb tomatoes. (Yum!!) So, I was desperately hoping this recipe would give a similar flavor and it did not disappoint.

Garlic & Herb Tomatoes (Serves 6)

3 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp minced garlic (2 cloves)
2 pints cherry (or grape) tomatoes
2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil
2 Tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan large enough to hold all the tomatoes in a single layer. Add the garlic to the oil and cook over medium heat for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, basil, parsley, thyme, salt, and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to lose their firm round shape. Sprinkle with additional chopped basil and parsley and serve hot or at room temperature.

Observations/Suggestions: The cooking time took much longer for me and I only made half the recipe. Due to time constraints, we actually ate them before they were completely softened. I probably gave it 10 minutes total, so be patient. Also, I would add more herbs. Perhaps the tomatoes would soak up more flavor as they softened, but I still feel that they could have used something else. Maybe add some balsamic vinegar? Just a thought.

Recommended? Yes. I will try them on top of garlic mashed potatoes next time and see if I can recreate my favorite side dish. Also, I think they would be delicious as a substitute for normal tomatoes in any recipe that could use a kick of flavor.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Gorilla Bread

I already love monkey bread, so when I saw this recipe, I thought, "What? Monkey bread can get better?" And yes, it is much better!! Yummy.

Gorilla Bread (Serves 8)

3 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup packed light brown sugar
8 Tbsp (1 stick) butter
2-12 oz tubes refrigerated crescent roll dough
3 Tbsp sweetened condensed milk
2 bananas, sliced 1/4" thick (48 slices)
4 oz (about 2/3 cup) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts

Preheat over to 350 degrees. Spray a bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray. Mix the sugar and cinnamon together. In small saucepan, melt the brown sugar with the butter over low heat.

Break open the crescent roll packages and separate the triangles of dough. Brush each triangle with the sweetened condensed milk and top with two banana slices and 1 tsp chocolate chips; gather the edges of the triangle together and seal the sides. (Forms a little packet) Sprinkle each with 1/4 tsp of the cinnamon sugar.

Place half of the walnuts in the pan and top with half of the dough packets. Pour half of the brown sugar-butter mixture over the dough and sprinkle with 2 tsp of the cinnamon sugar mix. Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Bake for 1 hour, until puffed, golden brown, and firm to the touch. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes. Place a platter on top of the pan and invert. Serve warm.

Observations/Suggestions: Make sure you spray the pan well because these do tend to stick. Also, I could not find the 12 oz packages of crescent roll dough, so I used 8 oz packages. This worked fine, but I only used half the butter/brown sugar mixture and it was done 10 minutes early when I had a smaller batch. Also, instead of sprinkling cinnamon sugar over each packet, I rolled them in it, which worked fabulously.

Recommended? A HUGE YES! Delicious. Easy to make, tasty, and something out of the ordinary. I will definitely make it again and I'm dying to have another piece right now.

FYI: My picture isn't very good because I was in too big of a hurry to eat it!

Sunday, May 30, 2010


Another recipe that has been sitting in my "must make" folder! Pretty much a cold pasta salad with bread instead of pasta. Interesting, right?

Panzanella (Serves 6)

4 cups 1-inch pieces day-old Italian or other firm bread
2 medium tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces (2 cups)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium green pepper, coarsely chopped (1 cup)
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1/3 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper

In a large bowl, mix bread, tomatoes, garlic, green pepper, basil, and parsley. In tightly covered container, shake olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper. Pour over bread mixture; toss until bread is evenly coated.

Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour until bread is softened and flavors are blended. (No more than 8 hours) Toss before serving.

Observations/Suggestions: I used half a loaf of short french bread. It was fairly soft, so I cut it and left it out most of the afternoon until the pieces were fairly dried out. There was way too much green pepper. I diced mine, so half a pepper is plenty. Unless you prefer a lot of green pepper, of course. I did not have red wine vinegar on hand, so I substituted apple cider vinegar (after some research) and it worked great. I let mine sit for about two hours and the flavors were very mellow.

Recommended? Yes. I made it as a main dish, but I felt it needed something with it. I will add black olives next time and will serve alongside grilled chicken.

Peach & Blueberry Crumble

I'm not a fruit pie/crisp/crumble person, but boy, do I love them now!!

Peach & Blueberry Crumble (Makes 6 Ramekins)

2 pounds firm, ripe peaches (6 to 8 peaches)
2 tsp grated lemon zest
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup fresh blueberries (1/2 pint)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 stick cold unsalted butter, diced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Immerse the peaches in boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Place them immediately in cold water. Peel the peaches, slice them into thick wedges, and place them in a large bowl. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar, and flour. Toss well. Gently mix in blueberries. Allow the mixture to sit for 5 minutes. Spoon the mixture into ramekins or custard cups.

For the topping, combine the flour, sugar, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix on low speed until the butter is the size of peas. Squeeze the mixture with your fingers until it's in big crumbles, then sprinkle evenly over the fruit. Place the ramekins on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and bake for 40-45 minutes, until the tops are brown/crisp and the juices are bubbly. Serve warm or at room temperature. (You can make it ahead and store unbaked crumbles in the fridge.)

Observations/Suggestions: The peach boiling process is a must. Once the water comes to a boil, carefully put in the peaches and remove the water from the heat. Also, I cut my peaches into eighths, which was the perfect size. Since I did not have light brown sugar, I substituted dark, which I thought made a nice rich flavor. Also, since my butter was frozen instead of cold (oops!), I opted to use a pastry cutter instead of the electric mixer. I had much better control of the butter size and I had less mess. And again, I had no parchment paper on hand, so I made myself realize that I would need to let the pan soak afterwards. No biggie. FYI: Make sure that the ramekins are not too close to the edge of the pan though, they tend to spurt juices near the end. You do not want a messy oven! And, if you don't have ramekins, feel free to use a square 9x9" pan, I think that would work just fine.

Recommended? 100% Yes! Very tasty and attractive for little effort. To make it even better? A scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on top.

Cheese Danish

Although I've never been a pastry person, my parents adore cream cheese danish, so I thought I'd give it a try!

Cheese Danish (Makes 8)

8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
2 Tbsp ricotta cheese
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
2 sheets puff pastry, thawed
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 Tbsp water)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Place the cream cheese and sugar in an electric mixer (paddle attachment). Cream together on low speed until smooth. With mixer on low, add egg yolks, ricotta, vanilla, salt, and lemon zest. Mix until just combined, don't overmix!

Unfold one sheet of puff pastry onto a lightly floured surface and roll it with a floured rolling pin until 10x10". Cut the sheet into quarters. Place a heaping tablespoon of cheese mixture into the middle of each square. Brush the entire border of each pastry with the egg wash and fold two opposite corners to the center, brushing and overlapping the corners so they firmly stick together. Brush the top of the pastries with egg wash and place the pastries on a prepared sheet pan. Repeat with the second sheet of puff pastry and refrigerate the filled danish for 15 minutes.

Bake the pastries for about 20 minutes, rotating the pan once during baking, until puffed and brown. Serve warm.

Observations/Suggestions: I did not have parchment paper, so I greased the pan with I Can't Believe It's Not Butter (Original) and it worked fine. Minor sticking, but nothing drastic. Also, I should note, the cheese mixture may be a little lumpy. That is the lemon zest, do not worry. I highly recommend filling all danish at once because you will have leftover cheese mixture. Fill them well! Also, to my huge disappointment, all eight danish did not fit on the same pan. So, I ran two pans during the baking process. The pan on the bottom rack finished first, so keep an eye on them. I stored the leftovers in the fridge and they were fine the next day. FYI: These do not need to be served warm.

Recommended? Again, yes and no. I felt that the puffed pastry cheapened the danish. But, that may just be me since I am not a puffed pastry fan. If you want to impress houseguests with a fairly easy recipe, I definitely think this is the way to go. Good tasting with little effort.

Tomato Pesto Mozzarella Panini

When I found this recipe, I loved everything about it and was absolutely dying to try it. To me, it was a more "mature" version of grilled cheese, which is one of my favorite sandwiches.

Tomato Pesto Mozzarella Panini (Makes 3 Sandwiches)

1 large tomato
1 (8 oz.) ball of fresh mozzarella
6 slices white bread
1/2 cup pesto
kosher salt
unsalted butter, room temperature

Preheat panini grill machine.

Slice the tomatoes and mozzarella about 1/4-thick. Spread each slice of bread with an even layer of pesto. Place a layer of mozzarella on half of the bread and cover with a layer of tomato. Sprinkle the tomato with salt. Place the remaining slices of bread, pesto side down, on top. Spread the top and bottom of each sandwich with softened butter. Grill the sandwiches in batches on the panini grill for 2-3 minutes, until the mozzarella starts to melt. Cut in half and serve warm.

Observations/Suggestions: For starters, I stayed true to the recipe and opted for a ball of fresh mozzarella. It was my first experience with a ball of mozz, so I was surprised at the ultra mild flavor. However, I felt that the slices were much too thick. I would highly recommend thinly slicing the mozz and tomato. It will make the sandwich easier to eat and the mozz texture/taste not too overwhelming. You could opt for shredded mozzarella, but I think it may get too salty with the pesto. Which, by the way, I did not put salt on my tomatoes. The pesto brought more than enough salt to the sandwich. Also, I do not have a panini grill, so I used a pancake griddle and it worked great. Just make sure it's heated beforehand or your bread will get soggy. Which, speaking of the bread, did get soggy from the pesto. I would recommend slightly toasting the bread prior to putting pesto on it. And finally, for the butter, don't bother with a stick. I used the original version of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter and it worked superb.

Recommended? Ummm... Yes. I hesitate only because the thick slices of mozz and tomato rubbed me the wrong way. If they are thin slices, then I will make it again. Perhaps grilled chicken in it would be nice, too?

Getting Started: Homemade Pesto

Pesto is one of those foods that I love, but have always been a little too timid to make. So, it only felt right to tackle it first.

I must warn you ahead of time, it is not cheap to make because of the high quality, expensive ingredients. I'll list prices by each item in the recipe to give you some perspective. But, before you make up your mind never to make it, I must give a confession. It may be cheaper to buy pre-made pesto at the store (I will eventually try and review pre-made recipes), but the satisfaction and taste of homemade, in my mind, was worth it. Okay, now for the recipe.

Pesto (Makes about 4 cups)

1/4 cup walnuts (We had these on hand, so I do not have a price estimate)
1/4 cup pine nuts (A small 4 oz. jar was $6.97) 
3 Tbsp chopped garlic (9 cloves)
5 cups fresh basil leaves, packed (About $8 for two bunches)
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups olive oil
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (A slice of good Parmesan was about $7, so I opted for Parmesan shavings for $2.97)

Place the walnuts, pine nuts, and garlic in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process for 30 seconds. Add the basil leaves, salt, and pepper. Turn on processor, then slowly pour the olive oil into the feed tube and process until the pesto is finely puréed. Add Parmesan and purée for one minute. Serve immediately or store the pesto in the fridge or freezer with a thin film of olive oil on top.

Observations/Suggestions: This pesto was good, but super salty. Next time, I will use a scant tsp of kosher salt, if that. Perhaps even a 1/2 tsp? I'll let you know when I make it again. Also, I heard that you can substitute walnuts for pine nuts, which would be significantly cheaper. I would recommend researching that before you try it. Food processors are a pain to use because of the clean-up, but I must admit, it was super easy to get all the ingredients blended to the right consistency. Which, I may add, I left my pesto with a little texture. For me, I tend to appreciate texture over nothingness. (FYI: The pesto picture is included with the Tomato Pesto Mozzarella post)

Recommended? Yes and No. If you have the time and want to experiment, I say go for it. But, unless you're eating the pesto straight, which I doubt you will, then it's probably more than acceptable to buy pre-made. Unfortunate, I know.

Tasty Morsels, Here We Come!

My Goal: To take the guesswork out of trying new recipes

The Plan: To select, test, savor, and share each recipe

I will share each new recipe I try, as well as provide my experience with the recipe, possible alterations, and photos of the finished product.

Although my recipes will come from a variety of sources, I will do my best to provide them in a way that is easily accessible.

Please feel free to comment or ask questions! Or, if you have a new recipe that you are hesitant to try, please feel free to send it and I'll be happy to try it for you.

The Discerning Culinarian,