Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Baked Ravioli

I stopped by Whole Foods tonight, thinking I would pickup something easy for dinner, since the husband was out on a night mountain bike ride. I had heard good things about Whole Foods jarred pasta sauce, and I had some mozzarella at home, so I decided a baked ravioli would be pretty good. I picked up some sauce and Whole Foods whole wheat spinach & cheese ravioli and headed home to find some basic instructions on how long to bake this. I'm kind of in shock at how easy this recipe was to make. I just threw in the layers and baked for a 1/2 hour, the amount of work was so minimal. I think next time, I'll make sure I have enough shredded mozzarella. I was pretty lazy and when I ran out of the preshredded mozzarella, I just layed slices on top for the last 5 minutes of baking time instead of grating it. I think this meal could be a lot better with minimal work (adding onions, garlic and turkey sausage would be great), but as it was, it was pretty darn good for the work to taste ratio.

Baked Ravioli (loosely based on allrecipes)
1 package frozen raviolis
1 jar pasta sauce
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 Tbs grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp dried oregano
Layer 1/3 pasta sauce, 1/2 ravioli, 1/3 pasta sauce, spices, 1/2 mozzarella cheese, 1/2 ravioli, 1/4 mozzarella cheese & parmigiano (in that order, bottom to top) in a 13x9 baking dish. Bake, covered with foil for 30 minutes. Uncover and top with remaining 1/4 cup cheese. Bake for 5 minutes more until just starting to brown. Makes 6 servings.

Mom's Famous Cherry Pie

My mother-in-law makes fantastic pie. We fly back to Michigan for Christmas every year, and every year, my husband has been giddy over the fact that Mom's homemade cherry pie will be waiting for him. When I first started making pie for my family on behalf of my husband, I made a cherry just to make my husband happy, but we both knew that opening a couple cans of cherry pie filling and dumping into Pillsbury Pie crust just wasn't cutting it. This year was the year that I made Mom's Homemade Cherry Pie, and I think I did pretty good, considering that I had to write down the recipe on the back of an envelope as Mom quickly read me the recipe. This recipe isn't as easy as it sounds. I had a hard time measuring out the cherries (although that was more from forgetting than difficulty), the roux got a little lumpy, since there is a lot of flour to a small amount of butter, and I think we may have thrown away my almond extract (I know we didn't use it all!). All in all, however, I think I did a pretty good job with this one. I may never make my own crusts, since that little doughboy does them so well, but at least I can make homemade filling for all my pies now!

Mom's Cherry Pie
1 recipe double pie crust (I used Pillsbury)
1 Tbs butter
1/4 cup All Purpose Flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup cherry juice
1 cup sugar
3 cups canned tart cherries (in the canned fruit section, not pie section)
4 drops almond extract
10 drops red food coloring
Melt butter and add flour, stirring quickly. Add juice, sugar and salt and whisk quickly. Cook and stir until bubbly. Cook and stir for one minute more. Add food coloring and almond extract, then add cherries. Pour into pie crust in 9" pie pan. Cut top crust into 1/2 inch strips. Starting in the middle, lay out crust strips in a criss-cross pattern, folding alternating pieces in half to allow pattern to form (you can do an internet search to see how this is done). Crimp ends of top crust to bottom crust, trim any extras, and shape into a pretty pattern if desired. Bake for 45-50 minutes at 375 or until golden, loosly covering with foil or pie protectors when the edges get brown.

Pecan Pie Cookies

It is the holiday season, and I'm usually in charge of desserts for my family. My family is not really into pies, and the husband and I joke that he nearly had to break it all off with me when we were driving the (back then) 10 minute drive to my parents for Thanksgiving and he asked what kind of pies we would be having. I told him "We're not really a pie family" and he about had me turn the car around. We thankfully survived that catastrophe and I now bake pies every year for Thanksgiving. This year, I decided to also make these Pecan Pie Cookies for my daddy. When my mom was still alive, I remember her making a full size chocolate pie for the entire family, and then making a little itty bitty pecan pie for Daddy, since he is the only one who liked pecans. I thought these cookies would be in that same spirit, so I baked up a batch. Other than my oven running a little hot, these cookies turned out great. I would strongly advise, however, that everyone use a silpat or at least parchment on their baking sheet. The filling will inevitably run off the cookie a little, and this stuff turns into sticky hard candy when it is heated! My dad, my sister's boyfriend, and the bike shop boys all seemed to love these, even the darker ones from when I was still experimenting with the oven. These are a great Thanksgiving treat!
Pecan Pie Cookies (from Elizabeth's Edible Experience)
Cookie Ingredients:
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 butter, softened
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Filling Ingredients:
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
Heat oven to 350°F. Combine all cookie ingredients except flour and baking powder in large bowl. Beat at medium speed until creamy. Reduce speed to low; add flour and baking powder. Beat until well mixed. (I had better luck with chilled dough, you might want to chill at this point) Shape dough into 1 1/4-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. Make indentation in each cookie with thumb; rotate thumb to hollow out slightly. Combine all filling ingredients in small bowl. Fill each cookie with 1 rounded teaspoon filling. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheets.

Roasted Cauliflower Cheese Soup

Immediately following my Vegas girls weekend (no blog post on that, what happens in Vegas....), I returned to an empty house. The husband had to go on yet another business trip, this time up to Morgan Hill for a Specialized Bicycles training course on how to fit riders to their bicycles. As usual when my husband is out of town, I took this opportunity to make meals that I knew he wouldn't like. This is one of them, since he hates cauliflower. I loved this soup and it really gave me confidence that I can make delicious soups at home and don't need to just wait until we go out so I can order soups. Of course, when I described my dinner to the husband during our nightly phone call, husband was acting like he was going to be sick! I'm looking forward to making this again when he leaves for his next trip!
Roasted Cauliflower Cheese Soup (by me!)
2 cups cauliflower florets
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs Butter
1 Tbs Flour
1 cup chicken stock (separated)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup cheddar cheese
salt & pepper to taste
Toss cauliflower with garlic and oil in a large ziploc bag. Roast in a shallow pan for about 25-30 minutes (until tender). Meanwhile, melt butter in large saucepan. Add flour and cook for about a minute. Add 3/4 cup of the chicken stock and stir to create a thick sauce. Puree cauliflower with about 1/4 cup chicken stock in blender or food processor (I used the Magic Bullet). Add to saucepan. Stir well to combine. Add cream and stir. Add cheese and stir well until melted. Season with salt & pepper and serve very warm. Makes 4 small servings, 2 large servings.

San Francisco - 6 year anniversary trip

The husband and I really enjoy taking the stress out of each anniversary. Instead of getting gifts for each other, we go on a mini-vacation every year on our anniversary. No cards, no flowers, just time to ourselves in a fun location. Since our anniversary is in November, this could be tricky with weather, but in 6 years, we have had pretty good luck as far as this is concerned. For our sixth anniversary this year, we went to San Francisco. I know many Bay Area visitors like to tread off the beaten path and do different things than the traditional. We decided to REALLY live up the touristy life. We stayed in the Fisherman's Wharf area (at the Holiday Inn), and although it was a little noisy, it was a great location for us considering the activities we wanted to get in. We have spent some time in San Francisco before, but it has been very limited (once for a visit to my husband's grandparents, who no longer live in the area, and once for, of course, a bike race). Since we had seen the famous seals at Pier 39, we stuck to the back side, which was more peaceful, and checked out the boats as the sun set before eating dinner.

We ate dinner at a restaurant that we lovingly refer to as having the best clam chowder ever. Fog Harbor Restaurant at Pier 39 is where we ate 4 years ago after a bike race that left the boys starving. By the time we had fought traffic, found parking and eventually found a restaurant, we were ALL starving and ate at the first restaurant we found. The clam chowder tasted spectacular, and we've always wondered whether it was because we were so hungry or the soup was really that good. I'm happy to report that we really enjoyed the soup! My sea bass was pretty good, but husbands Ahi dish was spectacular. I think I just need to realize that I have to order Ahi wherever I go. It is so good.
The next day, we had an all day tour (through City Sightseeing) booked for Muir Woods in the morning and wine tasting in the afternoon. Unfortunately, it rained for the entire morning, so Muir Woods was a little chilly and I didn't get very many pictures in an attempt to protect the camera. The pictures I did get were awesome. I highly recommend this National Park, and it is so close to the city, I'm surprised more people don't go here. We trounced around for quite a while getting soaked, but there was something very peaceful and romantic about doing this visit in the rain. I'm sure the park would have been much more crowded if the weather was better.
After catching a bite to eat in Sausalito (we ate at a dive restaurant called "Seven Seas," and the service was comically bad!), we hopped on the afternoon bus to wine country. We stopped at a small winery called Homewood first. We're glad this one was first, because while the wines weren't all that great, the taster was hilarious and drunk (he drank with each group, and we were the fifth of the day), so it relaxed our group and helped us to get to know each other. Homewood only distributes out of the winery - they have no website, and they don't distribute to stores or restaurants.

Next up was Viansa, which I had been to before with one of the other Platinum Cycling wives while our husbands were preriding on our last visit. I really like this winery. Although they are huge, they have a lot of food to sample in addition to their wines, and I think they did a good job making their location interesting and beautiful. We bought 3 bottles of wine, 2 bottles of Pinot Noir and 1 bottle of an Italian white varietal called Arneis, which is light and crisp. Unfortunately, the taster included two bottles of Syrah instead of the Pinot. The husband was so upset and was getting very worked up about this mistake, so I made a couple of phone calls to get the bottles replaced before we left on Sunday. Viansa was so helpful and not only shipped us the two bottles of Pinot, they asked us to "Find a good home for the Syrah." We also really liked the Syrah, so that wasn't a problem for us!

The last winery was Jacuzzi, a very new winery by the owners of Kline. Mr. Kline married into the Jacuzzi family (yes, really, the hot tub people) and thought it would be cute to create a winery that paid homage to that history. We bought two bottles here - A red called Barbera and a dessert - a late harvest Aleatico. The great thing about this Sonoma wine tasting experience was that two of the three wineries we went two had Italian varietal focuses, which we don't have as much in the Santa Barbara wine country, so it made it extra special. We also appreciated not needing to drive; since we are from Santa Barbara, we know how dangerous tasting and driving can be. We ate dinner this night at Cioppino's on the wharf. Recommended by our concierge, but not recommended by us. This seemed to be a standard case of recommending a restaurant that gives the hotel coupons, even if they aren't good. Oh well.

The next day, we hopped on the first morning boat to Alcatraz. We could have stayed here for hours longer. We're really into that kind of history and architecture. The cruise over has great views. There isn't much to say about Alcatraz except - you need to go. Even those folks who don't like the traditional touristy things in San Francisco recommend this one. It is really cool.

After Alcatraz, we walked all the way down to the Ferry Building Marketplace. I could have spent a long time there, but by this time, the husband was starving and frightened by "The foodies - They're EVERYWHERE!" He was not a fan of this humungous mall of food. A normal mall has the Gap and Macy's; Ferry Building has a caviar store, a mushroom store, and our favorite: "The house of smoked pork products." I'm really glad I went there, even if we didn't stay long. We returned to our hotel via old fashioned street car. It was only a couple of bucks and was money well spent! After we rested for a bit, we headed over to Ghirardeli Square, where we enjoyed a delicious hot fudge sundae at the Ghirardeli store (there is not a factory here anymore, just a store and a mall of non-chocolate stores). I also bought a couple of Kara's Cupcakes, since I've heard good things about them. We ate those when we got home, we were pretty full by this point! After Ghirardelli, we decided to hike off some calories by walking up to the top of the famous section of Lombard St. What a workout! No need to run stadiums if you live in this city, just walking the streets is quite the burn if you are walking in the right directions! We walked down and then headed out to dinner at a place recommended by the Kara's Cupcakes clerk called Pompei's Grotto. The food here was quite good and I appreciated the "whole food" nature of the entree I had (Fish, roasted potatoes, and sauteed veggies). The service, again, was comically bad. The husband and I giggled throughout the meal at our server, who seemed to genuinely dislike people.

Sunday morning we had the pleasure of eating at Mama's on Washington Square, a recommendation from my sister-in-law. The restaurant opens at 8:00 to a large line. The staff is on their game and knows how to turn this line very quickly. We were about 30-40 people in when we arrived at 8:00 exactly. You get a good look at the kitchen operations just prior to ordering, and it was fascinating to see this diner (which I usually think of as dive operations) running as a fine kitchen would be run, with Soux Chefs and everything. As I said, the staff is really on their game. The restaurant specialty is French Toast, and they make it with fresh homemade quick breads such as Banana Nut and Cranberry Orange bread. The husband had the french toast sampler and I had the Cinnamon Swirl Chocolate French Toast with fresh berries. So amazing I almost forgot to take pictures. I promise the presentation is better than this! The best part of this restaurant was the friendliness of both the patrons and the servers. We found out that our server had not only lived in Santa Barbara previously, but she was originally from Kalamazoo, Michigan, which is where my husband went to college. We about fell over! Nearly all the customers were cheerful, sharing tips on what to order next time, and chatty. It was what a local breakfast joint should be, and it was surprisingly, the best restaurant of our trip. After this, we were well fueled for the long drive home!

This is a long post, but I figure since I was so busy in November (only home for one weekend!), I would make these posts a little longer than usual!