Being Mrs. Pierce

Life as a wife, hiker, wanna-be chef, book-lover, traveler, and now, mom

Banana Pudding with Vanilla Wafers August 9, 2014

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 12:08 PM
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I share a birthday month–July–with two lovely ladies in my family: my mother-in-law, Loveta, and my niece, Lydia. Our birthdays are the 2nd, 12th, and 21st, respectively (talk about easy to remember). For Loveta’s birthday last month, John and I invited his parents over to our house for a home-cooked birthday dinner. On the menu: Honey-Crisp Oven Fried Chicken, Fresh Corn Fritters, Zucchini Hash, and Buttermilk Biscuits. With such a down-home feast, what else could I have served for dessert but Banana Pudding?

 

I selected Ellie Krieger’s Banana Pudding with Vanilla Wafers recipe from Comfort Food Fix. I had made the dessert a couple of years ago and knew it was a solid one. In addition, it would help me check off another recipe from my Comfort Food Fix cooking to-do list.

 

I made the vanilla pudding from scratch as directed, but I confess that I did not stick strictly to the rest of the recipe when assembling the dessert. I wanted to serve the pudding in my clear trifle bowl, which is larger than the 1.5-quart bowl that Ellie recommends. Layering just six vanilla wafers in at a time would have been paltry, indeed. So I significantly upped the number of wafers from the stated 24. I also did not whip heavy cream for the topping – I went with Cool Whip. Despite its unnaturalness, I simply prefer it to whipped heavy cream. I guess we all have our guilty pleasures.

 

The banana pudding looked fantastic in my trifle bowl, and I was more than happy to serve it up as Loveta’s birthday dessert. The four of us gobbled up this 4-star treat in one sitting!

 

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Comfort Food Fix recipes made: 25
Comfort Food Fix recipes still to make: 128

 

Skillet Mac & Cheese April 23, 2014

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 7:56 PM
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When confronted with a head of cauliflower, I typically cut it into florets for either roasting with olive oil or dipping into hummus. Cauliflower has been a staple in my CSA for the past several months, however, and even I, the woman who eats a sandwich for lunch nearly every single day, got a little tired of the cauliflower roasting and dipping. Enter Ellie Krieger’s Skillet Mac & Cheese from Comfort Food Fix. What better way to use up cauliflower than to veggie-fy a typically unhealthy dish with it?

 

The recipe calls for Ellie’s Light and Crisp Whole Wheat Bread Crumbs, which I successfully made when trying her version of fish sticks and which I had planned to make again for this recipe. But mac & cheese day also turned out to be the day when my husband and I finally sold a car we’d been trying to sell for months, so the homemade bread crumbs never materialized. I substituted store-bought crumbs, which at 1¼ cups made A LOT of topping. Perhaps the store-bought ones were more dense than the homemade ones would have been; I doubt that the recipe really meant for the topping to be so thick.

 

While thickening the sauce, I worried that it was not thick enough, so I cooked it longer on the stove than the recipe recommends. This I wish I had not done. By the time the mac & cheese finished baking in the oven, the sauce almost seemed to have disappeared. I would have preferred the dish to have been slightly creamier.

 

I still rated the recipe 4 stars, despite the bread crumbs and sauce issues, as it was very tasty. I especially enjoyed the combination of textures: soft pasta, crunchy topping. Next time, I plan to use fewer bread crumbs in the topping and allow less cooking time for the sauce. With these slight adjustments, Ellie’s Skillet Mac & Cheese just might become my go-to homemade mac & cheese recipe.  I would only make this again when expecting company, though, as the leftovers were so-so.  The mac & cheese is best when served piping hot from the oven.

 

Comfort Food Fix recipes made: 22
Comfort Food Fix recipes still to make: 131

 

Skillet Mac & Cheese

6 ounces (1½ cups) whole grain elbow macaroni, cooked according to package directions (about 3 cups)
2 cups 1-inch wide cauliflower florets
1¼ cups Light and Crisp Whole Wheat Bread Crumbs
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 cups cold 1% low-fat milk
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1¼ cup shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese (5 ounces)
¼ cup shredded Gruyère cheese (1 ounce)
2 teaspoons mustard powder
¾ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
cooking spray

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook for 3 minutes less than the directions on the box. Drain. Place the cauliflower into a steamer basket fitted over a pot of boiling water, cover and steam until just tender, 5 minutes. Then, finely chop it.

3. In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese and olive oil.

4. In a large saucepan whisk together the milk and flour until the flour is dissolved. Whisking constantly, bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer and until mixture thickens slightly, 2-3 minutes. Stir in the cheddar cheese, Gruyère, mustard, paprika, ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper, and cayenne. Whisk until the cheeses are melted and mixture is smooth, 1-2 minutes. Add the macaroni and cauliflower and stir until well coated.

5. Spray an ovenproof 10-inch high-sided skillet with cooking spray and pour mixture into skillet. Sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture, place on a baking sheet and bake until top is browned and the cheese is bubbly, 35-40 minutes.

Yield: 6 servings (serving size: 1¼ cups). Per serving, 9 PointsPlus.

 

Butternut Squash Risotto March 29, 2014

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To celebrate surviving an especially busy week, I made dinner for my husband and me on Friday night. Typically a Friday night dinner for the two of us involves either eating out or eating leftovers, so I was rather proud of myself for whipping up something more special. Our meal featured Ellie Krieger’s Butternut Squash Risotto from her Comfort Food Fix cookbook. I’d had my eye on that recipe for many weeks, so I was especially eager to discover how it would turn out.

 

On the ingredients list for the recipe is 1 cup of butternut squash puree. I had intended to purchase the frozen package of squash puree, but after walking up and down the frozen vegetable aisle three times at my grocery store, I gave up on finding it. Luckily, when I got to the produce section, a pre-cubed package of butternut squash was on manager’s special. I snapped up the squash and tossed it into my cart. When I got home, a quick Google search yielded steamed butternut squash directions, and fifteen minutes later, I had my squash puree ready to go.

 

The recipe also calls for ½ cup of dry white wine, but I used Gewürztraminer, a sweeter wine, instead. John and I prefer our wines on the sweet side, so we were able to enjoy a glass of the leftover Gewürztraminer with our dinner.  As far as I can tell, the substitution did not adversely affect the results of the risotto.

 

I made the risotto in my 3.5-quart Dutch oven, which was the perfect size for the dish. Ellie categorizes the recipe as a vegetarian main dish, but I served the risotto as a side rather than a main. The recipe therefore yielded a huge batch of risotto, making at least 6-8 side servings rather than the 4 servings as stated on the recipe.

 

Making the risotto was easy enough, although it did require constant attention and care–and a tolerance for heat. Even I, who am almost always cold, would not want to make risotto in the throes of a summer heat wave. It did get rather steamy standing by the stove for 40 minutes straight.

 

Normally such effort would mitigate the ranking of the resulting recipe, but not so for this risotto. I found it utterly delicious: creamy, flavorful, and filling. I gave the recipe 4 stars. My husband rated the risotto slightly lower at 3.5 stars. When I asked him why, he simply said, “It’s butternut squash risotto.” Fair enough. Butternut squash is not my favorite of the winter squashes, either, but it’s perfect for this dish. I fully intend to make this risotto again in the fall when my CSA once again features farm-fresh butternut squash.

 

Comfort Food Fix recipes made: 20
Comfort Food Fix recipes still to make: 133

 

Butternut Squash Risotto

5 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1½ cups Arborio rice
½ cup dry white wine
1 cup pureed butternut squash (one 10-ounce package frozen butternut squash puree, thawed)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (1½ ounces)
½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Heat the broth in a pan on the stove until it is hot but not boiling. Reduce the heat to low and cover to keep warm.

2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened but not browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add the wine and simmer until it is absorbed, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes.

3. Add ½ cup of the hot broth and simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently, until it is absorbed. Repeat with the remaining broth, ½ cup at a time, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding more, about 30 minutes total. When all the broth is incorporated and the rice is tender and creamy, add the squash, sage, all but 2 tablespoons of the cheese, the salt, and pepper. Season with additional salt to taste. Serve immediately, garnished with the reserved cheese.

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1½ cups). Per serving, 11 PointsPlus.
[If divided into 8 servings, each serving is 6 PointsPlus.]

 

Dark Chocolate Brownies March 24, 2014

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 8:29 PM
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For Valentine’s Day, I surprised my husband with the Winning Hearts and Minds Cake from Molly Wizenberg‘s A Homemade Life. When Wizenberg married, she served about 20 of these cakes (that she made herself and kept frozen until the wedding day) to her guests in lieu of a traditional tiered wedding cake. After just one bite of the cake, I could see why. John and I literally moaned with each forkful. For me, this was no big surprise (I do love my sweets, after all), but chocolate is usually not at the top of my husband’s favorite foods list. Between the two of us, we gobbled up the entire cake in just a few days. Ever since then, I’ve practically been dreaming about chocolate. While it is incredibly tempting to bake up another Winning Hearts and Minds Cake, my more rational self knows it would be an unwise move, health-wise. So when I felt the baking urge last weekend, I decided to try out Ellie Krieger’s Dark Chocolate Brownies instead. Chocolate would still be involved, but it would be in a recipe that had received the Krieger treatment: less fat, less sugar, less guilt.

 

For the chocolate, I used two 4-ounce Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Bars, and for the flour I used Bob’s Red Mill Whole Wheat Pastry Flour. Ellie lists chopped walnuts as an optional ingredient, but knowing my husband would be eating these, there was no optional.  I sprinkled pecans instead of walnuts on top of the brownie batter.

 

I baked the brownies for 15 minutes, but they were not yet done. I kept them in the oven for an additional five minutes, at which point they were definitely cooked all the way through. In fact, I wish I had checked the pan a minute or two earlier.

 

The brownies were definitely chocolatey, but they were not as dense or rich as a typical brownie. In fact, they puffed up in the pan like a cake, and their texture was more akin to that of a cake than a brownie. John and I still granted the recipe 3.5 stars, for it did produce a decent chocolate dessert. No, it was no Winning Hearts and Minds Cake (which, oddly enough, is more like a brownie than a cake), but it did satisfy my sweet tooth–especially when served warm with light vanilla ice cream on top.

 

Comfort Food Fix recipes made: 19
Comfort Food Fix recipes still to make: 134

 

Dark Chocolate Brownies

Nonstick cooking spray
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup whole-grain pastry flour or whole-wheat flour
¼ cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
4 large eggs
1 cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup plain low-fat yogurt
¼ cup canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¾ cup chopped walnuts, optional

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray.

2. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double broiler or heatproof bowl set over a pot of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until smooth. Add the yogurt, oil, and vanilla and whisk to combine. Add the chocolate-butter mixture and whisk until blended. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing just enough to moisten.

4. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan and sprinkle with nuts, if desired. Bake until the wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs, 20 to 25 minutes. Allow to cool completely in the pan on a wire rack before cutting into 24 pieces.

Yield: 24 servings. Per serving, 4 PointsPlus

 

Creamy Shrimp and Grits March 23, 2014

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 5:15 PM
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Life has been up and down lately, and I have been finding it difficult to summon up time, energy, and enthusiasm for cooking. John and I have eaten more frozen pizzas, hot dogs, and veggie burgers in the past few weeks than I care to admit. But last night I managed to get back in the kitchen and make my 18th new Ellie Krieger recipe of the year: Creamy Shrimp and Grits. This recipe is found not only in Ellie’s Comfort Food Fix cookbook, but also in Prevention magazine (2011).

 

I decided upon this particular recipe because John has uttered the phrase “shrimp and grits” more times than I can count in the past few weeks. John’s sister Kalyn recently told him about a shrimp and grits recipe she had tried, and ever since then he’s been salivating over the idea. For my part, I was curious what Ellie would do with this comfort food classic.

 

The recipe calls for regular grits, but after checking at two nearby grocery stores, I gave up on finding non-instant ones and used quick-cooking grits instead. I made the grits according to the package directions rather than following Ellie’s instructions, but I did add a little unsalted butter after the grits had finished cooking on the stove. The quick-cooking grits, while not amazing on their own, were perfectly fine as a platform for the shrimp mixture.

 

The creamy sauce, chock-full of shrimp and ham, was the definite highlight of the recipe. The garlic, paprika, and thyme made perfect seasonings for the dish, as they were spicy and flavorful without being overpowering. To round out the meal, I made up a batch of roasted vegetables sprinkled with Cajun seasoning and a dash of oregano. The two dishes worked very well together. John and I both rated Creamy Shrimp and Grits as a 4-star recipe; it’s a definite keeper.

 

Comfort Food Fix recipes made: 18
Comfort Food Fix recipes still to make: 135

 

Favorite Fish Fingers and Creamy Mustard Dip with Chives March 1, 2014

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Like many from my generation, I grew up eating frozen fish sticks on a semi-regular basis. I remember liking them fairly well as long as they were dipped in a generous amount of ketchup, but not well enough to keep eating them once I became an adult and was responsible for feeding myself. So it was with a slight bit of trepidation that I tackled Ellie Krieger’s Favorite Fish Fingers recipe from Comfort Food Fix–a grown-up (and healthier) version of fish sticks. The recipe calls for another Comfort Food Fix recipe, Light-and-Crisp Whole-Wheat Bread Crumbs (p. 73), and she recommends serving the fish fingers with her Creamy Mustard Dip with Chives (p. 197). I was thrilled to be able to mark off 3 recipes from the book all at once! After a quick Internet search, I also found where the three recipes are all condensed into one on the Food Network website.

 

I began dinner preparations with the bread crumbs. Ellie’s recipe calls for 4 slices of whole-wheat sandwich bread that are about 1 ounce each. The only sliced bread I had on hand was Sara Lee’s light 100% whole-wheat with honey bread, which took 5 slices to reach a total of 4 ounces. After processing the bread into fine crumbs in my food processor, I baked the crumbs on a cookie sheet in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes. They came out aromatic and golden brown, just as promised:
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While the crumbs cooled, I made the mustard dip. I had to purchase fresh chives for the dip, but all of the other ingredients I already had in my refrigerator and pantry. The dip was extremely easy to make, especially because I had made it once last year. Into the fridge it went so that the flavors would meld and the dip would be chilled before serving.
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Finally, it was time for the main event: Favorite Fish Fingers. I used flounder, as my mom had given me a pound of frozen flounder fillets a while back that I was needing to cook. The fish fingers were rather messy to put together, as they are first dredged in flour, then dipped into an egg mixture, and finally coated in the bread crumbs. Luckily I have some practice now with such a procedure, so I kept the three mixtures fairly separate by using my right hand for the flour and egg and my left hand for the bread crumbs. The fish fingers definitely looked different from the fish sticks of my memory, being rather thin and non-rectangular, but I actually found this comforting. Surely these “imperfections” were a sign of a tastier and healthier final product ahead.

 

Ellie promised that the fish fingers would be crunchy on the outside and filled with tender, mild fish fillets on the inside. She was right. The breading on the fish fingers crisped up perfectly in the oven.
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I really enjoyed the warm and crispy fish fingers paired with the cool and creamy mustard dip, although John stuck to classic ketchup for his serving. I gave both the fish fingers and the mustard dip 4 stars! The fish fingers were a nice alternative to the usual way I cook white fish fillets, which involves simply a sprinkling of Cajun seasoning on the fish before baking it in the oven. The fish fingers are by far best right out of the oven, however. We had the leftovers the following night, and they were no longer crispy. Next time I make this for John and me, I’ll cut the recipe in half so we don’t have any left at the end of the meal.

 

Comfort Food Fix recipes made: 16
Comfort Food Fix recipes still to make: 137

 

Corn Bread with Sweet Corn Kernels February 22, 2014

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 10:55 AM
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During my initial perusal of Ellie’s Krieger’s Comfort Food Fix cookbook, I was excited to find a recipe for corn bread among its pages. Corn bread is one of my favorite side dishes, especially when it’s slightly sweet and still warm from the oven. For several years now, Eating Well’s Wholesome Cornbread has been my go-to corn bread recipe. I was eager to try Ellie’s recipe, however, due to its inclusion of whole corn kernels in the ingredients.

 

I made a double batch of the recipe two weekends ago when my in-laws were in town. For dinner that Saturday night, I served ham, baked sweet potatoes with warm black bean salad (sounds odd, I know, but they are rather amazing), Brussels sprouts, and Ellie’s Corn Bread with Sweet Corn Kernels. To make the corn bread, I used whole-wheat pastry flour and baby yellow & white corn kernels, both of which I already had on hand. Then I simply divided the doubled batch between two loaf pans and baked as directed.

 

We all loved the corn bread, and between five adults and two toddlers, most of one entire loaf was gone by the end of the dinner. The corn bread was slightly sweet thanks to the honey and wonderfully moist thanks to the buttermilk and bit of canola oil. The corn kernels were a nice touch both in looks and taste. This cornbread easily earned 4.5 stars! I now have a second solid corn bread recipe in my repertoire.

 

Comfort Food Fix recipes made: 13
Comfort Food Fix recipes still to make: 140

 

Corn Bread with Sweet Corn Kernels

Nonstick cooking spray
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup whole-wheat pastry flour or whole-wheat flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1½ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1¼ cups low-fat buttermilk
3 TB honey
3 TB canola oil
1 cup fresh or frozen (thawed) corn kernels

1. Move the oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Lightly spray a 9×5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. In another large bowl, whisk together the egg, egg white, buttermilk, honey, and oil. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing just enough to combine them. Stir in the corn.

3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until the top is golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out with crumbs, about 45 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then transfer the bread to a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.

Yield: 8 servings (serving size: one 1-inch-thick slice). Per serving, 6 PointsPlus. [If loaf is divided into 10 slices, each serving is 5 PointsPlus; if 12 slices, each serving is 4 PointsPlus.]