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By learning about basic ingredients and how to use them, you can create simple, quick and delicious meals your family will love!!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Shrimp and Artichoke Pizza

Homemade pizza is so much fun to make because you can choose your favorite ingredients, and the amount of each topping to suit your own taste.  Thin or thick sauce, light cheese or a thick and cheesy pizza, you can build your pizza just the way you like it. 

The list of toppings is just about endless and making a pizza is also a great way to use leftover chicken or vegetables that might otherwise go to waste.  You can stick to the common toppings like cooked sausage, sliced ham or Canadian bacon, then add in some sliced red or yellow onion, an assortment of sliced red, green or yellow peppers, or even some ham with pineapple.  Use your imagination to discover a new flavor combination to your liking.

For the pizza crust, you can choose a homemade Bread Machine Pizza Crust, or some grocery stores now sell pre-made pizza dough in the bakery department.  One word of advice, the pizza dough that comes in a tube is by far the strangest product I have ever come across.  I tried it several years ago when I found it on sale and I thought I would try it. (A bargain, right? Wrong!)  No matter what we did to this dough, it tasted horrible!  I'm not sure I want to know what the dough contains, but fresh dough is easy to make at home and the grocery dough is a good second choice.  Either of these will taste far better than dough from a tube.

This pizza is a unique combination of tiny baby shrimp, slices of marinated artichokes and Italian cheese on top of a light layer of Parmesan sauce.  It is truly a delicious combination and it would be an incredible appetizer for entertaining.  Just cut the pizza into 3-inch squares and let your guests help themselves to this tasty pizza.  For a spicy side dish add a few Baked Buffalo Chicken Wings.

Pizza Dough for 2 Pizzas
Mezzetta Olive Oil
Garlic Powder

Pizza Sauce  (Makes enough for 2 pizzas)
3 TB  Butter
1 1/2 TB  Flour
1/2 tsp  Salt
1/4 tsp  Black Pepper
1/4 tsp  White Pepper
3/4 cup  Milk
3/4 cup  Shredded Parmesan Cheese

Toppings for Pizza
1/2 lb  Salad Shrimp (very small shrimp)
1  Small Jar Mezzetta Marinated Artichokes, drained
1 cup  Shredded Six-Cheese Italian Cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Using a whisk, stir in the flour, salt and both peppers, then slowly add the milk while continuing to stir.  The sauce will begin to thicken slightly, then add the Parmesan cheese and continue stirring until the cheese melts.

When the cheese is fully melted and the sauce is smooth, remove pan from the heat and set aside to cool for 5-10 minutes.

Using a prepared Pizza Dough, grease a pizza pan with a light layer of olive oil.  Place the dough on the pan, spreading it to the edges.  Turn the circle of dough over a few times while spreading it out.  This will relax the dough and it will be easier to work with.  When the dough is spread out into a big circle, sprinkle a light layer of garlic powder around the edge of the pizza.

Bake the pizza crust for about 6-8 minutes or until the top just begins to brown and is no longer shiny or moist on top.  Remove the crust from the oven and spread the Parmesan sauce over the crust in an even layer, making sure to get the sauce all the way to the edge of the crust.

Next, add the pieces of shrimp and artichoke to the pizza, followed by the Italian cheese. 

Bake pizza for 15-18 minutes or until the cheese begins to brown around the edges.  Enjoy!!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Roasted Chicken Thighs with Garlic & Rosemary

It has been a quest of mine over the last few years to find a way to infuse flavor into dark meat chicken.  Yes, the white meat of the chicken breast is healthier and it works great for some recipes, but dark meat is just so full of flavor and yummy.  The problem is getting seasonings to adhere to the meat and absorb into the meat can be difficult.  Today I found a solution and it was so easy, I can't wait to make these again soon.  This is also a very budget-friendly meal.  Getting the thighs on sale for .99 cents made it a great bargain.

I started by mixing up some basic seasonings and ended up with a mixture very similar to the herb and spice mixture I use for bread dip.  I simply adjusted the shallot and garlic up a bit and continued with the same dry herbs. 

The next step was how to keep the mixture on the chicken, but I wanted some of the fat to cook off, too.  To do this I trimmed almost all of the skin and fat from the thighs, leaving a portion of skin on just the top of the thigh.  I loosened the skin and placed about 3/4 teaspoon of the oil, shallot and garlic mixture under the chicken skin, smoothed it around a bit, and replacing the skin on top.  By doing this it kept the herb mixture in place, the skin helped keep the moisture in the chicken and the excess fat cooked off into the crinkled foil below.  This way we ended up with a chicken thigh that was full of flavor, a little crispy on top and not cooking in the fat drippings. Yes!  Be sure to crinkle the foil before you begin to bake these so the chicken is a bit elevated off of the baking sheet.  We finished this dish off with a sprinkle of chopped fresh rosemary over the thighs before baking.

We served these juicy chicken thighs with Roasted Red Potatoes with fresh rosemary from our garden and a spoon of creamed spinach.  Overall this dish received 5 thumbs up and requests to make it again.  Enjoy!!
1  Large Shallot, finely minced
1-1/2 TB  Minced Fresh Garlic
1/4 tsp  Crushed Red Pepper
1/2 tsp  Chopped Fresh Rosemary
1 tsp  Garlic Powder
1/4 tsp  Black Pepper
1/2 tsp  Salt
1/2 tsp  Oregano
3 TB  Olive Oil
10  Bone-In Skin-On Chicken Thighs, trimmed of excess skin
1 tsp  Chopped Fresh Rosemary for Garnish

Preheat oven to 425.  Line a large baking sheet with heavy duty foil that has been well crinkled so that there are little ridges for the drippings to fall into.

To prepare the chicken, use kitchen shears to trim away the excess skin on the sides of the thigh, leaving just a square of skin about 2 to 2-1/2 inches square on top.  Place the thighs on the baking sheet and set aside.

In a glass bowl, mix the herbs, spices and olive oil together.  Scoop about 3/4 teaspoon of the garlic and shallot mixture, draining some of the oil off the spoon and back into the bowl, and place the garlic/shallots under the skin of each chicken thigh . Spread the herbs around but try to keep the garlic and shallot bits under the skin.  Do this with each of the thighs then brush the remained oil from the bowl over the tops of the thighs.  This way you have the bulk of the garlic and shallot under the skin, and the seasoned oil on top of the skin.  Sprinkle the remaining 1 teaspoon of rosemary over thighs.

Bake at 425 for about 35 minutes or until the juices run clear and the skin is crispy.

One Lovely Blog Award

I am so excited to announce that Ormond Dinners has nominated my blog for the One Lovely Blog Award.  This award is passed between bloggers, who in turn nominate eleven blogs of their choosing who will receive the award. 

Choosing the blogs to nominate is difficult.  Some blogs have received this award once or twice and others do not wish to receive blog awards at all.  Either way, these are blogs that I enjoy and visit frequently and I hope you will visit each of them, too.  Each blog has a unique view on food, restaurants, travel and life in general.

The rules for the award are:
1)  Link back to the site that nominated you.  (Thank you again Ormond Dinners.  Be sure to check out the recipes on her site for some unique and yummy recipes.)
2)  Write 11 random facts about yourself.
3)  Nominate 11 other bloggers.

11 Random Facts About Me

1) October is my favorite month. Partly because my birthday is in October, but mainly I just love the start of the cool fall season.
2)  I really, really cannot make myself like cilantro. I just can't.
3)  I am a dedicated Dr. Who and Walking Dead fan.
4)  I make the best homemade pizza... family will vouch for me.
5)  When I retire I would like to move to Maine.
6)  I work from home and my office is a totally soundproof and repurposed walk-in closet...Love it!
7)  I love guacamole with almost everything.
8)  My favorite wine is a good Zinfandel or Sangiovese.
9)  My dream vacation would be to Italy and would include lots of the above mentioned wines.
10)  I collect vintage wooden restaurant menus.
11)  I have met the most incredible people through this blog and I enjoy it more every day.

Nominate 11 Bloggers to Receive The One Lovely Blog Award

1)  Weird Combinations - A wide array of vegetarian foods that look so very good.
2)  Back Road Journal - Wonderful recipes, and beautiful pictures from the Northeast.
3)  Sodium Girl - For people who need a low-sodium diet this site is a wealth of information.
4)  Baked Perfection - The most beautiful selection of cupcakes I've ever seen.  Yummy.
5)  The Spiced Life - A delicious wide variety of recipes. 
6)  Happy Valley Chow - He knows about Sous Vide cooking and I'm totally jealous!! lol
7)  The Saucy Gourmet - Be sure to try the Skinny Mango Martini!
8)  The Three Little Piglets - Great selection of healthy, budget-friendly recipes.
9)  Quest for Delish - Great food and beverage recipes.
10)  Frugal Antics of a Harried Homemaker - Yum...Root Beer Cookies and lots more great recipes.
11)  Italian Foodies - A beautiful site with Irish-Italian recipes and great pictures.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Jumbo Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Sigh!!  It's the day before school starts and I don't know where the summer went.  Summertime seems to be idling by then all of a sudden it's time to meet teachers, buy supplies, shop for shoes and start the annual taxi service to school.  And this year, just for a little added enjoyment (not), our daughters are going to not 1, not 2, but 3 different schools, and each of them will have a different start and dismissal time.  Sigh!!  I'm sure sometime in the next week I will feel like I'm driving in the Indy 500.

So to get this year started I wanted to send the kids to school with something tasty in their lunch boxes, but also something a bit healthy.  The original recipe called for raisins and pecans (which you could always add), but since we only had the chips on hand, that's what we used. 

These cookies are jumbo, about 3 inches across, but they are not overly sweet.  Just a good oatmeal flavor with little pockets of jumbo chocolate chips hiding inside.  This is seriously one of the best oatmeal cookie recipes I've ever tried and I hope you enjoy them as much as we did.

1 cup  Butter (2 sticks) softened
1 cup  Brown Sugar, packed
1 cup  Sugar
2  Eggs
1 1/2 tsp  Vanilla
2 cups  Flour
1 tsp  Baking Soda
1/2 tsp  Salt
3 cups  Old-Fashioned Oatmeal
1 1/3 cups  Jumbo Chocolate Chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl or using a stand mixer, cream together the butter, brown sugar and sugar.  Beat in the  eggs and vanilla and blend.  Add the flour, baking soda and salt to the butter mixture and stir until combined.

Pour in the oats and blend once more.  Add the chocolate chips and use a spoon or spatula to blend the dough by hand.

Drop 1/4-cup scoops of dough onto the lined cookie sheets and press down on the dough slightly to flatten.  Bake for 12-15 minutes or until set.  Allow cookies to cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes, then move them to a wire rack to cool completely.  Makes about 24 jumbo cookies.  Enjoy!!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Nutella Bread

My children have developed a serious addiction to Nutella.  Although I had seen this product on the grocery shelf many times, I had never tried it myself.  I picked up a jar last year and it vanished in just a few days. 

So what was this Nutella stuff?  I knew it was a hazelnut and chocolate spread but what was the big deal?  It's delicious, that's the big deal!

I started to hear stories from the kids about how "everyone at school loves Nutella" and I realized we could have some fun cooking with this tasty spread.  Well, today was the day to attempt Nutella Bread and it was a big hit.  The bread was moist with almost a brownie-like texture and full of that familiar Nutella flavor.  The addition of a little smear of peanut butter was suggested by my youngest.  If you are a Nutella fan...you've got to try this bread.  Enjoy!!

2 1/4 cups  Flour
3 tsp  Baking Powder
1 tsp  Salt
1/2 cup  Sugar
1 cup  Milk
2  Eggs
1 cup  Nutella Spread

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the milk, eggs and Nutella together until creamy, then add dry ingredients and beat until blended and smooth.

Pour batter into greased 8x4 inch loaf pan and bake for 1 hour.   Test for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the center of the loaf.  When the toothpick comes out clean, the bread is ready.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Baked Swai Florentine

After several requests from my husband to make Creamed Spinach, I finally found a way to incorporate the spinach into a main dish, while keeping the creamy texture intact.

I had never made creamed spinach before now and my only memory of the dish was when I ordered it in a restaurant years ago.  The texture was too pasty and the flavor was bland from lack of seasonings, except for an overabundance of onion...way too much onion.  So from those thoughts I knew how I did and did not want the dish to taste, and that I wanted to include fish, too.  A lightly seasoned sauce, with a creamy texture that would not hide the flavor of the fish.  I think we came up with a great combination.

For this dish you will want to make sure all of the water is squeezed out of the spinach, which is a bit messy, but you can use a colander to make it easier.  Just use a large spoon to press the water out of the spinach.  Removing as much water as possible will keep the sauce from separating and being too thin.  Enjoy!!

1 1/2 lbs Frozen Chopped Spinach, defrosted and fully drained
1/4  Butter
1 1/2 TB  Flour
1/2 tsp  Salt
1/4 tsp  Black Pepper
1 1/2 cups  Milk
1/2 cup  Grated Parmesan Cheese
1/4 cup  Panko Breadcrumbs, for topping
1/4 cup  Parmesan Cheese, for topping
5 - 6 Swai Fillets, about 1-3/4 lbs, fully defrosted and patted dry

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place the defrosted spinach in a baking dish, spread in an even layer and set aside.

In a medium saucepan melt the butter and blend in the flour, salt and pepper.  Add the milk and cook until slightly thickened, stirring constantly.  Add 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese and continue heating until the cheese has melted.  Carefully pour 2/3 of the sauce over the spinach and set the pan aside.

Place the fish fillets on top of the spinach and sauce, gently pushing the fillets into the spinach.  Pour the remaining sauce over the fish, and sprinkle the tops of the fillets evenly with panko crumbs and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.

Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until the fillets are cooked through and easily flake with a fork.  Return the fish to the oven, turn heat to the BROIL setting and cook for 3-4 minutes until the panko crumbs just begin to crisp.

Click here for more information on Swai Fish.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Brazillian Fish Stew with Swai Fillets

One of my favorite meals would have to be Cioppino, which is a San Francisco-style fish stew.  What I really love about this dish is that every time you cook it, the flavor is slightly different depending on what types of fish and seafood are used.  By using a variety of fresh clams, crabs, scallops, shrimp and fish, the taste might be slightly more sweet if using king crab legs, or a bit more rustic if using cod, mussels and shrimp.  Regardless of the specific types of ingredients used, by using only the freshest fish and shellfish available, you will always have a successful dish.

This Brazillian version of fish stew, also called Moqueca, is from Capixaba in southern Brazil.  Our dish was inspired by a recipe from Heguiberto over at Weird Combinations.  The general recipe is quite similar to Cioppino, but for this dish we included Swai fillets and since our tiny town has no source for the traditional urucum powder (used for color and a little spice in the dish) we substituted a bit of Ground Annato and the results were wonderful.  I thought about trying smoked paprika as a substitute and might try that next time.  The original recipe did call for a generous amount of cilantro, which is one herb I'm still not crazy about, so we left that out of our version.

Serving the stew was actually quite interesting.  A serving of rice is placed in the center of the dish and the stew is served along one side, with a scoop of Shrimp or Crab Pirao, ladled onto the opposite side. The pirao is a lightly flavored broth soup, and is a nice addition to the thick consistency of the fish stew, but it is optional for this dish as the stew itself makes a great meal.

1 1/2 lbs  Swai Fillets, about 5 fillets each cut into 3 pieces
1 1/2 TB  Lime Juice
Kosher Salt and Black Pepper
1-1/3 tsp  Ground Annato (find in Mexican food section)
3 - 4  Green Onions, chopped
1/2  Small Yellow Onion, minced
1 lb  Medium Shrimp, cleaned and deveined
2 TB  Olive Oil
1  14 oz can  Diced Tomatoes
Crushed Red Pepper
2  Cloves Garlic, minced

Rinse fish and pat dry.  Place the fish in a glass bowl, season with salt and pepper and add lime juice, stirring to combine.  Let stand 20 minutes.

In a large deep soup pot, add 2 TB olive oil and saute the yellow onion and garlic until translucent.  Add the ground annato to the pot and stir. 

Add the tomatoes in a layer over the onions and garlic, then add the green onions in another layer, and finally top with the pieces of fish, carefully pushing them into the stew.  Drizzle the remaining fish juices into the pot, sprinkle with salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes to taste (I used about a 1/2 teaspoon).  Cover the pan and cook for about 12 minutes over medium heat.  Avoid stirring to prevent the fish from breaking apart, just gently shake the pan a few times while cooking to combine. 

When the fish begins to turn opaque, add the shrimp to the top of the stew and recover the pot.  When the shrimp are nice and pink the stew is ready to serve.  This will only take about 5 minutes.

Serve with a scoop of brown or white rice.  Serves about 6.  Enjoy!!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Peanut Butter Cookies with Blackberry Jam

Even though I'm not much of a baker, there's something about a rainy afternoon that makes me want to bake. So today was a great time to try these Peanut Butter Cookies from Giada de Laurentiis'  Weeknights with Giada Cookbook, and they did not disappoint.  The dough has a nice peanut butter flavor with just a hint of cocoa, then you have the surprise of a blackberry jam center.  Yum!!  If I'm going to splurge and make cookies, I want them to be something this tasty.

These cookies are very easy to make and only require a handful of ingredients.  If you don't have blackberry jam on hand I think strawberry would be another delicious option.  (I might have to try those next weekend!)  This baking habit might just catch on :-)

1 cup  Flour
1/3 cup  Cocoa Powder
1/2 tsp  Baking Soda
18/ tsp  Fine Sea Salt
8 TB  (1 stick)  Unsalted Butter, room temperature
3/4 cup  Creamy Peanut Butter
1 cup  Sugar
1/2 cup  Light Brown Sugar, packed
1  Egg
1 tsp  Vanilla Extract
1/4 c  Blackberry Jam

Preheat oven to 375  and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter, peanut butter, 3/4 cup of sugar, and brown sugar, beating until smooth.  Add egg and vanilla and mix, then add the dry ingredients and mix again until combined.

In a small bowl or plate pour the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar.  Use a measuring scoop to form 1/4 cup of dough into a ball, then roll in the sugar and place on the parchment-lined sheets.  Repeat with the remaining dough and you should end up with about 18 - 20 cookies.  (The original recipe used 1/4 cup of dough per cookie but the cookies come out pretty big, so 1/3 works better if you would like a  smaller cookie.)

Use a spoon to make an indent in the center of each cookie and place 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of blackberry jam in the center of each cookie.  (A full teaspoon seemed a bit too much on the smaller cookies so a 1/2 teaspoon worked better for us, if you like more jam go for the full teaspoon.)

Bake for 11 - 14 minutes until the cookies are crackled and slightly hardened.  Cool on the sheets for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.  Makes about 18 - 20 cookies.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Roasted Red Potato Salad with Rosemary

As a side dish for the Oven Roasted Spice-Rubbed Chicken we served this yummy Roasted Red Potato Salad. With a combination of cider vinegar, a touch of Dijon mustard and fresh rosemary, the salad was the perfect addition to the zesty chicken.

This is a also great salad to take to a pitch-in or potluck dinner.  Since it contains no mayonnaise, it can easily be set out for a picnic without the need for refrigeration.  The salad can also be served slightly warm or can be chilled and served cold. We tried the salad both warm and cold and I think I preferred the warm version a bit more, while the kids preferred it cold. The salad had a nice vinegar taste that reminded me of a classic German Potato Salad. Either way the flavors were crisp, bold and delicious.

1 1/2 lbs  Red Potatoes, scrubbed and cut into bite sized cubes
1 TB  Fresh Rosemary, chopped
2 TB  Olive Oil
1 1/2 TB  Apple cider Vinegar
4 tsp  Dijon or Spicy Brown Mustard
2 - 3 TB  Chopped Green Olives
1 TB  Capers, rinsed and drained (optional)

Preheat oven to 400.

In a large bowl, toss the cubed potatoes with the olive oil and rosemary, mixing well to evenly coat.

Line a baking sheet with non-stick foil and spread the potatoes onto the baking sheet in a single layer.

Bake the potatoes for 20 - 30 minutes, stirring once, until potatoes are just beginning to brown on the edges and are almost fork-tender.  Do not overcook or the potatoes will crumble.

Allow the potatoes to cool slightly, about 15 minutes.  Mix the remaining ingredients in a large serving bowl, stirring to combine, then add the cooled potatoes and stir to coat the potatoes with the vinegar dressing.  The salad can be served immediately for a slightly warm salad or can be chilled and served cold.  Enjoy!!