Mrs. Carla Monti

Mrs. Carla Monti

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Strawberry Muffins!

I wanted to bake something fresh and healthy for a friend who recently had a beautiful baby girl. I saw a gorgeous carton of organic strawberries and thought of muffins instantly.

I love Ina Garten's fruit recipes, so I used one of hers (link here!)

As with all muffin recipes, you really shouldn't use a mixer. Mixers are best for cupcakes or dense cakes, but muffins should be light and their dough barely mixed together.

I prepared the wet ingredients in two cups, the first with melted butter, and the second with beaten eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla extract.

I made a well in the dry ingredients (sifted together first) and then stirred it all together, adding the strawberries and white sugar last.

Veggie Egg Cups!

Small, muffin-sized veggie egg cups are packed with protein, taste great, and refrigerate well. They're perfect for sticking in the fridge at work and heating up throughout the week.

The recipe can be found here!

I used sweet kernel corn and roasted zucchini as the veggies to add to the eggs, and made sure to include shredded cheddar cheese within the veggies to add extra flavor. Once the muffin pan was set, I topped them off with grated asiago and parmesan cheese for some added oomph!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Smash Cake - The Test Run!

Oh, the ever-so-popular smash cake trend! I had never heard about this until after Giuliana was already here, but since I am a baker at heart, I immediately jumped on board with the concept. If this is relatively new to you, you can read about the trend here!

The idea is fabulous - make (or order) the baby a tiny, beautifully but simply frosted and decorated cake so that he/she can destroy it, or alternatively, eat it with glee while you snap photo after photo!

I am a baker, but also a perfectionist, so two months before G's first birthday party, I just had to try out the recipe to see if the smash cake would be worthy.

In order to make the smash cake, which is typically 4 inches tall, I went to Target to buy three tiny springform pans by the Wilton brand.

They are adorable! I cannot wait to re-use these and make small cheesecakes or even small birthday cakes for people in the future. I can forsee these coming in handy! I just love to make mini, or individualized desserts.

Next up was finding a healthy but fun recipe. I used a cake recipe from the lovely blog, Oh Everything Handmade. I found a fabulous frosting recipe from the uber healthy website, Our Haven Hill.

I made two batches of frosting - one I left white from the cream cheese, and the other I dyed pink using natural dye made from boiling beets (you can find out more about this process here).

Applying the base layer of white frosting.

Using a spatula to get the smoothest finish, since I am too lazy to buy a metal offset spatula to do the job!

Piping flowers/swirls using the Wilton 21 tip.

All piped out and ready to go to the fridge and not melt all over Grandma's kitchen table!

Frosting settling nice and coldly.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Blue Apron: Part 4

Chicken & Sage Biscuit Pot Pie
  • I used half the sage, and I'm glad because the flavor was strong enough. I almost wish I used a little bit less, actually.
  • Okay the biscuits were DELICIOUS. The bottom half soaks up the delicious pot pie juices, and the top half is perfectly crisp and toasted - this is an amazing idea.
  • I wasn't a HUGE fan of the turnip - I would use potato next time, and leave out the carrot too. 
  • The chicken and the sauce were very tasty! 

Mexican Spiced Salmon With Black Rice, Avocado & Orange Salad

  • This one was okay. There was not enough spice rub for the salmon, I felt. The black rice was certainly interesting, but nothing special.
  • I knew from experience that I would not like sliced oranges to be in my savory salad, so I sliced them and served them as a side.
  • I left out the shallot vinaigrette as always, and just added olive oil to finish the dish.
  • I'm glad I bought an avocado on my own a few days before, because the avocado that came in this box was way too green.

Seared Chicken & Mashed Potatoes With Maple-Glazed Carrots & Pan Sauce

  • This one was tasty, although the pan sauce was lacking some flavor.
  • The maple-glazed carrots surprised me with how much I enjoyed them, they were much softened and had great flavor from the maple syrup and melted butter. 

Spicy Orange Chicken Wings With Shiitake-Sesame Rice

  • I never eat chicken wings, and I was surprised by how much I liked these. The spicy orange sauce was delicious, and caramelized the chicken meat.
  • The shiitake mushrooms were a little rubbery, so I picked them out of the rice. I would substitute something a little crunchy, like corn with the rice, next time. 

Steak Tacos & Mole Verde With Radishes & Avocado

  • These were very delicious! The mole verde sauce made with tomatillos was outstanding, and I would love to make it again.
  • I don't eat radishes, so I left it out, but the mole verde, combined with the fresh avocados, meant that the dish needed no other flavors.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Hello Fresh Review!

My colleague at work ordered Hello Fresh, a food service very similar to Blue Apron, and sent me a coupon code. For 3 meals for two people, it would cost $29. That was a no-brainer - I put Blue Apron on hold for a week and ordered Hello Fresh, intending to try it once, and then go back to Blue Apron.

What I didn't like was that upon receipt of the box of food, Hello Fresh immediately charged my card $69 (the regular weekly price) for next week's box. I emailed their customer service people to complain, and they promptly refunded the charge. I merely intended to try the service at the much-reduced rate of $29, and certainly harbored no intentions to drop Blue Apron.

Here were the meals:

Pan-Seared Steak With Roasted Butternut Squash and Green Beans Almondine

  • This was absolutely terrible.
  • This was the third and final meal we made, so by the time we got to it (4-6 days after receiving the shipment), the green beans were rotten and had to be thrown away. Luckily, I had just gotten a small bag of quinoa at Whole Foods, so I made that to add to the almonds and roasted butternut squash.
  • I frequently roast cubes of butternut squash in the oven, so when I saw the package of diced butternut squash, I thought easy! WELL after the requisite time in the properly heated oven, they were STILL basically raw. Unfortunately I did not taste them before adding them to the quinoa and almonds, so it ruined the side salad.
  • The steak was a little tough, and the buttery thyme sauce had way too much thyme. 

Chicken Milanese with Crispy Potatoes, Mixed Greens, and Creamy Lemon Chive Dressing
  • This dish was okay. The chicken was nothing special, but I would leave out the creme fraiche coating ... it seems to stick together with the panko breadcrumbs and slide off my chicken while in the pan.
  • The crispy potato wedges were yummy.
  • When I mixed the dairy component with lemon juice to make the dressing, the liquids separated and looked disgusting. I threw away the dressing and dressed the arugula myself, with just olive oil and balsamic. 
  • I expected mixed greens, but it was just arugula which I don't eat, so hubs at the side salad.

Tuscan Sausage Linguine With Zucchini, Chilies, and Parmesan
  • This was my favorite from the bunch. The diced zucchini, small amount of tomato sauce, parmesan, and pasta all tasted great.
  • The pork was seasoned a little too heavily with Italian herbs for my liking (I am really not a fan of licorice-flavor in herbs or anything else), so I ate most of the pasta and veg.

Shrimp & Lemon Risotto With Roasted Zucchini and Parmesan

  • WOW this one was possible the best one yet. SO delicious!
  • I plan on visiting the Whole Foods bulk aisle to pick up a few cups of Arborio rice and making this at least once a month. The rice was so creamy and delicious,and the shrimp and zucchini just combined to make it a perfect dinner. My husband and I scraped the pot clean!

Concluding Thoughts

  • Overall, not a big fan. It was great to try a rival service, out of curiosity, but I am very happy to have gone back to Blue Apron!

Blue Apron: Part 3

Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches with Endive & Blue Cheese Salad
  • I don't eat blue cheese, so I put the crumbles aside in a little dish for hubby to scatter over his sandwiches.
  • This could've used more hot sauce - the teeny amount provided was barely enough.
  • I was a little wary of this one because I had never cooked with chicken thighs before, always breasts, but I was pleasantly surprised by how meaty and flavorful this was.

Juicy Lucy Burgers With Frizzled Onion & Romaine Walnut Salad
  • This dish instantly became one of my favorites. Inside the burger is melty cheddar cheese, and the salad looks elegant with its carrot ribbons! 
  • I chose to make the frizzled onion apart and hubs ate it atop his burger.
  • The burger was moist and flavorful, and tasted great with the simple salad as an accompaniment. 

Korean Tteok & Spicy Pork Ragu with Baby Bok Choy
  • Delicious! Another favorite.
  • Those chewy, yummy rice cakes were a new ingredient for us and I really liked them!
  • The ground pork was spicy and very flavorful.
  • Overall a winner!

Seared Salmon & Salsa Verde With Orange, Spinach & Farro Salad
  • This one was disappointing. I did not like the salsa verde at all - the spicy bite of the raw garlic was so overpowering, I scraped mine off my salmon.
  • The spinach and farro were delicious together, but I could've had it without the orange. The orange flavor was confusing, and I would definitely leave it out last time.
  • In my last poll, I was extolling the virtues of quinoa, and now I must add my love for farro. I am really discovering some wonderful new grains!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Blue Apron: Part 2

In my last post, I reviewed the Blue Apron service after receiving our first week's worth of meals. Since then, we've had two more weeks and there were some definite winners in those boxes.

Since Blue Apron deliveries won't last forever in my household, I am going to start keeping track of what I did not like about the recipes, and suggested modifications for my future grocery shopping and meal planning.

Spiced Catfish & Poblano-Cheddar Grits with Stewed Collard Greens

Notes & Modifications:
  • The poblano pepper didn't do anything for me - I would not include it in the future.
  • The grits were great, and it was the first time either of us had cooked them. The only issue was the tiny chunk of cheddar cheese and butter that was included to add to the grits - the grits had zero flavor! Next time, I will add massive quantities of butter, cheese, and milk - I know they will be delicious!
  • I had not eaten collard greens prior to Blue Apron, and I think we've had them come as part of three separate meals by now! Mike has discovered that he really enjoys them, so I will be sure to add them to our veggie repertoire. 

Ribeye Steak with Mushroom & Potato Hash

Notes & Modifications:
  • This was another meal which worried me in terms of portion sizing, once I looked at the (raw) ingredients. ONE russet potato?! But somehow it worked! The potato hash, with sauteed mushrooms and rosemary, was delicious! 
  • The steak was good too, but a bit chewy. I think Mike and I generally go for a better cut of steak anyways.

Chicken & Garlic Chive Meatballs with Quick Apple & Brussels Sprout Kimchi

Notes & Modifications:
  • I was so intrigued about this one. I know that kimchi is a spicy Korean type of coleslaw from extensive Food Network watching - I have certainly never tried it before. I was blown away by how much I liked the granny smith apple, marinated in sesame oil and kimchi spicy blend. I didn't care for the Brussels sprouts, but I would absolutely make this again, with the same tart granny smith apple, and substituting butter or romaine lettuce for the Brussels sprouts.
  • The meatballs were very hard to make, shape-wise. Ground chicken is SO sticky! These were good, although I don't think I would make them again.
Chicken & Udon Noodle Soup with Napa Cabbage & Dried Lime

Notes & Modifications:
  • This one became one of my favorites! I definitely prefer the soups/stews side to Blue Apron, mainly because portion-wise, they work out pretty great and provide 4-6 portions.
  • The soup is very flavorful - but I did substitute a can of chicken broth for some of the water called for to make the soup.
  • The fresh udon noodles were thick and delicious! I can't speak for how much flavor the dried lime (such an odd looking thing) imparted on the soup, but perhaps it lent a more subtle flavor. 

Seared Cod & Date Vinaigrette with Browned Butter, Quinoa & Spinach Salad

Notes & Modifications:
  • After one bite, Mike professed this dish to be his favorite thus far. I was less than convinced.
  • The cod was absolutely delicious - I inhaled my portion in a few bites. The quality of the fish was perfect!
  • I enjoyed the red quinoa, baby spinach, almond, and date salad under the cod - but I did not like the diced radish or minced shallot. I would leave both out next time, and make a more simpler vinaigrette of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and the diced dates. 
  • It was so interesting to cook the radish and almonds in brown butter - I had never made brown butter before but it was very easy, and the house was perfumed with it's sweet, nutty scent for hours after. I would definitely make that again, to sautee almonds and possibly the spinach next time. 
  • As a side note, I am learning about so many other types of grains through this program. With the kale/meatball stew from the first box, we ate faro, and now red quinoa. I really like learning about these healthy grains that are so packed with protein. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Blue Apron: Part 1

Ever since I went back to work after maternity leave, it has been tricky trying to find my groove in terms of food shopping and making dinner during the week. My mom and my mother-in-law watch our daughter during the week, and we've fallen into the very easy habit of eating dinner at their respective houses during the week. Although easy, and incredibly kind of both moms to cook dinner the days that they also watch the baby, it was not fair on them, and quite frankly, I think Mike and I both missed spending any sort of real time at home.

So after weeks (and weeks) of trying to get into a habit of weekly grocery shopping and making dinner at home (and failing), my husband came up with a great idea: Blue Apron.

The concept is simple, $60 per week, and you receive three meals (in ingredient form) right to your door. This is very convenient for several reasons. I LOVE to cook, but I do not enjoy trying to figure out what to make, and then figuring out when I will go grocery shopping. Since I struggle mostly with being creative and figuring out what to make (Pinterest never helps!), the idea that someone has ALREADY figured it out, and sent me all the ingredients necessary (even if one of those ingredients is a tablespoon of butter!) is wonderful. For a busy mom like me, this is a dream.

I've read several Blue Apron reviews on other food bloggers, and a common complaint is the cost. My husband and I are used to very high quality food, whether we're talking about fish, meat, or fresh produce, so the idea of paying $60 for three meals for two, which can be broken down to about $10 per person, is absolutely normal. We eat out once a week, and typically go to nice, high-end restaurants where we know the food and wine is of high quality, so this price does work for us.

The recipes come in gorgeous, color-printed cards that I am keeping all together in a binder for future recipe. Easy step-by-step instructions (with further, more detailed instructional videos available on their website if needed) provide ease of mind for those unfamiliar with uncomfortable with food prep or cooking, in general (though not our case).

Another issue many people have with the service is the portion size. I eat like a bird, but my husband, the red-blooded Italian, is used to making four side dishes to accompany two proteins when cooking dinner for just the two of us. Accordingly, he is capable of ordering several appetizers to accompany his one (sometimes two!) entrees when we dine out. So, having said all that, I did have a slight panic attack when I opened the first Blue Apron box and discovered a 10 oz packet of ground beef for a meatball stew. I wouldn't buy less than 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef if I were to make meatballs for the two of us! However, this recipe proved me wrong. Perhaps because it was a stew, but this dish made enough for our dinner (including Mike's second and third helpings) as well as my lunch for work the next day.

Not all meals are the same ... the next night, we had half a roasted chicken served over collard greens. The collard greens cooked down to a laughably tiny portion, better suited for one person only. The half chicken, since it was not a breast, had very little meat, and was absolutely not enough for even one person. I steamed a bag of frozen corn to accompany the meal, because without it, the platter seemed tiny! This recipe was not my favorite, although I was impressed with my cooking of the chicken - this was the one step that made me nervous all week, as I typically only cook chicken breasts. I was terrified of undercooking the meat, but it came out great, with a nice crust from browning the skin in a skillet first.

That's another benefit that I've found by using this service. It pushes (forces me, actually) to make dishes that I never would otherwise. I would never have roasted half a chicken, or made kimchi (this is an upcoming receipt from the box we just received last night). I love that pretty much anything can come in the boxes (the only item I checked to NOT receive was lamb), and I will have to make it. It makes it fun for me, to have the decision-making process removed.

And now for the good part ... the finished products!

First Night - Salmon Bucatini

Second Night - Italian Meatball Soup

Third Night - Spice Roasted Chicken With Collard Greens

Friday, August 7, 2015

Chicken Bacon Ranch Paninis!

I love watching the Food Network and the Cooking Channel, especially since I am home all day with my newborn baby girl. My favorite chefs to watch are Giada and the Barefoot Contessa. I love how Giada makes everything with perfectly (smaller) sized portions, while I enjoy the elegance and finesse of how the Contessa makes her dishes.

One chef that I am not typically a fan of is the Pioneer Woman (Ree). I find that she cooks with way too much fat, and the whole 'far out on the farm' premise isn't really appealing to me.

Having said all that .... I found myself watching an episode of her show the other day and fell in lust with these simple panini she made. I vowed to dust off my parents old panini press and try them out. They came out incredible!

Recipe link: Paninis!

The recipe calls for chicken breasts sliced in half, but I took this step out by purchasing thinly sliced chicken breasts at my local supermarket. I seasoned them simply with salt and pepper and cooked them in a pan with plenty of butter.

Next, I crisped up half a pound of bacon in the microwave. I love this method for cooking bacon, as it is easy and the bacon always comes out super crispy! I lay down two paper towels on a large glass plate, then 4-5 bacon strips, then two more paper towels, and cook on high for 4 minutes. That's all it takes for super crispy, delicious bacon!

Finally, it is time to assemble the sandwiches. The other players here are a nice thickly sliced loaf of bread (I went with a garlicky Tuscan loaf, but ciabatta or crusty French bread would work well), slices of sharp cheddar cheese, ranch dressing, and butter.

The first step is to put ranch dressing on each slice of bread, and then place a chicken breast on top.

Next: add the bacon!

Cheese it up:

And finally, butter the remaining sides of the bread (both sides!) so that they get a nice crispy, toasted texture from the panini press.

Last step: press and enjoy!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Pulled Pork Sandwiches!

I've been a fan of pulled pork sandwiches ever since I tried my first one five years ago at a house party in New Jersey. The hostess had used her slow cooker to make the pulled pork, and the tenderness of the meat. combined with the juicy flavor, was something I've always wanted to re-create.

I found a simple recipe online. I bought a 3 3/4 lb pork shoulder, bone in, and prepared a simple spice rub for the meat. The spice rub consisted of garlic powder, salt, pepper, cayenne, cumin, and paprika. Once the meat was seasoned, I placed it into the slow cooker, and covered it with two bottles of root beer. I set it on the low setting for 6 hours. After it had cooked all the way through, I took the meat out onto a cutting board and shredded it, removing the large chunks of fat that remained. I drained and cleaned the slow cooker pot. Once the meat was shredded, I put it back in the pot, and added half a bottle of barbecue sauce. I put it back on the low setting for one hour, and then prepared the sandwiches. Delicious!