Monthly Archives: March 2011

Spring into Action

Spring, we’re dying over here. We need you, man. It’s rough out here!

Usually I just suck it up and deal. With winter, that is. In my almost 30 years every single one of them has contained a winter. SURPRISE! By the end I’m usually itching for flip flops and summer dresses but I know good things come to those who wait. I just put on my coat, my mittens, my scarf and go about business as usual.

Not this year. This year, I need spring like I need air. The cold and wind are like a constant gray cloud hovering over us. It cuts to the bone. I cant’s stand the sight of these bare trees. Long, twisted branches reach toward the sky like cold, thin fingers shivering in the breeze. I’m sick of my salt-covered car. I’m tired of tall boots. I’m done with dark days. If the sunshine and warm weather doesn’t come soon. I might lose it. LOSE IT.

Give me beer and baseball. Pink toenails and the scent of sunscreen. Bare shoulders and beachy hair. Give me a seat belt that burns my fingers and a steering wheel that’s too hot to touch. Let me roll my windows down and turn my radio up. Bring on the fireworks. The sweet summer berries bursting with juice. The red geraniums in clay pots.

Give me a cackle of thunder and a dance of lightening across a late afternoon western sky, then give me clearing just in time for a spectacular sunset. Give me that glorious day when the stifling humidity breaks. I want to dig into something deep fried at a small town festival, spend lazy Saturday mornings wandering the Farmer’s Market, and drink my margaritas al fresco.

Bring on the lemonade, the ice cream cones, the cricket’s nightly song. Shady spots, sprinklers, and sweet corn. Cool cotton nighties, fireflies, and tiki torches to keep the mosquitoes away. Muscle cars and classic rock and a husband that look oh-so-cute mowing the lawn in a t-shirt with the sleeves ripped off.

Please hurry, Sunshine! Get over here, Warm Days! Don’t leave us hanging!

Here’s a sweet bite to tide us over. A raspberry filled, lemon-kissed butter cookie with just a touch of creamy frosting.

Light, tender and with just a hint of chew, this recipe for Gâteu Bonbons hails from France. The bonbons are traditionally filled with a touch of orange marmalade but, oddly enough, I’m not a big fan. I had some raspberry jam on hand and it was the perfect substitute. The sweetness of the filling was a great contrast to the tartness of the cookie and frosting. The icing provides just the right amount of creaminess to tie it all together.

Is it just me or do filled cookies always take about 87 times longer than you think they will? Sooo…Spoiler alert: Plan accordingly! 🙂 A basic butter and cream cheese dough is mixed up and then chilled. To make them extra bonbon-like and thus perfect for popping into one’s mouth in insane quantities perhaps while in the bathtub, roll out the dough and cut into 1-inch rounds. If you’re like me and your 1-inch biscuit cutter has disappeared into a cardboard box with your television remote and iron, a 1.5-inch cutter or a small juice glass will work too. 😉

When filling the cookies, use what looks like not quite enough. If there’s too much jam in the middle, it will ooze out the sides and the prettiness factor will be compromised greatly. And that’s not good for anyone. I think these would be a great addition to any bridal shower lunch, Mother’s Day brunch, or Easter gathering. Or pretty much any time you want a little something sweet but just aren’t feeling a Triple Fudge Toffee Caramel Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Brownie Cheesecake with Whipped Cream and Ganache. 😉

Enjoy. Until summer comes.

GÂTEAU BONBONS (Recipe Source: Betty Crocker 1963 Cooky Book)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2/3 cup butter (about 12 tablespoons), softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. baking soda
  • Jam or marmalade of your choice
  • Easy Creamy Icing (recipe follows)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together butter, sugar, egg, cream cheese, lemon juice and zest until light and fluffy. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Add flour mixture to butter mixture and beat until combined.
  2. Form the dough into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Flatten into a disk and chill about one hour, or until firm.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or silpat. Using a quarter of the dough (keep the rest refrigerated until ready to use), roll into 1/8-inch thickness on a lightly floured service. Cut into 1-inch rounds.
  4. Place half the rounds on cookie sheets and spoon about 1/4 teaspoon of jam or marmalade into the center of each. Cover with remaining rounds and seal the edges with a floured finger.
  5. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until the edges are slightly browned. When cool, frost with tinted icing and sprinkle with sanding sugar or sprinkles, if desired. Makes about 7 dozen 1-inch bonbons.

EASY CREAMY ICING

  • 2 cups sifted powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 4 to 8 tablespoons cream, milk or water
  • Food coloring, if desired

Stir together sugar, salt, and lemon juice. Add liquid, one tablespoon at a time until it reaches desired consistency. Tint with food coloring, if desired. Spread on cookies with a small offset spatula. Makes enough icing for 6 to 10 dozen cookies, depending on size.

One Year Ago: Oat Applesauce Muffins
Two Years Ago: Peanut Butter Banana Bread

 

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On a (Casse)role

When someone says the word “casserole” certain things come to mind. I think of church basements. Sweatshirts embroidered with reindeer over candy cane turtlenecks. Bingo nights. Crocheted pot holders. Maybe a Precious Moments figurine or two.

These aren’t BAD things. They’re just….not my style.

I swore up and down I wasn’t a big casserole fan until I stopped and thought about all the things I love that are technically casseroles.

Cheesy baked pasta? Buttery breadcrumb topped mac and cheese? Spicy, saucy enchiladas? Really just casseroles by another name, right?

Okay, so I don’t plan on stocking up on embroidered sweatshirts and strutting my stuff around the church basement anytime soon, but I guess I DO enjoy a good, old-fashioned casserole every now and then.

Here’s a goodie. Fiesta Casserole. AND, foodies please take note, no Cream of Anything anywhere to be found!

Although it is topped with Fritos. Oops. I guess I owe you foodies an apology after all. You are welcome to leave them off it you prefer, but they really add a great crunch and flavor to the finish product.

This dish is the perfect vehicle for leftover chicken. I love roasting a whole chicken and using the leftover meat in other meals but I get sick of the usual quesadillas and pastas and things. This easy, one pot baked rice meal cures the common leftover blahs.

Instant rice (Oops. Sorry again, Foodies!) is mixed with chicken broth, salsa, black beans, corn and hot sauce then it’s tossed in the oven to get the rice softening. After 15 minutes, the chicken is added, and it’s topped with cheese and the Fritos crumbs and baked again until golden, bubbly and delicious. I really like adding the chicken last as it helps keep the meat from getting dried out.

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from this dish. I worried about it being mushy and bland, but that is not the case at all. Turns out, I love all the flavors and textures together. It’s so simple, yet so flavorful. The salsa is prominent in this dish, so make sure you pick one you really like. I’m a big fan of a local brand called Kramer’s out of Camanche, IA (North of the QC). It is without a doubt the freshest, most flavorful jarred salsa I have ever had. Look for it if you’re in the Midwest. 🙂

FIESTA CASSEROLE (Recipe Source: America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, Pg. 344-345)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups instant rice (I used brown rice)
  • 2 cups frozen corn, thawed
  • 1 (15.5 oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 1/2 cups salsa
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce
  • 3 cups shredded cooked chicken (about 1.5 pounds)
  • 8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)
  • 6 oz. Fritos, crushed into coarse crumbs (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • Lime wedges for serving

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a 9 x 13 inch baking dish, combine the broth, rice, corn, black beans, salsa, and hot sauce. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until the rice is tender.
  2. Stir the chicken into the baking dish. Sprinkle the cheddar evenly over the top, then sprinkle with chips. Return the baking dish to the oven and continue to bake until the edges are bubbling and the crumbs are toasted, 8 to 12 minutes longer. Serve with lime wedges. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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Love and Laundry

I’m the one who gets to do all the exciting stuff around here. Like laundry. Oh boy, does laundry get my juices flowing. Cleaning the lint trap, accidentally throwing that expensive wool sweater into washing machine when it is clearly labeled dry clean only, chasing away those silly sock stealing gnomes, dropping a pair of underwear on the stairs that ends up going unnoticed for days – not to mention all that super fun folding and hanging.

Oh yes. I just LOVE laundry.

Hey Sarcasm. Say, have you seen Erin anywhere? Tell her we’re waiting on a recipe here. Thanks.

The only good thing about laundry is I get to decide when my husband’s gray pocket t-shirts have crossed over from Okay to Wear Out To Menards And Maybe Red Lobster If It’s Been A Long Day to Unacceptable For Anything Except Sleeping. These are the ones that are covered in stuff – paint, holes, burn marks (don’t ask, even he can’t explain that one). The collars are frayed, the hems are ripped, the pockets are hanging by a thread, all floppy and pathetic like. The fabric is stretched paper thin and soft from years of wearing and washing…

These are the most delicious sleeping shirts ever. I’d be lying if I said these snuggly pillows of shirt weren’t highly coveted by both of us for  their superb slumber time comfort qualities.

But *I* do the laundry. I load ’em and I fold ’em. That means I handle these shirts on a regular basis. When I find a perfectly worn, soft as silk, old t-shirt, I do a little jig of joy and promptly place it in the PJ drawer in my dresser. Sorry Eric, you’re out of luck. Occasionally I miss one, and a sleep shirt ends up back in Eric’s dresser by mistake but I always get it back. Oh yes. They belong to ME!

Sometimes, for just a second, I feel kind of bad for hoarding my husband’s t-shirts. It’s kind of selfish and mean. I’m sorry. I should be ashamed of myself. In my defense, he has plenty of other pocket tees to choose from…it’s not like he’s running around half naked. He can spare ’em. 😉

I do make up for it though by feeding him hot dogs wrapped in pretzel dough. This man clearly doesn’t have anything to complain about, right? 😉 Every now and then, I take a break from veggie-sneaking and just make something for Eric I know he will love. Nothing funny, nothing fancy.

Soft pretzel dough is insanely simple to make. Seriously, in about 15 minutes, you’ll have a lovely ball of dough rising away. If you’ve got a mixer with a dough hook, it does all the work for you! Now, the shaping and boiling step does take a bit of time and then there’s the agonizing 15 minute wait while they bake. While these pretzel dogs are little involved for a weeknight endeavor, you can easily make them ahead and reheat later.

These little nuggets of deliciousness did not disappoint. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t eat these two nights in a row. The pretzel dough is perfectly golden, salty and chewy. Paired with the meaty, juicy bite of an (all beef) hot dog and nice spicy brown mustard- they are totally addicting. Perfect party food or as an occasional treat for kids, I promise you’ll be coming back to these again and again!

PRETZEL DOGS (Recipe source: As seen at  Fake Ginger, originally from A Dash of Sass)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 package dry active yeast
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 10 cups water
  • 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 1 large egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • Pretzel salt, kosher salt and/or poppy seeds, for topping (Hey. I come from Chicago – the bread product that surrounds a hot dog has poppy seeds on it. Always.)
  • 8 hot dogs, cut in half

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Combine the warm water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Let the mixture sit for about 5 minutes, until the yeast is foamy and begins to smell of yeast.
  2. Add the flour and butter to the yeast mixture. Attach the dough hook to the stand mixer and, on medium-low speed, combine the mixture until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and appears shiny, roughly 4 to 5 minutes.
  3. Spray a large bowl with non-stick spray (or lightly grease with vegetable oil) and place dough in greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. Place bowl in a warm area and let dough rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  4. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Spray parchment paper with non-stick spray. Set aside. Meanwhile, bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a roiling boil in a large pot.
  5. Place the dough on a greased surface, and divide into 16 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope, roughly 12 inches long. Carefully wrap each piece around a half hot dog. Pinch the ends together to seal.
  6. Boil the shaped pretzels and pretzel dogs, one at a time, in the baking soda water for 30 seconds each. Using a slotted spatula, remove each pretzel dog from the water and place it on a drying rack to allow any extra baking soda mixture to drip off.
  7. Place the boiled pretzel dogs back on a parchment lined baking sheets. Brush with beaten egg yolk and sprinkle with desired toppings. Bake until golden brown, roughly 14 to 15 minutes. Transfer pretzel dogs to a cooling rack for a few minutes before serving. Makes 16 pretzel dogs.

ENJOY!

One Year Ago: Quiche Lorraine with Simple Salad
Two Years Ago: Chicken Piccata

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Filed under appetizers, bread, sausage

You Look Familiar…

We’re in the middle of…a bit of an adjustment period. A Moving Adjustment Period. This is the time, after arriving in a new city, where it is perfectly acceptable to drive around aimlessly gawking until you’re lost beyond belief. Or cut across three lanes of traffic because you forgot your turn was coming up.

Nothing in this place is familiar. Frankly, it’s taking some getting used to. Little things are different. Like the oven makes a totally different sound when it’s done preheating and it always catches me off guard. And we don’t know where to go to get excellent Mexican (GASP! I can’t live like this!) The other day, I was in a very familiar department store that was laid out in very same way as the same store in our old location. After spending a good hour in there, I think I forgot where I was, because I came out, saw a completely different view from the door and had a mini freak out. I thought I stepped into another dimension.

ZOMG, what happened to that weird buffet restaurant that clearly used to be a Chi-Chi’s!?? What is this BIZARRO WORLD?!

Oh yeah…I moved. The re-purposed Chi-Chi’s is in another state. Whoops.

Anyway, we’re learning the ropes. Adjusting to this exciting new world. While the surroundings aren’t familiar yet, these quick and simple bar cookies are an old favorite. Comforting in a time of change, ya know? 🙂

Toffee Squares! I remember these from holiday treat trays when I was a little girl. I know my mom has this recipe on a handwritten card in her collection somewhere. A sweet, buttery, nutty shortbread-like crust topped with a layer of silky milk chocolate and crunchy chopped nuts. They totally have the caramel notes you expect from a yummy square of English toffee. So simple, yet so delicious. These literally take seconds to throw together. Cream together butter, brown sugar, vanilla and the yolk of one egg. Add the flour to bind it all together, press into a greased 9×13 inch pan and toss in the oven. When they come out, lay squares of milk chocolate over the top, let them soften up a bit and spread it across the entire pan like frosting.

Try not to lick the knife…. Eh, lick the knife if you want. No one’s looking…

The entire thing is finished off with chopped nuts. I recommend pecans, but if you’re like me and happen to have just about every nut in your freezer EXCEPT pecans, you can use whatever you have around. I went with sliced almonds. You could also leave them off completely if you’re not a fan.

TOFFEE SQUARES (Recipe Source: Betty Crocker’s 1963 Cooky Book)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar (either light or dark will work)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 7 to 8 oz. milk chocolate, broken into squares (I used two large Hershey bars that were somewhere around 4 oz. each)
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover a 9×13 inch pan with foil and grease well with cooking spray.
  2. Cream butter, sugar, egg yolk, and vanilla together with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add flour and salt and mix until combined and soft dough forms.
  3. Press the dough into the prepared pan, spreading it to the edges with a rubber spatula or fingers. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until lightly golden brown on top.
  4. Remove from oven and immediately place chocolate squares on top. Let stand for a few minutes until softened, then spread evenly across the entire surface. Sprinkle with nuts. Allow the chocolate to set and cut into bars. Makes about 32 squares.

ENJOY! 🙂

One year ago: Lindsay’s Chocolate Cafe Chocolate Chip Cookies (the best chocolate chip cookies in the Midwest they say!)
Two years ago: Potato Chip Cookies (another retro fave from my grandma!)

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Flex it.

Flexibility. I think more people need to rally behind this underrated concept. The world would be a happier place, don’t you think, if everyone maybe just took it down a notch and stopped getting so upset when things don’t go according to plan.

Flight delayed? Sit down, put your feet up and read a smutty novel. Take it easy, stop answering work emails because you’re supposed to be mid-flight anyway, and eat a three dollar candy bar as an I’m-allowed-because-I’m-super-irritated treat. Maybe stop yelling at the person behind the desk like the snowstorm in Chicago that is preventing you from getting to Atlanta is all her fault.

Unexpected traffic jam? Turn up your favorite angry 90s girl power jam and belt it like its 1997 and you’re 15 again.*  Ugly cry and tear up a picture of your crush if you have to, but remember there are others stuck in traffic too and they *may* quietly judge you. Or film you on their phone and take you viral. Just do whatever you have to keep from obnoxiously honking at nothing or getting out of the car and punching out someone’s driver side window.

*Not that I’ve ever done this or anything. Alanis’ Hand in My Pocket is totally NOT my personal anthem. Uh, yeah…totally not. 😉

So, I guess what I’m saying, in a round about way, is maybe we wouldn’t all have our undies in such a bunch if we just read more smut and sang more 90s pop.

Um. Actually, maybe a few cliches will communicate my thoughts better. Go with the flow. Relax. Chill out. The glass is half full.

See, this is why I love cooking. Cooking is insanely flexible. Cooking and I get along like two laid-back roommates. Peppers don’t holler when you decide to add tomatoes to a recipe that didn’t actually call for them. The peppers are chill, yo! Look to the pepper, people! See the light. 🙂

Here’s a really fast and flexible meal. Not too mention very good! I took some liberties, decided I didn’t *love* my liberties, but posting it anyway because I will definitely make this again. Hey, I’m flexible like that.

This Mexican-style, one skillet meal starts with an interesting technique – toasting dried pasta in a bit of oil in the pan before cooking. The noodles get all golden brown and nutty. It really infuses the pasta with a different and fun taste.

Now, I really, really wanted to add chorizo to this dish per a suggestion in the recipe. I’ve never actually had it, but given my fondness for the encased spiced meats, I just know I’ll love it. I’ve never been able find it at my regular grocery stores, but now that I’m in a new (and bigger!) city, I’ll being scoping out the various specialty and ethnic stores which I’m sure are plentiful and chock full of exotic goodies to rock my country bumpkin world. I know there is chorizo in this town. I can just feel it!

I should have just gone veg and added black beans, another suggestion offered by the recipe but I wanted to give my loving husband his precious meat after rescuing him from nearly wasting away in bachelorhood for the last three months. (tee hee.) Since I didn’t have the chorizo, I added…breakfast sausage.

Erm. So yeah, that was probably a mistake. I mean, it wasn’t AWFUL (or maple-flavored), but if I had to do it over again, I would leave the breakfast sausage to the pancakes and egg casseroles. A shredded spiced chicken would have been a much better addition. Also the original recipe calls for cilantro, and we all know how I feel about that mess, so I garnished with scallions instead. Next time, I’ll use my go-to cilantro sub – parsley. A bit of freshness and brightness from a fresh herb would be a welcome addition here. If you are a cilantro fan, absolutely go for it.

Overall, I loved the spicy, toasty, smokey flavor of this dish. The sauce coats the noodles without being too loose and the chipotle peppers add just the right amount of kick. Add a sprinkling a smooth, creamy Monterey Jack and it’s a great mix of flavors and textures. This dish is satisfying, comforting and makes excellent leftovers. I need to make a couple changes for next time, but that’s okay. I’m flexible.

MEXICAN-STYLE SKILLET PASTA (Recipe adapted from: America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, pg. 244)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 8 oz. vermicelli pasta, broken in half
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes (I used fire-roasted, I really like the flavor)
  • 8 oz. diced chorizo sausage OR shredded cooked chicken OR 1 15.5 oz. can black beans (optional – you could leave all these out if you want!)
  • 1-1/2 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 to 2 chipotle chiles in adobo, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 oz. Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro or parsley
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, for serving (optional – I omitted)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat in a 12-inch skillet and add vermicelli. Toast the pasta until golden, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate to cool.
  2. Add remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the skillet and heat over medium until just shimmering. Add onion and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and cook until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in the garlic and cumin and cook until fragrant. Stir in the tomatoes with their juice, your protein (if using), the broth and chipotle pepper(s). Bring mixture to a boil.
  4. Stir in the toasted pasta. Reduce heat to low, cover the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid is absorbed and the pasta is tender, about 15 minutes.
  5. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide among 4 serving bowls, top with cheese and cilantro or parsley. Pass the sour cream separately. Makes 4 servings.

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago: Andouille Sausage & Shrimp in Creole Mustard Sauce
Two Years Ago: California Medley Pasta Toss

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