Timeless

When I was a kid my parents had a set of glass-topped coffee tables with brass accents. Oh, they were fancy and cutting-edge chic. So modern. They sat nestled there in our formal living room next to vanilla ice cream colored couches, speckled with peach, pink and sea foam green. On the wall hung a large painting of fish, abstract and watery. My favorite addition to the room was an oversized green vase dripping with glass that looked like shiny, purple candle wax and stuffed with fake plastic reeds.

That room was early 90s decorating at it’s best. Magazine perfect. Now? A time warp.

In the mid-90s, I insisted on wearing huge pants. I bought jeans that I had to cinch at my waist with a belt on the last notch to hold in place. They bagged around my (non-existent) hips and bunched at my ankles. Five seconds after I cut off the tags, I was using the same scissors to cut a slit up the side of the leg so they would drag on the ground under my chunky Doc Martin shoes. On top, assorted plaids. Maybe a vest. Or spaghetti strap tanks over baby doll tees. Hair long, loose and flat, parted down the middle, wispy bangs curled under.

EVERYONE dressed like that. Now? People would take one look at that getup and wonder if you were headed to a costume party dressed as Angela Chase. Maybe Jordan Catalano will be there. *90s swoon*

And then there are things that never go out style. Like red nail polish. No woman in history, from victory gardens and rivets to cosmos and clubs, has has ever stepped out into the world with a swash of crimson across her fingertips without feeling knock-your-socks-off beautiful. It’s confidence in a tiny glass bottle. Confidence is totally timeless.

You know what else is timeless? Oreos. Oreos look and taste the same as they did when my parents had a pastel living room. Not that I was allowed to EAT Oreos in there. Or anything for that matter. They taste just the same as they did when a handful of friends sat around in too-big pants listening to grunge rock and scraping the middles out of them. There’s something comforting about that. In a world where as quickly as it’s in, it’s out, it is kind of nice to know that humble little cookie is still getting dunked in milk and tumbling crumbs down the front of shirts everywhere and probably always will.

I tend to forget about Oreos. They are not a usual addition to my grocery list and I rarely even take my shopping cart down the cookie aisle. But as I was wandering the grocery store last week picking up a few things for the weekend guests we were to be hosting, I tossed a bag into my cart on a whim. Eric loves Oreos though he rarely gets them. And since it was his friends that were coming to stay, I figured they probably loved them too. I’d find some way to jazz them up.

I decided to turn my bag of Oreos into these Cookies and Cream Cheesecakes for two reasons. 1). I’ve made them before and they are insanely easy to throw together. Ten minutes tops. 2). They are quite the tasty little treat! The whole Oreo as a crust at the bottom of the cupcake really makes that classic cookie taste shine through. The smooth, sweet creamy filling studded with chocolatey chunks of chopped Oreos takes a timeless classic and kicks it up a notch.

I’ll be making these when I need a quick dessert for years to come. Even as pastel living rooms and super baggy pants come and go again. 🙂 Oreos are forever.

COOKIES AND CREAM CHEESECAKES (Recipe Source: Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 42 chocolate/cream cookies, such as Oreos – 30 left whole and 12 coarsely chopped
  • 2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature and slightly beaten
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • Pinch of salt

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners and place one whole cookie into the bottom of each cup.
  2. Beat cream cheese until smooth with an electric mixer, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Gradually add sugar and beat until fully combined. Add vanilla and beat to combine.
  3. Drizzle in the eggs, a little at a time, beating until incorporated and scraping down the bowl as needed. Beat in sour cream and salt. Gently fold into chopped cookies by hand.
  4. Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each one nearly to the top. Bake, rotating the tins halfway through, until the filling is set, about 22 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely. Refrigerate in the tins at least 4 hours before serving. Makes 30 cheesecakes.

*Note:* I halved the recipe with no problems. Got exactly 15 cheesecakes! 🙂

ENJOY!

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Who says you can’t go home.

A few weeks ago, Eric and I took a day trip to our alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, to enjoy a day of football and pretending to be 21 again.

The football game? Ah-mazing. Not only a win but also one of the best games in recent memory. GLORIOUS!

The pretending to be 21 again? Well. That didn’t really go as planned.

The U of I was my home for four years. I felt like I knew every nook and cranny of that campus. Every tree-line walkway on the quad, every quiet place to study, every patch of grass to nap on in sun. Every bus to ride to avoid walking in the snow or the rain, every booth in my favorite hangouts, and every lecture hall seat to avoid because it was missing a desk. It felt as familiar as my childhood bedroom, and just as cozy and welcoming. I belonged there.

The connection I feel to that place is strong and intense. Emotional. I met and fell in love with my husband there. If it wasn’t for a college dorm and all it’s simultaneous awkwardness and awesomeness, I wouldn’t have met some of my very best friends. I think I look back so fondly on my college years because it connects my past with some of the best parts of my present and future.

But going back. Going back is weird. It’s funny how you expect everything to be frozen in time. It should look, feel, smell just the way you remember you it. And when it doesn’t, you’re a little shocked. You’re a little wounded. Sure, that abandoned Wendy’s building at the corner of 6th and Green served no purpose, other than maybe to attract crime and…other things, but when you see it’s been replaced with a luxury high rise apartment building with a pool on the roof (for college students, mind you…), you can’t help but feel a bit bewildered. And what is this gourmet frozen yogurt place doing here?  It’s just not the same.

That sense of belonging. You want it to be there so bad. But it’s not. The faces on campus hidden by sunglasses and headphones, weighty book bags slung over their shoulders – they are ten years or more your junior. Babies! Kids you probably babysat for while you were in high school! Waiting in line in the cold to pay $5 to get inside a smelly, dirty bar and drink bottom shelf liquor until you can’t see – there’s nothing fun about that anymore.

But that’s okay. It’s good actually. Because you’re older and wiser. Because chucking stuff off a balcony is frowned upon when you’re pushing thirty. Because staying out past 2am makes it really hard to get up and go to work in the morning. Because even though it’s not the same and even though you don’t really belong there anymore, you still have the memories. You still have those four years frozen in time just as they were when you were there. That’s totally enough. 🙂 No one can take that away from you.

Our trip to Champaign-Urbana didn’t make us feel like we were 21 again, but it definitely drew up a ton of nostalgia. More than anything, we were overwhelmed with an intense craving for one of our favorite campus foods….Pokey Stix!

Did you have a Gumby’s near campus at your school? If so, you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about. If not, I’m sorry. Really. Womp womp. That’s a travesty.

When the campus bars would close, thousands of slightly intoxicated and famished students would pour out into the streets. The late night food spots would be packed to the brim. Burritos, sandwiches, french fries, and pizza. It didn’t matter how bad it was, there was no doubt it would taste amazing after all that bottom shelf booze.

But the holy grail of late night eats? Pokey Stix. A cheesy, doughy, pizza/breadstick hybrid consisting of a pizza crust topped with an uber-greasy garlic butter sauce and smothered with a golden layer of melted mozzarella. They were cut into long strips and came with marinara and a revolting, warm, watery ranch on the side for dipping.

NOTHING but the real deal would satisfy the craving. And, until now, I thought Pokey Stix were just another thing from days gone by. Surely they couldn’t be replicated. Surely they wouldn’t taste as good as they did with best friends in the wee hours of the morning.

Good news, lifelong Pokeys fans. They absolutely can. And they absolutely do. Eric and I each took a bite of these and were pretty much blown away by the garlicky, buttery perfection. We ate until our bellies ached. Just like we used to.

So grab some old friends, an ice cold cheap beer, and whip up a batch of these for some reminiscin’ and football-watchin’. Who says you can’t go home? 😉

CHEESY GARLIC BREADSTICKS (Recipe inspired by and adapted from: Jam Hands)

INGREDIENTS:

  • Pizza dough (I used this Baking Illustrated recipe as seen at Brown Eyed Baker, but canned, premade, store bought, whatever you like will work. I would avoid a crust that’s too thin – the texture will be off.)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 teaspoon dried minced onion
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 8 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded (I would avoid pre-shredded – it’s too dry)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Prepare pizza dough as instructed. Preheat a pizza stone in a 500 degree oven for about 3o minutes.
  2. In a small skillet, melt butter. Add garlic and cook briefly until just fragrant, 15 to 30 seconds. Do not overcook the garlic or it will taste bitter! Stir in dried minced onion and salt and pepper.
  3. Roll the dough into a 12 to 14 inch circle. Drizzle with garlic butter and spread to the edges. Sprinkle with Parmesan and then mozzarella.
  4. Remove pizza stone from oven and reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees. Liberally sprinkle the stone with cornmeal to keep the dough from sticking. Carefully transfer the dough to the stone and bake until the cheese is melted and the crust is golden – about 10 to 12 minutes.
  5. To serve, cut the pie in half down the center once. Then make perpendicular cuts across the pie in the opposite direction to achieve long, thin strips. Serve alongside marinara and ranch for dipping. Cheap beer is optional, but recommended. 😉 Serves 4.

ENJOY! 🙂

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First Fall

When we packed up and relocated earlier this year, we only moved about 150 miles from our previous location. Really, this is a drop in the bucket as far as moves go. A quick trip. Even so, it’s amazing what a difference a buck and half of distance can make in your surroundings.

In Iowa, our little house on the outskirts of town was surrounded by flat, endless fields of grain. Peppered with quaint, rustic farmhouses and sun scorched barns, it was the portrait of the plains. In the heat of the summer, stalks of corn grew tall along two lane country roads, stretching toward an uninterrupted blue sky. From those roads, the horizon looked like a destination – a tangible place you could step into if you just drove far enough to reach it. It was beautiful in it’s own simple, Americana kind of way, but certainly not what most would call a stunning view.

Our new house is tucked back just far enough from the Mississippi River in a small, waterfront town. It’s etched into rolling hills and sits squarely under a thick canopy of trees. In the summer, our backyard stayed cool and breezy as the forest brought sweet, shady relief from the blistering sun. A simple walk to Main Street felt like a vacation. Sitting on the patio next to the river at a local place with an ice cold beer watching boats go by, it was easy to forget we were only half a mile from home.

But summer has faded and the first hints of fall have officially arrived. Mornings are chilly and afternoons are just right for college hoodies and comfy cardigans. That thick canopy of green is now tinted with hints of amber, rust and plum. Leaves fall like snowflakes, a warning of things to come. Early in the morning, as the soft, hazy sunlight peeks out from behind the woods, it throws thousands of tiny sparkles onto the water where they bob for a split second before disappearing downstream with the current.

It’s official. This will be my favorite time of the year in our new house. It’s really very beautiful. Fall belongs to the river. I’m quickly realizing how lucky we are to be able to experience it this way.

Here’s another great way to experience fall – cinnamon roll cupcakes! All the spicy, nutty, cinnamony filling, all the smooth, creamy frosting, but none of the yeast. None of the waiting. None of the hassle. These are such a perfect bite to cozy up with on a chilly fall day. A basic buttery yellow cake is layered with a ribbon of cinnamon, brown sugar and pecans. More of that goodness is pressed into the tops of the cupcakes where it melts into a crunchy topping. Then each cake gets a generous portion of sweet vanilla buttercream. If you’re a cream cheese frosting fan, by all means. Do it. 🙂

I would have liked to have done a rustic smear of frosting across the top of each cupcakes to better mimic a cinnamon roll (no one PIPES frosting a cinnamon roll! Please…) but the cinnamon sugar mixture was a little too loose for that. I was worried about all the topping getting caught up in the frosting and looking not-so-pretty. I’m sure I’m the only one who would have been bothered by that, but…you know…

Anyway! Get yourself a cozy sweatshirt and piping hot cup of coffee and enjoy this dessert spin on a breakfast classic. They’ll warm you right up. 🙂

CINNAMON ROLL CUPCAKES (Recipe Source: BHG)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2/3 cup butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1-3/4 cups sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1-1/4 cups milk
  • 1 recipe Creamy Butter Frosting (recipe follows)
  • Additional cinnamon and pecans, for garnish (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

1. Allow butter and eggs to stand warm to room temperature for about thirty minutes. Meanwhile, line 2-1/2-inch muffin cups with paper liners. Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. In a small bowl  combine brown sugar, pecans, and cinnamon. Set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add granulated sugar slowly, about 1/4 cup at a time, beating on medium speed until combined, scraping sides of bowl as needed. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes more or until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating to combine after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Alternately add flour mixture and milk to butter mixture, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined (batter may look curdled).

3. Spoon about 1 tablespoon batter into each prepared liner. Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon of the brown sugar mixture over batter in cups. Spoon remaining batter evenly over brown sugar mixture in cups. Sprinkle remaining brown sugar mixture over each cupcake.

4. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool cupcakes in muffin cups on wire racks for 10 minutes before removing from. Cool completely on wire racks before frosting.

5. Spread or pipe Creamy Butter Frosting onto cupcakes and sprinkle with additional cinnamon and pecans if using. Store cupcakes in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Makes about 26.

Creamy Butter Frosting: Allow 1 cup butter to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla and a dash salt and beat to combine. Gradually add 4 cups powdered sugar, beating well after each addition. Beat in 1/4 cup whipping cream or whole milk. Beat in 4 additional cups of powdered sugar. Beat in 2 to 3 tablespoons additional whipping cream or milk until frosting is light and fluffy and reaches a spreading or piping consistency. Makes about 4 cups.

ENJOY! 🙂

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Good Intentions

Many months ago, when Eric and I were getting ready to move, I had all sorts of grand plans for all the stuff I was going to get accomplished while I was off work and job hunting in our new location. House projects, kitchen projects, and craft projects. Oh, I was so looking forward to all that stuff.

Among things like the cool, crafty DIY wall art I’m still brainstorming to this day and the hot, healthy meals ready and on the table when Eric walked in the door, I thought I was going to bake bread. Tons of bread! There was going to be a fresh, beautiful, hand-formed, yeasted homemade bread in my kitchen at all times.

Um. Yeah. About that. I’m not really sure what happened but I guess there was this marathon of Dance Moms on TV and I sat down for a second and the next thing I knew SIX HOURS had gone by and well….  I’m pretty sure things like that didn’t happen everyday but…where in the world did those all those hours go?

I was off work for seven months. I made bread once. In the form of these hot dogs buns.

Housewife fail.

And now I’m back to work and working harder and longer hours than I’ve worked before in my life. We just ate the last of these buns from the freezer last week after I came home after a 12 hour day and didn’t feel like cooking.

Dang, I’m gonna miss these.

I mad at myself for not spending more time making things like these soft, delightful hot dog buns while I had the time. Ah, hindsight…all 20/20 and all. Now the challenge comes in having enough hours to string together to go from mixing to rising to baking to cooling before storing. I’m going to have to carve out a chunk of time here soon, because I’m pretty sure after eating our humble, little hot dogs inside one of these, I’m afraid we’ll never be able to go back to store bought. These were so wonderful paired with the cider-braised leek and apple dogs I made.

Annnnnnd. I’ve officially spoiled us. 😉

HOMEMADE HOT DOG BUNS (Recipe Source: As seen at Confections of a Foodie Bride, originally adapted from King Arthur Flour)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 1/4 tsp (1 pkg) yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 to 4 cups flour
  • 1 egg
  • sesame seeds or poppy seeds, for topping (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, dissolve the sugar in the warm water. Sprinkle the yeast over the top and let sit for 10 minutes until the yeast is foamy.
  2. Add the milk, oil, salt and 3 cups of flour to the yeast mixture. Beat with the dough hook until combined. Add flour, about 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Knead 5-7 minutes, until the dough is elastic and smooth.
  3. Put the dough into an oiled bowl, turning to coat. Cover and let rise in warm place until doubled, about one hour.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface. Divide the dough into 9 equal pieces (a kitchen scale is helpful if you have one!) Shape each piece into a ball. Roll the balls into ropes about 4 1/2-inches in length and flatten slightly. Place each bun on a lined baking sheet with the sides just barely touching.
  5. Cover with a light towel and let rise a second time until almost doubled, about 45 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400.
  7. Just before baking, lightly brush the tops of the buns with the egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 Tbsp water) and sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds (if using). Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer the buns from the pan to a wire rack to cool completely. Makes 9 buns.

ENJOY! 🙂

 

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Crazy Hot Dog People

I remember being quite nervous as my now husband, then boyfriend, and I got ready to head up to the Chicago area from Champaign so he could meet my parents for the very first time. That’s never an easy situation. Would everyone get along? How many long awkward pauses would there be? Would baby pictures make an appearance? Home videos of me singing the Super Bowl Shuffle in all my three-year-old glory?

I actually had no doubt in my mind that the meeting would go swimmingly. He was a fine upstanding young man on the straight and narrow path to success. My parents were about easy going as they come. Even so, I felt the need to warn my adoring boyfriend of one small detail before we embarked down the road to meeting the parents.

Thing was, I wasn’t sure how to bring it up. It was so….stupid. I knew he had to be ready for it, but I wasn’t quite sure how to tell him about it without sounding like a total nutcase. We’d only been dating a couple months at that point – not long enough to completely come to terms with the other’s particular brand of crazy. This could have been a total game changer.

I decided to just put it out there. He could either go with it and laugh about it, or stop returning my calls. Either way…

I just turned to him and blurt it out. “Eric, I need to tell you something before we go!”

I watched his expression change. His eyes dropped sideways, his finger drumming nervously on the side of his thigh. I can only imagine what he thought was about to come out of my mouth next. Her parents are closet cat hoarders. Her dad cuts off the fingers of St. Louis Cardinals fans. They live in a van down by the river.

“Eric,” I said slowly, calm and cool, “when we get to my house someone in my family may ask you…” I stopped, unsure of how to continue.

“Ask me…” he prompted.

It came up fast, words clawing at my throat, tumbling out my mouth. There was no turning back now. Out with it, out with it!

“Someone in my family may ask you if you put ketchup on your hot dogs!”

He looked at me for a second, confused and surprised by just how silly I sounded. He lasted about 2.7 seconds before busting into a fit of laughter.

When he finally stopped laughing long enough to tell me, no, he doesn’t put ketchup on a hot dog, I knew we were a match made in heaven. I had gotten that out of the way, I was ready to bring my boyfriend home to meet my family and he was going to charm the ever-loving pants off them. Sans ketchup.

Ketchup on a hot dog is a touchy subject in Chicago. It’s just not done. The 10 and under set gets a free pass but everyone else gets the side-eye if ketchup gets anywhere near that dog and it’s bun. With Eric not being from around those parts, I breathed a sigh of relief knowing he wasn’t about be banished for eternity for his hot dogs sins.

I, however, may be banished for mine after sharing this hot dog concoction I whipped up (Sorry, family). Now, there’s no ketchup, but there’s also no piccalilli relish, no sport peppers or pickle spears. No sprinkling of celery salt, no tomatoes or tangy raw onions. There is a poppy seed bun, because, well, come on. That’s a given. 😉 But other than that, I took everything I know about a hot dog like a good Chicago(area)in should and tossed it right out the window.

Forgive me, for I have sinned.

This sweet, savory, tangy dog is smothered in shredded white cheddar and dijon mustard and then topped with a delectable topping of leeks and apples braised in cider and bourbon. The combination is out of this world delicious. It’s meaty, it’s juicy, it’s cheesy and it’s got a nice kick from the dijon. The leek and apple mixture includes caraway seeds (totally under used and under appreciated little seed, by the way. I happen to love it) so it gives the entire thing a definite sauerkraut feel, but without that whole acquired taste thing. I just loved the combination of flavors here and I think you will too. Totally classed up tailgate food. All the components can easily be made ahead and reheated. I promise no one will miss the ketchup (pssshh…sinners.) 😉

Now, in case you were wondering if someone in my family did actually ask my husband if he put ketchup on his hot dog within the time frame of their very first meeting the answer is….YES! After a few hours of lovely conversation, my very dear mother did in fact ask Eric that very question, just like I told him they would.

See. Told ya so. 🙂

CHEDDAR DOGS WITH CIDER-BRAISED LEEKS AND APPLES (Recipe Source: Bon Appetit, July 2009 via Epicurious)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
  • 2 cups (generous) thinly sliced leeks (white and pale green parts only)
  • 1 apple, peeled, cored, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • Pinch of ground allspice
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • 1-1/4 cups apple cider
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 6 grilled hot dog buns (Hey! I made my own! Recipe coming at ya in the next post!)
  • Dijon mustard (Side note: I’ve become quite the fan of Boetje’s since moving to the QC and that’s what I used here. Made right here in Rock Island for more than 100 years! A true local favorite.)
  • 6 grilled all-beef hot dogs
  • 2 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (1/2 cup packed)

DIRECTIONS:

Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add leeks and apple and stir to coat. Cover and cook until the mixture is tender, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Add caraway seed and allspice; then season with coarse salt and pepper. Add cider and bourbon and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, uncovered, until most of liquid is cooked away, about 16 minutes.

Spread buns with mustard, then top with grilled hot dogs. Sprinkle with cheese and top generously with leek and apple mixture. Makes 6 dogs

ENJOY! 🙂

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College Cookies

Things Inside my Husband’s College Apartment

  • Two extremely overworked, stressed out mechanical engineering majors.
  • A life sized tiki-bar fashioned out of empty Miller High Life boxes (for decorative purposes only – not suitable for actual beer slinging).
  • A bulletin board displaying a large collection of discrete snapshots of various mullet sightings.
  • A George Forman Grill that never (and I mean NEVER) got cleaned.
  • A handmade dining table featuring an empty keg as a pedestal.
  • A giant Dale Jr. banner
  • Mason jars from which we drank everything from water to beer to cheap champagne.
  • An industrial size can of nacho cheese sauce good on everything from pizza to hot dogs.
  • Hundreds of illegally downloaded Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings songs.
  • A beer making operation of questionable safety, including a rusty wire coat hanger for stirring.
  • More can koozies than a person could possibly need in seventeen lifetimes.
  • An overflowing trashcan in the bathroom.
  • A few extra items belonging to a certain someone’s girlfriend who was over all the time. 😉
  • The Ultimate Desk.
  • Every possible variety of generic crackers. (I still don’t really understand that one. How many open boxes of crackers does one need?)
  • An ever-changing rotation of those big, soft, store bought sugar cookies with the icing and sprinkles that got all dressed up for the seasons/holidays.

Thank goodness, most of these items have been retired. Except for those ME majors…we keep them around. 😉 And we may have most of those koozies in a box in our basement. The Ode to Mullets and processed cheese product got left behind and I think most of that moonshine beer got either A) pawned off on other students who would drink just about anything, or B) poured down the drain on move out day.

We’re definitely at the point in our lives now where we look back on our college days and wonder how in the world we lived that way. I mean, I’m surprised the toxic scum on that George Forman didn’t straight up kill Eric and his roommate and I’m pretty sure there were a couple months there where I ate nothing but mini corn dogs and Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

A few things from college life, though, are kind of endearing – like those colorful sugar cookies. It’s Halloween! It’s Valentine’s Day! It’s St. Paddy’s Day! Everyday’s a party with those cookies! But why by buy them when you can make them? And make them taste BETTER than their store bought counterpart?

These soft sugar cookies embody all the things you love about the grocery store variety with none of the things you don’t. They are soft, rich and slightly cakey and slathered with a thick, sweet, buttery icing that’s just comfort food to the max. The dough is a snap to whip up and since there’s no rolling, cutting or piping icing, it makes for a pretty quick little project. If you want to feel like a (college) kid again, make these soon. Promise you won’t regret it the way you used to regret those 2 a.m. burrito runs.

SOFT FROSTED SUGAR COOKIES (Recipe Source: Originally adapted from Hostess with the Mostess, as seen at Annie’s Eats)

INGREDIENTS:

For the cookies:

  • 4½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 4½ tsp. baking powder
  • ¾ tsp. salt
  • 1½ cups (3 sticks) butter, at room temperature
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 5 tsp. vanilla extract

For the frosting:

  • 5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1/3 cup (5 1/3 tbsp.) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 7-8 tbsp. milk (plus more, as needed)
  • Food coloring (optional)
  • Sprinkles (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar and beat together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition to combine and scraping down the bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients mixing just until incorporated and evenly mixed. Cover the dough and chill the dough for 1 hour.
  2. To make the cookies, preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Scoop a scant quarter cup of dough and roll into a ball.  Flatten the ball slightly and place on the prepared baking sheet, spacing the cookies at least 2-3 inches apart. Bake about 10-12 minutes or just until set.  (Do not overbake. The edges should be just barely browned.) Let cool on the baking sheet for several minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  3. To make the frosting, combine the confectioners’ sugar melted butter, vanilla and milk in a medium bowl and whisk until combined. Add additional milk as necessary, 1 teaspoon at a time, until you reach your desired consistency.  Tint with food coloring if desired.  Use an offset spatula or spoon to frost the cooled cookies.  (If the frosting begins to thicken as you decorate, just continue to whisk in small amounts of milk to keep it workable.)  Top with sprinkles if desired.  Store in an airtight container. Makes about 2 dozen large cookies.

ENJOY!

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The Last Song

This time of year always feels a bit odd. For years late August meant only one thing – school. The start of a new school year was a rejuvenating renewal, a chance to reinvent yourself. Start over. Forget about that highly embarrassing slip on the ice getting off the bus the previous winter. Things like that.

Those day are gone. Let’s be honest, they’ve been gone for a while. Now when late August rolls around I find myself clinging to summer, savoring those last few fire-hued sunsets that fade into inky blue and blue and black. But the heat of day has mellowed and there’s that unmistakable chill first thing in the morning as fall starts creeping in, slow and hushed. Part of me wants to give in to hoodies and scarves that are just around the corner, the spicy, smoldering scent of burning leaves, the piles of plump pumpkins, but the other part is sad another summer is coming to an end. I always hate to see it go. It’s usually when August starts drawing to a close that I start looking around wondering where another year went. September? That’s officially closing in on the end of the year. Blink and it’ll be Christmas. Scary.

I’m not quite ready to let go of summer just yet. All of summer’s bounty is at peak here in the Midwest. Piles of sweet corn fill the backs of old farm trucks. Tomatoes, perfect in their imperfections, scatter across tabletops and fresh herbs permeate the air with they’re savory/sweet fragrance. It’s hard to imagine another growing season coming into an end.

This Fresh Corn Soup with Roasted Corn Guacamole a light and refreshing summer soup to try before fall. I know what you’re thinking – soup in the summer? That’s crazycakes! But soup doesn’t have to be a weighty meal full of meat, pasta and cream. This one right here is the proof. The delicious, delectable proof.

The base of this soup reminded me of a chowder but there’s not a drop of cream in sight. Hooray! The pureed fresh corn adds a great creamy texture and I loved the slight heat in the background from the jalapeno. The soup is wonderful and flavorful on it’s own but the roasted corn guacamole really takes it over the top. The corn gets a bit crispy and pops in your mouth. The avocado adds that unmistakable richness. A bit of fresh brightness is a welcome addition here so I even went ahead and used the cilantro the recipe called for (I know! Shocking!) I did cut the amount way back so it wouldn’t overpower the other flavors. The final product creamy, sweet and savory with great contrasting textures – truly a perfect summer send off.

FRESH CORN SOUP WITH ROASTED CORN GUACAMOLE (Recipe Source: Simply Mexican by Lourdes Castro, as seen at Epicurious)

INGREDIENTS:

For the Roasted Corn Guacamole:

  • Kernels from 3 ears fresh corn, or 2 cups frozen corn, defrosted
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped red onion
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped (I used 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 lime, finely grated zest and juice
  • 1 jalapeño, stemmed and seeded, finely chopped
  • 1 avocado, pitted and chopped

For the soup:

  • Kernels from 5 ears fresh corn, or 3 cups frozen corn, defrosted
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 1 jalapeño, stemmed and chopped
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • Cilantro sprigs, for garnish

DIRECTIONS:

Roast the corn for the guacamole: Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or aluminum foil.

Put the corn kernels on the baking sheet and toss with the oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and black pepper to taste. Spread the corn out evenly on the baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes, until the corn turns a deep golden brown. Remove the corn from the oven and set aside.

Prepare the soup: Put the kernels in a blender or food processor. Combine the oil and the garlic in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and jalapeño, season with salt and pepper and sauté until the vegetables are translucent, about 6 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to the blender or food processor and puree until smooth. (You may need to pulse or stir the corn mixture in order to achieve a smooth consistency, but do not add any more liquid.)

Pour the corn mixrure into the soup pot and place over medium heat. Stir constantly until the soup begins to thicken. Slowly whisk in the broth. Bring to a boil, then decrease the heat to a simmer. Cover the soup and cook for 15 minutes.

Prepare the guacamole: In a bowl, combine the roasted corn, red onion, cilantro, lime zest and juice, and jalapeño. Gently stir in the avocado. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve: Ladle the soup into soup bowls. Spoon guacamole into the center of each bowl. Garnish with additional cilantro, if desired. Serves 4 to 6.

ENJOY! 🙂

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Summer in a Bowl

I recently told Eric I would like to see us do meatless dinners at home three days a week.

You should have seen his face fall. The look he gave me can only be described as crushed. The same look, I imagine, he would give me if I scratched my name into the pretty orange paint on his precious 1969 Chevelle SS just because I thought it needed a little something extra. A look of complete devastation.

I married a meat and potatoes man, no doubt about that. But I find that pairing kinda boring night after night. There is so much more out there. So many other ways to challenge yourself and enjoy food. Plus, I shop and I cook. So….basically, what I say goes. The kitchen is not a democracy.

Sorry. Tough love and all that stuff.

Now, I love my husband very much and what I want more than anything is for him to be happy. He would not be happy if I just yanked the meat out of our dinners and told him tough noogies, you’re eating this instead. That wouldn’t be very nice.

I haven’t given up on the idea of meatless three nights a week, but until he gets a bit more used to the idea, I’ve taken a more subtle approach to ease us into this new territory – I just make meat the garnish of the meal, not the star. I find the most flavor-packed and effective way to do this is to add a small amount of bacon. Keyword here is SMALL. Small as in no more than one slice per serving. When cooked crisp, crumbled small and scattered over or mixed into a dish, bacon adds just the right amount of a salty, satisfying bite that my husband doesn’t even realize he doesn’t have much meat on his plate. The fresh bounty of local summer favorites are the star of the meal. The meat is an afterthought.

See, win-win. We’re getting there!

Let me tell you how much I loved this pasta dish bursting with summer goodies. Zucchini, fresh corn cut from the cob, and earthy basil pesto are tossed with whole wheat pasta and topped with a smattering of bacon and just a touch of Parmesan cheese. It’s ready in minutes and feels fresh and comforting at the same time.

This dish embodies everything I love about this time of year. From the vibrant colors and flavors of pop-up roadside produce stands to the breaks in the heat that whisper autumn, this meal is like summer’s last hoorah. Make it quick. The good stuff’s about to disappear into shorter days and a shower of amber leaves.

ZUCCHINI, CORN AND BASIL PENNE WITH BACON (Recipe source: Gourmet, July 2008 via Epicurious)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 6 bacon slices
  • 1 pound whole wheat penne pasta
  • 3 ears corn, kernels cut from cob
  • 1 1/2 pounds zucchini, coarsely chopped (1/2-inch pieces)
  • 6 oz. basil pesto (store bought or homemade)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Parmesan cheese, for serving

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Cook bacon in a heavy skillet over medium heat until crisp. Drain on paper towel lined plate; discard drippings or save for another use.
  2. Meanwhile, cook penne in boiling salted water according to package directions until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta-cooking water, then add vegetables to pasta in pot and cook, partially covered, until just tender, about 2 minutes (water will stop boiling). Drain.
  3. Add pasta with vegetables, pesto, and 1/4 cup reserved cooking water and toss. Season with salt and add additional cooking water until sauce evenly coats the pasta, if necessary.
  4. Top each serving with one slice of crumbled bacon, shredded or shaved Parmesan cheese and a generous amount of freshly ground pepper. Serves 6.

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago: Grilled Corn with Tequila Lime Butter
Two Years Ago: Apple and Apricot Stuffed Pork Tenderloin
Three Years Ago: Loaded Sweet and Salty Chocolate Ice Cream

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Filed under pasta, veggies

Chocolate Crush

There’s this guy. I have a bit of a crush on him. Sometimes I follow him around or try to hold his hand or pass him notes asking him if he loves me. He’s just so super cute and nice and funny and stuff. He has a nice smile and very pretty blue eyes that remind me of the color of a swimming pool on a cloudy day.

One time we went on this walk, just the two of us, and he gave me this ring. I melted into a puddle on the sidewalk. Then I married him.

Yes. I have a serious crush on my husband. And when he wakes up on a lazy Sunday morning, blinks at me with those pools of blue underneath the kind of long, thick eyelashes any girl would kill for, and asks “Can you make the little chocolate donuts for breakfast today? They taste good and have the sugar I need to get me going in the morning.“* I can’t say no. I can’t say to no to that! What am I made of stone or something?

*And if you get that joke, I think I love you. Come over. We can down a lot of donuts together. 😉

These little chocolate donuts are a relatively new phenomenon at our house but they have already reached superstar status in the heart and mouth of my favorite food critic – my husband Eric. They certainly do get him going in the morning. Once he’s had a couple of these he’s ready to tackle all sorts of important things – like watching SportsCenter, pacing aimlessly from the front of the house to back, and sitting in a chair and staring into space. Eventually the sugar coma wears off and he can get back to doing something productive. 😉

I procured a donut pan earlier this summer (because I just couldn’t resist) and I’ve already surprised myself with number of times I’ve used it. It just makes having donuts at home so easy.

Or should I say…too easy! Let’s not fool ourselves and claim we’re enjoying a healthy breakfast here just because our little chocolate donuts are baked and not fried. They’re a cupcake with a hole in the middle. That doesn’t mean they’re not worth the splurge every once in a while, they totally are, but just accept the fact that you’re eating dessert for breakfast. It’s okay. It’s less shameful than standing over the sink in your bathrobe and polishing off half a leftover pumpkin pie straight from the dish. So…there’s that.

I’ve tried a couple varieties of baked donuts but this recipe for a chocolate on chocolate explosion of deliciousness is the runaway favorite by far. There is something so satisfying about the soft, deep, dark chocolate base and creamy chocolate glaze. And the sprinkles? Please, that’s just a happy face on plate.

So easy. Seriously. You want donuts but only have an hour? No problem. You got it, man. One bowl, a whisk and a few pantry staples is all it takes. You’ll be in Tasty Town before you can say “Time to Make the Donuts.”

I used a basic baked donut recipe I spotted over at Stephanie Cooks and just adapted it by swapping a quarter cup of the flour for cocoa powder to make a chocolate base. The secret here, I think, is dutch-process cocoa. You will not find a more chocolatey cocoa powder than the dutch-process. It looks different. It smells different. It makes the cake donut base so sinful, you’ll feel the need to confess after eating one. I’m relatively new to using it myself and it has won me over hook, line and sinker. I am now obsessed. It does wonders for the flavor here.

Now, texture-wise, you’re not going to bite into a baked donut and completely forget it’s not fried. That golden, crunchy exterior – it’s just not there. However! All donut properties are not lost here. These are baked in a screaming hot oven (450 degrees) so they are done in just a few minutes and the outside gets the fainest bit of crunch while the inside stays soft. And the glaze. Whoa Nelly! I love it. I used the same glaze I used on the donut muffins I made last year and it is just perfect. Not too thick, not too runny, it grabs those sprinkles and won’t let go but yet dries to a nice bake shop consistency too.

I will say these are best eaten the day they’re made – they tend to get a bit soggy after 24 hours or so – no less tasty, of course, but I wouldn’t make them ahead if serving to guests. But since they seriously take no time at all, you really don’t have to. These are finger licking, chocolate ring around your lips, glass of milk swigging, Sunday morning perfection. Enjoy every last bite.

BAKED CHOCOLATE DONUTS (Donuts adapted from: Stephanie Cooks, glaze is the same as in these Donut Muffins I made last year.)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup dutch-process cocoa
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
    (now that I’m writing this, I’m pretty sure I’ve been using only 1 teaspoon. Oopsies. I’ve been happy with my results but I’m going to use a tablespoon next time to fluff-ify my donuts further!)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 tablespoons canola oil
  • Chocolate glaze (recipe follows)
  • Colored or chocolate sprinkles (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and coat a donut pan liberally with cooking spray.
  2. Stir together flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add the egg, vanilla, and milk and stir together for 1 minute. Add the oil and continue to whisk until just combined. Transfer the batter to a large measuring cup (or a bowl with a spout) for easy pouring.
  3. Fill each cavity in the pan 2/3 of the way full with batter. Bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until the donuts spring back when lightly touched. Cool completely before icing. Yields 10 to 12 donuts.

Chocolate Glaze

  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

To make the glaze: combine the chocolate chips, butter, corn syrup and vanilla extract in a double boiler (or in a stainless steel or glass bowl over some simmering water). Stir until the chocolate is melted and everything is incorporated. Use immediately.

ENJOY!

One Year Ago: Roasted Corn Salad – One of my summer favorites!
Two Years Ago: Peanut Butter Blossoms
Three Years Ago: Skillet Bruschetta Chicken

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Filed under breakfast, chocolate

We Gotta Get Out of this Place

One would think with all the food making and sugar baking and what not that goes on around here, I would be the kind of person that really loved the grocery store.

Yes. A lazy afternoon wandering the aisles, admiring the colors, the textures, the tastes. It’s so inspiring. It’s so relaxing. It’s foodie heaven, right?

No. No no no. Wrong.

I love to cook. I love to gather ingredients and manipulate them into something tasty and tempting. But I loathe (and I mean loathe) the grocery store. Eric always wondered why I come home from the store in a sour mood until he lived on his own earlier this year before I arrived in our new location and he had to shop for himself for the first time since college. He got it. Quickly.

The grocery store is crowded and annoying. It’s full of maniacs wielding giant metal baskets on wobbly wheels. It brings out the worst in people. I nearly got my arm ripped off reaching into a freezer bin full of sale-priced baby back ribs earlier this summer. Relax, folks. Okay. It’s ribs.

The grocery store. The words taste bitter on my tongue when I announce to Eric that’s where I’m headed. It is one of my least favorite chores. I end up stranded behind someone waiting 10 minutes for another car to pull out of a parking space so they can take it. I will inevitably pick the wrong the checkout line. After I empty my cart it’s pretty much guaranteed the register will spontaneously combust and I’ll be left waiting just a little bit longer.

The grocery store. I almost can’t deal with it. Here’s the top 5 reasons why…

5. Chatty Cathy Cashiers – I’m not anti-social. I swear. A friendly “Hi, how are you?” is always appreciated when approaching the counter. I can smile and be cordial with the best of them. But when the cashier is so busy asking every customer about their weekend plans that she forgets to scan, I can’t help but get antsy. Every single additional second I have to spend in that place, especially when I’m so close to escaping…oh boy. Is my eye twitching? Just. Might. Lose. It.

4. The Lonely Drifter – This person walks directly down the center of cereal aisle, stops, then zigs and zags all over the place. Oblivious. May or may not be dragging two carts.

3. Failure to Yield the Right-of-Way – When you’re driving your car, you don’t come to an intersection and just blow on through without even looking to see if anyone is coming. Same rules should apply at the store. Nothing quite like getting run down by someone who plows out of an aisle with their cart like that their pants are on fire. An excuse me would be nice, it’s hard to see around those corners after all. People should try it. It’s the conversational equivalent to the rear view mirror courtesy wave. It’s always appreciated.

2. The Stop and Chat – Do people in big cities get the pleasure of the stop and chat at the store, or is this a small town thing exclusively? Let me set the scene for you. Two friends descending down an aisle approach each other from opposite directions, after a jovial hello, maybe a hug, they proceed to stop and have a deep, meaningful conversation – all while completely blocking the thoroughfare.

“How’s Bob doing?”

“Oh, he’s great. He just got a promotion at work – Head of Collating and Stapling.”

“Oh, that’s fantastic!”

“We think he’ll be supervising the Three Hole Punch Operators by the end of the year. How’s your mom?”

“Oh, pretty good. You know she fell off the roof again….”

There’s no getting around that. This is important stuff and it can’t wait. Sometimes even an excuse me doesn’t quite do it. Drives me batty.

1. The Big Empty Space – More so than any of the assorted grocery characters you meet along the way, nothing irritates me more than approaching an item I’m after only to find the shelf completely void of what I need. I make a list, people. I plan my meals! When I can’t get an item I need, it throws a giant wrench in my entire week. When it’s a funky or specialty ingredient, something I’ve never bought before, that’s different. But when there’s no pure almond extract, or red onions, or caffeine free diet….Ugh. You know that defeated feeling that just pours over you when you can’t find what you need? It makes me want to cry.

Yeah, yeah. Just stop at another store and look there, right? Well, I don’t WANT to stop at another store. I’m already AT the store. I can’t go through all these headaches again at another store. I just can’t. *Quiet sobs.*

This here’s a dish that’s a snap to prepare. Like let’s say, it’s Saturday morning and you’re in a sour-puss mode because you just came from the grocery store and the absolute last thing you want to do is make lunch. You can be on your way to sweet yet savory, melty, gooey, crunchy, comforting bliss in about ten minutes.

This grilled goat cheese and strawberry quesadilla is inspired by this lovely sandwich with the same ingredients I first saw over on Josie’s blog Pink Parsley. I had been putting off going to the grocery store and didn’t have any bread around. But I was hungry had everything else plus whole wheat tortillas. Turns out, the tortilla was a perfect substitute!

In this unexpected dish the goat cheese, strawberries and basil combine into this halleluiah chorus of simple flavors that totally satisfies. It’s another one of those combinations that leaves you scratching your head wondering why it’s so good. It just is. It’s fresh and creamy and warm and sweet. It’s a little bit main course, a little bit dessert, and all wonderful. The original recipe calls for red pepper jelly which I couldn’t find (Ha ha. OF COURSE!) so I subbed this really yummy local raspberry jalapeno jam I bought at the farmer’s market. The jam’s subtle sweetness blends well with the strawberries and the little kick of spice a the end is tamed by cheese. It’s great for a quick lunch or a fun twist on a meatless dinner.

You can’t be in a bad mood and eat this, it’s impossible – even if you’ve been held up at the store by an epic Stop and Chat. 😉

STRAWBERRY GOAT CHEESE QUESADILLA (Recipe source: Adapted from Pink Parsley, originally from Southern Living, March 2011)

*Note:* I didn’t measure any of the ingredients here – just layered ’em up until it looked right. When I make a quesadilla for myself, I’m a one tortilla girl. You may like to use two so it’s a bit bigger, that’s cool. Whatever you fancy works just fine.

INGREDIENTS:

  • Whole wheat tortillas
  • Raspberry jalapeno jam, red pepper jelly, or your favorite spread
  • Crumbled goat cheese
  • Sliced strawberries
  • Fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced.
  • Butter or olive oil

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the outdoor grill or grill pan to medium-high heat. Spread a thin layer of jam or jelly on tortillas. Add goat cheese, then top with a layer of sliced strawberries. Sprinkle basil over the strawberries. Either fold the tortilla into a half moon or top with a second whole tortilla. Butter each side of quesadilla (or brush with olive oil) and grill until the cheese is melted and the tortilla is golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Let sit for a minute before slicing into wedges. Serves as many or as few as you want it to, yo!

ENJOY! 🙂

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