Saturday, December 31, 2011

Dried Cranberry-White Chocolate-Oatmeal Cookies.

The holidays may be coming to an end, but that doesn't mean holiday related baking has to - just make these cookies!  I found the recipe on a forum I frequent, and I had to make them right away when I saw how well they baked up.

Using Crisco instead of butter is always a concern to me - I love butter - but this came out great in that the cookies didn't spread.  Butter is fine, just be aware the cookies may spread a little more than in my pictured ones.

These are great "Santa" cookies also, if you want to plan ahead for next year.  The recipe is very similar to many oatmeal raisin cookies, if you don't have Craisins on hand.



Dried Cranberry-White Chocolate-Oatmeal Cookies
Yields about 30-36 cookies, depending on how big of a cookie you like.

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2.5 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 cup Crisco (shortening)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk (if you don't have buttermilk, use 1 teaspoon of vinegar in a 1/3 cup measure, and then fill to top with milk)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups old fashioned oats
  • 1.5 cups dried cranberries (Craisins) (I bought one bag with six smaller single serving bags, which came out to approximately 1.5 cups)
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips (Ghiradelli recommended!)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375.

1.  In one mixing bowl, combine flour, salt and baking soda.

2.  In a second bowl, combine sugar, brown sugar and shortening.  Cream until fluffy.

3.  Add eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla.

4.  Gradually add in flour mixture.

5.  Stir in oats, craisins, and white chocolate.

6.  Place golf ball sized portions of dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment.  Flatten slightly.

7.  Bake for 12 minutes.  Leave on sheets to cool for about 5 minutes, then move to racks to finish cooling.

All lined up in perfect little rows...

Enjoy your last taste of the holidays.

So thick and dense, but so good.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Spicy Szechuan Tofu

For years, I was never a huge fan of Trader Joe's - when I lived in Los Angeles, it was the worst place to go on the weekend.  Every single one had the world's smallest parking lot, and it was a madhouse.

But these ladies are huge fans, and even wrote a book about it - Cooking with all Things Trader Joe's - and it has absolutely beautiful pictures to go with it, taken by the ladies themselves. Itcombines their love of Trader Joe's with simple, quick recipes that ANYONE can cook with just a little TJ's help.

I marked this recipe on my first glance through the book, and I kept going back to it because it reminded me so much of mapo tofu, which is a spicy Chinese tofu dish.  When my mom made it, she always used silken tofu, so it was more soupy, but this version uses firm tofu cubes, making it a bit easier to eat.

This recipe was extremely easy to make.  The prep is minimal, and the prepared General Tsao stir fry sauce really speeds things along in flavorville.

My main changes to the recipe - first, I used ground turkey, as I didn't feel like beef and I could not find ground pork (the traditional meat in mapo tofu) at the grocery store.  Second, I added mushrooms, because they were on sale, and I wanted to bulk up the dish a bit.  Both are delicious additions.

Oh, and one hint - I didn't buy the sesame oil at TJ's - I actually got it at a local Japanese market.  Be careful when purchasing - I somehow grabbed the sesame oil with cayenne extract.  Ouch.

If you're a Trader Joe's fan, this book is definitely worth a glance!


Spicy Szechuan Tofu from Cooking with all things Trader Joe's.  Serves 4

Ingredients:
  • 1 package firm tofu (I recommend extra firm)
  • 1/2 lb ground turkey or beef 
  • 1 glove garlic, crushed, or 1 cube frozen crushed garlic
  • 1 tsp crushed ginger (I used powdered)
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup General Tsao Stir Fry Sauce
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 2 green onions, chopped (I omitted this, since I don't like raw green onions.)
Directions:
1.  Cut the tofu into 1/2 inch cubes.  Place cubes between paper towels and press to draw water out.  Set aside.

2.  Cook turkey/beef/pork in a skillet, breaking it up as it cooks.  Add garlic, ginger, and peas; cook 2 minutes longer.

3.  Add tofu, stir fry sauce, soy sauce, and sesame oil.  Cook for 3 minutes or until heated through.

4.  Add green onions and remove from heat.  Serve over steamed white rice.

This recipe makes you look like a Chinese cooking genius, when all the work is done by the delicious (and not that spicy) stir fry sauce.  Yummmm.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Lighter Corn Chowder

When corn is on sale for 6 ears for only $1, I did what any self respecting person would do - buy way more ears of corn than any normal human being could ever eat.

Which is why I was so thankful that in the August 2011 issue of Cook's Illustrated there was a recipe for Corn Chowder, and a lighter version at that.  My waistline and running legs thank you.  It still starts with absolutely delicious bacon though.  Mmmm bacon.

The recipe overall is very easy - the hardest part was scraping the pulp off of the ears of corn, as I kept smacking my knife into the side of the bowl.  The next hardest part was not slicing too deep into the corn kernels, so that some pulp would remain on the cob!  If you've never sliced corn directly off of the cob before, just beware - it's a very dirty job, as the corn kernels tend to fly ALL over the place.  The best trick I've learned - cut the corn in half, so there's a flat end.  Invert a smaller bowl inside a larger bowl.  Place the corn on top of the smaller bowl, and slice down - the corn will fly directly into the larger bowl, and it's the only way to keep your sanity.

Fresh corn is essential - do not use canned, although I'd wonder how it'd taste in the winter with canned corn and using the "corn water" as a pulp juice replacement.  It probably won't have that great corn flavor though.

I loved the corn flavor of this recipe, the tons of corn, the bacon, and the use of half and half.  It's a great chowder, but not too heavy for the summer.

Eat all that beautiful summer corn!  Cook this chowder!


Do not be alarmed if, before adding the half and half, your soup is very brownish.  That's normal.  I think.

Lighter Corn Chowder from Cooks Illustrated, August 2011
Serves 6 (I halved this recipe)

Ingredients:
  • 8 ears corn, husks and silk removed
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 4 slices of bacon, halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme (I used dried.)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 5 cups water
  • 3/4 pounds red potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 cup half and half
  • Sugar (if your corn isn't very sweet)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Directions:
1.  Cut kernels from corn and set aside (you should have five to sic cups of kernels.) 

2.  Holding cobs over second bowl, use back of a butter knife to firmly scrape any remaining pulp on cobs into bowls, resulting in about two to two and a half cups of pulp.  Transfer pulp to center of a kitchen towel and squeeze tightly until dry.  Discard pulp in towel and set corn juice aside (you should have about 2/3 cup of juice.)

3.  Melt butter in a Dutch oven (or nice sturdy pot, like I used) over medium heat.  Add onion, bacon, thyme, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper.  Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is softened and edges are beginning to brown, for 8-10 minutes.  

4.  Stir in flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.

5.  Whisking constantly, gradually add water and bring to a boil.

6.  Add corn kernels and potatoes, return to a simmer.

7.  Reduce heat to medium low and cook until potatoes have softened, 15-18 minutes.

8.  Process 2 cups chowder in blender until smooth, 1-2 minutes.  Return puree to chowder.  Add half and half and return to simmer.

9.  Remove pot from heat and stir in reserved corn juice.

10.  Season to taste with salt, pepper, and up to 1 tablespoon sugar.  Serve, sprinkling with basil.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Spaghetti with Summer Vegetable Sauce

Borders is officially going out of business, which means one thing for me:

Run into the store and hope that they still have cooking magazines for 40% off.

I lucked out - I managed to grab Cooks Illustrated, Cooks Country and the Food Network mags.  SCORE!  I also managed to grab the Cooking with Trader Joe's Cookbook (in the bargain bin plus another 20% off) and the Williams-Sonoma Cooking at Home book (also in the bargain bin!!) so overall, a good haul.  The books are still only at 20% off, so for books not in the bargain bin, it might be cheaper on Amazon.

Browsing the August/September issue of Cooks Country, I am immediately struck by the Spaghetti with Summer Vegetable Sauce recipe.  Not only does it use fresh, seasonal vegetables, it is extremely simple, and is listed as one of their 30 minute meals - due to the use of store-bought pesto.

This dish is extremely simple - cut up veggies, cook until softened, boil pasta in the meantime, combine in one pot, add pesto, serve.  It really is that easy, and that delicious!

Just a quick note on the vegetables - I peeled the squash and zucchini.  It's probably preferable that you don't, because the vegetables won't get mushy as quick, but since I didn't buy organic vegetables, I usually take the skin off.

Why does pasta photograph so weird?

Spaghetti with Summer Vegetable Sauce from Cooks Country, August/September 2011

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter (I used 2 and 1 tablespoon olive oil)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 large summer squash, halved lengthwise and sliced thin
  • 1 large zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced thin
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 12 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved (I used one bag of Nature Sweet tomatoes - exactly 12 ounces and I had a coupon!)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (I used chicken broth)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 pound spaghetti (I used campagnelle)
  • 6 tablespoons basil pesto (about 3 ounces.  I bought a six ounce container, and used half of it.)
Directions:
1.  Bring water to in a boil in a large pot.

2.  Melt butter in a 12 inch skillet (believe me, you need a large skillet) over medium high heat.  Add onion and cook until softened, about five minutes.  

3.  Stir in squash and zucchini and stir until softened, about 3-5 minutes.

4.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

5.  Stir in tomatoes, wine (or broth), 3/4 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  Cook until liquid is reduced, about 2 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

6.  Meanwhile, add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt to boiling water and cook, stirring often, until al dente.  Reserve 1/2 cup of cooking water, and drain pasta.  Return pasta to pot.

7.  Toss vegetable mixer and pesto with pasta, adding reserved pasta water to thin the sauce as needed (I only needed a little splash of water.)

Serve with Parmesan cheese if desired.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Homemade Pita Chips

If I die young, wrap me in pita chips... lay me on a bed of hummus...

Oh, the song doesn't go that way?  Phooey.

I love pita chips.  LOVE them.  I love them even more if they're still slightly warm and crispy, freshly made.  Yes, you don't have to settle for pita chips out of a bag, just make your own!  It's SO easy!

Homemade pita chips by me


Mmmm crispy goodness.


Ingredients:
  • pita bread
  • olive oil or cooking spray
  • salt
Directions:
1.  Preheat oven to 400.

2.  Cut pita bread into wedges.  From one pita, I can get six wedges.  I also rip them in half again so I get more - I like my pita chips a bit thin.  If you like the thicker chips, then do not tear in half!

3.  Lightly spray a baking sheet with cooking spray (I'm OCD, I line baking sheets with non stick aluminum foil first.)  Scatter pita chips on the baking sheet.  If you don't use cooking spray, scatter pita chips on a baking sheet and lightly (very lightly!) drizzle with olive oil.  I prefer cooking spray - easier distribution of grease.

4.  Lightly sprinkle salt on the chips.

5.  Bake for 5-7 minutes.  If you start to smell the chips, they're overdone.

Serve warm or store in an airtight container.  Serve with hummus or any of your favorite dips.

Hummus.  Or yummus.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

I confess.  I don't really like chocolate chip cookies.

They're usually too sweet, the chocolate doesn't taste very good, they wind up rock hard the next day, name it, I'll find an excuse.

However, this is probably the recipe I make an exception, although I still limit my intake since there's only so much chocolate I can handle at one time.  I love how soft the cookies remain, even after three to four days.  The ingredients are so simple, and the recipe is so easy.

My final musing:  use Ghiradelli chocolate chips.  They do not harden like a certain yellow bag after a few days - they stay deliciously soft.  They also taste so much better than the yellow bag.

My absolute final musing:  I'm not sure how I messed up the recipe this time - I think the butter may have been too soft.  My cookies spread a lot more than I expected.  At first I thought maybe it was my butter (I used Trader Joe's) but I doubt the water content of the TJ's butter is that different from Safeway butter.

My utterly final final musing:  You can edit the sugar to 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 3/4 cup brown sugar but I like the "deeper" taste of more brown sugar.

My James Brown style finale musing: I used eggs from Clover Stornetta Farms, which is a great "local" farm.  I'm really starting to get into more organic, local, sustainable vegetables, fruit and dairy.  Next, I would like to get their butter.  Support your local, family owned dairy farm.  I like to pretend my Ghiradelli chocolate chips are made in CA, but at least they are headquartered here.

Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies from Martha Stewart
Yield:  about 3 dozen


Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups (about 12 ounces) semisweet and/or milk chocolate chips
Directions:
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2.  In a small bowl, whisk together flour and baking soda, set aside.

3.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine butter with both sugars, beat on medium speed until light and fluffy.

4.  Reduce speed to low.  Add salt, vanilla, and eggs.  Beat until well mixed, about 1 minute.  Add flour mixture, mix until just combined.  Stir in chocolate chips.

5.  Drop by the heaping tablespoon onto baking sheets.  Bake until brown around the edges, about 10-12 minutes.  Remove from oven, let cool on the baking sheets 1-2 minutes (I let them sit for about five.)  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

6.  Store in an airtight container between layers of parchment for up to one week.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Black Bean and Mushroom Burgers

Healthy eating isn't easy.

Heck, I'm not even sure how "healthy" this recipe is, but it does have black beans, which are a good source of fiber.  And mushrooms do have some health benefits, but not as many as say a nice leafy, green vegetable.  However, this recipe is vegetarian (heck, vegan even if you get the right beans and vegan bread) and if you're looking to cut back on your meat consumption but still enjoy a burger every now and again, this recipe is a very good substitute.

I won't however, replace burgers in my overall diet.  I still like meat.  A lot.  I'm just very careful about the consumption of beef, in particular the serving size.

The original recipe uses a food processor.  I'm here to tell you  it's not necessary, but very helpful.  So if you don't have a food processor within easy reach, just give yourself a little extra time to crumble the bread.

The overall taste is really good - it doesn't taste chalky, it has flavor, and it's way better than any veggie burger you buy frozen and microwave.  It also isn't difficult to make, and when picking black beans, pick a can that has a low amount of sodium - always watch your salt intake!  A huge plus - this "patty" doesn't shrink at all while cooking - yay!

Yes, it remained deliciously large.


Black Bean and Mushroom Burgers, courtesy of Brown Eyed Baker.
Makes 4 burgers.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil (I used olive oil) plus more for brushing
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 8 ounces cremini mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 4 slices whole wheat sandwich bread, lightly toasted (I used two slices whole grain white bread, plus one double fiber Orowheat English Muffin because I needed to use them up!)
  • 15 ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed (always rinse the beans to get them clean)
  • 2 ounces (about 1/2 cup) shredded cheddar cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • English muffins, pita pockets, or buns, to serve.
  • Salsa, sour cream, other items you like on your "burgers" to serve.
Directions:
1.  Heat a skillet over medium high heat, add the oil and add the onion.  Cook 3-4 minutes, or until golden.

2.  Add the mushrooms, garlic, cumin and paprika.  Stir and cook until the mushrooms have released their juices, about 6-7 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

3.  ORIGINAL RECIPE DIRECTIONS:  Tear toasted bread and place in food processor.  Process until broken down into crumbs.  Pour the crumbs into a medium sized bowl (mixing bowls are a good idea.)  Add the mushroom mixture and beans to the food processor, pulse until combined but not smooth - leave some chunky bits.  Add to bowl with bread crumbs, add the cheese, and season with salt and pepper.

3a.  MY WAY:  Tear the toasted bread into smaller pieces and continue tearing down until crumb like in a medium sized mixing bowl.  When bread pieces get too small to tear, rub the pieces between your hands to promote crumbling.  Pour black beans into a small bowl, and using a fork, smash the beans.  (You must use a fork.  Do not use a spoon - believe me, they don't smash.)  Add beans to the bread crumbs.  Add the mushroom mixture, cheese, and season with a little salt and pepper.  (If your beans have a lot of sodium, I'd ease up on the salt.)  You might not think the mixture will combine, but it actually comes together very well.  I thought I would need an egg to promote mixing, but it wasn't needed!  It's probably due to the fresh bread - do not take the shortcut of using dried bread crumbs.

4.  Combine the mixture and divide into four portions.  Create four patties with moist hands (or gloves, like me.)  Lightly brush each side with canola oil.  (I wound up greasing the skillet, and then spraying each side with cooking spray.)  

5.  In a skillet over medium heat, cook each patty for 5-6 minutes per side.

My T-Fal skillet is awesome because I found one made in France!

6.  Serve on toasted English muffins, buns, pitas, however you want to eat them (or just eat them as a patty!)  Serve with your favorite burger fixins.

I'll take a side of Kettle Potato Chips.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Salad Dressings

Hi.

*guilty look*

I know, I've been gone.  I don't write, I don't tweet.  I'd give you an excuse, but you wouldn't believe me.

*shuffles feet*

Forgive my sin of not blogging, but I come to you with not one, but TWO salad dressings.  Rejoice!

Wait, who rejoices over salad dressings?  Usually, not me.  I am NOT a salad person by any stretch of the imagination. The only time I am - if someone else makes it.  I'm not kidding - if there's leftover salad after an event at work, I pounce on it like there's no tomorrow.

A salad that I make?  Meh.  Who needs it.

*quiet voice* "Hey down here.  Your hips say hi."

Oh, that's right, me.

For salad dressings, I usually go with the stuff right out of the bottle.  However, do you look at the contents of the bottle?  Hello, sugar?!  I'm trying to be healthy here!

In the May 2011 issue of Everyday Food, the editors asks if you have tried cooking with vinegar.  Truthfully, no, unless a recipe calls for it, because that stuff STINKS.    But it had an entire page of vinaigrettes, and since I am controlling the sugar and ingredients, I figured my salads could use a pick me up.

White-Wine Vinaigrette, adapted from Everyday Food, May 2011.
Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, for seasoning.
Mmmm mud.

Directions:
1.  FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS.  I messed up, and somehow added 1 teaspoon of Dijon Mustard as I was reading the directions for the red wine vinaigrette when I was trying to make the white wine.  ARGH.  So the flavor isn't correct, but it was actually pretty darn tasty.

2.  Whisk together the white wine vinegar, shallot, parsley and olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  

Ingredients:
My Trader Joe's Honey Bear stares you down.  The balsamic is a free sample I received at a 5k race, of all places.
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar 
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste.
Directions:
1.  Read the ingredients carefully, correctly and lay out the ingredients before you begin mixing.

2.  Whisk together balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, honey, and extra virgin olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Yeah, nothing makes dressing look pretty.  

Of these two, I think I enjoyed the honey-balsamic vinaigrette more.  First, because I didn't screw it up.  Second, while balsamic is usually very strong, the honey and the mustard helped to dial down the balsamic while still keeping the hints of the balsamic flavor.  

Both dressings are very light and very easy to make, and would go great on any salad.

Such as this awesome one I made, with romaine lettuce, diced tomato, cucumber, chicken, fresh (cooked) corn, and garbanzo beans.  Deliciously healthy.  




Thursday, May 5, 2011

Beef Tacos

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

I hope you all have a fun and safe day, but if you wanted to stay home... make some tacos... I've got a recipe for you.

Today's beef taco's recipe comes courtesy of Cooks Illustrated.  I probably saved it from one of the various weekly ATK emails I receive - sign up for them, some GREAT recipes are emailed to you, all seasonal and holiday appropriate!

This recipe is very simple, you should have most of the items on hand, and takes just minutes.  As for the toppings, top it with whatever floats your taco boat - tomatoes, sour cream, cheese, avocado, onion, salsa, or ATK's suggestion of lettuce.  I think lettuce in tacos are gross... unless it's a delicious fish taco and you're adding a delicious slaw.  But I digress.

I also always recommend corn tortillas with tacos.  Flour tastes better, but corn tastes more authentic.

I went with just sour cream, tomatoes, and cheese.  We want tacos...

By the way, I ate this over the course of three days, and the flavor was still intense after three days.  Of course, eat it as soon as possible.  The flavor seemed to intensify a bit - it felt a bit bland when I first tried it, but that was after I realized... oops I used two teaspoons of chili powder instead of two tablespoons.  

Beef Tacos from Cooks Illustrated, March 2002

Ingredients - Beef Filling:

  • 2 teaspoons vegetable or corn oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped small (about 2/3 cup)
  • 3 medium cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I used just a dash)
  • Salt
  • 1 pound 90% lean ground beef (I used 80/20)
  • 1/2 cup tomato sauce (sold in 8 ounce cans)
  • 1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth (I did not have this, I used water instead)
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vinegar (preferably cider, I used white)
  • Ground black pepper
  • 8 taco shells or white corn tortillas
Directions:
1.  Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat until hot and shimmering but not smoking, about 2 minutes.  Add onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes.

2.  Add garlic, spices, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add ground beef and cook, breaking up meat and scraping pan bottom to avoid scorching, until beef is no longer pink, about five minutes.  

3.  Add tomato sauce, chicken broth, brown sugar, and vinegar; bring to a simmer.  Reduce heat to medium low and simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently and breaking up any remaining chunks, until liquid has reduced and thickened (mixture should not be completely dry), about 10 minutes.  Taste, and add salt and pepper to your liking. 

4.  Remove from the pan using a slotted spoon.  Serve with your desired toppings.

Rolled up delicious goodness.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Queen Elizabeth's Drop Scones

I'm still on a high from the Royal Wedding - I love weddings, and it's 1000x better when the Royal Family is involved!  Especially when I dragged myself out of bed at 2:10am Pacific time, I'm going to savor every single moment!

I wanted to make scones for the occasion, but ran into a few problems:
1.  No cream (or even half and half) on hand.
2.  No fruit on hand (i.e. no blueberries, no currants, etc.)

Darn.

As I continued googling, I came across Simply Recipes again and noticed Elise posted a recipe in honor of the Royal Wedding.  The recipe was for Queen Elizabeth's Drop Scones.  A quick glance at the ingredients told me I had everything on hand.  As I looked closer, I realized the "scones" were really more like pancakes, but light, fluffy, airy pancakes.

I also had a hard time believing Queen Elizabeth actually whipped these up for President Eisenhower, but, that's how the story goes.

On Elise's original recipe, she provided the substitute for the cream of tartar and baking soda - just baking powder - which is what I used, since I never have cream of tartar.

Pancakes?  Scones?  English Muffins?  

Serve with butter and syrup.  Eat like a pancake.  They're so light, which I appreciate - it doesn't feel like a brick in my stomach after eating.  I'd definitely make these again.

A note on the batter - it seems really thick.  I didn't follow the instructions perfectly, so my batter may have been a bit too gluten-y, but I still managed to make a light, fluffy pancake.

Queen Elizabeth's Drop Scones from Simply Recipes

Ingredients:
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda + 3 teaspoons cream of tartar OR 5 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup superfine sugar or 1/4 heaping cup white granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups milk, more if needed
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted.
Directions:
1.  Whisk together flour, baking soda, cream of tartar (or just baking powder), and salt in a large bowl.

2.  In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar.  Add most of the milk.

3.  Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and pour in the egg/milk/sugar mixture.  Whisk until smooth, adding more milk until you get the right consistency - thin enough to spread in a pan, but not so thin that it would run.  Fold in melted butter.

4.  Heat a griddle or pan.  Lightly grease (I use cooking spray.)  Drop batter by the tablespoon to form pancakes.  When bubbles start to appear, about 2-3 minutes, flip over and cook the other side for about a minute, or lightly browned.

5.  Keep warm in the oven or eat as soon as possible.

SO FLUFFY!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Banana Bread

Three rapidly ripening bananas.  One rapidly frantic wannabe cook, who hasn't posted a recipe in a while because she hasn't had time to find something new to cook.

Thankfully the bananas forced themselves into the spotlight and I had to make something quick.  Enter banana bread!

Generally, my go to recipe for banana bread is from America's Test Kitchen's Family Baking Book.  Unfortunately, I did not have plain yogurt on hand, so I had to frantically google for a new recipe and came across this one from Simply Recipes via Smitten Kitchen.

While I love the ATK Banana Bread, this one was also delish because it isn't as sweet.  Cutting back on the sweetness made the banana bread so yummerific, especially since the bananas were already so dark they had to be overflowing with sugars.  It'll be hard to choose a winner, but if you have plain yogurt on hand, make the ATK version; if not, go with this one.  It's a winner either way.

I might suggest, however, baking for 50 minutes instead of 1 hour - I checked my bread at 55 minutes and it seemed a bit overdone around the edges.

Mmmmmmmm.  See those brown edges?  That's where it is overdone - definitely reduce the baking time.

Banana Bread from Elise at Simply Recipes

Ingredients:
  • 3 or 4 ripe bananas, smashed
  • 1/3 cup melted butter (this is about 5 1/3 tablespoons, I just used six tablespoons.)
  • 1 cup sugar (I used about 80% of one cup of sugar)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
I just had to show off these two ingredients - three rapidly browning bananas, and one brand spanking new bottle of vanilla extract.  It smelled heavenly.  I'd highly recommend Trader Joe's vanilla extract (also available in alcohol free) - it's sooo much cheaper than McCormick's.

Directions:
1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

2.  In a large bowl, smash your bananas - not necessarily into a fine paste, but into much smaller pieces.  I enjoy having the small chunks in my batter to keep the bread moist.

3.  Add melted butter into bananas.  Mix in sugar, egg, and vanilla.  Sprinkle the baking soda and salt.  Slowly combine.

4.  Add in the flour, stir slowly to combine.  Try not to overmix.  When the flour is combined, you are done!

5.  Grease a loaf pan.  Pour batter into pan and smooth the top.  Knock it against the counter a few times to make sure there are no air bubbles in the batter.

6.  Bake for 50 minutes - use a toothpick tester to check doneness starting at 40-45 minutes, depending on how hot your oven gets.

7.  Remove from oven, cool on a rack for five minutes.  

As you can see, I use Baker's Secret loaf pans.

8.  Remove from pan, continue cooling until ready to slice and serve.

All sliced up and ready to eat!  

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sauteed Mushrooms over Pasta

Once again, this is another dish inspired by the sales at the grocery store.

My local grocery store, Safeway, has a club card where you can load deals to your card.  One of my deals was an 8 ounce package of mushrooms for 1.59.  

Last week, the same package of mushrooms was on sale for Buy One, Get One Free - meaning I purchased two 8 ounce containers of mushrooms for only 1.59, or 0.80 each.  HOT deal.

I love mushrooms, and when I saw the recipe for sauteed mushrooms pop up on Lucinda Scala Quinn's blog, I promptly saved it to make over pasta, as I waited for a mushroom sale.

I always buy the whole mushrooms - the pre-sliced mushrooms are too thick for my liking, and I'm such a control freak in the kitchen, I'd rather slice my own mushrooms.  The mushrooms were pre-washed, but you certainly can wash them again.  I'm not a fan of washing mushrooms, as I rinse and then wipe the dirt off each mushroom - it took FOREVER with a container of crimini mushrooms and I'm not eager to repeat the experience. 

My small changes:
1.  I used half and half instead of heavy cream.  Fat free, too.  Calories, people.
2.  I usually do not have wine on hand.  Instead, I squeezed an entire lemon into the mushrooms I sliced.
3.  I halved the recipe.  So yes, I used 1 whole lemon instead of only 1/4th of a lemon for juice.  But I actually liked the intense lemon flavor, and the lemon didn't seem extremely juicy in the first place.

If you make this dish on it's own, slice the mushrooms slightly thicker than I did.

I need to use smaller dishes in my photos.

Sauteed Mushrooms over Pasta, by Lucinda Scala Quinn.  Serves 6

Ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh mushrooms
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
  • Splash white wine (or extra lemon, like I did)
  • 1/4 cup cream (or half and half)
  • 3 tablespoons grated cheese (I used Parmesan)
Directions:
1.  Submerge mushrooms in cold water, swish around to wash thoroughly, and drain.  Trim the ends, slice and place in a large bowl.  Squeeze the juice of half a lemon (this is where I used the whole) over the mushrooms and toss.

2.  Heat olive oil in a large pan, and cook garlic until lightly brown, about 30 seconds, over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms, stir, and cover.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for four minutes.

3.  Remove the lid, add salt and pepper, and cook, stirring until moisture has evaporated and mushrooms brown, about five minutes.  

4.  If continuing on to make it as a sauce, do not cook off all the liquid if you are not adding a splash of wine.  Leave a small amount in the pan, add the cream, and the cheese.  Stir to combine until it thickens.

5.  Stir in parsley (I used dried parsley, don't hurt me.)  Stir in cooked pasta and serve.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

More Biscuits!

MORE biscuits you say?

After making the pasta primavera, I still had over a cup of half and half left in the fridge.  I try not to waste anything, so I decided to use the half and half to make biscuits.

As I stated before, I'm not the best biscuit maker, but I'm willing to try again and again until I get something that resembles a nice, fluffy, buttery biscuit.  I decided to use the biscuit topping recipe from a cherry cobbler I made last summer, courtesy of Martha Stewart.

My main note about the topping (and recipe in general) - it makes a LOT of biscuit topping.  I made only a half recipe, and came out with 12 biscuits.  Adjust accordingly for your desired quantity.

Is that enough biscuit for ya?

I always loved this topping as a stand-alone biscuit.  It's slightly sweet and very light.  It still tastes great with butter or my preference... peanut butter.  I appreciate the non-bricklike taste of the biscuit, as did Mr. UoC.

But when summer arrives.. it's even better on top of cobbler.  MMMM.

Biscuit Topping only, Cherry Cobbler from Martha Stewart/Everyday Food

Ingredients:
  • 3 3/4 cups all purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) very cold butter (stick it in the freezer)
  • 2 cups cold heavy cream, plus more for brushing (I used half and half)
Directions:
1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.  Combine and set aside.

2.  Using large holes on a box grater, grate butter into flour mixture.  If you don't want to use a grater, cut into very small pieces.

3.  With a fork, mix in cream until dough just comes together.  (I use my hands.  It's easier.)  

4.  On a floured work surface, roll out dough to a 3/4 inch thickness with a floured rolling pin.  (I used my hands to shape a rectangle.  No style points today.)  

5.  With a knife or biscuit cutter, cut out biscuits.  Arrange on a baking sheet, and brush tops of remaining cream.  Bake for 20 minutes, or until tops are browned.

Serve with butter, jam, jelly, peanut butter, or enjoy plain, although they aren't as buttery as my previous biscuit escapade.

Getting up close and personal.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Pasta Primavera

It's SPRING!  The sun is shining (here at least), we had temps in the upper 70's and 80's last week, and the first trickle of vegetables on sale at the grocery store has finally begun.

This week I noticed:
Asparagus - $0.97/pound
Green beans - $0.99/pound
Zucchini - $1.00/pound

I even lucked out with the peas - I was scouring the frozen food aisle, and I was about to reach for the Green Giant peas for $2.00 a box, when I noticed the Safeway brand organic peas were also $2.00.  I have noticed I will go for the organic anything now when it's a good deal, so, for me, this was a great find!

These three, beautiful green vegetables are big parts of a pasta dish I found from Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen recently - pasta primavera!  (If you do not subscribe to ATK's Notes from the Test Kitchen, I highly recommend it!)

I didn't have any problems making this recipe - I just found it takes a lot of time.  I tried to do a lot of things at once - boiling water, prepping vegetables, boiling pasta, but I couldn't time everything together well.  I only made two major changes - I halved the recipe, and instead of heavy cream, I used half and half.  The flavor mavens may be angry at me, but it was what I had in the fridge, and I wanted to lighten the recipe a smidge.

The taste?  Loved it.  I love all the vegetables used in this dish (except maybe the peas, I bet I could have cut the amount of peas in half again) and I managed to season it perfectly during the salt additions.  Mr. Unoriginal Chef saw me plating the dish to photograph and he demanded it for his dinner.

Of course, he only ate it after I picked out all the icky green stuff he didn't like - meaning the peas, the green beans, and the asparagus.  Men.  I deliberately left some peas and green beans in there to make him eat something healthy.

Make this once you start getting your CSA boxes this summer!  Or when you find a great sale at the grocery store like me!


Pasta Primavera from Cook's Illustrated, August 2004

Ingredients:
  • 6 ounces green beans, cut into 3/4 inch pieces
  • 12 medium asparagus spears, tough ends snapped off (just bend the asparagus, it will break where it needs to be broken), halved lengthwise and cut diagonally into 3/4 inch pieces
  • 1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces white mushrooms, sliced thin
  • 4 large plum tomatoes (about 1 pound), peeled, cored and chopped medium
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional) (I did not add this)
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound dried egg fettucine (I used whole wheat linguini)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup shredded basil leaves (whoops, I forgot this)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (I used a whole lemon and squeezed until the proper taste)
  • Grated parmesan cheese, for serving
Directions:
1.  Boil water for pasta in large pot.  In a second pot, bring water to boil for green vegetables; add 1 tablespoon salt.  

2.  Fill a large bowl with ice water, set aside.

3.  Add green beans to boiling water in smaller pot, cook for 1 1/2 minutes.  Add asparagus, cook for 30 seconds.  Add zucchini, cook for 30 seconds.  Add peas, cook for 30 seconds.  Drain vegetables and dunk into ice water.  Let sit until chilled, about 3 minutes, and drain.  Set aside.

4.  Heat 3 tablespoons butter over medium high heat until foamy in the same pot you used to boil the vegetables.  Add mushrooms, and saute until brown, about 8-10 minutes.  Add tomatoes and red pepper flakes, if using.  Reduce heat to medium and simmer until tomatoes begin to lose their shape, about 7 minutes. Add cream and stir until slightly thickened, about 4 minutes.  Cover to keep warm and set aside.

5.  Add 1 tablespoon of salt to the pasta water and cook pasta until al dente.

6.  While the pasta is cooking, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter in a sauce pan or skillet.  Heat until foamy.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant and lightly colored, about 1 minute.  Add blanched vegetables and cook until heated through and infused with garlic flavor, about 2 minutes.  Season with salt to taste, set aside.

7.  Bring mushroom/tomato sauce back to medium heat.

8.  Drain pasta and return to large pot.  (I didn't do this, since I had cooked my pasta way in advance.  I actually put the pasta into the large skillet with my vegetables.  It worked, just a lot of stirring.)  Add mushroom/tomato sauce, and stir to combine over low heat.  Squeeze lemon juice over pasta, and season with salt to taste.

Serve immediately with grated cheese on top.

Up close and personal with the vegetables!  Eat your veggies!  It should be easy with this dish!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Quick Tomato Sauce

We have meatballs.

We have pasta, cooked and ready to go.

Now we need a sauce.

We could use the pomodoro sauce I've made in the past, but I wanted to try out a recipe I had saved from America's Test Kitchen.

At first glance, it looks complicated, but it really is extremely simple.  The hardest part is grating the onion - more so for me because I don't own a box grater (something I need to rectify ASAP.)  I was using a microplane zester.  YES, a zester.  This was the smallest grate ever.  If you don't have a grater, just cut in slices, and then cut the slices smaller.  It's almost the same effect.

My main substitution, as usual, were the tomatoes.  I had one can of petite diced tomatoes, and one can of diced tomatoes with Italian seasonings.  This was perfectly acceptable - use what you have on hand.  I will concede it might not be the exact same flavor, but when the can of diced tomatoes are $0.49 and the Muir Glen whole tomatoes are 3.99... you have to make a choice.  I erred on the side of affordability.

Cooking time was short and sweet.  I added the meatballs and let them simmer even longer in the sauce at a lower temperature.  I still think a smaller size for the meatballs would have been beneficial, and that's my fault. Oh well.  Next time.

Flavor wise, I can't choose between the sauces!  I love them both!  I might lean a bit more towards ATK, but Lucinda... AHHH.  So hard to choose.

Mmmm.

Quick Tomato Sauce from America's Test Kitchen, Season 10.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup grated onion, from one medium onion, grated on the large holes of a box grater
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Table salt
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes (or 2 14 ounce cans)
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Ground black pepper

Directions:
1.  Heat butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until melted.  Add onion, oregano, and 0.5 teaspoon salt.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has evaporated and onion is golden brown, about five minutes.

2.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

3.  Add tomatoes and sugar.  Increase heat to high and bring to a simmer.

4.  Lower heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened slightly, about 10 minutes.

5.  Off heat, stir in the basil and oil.  Season with salt and pepper.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Light Turkey Meatballs

"How do you spend so little on groceries?"

"Well, I buy groceries based on what is on sale that week, and I plan meals around it."

"That's too much work."

FINE THEN, don't take my advice!

It really is the simplest way to save money when you are trying new recipes - just wait until the main ingredient is on sale.  For example, today I am posting about turkey meatballs.  Usually turkey is $5.99 for a 20 ounce package.  At Safeway, I received a special promotion with my club card, making the package only $1.99.  Of course I'm going to plan meals around the promotional price of ground turkey, and you'd be a fool to turn that price down - ground turkey never seems to get that cheap.

Now that my preaching is out of the way...

Everyday Food had a recipe in November for Asian Turkey Meatballs with Carrot Rice.  I was tempted to make these meatballs, but I am not a fan of hot sauce, so the amount of Siracha scared me.  I turned to other Martha turkey meatball recipes and discovered an Everyday Food recipe for Light Turkey Meatballs.  Unfortunately, this recipe only shows you how to make the actual meatballs, but they did link up to meatballs with tomato sauce over whole wheat pasta, which provided the instructions on how to cook the meatballs.  The instructions also said to use jarred pasta sauce, which would be faster, but I found the perfect excuse to try another tomato sauce recipe (coming soon!)

I found the meatball recipe to be extremely easy.  Easy is our friend.  They did seem a bit wet, and I cut myself cutting the scallions (darn ceramic knife!) but I really liked the taste.  Mr. UoC said they were a bit dry, and I admit I overcooked them (oops) but better safe than sorry sometimes, right?  I made the meatballs really large (I wound up with 20) so next time, make them much smaller! 


See what I mean about them being a bit too large?  Meatballs in a pot are never attractive, are they?

Light Turkey Meatballs from Everyday Food, January/February 2008.
Light Turkey Meatballs over Whole Wheat Pasta from Everyday Food, January/February 2008

Ingredients:
  • 3 slices whole wheat (I used whole grain white) sandwich bread
  • 1/4 cup of milk
  • 1.5 pounds of ground turkey, 93 percent lean, dark meat (I only used 1.25 pounds)
  • 3 scallions, finely choppd
  • 2 small cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (I cheated, used dried parsley)
  • 1 large egg
  • Coarse salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
Directions:
1.  Place bread in a food processor, pulse until fine crumbs form.  In a small bowl, mix breadcrumbs with milk, set aside at least five minutes.  (You can also rip up the bread by hand and almost grind it into fine pieces if you don't want to use a food processor.)

2.  In a large bowl, combine turkey, scallions, garlic, egg, 1.5 teaspoons of salt, 0.5 teaspoons of pepper (eyeball those two last measures) and breadcrumb mixture.  Mix gently with a fork.  I used my hands.  (I also wore gloves because I'm a wimp like that.)

3.  Using your hands, shape into balls, about 2 tablespoons each.  You can also use an ice cream scoop to make your life easier.

4.  (Now going onto the second recipe)  In a skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat.  Add meatballs and cook until browned on all sides, about 5-7 minutes.  Set aside.

Tomorrow, we move onto the sauce!  And the final results!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mashed Potato Pancakes

When one has leftover mashed potatoes, one should make mashed potato pancakes.

If you have leftover mashed potatoes, that is, but hey, a girl can only eat mashed potatoes on the side for so many meals.

So as I perused the internets for a new way to get my carb fix on, I couldn't find a recipe that called to me, so I winged it.

First, I added some egg white to thicken the potatoes.  No yolk, as I didn't want the pancakes to turn yellowish. I beat the whites first and tried to fold them into the potatoes.  No go.  It was still pretty runny.

Then I just started adding flour to thicken.  That helped a bit, but I was tired of adding flour and went "I'm frying these suckers up now, I'm hungry."

So I did.  And they came out pretty well - delish.  They had the consistency of a pancake in that soft, flaky manner, but with the flavor of mashed potatoes.  I could taste all the butter.  Butter....

Cook them as you would any other pancake, and enjoy.  I ate them plain, as I was in a hurry.  Syrup may be a bit weird, but I wouldn't object to gravy.

What?  It's still potatoes!  Just in pancake form!


Mashed Potato Pancakes, a'la me.

Ingredients:
  • Leftover mashed potatoes (perhaps 1.5 cups here?)
  • One egg white
  • Flour, to thicken.
Directions:
1.  Beat egg white until slightly fluffy, and fold into potatoes.  Determine how thick your batter is.  If it is thin, use flour to thicken.  If it's thick enough for you, commence cooking.

2.  In a skillet over medium heat, heat your oil (or butter.  Or bacon grease...) until hot.  Drop batter by the two tablespoons full, depending on the size of pancake you desire.  (Obviously my first pancake I went for the gusto, and it was a bit difficult to turn over.  I recommend smaller pancakes.)  Cook until it begins to bubble, and flip over.  Press lightly to flatten.  Flip over again after one minute, and determine doneness.

3.  Serve with your favorite mashed potato accompaniment, or eat as is, which is just as delicious.

I almost want to make mashed potatoes just to make pancakes!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Mashed Potatoes

To complete this week's recipes, on the side of my chicken and biscuits were mashed potatoes.

I love potatoes.

Very much.

Mashed potatoes, french fries, home fries, hash browns... I'm starting to sound like Samwise Gamgee.

Mashed potatoes from scratch are very easy.  Sure, nothing is as easy as the instant potatoes, but with just a little time, you can have mashed potatoes from scratch, and none of the weird additives.  And way less salt - those packets are loaded with sodium.

I once again went to the America's Test Kitchen well for my recipe, but my main problem is that I do not own a ricer.  I had to mash these by hand with... a whisk.  Yes, I don't own a potato masher either.  It's not really an issue, you adapt, but there were definitely some lumps.  I tried to flatten every lump I could find with a fork.

I found that I needed to add more butter and salt to the recipe, BUT I used 2% milk instead of half and half or whole milk, as that was all I had on hand, which probably led to the addition of more butter.  Mr. UoC said they were bland, so I added a few more pinches of salt after I added the milk and butter.  Add a little bit of salt, and taste as you go along, as it is really easy to oversalt.

Would I make this again?  Probably, as it is relatively quick and easy.  Mashed potatoes are so easily adaptable though, so I'm sure there are many other recipes out there that can also be used with similar results.  This is a great, basic recipe that is very easy.  You can't mess it up!

Yummy though.  Yay potatoes!  

Mashed Potatoes by America's Test Kitchen

Ingredients:
  • Two pounds russet potatoes, scrubbed clean (because I'm a dirt freak like that)
  • Salt
  • 1 cup half and half or whole milk
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • Pepper

Directions:
1.  Place whole potatoes in salted water in a large pot.  Make sure the water covers the potatoes.  Bring to a boil over high heat and then simmer, covered, until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

2.  Drain and peel potatoes.  (You can use your hands - you don't need a peeler.  The skin easily comes off from the potato, but be careful, it's HOT.)  

3.  Put potatoes through a food mill or ricer into a warm, dry saucepan.  

4.  Heat milk and butter in a small saucepan until warm and butter is melted.

5.  Pour milk/butter mixture onto potatoes and mix well.  Season with pepper to taste and serve.  At this point, also test for salt.  If you don't feel it's buttery enough, add a half of a teaspoon at a time until you are happy with the taste.

Biscuit, chicken, and potato.  Mmm a great meal!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Drop Biscuits

Biscuits and I do not get along.

I've made biscuits from Bisquick (in a previous life when I didn't bake from scratch.)
I've made biscuits from the can, with the satisfying "plop" each time I open the can.
I've made biscuits from scratch.

No matter what I do, the darn biscuits do not look like a fluffy, pretty, soft, biscuit.  I suspect I'm overbaking or overmixing, but alas, what can I do.

Well, except make them right, but this is my blog, so we'll overlook that shortcoming.

Then I came across my savior.  Two magic words.

Drop biscuits.

YES.

No fussy biscuit cutter required! (I don't even have one, so that may be part of my problem, although I have a glass that is about 2.25 inches across..)
Simple ingredients!
Buttermilk!

Wait, buttermilk?

I've never cooked with buttermilk in my life.  I usually try to avoid it so that I don't have to buy it.  But there's a quick solution around it - if you don't have buttermilk, put one tablespoon of white vinegar in a cup.  Add enough milk so that the total liquid is a cup.  (If you want to be picky, one tablespoon white vinegar, 15 tablespoons milk.)  Gently mix for a few seconds and let it sit for five minutes.

Ok, now that I'm over the buttermilk hurdle, this recipe also gets over the biscuit cutter hurdle - you use a 1/4 cup measure to make the biscuits!  Yes!  They're supposed to be lumpy, oddly shapen, and possibly kind of flat.  (I'm not perfect.)

The ingredients are so simple, the directions so easy, you need to go make these now.  My one caution:  baking at 475F.  This is a really high temperature and caused my smoke alarm to go off twice, and I had to reduce the heat to 400F immediately.  The biscuits still overcooked a bit, so I'd actually recommend cooking at 400 for about 12 minutes.  But the overall flavor was deliciously buttery, and Mr. UoC LOVED them.  He couldn't stop eating them, especially when they're warm.

Also, a note:  I completely goofed in the last few steps of this recipe.  I somehow read the recipe to say to brush the biscuits with butter BEFORE baking, not after.  Did it make a difference?  Probably not.  Although that is probably what set off my smoke alarm.

At least I don't bake in the middle of the night, right?

Drop Biscuits by America's Test Kitchen.  Makes 12 biscuits.

Puff up for me, baby.

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, cold.
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly (about five minutes) plus 2 tablespoons melted butter for brushing biscuits


Instructions:
1.  Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 475F degrees. (I recommend 400F.)  

2.  Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt in a large bowl.  Set aside.

3.  Combine buttermilk and 8 tablespoons melted butter in a medium bowl, stirring until butter forms small clumps.  This takes a few minutes, and do not skip this step!

4.  Add buttermilk mixture to wet ingredients and combine until just incorporated and batter pulls away from side of the bowl.  

5.  Using a greased 1/4 cup scoop (or I just divided the batter into pieces and shaped them) drop batter onto a parchment lined baking sheet.  

6.  Bake until tops are golden and crisp, 12-14 minutes.  Brush biscuit tops with butter, and transfer to a wire rack to cool, at least five minutes, before serving.

Serve with butter.  Also really delicious with peanut butter.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Garlic Chicken Legs

I stock chicken in my freezer regularly - I buy it when it's on sale or when I catch it on clearance.  (It's FINE when it's on clearance - either use it that day or freeze it.  It's on the last day of the sell-by date on the sticker.)

I needed to "de-stash" my freezer a bit, so I pulled out this recipe I've been sitting on for the chicken legs.  The recipe originally called for wings, but I figured a bit of adaptation never hurt anyone.

Today's recipe is from Everyday Chinese Cooking by Leeann and Katie Chin.  If you're from Minnesota, you've heard of the Leeann Chin restaurants - the Panda Express of Minnesota, if you would.  (They also recently purchased Pick Up Stix, which I ate at a few times in Southern California.)  The premise of the book is that Chinese cooking isn't that difficult or exotic - a few simple directions, ingredients anyone can find, and you are on your way.

I had always picked out this recipe with the intention to make it with either legs or thighs, but Mr. Unoriginal Chef said it would probably be better on wings... and that this was similar to a recipe his grandma made when he was a kid.  Go figure.  Every time I find an Asian recipe, it reminds one of us of our childhoods.

This recipe is extremely easy - the hardest part was adjusting the cooking time.  If you're using legs, I'd recommend 50 minutes.  At 40 minutes it wasn't quite done yet, according to my meat thermometer.  I left it in the oven for another 15 minutes, and it blew past done.  It wasn't dry though, which was fortunate!  Even reheated the next day for lunch, it was still tender.

Quick tip:  I forgot I didn't have a fresh bottle of ketchup, so I substituted with ketchup packets.  So in a pinch, 2 packets of ketchup is about 1 tablespoon.

Hellooooo hot out of the oven goodness!

Garlic Chicken Wings by Leeann and Katie Chin

Ingredients:

  • 12 chicken wings (I used three chicken legs)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup ketchup (or 8 ketchup packets)
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic (I finely minced two cloves)
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger (I added a few dashes of ground ginger)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (table salt)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Directions:
1.  Cut the chicken wings at the joints to make 3 pieces.  Reserve the tips to use in broth.

2.  In a small bowl, mix the vegetable oil, soy sauce, ketchup, garlic, ginger, salt and sugar.  Pour over the wings and marinate 1 to 2 hours in the refrigerator.  Minimum marinating time:  30 minutes.

I marinate inside a ziploc bag for ease of cleanup later.  

3.  When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400F.

4.  Line a shallow roasting pan (I used a 8x8 Pyrex) with foil for easy cleanup.  Add the chicken to the pan, and bake 40-55 minutes, or when a thermometer inserted in the thickest part, without hitting the bone, hits 180 degrees.

Really simple, basic ingredients, super easy, super yummy.

There were three legs... um... we ate one pretty quickly after it came out of the oven.  We couldn't help ourselves.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Mushroom and Black Bean Tortilla Casserole

I think I've set a new record for cooking recipes out of one issue of a magazine:

Two.

I know, I aim high.

This is the second recipe from the January/February 2011 issue of Everyday Food.  My first recipe was the turkey chili, which was delicious.  EDF, would you fail me now?

Today's recipe is the Mushroom and Black Bean Tortilla Casserole, which is from their week of dinners section of the magazine.  It seemed easy enough, and the ingredients aren't outlandish, and lo and behold, I have lunch for the week.

My only possible suggestion for this recipe is to omit the cayenne if you can't handle spice.  When I first tasted the casserole, it was HOT.  I bought mild salsa, but the cayenne gave it some extra kick.  If you don't like spice, make sure you purchase the mildest salsa there!  I bought Pace Picante's mild because it was on sale.

My biggest peeve about this recipe is it doesn't specify what size tortillas to buy.  It says "corn" so I assumed taco sized, but I kept worrying I wouldn't have enough tortillas, so I bought a pack of 18 tortillas.  It turned out I really only needed the 8 tortillas, so I have to find something to do with the remaining 10.  Enchiladas? 

Definitely rinse the black beans - it gets rid of that funky can smell.  Also remember to warm the tortillas, as it helps to soften them during baking.  You can warm them by microwaving them inbetween paper towels for 20 seconds.

Verdict:  Great taste, even it was a bit spicy.  However, the next day, the fire died down considerably, so if you're freezing or eating it over the course of a week, don't worry if it's too hot for you initially.  When I first pulled it out of the oven, I pulled a slice out to photograph and then put aside for lunch today, but I took a few sample bites.  And then a few more sample bites.  And then a sample bite out of another piece stil in the pan.  It is GOOD.  It comes together quickly, so if you need a fast meal on a weeknight, paired with some salad, it's a great meatless option.

My favorite part is definitely the mushrooms.  You can't go wrong with mushrooms. 

Casseroles, no matter what you do, do not photograph that well.

Mushroom and Black Bean Tortilla Casserole, Everyday Food, January/February 2011

Ingredients:
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 3/4 pound cremini or white mushrooms, cleaned and quartered (I used 1/2 pound of cremini, which happened to be on sale!  Score!)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • Coarse salt and pepper
  • 15.5 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 8 corn tortillas, halved and warmed
  • 2 cups salsa
  • 4 oz Monterey Jack cheese, shredded.  (I couldn't find it at the grocery store, so I used a mixture of shredded cheddar and jack)
Directions
1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2.  In a large skillet, heat olive oil.  Add mushrooms, and stir until soft, about 7 minutes.  Add cayenne and garlic; season with salt and pepper.

3.  Add black beans to the skillet; stir to combine.  Continue stirring until heated through, about 2 minutes.  Remove from heat. 

4.  Arrange 5 tortilla halves on the bottom of a 2 quart baking pan.  (I used a 8x8 pyrex.)  I arranged the tortillas so the cut sides were along the edges of the pan, and then laid the fifth half in the middle.  Top with half of the bean mixture, and a 1/2 cup of salsa (I used a tablespoon and spooned out 8 tablespoons and a bit, which is 1/2 cup.)  Top with 1/3rd of the cheese.  Repeat with another layer.  Top with remaining tortilla, salsa, and cheese.



I hope this makes sense!

5.  Cover with foil and bake until center is hot and cheese melts, about 10-15 minutes.  Remove foil and bake until cheese bubbles, about 5 minutes.  Be careful!  Cheese burns quickly!


Enjoy the layers.