Thursday, July 30, 2009

Chocolate Chip Blondies

I was sick this week after some tests at the doctor, but now my appetite is back -- and so are my random food cravings. Next in line (after Grape Nuts, peas, pears, and churros), is chocolate chip bars.

Just to be clear, I don't even like chocolate chip bars. But I must have them.

My mom made chocolate chip bars pretty often when we were growing up, and I was always disappointed. They seemed like a clunkier, cakier cousin to a cookie. So why not just make cookies? (Now that I'm a tired grown-up, I understand her logic.) Bars are simply a lot faster and easier to make.

But that doesn't mean they have to be dry and cakey. I found this recipe on the Tasty Kitchen site and decided to give them a try. The butter and brown sugar gives them an undertone that's almost toffee-like in flavor, and definitely keeps them moist and chewy.

The recipe didn't mention how many chocolate chips to add, so I went with about 10 ounces of milk chocolate chips (a whole bag just seemed like too many). It's a simple measurement; a few handfuls for the cook, and dump the rest in the bowl.

I do recommend using unsalted butter, if you've got some on hand (which I never, ever do), or cutting back on the salt and using 3/4 teaspoon instead of an entire teaspoon. I have a pretty salty palate, and these are right on the edge for me.

Chocolate Chip Blondies
Makes 16

1 1/3 c. butter
2 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
3/4 tsp. salt (or 1 tsp. if you're using unsalted butter)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
2 c. flour
10 oz. chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13 pan or spray with cooking spray.

2. Melt butter and cool. Combine with sugar, and then stir in eggs and vanilla.

3. Add dry ingredients, and stir until well combined. Mix in chocolate chips.

4. Pour batter into pan and bake 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean in the center. Let cool before cutting into squares.

Crash Hot Potatoes

When we had supper with my family over the weekend, we also needed potatoes (Dad is very much a meat and potatoes type). The hubby usually makes his much-loved spicy grilled potatoes, but he was already manning the Weber grill down in the yard, and I didn't want him to have to run back and forth between that and the gas grill up on the deck.

Safety first, that's me.

So I made this recipe that I've been drooling over for months. I first saw it on the Pioneer Woman's site, and have since seen it on cooking shows and in several magazines. Apparently it's the latest thing with potatoes.

I used to the Pioneer Woman's recipe, because I was too tired to search through my cookbooks yesterday. The Internet is a lazy girl's best friend.

The potatoes were a hit, although I had to bake mine for quite a bit longer (and eventually use the broiler on low) to get them to crisp up on top. The results were very yummy. I highly recommend these as a side dish to just about anything.

Crash Hot Potatoes
Serves 6

18 new potatoes, well scrubbed
2-3 Tbsp. olive oil, for drizzling on pan
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
About 1/4 c. olive oil, for brushing potatoes
2 Tbsp. minced fresh rosemary, or other herbs

1. Add potatoes to a large pot of salted water and bring to a boil. Cook potatoes until fork-tender, about 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 450 degrees.

3. Drizzle a sheet pan with olive oil. Place potatoes on sheet pan. Using a potato masher, gently push down on each potato until it's slightly mashed. Rotate the masher 90 degrees and do it again.

4. Brush the potatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with plenty of salt and pepper. Top with rosemary.

5. Bake about 25 minutes or so until golden brown. (And use the broiler with caution, if necessary.)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Grilled Vegetable and Israeli Couscous Salad

Another recipe that we tossed together for our family birthday meal was a grilled veggie salad with Israeli couscous. My mom loves grilled veggies, and I thought the Israeli couscous would be an interesting touch; I like attempting to get my family members to try new foods.

I think Mom is still iffy on the concept of couscous. And the pronunciation. She kept calling it coosh-coosh.

I got the idea for this salad off the Tasty Kitchen site, although we had to make some modifications to the original recipe. I swapped in some different veggies, and it works far better to add the dressing (with less oil and more vinegar) to the dish afterward rather than marinating the veggies beforehand.

Grilled Vegetable and Israeli Couscous Salad
Serves 6-8

1 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise
1 medium summer squash, quartered lengthwise
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and quartered
1/2 red onion, cut in thick slices
1 c. mushrooms, stemmed
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
8 oz. Israeli couscous
1 14 1/2-oz. can vegetable broth
1/3 c. balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, very finely minced
1/4 c. olive oil
1/4 c. fresh basil, chopped
2 Tbsp. fresh parlsey, chopped
Additional salt and pepper, to taste

1. Toss vegetables with 1 Tbsp. olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

I was in a hurry, so I chopped my veggies before grilling them. (I have a large grill pan with very small holes, so this was an option.) The veggies are still easier to handle and less likely to overcook, however, if you cut them in large pieces and then chop after they're cooked. Do as I say, not as I do.

2. Cook veggies in a grill pan until lightly charred, about 10 minutes. Let cool, and then chop in bite-sized pieces.

3. Meanwhile, add vegetable broth and couscous to a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to simmer for about 12 minutes, or until couscous has absorbed broth. Fluff with a fork.

4. In a small bowl, combine balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and garlic.

5. In a large bowl, combine vegetables and couscous. Add dressing and combine thoroughly. Stir in basil and parsley.

6. Season with additional salt and pepper, to taste.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Great Grain Burgers

The hubby and I had a relatively lazy week. We cooked some old favorites, dined a lot on the leftovers, and took it easy. This was mainly my doing. With the combination of third-trimester pregnancy and narcolepsy, I lacking a bit in the energy department these days. My usual routine is to come home from work, play with the puppies, eat supper, take a nap, and then get ready for bed.

Oh, and the untreated allergies make me a very noisy sleeper. The hubby has dubbed me Captain Snort 'n' Sleep. (I think he's making that up.)

We've made up for our lazy week with a busy weekend, including my family's annual birthday celebration. We're all July birthdays. Mine is toward the beginning of the month, so I always get a birthday party of my very own. My mom's, dad's, and brother's fall within a cluster, so we typically celebrate those together. (Although I'm more than willing to eat cake every two days, mind you.)

My family came for supper last night, and we tried to make food to please everyone. That meant charcoal-grilled burgers, baked beans, and potatoes for most of us, and a grilled veggie salad and some veggie burgers for my mom. (She's not a vegetarian; she just likes her some veggies.)

Mom saw this recipe in a Taste of Home cookbook a few months ago and kept oohing and aahing over the picture. I offered to make it for her for Mother's Day, but she suggested I try making it sometime when I was messing up my own kitchen. So this worked out perfectly.

The burgers are a bit difficult to handle -- it's more like making mashed potato cakes than a burger -- and I found that it was easiest to form them into balls and smash them with a spatula in the pan. But apparently they tasted great; Mom had one for supper, then ate dessert, then had another burger. (Even the hubby ate one.) And Mom generously offered to take the leftovers home with her.

Great Grain Burgers
Makes 12

1/2 c. uncooked brown rice
1/2 c. uncooked bulgur
1 Tbsp. salt-free seasoning blend
1 tsp. poultry seasoning
2 c. water
2 c. finely chopped fresh mushrooms
3/4 c. old-fashioned oats
1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 c. shredded cheddar or Colby cheese
1/3 c. finely chopped onion
1/2 c. fat-free cottage cheese
1/4 c. egg substitute or egg white
2 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/8 tsp. celery seed
3 tsp. canola oil, divided
Rolls, for serving

1. In a small saucepan, combine rice, bulgur, water, salt-free seasoning, and poultry seasoning. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 30 minutes, or until tender. Remove from heat and cool completely. Refrigerate.

2. In a large bowl, combine mushrooms, oats, cheeses, and onion.

3. In a blender or food processor, puree cottage cheese and egg substitute until smooth.

4. Add cottage cheese mixture to the mushroom mixture. Stir in parsley, salt, basil, celery seed, and rice mixture.

5. Shape 1/2-cupfuls into balls, or patties, if you're more competent than I am.

6. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tsp. oil over medium-high heat. Cook four patties at a time for about 5 minutes on each side, until crispy. Repeat with remaining patties and oil.

I'm not so good at "perfectly round." Trust me, they still tasted great.

P.S. Know the best part about having my mother over for supper? She helps clean up afterward. And I don't just mean dishes. I mean that she scrubbed my stove. And my cupboards. And my floor. And my GARBAGE CAN. Yes, really.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Jumbo Blueberry Cheesecake Muffins

The hubby is gone fishin' again today, and my typical routine on such days is to get up early with the boys, take the puppies for a walk, and then do some cleaning and baking.

I also typically go shopping for chocolate, but that's just between you and me.

I had some lovely blueberries in the fridge, and decided to make a batch of blueberry cheesecake muffins. The muffins have the flavor of a typical blueberry muffin, but with little bites of cheesecake. And an admittedly strange streusel topping. (Hey, I wanted the streusel to taste like white cake mix, so I used white cake mix.)

You can easily substitute frozen blueberries for the fresh, and this is what I do throughout the winter. Justs be sure to thoroughly rinse the blueberries and then let them dry on a towel, or your batter will be stained a nice blueish purple. Not that stained muffins taste any different than "clean" muffins. But hey, this stuff matters to some people.

Jumbo Blueberry Cheesecake Muffins
Makes 8

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 c. butter, softened
1 egg, at room temperature
1 c. milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 3/4 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 c. fresh or frozen blueberries (if frozen, rinse and dry before using)
1 Tbsp. flour
1 Tbsp. sugar
4 Tbsp. white cake mix
1 Tbsp. butter

1. Preheat an oven to 400 degrees.

2. Using a stand mixer, beat cream cheese and butter until well combined. Add egg, milk, and vanilla. Mix until combined, but cream cheese is still chunky. (These are the chunks you'll bite into in the muffins.)

3. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugars, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the mixture and add the cream cheese mixture. Stir until just combined.

4. In a small bowl, combine blueberries, 1 Tbsp. flour, and 1 Tbsp. sugar. Add blueberries to better, gently folding in.

5. Add liners to jumbo muffin pans and fill each cup until mostly full.

6. In a small bowl, combine cake mix and 1 Tbsp. butter with a fork, until crumbly. Sprinkle mixture evenly across muffins.

7. Bake for about 25 minutes, until muffins are golden and a toothpick comes out clean.

8. Let cool in pans for 5 minutes, then remove from pans and let cool on racks.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Marinated Chicken Pasta

The hubby and I are back in action. Sort of. The nursery is as complete as it can be at this point (we're missing a few things so far, like a baby). I'm on doctor's orders to take it easy, so the hubby pretty much took control. He painted. He steam-cleaned. He assembled. He accessorized.

I pretty much just sat there, reading instructions and folding blankets. Strenuously.

We've been dining primarily on slow cooker fare and leftovers, but I did get one good meal in this week. Of course, I was too tired to cook it AND blog it on the same night. Please don't judge me too harshly.

This meal is the ultimate recipe without a recipe. It's a little o' this, a little o' that, and attempting to quantify the ingredients was a challenge. (Add what you like!) The good news: It's failproof. You simply cannot mess it up. And if you do, it'll still taste yummy.

I created this last fall when I was trying to use up some of my fresh herbs before the frost. And it seemed the perfect thing to make this week when I needed something fresh and different. If you don't have fresh herbs on hand, feel free to substitute smaller portions of dried.

Marinated Chicken Pasta
Serves 4

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, trimmed

2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1/2 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3-4 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. white wine
Salt and pepper

1 tsp. olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
2 15-oz. cans tomato sauce
1/3 c. chicken broth
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 Tbsp. fresh basil, chopped
1 tsp. dried Italian seasoning
2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
Pinch or two of sugar, to taste

16 oz. penne pasta, cooked according to package directions
4 slices fresh mozzarella (optional)

1. Lay chicken on a plate or shallow dish. Combine marinade ingredients and pour over chicken. Marinate at room temperature about 10 minutes.

Or just dump all the ingredients individually on the chicken, like I do, because sometimes extra dishes are just unnecessary.

2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tsp. olive oil in a pot over medium to medium-high heat. Add garlic and saute until golden, about 1 minute. Add remaining sauce ingredients. Bring to a boil; cover and simmer until chicken and pasta are done, about 15 minutes.

Be sure to stop and taste occasionally. Add more salt and pepper, sugar, or seasoning to your taste.

3. Grill the chicken on a grill or in a grill pan over medium heat until cooked through. Set aside.

4. To assemble: Cut chicken in slices. Top pasta with sauce and cheese, and top with sliced chicken.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Brief hiatus

My apologies for the brief break; the hubby and I are on day seven of a rigorous painting schedule. I don't have a lot of painting experience, although I painted most of the main level of our house a few years ago.

This has been a learning experience for us. For example:
  • Men pick out paint colors much more quickly than women. "Which is better, A or B? B or C?" It's like a trip to the eye doctor. We worked our way through dozens of paint chips in three minutes.
  • Painting walls red is a lot of work. We're four coats and some tinted primer in, and it still isn't perfect, but I give up.
  • Painting furniture red is rather fun.
  • White dogs and red paint don't mix. Or maybe Charlie was making a fashion statement.
  • I am good at edging along ceilings. The hubby is much better at everything else.
  • Bending over is nearly impossible. How do most people do it?

We'll be back to normal soon. Carry on.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Watermelon-Butter Lettuce Salad

It was a beautiful Fourth of July here in North Dakota. We typically have any combination of hot, muggy, buggy, windy, and rainy, so the fact that it was just hot was impressive in itself. It was great grilling weather, and great firework-lightin' weather. And we did plenty of both.

Best of all, barely anyone got hurt! Our only casualty was Mom. She got a skinned knee and a bump on the head while chasing down parachutes in the ditch. Yes, if I had a nickel for every time I heard that one ...

We all chipped in on supper. My brother Cory shucked the corn. It was a first for him.

The hubby made his famous spicy grilled potatoes, although he was mean and refused to face the camera.

Cory kept an eye on the steaks.

While Dad kept an eye on Cory. And the camera.

I made a Cuisine at Home salad of watermelon and butter lettuce. This was before I discovered that only Mom and I eat watermelon. Who knew?

Mom ate the leftover watermelon. (WHERE does she put it?)

Of course, she also made me a birthday cake for dessert.

My tummy was full.

Full of steak, cake, and baby.

The End.

Watermelon-Butter Lettuce Salad
Serves 4-6

1/4 c. fresh lime juice
3 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 c. watermelon, preferably seedless, chopped
8 Bibb lettuce leaves, torn

1. Combine lime juice, honey, mint, and olive oil in a small bowl.

2. Just before serving, combine watermelon and lettuce in a large bowl. Toss with dressing until thoroughly coated.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Blueberry Crumb Cake

The hubby and I are heading out of town for the Fourth of July weekend. It's our usual plan to make a swing out to his family's ranch, and then spend most of the Fourth with my family.

The Fourth of July has always been a big deal for my family, mainly because my dad is obsessed with fireworks. He's been dropping outrageous sums of money and putting on a lovely show for us for as long as I remember.

And my little brother has taken things a step further. Cory started created his own pyrotechnic displays when he was in junior high -- complicated concoctions of fireworks and fuse glued to plywood, with everything timed perfectly. He also went through about an eight-year phase where he re-enacted famous war battles with using tanks, smoke bombs, firecrackers, and army men. He used to watch a lot of Patton.

We're the neighborhood pests this time of year. We're typically the last ones lighting fireworks, right up until that midnight deadline, or so our friendly neighborhood sheriff's deputy is keen on reminding us. We've started a few fires in our time (a ditch, the neighbor's tree). One on particularly windy Fourth, we rained hundreds of tiny parachutes all over our neighbor's house and yard. And there was once incident involving a rocket, a neighbor, and her toilet that I shan't repeat.

Somehow, no one has ever gotten upset with us, and we always clean up our messes.

I'll be the first to admit that we're a bit more concerned with fun than we are safety. My dad makes his own rocket launchers out of PVC pipe. We have shooting contests. We sometimes get hurt. For example, one of us took a chaser to the neck last year. (Note that I've been informed that this was a Roman candle. Which, I'm sure, changes everything.)

In other words, don't be like us. Have a fun AND safe Fourth of July.

And make something yummy for breakfast. Like this blueberry crumb cake, from Barefoot Contessa at Home. I love Ina Garten. She's my favorite. She would never start her own shirt on fire with a champagne party popper.

Blueberry Crumb Cake
Serves 6-8

1/4 c. sugar
1/3 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 stick butter, melted
1 1/3 c. flour

6 Tbsp. butter, at room temperature
3/4 c. sugar
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. grated lemon zest
2/3 c. sour cream
1 1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp, kosher salt
1 c. fresh blueberries

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9" round cake pan.

2. For streusel, combine sugars, cinnamon, and nutmet in a bowl. Stir in melted butter and then flour until well combined. Set aside.

3. For cake, combine butter and sugar using stand mixer. Beat on high speed 4-5 minutes.

4. Reduce speed to low and add eggs, one at a time, and then vanilla and sour cream.

5. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

See how nice and fine it gets?

6. With the mixer speed still on low, add flour mixture just until batter is combined.

7. Stop mixer and use a spatula to ensure ingredients are thoroughly combined. Gently fold in blueberries.

8. Pour batter in prepared pan, smoothing with a knife.

9. Top with streusel, crumbling by hand.

Mmm ... streusel ...

10. Bake 40-50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

11. Cool completely, then slice and serve. Optionally, top with powdered sugar or whipped cream.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Hanoi Beef Kabobs

Despite my usual black thumb, I manage to grow a few herbs on my deck each summer. I usually start with rosemary, thyme, basil, parsley, chives, and mint. But only the strongest survive.

This year, we bought our plants earlier than usual -- mid-May -- in what would be a colder than usual spring (we were still getting frost advisories in early June). So my little pretties sat on the deck during the day and in the garage during the night, until we felt comfortable moving them to their pots. By that time, the chives were droopy. The basil was wilted and sad. And the parsley was at death's door.

Something magical happened in the past two weeks. Maybe it was the weather or a visit from the Miracle-Gro fairy, but my herbs are thriving. All of them. My basil is bending under the weight of too many leaves. My parsley is lush and shiny and two feet high. And we should be able to chop down the rosemary tree in time to decorate it for Christmas this year.

I enjoy making recipes like this one, from one of my Weber cookbooks, that combines a variety of fresh herbs. I love running out to the deck and cutting off my own herbs. I feel so domestic and useful for once. This marinade is definitively Asian, but gets a sweetness and freshness from the herbs, and a bite from the jalapeno.

Hanoi Beef Kabobs
Serves 4

1/4 c. lime juice
3 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. sesame oil
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint
1 Tbsp. ginger, minced or grated
1 Tbsp. sugar
2 cloves garlic minced or grated
1 tsp. jalapeno, minced

1 1/2 lbs. steak, cut in large chunks

1. Combine marinade ingredients in a small bowl.

2. In a glass dish or resealable bag, combine beef and marinade. Let sit, refrigerated, 4-8 hours.

3. Thread meat onto skewers. (If using wooden skewers, let skewers soak in water for 30 minutes, first.)

4. Grill over medium heat 10-12 minutes, or until cook to desired doneness.

I'm not talented enough to eat kabobs off the stick without impaling myself. I recommend pulling it all off first.

Mmm ... steak bites ...