Sunday, August 30, 2009

Outta This World Cookie Bars from The Ungourmet

A few random notes:

  • I bit the bullet and entered a photo in the Best Foodie Foto contest at Hey What's For Dinner Mom? So go on over and vote. Not necessarily for me, but for whichever picture makes your mouth water the most.
  • Baby showers are awesome. Family and friends -- even those you haven't seen in many, many years -- just show up and give you baby stuff. It's amazing. Our baby will no longer be naked until it grows into its superhero t-shirt collection.
  • I'm easily distracted by baby shoes. Even though, deep down, I know a newborn baby doesn't actually need shoes.
  • The hubby needs scotcheroos. STAT. I apologize for the abruptness of this post.

Last week I needed a chocolate fix, and I made these bars from The Ungourmet blog. Because I can't resist anything with Nutella. After I started the bars, I realized I do not own an 11" x 7" pan. I live about four blocks from a Walmart, Target, Kohls, Bed Bath & Beyond, and mall, but I was already in my jammies. And, you know, there's really no going back once you're in your jammies. So I used a 9" x 13" pan and cooked the bars 18-20 minutes, instead, and they turned out great.

Outta This World Cookie Bars from The Ungourmet
1 stick butter, softened
1 c. dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 c. flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt (I increased this slightly from the original recipe)
1 c. chocolate chips
1/2 c. chopped hazelnuts
6 tsp. Nutella

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Grease and flour an 11" x 7" pan. (This just helps the bars come out of the pan more easily.)

3. Combine butter and brown sugar, and then beat in egg.

4. Add flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, chocolate chips and hazelnuts. Stir to combine.

Mmm ... dough ...

5. Place dollops of Nutella over dough and use a knife to swirl it through the dough.

6. Bake 20-25 minutes.

7. Allow to cool completely before cutting into squares. If you can.

P.S. I couldn't.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Creamy Roasted Garlic Smashed Potatoes

Laura at Hey What's For Dinner Mom? has a weekly food photo contest that I've been thinking about entering for a few weeks, but I don't think my photos are up to snuff. It seems like everyone else's look cookbook quality, whereas mine look suspiciously like they were taken by a rank amateur in a windowless kitchen. (What a coincidence!)

I'm looking for good food photography tips. Is it my point-and-shoot camera? Is it the lack of natural light in my house? Is it my eagerness to just get to the eatin', already? Please pass on any secrets.

But I digress. I've been meaning to post this recipe for a few days, but I got sleepy. Really, that's not just a pathetic excuse. I can't even go shopping for wrapping paper for 15 minutes without turning into a zombie.

So anyway, these are the potatoes that the hubby and I made over the weekend. The hubby wanted some sort of restaurant-quality, garlicky smashed red potatoes, and I saw this, which is a Neely's recipe. The potatoes were very easy to make (no peeling!), and were easily some of the best garlic smashed potatoes I've had.

Creamy Roasted Garlic Smashed Potatoes
Serves 6-8

1 head garlic
Olive oil, for drizzling
2 lbs. red potatoes, scrubbed and cut in large chunks
5 Tbsp. butter
3/4 c. cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. Slice off the top of the head of garlic. Drizzle with olive oil.

3. Wrap in foil. Place on a sheet tray and bake about 35 minutes. Let cool.

Weird. It looks so alien.

4. Remove the cloves and mash with a wooden spoon.

5. Place potatoes in a large pot filled with water. Add salt and bring to a boil. Cook until fork tender and drain. Smash the potatoes to the desired consistency.

6. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat butter, cream, roasted garlic, and some salt and pepper over medium-low heat until butter melts.

7. Add the cream mixture to the potatoes and mash together. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper, and serve hot.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cheddar-Garlic Biscuits

After the hubby and I slaved away on our big meal for lunch yesterday (OK, so it was actually a pretty simple meal), we spent the rest of the day cleaning and organizing the garage. Organization makes me happy. A clean garage makes the hubby happy. Everybody wins.

I'm spending today inside, doing laundry and cleaning out the basement. (Does anyone have need of a 4-foot stuffed Pepe Le Pew? Anyone? Bueller?) The hubby and I were going to finish our garage project, but the hubby got called away to do bales at his ma's ranch.

I'm not allowed to do bales, even when I am not heavy with child. The hubby and his sisters grew up tossing 80-pound bales of hay. I was town folk; I can barely lift a rake. When I go with for baling, my official job is to stay in the kitchen where I belong and feed people. Again, everybody wins.

But I stayed home today, and I'm taking a quick break from my projects to make a pot of fiesta beef soup. I thought it might go well with the leftover cheddar-garlic biscuits from lunch yesterday.

These biscuits are supposedly a knock-off of the cheddar biscuits you get at Red Lobster, and I love them. They're actually very easy to make -- no rolling out the dough! -- and they turned out fabulously. Everyone thought the biscuits tasted just like the real thing. The trick seems to be the garlicky melted butter that's brushed over the biscuits when they come out of the oven. I have a feeling I'll be asked to make these on a regular basis.

Cheddar-Garlic Biscuits
Makes 1 dozen

2 1/2 c. Bisquick
4 Tbsp. cold butter
1 heaping c. shredded cheddar cheese
3/4 c. cold whole milk
1/4 tsp. garlic powder

2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. dried parsley flakes
Pinch of salt

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Combine Bisquick and 4 Tbsp. butter in a medium bowl using a pastry cutter. The butter should be about the size of small peas.

3. Add cheese, milk, and 1/4 tsp. garlic powder. Mix by hand just until ingredients are combined.

4. Using an ice cream scoop, drop portions (about 1/4 c. each) onto a baking sheet.

5. Bake 15-17 minutes, or until biscuits are golden.

6. Combine 2 Tbsp. butter, 1/2 tsp. garlic powder, parsley flakes, and salt in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.

7. Brush melted butter over the tops of biscuits (use all the butter mixture).

Mmm ... biscuits ... Charlie wants some biscuits ...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Steamed Snow Crab Legs

The hubby and I had a few things going on this week, including a child-care class. The hubby was the star student. ("Why do babies cry?" "Because they can!") And some friends of mine threw a lovely, fun baby shower for me, and everyone spoiled me rotten. I have really great friends. Many of them are my co-workers, as well, which makes things even more fun. I was giddy.

But giddiness is exhausting. Aside from wrapping things in bacon on Monday, I didn't really cook this week, opting instead to come home from work and sleep in my recliner. The hubby brought me food. And flowers. ("Aw, you brought me roses? And a chicken!")

So today, we made up for lost time and cooked a surf 'n' turf feast for the hubby's mom and sister. The hubby was in charge of the steak, snow crab, and salad, while I took care of the strawberry-rhubarb pie, roasted garlic smashed potatoes, and cheddar-garlic biscuits (more recipes to follow).

Why yes, we do this every Saturday at 11:45 a.m.

Or maybe not. The hubby had never had really fresh-steamed snow crab before, but was intrigued by them, so we decided to give it a go. There are a variety of cooking methods for snow crab -- steaming, boiling, baking, and grilling, to name a few. We chose steaming because, well, everyone on the interweb seemed to recommend it. And it was fast and seemed foolproof.

You should be able to find frozen snow crab clusters at your local supermarket. They're precooked, so all you really need to do when cooking them is to heat them through. But they do tend to lose flavor as soon as they're thawed. We left ours frozen until about a half-hour before we were going to steam them; then we ran them under some water to melt off the ice. Then into the steamer basket they went.

The results were excellent, or so I'm told (I don't eat seafood). But we had ourselves a nice little party, complete with seafood crackers, little seafood forks, and lots o' garlic-infused lemon butter.

And then we napped.

Steamed Snow Crab Legs
Serves 4

1 Tbsp. kosher salt
1 stick butter
1 clove garlic
1 lemon, cut in wedges
3-4 pounds frozen snow crab clusters

1. Heat water to boiling in a pot with a steamer insert. Add salt.

2. Meanwhile, heat butter and garlic in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.

3. Rinse snow crab clusters, so they're no longer covered in ice, like this.

These are huge, by the way -- much bigger than I was expecting. And also a lot longer than our steamer basket. You might have to bend the claws inward, like a giant skeletal hand, to make them fit.

I found this a bit creepy. But we moved on.

4. Add crab clusters to steamer basket insert, and steam about 5 to 7 minutes, until heated through. (We went with 7, because we hadn't thawed our clusters for very long.)

5. Remove butter from heat. Remove garlic clove, and squeeze two lemon wedges into butter. Stir and pour into serving dishes.

6. Serve crab with melted butter and additional lemon wedges.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Grilled Bacon-Wrapped Chicken

I was talking with my friend Donna at work this morning about her weekend, which lead to a conversation about her dining experience at Norman's Steak and Seafood the other night, which lead to a description of her boyfriend's 26-ounce ribeye, which lead to a discussion about bacon-wrapped steak, which eventually proved my hypothesis:

All conversational roads lead to bacon.

Of course, we had this conversation during breakfast, when my mind is about 90% occupied with the daily "Bacon or Grape Nuts?" debate, anyway. But I knew that I, too, must wrap something in bacon. And soon.

How about tonight? Fantastic. Chicken? Excellent.

This is an incredibly simple recipe that you can doctor up in any way. For example, I prefer to dip my chicken in barbecue sauce rather than slather, but slather you may. And you can use whatever seasoning you prefer. You could top with cheese! My main tips are these:
  • Flatten the chicken so it doesn't take as long to cook through.
  • Keep the grill on about medium-low -- or even cooler -- so you don't thoroughly char your bacon while your chicken is still raw.
  • Don't panic if your bacon doesn't continue to thoroughly hug your chicken. It's bacon. It's got a mind of its own. If it crisps up and slightly unravels, it'll still taste good.

Grilled Bacon-Wrapped Chicken
Serves 4

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Olive oil, for drizzling
Salt and pepper
Grill seasoning or chicken seasoning (I like Backwoods Hickory Rub from The Spice & Tea Exchange; Montreal Chicken seasoning by McCormick is another good option)
8 slices bacon
Barbecue sauce, for dipping

1. Trim your chicken of any visible fat. (Chicken fat is one of the most disgusting substances known to man.) Cover the chicken with plastic wrap, and pound with a meat mallet or other heavy object until the chicken is of more uniform thickness.

2. Sprinkle one side of the chicken with olive oil, and then season with salt, pepper, and your choice of seasoning.

3. Criss-cross two pieces of bacon on a flat surface. Lay chicken, seasoning side down, over bacon. Drizzle chicken with a bit more olive oil and add seasoning.

4. Fold ends of bacon over, so bacon is hugging the chicken.

I like hugs.

You could always poke a toothpick through to help keep these together while they're cooking, but I didn't want charred toothpicks in my chicken. I'm sure I'd forget about them.

5. Heat a grill to low or medium-low; place chicken carefully on grill. (I don't think it matters much which side you lay down first.)

6. Grill until bacon is crispy and chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes.

I like my bacon really crispy. This one's mine.

7. Serve with barbecue sauce for dipping.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Beef Souvlaki with Tzatziki

The hubby and I had an extra busy week, and yet we're still finding time to cook, and our house has never been cleaner.

I think we have elves. How else do you explain that on Tuesday night, I went to bed around 9:30, and when I woke up Wednesday morning, my shower had been cleaned, my toilet was scrubbed, my kitchen was sparkly, and all our floors were mopped?

OK, so it's entirely possible that this is my elf.

No, not the one on the right. Sophie would never scrub my toilet. Although she might consider drinking from it on occasion.

Yes, the hubby has been a cleaning machine. Did I mention he did all that after going to a two-hour class with me? A two-hour class on breastfeeding?

Yes, he's a saint. He deserves an award. Or at least some supper. So tonight I made some beef souvlaki skewers, because it was way too hot to cook indoors. This is an adaptation of a Cuisine at Home recipe. We substituted beef for the lamb, made several other adjustments, and then served our grilled meat and veggies on grilled pita bread and ate them like gyros.

And then the hubby bought me a Reese's peanut butter cup blizzard with chocolate ice cream. The End.

Beef Souvlaki with Tzatziki
Serves 4

1 c. diced onion
1/2 c. dry red wine
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 lbs. beef, cut in 1" cubes
1 red bell pepper, cut in 1" cubes
1 red onion, cut in 1" pieces

1 container nonfat Greek yogurt (typically 6-7 oz.)
1/2 c. seeded, minced cucumber
2 tsp. chopped fresh parsley
2 tsp. chopped fresh mint
2 tsp. minced garlic
Salt and pepper

1. Combine onion, wine, lemon juice, olive oil, cumin, oregano, rosemary, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Add beef.

2. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours, or overnight.

3. Heat grill between medium and medium-high. Thread beef, red pepper, and red onion on metal skewers or soaked wooden skewers.

4. Grill until beef is cooked to desired doneness, about 10 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, combine tzatziki ingredients in a small bowl.

6. Serve souvlaki dipped in tzatziki, or combine in pita bread and serve as gyros.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Fresh Peach Crostata

Along with her lovely garden-fresh produce, my mother-in-law sent a bunch of fresh peaches home with us over the weekend. She said they were getting pretty ripe, so I should use them immediately.

This is where I admit that I've never baked anything with peaches. Or even tasted anything baked with peaches. In fact, I never tasted a peach, canned or otherwise, until I was 18.

I was on tour with a band in Europe at the time.

(Warning: I sound much less cool as this story goes on. How is that possible, you ask? Oh, you'll see.)

Anyway, we were staying in Lugano, Switzerland, and our tour bus was leaving mid-morning with no meal stops until supper. So we got up early and hit a local farmer's market, which was breathtaking. I grabbed bread, and cheese, plenty of chocolate, and then some fresh grapes and peaches. I figured that would tide me over until at least mid-morning.

I bought the peaches because my bandmates were shocked when I held up a peach and said, "Is this a peach? Huh. I've never tried one." My bandmates made me buy peaches. And I loved them. I munched on peaches all the way to France.

And then we all got off the bus, got set up in Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, and put on a free wind band concert for the public. I was the second-chair clarinet. (Whoop, there it is!)

Moral of the story: I'm a former band geek who knows nothing about peaches, except how to pack them in a lunchbox.

So anyway, I've got this box of peaches. I debated whether to make a pie or a crisp. But then settled on a crostata. Because I'm new to peaches and wasn't sure how to bake them, and crostatas are more free-form. So if I did something wrong and it came out a mess, I could just call it rustic.

You can use any pie crust recipe; I'm using Barefoot Contessa's pastry recipe, because I've used it with crostata before, and it's very buttery and flavorful. And I added a streusel, because I like streusel, and this is my crostata. And you know what? The crostata turned out WONDERFUL. I could probably eat the whole thing in one sitting. And I just might.

Fresh Peach Crostata
Serves 8

Crust (makes 2 pastry crusts)
2 c. flour
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
8 oz. very cold butter, diced
1/4 c. ice water

4 peaches, thinly sliced
1/2 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. flour

1/4 c. flour
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
4 Tbsp. cold butter, diced
Sprinkle of cinnamon

1. Put flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Pulse a few times to combine ingredients. Add butter, and then pulse about 15 times. Turn food processor on low and pour in ice water. Turn food processor back off and pulse until the dough just starts to come together.

2. On a lightly floured surface, pour out dough, and then pull dough together. Cut in half and form two disks.

3. Wrap one in plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator for 1 hour. (Put the other in a freezer bag and store for future use.)

4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. (You should probably use a baking sheet with a lip, in case your crostata filling leaks. I know this from experience. My oven fan is still running.)

5. On a well-floured surface, roll the pastry out in a round circle, about 12 to 14 inches. Place on baking sheet.

6. Combine peaches with flour and sugar.

Sigh. I love the colors.

7. Spoon into center of crust.

8. In a food processor, combine the streusel ingredients. Remove from food processor and press together with your fingers to form bigger crumbles.

9. Pour streusel over filling. Fold up sides of crostata, pleating the sides to make a circle.

10. Bake about 50-55 minutes, or until crust golden and flaky. Let cool a bit before serving.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Chicken Kabobs with Aleppo Pepper

The hubby and I had a busy week with a lot going on at work, and some friends visiting from out of town. The hubby did most of the cooking during the week (including his wonderful fajitas -- they're not just for Christmas!), so I wanted to repay him by getting off my butt and helping this weekend.

This is aided by the fact that we visited my mother-in-law this weekend, and her garden is producing. There's something about a basket of garden-fresh produce that makes me positively giddy. Seriously. It's getting to be zucchini-beef spaghetti season. I couldn't be happier. Yes, I have big plans for supper tomorrow night! And I'm easily amused.

But back to tonight. I recently purchased some aleppo pepper online, because buying obscure spices is another habit. (You should see my spice cupboards. Yes, plural. They're out of control.) But I thought the aleppo pepper looked interesting, even though I didn't know what to do with it yet. And then I saw this recipe in Bon Appetit -- how timely! It had to be fate.

Aleppo pepper is a pepper from Syria, and while it definitely has some heat, it's not overwhelming. It's also a little bit sweet. According to the knowledgeable folks at Bon Appetit, you can substitute crushed red pepper and Hungarian sweet paprika for the aleppo. But I highly recommend trying the aleppo, if for no other reason than it's pretty. It sparkles. I like things that sparkle.

I would recommend cutting back on the lemon a bit in the recipe, so I'm suggesting a half a lemon instead of a whole lemon. But if you love a really lemony chicken, by all means, throw the whole thing in.

The hubby and I ate our chicken kabobs with grilled, garden-fresh veggies sprinkled with fresh herbs, and lovely soft pita bread that we sprinkled with zahtar/za'atar seasoning and grilleed. It was a perfect summer combination.

Note: If you'd like to develop a spice-buying obsession of your own, but don't have a local spice shop, I highly recommend both The Spice and Tea Exchange and The Spice House. I've visited both in person. I had to be dragged out.

Chicken Kabobs with Aleppo Pepper
Serves 4

1 1/2 Tbsp. aleppo pepper (substitute 2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes plus 2 tsp. Hungarian sweet paprika)
1 Tbsp. warm water (use 2 Tbsp. if you're substituting for the aleppo pepper)
1 c. plain whole-milk, Greek-style yogurt (although if non-Greek and/or low-fat is all you can find, knock yourself out)
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black peppeer
6 cloves garlic, peeled and flattened
1/2 unpeeled lemon, cut in thin slices
2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken (breasts or thighs), cut in 1 1/4" cubes

1. Place the aleppo pepper or crushed red pepper/paprika in a large bowl. Add warm water and combine. Let stand about 5 minutes, or until mixture forms a thick paste.

2. Add yogurt, olive oil, red wine vinegar, tomato paste, salt, and epper, and stir. Add garlic and lemon slices, and then stir in chicken.

Yes, it looks weird. Just go with it.

3. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour, and up to 1 day ahead.

4. Heat grill to medium. Thread chicken onto metal skewers (or soaked wooden skewers).

5. Grill until chicken is cooked through, turning skewers occasionally, about 15 minutes.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Very Chocolatey Chocolate Chunk Cookies

The hubby went fishing with some friends today, so I got up early to make a quick breakfast before they left, and then the puppies and I held down the fort for the day.

The puppies are always sad when the hubby leaves. Here they are, eagerly awaiting his return.

The hubby had been gone for approximately 14 minutes and 26 seconds at this time. It was a long wait.

I was going to laze around and then spend the afternoon shopping, but I had an unfortunate run-in with a heavy box last night, and my toe might never be the same. I know it's not broken, but I can't wear shoes, and shoes are handy when you're shopping.

(I wish I could say this was an isolated incident, but this happens a lot. I have toe issues. Actually, I have a lot of issues in general. As my dad puts it, "Things happen to Alyssa that don't happen to other people." I'm pretty sure he means that as a compliment.)

I can still hobble around, albeit painfully, but I made myself useful doing laundry and napping. And baking cookies. These cookies are super fudgy to start with, and the addition of chocolate chunks sends them over the top. (They're not terribly pretty, but don't judge a cookie by its cover.) The menfolk and I ate them for dessert, following a huge batch of spicy chicken and sausage alfredo.

And yes, the guys brought home plenty of fresh fish, which they filleted outside, thankfully. I've been instructed to cook that fish the next time they go, and they'll replenish the supply.

Very Chocolatey Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Makes about 30

8 oz. semisweet chips
3/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. butter, softened
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 c. flour
8 oz. semisweet or milk chocolate chunks

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Melt semisweet chips on the stovetop, or microwave in a glass bowl for about 2 1/2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds.

3. Combine sugar and butter, and then add melted chocolate. When combined and slightly cooled, add eggs and vanilla. Mix in baking powder, salt, and flour, and then stir in chocolate chunks.

I used some little teeny Hershey bars that I found God only knows where. I'm trying to make a dent in the freezer o' baking supplies. I horde. It's part of my charm.

4. Form cookies into balls, and then flatten on cookie sheets. (The cookies don't have a lot of butter, so they won't spread out on the pan very much by themselves.)

5. Bake 11-12 minutes. Let cookies sit on pan a few minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.

Pretty, pretty pantry

My dad is a man of many talents. Among many, he's a pinball wizard. He makes exceptional gravy and fudge. And he can drive with his knees while playing hand drums on the dashboard. (Not that he'd EVER do that.)

He's also handy, and not just with garden-variety tasks, like fixing a loose board on the steps or changing a faucet. In his former life, he owned a lumberyard and hardware store, and he designed and built homes in his spare time. So he can do pretty much anything.

Like installing pantry shelves in the blink of an eye. The hubby and I have a closet in our kitchen that I think is supposed to be a coat closet, except I've never understood having a coat closet in the upstairs kitchen. So we've been using it as a pantry/kitchen storage closet, even though it had one lonely shelf. The shelf needed friends.

When it comes to home improvement projects, the hubby and I are enthusiastic, but inexperienced. We're fast learners, but we need mentoring. So Dad came up yesterday, and in the time it took me to go pick up some food for lunch, he and the hubby installed brand-spankin'-new shelves in our closet.

Dad eyeballed everything, and then checked the shelves with the level afterward. He insisted that this feat be recorded for posterity.


It's still a work in progress, but my new shelves make me so happy. Organization is one of my favorite things.

So is oatmeal. You should keep six canisters on hand at all times.

Thanks, Dad!