Sunday, October 30, 2011

Slow Cooker Beef and Barley Soup

I've been a bit under the weather lately, and what better cure for what ails you than a hearty, homemade soup?

Beef and barley soup is a longtime favorite of mine, although I've never found quite the right formula at home. My attempts have either tasted too strongly of wine, tomatoes, or salty beef broth, rather than a complimentary balance of all three. Enter Slow Cooker: The Best Cookbook Ever by Diane Phillips, which has about the most perfect beef and barley soup broth I've tasted. (This cookbook also gave me my favorite chili recipe.)

My mom stopped by while I was packing up the leftovers. She thought the soup was so terrific that after one taste, she took me up on my offer to send a few bowls back with her. And rumor has it, she ate it all in one sitting.

Slow Cooker Beef and Barley Soup
Makes 10-12 servings

2-2 1/2 pounds beef, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped
8 ounces baby portabello mushrooms, stemmed and chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
4 carrots, chopped
3 stalks celery with leaves, chopped
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup red wine
6 cups beef broth (preferably low-sodium)
1/2 cup pearl barley
Additional salt and pepper, to taste

1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.

2. Add the beef in batches, and season with salt and pepper before browning on all sides before transferring to slow cooker.

You want to get it a bit more brown than I did here. I nearly started my stovetop on fire shortly before this, so I was playing it safe.

3. Add the garlic, onions, mushrooms, and thyme to the skillet. Saute until the liquid from the mushrooms has evaporated before transferring to slow cooker.

4. Deglaze the skillet with the tomato paste and red wine. Allow wine to reduce by about 1/4 cup before transferring to the slow cooker.

5. Add carrots and celery to slow cooker, and then add broth and barley. Stir to combine.

6. Cook on low 6-7 hours. Season with salt and pepper before serving.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

World's Cutest Little Ghost Cupcakes

Underneath it all, these are just basic chocolate cupcakes -- nothing outstanding. But these have got to be the cutest little Halloween treats that I've ever seen in my life. I saw these guys in Food Network magazine, and immediately wanted to make them for the little man to bring to daycare.

Because really, who better to appreciate my epicurean efforts than a passel of 2- and 3-year-olds?

What you need:
  • Frosted cupcakes
  • Small lollipops, unwrapped
  • Cornstarch
  • White fondant
  • Rolling pin
  • 4" round cookie cutter
  • Black decorator gel
1. Prepare your cupcakes. I just made a basic two dozen, from a box. With (gasp), canned frosting. In little black and orange Halloween liners.

2. Place a lollipop in the top of each cupcake. I used Dum Dum pops, and they worked well.

3. Sprinkle work surface with cornstarch. Role out fondant to less than 1/8" thick.

I used storebought fondant, too. But you can certainly make your own, if you're a glutton for punishment.

Just kidding. I don't think it's that difficult. It's just time-consuming. And most people don't have that much time left to be consumed.

4. Using a 4" round cutter, cut fondant into circles.

I searched the house high and low for something that would work as a 4" round cookie cutter. After running out of luck in the kitchen, I used a clean decorative vase. My edges were a bit more jagged, but it worked.

Also, you can reroll the fondant scraps just as you would cookie dough. Just be sure to keep your work surface well covered with cornstarch in between.

5. Drape the fondant over the top of the lollipop. Shape the fondant into some creases and folds.

This was fun. And no two were alike.

6. Using the decorator gel, add some ghostly eyes.

See? Cute as can be. And be sure to make lots of friends, so they don't get lonely.

"Bridgette, you look amazing! Is that sateen?"

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sally's Oriental Coleslaw

Asian salads are among my favorites because they typically have all these fun, crispy, crunchy, salty goodies, and dressings that are tasty but not all heavy and creamy. And my friend Sally's Oriental coleslaw is one of the best that I've tasted.

Fun, crispy, crunchy, salty goodies: Check. Dressing that is tasty but not heavy and creamy: Check.

Plus, it's pretty. (Just like Sally.)

This makes a big batch, so it's perfect for potlucks. You can pack the ingredients separately and toss together right before serving.

Sally's Oriental Coleslaw
Makes 10-12 servings

1 package beef-flavored ramen noodles, seasoning packet reserved for dressing
1 1-pound bag of coleslaw mix
1 cup slivered almonds
1 cup sunflower seeds
3 scallions, sliced

Seasoning packet from ramen noodles
1/3 cup vinegar (I used white wine vinegar)
1/2 cup oil, such as vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Crumble ramen noodles onto a baking sheet. Toast in oven until golden, about 7-10 minutes.

Just for kicks, I threw in the almonds, too. Because I love me a toasted almond.

3. Combine coleslaw mix, almonds, sunflower seeds, and scallions in a large bowl.

4. In a small jar, combine seasoning packet, vinegar, oil, sugar, and dark sesame oil. Shake until well combined.

5. Just before serving, toss the salad with the dressing and the ramen noodles.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Mini Mummy Dogs

I saw this recipe recently in a Pillsbury cooking magazine, and I fell in love with these little guys immediately. They're a perfect Halloween appetizer or snack, and not actually as tricky to make as I'd feared. (Never having wrapped a mummy in bandages before, wrapping them in dough sounded downright terrifying.)

Mini Mummy Dogs
Makes about 3 1/2 dozen

1 8-ounce can refrigerated flaky dough sheet (crescent dough)
1 16-ounce package miniature smoked sausages
Ketchup or mustard

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Roll out dough sheet to a 14-inch by 11-inch rectangle. (This is a bit sticky.) Then cut in half vertically to make two 7-inch by 11-inch rectangles. (I find a pizza cutter works best for this.) Cut cross-wise to create 44 7-inch by 1/2-inch strips.

3. Use paper towels to dry the sausages, so the dough adheres to them more easily.

4. Wrap one strip of dough around each sausage to create a mummy effect. Press firmly at the ends to secure the dough.

There's no perfect method for this, and my mummies had a lot of variety. But try to keep a little bit of space open for the mummy's eyes, which will be dabbed on with ketchup or mustard.

Having been a history major and a classical studies minor in college, I can say with near-certainty that this wasn't a common practice in the ancient Egyptian mummification process.

5. Place the mummies on the baking sheets, about 2 inches apart, so they brown evenly.

6. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until dough is golden.

7. Dab on some eyes using ketchup or mustard, and serve warm with preferred dipping sauce.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Witches' Broomstick Cookies

I've never been much of a Halloween person, but I have to admit that having the little man around makes it a lot more fun. He doesn't quite get the whole concept just yet, but he's very excited about the pumpkins and other decorations, brings home loads of Halloween crafts from daycare each week, and has been practicing his trick-or-treating (or maybe just conning me into giving him extra candy).

We set out to make some Halloween-themed cookies over the weekend, and decided to make our take on a Betty Crocker recipe for these adorable little broomsticks. It's Betty's technique, but my cookies. The original recipe called for more of a basic shortbread-type of cookie. But my longtime love for Ben & Jerry's Chubby Hubby ice cream has lead me to associate chocolate and pretzels with peanut butter. So peanut butter cookies were a must.

The cookie batter is the same that I use for my not-quite-world-famous peanut blossoms, and with three ingredients, it comes together quite easily. (Although, for some reason, the little man needed two rolling pins, two spatulas, a bench scraper, a pastry brush, and an ice cream scoop. I didn't ask.) The rest of the process is admittedly more time-consuming, but worth the extra steps.

Witches' Broomstick Cookies
Makes 20

1 cup cream peanut butter (preferably Skippy)
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
10 pretzel rods, broken in half
2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 teaspoons shortening
1/3 cup butterscotch chips or orange candy melts
1/2 teaspoon shortening

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Combine peanut butter and brown sugar until creamy, and then mix in egg until well combined.

3. Divide dough into 20 pieces and roll them into balls. (I apologize for the lack of photos. The little man was attacking my cookies with the aforementioned pastry brush, so I was in a hurry.)

4. Place pretzel rods on two cookie sheets. Press a ball of dough onto the cut end of each pretzel round. Press dough with the tines of a fork to look like bristles.

As much as a cookie can look like bristles, that is.

5. Bake 10 minutes. Let cookies sit on pans for about 15-20 minutes before removing to a cooling rack. (You need them to firm up so they can support themselves when you hold the pretzels.)

6. Transfer cookies to waxed paper.

7. In a small saucepan, heat chocolate chips and 2 teaspoons shortening over low heat, stirring frequently, until thoroughly melted.

8. Spoon chocolate over the top half of the cookie and the lower half-inch or so of the pretzel rod.

9. In a microwave-safe bowl, combine butterscotch chips or candy melts and 1/2 teaspoon shortening. Heat until melted, about 1 minute, stirring every 30 seconds.

10. Place mixture in a resealable bag and snip off a tiny bit of one corner to use as a piping bag. Drizzle over chocolate mixture.

11. Let set before moving to serving tray or container.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Meatballs in Gravy

This recipe, one of the hubby's most frequently requested, is very representative of our now-combined families. This is my mother-in-law's recipe for meatballs, combined with a version of my dad's legendary gravy.

The secret to the meatballs is crushed saltines. And the secret to the gravy? Cream of chicken soup. (I think I've mentioned on here before that my Grandma Erickson, my dad's mom, could accomplish extraordinary culinary feats with a can of cream of chicken soup.)

My gravy still isn't as good as my dad's, and I'm convinced that he's withholding some secret trick from me. (You know, aside from the whole "patience, young padawan" thing.) My tweaks to my dad's recipe are to add a bit of browning sauce and Worcestershire sauce, just to beef up the gravy a bit. (You don't get a lot of juice and pan drippings from meatballs.)

Another of my dad's little tricks? Use off-brand cream of chicken soup. Because it's not as chickeny as the more expensive brands, it picks up the flavors of your meat much better.

Meatballs in Gravy
Serves 6

1 1/2 pounds ground beef, preferably 85% lean
3/4 cup crushed saltines
2 eggs
Salt, pepper, and onion salt
2 teaspoons canola oil

2 cans condensed cream of chicken soup
2 soup cans water
Salt, pepper, and onion salt, to taste
1-2 teaspoons browning sauce
1-2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
Slurry of cornstarch, flour, and water (about 1 part each cornstarch and flour to 2 parts water)

1. In a large bowl, combine ground beef, saltines, eggs, salt, pepper, and onion salt.

2. Form mixture into balls about 1“-1 1/2” in diameter.

3. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the meatballs and brown on all sides.

4. Remove meatballs from skillet and repeat with remaining oil and meatballs.

5. Reduce heat to medium and stir in soup, water, browning sauce, and Worcestershire sauce.

6. Bring soup mixture to a simmer and return meatballs to pan. Cover and cook about 15-20 minutes, or until meatballs are cooked through.

7. Using a whisk, stir in slurry until gravy is of desired consistency.

8. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and onion salt.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Bacon-Wrapped Li'l Smokies

This little snack/appetizer/side dish is a meat-lover's dream. These little guys are like pigs in a blanket, except that the blanket, too, is made of pig. (Speaking of meat-lovers' dreams ...)

You could serve these as an appetizer, along with a mustard sauce or barbecue sauce for dipping. They're perfect for entertaining, because they taste great even at room temperature.

I prefer them with brunch-type meal, alongside maybe a slice of quiche and a pastry or some fruit. I love brunch in general, and it only gets better with some pig-wrapped pig. (Oh, wait, I used all-beef smoked sausages.)

Just a note that you don't want to use thick-cut bacon here. It's ... I can't believe I'm saying this ... too bacony.

Bacon-Wrapped Li'l Smokies
Makes about 40 sausages

1 pound bacon, sliced in half
1 pound miniature smoked sausages
2 tablespoons brown sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with foil, and place a baking rack on top.

2. Wrap each sausage with half a slice of bacon.

3. Place seam side down on baking rack and sprinkle sausages with brown sugar.

You might notice that my baking rack is missing here. That is a mistake I shan't repeat.

4. Bake 30-40 minutes, or until bacon is cooked to desired doneness.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Hot and Spicy Ramen

First off, let me just explain that I know I'll be getting flak about this post. Because it's ramen noodles, that easy-cooking staple of poor college students everywhere.

However, when you go to many a sushi restaurant, you can order a bowl of spicy ramen to accompany your cold sushi, and that's the kind of ramen that I'm talking about here. The noodles are more tender and flavorful, and the hot broth gives you a spicy kick all the way down to your toes.

So yes, this "recipe" starts with a package of ramen noodles, which cost approximately 29 cents at your local grocery store. But do away with that salty packet and flavor your own broth, and you've got an easy, restaurant-style ramen of your own.

Hot and Spicy Ramen
Serves 2

32 ounces chicken broth
1 package ramen noodles (seasoning packet discarded)
3 teaspoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sriracha or chili oil
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
1 cup cubed, cooked chicken or pork (optional)
2 scallions, thinly sliced
Dash of sesame oil

1. In a medium saucepan, combine broth and noodles. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat, and then stir to break up noodles.

2. Reduce heat to medium. Add soy sauce, sriracha or chili oil, and ginger. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

3. Stir in a dash of sesame oil and garnish with scallions.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Oven-Fried Chicken Fingers with Tangy Dipping Sauce

I've been doing a lot of baking lately to put together some of our families' favorites recipes, and I've been trying to balance out all that decadence with some lighter meals. Luckily, I have a wealth of cookbooks and cooking magazines at my disposal to give me ideas, such as this one from Cuisine at Home.

This recipe makes some genuinely crispy, oven-baked chicken fingers, and my little brother loved them. Of course, he drenched his with the homemade sauce, which tastes like a sweeter buffalo wing sauce.

Note that these are a bit time-consuming. Had I read through the recipe thoroughly, my dinner guests wouldn't have been subjected to those two extra episodes of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse while waiting for their food. (Of course, I also doubled the recipe.)

Oven-Fried Chicken Fingers with Tangy Dipping Sauce
Makes 4 servings

Chicken fingers
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 pound, total)
3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 cup panko bread crumbs
2 egg whites
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
3 tablespoons canola oil

Dipping sauce
1/4 cup apple juice
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Pinch of celery seed
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon butter

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Slice each chicken breast in four strips, lengthwise.

2. Combine flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and paprika in a dish.

3. Dredge chicken fingers in the flour mixture and place on a wire rack.

4. Add panko to remaining flour mixture.

5. Whip egg whites to soft peaks in a bowl, using a hand mixer. (I tried a whisk, and after a few agonizing minutes, I switched to the mixer.) Whisk in buttermilk and Tabasco.

6. Dip each floured strip in the egg white mixture, and then in the pank and flour mixture. Return strips to rack.

7. Heat oil in a large baking sheet for 5 minutes in the oven.

8. Arrange chicken in a single layer on the hot baking sheet. (This starts crisping up the bottom of the chicken right away, so it doesn't get soggy.) Roast for 10-15 minutes, flip strips over, and roast an additional 10-15 minutes, until chicken is crispy and cooked through.

9. Meanwhile, simmer all sauce ingredients except butter over medium-low in a saucepan for about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and swirl in the butter. Serve sauce warm with the chicken.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Mom's Frosting

I'm sure I've mentioned a time or six before that I'm not a fan of traditional frosting, which leads me to be not a fan of most cakes. But cakes are also kind of the norm for birthday celebrations these days, and every year, my mom asks me what kind of cake I want.

My request is simple: Cold yellow cake with whipped cream frosting.

But I think this request is too simple for my mom, who suffers from the feeling that she's not doing anything special for her favorite child. So every year, she adds a twists. (These are often excellent twists, like the year she found a way to distribute tiny morsels of cream cheese throughout my cake.)

This year, she topped my cake with a whipped creamy/cream cheesy frosting that was absolutely perfect. It's now my frosting of choice for any cake or cupcake, especially because it's so quick and easy to throw together.

Mom's Frosting
Makes enough for 1 cake or 24 cupcakes (with some to spare)

1 8-ounce container frozen whipped topping, thawed (I use fat-free Cool Whip)
1 8-ounce container whipped cream cheese
1/4 cup powdered sugar, plus 1 tablespoon, or more to taste

1. Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl.

2. Using a hand mixer or stand mixer, mix ingredients until thoroughly combined and to desired consistency.

3. Top cake or cupcakes as desired. (Guess whose birthday these were for?)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Spicy Garlic Dipping Oil

I've recently declared my newfound love for take 'n' bake bread, which isn't perfect, but has become a lifesaver in a town devoid of a bakery. Or even a grocery store with a real bread section. But what to do with all that tasty, fresh-baked goodness? Just what you'd do in a restaurant -- dip it in some equally tasty dipping oil.

You can buy ready-made dipping oil, but it's so easy to make at home, and you can add whatever you want. I like this combination, which is garlicky and slightly spicy.

Spicy Garlic Dipping Oil
Serves 4-6

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, smashed
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspooon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Crusty bread, for dipping

1. In a small pan or skillet, heat oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, oregano, and pepper over medium heat, until bubbly and fragrant.

2. Remove from heat and cool.

3. Remove garlic, and then spoon into serving dishes and serve with warm bread.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

And once again, I'm behind in my posts. It's been a busy few weeks with fall yardwork, the wedding of a couple of great friends, my Tigers in the playoffs (hey, watching baseball takes time), and this little goofball turning 2.

Isn't he getting big?

(That's me at the top of the slide. The hubby has been giving me Photography for Dummies lessons lately, including the importance of the bokeh effect in photos. I've discovered that I look my best when I'm bokeh-ed. I plan on taking all my photos that way from now on.)

Anyway, in belated honor of my little man's big birthday, we'll celebrate with meatballs, one of his favorites. These are basic meatballs without any crunchy stuff, no weird chunks of anything in the sauce, etc. Just tender meatballs simmered in a tasty sauce, and sure to please even the pickiest of eaters.

The pickiest of eaters being my father, of course, not my 2-year-old.

Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
Serves 6

1 1/2 pounds ground beef, preferably 85% lean
1/2 cup Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 eggs
Salt, pepper, onion salt, and garlic salt
2 tablespoons olive oil (or more, as needed)
2 24-ounce jars pasta sauce

1. Add the ground beef, breadcrumbs, cheese, and eggs to a bowl. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, onion salt, and garlic salt.

2. Combine mixture thoroughly. You might have to get your hands dirty.

3. Form mixture into uniformly sized balls.

I use my cookie scoop for this. Even though it weirds me out a little bit, and the cookie scoop is obviously washed in between.

4. Heat oil in a large skillet or pot over medium-high heat. Add meatballs and brown on all sides.

You might have to do this in two batches. You want your meatballs to have elbow room to get nice and caramelized.

5. Reduce heat to medium. Add pasta sauce and cover. Cook about 10 minutes, until sauce is bubbly. Then reduce to a simmer for another 20 minutes or so.

6. Serve over cooked pasta.