Sunday, December 30, 2007

Loaded Sugar Cookie Bars

I adore desserts that begin with packaged cake mix or cookie dough. I love baked goods, but am not always thrilled about what it takes to produce them from scratch. It’s just all too involved. The separate mixing of the wet and dry ingredients, the adding of the eggs one at a time and the addition of the flour in batches, the gentle and time-consuming folding . . . it’s such a bother. I love a good short-cut dessert, and fortunately so does Rachael Ray.

Today I made her Macadamia Coconut Cookie Bars, but I used cashews instead and semisweet chocolate chips in place of the suggested white chocolate chips. I’m sure Rachael’s version would be delicious, but I was using up what I had on hand.

Sugar Cookie Bars with Coconut, Cashews, and Chocolate Chips
adapted from Rachael Ray’s Macadamia Coconut Cookie Bars

1 package sugar cookie mix (I used Betty Crocker)
1 egg, room temperature
1 stick of butter, room temperature, plus 1 tablespoon (butter should be very soft but not
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup roughly chopped cashews
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375. With 1 tablespoon butter, grease 9x13 inch baking dish.

Toast cashews in a pan over medium heat, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Add egg and butter to sugar cookie mix and combine. The best way to do this is with your hands—the heat from them will help blend the butter into the dry mix. Add coconut, chocolate chips, and cashews.*

Again with your hands, transfer dough to prepared baking dish and gently pat down into an even layer. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Bars will still be gooey in the center when removed from the oven, but they will set up as they cool.

Cool for 1 hour in the pan on a wire rack before cutting and serving.

*I added the cashews to the dough while they were still somewhat warm, and this caused the chocolate chips to begin to melt which, in turn, caused the dough to take on a slightly darker color. If you don’t want your chips to melt this soon, let cashews cool completely before adding them.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Chicken Tetrazzini

Recently I caught an episode of Everyday Italian in which Giada was cooking a meal to serve to her husband and his friends. They were out biking, and “the boys,” as she kept calling them, would be hungry upon their return. So Giada spent the day in the kitchen, standing over the stove, cooking for the boys, and when they arrived she emerged fresh, her hair recently taken down and arranged just so, food in her arms and a very large smile on her face. She laughed when they spoke and applauded as they ate. She was so enthused, so sickeningly sweet, that I almost—almost—lost my appetite. But truth be told, as annoying as I may sometimes find Giada herself, that day I found her chicken tetrazzini irresistible. And so I made it.

This is the type of food I love to eat. Casseroles, one-pot dishes, anything like that. There’s something I love about having a bunch of yummy ingredients combined in one dish. It’s just comforting. As I type this I imagine the future time when my fiancé, who insists that there is no such thing as “comfort food,” will read this post and make a face, but there is such a thing as comfort food, and this is it.

I adjusted the recipe just a bit. This makes a ton of food, so I reduced the recipe somewhat. Plus we don’t like mushrooms, so I left those out. The original recipe is here, and my modified version follows.

Chicken Tetrazzini
adapted from Giada’s Chicken Tetrazzini

8 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 large onions, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used Pinot Grigio)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk, room temperature
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, room temperature
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 pound linguine
1 cup frozen peas
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
1/3 cup grated parmesan
1/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs
kosher salt, black pepper, and poultry seasoning

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Spread 1 tablespoon of butter over a 3-quart baking dish. Set aside.

Heat olive oil in pan over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the chicken with salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning—a thin dusting of each on both sides of each breast. Add the chicken to the pan and cook for about 5 minutes per side. Allow chicken to cool, and then shred or chop into bite-size pieces. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.

Add 3 tablespoons of butter to the same pan. Add the onion, garlic, and thyme, and sauté until the onion is translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until it evaporates, about 5 minutes. Transfer the onion mixture to the bowl with the chicken.

Melt 2 more tablespoons of butter in the same pan over medium-low heat. Add the flour and whisk for 1 minute. Whisk in the milk, cream, broth, nutmeg, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, until the sauce thickens slightly, whisking often, about 10 minutes.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the linguine and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally, about 9 minutes. Drain. Add the linguine, sauce, peas, and parsley to the chicken mixture. Toss until the sauce coats the pasta and the mixture is well blended.

Transfer the pasta mixture to the prepared baking dish. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a bowl, and to the bowl add the cheese and breadcrumbs. Combine thoroughly and sprinkle the cheese mixture over the pasta. Bake, uncovered, until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Let stand 5-10 minutes before serving.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Split Pea Soup

A few years ago, I had split pea soup for the first time in my life. I'd always thought that it sounded sort of gross, although now I can't even remember why that was, but the point is that, when I tasted it, it was really good. Until now, that has been the only time I've ever had split pea soup, and I never knew whether I'd just been lucky enough to sample a great recipe or whether split pea soup really was delicious. So when I saw Ina make it recently, I knew it was time for me to come to a final verdict on split pea soup.

The great thing about this soup is that it's incredibly cheap (67 cents for a pound of split peas!) and incredibly easy. Chop up some onion, carrot, and potato, season them, throw in half the peas and some chicken stock, and simmer for 40 minutes. Then add the rest of the peas and simmer for an additional 40 minutes. Done. That's it.

And yes, it's very good. I couldn't keep myself from sampling the broth as it finished cooking. But there is a catch. The soup is very good as soon as it's done. Serve it as soon as the final 40 minutes are up. This is not a soup to be left simmering on the stove all day, waiting patiently and deliciously for you to be ready for it, because it gets thick. It turns from soup to puree pretty damn quick. For those of you who like your soup that way, you'll love this recipe; for those of you who don't, either serve it right away, cut back on the cooking time (some of the peas will still have a bit of a bite to them, but that's okay), or use less than a full pound of peas. Just keep in mind that the pea is a thirsty bugger, and if you allow him to drink up all of your broth, he will.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Assault on Mac & Cheese

Just delivered to my inbox was an e-mail announcing that FN has put together a list of the top 100 recipes of 2007. How exciting!!! I immediately clicked the link they sent and, drooling with anticipation, sat ready to devour 100 awesome new recipes to try. Of course, my eyes went straight to the number-one spot. Which recipe is the FN proud to call the top recipe of 2007?

It was Paula Deen's macaroni and cheese. Let me repeat that: Paula Deen's macaroni and cheese has been deemed the best recipe of 2007.

I have previously shared my thoughts on PD's M&C. The summary is, it's disgusting. Now, the one FN has deemed #1 (Creamy Macaroni and Cheese) is not the one I regretfully tried (The Lady's Cheesy Mac), but the offensive ingredient, those 3 eggs, are still there.

I don't understand. This recipe didn't even get 5 stars. When you read the reviews, plenty of people give it a good rating only after reducing the amount of egg or omitting it entirely. So how was this chosen as the winning recipe?

But it gets even better. In the #2 spot is Alton's Baked Macaroni and Cheese, and his uses egg, too! Although his calls for only one. But still, that's one too many. I think it's a Southern thing.

Did I say yet that I don't understand this? Because I really don't. Why do this to macaroni and cheese? Macaroni and cheese is a beautiful combination on its own---no egg required. It's just wrong--wrong, wrong, horribly wrong. Please stop doing this to macaroni and cheese.

I have strong feelings about macaroni and cheese.

By the way, the best mac & cheese I've ever made was from Andrea's Recipes. Try it---it's delicious.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ode to the Blood Orange Martini

Two summers ago, I had a drink at a restaurant downtown that changed my life. Yes, changed my life. I saw “blood orange martini” on the menu and, intrigued, I ordered one. Little did I know that this innocent order would start an obsession that I’d be compelled to feed for the rest of my life.

Okay, maybe that’s a tad dramatic, but seriously, these are so good. When it’s December and everyone is eager for family and presents and cookies, I’m scouting the markets for blood oranges. And this week I found them. The blood orange and I have been reunited.

Go get some, now, and make a martini. You’ll thank me.

Blood Orange Martini

¼ cup blood orange juice (about 1 orange)
¼ cup citrus vodka if you like it mild, ½ cup if you like it stronger
1 tablespoon simple syrup

Mix all ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Pour into a chilled glass and prepare to become addicted.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Rolled Oat Cookies with Toasted Hazelnuts and Dark-Chocolate-Covered Raisins

Ideally, I would get things done on the weekends. I would do things like sweep the floors, de-clutter the closets (they’re atrocious, really), and wrap the Christmas presents. Ideally. But somehow that never happens. Somehow, every Saturday, I spend the morning on the couch, watching the FN weekend line-up.

You might say, so what? It’s just the morning. There’s still the whole day left. But after spending a few hours watching other people cook, I’m usually struck by the unconquerable urge to cook something myself—usually something sweet and gooey—and so I do. And by the time that’s done, it’s time to think about dinner, and so then I cook dinner. And that’s usually followed by some picture-taking and often some blogging. Repeat on Sunday. And there goes the weekend.

Such was the case today. Everyone on the FN is making cookies lately, and it got to me. I had to make cookies. But I hadn’t planned to bake today, and I didn’t have extra supplies on hand. I scoured the pantry and the cabinets. I found half a canister of oatmeal and a bag of dark-chocolate-covered raisins. I could work with this. I dug a little deeper, and found some hazelnuts crammed in the back corner of the fridge. I even had a few shots of leftover buttermilk (I swear, this is the first time in my life I’ve ever had buttermilk just sitting around). Now we were getting somewhere.

I found Paula’s recipe for oatmeal cookies and adjusted it to fit what I had on hand. The cookies came out awesome--they're like a glammed up version of a regular oatmeal cookie. I’m always a bit afraid of oatmeal cookies, which I suppose is a result of having one too many of the tough, overly chewy variety, but these cookies practically melt in your mouth. Just what I was looking for.

Rolled Oat Cookies with Toasted Hazelnuts and Dark-Chocolate-Covered Raisins
adapted from Paula Deen’s Loaded Oatmeal Cookies

1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 and 1/4 cups quick-cooking oatmeal
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup dark-chocolate-covered raisins
3/4 cup hazelnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease baking sheet(s) or line with parchment paper or silpat.

Toast hazelnuts in a dry pan over medium heat, shaking the pan often, until nuts begin to brown and release their aroma. Shaking the pan not only keeps the nuts from browning too deeply on any one side, but it also helps loosen the husks. When nuts are toasted, allow then to cool until they’re easy to touch and remove any remaining husks. If you give the hazelnut a squeeze between your fingertips, it should easily pop out of the husk. Give nuts a rough chop and set aside.

Cream together butter, shortening, and sugar in a bowl until fluffy. Add egg and beat until mixture is light in color. Mix in buttermilk.

In a separate bowl sift together flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves. In two batches, fold flour mixture into butter mixture. Fold in oatmeal, vanilla, chocolate-covered raisins, and toasted hazelnuts. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto cookie sheet and bake for 13 minutes or until cookies are set and golden brown around the edges.

Grab a glass of milk and enjoy.

Cornish Hens, Andouille, Thyme, and Corn Stuffing, and Roasted Brussels Sprouts

When I saw Cornish game hens on sale, 2 for $5.69, just a few days after seeing Ina make them for Jeffrey, I knew it was a sign. I’d never before made anything that required a cavity to be emptied, and it seemed clear that I could no longer shy away from doing so. I bought the hens.

Ina’s were stuffed with cornbread stuffing, so that’s how I made mine. However—and it pains me to say this, but in the interest of full disclosure I must—the reviews on Ina’s recipe said that the stuffing was a bit bland (I’m sorry, Ina!), so I made mine my own way. I pretty much followed Rachael’s method, which I used previously to make Thanksgiving stuffing, but I substituted andouille for prosciutto. I’ve been adding andouille to everything lately—I can’t get enough.

I served the hens and stuffing with brown butter and lemon Brussels sprouts. In my mind, the cooking of Brussels sprouts is split into two categories: 1) roasting with olive oil, salt, and pepper and 2) everything else. To me, roasting is the superior method. I love those browned crispy leaves that you get when you roast the sprouts, and in my opinion this simple method is the best for highlighting and enhancing the flavor of the sprout itself. But one can eat even the tastiest sprout only so many times before wondering what else is out there, and today I exchanged my usual method for one that required an initial roasting and a final toss in a brown butter dressing with lemon, shallot, and thyme. They were delicious. I liked that I got the benefits of roasting as well as a little something extra, and, because there was thyme in the dressing, I thought they were a perfect complement to my andouille and thyme cornbread stuffing.

Cornish Hens

For the Cornish hens, I followed Ina’s recipe for everything except the cooking time. Thirty minutes for a bone-in stuffed bird sounded a little short to me, and plus I had the Brussels sprouts roasting at the same time. I did mine for 45 minutes at 425 degrees and they were perfect.

Cornbread Stuffing

1 package cornbread mix (8.5 oz.) (plus 1 egg and 1/3 cup milk, or whatever your mix calls for)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 link andouille sausage, casing removed
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
10 sprigs thyme
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup chicken stock
salt and pepper

Prepare cornbread according to package directions. Set aside.

Heat olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Crumble sausage into skillet, tearing into small pieces with your fingers. When sausage begins to brown, add onion. Cook until onion begins to become translucent, then add celery and thyme sprigs. Season with salt and pepper.

When sausage is fully cooked and vegetables are tender, add garlic, cook for one minute, then crumble in cornbread. Add chicken stock and stir to coat cornbread, scraping up any bits stuck to the pan as you do so. Use whatever amount of stock you need to deglaze pan and slightly moisten cornbread. The stuffing will become moister as it cooks in the oven. Remove thyme sprigs, and taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Brussels Sprouts

I stuck to Fine Cooking's recipe for these. I roasted the sprouts along with the hens and took them out after 30 minutes. While they were in the oven, I prepared the dressing in a sauté pan on the stove top and kept it warm over low heat. I left out the lemon juice and zest and saved those to add at the last minute (lemon can become bitter if it cooks too long). When the sprouts were done roasting I removed them from the oven, added them to the dressing in the pan, tossed them to coat, and kept them covered over low heat until the hens were ready.

Overall, this was a nice meal. However, I do think I now understand why something like a Cornish hen is usually saved for special meals. It’s not because they’re expensive—they’re cheaper than steak. It’s not because they’re difficult to prepare—they were super easy. The reason—or, at least, the reason that I’ll save them for special meals—lies in the actual eating of them. One must remove the stuffing from the cavity, taking care not to fling any off the plate, push it to the side to make space for getting at the meat itself, which requires maneuvering around skin and bone and using a knife to cut pieces free from the body, and generally remain poised with both fork and knife throughout the meal, working, working, working at the little bird. And, if you haven’t guessed it by now, I am a very lazy eater. I prefer to curl up on the couch, nestle a bowl of something good against my chest, and shovel it in by the forkful with my one free hand. So, though I’m sure the Cornish hen and I will meet again, it may not be until the next holiday season.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Cheddar Soup

When I first heard of Rachael Ray’s Cheddar Soup, I thought it sounded weird. I like lots of soups that have cheese in them—cheddar corn chowder, cheesy potato soup—but a soup where cheese was the star ingredient…well, I just didn’t know. I was intrigued though, so I really had no choice. I made it.

This soup is…well…cheesy. But in a good way. Some jalapeños and chili powder give it the depth it needs, and sour cream and crushed tortilla chips on top work very well as finishing touches.

I suggest serving this as a side-dish or along with something that would make a good dipper. I served mine with taquitos. Those were store-bought though. There’s no room for soup and homemade taquitos in a thirty-minute meal. At least not in my kitchen.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Chili Rice

There are lots of ways to serve chili. My second and third favorites are: 2) smothered with cheese and sour cream and served with tortilla chips and 3) ladled on top of a bowl of steamed white rice. My first favorite? A combination of numbers 2 and 3.

That’s exactly what you get when you make Guy’s Chili Rice. It’s a basic turkey chili that’s cooked with rice, and everything comes together in the same pot. I love one-pot dishes. Guy made this as a side-dish, but I’m happy making a meal of it. Serve it with Monterey Jack cheese on top, sour cream and guacamole on the side, chips for dipping and margaritas for washing it down, and you have an awesome casual dinner.

And—I feel like I say this all the time, but it’s true—one of the things that makes this recipe so great is its adaptability. Make it with turkey or beef, kidney beans or black beans, add some zucchini or some sausage (I threw in some andouille), top it with different cheeses or roll it in soft tortillas, and you have a different dish every time.

Now that’s money.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Spring Rolls

These are actually Rachael Ray’s Supper-Size Egg Rolls, but I’m calling them spring rolls. I’m sure the differences go beyond the dough, but for me, the main difference I’ve always noticed between egg rolls and spring rolls is that egg rolls have a much more substantial, crusty wrapper than the relatively delicate, flaky crust of a spring roll. The rolls here definitely fall into the delicate and flaky category.

These have a pretty standard filling: pork, cabbage, bean sprouts, garlic, ginger. The clever part of this recipe is the dough. How do you make crispy spring rolls without frying? You use phyllo dough.

This was my first time working with phyllo dough. It requires a bit more of a delicate touch than I’m used to, but it’s really not difficult. You just brush a couple sheets with melted butter to adhere them together, fold the adhered sheets in half widthwise, add a few tablespoons of filling, then roll them up just like you would a burrito. They take only 15-20 minutes in the oven. Pretty good, pretty easy. Plus—and this is something I often find with Rachael’s recipes—this is very adaptable. I imagine this same method would make a great no-fry version of a taquito.

I think I know what I’ll be doing with the rest of my phyllo dough.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Espresso Brownies

I’m always seeing recipes that call for adding coffee to chocolate baked goods. Espresso, coffee, instant granules—you name the coffee, I’ve seen it added to chocolate.

Recently, I picked up some instant espresso powder for just this purpose. I was eager to try it out, so I made Giada’s Espresso Brownies.

These are pretty good brownies. I like that they’re tiny, because they’re so easy to eat. Plus I somehow feel like I’m not eating very much, no matter how many I shove in my mouth.

The espresso powder is meant to highlight the flavor of the chocolate, which is exactly what it does. You don’t get much espresso flavor—just more chocolatey chocolate flavor. The topping is where the espresso really comes through. The rich brownie and the sugary espresso-vanilla glaze are a great combination.

Best of all, this is a very easy recipe. It’s simply jazzing up some boxed brownie mix. The only real work is in making the glaze, and that takes all of two minutes. The only suggestions I have are decreasing the baking time by about 10 minutes (if you’re using a 9x13x2 pan, they definitely don’t need 35 minutes) and adding about half a tablespoon of extra water to the glaze, just to make it more spreadable.

Oh, and a third suggestion: serve with ice-cold milk.