Saturday, October 31, 2009

Friday, October 30, 2009

Roasted Chicken, Take Two

S U C C E S S !!!!!!!!!!!
Can I get some trumpets and fan fare please?!!! This chicken turned out wonderfully. None of the problems I had the first time I tried making roasted chicken. I can roast a chicken!!!! This time the meat was fully cooked and the skin was brown and crispy. I wish I had been able to get a better photo. The chicken skin looks a bit black, but it is really dark brown. Know what the secret was? Peach preserves!!! Mrblocko said it was like the skin was candied. Holy cow!!!! This was the most addictive chicken skin on the planet. Seriously, I wanted to eat all the skin for dinner and forget about all that tender juicy chicken meat. I restrained myself, but only because I wanted to see how stock would turn out flavored by that sweet caramelized skin.
The stock turned out amazing. It's probably the best looking and tasting stock I've made, or helped to make. I made soup with the stock last night. I'll post about the soup sometime next week, so stay tuned for that!

You can find the recipe for roasted chicken with peach glaze at Real Mom Kitchen. I didn't have the garlic pepper that original recipe called for. Instead, I substituted McCormick Montreal Steak Seasoning. The steak seasoning contains garlic, salt and pepper, among other things like paprika and red pepper flakes. I'll definitely use the steak seasoning next time, whether I have garlic pepper or not. The combo of spices were a great contrast to the sweetness of the peach preserves.

Roasted Chicken with Peach Glaze from Real Mom Kitchen
5 pounds whole roasting chicken
1 teaspoon garlic pepper blend
1/2 cup peach preserves

Heat oven to 375ºF. Spray rack in shallow roasting pan with nonstick cooking spray.
Rinse chicken inside and out with cold water; drain. Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Sprinkle chicken with garlic pepper blend; place chicken breast side up on sprayed rack in pan. Bake at 375ºF for 1 hour. Brush chicken with preserves; bake an additional 35 to 45 minutes or until fork-tender and juices run clear. Chicken is done when internal temp reaches 180ºF. Let stand 5-10 minutes before serving. Serves 6.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Banana Gingerbread

I used to love banana bread. As an inexperienced cook, it was one of the few breads I knew I could make without totally screwing it up. Plus, there is such an appeal to making something delicious out of something that looks nasty and would otherwise get tossed out. (Let's face it, black bananas are creepy and gross looking, in and out of the peel.)

This all changed about 5 years ago. Blockette, whom we then referred to as baby blocko, had other ideas. I had made banana bread after dinner one night and, being pregnant and lacking in energy, was too tired to clean up the dishes. I made a terrible error in judgement, and left them to soak in the sink overnight. The next day I went to make myself some breakfast and the I saw the dirty dishes and got a whiff of their banana-y smell...let's just say it was not happy fun time. Bananas and anything banana scented were banned from the house until Blockette was born. Toward the end of the pregnancy it got so bad I couldn't even go to the grocery store. Bananas were just that evil!

The smell of banana bread, and sometimes even bananas themselves, still makes me a bit queasy. I do still make banana bread once in a blue moon because Mrblocko and Blockette love it so. I noticed we had a few over ripe bananas in the freezer, and figured it was high time I used them up.

I had two recipes in mind, one that required dried cranberries and pecans, and the other called Banana Gingerbread. I couldn't decide so I let Blockette choose. I told her the choices and she yelled out, "Gingerbread. Oh please let's make the gingerbread. I love ginger!!"

I was afraid she might be disappointed that it wasn't gingersnaps or gingerbread cookies we were making. I knew the real reason she was excited about "gingerbread" was because of the book The Gingerbread Man. Fortunately, she wasn't disappointed and there was no confusion that we were making bread, not cookies. Blockette was just happy to be helping out in the kitchen. Hooray!

This recipe for banana gingerbread comes from Baking Bites. The recipe was everything I hoped for and more. I was a bit worried that using all purpose flour instead of whole wheat would mess up the density of the bread. It turned out just fine. There was a bit less rise than I normally get from quick bread. The bread didn't turn out heavy as a brick so who really cares if the top wasn't domed. My tummy sure didn't.

I did have a queasy moment when I first took the bread out of the oven. I was hit with this strong stink of banana that completely overpowered the gingerbread spices. Once the bread cooled all I could smell in the house was gingerbread goodness. The bread only had a slight hint of banana, mostly if you got a slice that had a chunk of banana that didn't get pulverized. I was OK with that though. So OK, that I ate the majority of the loaf. I will definitely make this bread again...and again.

Banana Gingerbread from Baking Bites
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon (sub for 1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice)
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
pinch freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup banana, mashed (about 2 large)
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup buttermilk
4 tbsp vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. In a medium bowl, whisk together brown sugar, banana, molasses, buttermilk and vegetable oil. Pour into dry ingredients and stir until just ombined. Pour into prepared pan and sprinkle with coarse sugar, if desired. Bake for about 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Makes 1 loaf, 8-10 slices.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Zucchini Pie

I've seen all sorts of recipes for zucchini pie floating about the internet. I first saw this recipe on Allrecipes. I think I've made enough changes to the recipe to call it my own.

Mrblocko doesn't like zucchini. He tells me this every time I suggest adding zucchini to a dish. Zucchini pie is the exception to that rule. This dish is Mrblocko's favorite way to eat zucchini. Probably because it takes something that is supposed to be good for you and makes it completely unhealthy.

Once I tried to make this dish healthier by making the following substitutions:
pork sausage ---turkey sausage
crescent rolls---low fat crescent rolls
butter ----------margarine
eggs------------egg beaters

I don't recommend doing this. The result was not very tasty. It could be that I was just comparing it to the original. With all that salt and fat, how could it not taste good. Sometimes I will make only one or two low fat swaps and that results in a much tastier meal. I don't make zucchini pie very often though. I figure it is a special treat and therefore OK to have a fatty fat filled meal every once and a while.

Without further ado, here is my version:
(Yeah I forgot to take a picture but imagine a quiche topped with cheese and you'll get the idea.)

Zucchini pie
1/2 lb bulk breakfast sausage
1 (8 oz) pkg crescent rolls
Dijon mustard
1/4 c butter
1 small chopped onion
4 c zucchini, peeled, sliced in half lengthwise and then chopped into thin half circles
2 T parsley
1/4 t oregano
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
2 eggs, beaten
2 c mozzarella, shredded (this time I used 1 c mozz, 1/2 c provolone and 1/2 Swiss because I wanted to use up leftover cheese)

Preheat oven to 375. Unroll crescents and press into 9 inch pie pan, covering sides and bottom completely. Don't be afraid to manipulate the dough to get it to do what you want it to. Squeeze a few Tablespoons of Dijon mustard over crust. Spread out the mustard with pastry brush so it forms a thin even layer over the unbaked crust. Meanwhile, brown sausage in skillet. Remove from skillet and set aside. Melt butter and cook onions and zucchini over med high heat for 10-15 min until the moisture evaporates from the veggies and they begin to brown a bit. You want to make sure you cook out a good portion of the water in the zucchini or else your pie will turn out soggy. Season with herbs. Place veggies in large bowl along with the cooked sausage. Stir to combine. Add eggs and half the cheese. Stir to combine and pour into unbaked crust. Top with remaining cheese. Bake 20 minutes until filling is set. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Apple Cider Chicken

I don't know what my problem is lately. I keep forgetting to break out the camera when I test out a new recipe. I think I keep getting distracted by a little thing called hunger.

Rachael Ray's apple cider chicken was a great dish to add to the fall meal rotation. I used 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts because that was what I had on hand. I don't think this dish lacked anything because the chicken didn't have bones or skin.

This dish tasted very sweet because of the honey, cider vinegar and all the sugars from the caramelized onions. I thought it was almost too sweet at first, but the flavor mellowed out as the dish cooled. This tasted even better as leftovers, although the caramelized onions wound up looking a bit like worms. That may be a pro for you as well if you have a 4 year old who is fascinated by worms. Blockette loved that it looked like we were eating worms.

I thought the chicken and onions would be tasty over a bed of rice. I picked up some jasmine rice a few weeks back and thought it would be the perfect time to give it a taste test. I could not shut up about this rice. Jasmine rice, where have you been all my life? Seriously, this was the best rice I've ever tasted. It was fragrant and had this sort of nutty undertone. I've gotta find more recipes that call for rice, just so I can make me some more jasmine rice! Go jasmine rice!

Rachael Ray's Apple Cider Chicken
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), divided
2 whole chicken breasts, 4 halves, bone-in and skin on
Salt and pepper
3 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons thyme leaves, 7-8 sprigs, leaves stripped and chopped
3 tablespoons honey (eyeball it)
4 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup plus apple cider vinegar
2 cups chicken stock

Preheat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add a couple tablespoons of EVOO, 2 turns of the pan. Season chicken liberally with salt and pepper, and add to the hot oil, skin side down. Brown chicken, about 5 minutes per side. Remove and reserve. Add another 2 turns of the pan of EVOO, the onions, thyme, honey and the garlic. Season the onions with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently for about 20-30 minutes or until the onions are really brown. Add cider vinegar, scraping up all the brown bits on the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Add the chicken stock and bring up to a bubble.
Once at a simmer, return the chicken to the pot with the liquid and onions. Place a lid on the pot, turn the heat down to medium and simmer for about 15 minutes, flipping the chicken over in the sauce about halfway through. Remove lid, check to make sure the chicken is cooked through by cutting a small slit in the thickest part of the breast with a paring knife to have a look inside. If it is cooked through -- no pink meat -- remove to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm. Turn the heat up to high and simmer until the sauce thickens up slightly, about 4-5 minutes. You can serve the chicken right away topped with a big spoon full of sauce and the onions or you can return the chicken to the pot, turn the heat off and cover with the lid until you're ready to serve it. Once you are ready, add 1/2-3/4 cup additional chicken stock and turn the heat back on to heat everything back up.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Freebie fun from the weekend

Back in September our family participated in CROP walk (A 3 mile walk to raise money for the hungry, locally and globally.) Those that completed the walk got a gift certificate for a turtle sundae at an ice cream parlor a few towns over. We finally got around to using our coupons Friday. Little did we know that the Ice cream parlor was having a fund raiser for one of the area elementary schools. All you had to do was place your receipt in a bucket and a portion of the total went to the school. Even though we didn't pay for our dessert, we were still able to put our receipt in the bucket. It was like getting a reward for our reward.

Mrblocko was out with his friends on Saturday so Blockette and I went out for fun mommy-daughter time. I had a coupon for one of 3 different spice blends at Penzey and I let Blockette pick out which one we got. She had so much fun smelling all the herbs and spices in that store. It was hard to get her to leave.

Then, I had a coupon for a free cookie and small hot chocolate at Barnes and Noble. Blockette doesn't like to eat/drink anything that is above room temp and will scream like I'm making her imbibe molten lava. (Mmmmm...molten lava!) So, I did the only humane thing, I gave her the cookie and drank the hot chocolate myself. The sacrifices I make for the happiness of my child!

After we consumed our cookie/cocoa combo, we headed over to the mall and I used my coupon for a free pair of underwear from VS. I'm never going to have to wash underwear ever again because VS keeps sending me free coupons. Of course, I might have to wash my underwear more often if I ever actually changed it. (How often are you supposed to change your underwear anyhow? Every year? Month? I can never remember.)

Next, we went to Aunt Annie's and used our coupon for a free pretzel. Blockette thought it was super fun to share the giant pretzel. It was so fun in fact that she forgot about the fact that we left the Disney store without getting her anything Princess or Fairy related. Who knew Pretzels held that kind of power?

If all that wasn't enough free excitement, I brought the weekend to a fabulous end with a wonderful ear infection! For free! I didn't even have to pay for it. Isn't that awesome!!!! I'm so totally psyched!!!!! Can't you tell? With all these exclamation marks!!!! Now, could I get a free antibiotic at Meijer? No. Of course not. The kind I needed wasn't free. At least it was only $4 at Walmart. Yay Walmart Pharmacy!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Potato Kielbasa Bake

Have you ever made a dish that you love, but you are surprised how good it tastes every time you make it? This is the case for us with Rachael Ray's Potato Kielbasa Bake. I'm not quite sure how I even convinced Mrblocko that this dish would taste good. He's not a big fan of sauerkraut. I'm not either, but there was just something about this recipe.

As you can tell, the Potato Kielbasa Bake won't even qualify for runner up in any beauty pageants. She does win Miss Congeniality though. That's just as good, if not better, in my book. I know we eat with our eyes just as much as our tongues, but if given the choice, I'd rather eat a plate of something that makes you close your eyes and smile versus shiny plastic showroom food.

I've made a few changes here and there. The main change I've made is reducing kraut by about half. Feel free to look at the original recipe on the hyperlink at the top of the page if you are a big fan of sourkraut. Here is the version I make:

Potato Kielbasa Bake
2 T olive oil, divided
1 lb Kielbasa, cut on angle in 1" pieces
1 lb frozen hash brown potatoes
2 cloves minced garlic
salt and pepper to taste
3 T flour
2 c chicken stock
1 c milk
3 T prepared yellow mustard
1 14 oz can sauerkraut
1 T butter
1/2-1 c shredded Swiss cheese

Preheat your oven to 400 F. Heat a large skillet on med-high with 1 T oil. Cook kielbasa until brown and crispy. (we cook ours until they are black. If yours get black, don't worry. They most likely aren't burnt. The sugars are just caramelized, and this is a good thing.) Remove sausage from the pan and set aside.

Cook the hashbrowns in the sausage drippings per the package directions. (I always need to use more oil to cook the hashbrowns.) Remove hashbrowns from pan, set aside.

In the same pan, add 1 T oil and crank the heat up to high. Add onions, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook the onions until they are brown and caramelized. (You could speed up the cooking time by using a different pan to simultaneously cook the sausage, hashbrowns, and onions. I hate washing dishes so I just use the same pan to cook everything.) Once the onions are browned to your liking, add the butter. Once the butter is melted, stir in the flour to coat the onions. Cook for 30 seconds. Whisk in stock, milk and mustard. Bring the gravy to a bubble. Reduce the heat and then add the kraut. Cook until the gravy begins to thicken and the sourkraut is heated through, about 3-4 min.

Stir in the sausage. (At this point you can transfer the kraut/sausage mix to a 9x13 pan, but my largest pan has oven safe handles so in the name of not doing more dishes I just bake it in the skillet.) Spread the hashbrowns over the top of the kraut and kielbasa. Sprinkle Swiss cheese over the hashbrowns. Bake until the cheese melts and begins to brown, about 15-20 min. Remove from the oven and let sit for 15 min to give the gravy a chance to set.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Caramel Apple Oatmeal Cookies

I found this recipe for Caramel apple cookies on the blog Craftzine back in September. I filed it away as one of those recipes I thought would be great for the church pumpkin patch bake sale. The recipe comes from Katie Goodman of goodLife{eats}. Interestingly enough, she has a different recipe for caramel apple cookies that she posted on her blog last fall. The recipe on her blog doesn't call for oatmeal, but does require twice the amount of butter and eggs. I liked the recipe on Craftzine so much that I don't think I'll even test the one on Katie's blog.

The only thing I found I needed to change about the recipe was the bake time. I needed to bake the cookies for 14-16 min, and then let them cool 6 min on tray. If I tried to remove the cookies before this they started to fall apart.

The dough was really soft even after hanging out in the fridge for 1 hour. I rolled all the dough in balls and froze half. For some reason these frozen ones only took 15 min to bake.

Mrblocko didn't like that the caramel bits got hard after they cooled. Now that I've got some dough in the freezer all ready to bake, I can pop a few cookies in the oven while we are eating dinner and he can eat them while the caramel is warm and gooey.

Caramel Apple Cookies from Craftzine
1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 cup flour
2¾ cup old fashioned oats not quick-cooking oatmeal
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
12 oz caramel baking bits
2 cups granny smith apples

In a large bowl, beat the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar with an electric mixer until the mixture is fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the vanilla and eggs. Beat until combined.Measure oatmeal into a food processor, and pulse until ground finely. In a medium-sized bowl, stir the oatmeal, flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda until combined. Set aside. Peel and finely chop the apple. Using an electric mixer, stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until combined. Stir in the caramel bits and apples. It is fun to save a few of each (the apple and the caramel) for dotting on top of the rolled cookie dough balls. Refrigerate the dough for 1 hour. Roll the cookie dough into golf ball-sized balls. Bake on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet in an oven preheated to 350 degrees F, for 10-12 minutes. The sheet should be placed on the upper middle rack. Cool on the pan for 4 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

Note: Dough is best the day of. In time the apples add extra moisture to the dough, causing a wider spread on the baked cookies. Alternatively, you can pre-roll the dough into balls and freeze if you aren't using it all the first day. Place the dough balls on a cookie sheet until solid, and then transfer to a labeled sealable freezer bag. Use within one month. Simply add an extra couple minutes to the baking time since the dough is frozen.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Roasted Tomato and Bean Soup

Just a little while ago, I wrote about how I never just whip up a meal without using a recipe. Writing about it got me thinking about it more and more. I decided to jump in and give it a try. I had some ground chuck defrosting in the refrigerator that I had intended to use in Hamburger Helper. Well, I just wasn't in the mood for Hamburger Helper.

As the weather's been getting colder, more and more Food bloggers are writing about chili and soups. I've come across so many lately that I can't keep them straight. I do remember one chili recipe that used spaghetti sauce as a base. I thought that was a neat idea, and I just happened to have a half jar of sauce lurking in the back of my fridge begging to be used before it got fuzzy.

Half a jar of pasta sauce and a pound of ground beef wasn't going to qualify as an "original recipe", so I scrounged around a bit more. I found a can of black beans and a can of fire roasted tomatoes in the pantry. I really wasn't in the mood for the chunky-ness of chili though. Then I remembered seeing a recipe for bean soup where the beans were pureed. I thought, why not puree the tomatoes too.

The pureed mix was very thick. That half jar of pasta sauce wasn't going to thin the soup out nearly enough. The only broth I had was rock solid in the freezer. I wasn't in the mood to fuss with defrosing it, and I didn't want to add water. I thought the water might dilute the flavors too much. I looked in the pantry again with no luck. After moving things around in the fridge I came across a bottle of Corona. I add beer to chili all the time. Why not add it to this soup?

Here is the recipe as I made it:

Roasted Tomato Bean Soup
2 T olive oil
1/4 soft ball size onion, minced
2 cloves garlic minced
1 lb ground beef
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can fire roasted tomatoes
1/2 jar spaghetti sauce
1 carrot, shredded on microplane
4 carrots, diced
1 c frozen corn
2 T chili powder
2 tsp cumin
1 beer (I used Corona)
1 c uncooked pasta noodles (I used alphabet)

In a skillet saute garlic and onions in olive oil until onions are light brown and caramelized. Place onions in your slow cooker. In the same skillet, brown and drain the ground beef. Add the meat to the crock-pot. Meanwhile, puree rinsed beans and tomatoes until smooth. Pour mixture into crockpot. Add a small amount of water to the blender get all of the puree out. Add this to the crock pot as well. Add remaining ingredients to crock pot and cook for 4 hours on high so the soup can simmer and cook off the alcohol. (I could have easily done this in a stockpot on the stove, but we were going to be gone until just before dinner and I didn't want to have to rush around when we got home. ) Boil your noodles per the instructions on the box. Drain and add to the soup in the crock pot.

This made a fair amount of soup and I froze the leftovers. I made this a while ago and we have since eaten the leftovers. They reheated very nicely. We have eaten this soup with one or more of the following add-ins: crackers, sour cream, cheese and crushed tortilla chips. (Of course Mrblocko added the standard hot sauce.)

The soup was not seasoned enough to our tastes. Next time I'll add more cumin and chili powder. Oh, and pepper. I realized that I completely forgot to add pepper. This problem was easily solved by just adding more spices to our individual bowls.

Overall, I think my first attempt at "winging it" went pretty good. I don't think I'll do this sort of thing all the time, but it was nice to know that I could throw something together and not have it totally suck.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Apple pie bars

There was a pot luck at church this past Sunday. I thought this was the perfect occasion to test out The Runaway Spoon's Apple pie bars. Except, I made baked ziti for Mrblocko to take to a different church pot luck on Friday. Apparently, they had so much food that hardly any of it was consumed. Those that had the ziti thought it was so great they asked if they could bring it to the potluck at church on Sunday. Mrblocko said, "Yeah, that sounds great. Why don't I just leave it here so we don't have to lug it back and forth." Poor guy. He thought he was being helpful. What he didn't realize was that I needed that 9x13 pan to make the bars. Doh.

Normally, this wouldn't have been such a big deal, except while he was gone I measured out all the ingredients for the bars. Doh. You can't unmix baking powder and cinnamon from flour. I hemmed and hawed over what to do. I finally settled on using my 10x13 pan. I worried that the bars might be too thin baking them in a larger pan. Now my 10x13 pan is almost 3 inches high. Compare that to the height of my 9x13 pan, which is 2 inches. Take a look at the photo below. The bars rose about a half inch from the top of the larger pan. I think the whole thing would have overflowed the 9x13 pan. I guess Mrblocko did do me a favor by leaving the smaller pan at someone's house. What a mess that would have been to clean from the oven floor!
You'd think that since I was baking this in the larger pan, the bake time would have been reduced. I baked this for 45 minutes, the shortest of the suggested cooking times. The bars looked nicely browned and had come away from the edges as the recipe suggested.

Once the bars cooled, I turned them out onto a cutting board and peeled the foil off. I knew it was a bad sign when the center of the bars started to stick to the foil. The middle was very gooey. I sliced up the whole thing and hoped for the best. The bars in the middle just did not want to hold their shape.
Now I did substitute half the oil for cinnamon applesauce. The recipe called for a whole cup of oil, and I thought that was a lot of oil for one batch of bars. In the past, I have used applesauce in place of oil in many different recipes and had no trouble at all. I always like to start out with swapping half of the oil before replacing all of it, just to be on the safe side. I don't know if there was too much water in the applesauce, or the bars just needed to be baked longer.

I was really glad that we had that baked ziti for back up because these bars weren't in any condition to see the light of day. They were delicious though. We've been eating them for breakfast. Num! The apple and the butterscotch chips really make a great combo. I loved how the chips sank to the middle of the bars too.

When I try this recipe again I'll still use a mix of the oil and applesauce, but I will increase the bake time to at least an hour. I don't think Blockette or Mrblocko will complain if they still turn out gooey. I think they know that just means they won't have to share.

Apple Pie Bars from The Runaway Spoon
1 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
2 cups sugar
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 large baking apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped
6 ounces (1/2 a 12-ounce package) butterscotch chips

Preheat the oven to 350. Spray a 9 by 13 inch baking dish with cooking spray. In the bowl of an electric mixer, thoroughly combine the oil, eggs and sugar. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, soda and spices together in a bowl, then add to the oil mixture in the mixer, beating until thoroughly mixed. The batter will be thick.
Use a sturdy spoon to stir in the apple pieces. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan, spreading it out evenly. Sprinkle the butterscotch chips over the top, pressing them into the batter lightly. Bake for 45 minutes to one hour, until the golden and pulling away from the sides of the pan slightly. Cool thoroughly and cut into squares. Makes 24 bars

Friday, October 16, 2009

Worm cups and Squirlz

Every year our church has a pumpkin patch to raise funds for youth mission trips. Church members also contribute baked goods to be sold at the pumpkin patch. I saw these Harvest Cup Halloween treats on Big Red Kitchen and I thought they would be something a kid would think was fun.

The bottoms are made of either Gorp or Candy Candy corn. Then the tails of the gummy worms are tucked into that filling, allowing the heads of the worms to drape over the tops of the cup. Next, melted chocolate (I made some with milk chocolate and some with almond bark)gets poured over the Gorp/Corn. This seals the worms in place. Three candy corn pumpkins get pressed into the warm chocolate so when the chocolate cools they are stuck in the chocolate as well. The whole thing gets topped with crushed Oreos to give it that "dirt" look.

After the last church bake sale, I was not 100% sure if these cups would sell. Blockette and I volunteered at the pumpkin patch this morning and the dirt cups were all gone! I even found out they were sold for $2. Most things at the bake sale were marked at $1, so I was feeling super special.
Volunteering at the pumpkin patch this morning was not on my top 10 list of fun thinks to do on a Friday morning. First, it was only about 40 degrees and raining. Right there was enough. Did I mention I had Blockette with me? And it was raining? In a field, where it was muddy? Do you think Blockette wanted to sit under the tent with me? Of course not. She wanted to play in the rain and the mud with the pumpkins.

An hour into our two hour shift, I decided we should warm up in the car. I read Blockette a story in the shelter of our car. (Blockette thought it was especially cool since she got to sit in the Front Seat) Once we were finished, we went back to the tent. As we were getting out of the car, I saw this big old fat squirrel helping himself to a loaf of pumpkin bread! (He even ate the saran wrap!) I shooed the monster away from his snack and went to search for something to cover up the rest of the baked goods should we decide to warm up in the car again.

I found a plastic bin I thought would work in the garage near the pumpkin patch. As I was leaving the garage I heard, "Smack, Splat", a large intake of air and hysterical crying/screaming. Blockette had tripped on the sidewalk near the door of the garage. Luckily her nose was there to break her fall. OUCH!

Once I calmed her down and wiped away her tears, I covered up the baked goods with the bin and put a heavy pumpkin on top of it so the evil squirrels couldn't just team up and push the bin off the table. I grabbed the cash box and headed back up to the church office.

I explained what happened with the vermin and Blockette's nose dive. Since we hadn't had a single person stop at the patch, I wondered if it would be ok for us to head out early. As it turned out, the person scheduled to work the next shift was already in the office. (At least one thing was going in our favor this morning!) Everyone was so surprised about the squirrel eating the bread. Apparently, in all the years the church has been running the pumpkin patch, there have been no squirrel related crimes. Figures. This only furthers my theory that the Squirlz are out to get me!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Picture day

This photo was taken just to prove that she left the house on picture day looking presentable. With eight other kids in her class, all of them boys, I'm not sure what the pictures will look like. I'm expecting paint across her dress and her hair in a static poof. She was not the most cooperative model either...hence the sceptical expression. She had more important things to do. Like bake a fairy an acorn cake. At least she has her priorities straight.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Hoisin Burgers

I found the recipe for Hoisin burgers on a blog called No Recipes. I love that name for a blog. I wish I was cleaver enough in the kitchen to whip up meals without the aid of a recipe. Guess I just need to get more practice in the kitchen. The extent of my creativity only extends to making substitutions. Perhaps this is the first step on the journey to inventing a recipe?

Hoisin sauce, for those of you who aren't in the know, is kind of like a Chinese BBQ sauce. It's tangy and sweet with a hint of spiciness for balance. I think it is delicious and I wish I remembered to use it more often.

The first time I used Hoisin Sauce in a meal was shortly after I got married. I told Mrblocko what I was planning on cooking and rattled off the ingredients. I got to the Hoisin Sauce and he did one of those cartoon double takes. "You want to use what?!!!" I said, "Yeah, Hoisin Sauce. It's supposed to be similar to BBQ sauce. Don't you like it?" Apparently, he thought I said "Poison Sauce." Like I would try to do him in by feeding him something called poison sauce. Wouldn't that be a tad obvious???

For some reason I forgot to take a picture. Oh yeah, that's because the burgers fell apart on the grill. I thought I should add an egg to the meat mix as a binder. It is something I do out of habit when I make burgers. There was enough liquid with the Hoisin, sesame oil, and soy sauce. The egg was overkill. The meat mix looked fine when I combined all the ingredients; I just couldn't leave well enough alone. Whatever you do, resist the urge to add an egg when you make these burgers. You'll be really glad you did.

The recipe includes directions for making pickled onions. I didn't make them because I wasn't in the mood to eat or make them. I bet they would have been a tasty addition to the flavors in the burger. I am going to make these burgers again, without the egg. I think they will be even tastier if they can survive the grill long enough to get a bit of a char on them.

Hoisin Burgers from No Recipes
1 lb of lean organic ground beef
1 green onion minced
2 cloves garlic minced
1 Tbs minced cilantro
1 tsp minced ginger
1 Tbs hoisin sauce
1 tsp sesame seed oil
1 tsp soy sauce
1/8 tsp ground white pepper

Combine the ingredients for the patty with your hand; be careful not to over mix it. Form the patties and stick them on parchment paper until you’re ready to cook them. Grill or Fry as desired.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Another Kitchen Fear Conquered!

Pumpkin pecan chocolate chunk cookies with maple brown butter frosting may have the longest name ever for a cookie, but they are so sinfully delicious. The saddest thing about them is that I almost didn't make them. You see, the frosting requires you to brown the butter. Yes, brown the butter, not burn it. I have avoided recipes that require browning butter for years in fear of ruining the butter. I thought it was high time I at least tried it.

You'd better believe I watched that butter like a hawk. I stirred it and stirred it and nothing happened. Then, all of a sudden the butter started to froth and foam. The whole thing almost boiled over. Then poof, like magic....brown-ness. Wheeew! I did it! I'm not ashamed to admit I did a little happy dance right there in front of the stove. At least it amused the munchkin.

I thought browning the butter would be the most challenging part of the recipe. It turns out that the dough was the real trouble maker. I think the butter I used in the cookies may have been a bit too warm. The recipe also called for self rising flour which I did not have. I read online that you can make your own by adding 1.5 tsp baking soda and 1/2 tsp salt per cup of flour. Perhaps one or both of these issues resulted in a batter that was on the liquid side. I'm positive this was the reason why my cookies were flat instead of cakey. At least they moist and chewy.

Before baking, I put the dough in the freezer for 30 minutes to firm up a bit. It did help, but not as much as I had hoped. The first sheet I made I used a large cookie scoop to portion out the cookies. Woah. I ended up with a giant mega under-cooked uni-cookie, instead of five individual cookies. I could not get the large cookies to firm up properly. I baked them for 20 minutes and they still looked quite raw.

The next sheet of cookies I used the small cookie scoop and that seemed to fare better. Although, they were still on the gooey side. I cooked the first 2 sheets on Silpat, so before throwing out the remaining dough, I thought I'd try baking some on parchment. That worked much better. The cookies held together enough to be removed from the baking sheets in one piece.

Once the cookies were cool enough to touch, I frosted them with the Maple Brown Butter Frosting. It should really be called Maple Brown Butter Crack Frosting. Because it is crack. Crack for people. The maple and browned butter flavors pair so wonderfully with the pumpkin and chocolate in the cookie. This frosting is so good I'll bet it would taste fantastic right off the spoon. Not that I would do that sort of thing...while anyone was watching.

I found that I had lots of extra frosting. This was most likely because I didn't frost the undercooked fellas. I didn't throw those gooey guys away. I had big plans for them. I stuck them in the fridge and the next morning we crumbled them over oatmeal with a drizzle of the left over frosting. Num! Momma, Papa and Little (cause Blockette is not a baby) Bear were quite pleased with our porridge.

As a side note: I didn't feel like going out and buying a whole container of pumpkin pie spice when I wasn't sure I'd use it again. I found a recipe for pumpkin pie spice on Baking Bites and made half a batch. I liked the taste and the aroma from the blend. I'll be making more pumpkin spice when my first batch is gone.)

Pumpkin Pecan Chocolate Chunk Cookies from Bakerella
2 1/4 cup self-rising flour
3 tsp pumpkin pie spice
3/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 cup chopped pecans
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chunks

Whisk flour and pumpkin pie spice. Set aside.In a large mixing bowl, cream butter.
Add both sugars and beat until light and fluffy. Add vanilla. Add eggs one at a time and beat until combined. Add flour/spice mixture to sugar mixture in three additions. Alternate with pumpkin in two additions, ending with flour mixture. Stir in chopped pecans and chocolate chunks. Drop on cookie tray lined with parchment paper.Bake at 350 for 10-12 min. Makes about four dozen cookies

Maple Brown Butter Frosting
3 cups sifted confectioners sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup milk
2 tsp maple flavoring

Sift sugar and set aside. Melt butter over medium heat until golden brown. Watch closely so it does not burn. Add butter to sugar, scraping all the butter into the bowl. Add milk and maple flavoring. Stir until smooth. Spread on top of cookies with an knife or offset spatula.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Palmiers and the Bake Sale

Our church held a bake sale to raise money for Blockette's Preschool. I donated Giant Chocolate Chip Cookies, chocolate chip ice cream bowls, and Cinnamon Orange Palmiers.
I'd never made Palmiers before. They are simple to assemble, but require serious babysitting once they are in the oven. The recipe said to bake for 15 minutes then to flip the cookies and continue cooking for another 7 minutes. I'm thinking more and more that my oven runs hot. I followed the recipe's bake times and wound up with burnt cookies! After much fussing, I found baking 10 minutes, then flipping and cooking for another 5 minutes, worked best for me. Even with that reduced cooking time, my Palmiers were much darker than the photo from blog I found this recipe on.

I only managed to burn myself once. The recipe even warns you about how easy it is to get burned by hot sugar. Duh. I'm just happy I only burnt myself once. I count that as a victory.

There was a lot of extra orange cinnamon sugar left over from coating the pastry. Did I toss it out? No way! It makes extra spiffy cinnamon toast.

Here is the link to the recipe for cinnamon orange palmiers. If you attempt them, let me know how they turned out for you. I'm interested to discover if you had to reduce the baking time as well.

As for the bake sale, the palmiers and cookie cups didn't sell! I think people didn't know what the palmiers were, and were afraid to experiment. The woman in charge of the bake sale was surprised no one bought the cups. I guess people were looking for something they could eat right then and there. At least the Giant cookies were a hit. Now I know for next time!

Cinnamon Orange Palmiers from Baking Obsession
1 lb puff pastry
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
Zest of 1 large orange

Center an oven rack and preheat the oven to 400F. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat. Set aside. Combine the sugar, cinnamon, and zest together in a small bowl, stir well with a fork. Sprinkle some of the sugar mixture over a working surface, then roll one half of the puff pastry into a 10-inch square. Sprinkle more sugar evenly over the pastry and roll the rolling pin lightly over the surface to adhere the sugar. Fold in two opposite sides of the pastry square so the sides meet in the center. Sprinkle some sugar, and repeat the folding. Sprinkle more sugar again, then fold one half of the pastry over the other. Cover loosely with parchment and place in the freezer to firm up, for about 30 minutes. Bake the palmiers in batches until golden and caramelized on the bottom, about 15 minutes. Turn the cookies over (be careful, the caramel is extremely hot and dangerous!) and bake until golden on the other side, about 7 minutes more. Transfer the baked cookies on a rack and cool completely.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Turkey Taco Mac

Have you ever watched Semi Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee on the Food Network? I really love the concept of the show. Using basic things in your pantry for short cuts to a quick meal is right up my alley. Most of the time Ms. Lee seems more focused on making the cocktails and creating "tablescapes" than the actual meal. If you can look past those things, you can pick up some good ideas to base a meal off of. I say "base a meal" because her recipes usually need a bit of tinkering. The recipe for Turkey taco mac was no exception.
For some reason I thought it would be. Shame on me for not going with my gut. It is dinner after all. If you're gonna listen to your gut, dinner would be the optimum time to do so. Alas. This dish was just ok. Baking the pasta really dried it out, and the dish was on the bland side.

Next time I am going to follow two suggestions made in the comment section of the recipe page. Adding taco seasoning while cooking the meat would certainly add some more flavor. Sour cream would make the noodles creamier, and hopefully solve the problem of the noodles drying out in the oven. If adding the sour cream doesn't help, I'll cut the cooking time by 5-10 minutes.

All issues aside, the dish wasn't a total bomb. Both Mrblocko and Blockette both requested that I make this dish again. Oh, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record...Mrblocko thought the dish needed hot sauce.

Turkey taco Mac from Semi-Homemade Cooking
1 pound ground turkey
1 (14oz) package macaroni and cheese dinner with 4-cheese sauce
1 (4-ounce) jar pimentos
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1 cup tortilla chips
1/4 cup preshredded Mexican style Cheddar

Preheat oven to 350 F. Brown ground turkey in a large skillet over medium-high heat; set aside. Cook macaroni and cheese according to directions on package. In a large bowl, stir to combine macaroni and cheese, cooked ground turkey, pimentos and corn and transfer to 3-quart casserole dish. Crumble tortilla chips over top and sprinkle with Cheddar cheese. Place in oven and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Goose Island Bread

This bread won't win any beauty contests but it tasted like heaven straight out of the oven. I came across the recipe for Fat Tire Beer Bread over on Cookie Madness. This is a quick bread that uses beer as the leavening agent. Everyone and their brother must be making it because when I went to the grocery store, they were completely out of Fat Tire Beer.

I looked around and settled on a brew called Goose Island Harvest Ale. Goose Island Brewery is based out of Chicago and the Harvest Ale is only available from August though November. Why not enjoy something seasonal and local?! The Harvest Ale gave the bread a hint of light fruity sweetness. I think you could use any kind of beer in this recipe and the bread would be fantastic.

The recipe says you should use a metal bread pan, but my large bread pan is glass. I checked my bread at about 40 minutes. I could have taken it out at that point, but I wanted the crust to be a bit darker. I was satisfied with the color after the loaf had been baking for 50 minutes.

The crust was super crispy right out of the oven. Sadly, the bread lost that crispy crust once it had cooled. The room temperature bread was also quite difficult to cut in thin slices. No one complained their bread was sliced too thickly though.

Fat Tire Beer Bread from Cookie Madness
3 cups sifted all purpose flour (I used 12.15 oz)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 (12 ounce) bottle beer
5 tablespoons melted unsalted butter plus more for greasing dish

Preheat oven to 375 . Rub a 9×5" metal loaf pan with about a tablespoon of butter.
Mix flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Add beer, stir until mixed (about 30 strokes), then dump mixture into the loaf pan. Pour melted butter over the top. Bake 1 hour, remove from pan and cool for at least 15 min.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Spaghetti Squash Casserole

I could have sworn I took a photo of this dish. Well, it looked like any other delicious red sauce based casserole. You'll just have to take my word for it.

I got the idea for this dish from $5 dinners. They called their version Spaghetti Squash and Chicken Bake.

Here is my version:
1 humongous Spaghetti squash
1 lb bulk Italian sausage
1/2 large white onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1/2 jar of spaghetti sauce
1/2 c or so mozzarella cheese
1 tsp your favorite Italian spice blend (I used Penzey's Pasta Sprinkle)
Handful of Kalamata olives, finely chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Chop your monster squash in half. Scoop out the seeds 'n' guts and throw them away. Place 1 half of the squash cut side down on microwave safe dish with 1/2 c water. Cover with plastic wrap. Nuke for 8-10 minutes. Repeat with remaining half of squash. (You could bake the squash in the oven for 45 min at 350. I'm a microwave girl so I use it when I can to save time.) Once squash is cool enough to touch, scrape out noodle like flesh with a fork. Place in a large bowl. (My squash had a lot of liquid so I let hang out in a strainer in the sink for a while.)

Meanwhile, in a large pan, saute onions, garlic and sausage until sausage is browned. Throw this into the bowl with the squash. Add your pasta sauce, spices and olives, and stir until combined. Place in oven safe baking dish and top with mozzarella. Cook for 20-30 min until the casserole is heated through and the cheese is melted. (You can also prepare this dish the night before and heat it up for dinner the next day.) Let the dish sit 10 minutes before serving.

This dish would also taste fantastic with other veggies like zucchini, mushrooms, roasted peppers, finely shredded carrots, etc. Add whatever floats your boat!