Friday, January 29, 2010


When we were kids, a cookie was a perfect reward for just about any job well done. I don't know about you, but I think a cookie is still an appropriate thumbs up in adulthood. Forget the pat on the back from a supervisor or a "excellent work" note in your personnel file. I want a freakin' cookie! Preferably one of these or these, thankyouverymuch :)

Today's honorary cookie goes out to my friend Laura, whose Pittsburgh food blog was recently featured in Pop City Media.  If you're looking for new and exciting places to eat in Pittsburgh, it'd behoove (oh, 8th grade GOAL class) you to give that link a click.  Yay!  Congrats to all involved!

Also, my camera has been swiftly (and safely) returned to me.  This means lots of time in the kitchen this weekend to make up for a rather lazy week. Though I guess it worked out for the best since I overhauled my gym routines this week, and my body has been suffering adjusting as a result.  Wishing everyone a pleasant and warm weekend :)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Last-minute lentil salad

With all of the baking I did last week (2 cakes, 12 cupcakes, 8 dozen cookies) and the weekend chocolate fest in Hershey, I decided my blood sugar needed a break this week.  I was so proud of myself for walking to the grocery store from the gym and picking up some nice fruits and vegetables, rather than falling victim to pizza in some form.  And then I got home at 6:50, all motivated to cook up a nice meal before the hockey game started.  One small problem -- stupid Versus schedules the drop of the puck at 7:00, not 7:30 like FSN does.  I was not going to slave in the kitchen and miss the first period.  Game-time decision for dinner!

The night before I found a third of a bag of the super food uncooked lentils left over from this stew.  So I cooked up those with the intention of using them for some sort of nutritious dish.  I also had pretty red and yellow bell peppers from the store, scallions, and bacon.  Hmmm... could I make something out of this?  Maybe a dressing.  I had Dijon mustard, olive oil, and lemon juice.  Sounded good.  And had to taste good, too.  (It did, we'll get to that soon.)

Last-minute lentil salad
-serves 4, makes about 4 cups

1 1/2 cups cooked lentils, drained
2 peppers, diced (any color will do, but I liked red and yellow for the colors)
3 scallions, thinly sliced
8-10 strips of bacon, cooked and chopped/crumbled
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

In a large bowl, whisk together lemon juice, oil, and mustard.  Add lentils, bell peppers, scallions, and bacon.  Toss to coat entire mixture with dressing.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve warm or cold... alone or paired with a bowl of soup or garlic bread.  So good!

Honestly, I didn't have many expectations for this since it was thrown together in such a hurry.  But wow, really satisfying on a cold night and the flavor of the bacon and lemon juice totally stood out in the dish (because hey, plain lentils are rather bland on their own).  And I brought some for lunch today and snuck a bite this morning to see how the flavors held up -- it got better!  The sweetness of the peppers and tart lemon/mustard dressing, and the bacon, ohhhhhhh the bacon.  Enjoy!

(My apologies for no pictures of my own today.  I left my camera in someone's car over the weekend and that little device ended up with her in New York City :)  I'm told that UPS will reunite me with my camera sometime later this week.  Whew!)

Friday, January 22, 2010

The sweetest place on earth!

It's a good thing I've been busy this week with stuff around the apartment, ridiculously awesome hockey games, cupcakes for work, and cakes for a very special 1 year old's birthday.

Otherwise, I would've been drumming my fingers on my desk in anticipation of this weekend -- a trip to Hershey, PA!  I'll hopefully have lots of chocolate-related things to share on Monday.  Have a great weekend, and happy baking :)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Black bean & corn tortilla pie aka Mexican lasagna

Alright, not your traditional egg noodle-meaty marinara sauce-oozing mozarella lasagna. But a layered dish that holds almost the same comfort food rating that regular Italian lasagna does for me.   I first found it this summer when I was searching for a new use for black beans and fresh corn (oh how I miss summer corn).  And, at the time, any dish that provided a few meals and needed only reheating via the microwave and not the oven, which would've turned my apartment into Death Valley, was a must-make. 

I omitted scallions because I thought the sweet onion gave more than enough flavor.  But, if you have scallions on hand, by all means, use them.  Just know that they're not necessary and mostly act as a garnish anyway.  Though this dish was originally vegetarian with two cans of black beans, I also substituted a cup of shredded chicken for one of the cans of black beans because a certain guy wanted more meat and substance to the dish.  For once, I will say that he was right, and it was even better with the chicken :)  It is great both ways.

And hey, if you like your food spicy, try serving with a spicy salsa!  Or some homemade guacamole... mmm.  This is a great make on the weekend and eat for a few meals during the week meal, especially for one.  Otherwise, I'd say it would serve 6 people with a side dish, perhaps a salad or steamed rice.  Enjoy!

Black Bean and Corn Tortilla Pie
(adapted from Martha Stewart)
-makes about 6 servings, takes about 1 hour total to make

4 10" tortillas (I had 8" tortillas on hand, and they worked well)
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 large sweet onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 1/2 cups (8 oz.) shredded cheddar cheese (I use sharp)
1 can (15 oz.) black beans, drained
1 large cooked chicken breast, shredded (makes about 1 cup)
1 can (12 oz.) beer OR 1 1/2 cup water
1 package (10 oz.) frozen corn
Sour cream, for serving (optional)

Preheat oven to 400F. Trim tortillas to fit a 9" or 10" springform pan (whatever you have works). Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened (about 5-7 minutes, but feel free to test).

Add beans and beer (or water) to skillet and bring entire mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer mixture until the liquid is almost evaporated, 8-10 minutes. Stir occasionally and check to see that the mixture isn't starting to burn to the bottom of the skillet. If you see this, add a tablespoon of water to "revive" the mixture.  Stir in corn and remove skillet from heat.  Taste mixture and, if needed, add salt and pepper to your taste.

Fit one tortilla into the pan, and layer 1/4 of the beans onion corn mixture and spread out around the tortilla. Add 1/4 of the shredded chicken as well.  Spinkle 1/4 of the cheese over the chicken and beans and corn.

Repeat the last paragraph 3 times until all of your ingredients are used up.  Be careful to spread the mixtures evenly around the tortillas so you don't get a mountain in the middle of the pan.

Bake tortilla pie until hot and cheese is melted, about 20-25 minutes.  Remove from heat to a cooling rack.  Allow the pie to sit 5 minutes before cutting so that the insides cool just a bit and hold together.  Cut piece and serve with sour cream.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Chewy chocolate chip cookies

Not long ago in a rather close land, a fair baker set out on a mission to find not one but two chocolate chip cookie recipes worthy of her kingdom's love.  She had found The Crispy many moons ago on one of her first adventures by heeding wisdom from the reigning queen of a far away land.

Since that time, the fair baker, her kingdom, and The Crispy had lived happily ever after.  Or so it seemed. A few years later,  a knight returned from many months out surveying the lands.  When greeting the fair baker on his way to lunch, she inquired about his travels.  He said, "I've searched high and low for something but it seems it can't be found."  "What is it?" she inquired.  "Well, while the kingdom has embraced The Crispy, I've been longing for The Chewy."  She gasped, realizing she'd forgotten to finish the second part of her chocolate chip cookie mission from yesteryear.

For weeks after this encounter, she called for recipes from kingdoms near and far.  Testing every one, some were  underbaked, some were still crispy, and some didn't taste right.  Until... at last, could it be?  She found one!  Thrice she tested the recipe, and thrice she was overjoyed!  When she presented The Chewy to the knight, he, too, was overjoyed.  "Finally, fair baker!  You've done it!"  And then the baker, knight, their kingdom, The Crispy and The Chewy really lived happily ever... especially the dairy farmers.

That was fun but exhausting.  Now, a few important notes about this recipe before you begin:

1. Bread flour, you say?  Hear me out.  On my first trial of this recipe, I used all-purpose flour to see if A.B. was just making an unnecessary fuss about this ingredient.  While the AP flour cookies were good and chewier than my regular chocolate chip recipe, I wanted to do some research and see for myself what the advantage of using bread flour was.  Turns out that bread flour has a higher protein content (12-14%) than all-purpose flour (10-12%).  The higher protein content encourages the product to rise more and have a chewier texture (hey, bread is chewy, isn't it?).  Though, if you don't bake that often, use the all-purpose flour.  Just keep in mind that 1 cup of bread flour = 1 cup + 2 teaspoons of all-purpose flour.

2. The mixing of the butter and sugar in this recipe will not be like the creaming typically found in most cookie recipes that involves softened butter. You're basically just thoroughly mixing and incorporating a little air into the sugar and butter here since the latter is already melted.  Don't be worried when it just looks like gooey brown sugar.  That's what you want!

3. Parchment paper.  Here I go again.  It is not necessary, per se, but it does help in this recipe when the parchment paper gives the dough something to adhere to so it doesn't just run all over the place and instead bakes up into a chewy deliciousness.

4. When a batch of cookies is in the oven and the other cookie sheet is cooling, keep the bowl of dough in the refrigerator.  I didn't do this on the first batch and the cookies weren't quite as puffy/chewy as the others.  My cycle was to bake cookies for 7 minutes, rotate sheet, then with about 5 minutes left, scoop out cookies and prepare the next sheet to go into the oven.  But, if you're a faster worker and aren't distracted by Gilmore Girls on TV, use whatever timing works for you.

And the great thing about storing these cookies is that they get CHEWIER each day!  Instead of drying out, especially in this season of heaters and low humidity, they get chewier in the container.  Oh my goodness.  I won't say what cookie I'm referring to, but in my opinion, these totally trump that popular soft and chewy chocolate chip cookie in a red package.  And these have so much more flavor!  Sure, those are soft... but can you taste the brown sugar?  Or the vanilla?  And ohhhhh, the chocolate chips.  If I were a total nerd (which, of course I'm not), I'd have counted the number of chips in each ball of dough.  And hey, that boyfriend that patiently waited for these for months was pretty happy.  Especially since he's gotten three batches of these in the last two weeks.  :)  What can I say, I'm a people pleaser.

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
(adapted from Alton Brown's recipe via Food Network)

2 sticks unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups bread flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 Tablespoons milk (any kind will do)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 375 F at least 30 minutes prior to baking cookies so that the heat in the oven is uniform.  In a saucepan over low heat on the stove,  melt both sticks of butter, stirring constantly.  When butter is just about melted, remove from heat to cool a bit.  (If you're using the microwave, that's perfectly fine.  Melt butter in heat-safe bowl for 30 seconds at a time, stirring between each cycle, until melted.)  Either way, allow butter to cool for about 10 minutes.

In a medium bowl, sift/whisk (basically, just break up any clumps of flour) together flour, salt and baking soda and set aside.  Pour the melted butter into the bowl of an electric mixer.  Add both sugars to the same bowl.  Mix butter and sugars on medium speed for about 3 minutes. 

Add the egg, egg yolk, milk, and vanilla to the bowl and mix until well combined.  Add the flour mixture in four parts, slowly incorporating, until thoroughly combined.  Stir in the chocolate chips.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or up to overnight.
Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Using an ice cream scooper or spoons, scoop out about 1 1/2" balls of dough, and place on baking sheet.  Make sure to leave about 3 inches between cookies, because they will spread out when baking.

Bake for 14 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through for even cooking.  Remove from oven and cool completely on rack.  Can be stored in airtight container for up to a week.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A proper rant

Please excuse me while I complain, pout, rant, and basically throw a tantrum about a recipe.  It's just that I love food so much that when I find a recipe that is written with little care and generally stinks, I get a little upset.  And yes, if you're wondering, there was plenty of stomping around my apartment and a wee bit of cursing involved.  Now that I've painted you a picture, here goes:

Yesterday I had the holiday off from work and was determined to spend it doing what makes me happiest -- baking!  I had two recipes I wanted to perfect and another to try for the first time.  And then do a little cooking for my lunches and dinners for the week.  While most of them went well (hello beautiful blueberry muffins and the chewiest chocolate chip cookies this world has ever seen), one in particular made me want to throw the finished product against my kitchen walls in protest.... but I love my clean white walls too much.  This crap didn't even deserve such a dramatic death.

What is this "crap" of which I speak?  It was a cookie, and I will give you no more specifics than that.  I don't want to offend the author of the recipe... though I've gotta say, I've come to expect more from said author.  Just goes to show that you should always test a recipe yourself.  Hmph.

So, one thing that I especially love about baking is that it's an exact science. If you follow ingredients and directions precisely, the results should be the same.  Right?  Right.  And I highly doubt most people "invest" (read: waste, for this instance) the money to try recipes numerous times if it isn't good the first time.  Anyway, what really ticked me off about the crap cookie was that it wasn't initially awful.  The dough tasted good at first... very promising since this cookie was copycat of a widely available commercial version.  I thought, "If I can make this at home, I can have them whenever I want!"  From now on, I will pony up the $3 or 4 to get the boxed version.  And I will enjoy every last bite of those mass-produced beauties, blessing the kind people who make them with each mouthful.  Sorry, I'll put the soapbox away for the moment.

After prep and chilling, the cookies went into the oven... and there stayed all of the initial flavor.  They looked and tasted like tiny pieces of cardboard.  And then I had to "dress" the cookies (again, leaving out specifics) and then they surely would taste good!  Nope.  Usually I'd try a few of the cookies, but I couldn't even down one.  It was so bland and dry... and bland!  Not outright awful, like bitter or sour or even poisonous, just so boring that I instantly hated myself for spending an afternoon on them (and making the 2 mile round trip trek to the grocery store in the 30 degree weather... blah exercise blah).  The remains of the crap cookie went into the trash can.

But how is this possible?  I followed the recipe exactly!  I actually wish it would've been a fantastic down-in-flames (just the food, not my apartment or me) disaster.  I'd have a better story and then it'd be more likely that I made a catastrophic mistake and not the quality of the recipe.  Ugh.  Stupid freakin' thing.  Oh, and to top it all off, the little spring on my beloved ice cream scooper/cookie helper broke.  Is this what Charlie Brown felt like?  I really don't like that recipe one bit.  And I'm pretty sure the author never tested/tasted it, otherwise he/she would've been ashamed.  Hmph. 

The End.

(Oh, if you're wondering, the other recipes were smashing successes!  Delicious chewy chocolate chip cookies that will make you forget that any other kind of chocolate chip cookie ever existed coming tomorrow.  Thank you for putting up with me today, whew!)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Coconut cookie ice cream sandwiches

After yesterday's healthy post, my brain/body instantly rebelled  -- I ate the entire emergency Three Muskateers bar that I had stashed in my desk even when I had a delicious lunch of a meatloafette, Old Bay roasted sweet potatoes, and broccoli.  So much for trying to eat a filling lunch so I wouldn't be hungry later.  Next time I'll just skip a more culinarily-impressive lunch in favor of the candy bar, thankyouverymuch.  And yes yes, more sweet things on here.  I promise.

Speaking of more culinarily-impressive foods, one of my New Year's resolutions is to start working through the mountain of recipes I've copied, torn out, or bookmarked for later use but haven't looked at since that time.  Because I'm constantly exposing myself to food, I get a bad case of shiny object syndrome and jump from one recipe to another.  I am going to do my best to balance the library of recipes waiting with those that catch my attention in the future.  [insert fanfare of sorts here]

Last winter, I often had friends visit to watch Penguins hockey games.  Sometimes I'd have cookies or another treat freshly made, others not so much.  I needed something that would store for long periods of time and be ready at a moment's notice in case the gym was a liiiiiiiittle more crowded than I expected.  Ice cream sandwiches!  A batch of thin and crispy chocolate chip cookies with vanilla ice cream sandwiched between the two.  Wrap each individually and store in a freezer bag until one is desired.  Easy as that. 

So, when I saw this recipe for coconut cookie ice cream sandwiches, I had to try it.  Easy shortbread-like cookie with ice cream.  The cookies have an awesome crunch to them, just out of the oven or even after being stored in the freezer with ice cream.  If you don't need them to store for a long period of time or want them to be stored at room temperature, try filling with Nutella (I did and it was friggin' amazing).  Done and done.

Coconut Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches
(courtesy of Martha Stewart online)
-makes 12 sandwiches... unless you eat two fresh out of the oven, and another two with Nutella

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
2 2/3 cups sweetened shredded coconut, loosely packed
Vanilla ice cream, slightly softened

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter, sugar, and salt until smooth. 

Mix in flour, then coconut, beating until a dough forms. Transfer to a piece of waxed paper; pat into a rectangular log, about 3 inches wide and 6 inches long. Wrap with waxed or parchment paper; freeze until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with racks in upper and lower thirds.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  With a serrated knife, slice log of dough crosswise 1/4 inch thick, you should get about 24 cookies.  To make it easier, cut first log in half, then half again and work from there.  Arrange slices on two baking sheets.

Bake until golden, rotating sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through, about 20 minutes.  Watch these very closely toward the end to avoid any excessive browning or even burning.  (I actually took three cookies that were on the outside edges of the cookie sheets off and put them onto the cooling rack while letting the rest bake for an additional minute or two. )  Allow sheets to cool on rack for two minutes, then carefully remove paper or cookies to rack to cool completely.

Dividing evenly, spread ice cream on flat side of half the cookies; sandwich with remaining cookies, flat side down. Freeze on a baking sheet until firm, about 3 hours.

Wrap each sandwich individually and store in freezer bag.  Enjoy whenever you are in the mood for an ice cream sandwich.  For me, it's often when I've walked in the door from the gym.  Yum!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Green monster smoothie

Last week I was having lunch with a friend and discussing our daily Internet reads (ranging from food and shopping, to Martha Stewart crafts and weddings), and she mentioned a Green Monster smoothie that she had recently seen here and tried.  I love smoothies, but don't make them as often as I'd like.  I usually reserve making them on the weekend since I have a habit of being a sloppier cook in the morning and getting my breakfast all over my clothes.  Woops.  Cereal is the way to go, my friends.  Anyway, I had never heard of a Green Monster smoothie, so she showed me the website:

me: "It's so green and pretty.  What's in it?"
Becca: "Baby spinach, peanut butter, a frozen banana, milk, oats-"
me: "Wait, spinach?"
Becca:"But it doesn't taste like spinach.  It's good!  I had one and felt really full and healthy for the whole morning."

Hmmm, this is worth a try.  I had some spinach left in the fridge and the other ingredients around as well.  Why not?  If all else fails, I'll make myself some super delicious (and not quite as healthy) French toast dripping with syrup.  Mmm :)

And holy crap did I enjoy it!  Honestly, I thought I'd have to suppress my gag reflux to get this down.  It is with the Girl Scout's honor that I can say I proudly and willingly drank the entire thing and even went back for seconds (two total glassfuls).  I couldn't taste the spinach at all, but the peanut butter and banana really stood out to me and a hint of the vanilla from the protein powder came through as well.  I really really recommend this!  I had it for breakfast around 9:15 and was totally satisfied... until I saw the clock at 12:42 and remembered I had quiche in the fridge that I'd made the night before.  Time for lunch! :)  (Thanks again, B!)

Green Monster Smoothie
-adapted from Iowa Girl Eats

2 handfuls of baby spinach
1/4 cup old fashioned oats (or quick-cooking, if you have those instead)
1 cup milk
1 Tablespoon peanut butter
1 banana, unpeel and wrap in plastic and freeze for a few hours or overnight
1 scoop vanilla whey protein powder (optional)
Handful of ice cubes (optional)

Slice frozen banana and add to a glass pitcher (or pitcher of stand blender), along with spinach, oats, protein powder, peanut butter, and milk.

Mix with immersion blender until smooth.

Add ice, if you want to thin the mixture a bit, and blend until smooth.  I didn't add ice because I thought the smoothie was the perfect consistency already (and I was getting hungry/curious).  Pour into glass and enjoy!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Old Bay roasted sweet potatoes

This month my subscription to Everyday Food (the food magazine of the Martha Stewart empire) began... yes!  And then I saw the title -- "The Light Issue."  What garbage.  I mean, I love to eat fruits and vegetables, but the idea of light cooking never seems to satisfy me and just makes me want to gag... and then go eat a cookie.  So I was pretty skeptical before I even flipped open the issue.

I should explain that I usually go through magazines in cycles.  The first is a quick flip-through to see if anything totally stands out and warrants a dog-eared corner.  Next is the more conscious half reading during commercials.  And finally, the in-depth reading for which I bust out the Post-Its for anything half-appealing to me.  In this case, I was pretty frustrated with the heavy emphasis on dark leafy greens in the first flip-through.  Sure, they are delicious but I want more than kale and carrots for my dinner, thankyouverymuch.

And just as I was about to put the issue down, I spotted it.  A light bulb recipe -- "it's so easy, how have I never thought of that before?"  Old Bay roasted sweet potatoes.  Sweet potatoes!  I had to admit that until I tried these, the only other form of sweet potatoes I (and probably half of the sweet potato-eating population) had involved them being mashed with marshmallows on top.  This I had to try -- super fast, delicious, and yet unique enough that I wouldn't hesitate to serve them at a dinner party.  Oh yeah, and they're nutritional champs: "In 1992, the Center for Science in the Public Interest compared the nutritional value of sweet potatoes to other vegetables. Considering fiber content, complex carbohydrates, protein, vitamins A and C, iron, and calcium, the sweet potato ranked highest in nutritional value."  And they taste great!  Okay okay, infomercial over.

Old Bay Roasted Sweet Potatoes
(from Everyday Food magazine, January/February 2010)

Sweet potatoes (can be 1 for a single serving, or 5, your pick)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Old Bay seasoning

Preheat oven to 450F.  Line a baking sheet with foil (for easy clean-up later).  Scrub potatoes clean, rinse, dry with kitchen towel.  Cut potatoes into 1" pieces and put on baking sheet.

Drizzle olive oil (not too much, just enough to coat the potatoes... you can always add more later) over potatoes, toss with your hands.  Sprinkle Old Bay seasoning over oiled potato pieces (start with a teaspoon and go from there if you like more spice).

Bake in oven until potatoes are deep golden brown on all sides (about 30 minutes), and flipping/shuffling pieces with a large spatula about halfway through (15 minutes).

Don't you just love that color?  I'm not kidding when I say I would give up regular white potatoes forever in favor of these gems.  I've paired these with a nice piece of lemon grilled salmon and a salad.  I've also gobbled these up by themselves because waiting 15 minutes for the salmon to be finished was just much too long.  Woops.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Hooray for meatloaf-ettes!

While I love living alone and having my own space to do what I please (i.e. bake until the wee hours of the morning, have one woman dance parties to the Glee soundtrack), cooking for one can be frustrating.  I'll have a craving for say, lasagna, but after one piece, I'm left with 11 servings of the stuff.  I don't care if it's the best dish of lasagna this world has ever known -- after two or three meals of it, I don't want to look at it for a while.  After all, variety IS the spice of life.

So when I wanted meatloaf for dinner, I realized I'd be eating it for the next week and a half.  Hm, I didn't have a bunch of mini pans, and even then, a serving size of meatloaf is about half of that.  Tools that I already had... a muffin pan!  I could eat one and flash freeze the rest and, whenever I got the hankering for some meatloaf, pop one in the microwave for 2 or 3 minutes, and bon appetit!  (Do the French eat meatloaf or some form of it?  I'm totally curious about that one.)

If you aren't familiar with the concept of flash freezing, it is the process of spacing items out on a tray or cookie sheet, freezing them until they are firm and then storing them in more space-efficient freezer bags.  It is one of the most amazing concepts I have learned in the kitchen to date.  I use this technique to freeze sliced seasonal fruits (later used for smoothies or sauces), unbaked biscuits or cookie dough, meatballs, you name it.  You can still store the items in one bag, like a bag of frozen chicken tenders that you'd buy from the grocery store.  Try it!

This meatloaf recipe is pretty no frills, the way I like it.  Use whatever ground meat you prefer.  For an extra special finishing touch, try topping each meatloaf-ette with a little barbeque sauce or ketchup before baking.   Or, if you're making these for a party, use a 24-cup mini muffin pan.  I can't think of a better cold weather comfort food than meatloaf.  And, with this kind of press, you know it's a long-time favorite.

(term coined by one very proud boyfriend who probably wants a copyright)
-makes 12

1 egg
1 1/2 pounds meatloaf mix (beef + pork + veal, but you can use any ground meat)
3-4 slices soft bread, torn into pieces
1 cup milk
1/4 cup minced sweet onion
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 375F.  Coat standard 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick spray.  In large bowl, beat egg slightly.  Add remaining ingredients and mix until incorporated with rubber spatula.  Using an ice cream scoop or spoons, fill each cup with meatloaf mixture distributing evenly among cups.

Bake in oven 25 minutes.  While baking, line a cooling rack with tin foil.  Remove pan from oven and, using a spoon, remove and place each meatloaf-ette on foil to cool out of the pan.  (This allows for faster cooling and leaves excess fat from meat in the pan.)  Serve on a mini plate and decorate with ketchup like so:

...or eat it like a normal person if you must :)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Pie crusts made simple

Before I get to the food, one thing -- saw Sherlock Holmes last night.  Ah-MAZING!  I highly recommend it!  The final choices were that and Up in the Air... yeah, I think we made the right choice.  But, has anyone seen the latter or any other good movie?  Thoughts?  Anywho...

When I wrote my quiche post over a month ago, it killed me just a little to write "pre-packaged pie crust" in the ingredients list.  I mostly did this to keep the post short and simple, but my heart was screaming, "But the homemade crust!  It's so easy!  Really, it won't scare them... come on, just include it, too!"  While pre-packaged pie crusts (say that three times fast) are super convenient, many people don't have them handy in the refrigerator, myself included.  And the idea of going to the grocery store just to get them when the whim to make a quiche/pie strikes sort of nulls the "convenient" part of it.  All you need to make a pie crust from scratch is butter, flour, salt, sugar, and water.  Uber convenient!

(What, you don't get baking whims?  Oh, you will.  Trust me.  For example, I usually fall asleep within 10 minutes of getting into bed.  But last night I was up for 45 minutes because I had a new idea for a cake and had to work through the details so I wouldn't forget when I woke up in the morning.  True story.)

Pate brisee (pronounced "paht bree-zay"), meaning "short pastry", is the fancy French term for pie crust dough .  This flaky and rich dough is used for sweet and savory crusts for dishes such as pies, tarts, and quiches.  If I could only pick one word of advice to keep in mind while making pie crusts from scratch, it would be C-O-L-D.  Every ingredient should be cold (pictures to follow).  I even cool the bowl I use.  (So, this is a great early morning substitute for coffee... you'd be surprised how going into the freezer a few times will get your blood pumping.)  The reason everything should be cold is because you want the fat (butter) to remain whole and not melt due to the warmth of your hands or the air.  When the pie crust bakes in the oven, water from the little beads of butter will evaporate and cause the pastry to puff up, making a really flaky and tender crust. 

I'm including directions for making the pie crusts by hand or with a food processor, because while the latter makes it even easier, it's almost as simple (and much more accessible to people) by hand.  Also, don't be intimidated by the vast amounts of text here.  If you haven't realized this by now, I'd rather give too many instructions than too little.  One thing that really bugged me when I started cooking was the lack of detail in recipes.  Imagine being told to make something for the first time without pictures!  Lame.  It's usually never as difficult as it seems, but the quality of teaching/directions can make all the difference in the world.  And now...

Pate Brisee
-makes enough for one 9" pie/quiche crust when rolled thin
(if you are making a two crust pie, double this recipe exactly)

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar (if using for a pie crust, I'd recommend increasing to 1 tsp)
1 stick unsalted butter, diced into 1/2" pieces

By hand instructions:

In large bowl, mix flour, sugar, and salt together with fork or pastry blender.  On a small cutting board, dice butter into 1/2" pieces.  Place both bowl with flour mixture and board with butter in freezer for five minutes.  While they are chilling, fill a glass with water and ice cubes -- lots of ice cubes, because you want this water to be cold. 

After five minutes, remove flour and butter from freezer.  Add butter to flour mixture and "cut" into mixture, until the whole mixture resembles coarse crumbs with some larger pieces remaining (about the size of peas).

One tablespoon at a time (because you can always add more water if needed), add water to flour butter mixture by drizzling over the top.  Mix with pastry blender until the water is absorbed.  Add another tablespoon, and repeat process.  You want the dough to just stick together when a bit is squeezed between your fingers.  If the dough is still too crumbly, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Unroll plastic wrap to give you about a square foot of empty wrap on the counter.  Turn out the dough onto plastic wrap and shape into a flattened disk of dough.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.  The dough can be frozen up to 1 month -- thaw overnight in the refrigerator before using.

Food processor instructions:
(Same tools needed, but replace the pastry blender and large bowl with a food processor.  I love that my mini food processor is perfect for this type of job.)

In the bowl of the food processor, combine flour, salt, and sugar, and pulse together to mix evenly.  On a small cutting board, dice butter into 1/2" pieces. Place food processor bowl with flour mixture and board with butter in freezer for five minutes. While they are chilling, fill a glass with water and ice cubes -- lots of ice cubes, because you want this water to be cold.

Remove butter and flour from freezer after 5 minutes.  Add butter to bowl of food processor (now locked into the food processor base), add lid, and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  By pulse, I mean use separate button-pushing motions rather than holding the button down all at once.  Try counting to ten and pulsing on each number.

With the machine running, add the ice water through the feed tube on the lid of the bowl in a slow and steady stream, just until the dough holds together when squeeze without being wet or sticky.  (If it does get too sticky, I'll show you how to correct this later.)  Do not process the dough mixture for more than 30 seconds.  If dough holds together when squeezed between your fingers, you're done!  If not, add a little more water, one tablespoon at a time.

Unroll plastic wrap to give you about a square foot of empty wrap on the counter. Turn out the dough onto plastic wrap and shape into a flattened disk of dough.  If it's a bit too wet and sticky, dust with a teaspoon of flour on the outside of the disk and pat together.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight. The dough can be frozen up to 1 month -- thaw overnight in the refrigerator before using.

See?  Easy!  With some detailed instructions and very few basic ingredients and tools, you can get a flaky pie or quiche crust that'll make you feel like a highly trained chef!