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Saturday, February 6, 2016

Twisted Chocolate Chip Cookies



Chocolate Chip Cookies are the hands-down favorite in my house.  If I ask my husband what kind of cookies he'd like me to make, he'll always request Chocolate Chip.  Its my favorite to bake and experiment with too.  I love to change up the extracts and stir-ins I use and Twisted Chocolate Chip is not only one of my favorite variations, but it's also my go-to choice any time I make cookies for people who don't eat nuts.

What makes these Twisted Chocolate Chips twisted is the addition of pretzel twists.  I love how the crunchy texture of the pretzels holds up in the cookie dough and ads a similar texture to nuts with the addition of that touch of saltiness.  I love my sweet with a little salty crunch!

I start these cookies by melting the butter and creaming the melted butter with the granulated and brown sugars.


I've found that the to achieving a lofty, chewy cookie when using melted butter is to beat the melted butter and sugar together until you have a truly emulsified mixture.  If you can still see the liquid butter at the edges of your bowl - it's still separating from the sugar and you need to keep mixing.  I use a whisk for this whole process...  

...see the separation here...


...and fully emulsified here:


Once the sugar and butter is completely blended together, set it aside to cool a bit while you break up the pretzel twists.  I prefer the twist to pretzel sticks, they just seem to blend into the dough a bit better.  I also like to break them up by hand, you want coarse chunks of pretzel, not tiny crushed up bits that disappear into the dough.  They should look like this:


The sugar and butter emulsion should be cooled enough at this point to add the eggs, mix them in well, then add the baking soda, salt and vanilla.  Blend well.


Add the flour and top the flour with the pretzel pieces and chocolate chips.  Stir it all in until the flour disappears into the dough.  I do it this way because I've found it helps to suspend the chocolate chips and other stirred in additions in the dough - so you get a nice, even distribution of ingredients in every bite. 




The cookie dough will be sticky and a bit too loose to scoop at this point.  


Cover it tightly with plastic wrap and chill it for 1 hour.  Then preheat the oven to 375, prep your cookie sheets with either non-stick spray, silicon baking mats or parchment paper.  Scoop the cookies and place on the prepared sheets about 1-2 inches apart.  I use a scoop that allows me to fit 12 to a sheet and makes standard sized cookies, but feel free to use whatever size you prefer.





Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes.  Allow cookies to set on the cookie sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to finish cooling.  We like to have a few while they are still warm, fresh from the oven - preferably with a cold glass of milk.


Twisted Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, melted 
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cup flour
1 cup pretzel twists, coarsely broken
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Melt butter in the microwave on high for about 1 minute.  Add granulated and brown sugars and mix well, until completely emulsified.  Set aside to cool.  Add eggs and blend well.  Add baking soda, salt and vanilla and stir to mix.  Add flour, pretzels and chocolate chips.  Stir in and mix until all the flour is fully incorporated into the dough.  Chill for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Spray cookie sheets with non-stick spray or line with silicon baking mats or parchment.  Use a cookie scoop or a spoon to drop cookies onto sheet 1-2 inches apart.  Bake 8-10 minutes until golden brown.  Remove from oven and allow cookies to set for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.

This recipes makes about 3 1/2 dozen cookies using a 2 tablespoon scoop. 




Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Sometimes Simple Is All You Need



Some nights I just crave simplicity.  Case in point:  Traffic was horrible tonight - 20 minutes into my commute home, I was still only a couple of miles from the office where I work.  By the time I finally reached the final third of my drive, I had made up my mind that we would have a simple dinner of bread, cheese, fruit and olives... But I needed bread and olives.  *sigh*  I was almost 45 minutes late when I finally arrived home.  I was feeling out of sort and I just didn't want to spend time making dinner (I didn't want to spend a lot of time cleaning up either). Some nights are just like that and sometimes a simple meal really is all you need.




The bread is a rustic baguette that was chewy and airy, the apple is a Granny Smith - one of our favorites - which have been particularly good lately.  The cheese is a locally made, fabulously sharp, white cheddar, and the olives are jumbo Calabrese blend.




Saturday, January 30, 2016

Hearty Pork Stew



I'm really happy with this Hearty Pork Stew, but it was arrived at with a wee bit o' trial and error.

My first attempt was made for our most recent gaming session.  My friend Janet, of Chuck Wagoneer, wanted to test a new recipe for her blog and I wanted to make a stew with something other than beef. I had a few ideas about what I wanted to do for the stew, but no specific recipe, which is the great thing about stew - as a coworker put it it's really a "kitchen sink" dish.  You can really include anything you have on hand and come up with something very tasty and satisfying. Here's my jumping off points:
1)  use something other than beef for the protein
2)  include beer in the sauce/gravy
3) add a vegetable to the mix that I haven't used in stew before

For the protein, my first choice was lamb, but the meat market was closed by the time I had an opportunity to shop, and the grocery store didn't have any lamb suitable for stew.  As I perused the choices at my local grocery store, I stumbled upon pork for stew.  I've never made stew with pork before.  I believe there are some Mexican dishes that use pork and qualify as stew - but I've never made them myself.  I was intrigued and nothing else was grabbing my attention, so I went with it.



I forgot to pick up the beer, so I asked hubby to pick some up for me - requesting an Amber or Stout and hoping for an oatmeal stout - but not being any more specific than that.  Steven really came through, showing up with a lovely, if hoppy, oatmeal stout.  It was super dark, but even to my not-really-a-beer-drinker taste, it was pretty tasty.



The first go-round had some great things going for it, the potatoes and carrots were the perfect texture, the pork was fall apart tender and juicy and the sauce was the almost-gravy consistency that I love in a good stew.  However, I used way, way, way too much of the beer.  The beer did an excellent job of deglazing the pan and I am a believer in beer and pork together, but I ended up using the whole bottle.  It was 10 am or so when I started the stew and I just couldn't bring myself to using only the cup or so that I needed for the deglaze, wasting the remainder of the beer - which was bound to go flat before anyone was ready to drink it.  The result was a fairly bitter gravy.  My husband and his brother really liked it (they are beer drinkers), but I found it too bitter for my taste. And last, but not least, the squash disappeared into the mix and was utterly unremarkable.   Back to the drawing board...



I made it again for last night's dinner and invited my lovely neighbors who are always happy to taste test my recipes.  I reduced the quantity of beer to about a cup and used chicken stock for the remainder of the liquid.  I added sweet potato and omitted the butternut squash.  I also simplified somewhat sweating the carrots, onions and celery but skipping the browning of the potatoes and instead went right to searing the pork.



Everything came out tender, the sauce/gravy was just the right balance of flavor and thickened to a nice consistency - not too thick, not too thin and the sweet potato was a really nice addition.  My neighbor's kids are middle and high school aged and they all loved it!



Please, give it a try - I'd love to hear what you do to make it your own!  Here's the recipe:

Hearty Pork Stew

1 lb pork stew meat
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
3 carrots, sliced
3 stalks celery, sliced
6 small gold potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 Large Yam, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup amber or stout beer (I used Oatmeal Stout)
2 cups Chicken Stock
2 TBLS butter, divided
1 TBLS Olive Oil
Flour, approximately 3 tablespoons, divided
ground cumin
ground coriander
salt
pepper
3 bay leaves
3 sprigs thyme

Remove pork from refrigerator and allow to sit for approximately 20 minutes.  Place in a bowl and season lightly on all sides with salt, pepper, cumin and coriander.  Set aside.

Put chopped potatoes and sweet potatoes in the crock pot liner.  Turn your slow cooker on low.

Preheat cast iron skillet on medium-high heat.  Add olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter to hot skillet. Once butter has melted add onions, carrots and celery.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.  Sweat just until onions are translucent.

While the vegetables are sweating, dredge the pork with approximately 2 Tablespoons of the flour. Set aside.  

Remove vegetable mixture from skillet to crock pot liner or dutch oven.  Add more olive oil to the skillet if it's too dry at this point, you'll want about 1 tablespoon coating the pan.  Place pork in hot skillet, shaking excess flour back into the bowl and saving the excess flour for later. Arrange the pork in a single layer and let it just chill out (no stirring!) for a couple of minutes.  Gently lift the edge of a piece or two to ensure they are nicely caramelized before disturbing the whole pan.  Once nicely browned, you can give it a stir, then be sure to re-arrange the pieces back into a single layer, non-seared side down.  Once again, leave it alone at this point and allow it to cook about 2 minutes or until nicely browned.  Remove from pan and place in crock.  Note: If you have really big, cubes of meat, you'll want to sear all sides.  If the pieces are more stir-fry sized, searing 2 sides will be fine.

Place the last tablespoon of butter to the pan and let it melt, then add any excess flour that was left over from dredging the port.  Stir it around and let it cook for about 2 minutes, then add the beer to deglaze the pan, being sure to scrape up all the lovely brown bits.  Let the beer come to a boil and reduce slightly, turn off the heat and pour it over the ingredients in the crock pot. Add chicken stock, bay leaves and thyme and stir everything together.  Cover and forget for at least 6 - 10 hours.  10 to 15 minutes prior to serving, make a slurry with the remaining flour and enough water to make a thin paste.  Stir this into the stew and leave it alone for at least 10 minutes.  Serve hot with crusty bread or biscuits and/or salad.

NOTE: If you prefer not to use beer in this recipe, some great substitutions include apple cider, hard cider, all stock or wine.  I don't know about you, but I'm not a morning person - if you want to prepare this ahead and let your slow cooker do the work for you while you head off to work you can prepare and refrigerate the veggies, seared meat and deglazing juices the night before.  Just throw everything in your crock pot in the morning and add the remaining ingredients.  Add the slurry when you get home and dinner will be ready when you are.








Saturday, January 23, 2016

Bacon Cheddar Ranch Dip


I hope your holidays were fantastic!  I bet you think it's odd that I'm starting off the new year with a post about dip, huh?  When everyone else is in a frenzy to start the year off right with healthy foods and exercise programs here I am posting a dip recipe.

So let me just say that although we do, indeed, eat a few more candies, cookies and other decadent treats at my house between Thanksgiving and New Year's day, we don't attend a lot of parties, we don't entertain a lot ourselves and we are, in general, super laid back about the whole holiday season - participating just enough to enjoy seeing family - but not so much that we are constantly going here and there, and constantly eating rich, sure to add 10 lbs to your hips foods. In addition, I am much more likely to trot out new recipes at the holidays in an effort to add something new to my tried and true repertoire and that, inevitably, leads to the need to tweak said new recipes.

Case in point this "Crack Dip"I found on Pinterest right around Christmas time.  My gaming group, which I host in my home, managed to get together 3 times in just about 2 weeks thanks to our holiday schedules and I decided to try this recipe out on them.  I made it a day ahead, as instructed, and although I did taste it before it went in the fridge, it was readily apparent that I wouldn't really be able to judge final product until the flavors actually had the opportunity to develop.  I served it with lunch for my group the next day and everyone dived in - at first I though "oh good, it's a winner", but then I noticed that after a good sampling of the dip, they were walking away and choosing other snacks to accompany their lunch.  So I finally joined in and gave it a good taste test myself - it was horribly salty.  My husband commented on it the next day when he tried it - he couldn't even continue to eat it.  I managed to eat most of it in the days that followed, but every time, I could only eat a few chips dipped in it before I had to give up for the saltiness.

I'm convinced that the culprit is the ranch dressing mix so I immediately decided to re-vamp this recipe from scratch and I wanted to do it right away while it was fresh in my mind.  Besides, my gaming group is coming over again tomorrow and they are always a good test group and generally willing to provide thorough reviews of recipes - hopefully they won't be afraid to give it another chance.



I've renamed my version  "Bacon Cheddar Ranch Dip", I've used plenty of herbs and spices including fresh chives, fresh cracked pepper, reconstituted, freeze-dried parsley, garlic and onion powder and of course, crispy bacon and sharp cheddar cheese all added to a base of sour cream.  You can certainly lighten up the recipe by using a light or fat free sour cream or a fat-free Greek yogurt would be yummy too.

Do be sure to make this dip 24 hours in advance!  It's crazy simple - just put all the ingredients in a bowl, mix them up, cover and refrigerate.  If you like, you can reserve some chopped chives and one strip of the bacon to sprinkle on top as a garnish.



I wanted to try a zesty version too, so I reserved about 1/4 of the final mixture and added hot sauce to it (I used Tobasco sauce) and stirred well.

Here's the recipe...

Bacon Cheddar Ranch Dip

16 oz sour cream
3 strips bacon, cooked and chopped
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 TBLS fresh, chopped chives
1 tsp freeze-dried parsely, reconstituted
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
salt to taste
hot sauce to taste (optional)

Place sour cream in a medium sized mixing bowl.  Add remaining ingredients, reserving a pinch the chopped chives and a spoonful of the chopped bacon for garnish if you like, mix well.  Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.  Serve with chips, vegetable sticks, crackers or whatever you like to dip.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Cornbread Breakfast Casserole

Back in September, Steven and I took a mini-staycation.  I know you'll hardly be able to contain yourselves when you hear what we did...

We purged and did a thorough cleaning of our bedroom.  Exciting right?  Honestly, our bedroom really needed it, after having the 4 kids living with us and re-arranging our space to accommodate them, then remodeling to give them better spaces, our bedroom became the dumping ground for everything that didn't otherwise have a home in our house.  So we purged and we cleaned and we purged and cleaned some more.  Boy, does our bedroom look great, even now, several months later. That was day 1 of our staycation.  For day 2, to reward ourselves for getting that huge chore done, we drove to the college town of Ellensburg - which is just on the other side of the Cascade Mountains from where we live - to see my brother, whom we hadn't seen recently.  He'd just moved to a new place, which we toured, and where I got my kitty fix (after having been catless for the entire summer... a problem which we recently remedied), treated my brother to lunch, walked around downtown Ellensburg, which is very nice, and came back home.  During our tour of the downtown, we visited a couple of galleries and I picked up this little gem of a cookbook.  I do a lot of outdoor cooking workshops with my friend, Janet of Chuck Wagoneer and I'm always on the lookout for good breakfast recipes for us to try.  This cookbook is really excellent because it's truly written for outdoor cooking with your dutch oven right down to details like how many coals to put on the bottom and how many coals to put on your lid.

Anyway, there are some recipes in there that I was really excited to take for a spin and this Cornbread Breakfast Casserole is the first I have tried so far.



The first time I made it was for my gaming group and I thought I had bell peppers at home, only to discover I didn't when I got started making it (don't you hate when that happens?).  It came out just fine, but I felt the sweetness of the cornbread was a bit too strong.  After reviewing the recipe with Janet and her husband, we decided that it was worth trying again, but making sure to include the bell pepper and using green bell pepper instead of red to balance against the sweetness.



So this time around, I've used green bell pepper.  Also, I used Chicken Italian sausage for that first go round, and it was really good, but not everyone is a fan of the fennel that's commonly found in Italian sausage.  This time around, I decided to spice it up with some Chorizo.  I also used the entire can of diced green chiles - the recipe calls for 2 tablespoons, which is 2/3 of the can anyway - and we couldn't really tell they were there.  Because Janet's husband has some dietary restrictions that eliminate whole kernel corn from his diet, I omitted that as well.  Last, but not least, I used both Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese for this dish and used 1 1/2 cups total, rather than a single cup.  I wanted the creaminess of the Monterey Jack to offset the spiciness of the Chorizo.



This is an excellent recipe.  When we do cooking workshops we always have a couple people with one food allergy or another and gluten free requests have become very common - this recipe just happens to be gluten free - so you don't have to make any additional substitutions or adjustments to the recipe to accommodate folks with gluten allergies.  Its super versatile - use any color bell pepper and your favorite bulk sausage; use whatever cheese you have on hand - or leave it out.  Jalapeno would be a nice addition to the cornbread for those who like it spicey.



The cornbread is dense but moist, and the eggs bring it all together.  By-the-way, I know it seems like a lot of salt and pepper, but I've put it in as per the recipe both times and it's definitely not too salty, neither is it too peppery.



There are a couple things I did differently for use in my home kitchen.
1) I used one skillet for the whole thing.  (Easy to do at home, but I'd probably prepare it as instructed at camp.)  Today it completely slipped my mind to do that until I already had the cornbread in the oven.
2) I adjusted the cooking time for the cornbread base, and also for the final step.  Not to worry, I'll post the recipe as I feel works best for the home kitchen - if you're going to make this at camp, I highly recommend picking up a copy of this excellent dutch oven cookbook.



Cornbread Breakfast Casserole
(serves 8)

Filling:
1 pound ground sausage or chorizo
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp cumin

In a 12 inch cast iron skillet or dutch oven (the size is important, if you use a different size, plan on adjusting cooking time) brown sausage with onion and bell pepper.  Stir in garlic and cumin. Remove mixture from skillet and set aside.

Wipe out skillet with a paper towel.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees and place skillet in the oven to preheat while you prepare the cornbread base.

Cornbread Base:
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
4 TBLS melted butter
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
1 can (14.5 oz) can whole kernel corn, drained (optional)
1 can (3.3 oz) diced green chiles

Add baking soda to buttermilk and set aside while you assemble the rest of the base ingredients.  In a large bowl, combine melted butter, cornmeal, sugar, salt, egg, corn and chiles and mix well.  Add buttermilk and stir to combine.  Pour cornbread mixture into preheated skillet and bake for 7 1/2 minutes.  Remove skillet from the oven top with sausage mixture.  Set aside while you prepare the eggs.

Eggs:
5 eggs
1 cup milk
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
3/4 cup Cheddar cheese, grated
3/4 cup Monterey jack cheese, grated

In a large bowl combine eggs, milk, salt and pepper and beat until well combined.  Pour mixture over the cornbread and sausage.  Bake 35 minutes.  Turn oven off.  Remove from oven and sprinkle the cheeses on top.  Place back in turned off oven for approximately 5 minutes, just until cheese melts.

Enjoy!