Monday, April 29, 2013

Baked Cinnamon Sugar Churros

 You may have been wondering, or perhaps not, just what I served for dessert after yesterday's meal. After a mound of rice and a chili dog, something light is definitely called for. Thank goodness for puffed pastry, another freezer staple that I always have on hand, and seriously panic, when I use up the last box. The inventor of frozen puff pastry is on my genius list. Surely this must be the most versatile item that I have in my kitchen. A simple sheet of puff pastry can yield a quick snack, elegant appetizer, be rolled into something sweet or savory, top a pot pie, and make dessert as elegant as a Napoleon, or as simple as today's churros. Thawing a sheet of puff pastry, slicing it, separating the slices, baking it, and then rolling it in melted butter and a mixture of cinnamon and sugar is all it took to make a yummy, light, baked dessert, and made a great little sweet roll for breakfast the next morning. The ability to keep these overnight is huge. Imagine whipping up a basket of these to serve along with a bowl of fruit and freshly brewed coffee the next time you have overnight guests. You'll be a rock star. Tell them that you baked for ages. Your secret is safe with me. 

Baked Cinnamon Sugar Churros
Recipe from Six Sisters’ Stuff

1 sheet frozen pastry puff sheet, thawed
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.  Unfold and cut puff pastry sheets in half lengthwise, and cut each half crosswise into 1-inch-wide strips. 

 Place strips on a lightly greased parchment paper or Silpat-lined 
baking sheet. 

Bake 8-10 minutes or until golden brown (mine only took 8 minutes). Meanwhile, combine sugar and cinnamon.  Remove pastry sheets from oven and dip in butter, then roll in cinnamon-sugar mixture.  Let stand on a wire rack 5 minutes or until dry.

Makes 18 churros.

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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Chili Dog Casserole


When either of my sons come to do some work for me, I always grease their palms with a few greenbacks and let them pick what they'd like to have for lunch.  Bless them both, this is always very easy.   Number one son came last week to paint the bedroom (Benjamin Moore's Gray Mirage, a medium sage color, that I love, love, LOVE!), and asked me to fix a recipe that he'd spotted online for Chili Dog Casserole.  While you may be inclined to snort with haughty derision, don't.  It was easy and darned good.  To dress it up a bit (if one can dress up a chili dog), I served it with a side of Spanish rice (thank you Rice-a-Roni), and it was a hearty, satisfying, tasty meal.  If, like me, you keep a package of hotdogs and your homemade chili perpetually in the freezer, you essentially have all of the components for this dish.  I now have a package of flour tortillas in the freezer as well, so I'm ready to paint the next room.  

Chili Dog Casserole

1 (15-ounce) can chili with beans 
(or without beans, or your own homemade)
4 beef frankfurters, steamed
4 (8-inch) flour tortillas
1/2 (8-ounce) package shredded 
Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese blend
4 scallions, sliced

Preheat oven to 425°F. Spread half of the chili and beans in the bottom of a 9x9 inch baking dish.  Place tortillas on a cutting board or other flat surface.  Spread about a tablespoon of chili down the center of the tortilla, put the warm frank on top of the chili, and roll up inside tortilla.  Place in the baking dish, seam side down, on top of chili.  Top with remaining chili and beans, and sprinkle with cheese. 

Cover baking dish with aluminum foil, and bake for 30 minutes.  Plate and top with chopped scallions.

You can go crazy with this dish by adding chopped jalapenos, black olives, or anything else that tickles your fancy. 

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Salt and Vinegar Roasted Potatoes

 Appetizer, snack, side dish, this inexpensive, easy, make-ahead, versatile treatment of potatoes  is both crunchy and creamy at the same time, and sure to be a hit with anyone who tries them.  Salty and vinegary, one bite took me back to our days in Oxford, the land of Inspector Morse, lunching at some of the same pubs where Morse and Lewis hoisted a few while discussing the details of a difficult case.
  Fish and chips, with lots of salt and malt vinegar is not something that I'm ever inclined to make at home, but these potatoes satisfy my taste for the crispy coating of the fish topped with a splash of malt vinegar.  I adapted this recipe for Salt and Vinegar Potatoes from one by Martha Stewart. I substituted the suggested potatoes with Melissa's Dutch Baby Potatoes. The size is perfect for this tasty finger food and nothing beats the creaminess of the interior.
Salt and Vinegar Roasted Potatoes

Kosher salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup malt vinegar

 In a medium pot, bring potatoes to a boil over high in salted water. Reduce heat and cook at a rapid simmer until potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife, about 10 minutes; drain. Place a folded dish towel on a work surface and place potatoes on top.  Gently smash potato so that it is flattened but still in one piece, allowing edges to split. (I used the bottom of a juice glass.) Repeat with remaining potatoes.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Brush a rimmed baking sheet with 1 tablespoon oil. Place potatoes on sheet and brush tops with 1 tablespoon oil. Bake until crisp and golden, about 25 minutes, flipping them halfway through. Remove from oven, toss with vinegar, and season with salt.
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Monday, April 22, 2013

Chewy Toffee Almond Bars

 Some recipes just come to me from out of the blue.  Like this one. I opened the cabinet door behind which I keep the baking supplies, and a bag of Heath Brickle Bits fell out of the cabinet and conked me on the head. I have got to get organized. 
As I picked it up (and unrolled the already opened end, sampling some of the crunchy deliciousness) I happened to glance at the back of the bag and saw two recipes. One looked like a simple variation on the chocolate chip cookie substituting the Brickle Bits for the chocolate chips, and then I saw this one. 
Crunchy almonds, chewy coconut, and toffee, oh, yes!  With company coming to watch baseball tonight, I figured I'd give them a try. I like a thicker bar cookie, so made them in a 9" x 9" pan rather than the called for 9" x 13." I think my version gives a far better crust-to-filling-to-topping ratio. I tend to do this a lot. Every time I do, the old pizza joke comes to mind. You know the one, where the pizza maker asks the customer if he wants his pizza sliced into six or eight pieces. To which the customer replies, "You'd better make it six, I don't think I can eat eight pieces." I delude myself in this same way. A 9" x 13" pan of cookies seems so daunting, whereas a 9" x 9" pan seems perfectly doable. 

The perfect combination of crunchy and chewy, these got thumbs up from all tasters tonight. Methinks a drizzle of chocolate would make these just about perfect.
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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Angel Hair Pasta with Brussels Sprouts and Bacon

To quote The Big Bang Theory's Sheldon Cooper in Series 4 Episode 2,The Cruciferous Vegetable Amplification:

Thursday nights are now Cruciferous Vegetable Night instead of Pizza Night. And this week is Brussels Sprouts. 

I happen to be a big fan of the Brussels Sprout. Over the course of the past couple of weeks I have been experimenting with new recipes, all quite varied, each of which I have liked a great deal.

When my friend, Harol learned of my penchant for sprouts, she sent me instructions for a dish that she’d tried and enjoyed:  I fixed Brussels sprouts the other night with a little bacon, sautéed them in some of the bacon drippings, then added a little fat free 1/2 'n 1/2 and salt and pepper at the end. They were delicious.

I was looking for a main dish, so took Harol’s advice, and then added pasta, Parmesan, and a few gratings of nutmeg.  Delicious, indeed, even a picky Pete like Sheldon would surely approve.

Angel Hair Pasta with Brussels Sprouts and Bacon

4 slices bacon, cut into 1/2" pieces
1 lb. Melissa’s Brussels Sprouts, cleaned and quartered
¼ teaspoon granulated sugar
Few gratings of freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 cup heavy cream
¼ package Angel hair pasta
Freshly grated Parmesan
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a large, heavy skillet over medium heat place bacon pieces.  Cook, stirring often, until fat is rendered and bacon is crisp, 5-8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove bacon to a dish lined with paper towels to drain.  Increase heat to medium-high, add Brussels sprouts, sprinkle with sugar, and cook, stirring often, until edges are brown and caramelized, 3-4 minutes. Add cream and bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened and coats the back of a spoon, 5-8 minutes.  Stir in reserved bacon.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain pasta, reserving 1/4 cup pasta cooking liquid.

Add pasta, Parmesan, and 1/4 cup pasta cooking liquid to Brussels sprouts mixture, stirring to coat. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper.  Divide among four serving plates and top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Crockpot Cashew Chicken

I have gone Crockpot crazy!  Lately I have just been so frantically busy that I have happily embraced the one-pot meal. Earlier in the week I had three different slow cookers, of various sizes, all going at once - breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I am loving the ease!  But just because I'm employing the use of one of my favorite appliances does not mean that I'm having boring meals of tenderized mush, relying for flavor on a can of sodium-laden condensed soup. No. I have explored a variety of ethnicities, preparing pepper steak, fajitas, pasta, and this tasty cashew chicken. As with many slow cooker recipes, there is a bit of pre-prep here, but it is well worth the time.

Crockpot Cashew Chicken

2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1" cubes
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. seasoned salt
1 Tbsp. canola oil
3/4 cup soy sauce
6 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
6 Tbsp. ketchup
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/2 cup cashews

Combine flour, pepper and seasoned salt in a shallow dish. Dredge chicken, turning to coat all sides. Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Sear chicken pieces until brown, about 1 minute per side. Place chicken in slow cooker.

Combine soy sauce, vinegar, ketchup, sugar, garlic, ginger, and pepper flakes in small bowl; pour over chicken.

Cook on LOW for 3 to 4 hours. Add cashews just before serving over a bed of hot jasmine rice. Serves 4.

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Monday, April 15, 2013

Red Pepper Hummus from PW Pizza

My penchant for roasted red peppers is well known. I always have an open jar in the fridge (as you saw here) and an extra jar (or two) in the pantry. As I type this I have thin slices of seared strip steak in the crockpot along with sliced onions, tomatoes, and roasted red peppers yielding, I hope, a delicious dinner of pepper steak this evening, and a tasty filling for soft tacos tomorrow night. But I don't want to get ahead of myself.

I'm a fan of hummus, but not the plain garlic-tahini-and-chickpea variety. No, I like hummus with a sense of style. My two favorites are fresh basil hummus and roasted red pepper hummus (a lovely duo on the holiday sideboard, by the way). As a rule, hummus is very easy to make. Keeping some simple ingredients on hand will never leave you wanting when guests drop by, or you're invited on the spur of the moment and don't want to arrive empty handed.

This recipe is from PW Pizza in the Lafayette Square neighborhood of St. Louis, and was published recently in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It is easy to prepare and oh, so delicious. It's a great dip, but also makes an excellent sandwich spread, adds great taste to deviled eggs, and brightens up even the simplest of salads when stirred into Ranch dressing. I like mine extra smoky and with a lot of zing so doubled up on both cumin and lemon zest. Yummy!

Red Pepper Hummus from PW Pizza
Yield: 2 1/4 cups

2 (15-ounce) cans garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest (colored portion of peel)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Ground red (cayenne) pepper
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
Warm pita wedges or fresh vegetables, for serving

1. Cut a few strips of roasted red pepper to use for a garnish; set aside.
2. In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, combine the remaining roasted red peppers, garbanzo beans, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, black pepper, cumin and a dash or two of cayenne. Pulse to chop and combine ingredients. With the motor running, slowly add the oil through the feed tube, processing just until combined. Stop the processor to scrape the sides as necessary.

3. To serve, mound hummus on a platter. Top with feta cheese and reserved red pepper strips, then surround with warm pita wedges or fresh vegetables.

Per 1/4 cup serving: 175 calories; 5g fat; 1g saturated fat; 2mg cholesterol; 6g protein; 26g carbohydrate; noa sugar; 4g fiber; 465mg sodium; 50mg calcium.

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