Thursday, May 31, 2018

Easy Salted Toffee Bars

I'm sure that we have all tried at least one version of this ubiquitous sweet. This chocolate-topped, hot syrup-over-crackers confection seems to turn up everywhere. But if you haven’t tried my version, using unsalted butter with a dusting of Fleur de Sel, then you haven’t really tasted this at its finest. These are sweet, no doubt about it, you don’t pour bubbling hot sugar syrup over a bed of graham crackers, top it with melted chocolate, and end up with something other than super sweet. But the Fleur de Sel cuts back on that sweetness, brings out the taste, with a hint of salty, that makes these so much more sophisticated than all of the other versions. They’re easy to put together, always a crowd-pleaser, and can be whipped up in well under an hour, including chilling time. Give my version a try.
Easy Salted Toffee Bars

1 package graham crackers
2-1/2 cups chocolate chips*
1 cup unsalted butter
cup light brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
1/4 teaspoon Fleur de Sel

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line a 9” x 13'' pan with foil and spray with PAM.

Place graham crackers, side by side, along the bottom of the pan, breaking and fitting where necessary. Set aside.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. When butter is melted, stir in brown sugar and pecans, and continue to stir, bringing mixture to a low boil. Boil for five minutes, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat; pour over graham crackers, and spread to cover. Bake in preheated oven for seven minutes.

Remove bars from the oven and sprinkle the top with chocolate chips. Return to oven for 1 to 2 minutes until chips become shiny, remove from oven and spread to the edges with an
offset spatula. Sprinkle the top with Fleur de Sel. Place into the refrigerator until firm enough to cut.

*You can use semi-sweet morsels, milk chocolate morsels, bittersweet morsels, or any combination of the three.

Another fabulous sweet recipe is this blog favorite, Twix Truffle Brownies. Try to stop eating them!

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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Virginia Willis’s Barbecued Chicken

It is officially grilling season, and one of the first things I tried upon uncovering the grill was barbecued chicken. The last time I made barbecued chicken, I had just graduated from high school and was spending a weekend with my girlfriend, Chris. Back then, we only knew how to make three things: barbecued chicken (that we did very badly), green bean casserole, and lemon squares. So any time we were able to get together, this is what we made. 
Because the chicken was always overcooked, dry, and the barbecue sauce burned, when I reached adulthood, I never barbecued chicken again. Then I found Virginia Willis’s recipe, and now I’m going to be making it all of the time. Virginia’s recipe results in chicken that is moist and flavorful, with a wonderful taste that you only get from grilling. I have a feeling that this summer, I am going to be grilling up a lot of chicken.

Here is her recipe. If you’re not familiar with Virginia, she is an award-winning southern cook with a number of
books full of recipes for delicious food. You need to check her out, while you’re nibbling on your delicious and perfectly grilled barbecued chicken.
Virginia Willis’s Barbecued Chicken

1 gallon cold water
3/4 cup kosher salt
1/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 whole chicken, cut into 6-8 pieces
Freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil, for the grill
Your Favorite Barbecue Sauce, warmed

Combine the water, salt, and brown sugar in a large plastic container and stir to dissolve. Add the chicken; cover and refrigerate to marinate for 4 to 6 hours.

Prepare a charcoal fire using about 6 pounds of charcoal and burn until the coals are completely covered with a thin coating of light gray ash, 20 to 30 minutes. Spread the coals evenly over the grill bottom, position the grill rack above the coals, and heat until medium-hot (when you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grill surface for no longer than 3 or 4 seconds). Or, for a gas grill, turn on all burners to High, close the lid, and heat until very hot, 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the chicken from the marinade and rinse under cool running water. Pat dry with paper towels, season with pepper, and set aside.

Season the chicken with pepper. Apply some oil to the grill grate. Place the chicken on the grill, leaving plenty of space between each piece. Grill until seared, about 1 to 2 minutes per side for legs and thighs, and 3 or so minutes for breasts. Move the chicken to medium-low heat or reduce the heat to medium; continue to grill, turning occasionally, until the juices run clear when pierced, 12 to 18 minutes.

During the last 5 to 7 minutes of cooking, brush the chicken with BBQ Sauce.

Remove the pieces from the grill as they cook and transfer to a warm platter. Give them a final brush of sauce for flavor and serve immediately with additional sauce on the side.
If you don’t have a favorite barbecue sauce, you might try mine, Sugarfire Smoke House Coffee Barbecue Sauce. Delish!

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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

For the Love of Pimiento Cheese

The other day, someone asked me if I had a recipe for pimiento cheese. Do I have a recipe for a pimiento cheese? Boy, have you come to the right place! I consider myself a bit of a pimiento cheese fancier, and make a particular effort to try every recipe that crosses my path. To make it easy on those of you who feel the same, I am featuring all of the recipes that I have accumulated, to date, in this blog post. Click on the name beneath the photo to go to the recipe. Try as few or as many as you like, and let me know what you think. To have the most flavorful pimiento cheese, be sure to ditch those little jars of insipid pimientos and use Melissa’s Fire Roasted Sweet Red Bell Peppers instead. Delish!

Buffalo Pimiento Cheese

Zesty Pimiento Cheese with Ham

Tupelo Honey Café’s Pimento Cheese

Lee Brothers Pimiento Cheese


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Monday, May 28, 2018

Trifled Taco Salad

I have fallen in love with these little trifle dishes! Have you seen them? They are the perfect size (12 oz.) for holding a main dish salad, layered breakfast, or any type of layered dessert. I can’t stop coming up with new ways in which to use them. I love using these dishes because portioning things out perfectly is a no-brainer, and because we eat first with our eyes, and serving food this way is so visually appealing.
One of the salads I made was this adorable mini trifled taco salad. I had such a good time putting this together, did it early in the day, shoved it into the fridge, and enjoyed it for supper that night when I was too tired to prepare anything. I have to say that I felt pretty special eating my fancy schmancy layered salad.
I continue to experiment, so stay tuned for more, meanwhile, pick yourself up some of these dishes, you will not be sorry. You really don't need a recipe for this. Just have a look at the picture below and layer to your heart’s content. Feel free to layer whatever tickles your fancy. If you have a lot of dry ingredients, as I did, you may want to layer the dressing in twice (as you can see from the picture). If not, then just add it somewhere in the middle. There are really no set rules, just have fun.  

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Sunday, May 27, 2018

Spicy Jalapeño Ranch Dressing

I always consider Memorial Day to be the official start of summer.(Don’t get me started on the stifling, sub-tropical, record-breaking temperatures that we’ve had here…ALL MONTH! Just don't.) I like a bit of zing during the summertime, so created this Spicy Jalapeño Ranch Dressing to drizzle on salads, crudités, grilled corn on the cob, well, pretty much everything! I’m giving it to you today, because you’re going to need it for the recipe that I’m going to share with you tomorrow. I always find it best to make my own homemade Ranch Dressing from my special mix (see below), but if you prefer not to do that, and use the packet (I will not judge), you can just add the taco seasoning, and pickled jalapeño. You’re going to love this one, let me know how you use it.

Have a happy and safe Memorial Day, everyone!
Spicy Jalapeño Ranch Dressing

2 cups Ranch Dressing, prepared with 
Ranch Dressing Mix (see below)
1 Melissa’s pickled jalapeño, seeded and quartered

Place dressing, jalapeño, and taco seasoning into a blender. Blend until creamy. 

Ranch Dressing Mix

8 tablespoons dried parsley flakes
1 teaspoon dried dill weed
5-1/2 tablespoons instant minced onion
4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Stir ingredients together and store in a cool, dry pace. To prepare, combine 2 tablespoons of the mix with 1-cup buttermilk and 1 cup mayonnaise. This will keep for six months.

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Friday, May 25, 2018

Chicken Spiedini

Last week, my friend Linda and I were driving through town on our way to an Italian restaurant, to meet with our other friend, Karen, to have lunch. As we drove down First Capitol Drive here in Saint Charles, we happened to pass a tearoom, Miss Aimee B’s, that has been a Saint Charles landmark spot for decades, and one that I have enjoyed visiting since the 70s. My mother and I would go there for special occasions before shopping on Historic Main Street in downtown Saint Charles and it, coincidentally, was the first place that Linda, Karen, and I had lunch together. I was crushed to see it shuttered and with a For Sale sign in the front. We both were. At that point Linda also informed me that another favorite restaurant in another town that we both used to frequent had similarly closed.

Fortunately, family-owned restaurants often offer their own cookbooks, and I am always quick to grab one as soon as it becomes available. I have shared a number of recipes from the cookbook of Miss Aimee B’s including Old Fashioned Buttermilk-Coconut Pie, and a delicious Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler.
The other restaurant that recently closed was Rizzo’s, a wonderful Italian place, located close to where Jim and I used to live, and where we would often go dinner. Linda was seriously lamenting the fact that she would never have their Chicken Spiedini again, when I remembered that I had that recipe.

Today I made it in remembrance of the many fine meals, and pleasant times, that I had at the restaurant. Here it is, and I hope you enjoy it. I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t tweaked it a good bit, so here is my and Rizzo’s version. Mangia!
Chicken Spiedini
Adapted from Rizzo's Pasta

2 cups buttermilk
2 pounds chicken, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes

1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons minced fresh garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup dried parsley flakes, crumbled

3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
3/4 cup Italian-seasoned fine, dry bread crumbs

2 Tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 Tablespoons finely minced parsley

8 lemon wedges, for garnish

Cut chicken into cubes the day before, and soak them in buttermilk overnight, covered, in the refrigerator. The next day, remove the chicken from the buttermilk, drain, and pat dry; set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper and parsley flakes; add chicken; stir to combine. Cover and allow to marinate 1 hour at room temperature.

Meanwhile, toss together Parmesan, onion powder, garlic salt, and breadcrumbs. Add chicken; mix well. Thread cubes onto skewers,* leaving a little space between cubes. (At this point it can be refrigerated until ready to cook.)

Broil, turning once or twice, until chicken is firm and crumbs are toasted, about 20-25 minutes.

While chicken is broiling, combine melted butter, white wine, and parsley.

Arrange on serving plates, drizzle with the melted butter/wine mixture, and garnish with lemon wedges.

Yield: 4 servings

*I used bamboo skewers that I soaked in water to prevent them from catching on fire.

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Monday, May 21, 2018

Stout Cake Gone Rogue

This falls into the category of “no good deed goes unpunished. My daughter-in-law loves my chocolate stout cake. Her birthday was last weekend, and I decided to make that stout cake even better by using Double Chocolate Stout from Rogue Ales to give it extra richness and flavor. The night before I decided to make the cake, an arm that runs up the back of my dishwasher and over the top to spray water onto the dishes during the cleaning process, broke off. Just spontaneously fell off. This is an expensive Maytag dishwasher, with a built-in chopper, stainless steel interior, and only about 18 months old. It’s out of warranty, but I still consider this to be a new dishwasher. I know I’ve wandered from my point, but you need to understand that, in addition to making a cake for my daughter-in-law, I had to wash all of the dishes by hand, standing as I did so, on my gimpy knee (and that is another story). And not only the dishes that I was freshly dirtying, but also the entire load that I had packed into the dishwasher the night before, prior to the arm falling off debacle. Stay with me here, it gets better.

I decided to make a round cake rather than the square one that I usually make. I thought it would photograph better with the Rogue Stout bottle in the background. So, I pulled out 2 9-inch cake pans, made up my cake with the addition of the Chocolate Stout, poured it into the greased and floured pans, and popped it into the oven. After about fifteen minutes of baking time I heard a bit of a sizzling sound, accompanied by the smell of burnt chocolate. Apparently (because, as I always tell you people I don’t bake), I had grabbed 8-inch cake pans instead of 9-inch cake pans, and the batter had run over the top and burned on the bottom of my oven. Deep breath.

At precisely that point I came to learn that the gift card that I was going to send to my daughter-in-law via email was not available. The company from whom I was buying the card only offered to mail physical cards, adding that it would take 7 to 10 days for them to arrive, and at a cost of five dollars for shipping in addition to the price of the gift card. Well, there was no way I was going to pay five dollars for something that they would only pay $.50 to ship, so I got dressed, and drove miles to the store to get a gift card. Done!

I was quite pleased with myself for getting the gift card, and let me add that I drove through driving rain to do so, so headed home satisfied that my day could only get better. When I got home I changed out of my “shopping
clothes, and into my comfortable “let’s make a cake clothes (a rather ratty Mr. Bean T-shirt, and jeans that were politely declined by Goodwill), and set about to make the frosting. It was then that I realized I didn’t have quite enough powdered sugar to do that. At this point, I wasn’t about to get dressed and head to the supermarket, so came up with the brilliant plan of making half of the frosting with the ingredients that I had, would frost half of the cake to photograph, and give that half to my son, daughter-in-law, and grand kids. Genius!

I wanted to photograph the cake with a bottle of Stout in the background, so you all would know what you’re looking for when you shop for it, and you should. I love Rogue products (do not get me started on the sublime deliciousness of their Dead Guy Whiskey, and, boy did I need some NOW!) and wanted to give them a shout out. I took a variety of photos, like I do, with the bottle standing up in the background, tilted one way, and then the other, and then decided to lie it down. It was when my toes started to get wet that I was reminded that I had opened that bottle to use the stout in the cake. That not-so-carefully-replaced cap had come off and it poured all over the counter, down the front of the cabinets, and onto my toes.

Here is the recipe for the cake. It was delicious. You would think that my tale of woe ended here, but no. I enjoyed my cake, while recovering from a Tupperware injury, acquired when I reached for the right size container to package things up to send home with my son, and the remaining of them came showering down on me in one giant, plastic, avalanche. At this point, you may want to re-read the first line of this overly long blog post. Yep, truth. Next year I’m buying that girl a cake.
Stout Cake Gone Rogue

1 cup Rogue Double Chocolate Stout
1 cups (2 sticks) butter
3/4 cup Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2/3 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9” cake pans.  Set aside. Bring stout and butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in large bowl to blend; set aside. Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat eggs and sour cream until well blended. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed.

Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 30 minutes or until tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean. Transfer to rack to cool for 5 minutes and then invert onto a rack to cool completely. When cool, top with chocolate frosting.

Rogue Chocolate Frosting

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
½ cup butter, softened
2-1/4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
4 tablespoons Rogue Double Chocolate Stout
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt chocolate chips in the top of a double boiler.  Stir until smooth; set aside to cool for 10 minutes.  In a large bowl, beat butter until creamy.  Gradually beat in confectioner’s sugar alternately with stout.  Add melted chocolate and vanilla and beat at high speed until smooth and creamy.  Frosts one cake.

If you prefer your chocolate cake in loaf form, you will go crazy over this Triple Chocolate Loaf Cake.

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