June 07, 2014

A Banner Day of Baking

You know, you'd think one day I might submit/admit to just sucking at sweets. Today was not that day.

Attempt #1: Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

To start with, I was stoked for this project. My sister-in-law fixes these for the colonel, and he absolutely loves them. So when I found two different recipes that looked promising, I set out to do a scientific experiment: fix a small batch of each and do a blind taste test. Little did I know...

When I opened my box of oats and found it almost empty, I should have just stopped right there.

Pictured: Not a large bowl

This doesn't do the situation much justice, but here you see only one cup of oats. Each of the two recipes calls for three cups. "Bah!" said I. "I know my measurement conversions. I'll just be even more science-y!" It was legal pad time.

Pictured: Science! (or maybe not, it turns out)

It all came out totally manageable except for the 1/6 cup of sugar and 1/6 of a stick of butter. And even the sugar was workable using a variation of the jugs-in-the-park trick from Die Hard With A Vengeance.

In case, inexplicably, you forgot

 Or in my case, measure 1/2 cup of sugar, then remove 1/3 cup from that (3/6 - 2/6 = 1/6). Eureka!

I was just gonna have to eyeball the butter, though. Anyway here's a lovely shot of the sugar, butter, milk, and cocoa bubbling away on the stove. That shit is delicious, by the way.


The only difference between the above two recipes is, one includes peanut butter, and one does not. So I did the whole process twice and set my lovely sheet of no-bake cookies aside to set. (Cue ominous music.)

They did not set.

Pictured: Not cookies

That's with peanut butter on the left, and plain chocolate on the right. I dunno, maybe I got my conversions wrong, or maybe I've angered the confection gods. Given the rest of this post, I feel like either or both are possible. Screw it...

Attempt #1: Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies Chewy Chocolate Oatmeal Bites

Yeah, that's the ticket. They really are good to eat, all gooey and chocolatey and (half) peanut buttery and tasty. But I really wanted cookies, dammit!

Attempt #2: Chocolate Surprise Cookies

This recipe is an old favorite that I've not made in ages. They're super easy and totally delicious. Just follow the link right there and have a ball.

Pictured: Not a disaster

Except, about half of them epoxied themselves to the baking sheets. I've never had that problem with these cookies before.

Pictured: More not cookies

I wonder: What's the appropriate sacrifice to appease a confection god? I'm going to say a shot of whiskey, and sacrifice it down the hatch.

Disinclined to waste such a quantity of yumminess, I pondered until I found a solution. And like so many of life's problems, that solution was ice cream.

You know where this is going.

Attempt #3: Chocolate Surprise Milkshakes

And wouldn't you know I jobbed that up too? In my defense, the last time I made a milkshake was an experiment involving Bailey's Irish Cream, circa 1997. Too much milk, the solution to which was even more ice cream -- to the extent I had to bust out these humongous glasses.

Another three cookies gave their lives for the garnish.

I can't even explain how awesome those milkshakes turned out. The whole experience reminds me of something my grade school art teacher used to say: "There are no mistakes."

At least, I guess, where there's chocolate involved.

May 22, 2014

Sneakin' in the Veggies

When I first met the colonel, he had the refined palate of a fussy toddler. If it didn't involve meat, cheese, bread, or pasta, he'd turn his nose right up. Now I'll admit, he's gotten a whole lot better over the years, but I still go to some lengths to get more vegetables down his gullet.

For example, I've learned to sneak in extra veggies with these simple Denver scrambled eggs. This dish uses the principles of Denver omelets, without the pressure.

There's a lot to love about them. First, you can make a huge amount if you have a big group to feed. Second, they're fast: With a little prep work up front, you can go from plan to plate in roughly 15 minutes. Third, they're a fantastic use for leftover ham from high dining holidays.

What's that you say? Easter was like a month ago? Not to worry, our favorite grocery sells these boneless ham steaks, which I totally spaced on photographing. But whatever your source of delicious pork, cutting it into cubes is the sum total of the aforementioned prep work.

So you start with a hot skillet and add olive oil. Then toss in the diced ham, like so:

While that's getting a bit brown, go ahead and crack some eggs and milk into a mixing bowl. For the two of us, I usually use either four medium eggs or three large ones. Season to taste. I mean, even I'm not so pedantic as to walk y'all through scrambling eggs.

Anyway, now here's my secret weapon.

I prefer the Whole Foods 365 southwest blend, but this will work just fine in a pinch. (Where "in a pinch" is defined as, "out of stock at Whole Foods for months." Grr.)

Now don't let the package lie to you; frozen peppers are actually rubbish for fajitas. They sweat so much they make the fajita filling runny and gross. But they're awesome for dishes like this, where that moisture has someplace to go. They're also a go-to topping for my homemade pizza.

Straight outta the freezer and into the skillet.

You don't really want to cook these vegetables; they have a tendency to get mushy on the heat too long. Just stir gently until they're good and thawed. You might want to use your spatula to break down the bigger chunks.

Next, pour in your beaten egg mixture. Be sure to go slowly so you don't wash all the fillings toward one section of the pan.

Here's where I drop bread into the toaster. Your timing on this will vary based on, well, your toaster. Give the eggs a few minutes to stiffen and give them a stir.

Once you don't see anymore shiny bits, pile up the deliciousness and cover with cheddar cheese.

Cut the heat, and give the cheese a little time to melt while you butter the toast.

To give it an authentic Denver flair, serve with sliced tomatoes and a shot of sour cream. Salsa also makes a tasty topping, as does Tabasco. Just depends what you're into.

I swear it took me 10 times longer to write this post than it did to cook these eggs.

May 18, 2014

It's World Baking Day

Okay, I admit this is a lame, fake "holiday," (hilariously) sponsored by a lame, fake dairy product (Country Crock, if you're curious). But I'll take any excuse to stock the house with sweets!

So very sweet

In this case, I was looking at the remnants of a 3-pound bag of gala apples. I fried up a few to go with some pork chops a week or so back, and I was getting desperate for ways to use up the rest. The problem is, they aren't very tasty on their own -- call it a cautionary tale about out-of-season impulse buys.

Lucky for me, I found a super-simple recipe for apple oatmeal crisp. Bonus: I had some oats in the cupboard that needed using up too.

The Ingredients
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 3 cups apples - peeled, cored and chopped
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 

Double bonus: no grocery run necessary

So I wasn't kidding about super-simple, especially when you account for one of my favorite kitchen tools:

Bloomin' apple

I ended up using four of these little guys, after cutting away the bruised and otherwise yucky bits. I didn't bother peeling them, and it didn't hurt the finished product at all. (I basically never peel apples. I kind of dig the added texture from the skins.)

So now, dump the first four ingredients into a bowl and stir.

Your dishwasher will thank you!

Half of that gooey goodness goes into the bottom of a buttered 8" pan. Then a layer of apples. I tried to put them in there all pretty and photogenic too. Hahahahahaha, yeah, that failed.

Next comes the white sugar. I only used about a quarter cup though. And even at that, it was starting to look like Al Pacino's desk at the end of Scarface. I did want to taste some apple, after all. Then cinnamon, then the other half of the batter.

Once again, I could almost eat this right now! Patience...

Into a 350 oven for 45 minutes, and here's what comes out.

Could it be? A baking success?

Well almost. There's one clear, egregious oversight visible here, and that's the shameful lack of vanilla ice cream. Guess I'll be running to the grocery store after all.

It'll be worth it.

The verdict: delicious, and I'm not missing the extra sugar even a little. The oats are admittedly kind of weird, a bit of chewy amongst the crispy. It's kind of like an extra gooey apple oatmeal cookie, if I tell the truth.

Gotta go now. That ice cream isn't going to buy itself.

May 13, 2014

I am. So dumb.

 Quick: What's wrong with this picture?

Hint: the blue lid

If you peer closely, you'll see that's cornstarch. Not baking powder. There's even a little picture of corn on the label. Of course, that didn't stop me from using it in Saturday's attempted biscotti. Even better, I only noticed it today, when I was rooting through the cupboard on a separate mission.

So my screw-up remained hidden from me through assembling ingredients, taking pictures, baking the cookies, cleaning the kitchen, and photo editing.

(bangs head on keyboard)

On the plus side, I've been chomping away on them, blissfully unaware, all this time. So I guess it could've been worse.

While I'm on the subject, I also noticed the recipe says you're to chill the dough before you roll it. I suspect that would have made the log-making process considerably less messy.

I am not to be trusted with baked goods.

May 10, 2014

In a Fit of Lunacy

It always starts so innocently - in this case, with a pint of strawberries just too perfectly red and ripe to pass up. The madness escalated with the discovery of a soft, fluffy goat cheese from a local farm. I tried these together, and they made a marvelous snack. Marvelous, but not perfect.

I craved crunchy, and no mere cracker or cookie would do. Chocolate, that would be the ticket, and crispy, but not too sweet, and...


Now that's lunacy. Long-time readers know I'm no pastry chef. Not being able to taste and adjust at the last minute freaks me right out. But I was determined, and Chef Google pointed me to this double chocolate biscotti.

The Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup white sugar 
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder 
  • 2 eggs 
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 4 (1 ounce) squares white chocolate, chopped 
  • 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips 
All of which I happen to keep around pretty much all the time.

Except white chocolate, which, let's be honest, wouldn't survive an hour under my roof.

My baking paranoia makes me pretty disciplined about following the instructions on these things. Plus, twice-baked fancy European cookies? That's a frighteningly more complex project than I've ever tackled. 

Anyway, butter and sugar, into KitchenAid the Great.

Looks "light and fluffy to me"

Next came the cocoa powder, which y'all may be aware has a fine, fairy-dust like consistency. Which in turn led to a choking cloud of chocolate despite my care in adding it to the bowl. In short, I recommend a drywall mask.

At this point I should also note I was sorely tempted just to scuttle this whole idea and spread that chocolate-sugar-butter wonder on some toast. Cuz I'm classy like that. Instead I threw in the baking powder right quick, thus committing myself to the follow-through.

This, I figured, would be the only sucky part: stirring in the flour by hand. And yeah, it sucked...

Turns out Teflon spoons are super-bendy

Until I remembered I bought a dough cutter in a previous fit of lunacy involving biscuits. (Sensing the theme here?)

Muuuuch better!

Here's where the "double" part of double chocolate goes in (and I pedantically reflect on how it should really be "triple" chocolate if you add the white...)

Oh for Pete's sake just cook, woman.

Things got intense for a while, as I mixed in these chips and then rolled the dough into logs.

I imagine this part would offer a stellar opportunity for a brave mom to involve her kids in the process, because Play Dough isn't the only dough awesome for playing. And it ain't like my grownup self didn't slop chocolate all over half the kitchen and up to my elbows. 

It was messy, is what I'm saying. But here's what I ended up with, popped in the fridge to chill for 10 minutes.

Chocolate logs. Snicker.

Note: I greased the cookie sheet with butter, because fuck Crisco. Gross. I was admittedly worried I'd have to wrestle these free, but that didn't come to pass. After 25 minutes at 375, behold...

Chocolate, speed bumps, I guess?

After cooling for an hour, I sliced 'em up like... like... Okay every metaphor in my mind right now is terrifying. Moving on.

Like this

Then back onto the cookie sheet to bake at 325, for 9 minutes on each side.

Flipping these was like finger-wrestling Satan. They were hot, is what I'm saying.

When it was all said and done I ended up with what looked remarkably like a biscotti. (I know, every Italian mother in America just gasped in horror. I beg forgiveness and offer tribute.)

Crispy, chocolatey tribute.

Despite being a Herculean feat of delayed gratification (all told the project took three hours from emptying the cupboards to boxing up the cookies), it was so totally worth it.

Maybe I'm feeling loony enough to try biscuits again...

January 26, 2014

Get Back in that Kitchen!

Our story begins when my cousin Jay shared this picture on Facebook.

Crispy Cajun Shrimp Fettuccine
Image courtesy of Foodies TV (recipe here)

Hmm... I wonder how much trouble it would be to make this with chicken? (Sous Chef Wildcat doesn't eat seafood. Picky as a toddler, that one.) So...

Crispy Cajun Chicken Fettuccine
6 oz fettuccine
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 boneless chicken breast
1 tbsp Cajun spice (more on that later)

2 tbsp flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup Parmesan

First things first: get the water on to boil and break the chicken breast down to about 1-inch cubes. Then put my trusty deep skillet Big Red on a medium burner. While that's heating up, toss the chicken in kosher salt, then the Cajun seasoning.

Next, roll it in the flour until it's all good and coated.

 Now add the butter and olive oil to the hot skillet. I like to say my skillet is hot enough if the butter "sings," which means the water is boiling out leaving delicious fat behind. It makes a hissing sound and the pretty white froth you see here.

Hear that? Sounds like Beyonce.

You can test whether your oil is hot enough by shaking or grinding some pepper into the pan. If it sizzles, you're ready to rock.

As usual I failed to take any pics of the chicken frying. But I'm so out of the habit of documenting meals it's a wonder I have pics of anything in this post. Anyway, about this time I put half this package of fettuccine and some salt into the boiling water.

Michael Angelo's. Cute.

Now, y'all might know I've become a disciple and evangelist for Alma's brand whole-grain pasta. Sadly it was unavailable for today's meal, but this kind was tasty enough.

Cook the chicken while the pasta boils. And here's where my adaptation started slipping off the rails. For one thing, the chicken cubes took a lot longer than the 4 minutes suggested in the shrimp recipe.

For another, they never got crisp. I think one of two things might be the problem. Either I should have gone with medium-high heat (which I hate to do because my kitchen smokes up like a hookah bar), or I should have used more flour. Oh well, live and learn. My chicken ended up like this:

Yeah, I'm way out of practice shooting food porn.

Now we make the sauce. And I'm not gonna lie; I was worried. A good Alfredo sauce has long eluded me. I can never get the Parm to melt right, so the texture is always off, and I'm happy if I don't end up with something like lumpy gravy or wallpaper paste.

Chicken broth and heavy cream (1 cup each), in, with a little more Cajun spice.

Looks like Alfredo so far

So I let that reduce a while, decided it didn't look like Cajun Alfredo, so I threw in some paprika. Then the moment of truth: in goes the Parmesan...

And it worked! I credit Whole Foods 365 Parmesan in the 5-oz. tub. Melted like a dream, and didn't turn grainy. Praise be. Now the noodles and the chicken go in, and... wait...

That's... way too much sauce

What the hell? Funny because I actually increased the volume of meat and pasta from the original recipe, but didn't add any extra liquid. I was afraid I'd end up short on sauce! And you won't hear me say this often, but it was too much meat too.

Luckily that was easy enough to fix. After we finished eating I boiled the other half of the fettuccine and it all came out perfect. We had leftovers for like, two days, but there are worse fates.

 Good thing I'm delicious

Throw a little garlic bread on the side and overall call this one a win.

But wait! (You're totally not asking, but humor me.) What about the Cajun seasoning? Okay, okay...

Here's what Foodies TV suggests:
2 1/2 tbsp salt
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp red chili powder
1 tbsp ground black pepper

But a while back, I got this Cajun spice recipe from *clears throat, averts eyes* the Sookie Stackhouse Companion. Y'all go on and judge me. I'll wait.

Crossroads Cajun Spice:
2 tsp cayenne
2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp thyme

I prefer Sookie's spice for a couple of reasons. First, Holy Gods look at all that salt! Second, the cayenne adds more heat than red chili powder, which we love around here. Adding paprika was a good idea though, gave the Alfredo a nice reddish color, befitting a not-so-crispy Cajun chicken fettuccine.

I've got some kinks to work out, but this one's a keeper. Thanks Cousin Jay!

January 22, 2014

If We Weren't All Crazy We Would Go Insane

 Well, it's been a minute...

Or more precisely, almost two years?(!)

Not been up to much. The short version of events goes: my partner lost his job and I lost my mind. One week we were house hunting and planning our anniversary vacation, and the next week we were on a food budget again.

For a long while I couldn't face my tiny dollhouse kitchen, because I was supposed to be leaving it behind. For an even longer while I couldn't face this blog. We were so close to getting out - of the literal barrio and figurative trailer park. It still kind of hurts to revisit all that hope and happiness. *Cue Debbie Downer Music*

Look! A kitten!
 Image via Stock Free Photos

Anyway the upside is I have a couple of years' worth of recipes that need documenting, so I'm back, at least for a while. Coming soon: I attempt to conquer my lifelong inadequacy regarding Alfredo sauce.