7.06.2014

Cheese Straws


Cheese Straws are a very light, tasty, airy, crispy snack that are super easy to throw together. There is, of course, the make-the-dough-from-scratch kind of cheese straws, but I personally don't have time for that right now. The versions below are a corner-cutting way to the nirvana of cheese straws without much hassle. (And minimal dishes to wash after). I've included recipes for two kinds:  Cheddar Straws and Italian Straws.

I want to take this opportunity to apologize for my, um, hiatus from blogging as of late. I won't bore you with too many details, but life's been hella busy since the first of the year. Some things are great and some things, not so much. First and foremost, and most importantly, my sweet, darling 19-month old niece was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease called Aplastic Anemia, which has resulted in multiple transfusions, and incredibly large amount of medicines and drugs and poisons, and a bone marrow transplant. Luckily my nephew was a match so he's our hero right now. I never realized how important a bone marrow transplant could be to save the life of a child until this happened to our family. I immediately registered for the Bone Marrow Registry, and I wish you would too. Seriously. It's good karma.


Our son will be starting college next year (prepare to see me in a straight jacket in a padded room when that happens) so all my spare time at home has been doing research and making phone calls. I don't know how anyone does this while working full time. Holy shit. Thus, I've been working more in order continue to fund the college account, which has, unfortunately, much less than the average cost of one day at any damn school he's interested in. You need books? Sorry 'bout cha. Need a place to live? Your car is pretty cozy.  Tuition? Mom's gonna start hooking.


Sadly, our 19-month old dog Vera died suddenly. She literally collapsed and died instantly in front of my daughter, husband, and me. It has taken a toll on the overall happiness level in our family because puppies don't just die, do they? The kids are having a really hard time, but our friends and family have been super supportive and kind during this.


A few weeks ago, I was asked to be a judge at the Winchester Beer Cheese Festival. That was a blast! They had games for the kids, loads of food trucks, and lots and lots of beer cheese. I was a judge in the commercial beer cheese competition, and there are some damn good beer cheeses out there. My personal favorite was Steve's Ready to Dip, followed closely by Ashby's. Both were outstanding. Two perks to being a judge? I got to sit in the mayor's chair while judging and I consumed an ice-cold Ale-8 after judging.

Enough about me.  How 'bout a snack?


Cheese Straws
Makes 32

1 pkg. puff pastry (both sheets)
1 egg

Cheddar Straws:
Chili powder
Cheddar cheese - shredded, about 1 cup

Italian Straws:
Garlic powder
Italian seasoning
Mozzarella cheese - shredded, about 3/4 cup
Parmesan cheese - shredded, about 1/4 cup

Thaw puff pastry on the counter for about an hour or overnight in the fridge.  Preheat oven to 375°.  Line two sheet pans with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, beat egg with 1 tablespoon water.

On a lightly floured surface, roll one sheet of puff pastry into a 10x12 rectangle.  Brush with egg wash.  Sprinkle seasoning over egg washed surface.  Sprinkle cheese.  Using rolling pin, gently press cheese into dough.

Using a pizza wheel, cut dough into 16 - 12" strips.  Twist and place 8 on each sheet pan, gently pressing ends onto sheet pan to prevent uncurling.

Bake for about 18 minutes.  Cool on sheet pan. Repeat with second batch.



2.06.2014

Greek Rice Salad


I realize it's been a month (more!) since I've posted and I feel like a right loser. However, Christmas, sickness, work, and the multiple snow days have hindered my ability to cook, take photos, edit photos, and post any recipes. It's a long and involved process, you see. This recipe for Greek Rice Salad is one of my favorites. It's refreshing and easy as hell to make. And it stores well so you can eat it all week long. It is vegetarian but not vegan, although it can be adapted easily.


I have also started a new "diet," which has me cooking things a little differently than I'm used to (I will expand in another post). I've started eating a completely plant-based diet with no added oils or artificial ingredients. Basically, I'm eating no animal product at all like a vegan. But I'm taking it one step further and not cooking with oil or butter, not eating anything processed or prepared other than canned tomatoes and beans, and using only natural sweeteners such as maple syrup and dates. It's the Forks Over Knives way.


Why am I doing this? First and foremost, I need to lose weight. And I don't want to starve. This way of eating allows you to eat until full (which I'm still learning how to do) and not count calories. Secondly, I do believe it's a very healthy way to eat. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, animals are treated horribly and the less I contribute to that the better.

That being said, I miss my cheese. So I can't say I'll do this forever. But for right now, it's working for me.

Greek Rice Salad

1-1/2 c. instant brown rice
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 small red onion, chopped
8 oz. feta, crumbled
10.5 oz. cherry tomatoes, halved
7 oz. jar Kalamata olives, pitted and rough chopped
1/3 c. olive oil
1/3 c. red wine vinegar
1 T. oregano
1 garlic clove, minced
salt & pepper

Cook brown rice according to package directions.  Cool.

Toss cooked rice, cucumber, and next 4 ingredients in a large bowl.

In a 2-cup measuring cup, whisk the oil, vinegar, oregano, and garlic.  Season with salt & pepper.  Pour over rice mixture and toss.  Season to taste.  Serve at room temperature or cold.


12.20.2013

Triple Almond Biscotti


'Tis the season, everyone!  This time of year is filled with happiness and joy and giving and over-indulging. Who doesn't love that? One of my favorite holiday treats is biscotti. I have several different kinds I make regularly throughout the season and all winter long, if I'm being honest.  This Triple Almond Biscotti is very easy to make, and pairs famously with a mug of piping hot coffee or even hot chocolate.

Don't be afraid of the fancy-pants Italian name (which means "twice baked").  And if you've had some horrible cellophane packaged rock-hard biscotti in the past, that is like comparing the powdered mac 'n cheese to a creamy homemade goodness.

This recipe uses three forms of almond to power-hit these biscotti with loads of flavor.  There's almond extract (you'd be surprised at how many recipes don't use this), Amaretto (almond liqueur), and chopped almonds.  I don't put the almonds in mind usually, only because I don't like the texture and they are delicious with our without.


Triple Almond Biscotti

2 c. flour
1 c. sugar
1 t. baking powder
1/8 t. salt
3 eggs
2 T. Amaretto
1 t. almond extract
1 t. vanilla extract
1 c. toasted chopped almonds (optional)
6 oz. vanilla almond bark or white chocolate
1/4 t. nutmeg

Pre-heat oven to 300°. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. 

In a bowl, combine first four ingredients with a whisk.  

In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, Amaretto, and extracts.  Add the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Fold in almonds.  The dough will be a bit sticky at this point but it'll all work out in the end. 

Turn out onto parchment paper and shape into two logs about 10 x 3 inches.  You may need to flour your hands to prevent the dough from sticking as you shape it.

Bake for 20-30 minutes or until firm and lightly golden brown.  Remove and cool. Using a serrated knife, slice log into 1/2 inch angled slices.  

Lay the slices cut side down on the sheet pan and bake an additional 20 minutes, flipping halfway thru baking time.  Let cool completely.  

In a bowl, microwave the almond bark and nutmeg, stirring every 15 seconds until melted.  Using a spoon, drizzle melted candy over biscotti.  Allow to set.
















11.23.2013

Roasted Red Pepper & Swiss Dip


As a blogger, I am supposed to follow these asinine guidelines on how to promote my blog.  {In 1950's announcer voice} "You too can be a popular blogger if you just follow these simple rules..."  It's really overwhelming and annoying and self-absorbed bullshit, in my opinion.  I am going to eat some Roasted Red Pepper & Swiss Dip while I contemplate it. (See, I followed one of the rules - "make sure you put the name of your recipe in the first paragraph so search engines ping it).

For example, I'm supposed to comment on a bunch of blogs in order to get my name out there.  Forget it. Ain't nobody got time for dat! As much as I love reading my favorite blogs, I just don't usually have anything to say because they usually cover just about everything.

As far as my Facebook page goes, I refuse to inundate everyone's news feed with blog promos when all anyone really wants to see on Facebook is someone else's failures. Am I right?


I realize I'm going to offend some people with this next opinion.  I apologize in advance.  I can't bloody stand link-ups.  I understand why people do it, for sure.  I know it's a good way to "get your name out there."  I am just absolutely annoyed to death by link-ups of any kind, and ignore any link that comes from a link-up. Those kinds of things feel so self-serving (I know, that's the point!) but I just can't bring myself to participate.


Don't get me wrong - I judge not.  I respect all bloggers' decisions regarding promoting their blogs.  And truth be told, their blogs are probably waaaaaaay more known than this little thing.  In the end, I guess they really are smarter and better!

Yes, I sound like a bitter, grumpy old lady.  I'll just grab my tea cup, set it on my doily, and have a little bit of this rich and decadent Roasted Red Pepper & Swiss Dip while I watch Golden Girls.



Roasted Red Pepper & Swiss Dip

12 oz. (3 cups) Swiss cheese, shredded
1/2 c. mayonnaise
1 bunch scallions, sliced
1 T. Dijon mustard
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
12 oz. jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
chives for garnish (optional)
Crackers, sliced bread, toast points for serving

Pre-heat oven to 400º.

Mix 2 cups Swiss cheese and next 5 ingredients in a large bowl.  Place in baking dish (fits in 8x8 inch dish or smaller).  Top with remaining cheese.  Bake 15-20 minutes or until bubbly.


11.05.2013

Cheesy Skillet Bread


This Cheesy Skillet Bread is a sort of combination of stuffing and cheesy bread pudding.  It's crunchy on the top and bottom (the best parts!) and the middle is cheesy and gooey and custard-y like bread pudding.  It's a great snack to munch during a football game.



Cheesy Skillet Bread

1 lb. baguette, cubed to 1/2 " pieces
2-2/3 c. chicken or vegetable broth
2 eggs
5 T. butter, divided
8 scallions, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz. Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

Pre-heat oven to 450° and set oven rack to upper-middle.

Place bread cubes on sheet pan and bake until light golden brown, 12-15 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

Whisk broth and eggs in a large bowl.  Add bread cubes and gently fold in until mixed well.  Set aside and fold over occasionally.

Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons butter in 12-inch non-stick oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat.  Add scallions and cook 5 minutes. Season to taste.  Add garlic and cook 30 seconds.  Stir green onion mixture into bread mixture.  Mix in shredded cheese.

Melt remaining 3 tablespoons butter in same skillet over low heat.  Add bread mixture to skillet, pressing down with a spatula.  Cook until bottom of bread is lightly browned.  Transfer skillet to oven and bake until center is hot and the top is golden and crunchy, 20-30 minutes.  Rotate skillet half-way thru baking.  Cool 10 minutes and serve.


10.19.2013

Autumn Applesauce & Apple Butter


We try to go apple-picking every year.  I picture a chilly crispness to the air, bundled in a cozy sweater, the scent of a crackling fire wafting around us, warm apple cider spiked with bourbon, and we five laughing and teasing as we pluck ripe red apples from the trees, discussing the various ways we'll use these delicious apples.  We will make apple pie, apple muffins, Apple Spice Hand Pies with Cinnamon Cream, applesauce, apple butter, apple cider, apple beer, and a lovely apple and parsnip mash.


Here's what really happens...  I insist we go apple picking even though 2 of the 5 of us (who shall remain nameless but both are male) don't want to go at all due to 1) having to spend time with the family (our son) and 2) there's sure to be many bees around and someone is terrified of bees (husband).  We all pile in the SUV and head out to the orchard.


Just as we arrive, it starts to sprinkle.  Fantastic.  And it went from 80° and sunny to chilly and damp.  Then one of our daughters decided to pick that day and that time to declare her hatred for her sister simply because we only had one apple picking stick and had to share.  I mean, seriously.  Sharing blows.


She was grumpy and whiny and difficult while the rest of us were trying to make the best of it.  It did stop spitting rain on us.  The temperature increased to a comfortable 75°.  Our son took over the camera and was enjoying himself, at least as much as a 16 year old man-boy with his family can.


The lady who owns and runs the orchard goes on the honor system if she's not there. She leaves a bucket out on an old patio table near the orchard entrance and trusts you to pay for what you take. She leaves plastic bags and apple pickers to use at your leisure. And she almost always has some cookies sitting out for anyone to have a snack after apple-picking.


She wasn't there when we first arrived, so we went on our merry way picking apples. Later she came out to greet us and see if we needed any help finding the good ones. Her enormous orange tabby was faithfully following behind her. When I mentioned that our youngest kid had her grumpy pants on, she told her that the best way to get rid of the grumpies is to jump up and down as hard as you can. So Ms. Grumpy jumped up and down, giggling.


This kind lady told me a story of her childhood.  When she was a little girl, she used to love to go to a neighbor "grandma's" property.  She had an apple orchard and always had cookies for her to munch on. She loved picking the apples and feeding them to the horses so much that when she got older, she bought an orchard and horses and became that "grandma."  And she makes sure to always have cookies on hand for the little ones.


Adjust the quantities of sugar and spices to suit your tastes.  Put the sauce and butter into mason jars and freeze for later use.  The applesauce is particularly delicious while still warm, on it's own or spooned over vanilla bean ice cream.

Applesauce
20 servings

20 apples, cored and chunked
2 c. water or apple juice
4 T. cinnamon
2 c. brown sugar

Mix all ingredients in a dutch oven or slow-cooker.  Cook over medium-low heat in dutch oven until the apples are softened, 3-6 hours.  In slow-cooker, cook on low for 6 hours or so.  Puree to desired consistency using a blender or immersion blender.  For a chunkier applesauce, puree half and mix together.


Apple Butter
20 servings

20 apples, cored and chunked
2-1/2 c. brown sugar
1 T. cinnamon
1 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. ground cloves

Mix all ingredients in a dutch oven or slow-cooker.  Cook over medium-low heat in dutch oven until the apples are softened and the mixture is a dark brown.  In a slow-cooker, cook on low for 9-11 hours or until dark brown.  Puree in food processor, blender, or using immersion blender.



10.01.2013

Vegetarian Pulled Pork



You're probably asking: how the hell do you make a vegetarian pulled pork sandwich? Especially one that looks nearly identical to real pulled pork!  The answer is Jackfruit. What the hell is Jackfruit?  It is the fruit of a tree native to South and Southeast Asia, but it's also grown in India, Africa, and the Caribbean. Jackfruit can be eaten raw when ripe, and the flavor is a sweet mixture of pineapple, bananas, and apples. When it's unripe, it needs to be cooked.  Which brings us to the pulled "pork."


My husband, also a vegetarian, and his band played a wedding reception for a vegan bride.  The food service consisted of pulled pork and vegetarian pulled pork. He took one look at the vegetarian one and moved on, convinced someone was playing a joke. Later, he learned from the bride that it was in fact vegan, so he dove head-first into the BBQ Jackfruit.  This is how I learned about my new bestie, Mr. Jackfruit.


I have since done a lot of research on this very bizarre fruit, including buying one from the Indian market we frequent. Unfortunately it rotted within a few days so I didn't get a chance to cook with it. So I made a trip to the Asian market and purchased an obscene amount of canned Jackfruit and avoided the fresh ones. By the way, when fresh, they look like gigantic avocados with spikes all over. They truly are fugly as hell, and I'd be scared if I didn't know what they were.


I apologize for the terrible photo quality.  I had only my phone with me and I was getting dirty looks from the workers in the Asian market.  And forgive my thumb in the lower left.  I'm an idiot.

And apparently there are quite a few vegetarians and vegans who can't eat Jackfruit, simply because it looks so damn much like pulled pork or chicken that it grosses them out too much.  I admit, I had a bit of the same reaction, but being the selfless human that I am, I took one for the team and plowed through.


This recipe is really 3 recipes in one. There's the dry rub, BBQ sauce, and pulled "pork" sandwiches. Feel free to substitute or eliminate the dry rub marinade time if you want. You can sub your favorite bottled BBQ sauce as well.


The dry rub and sauce is a bit spicy. If you don't like it as hot, reduce the amount of chili powder. If you like it sweeter, add more brown sugar. The recipe below is our favorite, but adjust to your family's tastes.



Vegetarian Pulled "Pork"
This recipe makes 8 healthy sized pulled "pork" sandwiches. You will have about 1/4 cup of dry rub left over for another use as well as 1 cup of sauce for serving with the sandwiches if someone likes them extra wet.

Dry Rub (makes about 1-1/4 c)
4 T. kosher salt
2 T. hot Mexican chili powder
2 T. onion powder
2 T. garlic powder
2 T. cumin
2 T. brown sugar
2 T. smoked paprika
1 T. celery salt
1 t. cayenne
1 t. black pepper

BBQ Sauce
1 T. vegetable oil
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c. dry rub
2 c. ketchup
1/2 c. apple cider vinegar
1/4 c. molasses
1/2 t. liquid smoke

Jackfruit Pulled "Pork"
3 cans Jackfruit in brine or water, drained and rinsed
1/4 c. dry rub

Make the dry rub by combining all ingredients in a bowl.

In your slow cooker insert, toss together 1/4 c. dry rub and the rinsed and drained Jackfruit. Set aside while you make the sauce.

To make the BBQ Sauce,  heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion and saute 5-10 minutes or until softened and beginning to brown. Add the garlic and cook an additional 30 seconds. Mix in the dry rub and cook 30 seconds, stirring. Add in the remaining ingredients and simmer gently for 30 minutes (if you have time).

Set aside 1 cup or so of the sauce for serving, if desired. Pour the remaining sauce into the slow cooker insert with the Jackfruit. Add about 1/2 can of water and stir together. Set slow cooker to low and cook for 4-6 hours, stirring occasionally.

Serve piled on hamburger buns or in tacos.