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.







9.17.2013

Double Chocolate Fudge Brownies


Please don't be alarmed by the first ingredient.  I know, I was a bit nervous too.  Forget the beans because you can't even taste them.  Let's concentrate on how these Double Chocolate Fudge Brownies are chocolaty and fudgey.  Without the eggs to make them rise high like a cake (or Kate Moss), they remain dense and... well... fudge-like.  There's not a lot of flour to mute the chocolate taste.  And even with minimal sugar, the ripe banana contributes some natural sweetness along with the chocolate.  The molasses or coffee really adds depth to these rich, gooey, bites.


This recipe requires no mixer, no special equipment (other than a food processor or blender), and it doesn't create a million dirty dishes.  It actually comes together quite quickly so it's an easy dessert to throw together in the morning or after lunch for an after-dinner treat.


So what the hell is the difference between vegan and vegetarian, anyway?  In it's most basic definition, vegetarians do not eat animal flesh at all and vegans don't eat anything that at one point came from an animal. A vegetarian would eat a black bean burger with cheese and a side of mac 'n cheese with vanilla pudding for dessert.  Damn, that actually sounds pretty good...  Ok, so a vegan would not eat any of that since the pudding, and the cheese on the burger and in the pasta contains dairy.

There are varying degrees of strictness to the food choices one makes too.  Some vegetarians and vegans eat fish.  Some vegans will not eat honey, drink certain wines and beers (made using isinglass from the swim bladders of fish), eat crackers or bread made with milk ingredients, or even Worcestershire sauce (made from anchovies).

Whether or not you eat flesh with a face, these brownies are truly bad ass.  You'll love them.  Really.



Double Chocolate Fudge Brownies (vegan or not)
Makes 16 small brownies

1 c. canned black beans (about 2/3 of a can), rinsed and drained
1/2 c. sugar
3 T. canola oil
4 T. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ripe banana
2 T. molasses or instant coffee (depending on your tastes)
2 t. vanilla extract
1/2 c. flour
2 t. baking powder
pinch salt
1 c. milk chocolate or vegan chocolate chips, divided
1/2 c. chopped nuts (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 350°.  Grease 8-inch square pan.

In a food processor, puree the beans, sugar, and oil.  Add the cocoa powder, banana, molasses or coffee, and vanilla and puree until smooth, about 1 minute.  Pour into large bowl.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.  Add to the bean mixture and gently stir until just combined without over-mixing.  Fold in 3/4 c. chocolate chips.  Pour batter into the prepared pan.  Sprinkle remaining 1/4 c. chocolate chips over the top.

Bake for 20-30 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean.  Cool in pan on wire rack then refrigerate.

Adapted from Vegan on the Cheap Chocolate Surprise Brownies


9.05.2013

Strawberry Pretzel Salad



If you were a classy lady living in the 1950's, chances are you were well acquainted with the Jell-o salad. This was a very popular way to get one's vegetables.  Yes, vegetables were thrown into a Jell-o mold, turned out onto a platter and served as a salad.  Nowadays, we are much more sophisticated with our Jell-o. We add fruit and salty snacks to make Strawberry Pretzel Salad.


My grandma was born in 1924, and was a stay-at-home mom during the 50's.  And right up until her death several years ago, she would make a Jell-o salad to go with dinner.  It was usually lime Jell-o with carrots shavings and raisins, and (I'm so sorry, Grandma, if you can hear me from the Other Side!) it was awful.  We would all secretly cringe and cower when the jiggling mass of green was presented.  Anyone remember Aunt Bethany's Jell-o mold with the cat food in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation??


In case you're scared as hell right now, let me assure you that this Jell-o "salad" is amazing.  (Although I have no idea why it's called a salad; it's a damn dessert.)  It's actually pretty popular Mid-Western picnic fare. But most people make it with strawberry Jell-o (dyes and chemicals and artificial flavoring) and Cool-Whip (oils). Again we go back to the nasty Jell-o salad days.  Let's make this real, people. Strawberries (real), whipped cream cheese (real), and a pretzel crust (real) combine together to make a sweet, creamy, salty, crunchy dessert that is out-of-this-world summertime good.

And a word of warning ~ gelatin is not vegetarian.  If you don't know what it is, I won't disgust you with the details (which are definitely vomit-inducing), but suffice it to say that if you're vegan, you won't be doing traditional Jell-o shots.


Strawberry Pretzel Salad

6-1/2 oz. pretzel sticks (not rods)
2-1/4 c. sugar
12 T. butter, melted
8 oz. cream cheese
1 c. heavy cream
3 lbs. frozen strawberries, thawed
1/4 t. salt
4-1/4 t. unflavored gelatin (2 packets, I think)
1/2 c. cold water

Pre-heat oven to 400°.  Spray 9x13 pan with cooking spray.

Pulse pretzels and sugar in food processor until coarsely ground.  Add butter and pulse until combined.  Pour into pan and pat down well.  Bake 10 minutes, rotating half-way thru.  Let cool 20 minutes.

In bowl of electric mixer and using whisk attachment, beat cream cheese and 1/2 cup sugar until fluffy. While running on med-high, add cream in steady stream.  Beat until soft peaks form.  Spread over pretzels and refrigerate 30 minutes.

In food processor (no need to clean), puree 2 lbs. of strawberries 30 seconds.  Strain thru fine mesh strainer, pressing on solids, over medium saucepan.  Add 1-1/2 cups sugar and salt to saucepan and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, until sugar is dissolved.  Set aside.

Pour cold water into large bowl.  Sprinkle gelatin over and let sit 5 minutes.  Whisk strawberry puree into gelatin.  Slice remaining strawberries and stir into mixture. Refrigerate until mixture starts to cling to sides of bowl.  Pour over whipped cream cheese and refrigerate 4 or more hours until set up.


Adapted from Cooks Country Aug/Sept 2013

8.29.2013

Zucchini Bread



You may have already blown thru your abundance of zucchini this summer.  I know my personal supply is done, but the farm stand down the street still has zucchini. And I'm sure everyone has their favorite zucchini bread recipe.  Here's mine!


I started with a two beautiful green and yellow zucchini, equaling about a pound.  That's why the flecks of yummy zucchini goodness in the photos are yellow.  Plus it gives it a homey autumn-y feel.



Zucchini Bread

1 lb. zucchini
2 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1-1/2 t. cinnamon
1 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. allspice
1/2 t. salt
1-1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. plain yogurt
2 eggs
1 T. lemon juice
6 T. melted, cooled butter

Pre-heat oven to 375°.  Spray 9x5 inch loaf pan.

Shred zucchini on large holes on box grater.  Squeeze as dry as you can.

Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices, and salt in a large bowl.  Whisk sugar, yogurt, eggs, lemon juice, and butter in a separate bowl.  Add wet ingredients and zucchini to dry ingredients and fold gently to combine.

Pour into loaf pan and bake for 45-55 minutes, or until toothpick comes out with a few crumbs.  Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and continue to cool.


Adapted from Cooks Country

8.15.2013

Tomatoes 101


Tomatoes are the pure gold of the summer harvests.  They are sweet, juicy, flavorful, and abundant.  There's nothing like picking tomatoes straight off the vine on a July afternoon and tearing into it like an apple, juice running down your chin and arm.


I've learned a few things about tomatoes that I want to share.  There have been many times I wish I'd had a tomato guide.  And can I tell you how many times I've seen someone pull a tomato out of their (gasp!!) fridge?  Oh, and how I've longed to scold them like a tantrum-throwing toddler for flat out ruining that tomato!   Yeah, I can be a bitch like that.  In lieu of that, I've complied some of my favorite tips and tricks, as well as links to several bad-ass recipes with tomatoes as the starring ingredient.



Tomatoes ~ Everything You Wanted to Know 

Storage:  

  • Whatever you do, no matter what, NEVER store tomatoes in the refrigerator.  The cold temperature breaks down the cell walls, making the flesh mealy and gritty and tasteless.  Ahhhhhh, I can tell by your reaction you know exactly what I'm talking about.  That nasty, flavorless, sand-textured tomato came out of your fridge. 
  • Keep tomatoes on your counter, stem-side down until ready to use.  Sealing off the "opening" prevents oxygen from getting in and spoiling.

Buying:
  • A good tomato will be firm enough to resist pressure, but not so firm it's hard as a rock.  It will have no blemishes or bruises, and no soft spots.  A juicy tomato will feel heavy for it's size.
  • If you can't grow your own or purchase from a farmer's market, good luck finding a good tomato. The supermarket ones are generally total shit. They are usually picked green and unripe, transported in cooler cars, and sprayed with ethylene gas to ripen.  Holy nastiness.  The best bet for a grocery store tomato is the grape or cherry tomatoes.  

Flavor:
  • Believe it or not, the most flavor is held in the seeds and jelly of a tomato. Most of us get rid of that stuff because it waters down the other ingredients.  But if you can help it, try and save it.  You can even reduce it on the stove for a bit to make it less watery.

Prepping:
  • Peeling:  Because tomatoes are so delicate, they are very difficult to peel without blanching.  First core the tomato.  Then blanch in boiling water for 15 seconds or until you see the skin split.  Plunge in ice water, then peel with a paring knife.
  • Slicing:  Slicing tomatoes without a serrated knife can be impossible unless you use a razor sharp knife. Forget squashing the fruit and use a serrated or steak knife.
  • Salting:  If you must remove the liquid from tomatoes for your recipe, you can cut them into wedges, salt them, place on paper towels, and drain for 15 minutes.  

Ripening:
  • If you need your tomatoes to ripen faster than sitting on the counter, you can place them in a paper bag.  Tomatoes release ethylene gas as they ripen and the paper bag contains it.
  • Green tomatoes won't ripen to red.  Skip the bullshit and fry those suckers up (Fried Green Tomatoes with Chipotle Buttermilk Dip).

Canned Tomatoes:
  • Delicious!  I usually steer clear of canned foods (except for beans) but canned tomatoes rock.  Use them in any application where they are cooked.

Health:
  • Tomatoes contain lots of healthy vitamins and minerals.
    • Lycopene (anti-cancer)
    • Folic acid
    • Vitamins A, C, & E
    • Beta-carotene (antioxidant)
    • Phytoene and phytofluene (anti-cancer)
  • Eating tomatoes cuts your risk of many diseases.
    • Ovarian cancer
    • Digestive issues
    • Prostate cancer
    • Asthma and chronic lung disease
    • Cardiovascular disease

Growing:
  • Plant in either the ground or in a large pot.
  • Bury two-thirds of the plant in the ground, branches included.  This will insure that the entire stem that is underground will grow roots, providing a strong root structure for your plant.  I wouldn't do it with other plants, though, as they suffocate.
  • Make sure the spot gets at least 6 hours of sunlight per day.
  • At the time of planting, put a stake or tomato cage in as well.  Doing it while the plant is small prevents damaging the roots of a bigger plant.
  • Water when the soil is dry.  During the hot-as-hell summer, this may be daily.  
  • Feed with organic fertilizer not nasty chemicals, please.

Recipes: