Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Comfort and Joy- Mashed Potatoes and Mac and Cheese

I got a new issue of Simple and Delicious magazine and I bet you can guess the theme..."Classic Comforts!" I usually find one or two recipes to try in each magazine but this time I found seven! The first two have been moderate successes, so I thought I would share them with you.

Recipe number one was "Crunchy Mashed Potatoes." I will admit that it had me at "1 and 1/2 cups cheddar french-fried onions." I love those things. This recipe was so easy that it actually came together too fast. I barely had time to get everything together. I also try to clean as I go and put away ingredients that I've already used (a habit of cooking in a small kitchen for five years) but there was not a second to spare. Once the three cups of chicken broth came to a boil it was non-stop action for all of 30 seconds. I'm not joking. I added 1 cup of milk, 1 pressed garlic glove, 1/4 tsp of pepper, 3 cups of potato flakes, and 1/4 cup sour cream and whisked until it was smooth. Then it went into a casserole dish, got sprinkled with the french -fried onions and 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese, and went under the broiler for about 1 minute. I didn't even have enough time to zap hot dogs in the microwave. Fancy dinner huh? I joke, but Brett was soooo happy to have hot dogs.

It tasted good, but Brett and I concluded that it needed butter. I also conferred with my mom (the queen of potato flakes) and she uses evaporated milk instead of regular, which adds creaminess.

The second recipe that I tried was called "Spirals and Cheese." This one used a lot of pots, which I don't like, but was very easy, which I do like. While 3 and 1/2 cups of rotini were cooking to just underdone, I melted 3 T of butter combined it with 3 T of flour and gradually added 3 cups of milk. When that had thickened after a couple of minutes, I added 2 cups of cheddar cheese, 1/2 a cup of parmesan cheese, and 1/2 tsp each of salt and pepper.

I drained the pasta, and poured it all back into the same pot and then added the cheese sauce. It was very thin. So thin that I thought I had done something wrong. I poured it all into a baking dish and crossed my fingers.

In yet another pot I melted 1 T of butter and added 1/2 cup of dry bread crumbs, 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese, and 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese. This only took about 10 seconds of stirring and then I sprinkled it all over the noodle mixture.

It went into the 400 degree oven for 20 minutes and came out perfect. It did taste good, but it was a little bland. We think it could have used some cajun seasoning or bacon... or both. Three pots and one casserole dish later I was starting to think how much I like Kraft macaroni and cheese.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Gingerbread House

Over the weekend Brett started work on his gingerbread house. Sunday night he mixed up a double batch of dough.

Monday night he meticulously rolled, measured, and cut the walls, roof, and base of his house. Before baking he placed Jolly Ranchers in the window holes. When the cookies baked the Jolly Ranchers melted and formed translucent window panes. We were so excited that this technique worked! I think we had seen someone do it years ago on the Food Network and we finally got around to trying it. Don't try this without a Silpat; it would be a disaster! When everything cooled, the cookies and windows pulled right off without a hitch.

Wednesday night Brett whipped up some royal icing and got to work on construction. Compared to the measuring and baking, the construction was relatively fast- only 3 hours! We made a path out of M&M's, a door out of Hershey bar, and a gate/trellis/arbor/whatever-you-call-it out of candy canes. Brett also carefully piped little picket fences onto the Silpat. My only real contribution (because nibbling on M&M's and candy canes doesn't count) to this whole project was the little chimney made out of red M&M's.

We wanted the roof to be good and dry before we added shingles, so Thursday night was Andes mint shingles night! Brett also plucked the fences right off the Silpat and secured them to the base with royal icing. He added some finishing touches and just barely had enough icing.

I've made a video of some of the process and included some of the still photos that I took before I remembered we have a video camera. We got a free Flip video camera for paying our cable bill on time two months in a row! I actually really like it, so you may see more videos popping up on the blog... if there's something interesting enough to video. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas Candies

Brett and I spent a good majority of the weekend in the kitchen (we spent a minority of the weekend watching a Ninja Warrior marathon) and we ended up using almost five sticks of butter. Yes, that sounds like a lot. Yes, I feel like Ina Garten or Paula Deen. No, we did not eat all that butter, nor will we be consuming it over an extended period of time. In today's post I will be telling you how we used two and a half sticks of butter. I will save the other two for my next post.

I got it in my head that I wanted to make homemade peppermint patties. We've made homemade fondant filling for candy before, but it was a sticky, goopy, time-consuming, arm-deadening disaster. It was one of those things that could not get any worse, so it had to be better the second time! Making fondant requires a candy thermometer and a strong stirring arm. We heated 1 and 1/3 cups of water, 1/3 cup light corn syrup, 1/4 cup of butter, 4 cups of sugar, 1/4 tsp cream of tartar, and 1/8 tsp salt to 240 degrees. I manned the thermometer while Brett washed the sides of the saucepan with a wet pastry brush.

Brett poured the liquid into a 9x13 pan and we left it in the fridge until the pan didn't feel warm anymore.

Then the stirring began. We soon added 1/4 tsp of peppermint extract. It starts out thick and sticky.

We worked in shifts. When my hand hurt or my arm got tired, Brett would take over. For a while it seemed to firm up a little, but the second it felt like it was actually getting thinner, we let it rest. The last time Brett made this all by himself and he stirred it for an hour before he let it rest. We try to learn from our mistakes. After about thirty minutes we let it rest for five and this made all the difference in the world.

It quickly turned to this:

Then we formed it into little peppermint patty fillings. Brett's are the beautiful, perfectly round ones and mine are the lumpy, misshapen ones. We ended up with 136! We let them rest overnight to come to room temperature and form a little crust before we dipped them in semi-sweet chocolate.

Sooooo messy! But sooooo fun! I pretty much licked chocolate off my hands for lunch. (Don't worry, I washed them before touching any candies again.)

Isn't our tree cute? Can you spot Homer, Marge, Bart, and Lisa? Can you believe that this is our fifth married Christmas, yet our first Christmas tree?

Our next endeavor was the Coffee Toffees that I saw on Zoe's blog recently. This time Brett manned the thermometer while I whisked the butter, sugar, brown sugar, molasses, water, and instant coffee powder together. Brett was not pleased with the heating rate, so we cranked it up to medium-high.

Every sugar challenge I've watched on Food Network warns of the dangers of sugar burns, so I let Brett's steady hand do the pouring. I love sil-pats! I spread the sugar out with a flat spatula as quickly as I could and then Brett got ready with the pizza wheel. The recipe said to work quickly before the sugar hardened, but we actually worked too quickly. Brett's gentle cuts (so we wouldn't damage one of our beloved sil-pats) were going back together almost immediately so he kept rotating through and making new cuts until they finally stayed.

The mixture came to room temperature pretty quickly and was soon ready to be broken along the cut lines.
I dipped these in melted semi- sweet chocolate using a fork instead of my fingers.

Overall, our candy turned out delicious. I can't even begin to choose a favorite. The only problem we had was when the chocolate hardened. Some of our pieces "bloomed." This means that the chocolate became discolored. I actually think that it looks kind of neat. Some of the mints got little lizard spots on them. The discoloration does not affect the flavor at all, so I really don't care, but it is something to study up on for improving our candies next time.

We shipped tins of our candies to loved ones across the country as our little attempt at spreading some Christmas cheer. Afterall, who doesn't love homemade goodies?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Mamma's Cornbread Dressing

Every year at Thanksgiving my grandma makes her cornbread dressing and every year it is one of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving. The recipe is no secret. She gladly shares it. I've tried to make it with disastrous results. The first time there was WAY too much sage. But I followed the recipe! So I asked Mamma, "Are you sure there's 1 Tablespoon of sage?" She was sure. The second time I tried to make it it was WAY too soupy. "Mamma, are you sure there are 5 cups of chicken broth?" She was sure.

You know what they say about the third time? I went with my gut (instead of the recipe) and it was indeed the charm.

I prepped all of the ingredients, which for this recipe means to make some cornbread in advance, boil and chop 4 eggs, and chop onions and celery.

Cornbread was one of the first things I ever made on my own, so I should know what I'm doing, but for whatever reason (I'll blame the oven) this cornbread needed to cook much longer than normal. I had already cut it up before I realized that the center was still batter. Oops!

In addition to the cornbread, you are supposed to tear up a few pieces of white bread. I had two sandwich rolls that were "on their way out" so I started tearing those up into a bowl. About half way through the first roll, I glanced at the other roll and saw a green dot of mold. Ugh! I sifted back through the torn pieces and found one green spot that I took out. I really hope that was it. The other roll went in the trash.

When I added the sage I went with one teaspoon instead of one Tablespoon. Despite what Mamma says, I'm convinced that there's a typo in my recipe.

I stirred up all the dry ingredients and then I poured a melted stick of butter over everything and started adding chicken broth. Instead of pouring in five cups and calling it a day, I poured a little, stirred it up, and then poured some more. I got it to the consistency I like after about 3 cups (a little soupy) gave it a taste for seasoning (see I'm learning!) and then added the raw eggs.

I baked it off, and I must say that it turned out pretty darn close to Mamma's, although not quite as good of course. Yum!

Mamma's Cornbread Dressing (with Kim's aforementioned tweaks)
1 pan of cornbread
3-4 slices of white bread
4 eggs, boiled and chopped
3 eggs, raw
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 Tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon sage
3-4 cups of chicken broth (enough to make slightly soupy)

Mix cornbread and white bread crumbs in a large bowl. Add salt, pepper, and sage. Mix well. Add onion, celery, and boiled eggs. Mix well. Add melted butter and gradually add in the broth. Mix well. Add raw eggs. Mix well.

Pour into a greased 13x9 inch baking dish. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Blackberry French Toast

My mom found this recipe in a recent issue of Southern Living and tried it out on us while we were in California for Thanksgiving. Brett and I are known for eating breakfast for dinner, but this is one of those breakfasts that could easily pass as a dessert, so that's what I did! I also halved the recipe for just the two of us because the whole recipe makes a ton.

First I cubed up half a loaf of french bread and put half of the cubes in a greased casserole dish.

Then I melted 1/2 a cup of seedless blackberry jam over medium heat for a couple of minutes.

Then I cubed up half a block of Neufchatel cheese (you could use 1/3 less fat cream cheese) and sprinkled them on top of the bread cubes. I made sure to make really small cubes. The one improvement I wanted to make over my mom's was to have less overwhelmingly "cream cheesy" bites.

Then I poured the melted jam over that and topped it with the rest of the bread cubes.

In a separate bowl I whisked together 2 eggs, 1 cup of milk (the recipe calls for half and half), 1/2 a tsp of vanilla, and 1 tsp of cinnamon. Oops! It was supposed to be 1/2 a tsp of cinnamon (I forgot to half it) so i tried to get a little out before starting to whisk. I love cinnamon and I don't think it hurt the dish at all.

I poured the liquid evenly over the bread cubes making sure to get every single one wet. (I didn't want a crunchy crouton layer on top after it had baked.) Then I sprinkled 1/4 cup of brown sugar over the whole thing. I covered it up and let it sit in the refrigerator for almost 24 hours. The recipe recommends 8-24 hours, so it's a great dish to throw together the night before, whether you're having breakfast or dessert the following day.

The next day I baked it with a lid on for 20 minutes at 325 degrees, then took the lid off and baked it for 10 more minutes.

It was delicious...again! As a dessert I might call it blackberry bread pudding instead of french toast because it has the same texture and similar flavors (except for the cream cheese.) Also, even though I made smaller cubes of cream cheese there were still some distinct cream cheese bites. I wonder if it would work to melt the cream cheese with the jam so that I could pour it evenly over the bread cubes? I may just try that next time.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mom's Chili

I was doing so well with the New England weather. I was able to go out on a fifty degree day and comment on how nice the weather was. I even appreciated the weekly rain that never fell on San Diego. However, I've had a setback that can be summed up in three words: Thanksgiving in California. I spent the last week sitting outside in a t-shirt for hours, getting hot in a light jacket, and (I'm ashamed to say) complaining when the temperature dipped down into the sixties and we had to go inside. It was a big setback. I returned to near freezing temps in Massachusetts. I was in bad need of some really good chili.

My mom's recipe has won some chili cook-offs in the past, and it is incredibly easy to make. I did make a couple of changes, but followed the same basic recipe. I used ground turkey instead of ground beef. For whatever reason, I have grown accustomed to ground turkey and actually prefer it to ground beef. So that's just what I buy now. Not by choice, I had to buy regular pinto beans. My new grocery store does not carry Ranch Style beans. If you have access to Ranch Style beans I highly recommend that you use them. I could swear that they have the same secret ingredient as Coca-Cola. I have licked my fingers after draining a can, and it has a hint of Coke! So delicious! I also substituted garlic powder for garlic salt and didn't notice a difference.

I sauteed a chopped medium onion in 2 T of butter until the pieces were soft.

I added one package of ground turkey (I think it's 1.3 pounds) and cooked it until I couldn't see any more pink. Then I drained off the fat.

Next I added a 46 oz bottle of tomato juice, a 15 oz can of beans, 2 T of chili powder, and garlic powder, salt, and pepper to taste. That's pretty much it!

After simmering for 30 minutes, the liquid thickens up a little and it is ready to eat!

I like mine with lots of cheddar cheese. Not quite the same as Mom's, but almost as yummy, and certainly satisfying on a cold December night!