Monthly Archives

September 2009

Sweet Mistakes

September 30, 2009

I am posting today in keeping with my promise to share both triumphs and failures in the kitchen. While I hope the balance remains heavily on the triumphs side of the scale, today’s post might best be classified as a failure. But, as is often the case with baking disasters, something quite delicious and unexpected can often come from a botched attempt at something else. Herein lies the story of these Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffles with Pecans.

While at work yesterday, I was struck with something I thought would be a brilliant chocolate creation. Looking back, it seems like a terrible idea that was not thought out properly, but that’s the agony of hindsight, isn’t it? Everything seems clearer looking back. But back to the idea, homemade dark chocolate candy bars filled with caramel, coconut, and pecans and topped with melted peanut butter baking chips.

I melted dark chocolate and dolloped a couple tablespoons into each cupcake liner, followed by the caramel, coconut, and pecans. Then, melted the peanut butter chips and capped each chocolate creation off with a generous scoop. In my head, the chocolate would harden, leaving a gooey caramel center and a firm peanut butter top, like a candy bar. In the morning, I realized the sheer magnitude of my creations, and not in a good way. They might have been successful, had I used about 1/8 of the chocolate and peanut butter chips, but what I ended up with were chocolate bricks in the shape of cupcakes – enough to make most people sick to their stomachs after a few bites.

Standing in the kitchen in my pajamas, I felt disappointment start to creep in. Because of the expense of baking, and being that it’s not exactly a necessity (though some may beg to differ), I focus most of my foodie energy into meals, saving the baking for trips home when I can raid my mom’s pantry. When I do bite the bullet and buy baking supplies, I want whatever I am making to turn out well. I took a breath, cleared my head, and decided that these bricks in front of me could be molded into something much more delicious.

Melting them down was my first course of action, though I didn’t know what I would do afterwards. I placed everything, coconut, caramel, pecans, dark chocolate, and peanut butter chocolate into a pan and began the process of melting it, hoping for some sort of silky goodness. What I got instead was a consistency more akin to cookie dough than melted chocolate.

Confused as to what I should do next, I transferred the chocolate dough to a bowl and added a cup of creamy peanut butter, after which I formed the dough into 1-inch balls. Realizing these now were fairly similar to chocolate truffles, I rolled them in cocoa powder and placed each truffle in its own paper baking liner. The result? Pure
chocolatey peanut butter deliciousness! The pecans gave them a nice crunch, and surprisingly, they stayed soft. I would love to give you the recipe, but it will have to wait until I am able to try them again, this time intentionally. Here’s to making disasters in the kitchen something worth savoring!



Southern Comfort

September 28, 2009

Think about the foods that make you feel like you’re home. What are they? Cookies, lasagna, a favorite pie, or maybe a soup. A few things come to mind when I think about home-cooking. My mom’s meatballs, beef stew with biscuits, and a fresh garden salad with poppyseed-balsamic dressing. But really, for me, it’s all about the Southern cooking. We’re talking grits, pinto beans with ham, cornbread with butter, and rice. My dad’s side of the family comes from the South, and while I would never classify either of my parents as classic Southern cooks, I have developed a taste for the best of what the South has to offer.

My taste buds prefer sweet barbecue pulled-pork sandwiches, and cornbread should always be salty and served with butter. And let’s not even start on sweet tea. So it’s really no surprise that one of the top priorities, aside from family time, on my trip to North Carolina was to get some of that good Southern cooking. Funny as it may be, I just love Cracker Barrel, so to Cracker Barrel we went (twice).

While there, I treated myself to grilled Trout, pinto beans, chicken tenders, and indulged a bit in cornbread muffins and fried okra. The pictures just don’t do this food justice, but then again, I don’t think Southern food was made with the intention to be photographically beautiful. Nope, just looked at the pitctures again, not nearly as pretty as it was tasty.

It was a short trip, less than 24 hours in North Carolina, but a beautiful time regardless. Just returning to my grandma’s house, and spending time with a woman who seems much more like Mrs. Claus than any shopping mall impersonation, and getting to listen to her tell stories of our family history for hours was one of the most wondrous things I’ve done in a long time. Family really is the most beautiful gift of all, and when food traditions are added in, it’s all the better!


Outstanding Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

September 25, 2009

 Allow yourself a couple extra minutes to read this post. Settle in, kick up your feet, and take a trip to The Hamptons withme, East Hampton to be precise. We would drive up a long gravel driveway and pull up to a rather large house, which wouldn’t be all that unusual considering the neighborhood we are in. In fact, it would look much like every other house if not for an unusual structure across the yard from the main building. At first glance, it looks like a barn, until we get closer and realize that it’s so much more than a building used to house farm animals. 

The scents wafting from this unusually beautiful barn are tempting and sweet, urging us to pick up our pace and discover the source of this decadent aroma. We knock on the door, because barns don’t have doorbells of course. A few moments pass before the door swings gently open. In the doorway stands none other than The Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten, holding a plate of the most delicious-looking cookies we have ever seen. Because she is The Barefoot Contessa and always ready for company, she invites us in to enjoy these sweet treats. It’s like having your mom bake you cookies as a child, but this time you are an adult, and The Barefoot Contessa has taken over mom’s post. 
In reality, I am a fraud. I don’t know what Ina Garten’s home in The Hamptons looks like, or where her barn is situated on the property. And I’m guessing she is not sitting around, baking cookies, waiting for complete strangers to trespass on her property so she can invite them in with open arms and a plate of hot cookies. But to me, that is Ina, warm and affable and a truly amazing cook and hostess to even the most insignificant of guests. 

When my own mother bought me The Barefoot Contessa’s Back to Basics cookbook, I was skeptical. Could anything replace the all-encompassing and flawless Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook? I was willing to give it a try, at least for the sake of being a gracious gift-receiver. From the first recipe, I was captured. One after another, each recipe as flawless as the last, Ina Garten’s fresh and minimal recipes were exactly as I aim to make my own. While I tested out the savory recipes, my mom embraced the sweets. 

If ever there were a professional cookie connoisseur certification, my mom would certainly have a framed certificate of her very own. So when she began to rave about the oatmeal raisin cookies from Ina’s book, I knew they must be something special. It was months before I came home from college and tried one of these cookies. In the meantime, many a night I would call to chat with my mom, only to find out she was baking yet another batch of cookies to share with friends, family, and co-workers. 

The minute I bit into one of these little treats myself, I was sold. Crispy edges, chewy centers, chock full of oatmeal, raisins, and toasted pecans, I can’t imagine a better cookie. Unfortunately I can’t share the recipe with you all, for fear of copyright infringement, but I can tell you these cookies make buying the cookbook worth it. Even if you do not like anything else in the entire book…. it’s all about these cookies. When we make them at home, they are usually larger than the ones I’ve made here. Over-sized, wrapped in cellophane, and tied with ribbon, they make the perfect gift. Something about these cookies whispers sophistication, just as I imagine Ina herself would. 

Heading down south to North Carolina with my dad to see my grandma this weekend. Expect some great Southern food to be featured in my next post. Yum! 


Turkey Burgers with Broccoli Tomato Salad

September 23, 2009

Tired. The word of the day, week, and maybe even the month! It’s not so much the kind of tired that you feel when you had one night of bad rest, but rather, the kind of exhaustion you feel when that one night of bad rest becomes multiple nights and tasks and responsibilities pile up. I don’t have kids or a family, but I think I’m beginning to understand why so many moms resort to the help of take-out when exhaustion settles in.

But let’s be honest, take-out can be a minefield to navigate. Often expensive and unhealthy, sometimes getting back in the kitchen is truly the best option. Truth be told, it dinner doesn’t have to be an elaborate production. There are nights for that, and then there are nights when it’s just about nutrition and fuel, and if it tastes great, count it a bonus.

So while this may not be the definition of culinary brilliance, it does meet the basic requirements of a healthy, tasty, weeknight-friendly meal. A nice way to add a little extra weight to this meal would be to put the turkey burger on a whole-wheat roll with some typical burger toppings, like lettuce and tomato. The salad oh so good! Chopped broccoli, tomatoes, feta cheese, and a bit of balsamic vinaigrette make it super simple. Serve it cold and enjoy the leftovers for lunch.

Turkey Burgers:
*1 lb. ground turkey
*2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
*1/2 tsp. salt
*1 tsp. Italian seasoning
*1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Mix together the above ingredients and form into 4 patties. Grill or pan-fry over medium-high heat, 5 to 6 minutes per side, or until no pink remains. Place burgers on foil lined baking sheet. Turn oven to broil. Sprinkle the cheese over the four burgers and place broil for 2 minutes, until cheese is nicely browned.

Broccoli Tomato Salad:
*1 head broccoli, steamed and chopped
*4 medium tomatoes, chopped
*4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
*4 Tbsp. balsamic vinaigrette
*1/2 tsp. salt
*1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

Mix together the above ingredients and refrigerate for 15-20 minutes, until chilled. Serve with turkey burgers.

The bottom line? Life is too short and cooking too fun to stress about weeknight meals. Let these recipes get you on the path to healthy, family-friendly cooking when time and energy is running low.


Chocolate Chip Pecan Scones

September 22, 2009

This morning I woke up rather groggy, wishing coffee had the power to make you look as awake as it made you feel. I had every intention of being well-rested today, going to bed early so I could catch up on a bit of much needed sleep. All was well until around midnight, when I woke up hungry. Staring at the ceiling, thinking about my midnight cravings and trying not to give in to any of them, the scones I made a couple days ago were on my mind.

In keeping with my belief that all breakfast pastries can, and should, be made a bit healthier whenever possible, I have loosely adapted a scone recipe from The Silver Palate Cookbook. They are made entirely with whole-wheat flour, a bit of butter, brown sugar, pecans, and skim milk in place of cream. I don’t think the all-purpose flour or heavy cream will be missed, and your waistline will thank you.

*2 cups whole-wheat flour
*2 tsp. baking powder
*1/2 tsp. salt
*4 Tbsp. butter
*2 eggs
*1/3 cup skim milk
*1/2 cup chopped pecans
*1/2 cup chocolate chips

*Preheat oven to 425.
*Combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Blend in butter with a pastry mixer until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add in eggs, one at a time, then add in milk, pecans, and chocolate chips.
*Roll onto floured surface into 3/4-inch thickness. Cut into circles with a cookie cutter or squares with a knife.
*Bake for 15 minutes, or until lightly golden and crisp on the outside.
Makes 10 scones

Sorry for the short post. A long day is ahead of me and I have to run. Enjoy!