22 March 2008

Simple Side Dish

Hi - I am back. At least a little bit back. Working out is going great; although I am absurdly sore. I am hoping that will wear off soon enough. My schedule is still pretty hectic, but I am attempting to incorporate more cooking into it. Besides- there is nothing more fun than cooking while watching basketball. I am pretty obsessed with the NCAA Basketball Tournament. It is absolutely the best time of the year - March Madness and the beginning of Major League Baseball! In case you haven't picked up on it... I am a bit of a sports nut. Sports do have a tendency to make me anxious, which is one of the reasons why I really enjoy cooking when watching or listening to sports. It occupies a part of my brain that enables me to relax a little and blow off some of my anxiety. For this reason, and others, sports and food automatically go together in my house.

So what do you expect a person glued to a basketball tournament to eat? Maybe tortilla chips and a variety of delicious dips? Buffalo wings? Assorted cheeses and crackers? Not this sports nut. I prefer Broccoli. Roasted. With Balsamic Glaze. Mmmmm. The perfect snacking food (or side dish for a fancy meal). Roasting vegetables has to be my most favorite preparation. The edges crisp up and caramelize, and the vibrant colors of the vegetables are preserved. I first discovered vegetable roasting with broccoli, but asparagus, cauliflower, zucchini, peppers, onions, mushrooms, etc. often make their way into my hot oven. So simple and delicious that you don't even need a recipe.

Take a bunch of clean vegetables and toss them on a roasting pan (I use a jelly roll style pan) in a single layer. Toss with extra virgin olive oil to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Slide into a hot, pre-heated 450 degree oven. Ignore for about 5-10 minutes (depending on the size of the vegetables). Pull out pan, shake the vegetables around; pop back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes. Once the edges of the veggies are starting to get golden brown and crispy, douse with 1-2 T of Balsamic vinegar (hold your head back so you don't get a face-full of vinegar steam). Shake the pan again to coat the veggies and serve. So delicious.

10 March 2008

Big News...

Crash and Millie have been neglected lately. So has my kitchen. I just joined a gym, which in and of itself shouldn't take up that much time. Except I decided to take it one step further and sign up with a personal trainer. Three times a week. I might die. I promise to get more involved with the eating portion of this new adventure soon. However, for now, food is the least of my concerns. (Although, I must say that I cooked up a pot of Rio Zape beans from Rancho Gordo yesterday that were amazing! My lunches at work this week - raw vegetables to nibble with beans mixed with brown rice - see nothing interesting happening here!)

Crash would like someone to come pay attention to him since I am being so neglectful.

Millie is just revolting and doesn't want to talk to anybody.

05 March 2008

Using Up Christmas Kisses

If you are anything like me, you purchase an insane amount of cookie-baking ingredients around the holidays. Something a little more unusual about me? I don't really like chocolate as a snack. I completely ignore the left over chocolates from Christmas. Of course, if you leave a bag of potato chips at my house, just assume it will be eaten in approximately 4.7 minutes. I am a salty snacker. So this means I try to avoid buying easy-to-eat salty snacks, but I am almost always supplied with chocolate. I am trying to use up some of my left over Christmas candy before I am inundated with Easter candy. I already have extra Easter M & M's hanging out looking for a home in a cookie!

I was looking for a creative way to use up some funky Hershey's Kisses I bought before Christmas - I have three varieties that need homes: Hot Chocolate (or Cocoa or something), Candy Cane Mint and Mint Truffle. I believe these were all limited edition holiday flavors, so I don't know if you can still find them. I am sure they will be around next December. I didn't really want to do the traditional peanut butter blossom style cookie - mint and peanut butter are not a match made in heaven! Chocolate and mint, however, are a beautiful pair. Perfect for each other and for my friend who is still having a rough time. In fact her favorite candy is Junior Mints, so I figured I would experiment and create a cookie with similar flavors. It was a win-win situation, I could give some cookies to my friend and take some to work so my co-workers don't feel neglected and not be tempted to keep any at home and eat them. I love having lots of willing baked-goods-recipients.

I think these cookies could be tweaked a bit. I am not sure how to make them less flat; I think the Kiss would look cuter in a chubbier cookie (like a peanut butter blossom). Although the cookie on its own, without the Kiss on top is fantastic! I ate one without a Kiss fresh from the oven. In the future, I think I would like to use this recipe to make a sandwich cookie. I would probably use a smaller scoop and sandwich an Andes Mint between two cookies while they were still warm. Or use them to make ice cream sandwiches with mint-chocolate-chip ice cream. Yummy. My most important cookie rule - they stay soft and chewy (maybe slightly fudgey) after 24 hours!

So any suggestions for those Hot Cocoa flavor Kisses?!?

Adapted from GardenGuides Chocolate Mint Cookies

Josie's Chocolate Mint Kiss Cookies
3/4 cup butter

1 1/2 cup brown sugar firmly packed

2 tablespoons milk

12 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used good quality Ghirardelli, I think it would be good with bittersweet chocolate next time)

2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon mint extract
2 1/2 cups flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

48 Hershey's Kisses - Mint Truffle or Candy Cane Mint flavor, unwrapped

Melt butter, add chips and stir until partially melted. Remove from heat and stir until chips are completely melted. Pour into large bowl. Add brown sugar and milk and cool slightly. At high speed, beat in eggs one at a time. Add the mint extract. Reduce to low speed and add dry ingredients. Stir until blended. Chill dough.
Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll dough into small balls (about 1 teaspoon per ball). Place 2 inches apart and bake for 10 minutes.
Remove from oven and cool on baking sheet for 3-4 minutes. Leave the cookies on parchment paper, but transfer to a cooling rack. Place one Kiss on top of each cookie. Let cool completely before storing (this can take over an hour since the Kiss partially melts into the cookie).

03 March 2008

As Promised - Best Spanish Rice Dish Ever!

Remember all that porcine goodness I was swooning over a couple weeks ago? Well, I swear I have been using my purchased ingredients. I just haven't really made anything that was blog-worthy. Last night, however, was an exception. I was so incredibly thrilled with dinner that I get a little drooly thinking about eating the leftovers tonight. It was an incredibly simple dish to throw together without much more effort than chopping onions. This is going to join in the rotation for go-to dinners for me.

So what is this mystery dinner anyway? It was a spin off of Spanish Rice. Now that stuff from a box probably isn't anyone's idea of a well-rounded dinner, but I was determined to create something I could feel good about eating that retained the essence of Spanish Rice. I felt confident I could attain a rich, complex flavor because I had two Spanish chorizo links from my Jungle Jim's shopping spree. Spanish chorizo is radically different from Mexican chorizo. Spanish chorizo contains thick chunks of pork and pork fat with lots of garlic and paprika flavor. Both types of chorizo are amazing in their own right, but I do not feel that they are appropriate substitutes for each other. If you do not have Spanish chorizo, do not substitute Mexican chorizo. Use a cured, smoked sausage like Linguiça (sometimes referred to as Portuguse Sausage) or even Kielbasa. Mexican chorizo isn't cured or smoked, it is a raw product that crumbles outside of its casing (like breakfast sausage). If someone has a more easily available substitute, please let me know.

Best Spanish Rice Dish Ever!

2 Spanish chorizo links, casing removed, sliced into 1/4" rounds (maybe 3-5 oz)
1 cup chopped onion
2 T minced garlic
2 chopped jalapeños (or to taste)
2 14 oz cans fire-roasted chopped tomatoes, with juices
2-3 roasted bell peppers, skin & seed pods removed, roughly chopped
1 T smoked Spanish paprika
pinch of cayenne pepper
salt and pepper, to taste
1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

3-4 cups cooked, white, long grain rice for serving

Heat a non-reactive Dutch or French oven over medium-high heat. Add chorizo to the pan and brown for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove the chorizo to drain on a paper-towel lined plate once browned. Add onions, garlic and jalapeños to the pot and sauté for 5-7 minutes, until beginning to brown. At this point you may need to add a little olive oil to the pan if it gets sticky (this is dependent on how much fat your chorizo released during the browning process). Add the tomatoes, roasted peppers, spices and lemon juice. Scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen any brown bits. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the peas and reserved chorizo and stir to heat through. Mix in chopped cilantro and serve over white rice with lemon wedges.

02 March 2008

Easter Cookie Pie

I have mentioned several times that Joe's Blog, Culinary in the Country, is a constant source of inspiration for me in the kitchen. When I need a reliable cookie recipe, I head over to his site and browse the recipe archives for ideas. My friend has had several of the cookies I have made from his site and always raves about them - to the point that she text messaged me and told me that she was craving them. Of course I was immensely flattered so I absolutely had to make her more cookies. So I turned to the very reliable M & M Bar Cookie recipe from Joe's Blog. I have mentioned this recipe before, but I never took a picture. Besides, this time I made a cookie pie which turned out really cute. I think it would make an awesome kid's birthday cake - you could easily write on it with frosting. The Easter M & M's look especially festive if you ask me! My friend was so happy with the cookie pie that she ate it all in one weekend! If that isn't a compliment, I don't know what is! Although, next time I will have to send a smaller pie over so she doesn't make herself sick! :-)

Check back tomorrow for the best Spanish Rice dish ever (I think I officially broke out of my food funk!)

Click here for the recipe - to make the pie, I halved the recipe.