27 February 2010

Salted Cashew Brittle - Better Late Than Never

Remember how I promised to share the most amazing Cashew Brittle with Fleur de Sel back in December? Yeah, well, time got away from me and I never got around to typing up this post.  I am sorry.  But maybe now the sugar shock of the holidays has worn off, and you will be interested in actually making a candy recipe?  This brittle would make a lovely addition to an Easter Basket or a sweet surprise for someone with a spring birthday.  It is a pretty straightforward, easy candy to make.  Be sure to have a candy thermometer before you try to make this recipe!  I also found it was best to have all the ingredients measured and ready to go.  When caramelizing sugar hits the desired temperature, it waits for no one.  It also can burn the heck out of you - so be very, very careful while making this candy.

The cashews are amazing in this candy, and they are the perfect match to the fleur de sel.  I used salted cashews because I prefer a rather strong salty contrast to my sweets, but any unsalted or salted nut would probably work fine in this recipe.  I highly recommend using fleur de sel or another interesting sea salt.  It really stands out in this candy.  My parents more or less threatened each other over who got the last bite of this brittle, insisting I make a second batch.  We all burnt our fingers in our eagerness to taste nibbles of the brittle as it was cooling- delicious.

Cashew Brittle with Fleur de Sel
adapted from Food & Wine via Eggs on Sunday

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 stick unsalted butter
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
12 ounces salted cashew pieces
Fleur de sel or crushed Maldon sea salt

Measure out your nuts and baking soda and set near the stove. On a heat-proof surface, set a rimmed sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
Combine the sugar, water, butter and corn syrup in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, until the caramel is light brown and registers 300 degrees F on a candy thermometer (approximately 10 minutes).
Turn off the heat and carefully stir in the baking soda (the mixture will bubble).
Stir in the nuts, then immediately scrape the brittle onto your parchment-lined baking sheet. Use the back of a large spoon (oil it lightly if it sticks) to spread the brittle into a thin, even layer. Sprinkle evenly with fleur de sel (don't be shy!) and let cool completely, about 30 minutes.
Break the brittle into large shards.
Makes 2 pounds of brittle.

20 February 2010

Easy Triple Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies to Impress a Crowd

Let me say right off the bat that this recipe for Triple Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies makes a LOT of cookies.  After scooping 3 dozen cookie dough balls, and not really seeing a huge dent in the dough, I decided to freeze the remainder of the scooped dough balls. This was the right decision.  This recipe makes at least 5 and a half dozen cookies (using a tablespoon size scoop). 

I made these cookies for my good friend's birthday celebration.  Last year I made her some amazing Irish Car Bomb Brownies, and I asked her what she wanted this year- a cookie with peanut butter was her reply. So I started my hunt for the perfect peanut butter cookie recipe. Naturally the first person I turned to was my sister since I know she loves peanut butter cookies and baking in general. I found this cookie recipe on her blog, and I knew that it would be the recipe I would make for my friend.  I baked 3 dozen cookies for her celebration and shared the remaining frozen cookie dough with her (to continue her birthday celebration sometime in the future) and my dad.  

The cookies come out moist and so incredibly rich.  One is more than enough to satisfy your craving for a sweet, peanut buttery, chocolaty, thick and chewy cookie. I took the time to unwrap a bag of Reese's peanut butter cups and chop them since it doesn't look like Hershey's is selling the peanut butter baking pieces anymore (please bring them back!).  Of course, they wouldn't be triple anything cookies with just the chopped peanut butter cups, so I also included peanut butter chips and semi-sweet chocolate chips.  I think dark chocolate chunks would be nice in these cookies as well.  

If you are looking for a go-to peanut butter chocolate chip cookie, this is the recipe for you.  Also, my dad reports that the frozen cookie dough cooked up beautifully.  So the next time you need cookies for a crowd or just feel like freezing some cookie dough to have on hand, give these a try whether you take the time to chop the peanut butter cups or not.

Triple Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup (2 sticks, 8 oz) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups (11 7/8 oz) creamy peanut butter
1 cup (8 oz) dark brown sugar
1 cup (7 oz) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 t vanilla extract
2 2/3 cups (11 1/4 oz) AP flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
1 t kosher salt
2 to 2 1/2 cups chips - any combination of peanut butter chips, chopped peanuts, chocolate chips or peanut butter cups

additional peanut butter cups or sea salt for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone.

Cream the butter and peanut butter together until well blended. Add the sugars and cream until blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the eggs and the vanilla and blend thoroughly. Stir in the dry ingredients and then the chips, being careful to not over-stir.

Using a tablespoon cookie scoop, drop rounds of cookie dough onto the baking sheet--I fit 12 per sheet. Sprinkle some sea salt on top of each one (optional- I skipped and instead popped a peanut butter cup into the top of the warm cookie when it came out of the oven). Bake for 11-14 minutes; the cookies are done when they are set and are just starting to brown at the edges. Remove and let cool on the pan for 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to a cooling rack.

17 February 2010

As Promised: Stir Fried Chicken with Peppers and Onions

So what did I serve with those mouth-watering potatoes and peas that helped to convince my boyfriend that Indian food might be pretty tasty?  Murah Jalfrezie or Stir Fried Chicken with Peppers and Onions also from Betty Crocker's Indian Home Cooking by Raghavan Iyer.  According to Raghavan, this dish is popular across America, but I have never seen nor heard of it before.  Maybe that's because I only love eating at one particular, vegetarian Indian restaurant.  Regardless, I understand why this dish has gained popularity here - it is incredibly accessible, delicious and doesn't have any "scary" ingredients.  I think my boyfriend saw the picture of this dish and thought it looked like chicken and vegetables- nothing too far off his radar- so he was willing to give it a try. 

I liked this dish for something simple and tasty with a touch of Indian flair.  My yogurt broke a little bit in the sauce, and I don't know if that should have happened.  It didn't impact the flavor but made it a tiny bit unappealing to me visually.  The chicken was perfect with the potatoes and peas, and I think it would be equally good with fluffy basmati rice or naan.  I did make the simple adjustment of using red bell pepper instead of green but any color would work.  I also think you could mix up the vegetables a bit - maybe add some zucchini or peas or cauliflower.  I am happy to report another totally positive experience with a Raghavan Iyer recipe.

Stir Fried Chicken with Peppers and Onions (Murgh Jalfrezie)

2 T vegetable oil
1 medium yellow or white onion, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
1 T coarsely chopped gingerroot
2 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 T coriander seed, ground
1 t cumin seed, ground
1/2 t salt
1/2 t ground turmeric
1/2 t ground red pepper (cayenne)
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium green bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (1 cup)
1 medium red onion, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 medium tomato, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (3/4 cup)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 T finely chopped fresh cilantro

1. Heat oil in wok or deep 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add yellow onion, gingerroot and garlic; stir-fry 3 to 4 minutes or until onion and garlic are deep golden brown.
2. Stir in tomato sauce, ground coriander, ground cumin, salt, turmeric and ground red pepper; reduce heat to low. Partially cover and simmer 5 to 7 minutes or until a very thin film of oil starts to separate from sauce.
3. Stir in chicken.  Simmer uncovered 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until chicken is partially cooked.
4. Stir in bell pepper, red onion, tomato and water. Cover and simmer 8 to 10 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink in center.
5. Stir in yogurt. Simmer uncovered 1 minute, stirring occasionally, just until yogurt is warm.  Serve sprinkled with cilantro.

14 February 2010

Of Romance and Indian Food

After all my raving about what a fantastic gift 660 Curries was from my sister, my boyfriend completely surprised me and gave me another Raghavan Iyer book: Betty Crocker's Indian Home Cooking.  This book is probably less intimidating for a new-to-Indian-food home cook than 660 Curries.  It is full of beautiful pictures, and, as usual, contains Raghavan's approachable, witty writing. I was absolutely charmed that my boyfriend was paying such close attention to my ramblings about Indian food (and Raghavan Iyer, in particular) that he thought to buy me this book. 

Even better, my boyfriend was excited to have me cook him something from the book - a big step for him since he wasn't too sure how he felt about Indian food. I knew if he was involved with picking the recipes and some of preparation, he would enjoy an Indian meal.  Fortunately my instincts were right on target, and he really loved the dinner we made.  The spices and flavors in the dishes we selected were familiar to him from Mexican food: cumin, coriander, cilantro.

This potato dish is very basic, and it makes a pleasant alternative to serving a curry with rice.   The original recipe called for adding the peas a little earlier in the cooking, but I opted to add them closer to the end so they stayed a spring green (a little lost in these pictures because I photographed the meal the following day at lunch, when there was a lot of natural light). 

Check back soon to see what we ate with the potatoes and peas.

Potatoes with Peas (Aloo Mutter)
adapted from Betty Crocker's Indian Home Cooking by Raghavan Iyer

1 T vegetable oil
1 t ground cumin
½ cup finely chopped red onion
2 medium tomatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces (1 ½ cups)
1 t salt
½ t ground cayenne pepper
¼ t ground turmeric
3 medium red potatoes (1 pound), cooked and cut into 2-inch pieces (2 cups)
1 cup frozen green peas
1 cup water
2 T finely chopped fresh cilantro

1. Heat oil in 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add cumin; sizzle 15 to 30 seconds.
2. Add onion; stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes or until golden brown.  Stir in tomatoes, salt, cayenne pepper and turmeric; stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes or until tomatoes are softened.
3. Stir in remaining ingredients except frozen green peas.  Heat to boiling; reduce heat to medium.  Cover and simmer 5 minutes.  Uncover and add the frozen peas; simmer about 5 minutes longer or until sauce thickens slightly. 

11 February 2010

Snowpacalypse Greetings

No new recipes to report - the pups just wanted to say hi!

I think this is the best picture I have ever taken of Millie.
The snow really sets off her black coat.

Millie taunts Crash (she desperately wants him to pounce so she can attack).

Crash also wants Millie's attention, but...

...she's way too focused on eating snow.

**Please ignore the fact that my deck is littered with overturned chairs and tables. Thank you!**

07 February 2010

Jalapeno Cream Sauce? Yes, Please!

For those of you who blog about food, are you ever hesitant to share a recipe because it just isn't photogenic? This recipe nearly didn't make the cut because I just haven't taken a decent picture of it to save my life.  But, honestly, I don't care.  The dish is just that freaking good- who cares what it looks like?

Truthfully, I have never been tempted by any spaghetti squash recipe.  I think when my dad was going through a low-fat kick sometime several years ago, my mom heard about spaghetti squash as a substitute for pasta with marinara sauce.  So she made it.  I hated it (I assume my other family members did as well, since I don't remember her ever making it again). It just didn't work for me as a stand-in for pasta.  Then I saw a discussion on the CLBB about Spaghetti Squash with Jalapeno Cream Sauce.  Esqueeze me? Jalapenos? Cream? Cheese? Yes, yes, yes! I decided I needed to get over my bias against spaghetti squash and give it another try.  I am very happy that I did (as are my dad and boyfriend, both of whom have eaten this dish and thoroughly enjoyed it).

The spaghetti squash is microwaved or baked to release the flesh into short strands that will make up the bulk of this recipe.  The squash is tossed in a creamy, cheesy, spicy sauce, thickened with a blonde roux and flavored with jalapenos. A dusting of panko breadcrumbs provides a contrasting crunchy bite to the creamy, rich squash baked in the cream sauce (think macaroni and cheese).  I have made this dish several times, adjusting it to suit my tastes in a variety of ways.  It is nice with some red bell pepper and mushrooms mixed in, or maybe a little zucchini and lots of extra jalapenos.  I will never ignore spaghetti squash again unless you try to serve it to me with marinara sauce.

Spaghetti Squash with Jalapeno Cream Sauce
adapted from Sunset, October 2008

1 spaghetti squash (about 3 lbs.)
2 cups milk
4-5 jalapeƱos, stemmed, seeded, and chopped

1 small-medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter, plus more for pans
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup shredded jalapeno jack cheese

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1 small zucchini, quartered and chopped (optional)*
1 bell pepper, chopped (optional)*
1 cup sliced mushrooms (optional)*
additional cheese for sprinkling on top

1. Preheat oven to 375°. Cut squash in half lengthwise (can microwave squash for several minutes to soften slightly to make it easier to cut in half) and use a spoon or melon baller to remove seeds and surrounding fiber. Put squash, cut side down, on a lightly buttered baking sheet and bake until tender when flesh is pierced with a fork, 30 to 40 minutes. Or poke several holes in skin of squash with a fork and microwave it on high 10 minutes. Squash should be tender when pierced with a fork; if it isn't, microwave on high in 1-minute intervals until tender. Let sit until cool.

2. When squash is cool enough to handle, use a large spoon to scrape the strands out of the skin and into a large bowl.
3. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt 2 tbsp. butter. Add chopped jalapenos and onions and saute for 3-5 minutes.   Whisk in flour and cook, whisking, until flour smells cooked (like piecrust), about 3 minutes. Slowly pour in milk while whisking. Reduce heat to medium and continue whisking until mixture thickens slightly, about 3 minutes. Add cheese to cream sauce and turn off heat, stirring to melt cheese. Taste and adjust salt.  Pour mixture over squash and stir to combine. Transfer mixture to a buttered 2-qt. baking dish. Sprinkle with additional jack cheese and panko crumbs and bake until bubbling and brown on top, about 30 minutes.
*Optional - Saute any optional vegetables in about a tablespoon of olive oil or butter over medium-high heat to caramelize slightly, 4-7 minutes.  Stir in to squash and cheese sauce mixture before baking. 

03 February 2010

Heavenly Cranberry Butter

So this post is a little late in the game, but I still think it is something worth sharing, especially since I just mentioned it in my oat cookie post. A couple autumns ago, my friend and I were confronted with baskets and baskets of apples.  She wanted to learn to make apple sauce, and I figured I could teach her.  So what did we do?  We made Cranberry Butter!

Doesn't make much sense, does it?  Oh well, I never promised to be logical.  We did make apple sauce that day, as well as some caramel apple butter (revolting!), cranberry butter and crapple* sauce.  It was a productive day in the kitchen, and it was fun to share whatever canning knowledge I have with my friend.  So what is Cranberry Butter?  First of all, get any notions of dairy out of your head.  Think apple butter - a thick, luscious concoction of sun-ripened fruit at its peak, cooked down into a soft, buttery pulp, perfect for spreading on toast.  Now replace those apples with cranberries, add a bit of sugar and some ginger, and you have a meltingly soft, buttery, tart, cranberry spread perfect for toast or oatmeal cookies (for breakfast, of course). 

This autumn, I realized I had to make some Cranberry Butter- STAT! I was all out, and the previous Christmas, I decided that Cranberry Butter made the most divine filling to a layered Hungarian Shortbread.  I absolutely had to have that filling for this year's Christmas cookies. So I bought some cranberries and got my butt in gear.  A few hours later, I had a dozen or so beautiful, ruby-red half pint jars filled with the delectable fruit butter.

I know we often speak in hyperbole about food, but trust me when I tell you that if you are going to can just one jam/jelly/fruit butter this year, it needs to be Cranberry Butter.  The best part is that cranberries aren't readily available until autumn which means you are canning when it is no longer 95 degrees outside. 

So if you have a bag or two of cranberries in your freezer that you were hoarding from this autumn's haul, pull them out and make something truly special.  You can use this in place of cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving, as a unique spread on a turkey sandwich, or for toast and cookies.  It makes a beautiful and unusual gift since most people have never heard of Cranberry Butter.

*Crapple Sauce: The little-known concoction of cranberry butter mixed with apple sauce and canned to create a delightful pink sauce with a sweet-tart edge.

Cranberry Butter
adapted from Blue Ribbon Preserves by Linda J. Amendt

Yield: about 4 half-pint jars

2 12-oz packages cranberries, fresh or frozen
1 cup water
zested peel of 1 lemon
zested peel of 1 orange
3 cups sugar (can adjust slightly to taste)
1-2 teaspoons powdered ginger

In an 8-qt pan, combine cranberries, water, orange zest, and lemon zest.

Over medium heat, bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until all the berries have popped and are soft, 15-20 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent sticking. Remove pan from heat. Skim foam.

Press mixture (berries and juice) through a food mill or fine-mesh sieve. Discard skins and seeds. Rinse and dry pan. Return cranberry pulp to pan. Stir in sugar.

Over med-low heat, heat the mixture, stirring constantly, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Increase heat to medium and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and simmer until thick, 10-15 minutes. Stir constantly to prevent sticking or scorching. Remove pan from heat, skim foam.

Ladle hot butter into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Process half-pint jars for 10 minutes, pint jars for 15 minutes.