Friday, March 20, 2009

Product Review: Milk Fluffer! And something else fluffy...

I've got a problem: I love lattes. Why is that a problem? Well, because I don't have the expendable income to throw at coffee shops, not to mention the cash (nor the space, in a 1br apartment kitchen) to buy my own espresso machine. Side Note: Should I ever come into a sufficient amount of money to begin shelling out cash on non-essentials like espresso machines, I'll quickly pop over to Williams Sonoma and purchase this one.

So, Claire, what makes lattes so frickin' fabulous? Well, the delicious, hot, frothy milk. I'd looked into getting one of these, but was too cheap to even shell out the 30 or so bucks. It seemed I was perpetually doomed in my tie to Starbucks.

However, a fateful weekend trip to Ikea (have I mentioned that I love Ikea?) saved me from a life of enslavement. Behold- the Produkt (love the name)!
Photo courtesy of the Ikea website

After an embarrassingly long stretch of time spent discussing appropriate battery size (duh kids, look at the website under "good to know"), deciding on said size of battery, then finding that we were unable to fit it into Produkt's battery hole, we finally got it working. Buzzz!
Magic happening:
I just heated up about a cup of skim milk until it was a little more than luke-warm, and we fluffed away!
Chris fluffing another for himself. That first one's mine! All mine!

Has anyone ever told you that you're beautiful?

So, not quite a latte (that would require espresso), but a super-tasty morning coffee, nonetheless! Produkt was definitely $1.99 well-spent. I feel badly for the suckers who buy this doppelganger for $20! Even if my Ikea fluffer breaks (and I have no doubt that it will- I love Ikea, just as it is, even with its faults) I'm pretty sure I'll never have to buy that many replacements. (Knock on wood.)

Oh, and here's the something else that's fluffy:

My favorite picture of my little angry kitty:

TTFN and TGIF!

Claire

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Pizza 'n' Chocolate Chip Cookies

Home-made pizza is a regular weeknight staple for me and Chris. I'd never made a pizza before I met him (daunted, of course, by the yeast factor of the dough). He thought I was silly (and I think wanted to show off a bit... shhh!), and since then we've come up with an insane number of dough and topping variations.

Let me tell you- just like pasta, pizza is one of those 'clear the pantry' type of dishes. You can throw practically anything on your pie and it will be fabulous. The dough is essentially fool-proof, as well. Chris has messed around with including various combinations of beer, wine, whole wheat flour, butter, rosemary, brown sugar, honey, white sugar, and others (not all at once, of course...although....). I'll let him give you his recipes, later.

As for me, while I like to watch him work his dough magic, I'm a Topping Girl at heart. Always will be. Here's last night's (delicious, although not terribly creative due to what we had on-hand that needed to be used) concoction:

Mediterranean Chicken Pizza
Chris's Sauce:
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 2 tsp fresh rosemary
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
Dump the tomato sauce and paste in a bowl. Smash up all of the spices (we use a mortar and pestel, purchased at Ikea- LOVE Ikea) and mix into tomato goop. Done! Most of the time we don't heat it up, but I think that might be a good idea in order to release some of the oils in the red pepper, etc.

Claire's Toppings:
  • 1/3 cup kalamata olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup oil-packed sun dried tomatoes, drained and julienned
  • 1/4 cup roasted red bell peppers, julienned
  • 1 cup chopped fresh baby spinach
  • 3/4 cup reduced fat feta
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 1 precooked chicken breast, sliced on the bias and cut into bite-sized pieces

Make your dough, let it rise, roll it out, par-bake your crust (like I said, I'll let Chris go into detail on those steps later) and top! I did it in this order, I think: tomato sauce (we had about 1/4 cup left over) 1/2 the mozzarella, spinach, tomatoes, kalamatas, red bells, remaining 1/2 of mozz, feta.

Put the pie back in the oven (Chris will need to provide the temp) and bake for an additional 5-8 minutes, or until you notice that the crust has browned and the cheese has melted.

Chow down and watch Lost! :) At least that's what we did...

The final product. See Chris's pretty crust?

Mmm...my plate, mid-attack.

After chow/lost, I got straight to business- "business" being making cookies for my IT guy (Robert) at work. I'm movin' on up and relocating to a cubicle -get this- with a window (!), and I thought I'd repay Robert for his technical/moving man skills with a batch of cookies.

"What kind do you want," I asked, struggling to keep from suggesting fun 'exotics,' like green tea shortbread or meringues, "white chocolate macadamia, or pecan chocolate chip?" Did you notice the restraint? "I'm a simple man with simple needs-" Robert responded, "pecan chocolate chip!"

So it was written, and so it was done.

I'd been looking at Browneyed Baker's blog yesterday, and decided to bypass my dozens of saved chocolate chip cookie recipes (stockpiled for my quest, along with essentially every other home baker, to discover the "perfect" chocolate chip cookie recipe) and go with the one I'd run across on her site. They looked fabulous and I was intrigued by the detailed instructions.

I followed the ingredient list exactly, except I added about a cup of toasted chopped pecans (mmmm...).

The dough, pre-pecans.

The end product, post-pecans and baking.Your eyes do not deceive you- they are absolutely delicious, and huge...


Comparison to the chubby thumb to illustrate the huge-ness. ...and thick
...and stackable! Whee!

Chris's sample bite.

The only place I deviated from Browneyed Baker's recipe was in the formation of the dough balls. The recipe was so explicit regarding the method of making the perfect ball, so I decided to test it. Really? Is that really necessary? Why can't I just use my cookie scoop? It's good enough for Martha, so it's good enough for me.

The method outlined by the recipe is as follows:

  • Roll a scant 1/4 cup of the dough into a ball. Hold the dough ball with the fingertips of both hands and pull into 2 equal halves. Rotate the halves 90 degrees and, with jagged surfaces facing up, join the halves together at their base, again forming a single ball, being careful not to smooth the dough’s uneven surface. Place the formed dough balls on the prepared baking sheets, jagged surface up, spacing them 2 1/2 inches apart.

I tried it both ways- the cookie sheet on the left shows the above method, and the one on the right reflects the use of a cookies scoop:

Here they are, in the same order, after baking:

As you can see, they're pretty close in appearance, except the ones on the left (made by the recipe's method) are larger and a bit more rough-around-the-edges. At this point, I really think it's a matter of personal preference.

A-la-recipe method:A-la-cookie scoop:


In the end, I chose Browneyed Baker's method over Martha. I feel like the ruffly tops gave the cookies a more home-made feel, while the smooth tops looked dangerously refined- approaching the appearance of the pre-made, pre-cut cookie dough you can buy at the grocery.

Mowgli's sentiments on the grocery cookie smooth-ness:

Verdict: They turned out great! I let them cool completely on the baking sheet (soooo hard for me to do! Much will-power was involved, as well as frequent temperature-testing of the cookies. "Is it too soon to take them off?"), to stay true to the recipe. Browneyed Baker warns not to let them over-cook, and I think mine might have done just that, but only by a minute or two. They stayed wonderfully chewy on the inside and crisp on the outside last night, but today when I tested one, it was too crispy for my taste. Oh well- my error, not the recipe's.

Chris love them, stating, "Now this is an All-American cookie!" I'll take that as a compliment? He is sort of the All-American boy, what with the blonde/blue combo and his love for apple pie...

I haven't given them to Robert, yet, but I expect a pleased reaction and a timely, efficient move. :)

TTFN,

Claire

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Man Morning Meal

With all of the girly, frilly, sweets being made around our apartment, sometimes poor Chris just wants a Man Meal. So, this morning, a Man Meal he had!

What constitutes as a Man Meal, you ask? Biscuits, of course, with some type of meat. None of that fruit and muffin business. This Man needs something hearty! Something that will get him through his long day of hunting and foraging (read: producing and editing commercials in a studio). Good thing I had just the recipe on-file.


To satisfy his biscuit tooth (the Man-version of a sweet tooth), I chose Baking Delights's Cheese and Bacon Biscuit Sandwiches.

The biscuits were so simple to make but, as you can see, mine didn't rise quite like those pictured on Baking Delights. I wonder if it has something to do with my buttermilk mix-up.

Oh, I didn't mention that I messed up the buttermilk? Yes, it's possible to "mess up" buttermilk. I recently purchased the powdered kind, after reading recommendations on several blogs. I love that I know I'll always have some in the pantry and don't have to worry about buying it fresh every time I need it. Now to my issue- Being the slow, methodical, detail-oriented person I am, I skimmed the directions and must have overlooked the instructions to add the powdered buttermilk to my dry ingredients, and then the correct equivalent of milk to the wet. I just mixed them up and added the "buttermilk" to my wet ingredients. Could that be what caused my rising issues? I'm not sure. If anyone knows, I'd love to hear.

At any rate, the biscuits were NOT ruined, still rose (albeit about half as much as the ones they were modeled after) and had a great, butter, light texture.

Here's the recipe, with my italicized modifications:

Baking Delights's Cheese and Bacon Biscuit Sandwiches

(aka Chris's Morning Man Meal)

Ingredients:


2 c flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 c grated cheddar cheese (I used pre-grated sharp cheddar)
1/2 c cold unsalted butter
3/4 c buttermilk (I used powdered)


Set oven to 500 degrees. Mix dry ingredients.


Grate 1/2 cup butter into the dry ingredients (this was fun!) and mix quickly.


Add the cheese.


Add buttermilk (or, in my case, improperly re-hydrated powdered buttermilk) all at once, stirring until a soft dough is formed. Knead dough lightly on a floured board about 5-10 gentle (i.e. don't push all the way down) strokes.


Pat out 3/4 inch thick and cut straight down with a smooth sided biscuit cutter or mason jar (Chris fashioned a biscuit cutter for me out of a tin can). Do not twist as you are cutting. Place just touching on a silpat covered baking sheet.

Place in oven until golden. This will only take about 6-8 minutes, depending on the size of the biscuits.

Yield: 1 to 2 dozen (I got 11)

To complete the Man Meal, I cooked up some bacon and faux omelets. For each faux omelet, one per biscuit, beat one or two eggs with a splash of milk and some freshly-ground black pepper. Spray your smallest skillet with cooking spray and heat to medium. Add the egg mixture and let it cook without stirring/scrambling until almost set.

Then, flip half of the egg round on top of itself and add a slice of cheese (I used colby jack, sliced in a square that would fit in the biscuit circumference and about 1/6 inch thick) to one side of the now half-moon shaped eggs. Turn the un-cheesed corner over the top of the cheese (you've now folded your egg into quarters on top of itself and should have a rough looking triangle). Let it cook a bit longer to allow the cheese to melt.

Slice open a warm biscuit, add egg/cheese faux omelet and top with bacon.

Give the Man Meal to your hungry and grateful Man. Listen to him grunt his approval while he devours it.

Voila!

Cheese porn:

More cheese porn:

Chris ate two, and I had my one, and we froze the rest for future weekday morning quick Man Meals. I plan on making biscuits and gravy for him next week, which will be fast and easy, since I'll have these frozen on-hand to re-heat in the oven.

Verdict: Despite the rising issue, this meal was great. Very hearty and filling. I will say, however, that when eating a biscuit on its own, I still couldn't really taste the cheese. I even used sharp cheddar just because I was afraid of that happening... Next time I'll try the recipe without cheese and with proper powdered buttermilk implementation. :)

Try 'em and make a Man out there happy today!

TTFN,

Claire

Friday, March 13, 2009

Cooking Light's Sticky Buns! A step towards conquering my fear of yeast...

Yes, you can lump me in with the masses of fresh-faced, aspiring bakers who is afraid...no, terrified of yeast. In order to overcome my fear (dubbed completely irrational by Chris, who regularly churns out fantastic pizza doughs that rise beautifully) of the little buggers, we tried our hand at these home-made sticky buns from Cooking Light.

And the result? Well...


They turned out fabulously! No issues with rising, even though they're intended to rise twice and we quickly grew impatient (not to mention hungry) and skipped that whole second-rising part. :)
These buns were everything a yeast-bread sweet roll should be- fluffy, tender, gooey, sticky and deliciously flavored with caramel and cinnamon.

Cooking Light's (Faux Double-Rising) Pecan Sticky Rolls

Dough:
3/4 cup warm skim milk (just heated up a bit in the microwave)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 package dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup egg substitute (we used real eggs)
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
18 ounces all-purpose flour (about 4 cups), divided
Cooking spray

Sauce:
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons hot water
1/3 cup finely chopped pecans, toasted (quick toasting tip: to skip the oven/skillet method, you can just zap them in the microwave in a dish for about a minute, or until the nuts are fragrant)

Filling:
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted

1. To prepare dough, combine the first 3 ingredients in a large bowl.

2. Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup warm water in a small bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Stir yeast mixture into milk mixture. Add egg substitute and 3 tablespoons melted butter; stir until well combined.

3. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add 16.8 ounces (about 3 3/4 cups) flour to yeast mixture; stir until smooth. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (CL says to do this for about 8 minutes, but I'm not sure we did it for that long); add enough of remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough will feel slightly soft and tacky).

4. Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray; turn to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 45 minutes. Punch dough down and turn over in bowl; lightly coat with cooking spray. Cover and let rise another 45 minutes. Punch dough down; cover and let rest 5 minutes. (We totally skipped this first rise!)

5. To prepare sauce, combine brown sugar, 3 tablespoons butter, and 2 tablespoons hot water in a small bowl; stir with a whisk until smooth. Scrape sugar mixture into a 13 x 9–inch baking pan coated with cooking spray, spreading evenly over bottom of pan with a spatula. Sprinkle sugar mixture evenly with pecans, and set aside.

6. To prepare filling, combine 2/3 cup granulated sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; pat dough into a 16 x 12–inch rectangle. Brush surface of dough with 1 1/2 tablespoons melted butter. Sprinkle sugar mixture evenly over dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Beginning with a long side, roll up dough jelly-roll fashion; pinch seam to seal (do not seal ends of roll). Cut roll into 15 slices (approximately 1 inch wide). Arrange slices, cut sides up, in prepared pan. Lightly coat rolls with cooking spray; cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

7. Preheat oven to 350°.

8. Uncover rolls, and bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Let stand 1 minute; carefully invert onto serving platter.

9. Be happy! Yeast is your friend!

I wouldn't necessarily call them "Light," at nearly 300 calories per roll, but eh- what's the point of eating sticky buns if you're going to worry about how quickly they'll migrate to your hips, tum, or bum, anyway?

(Side note: These buns are, in fact, "Light" when compared to a Cinnabon cinnamon roll, which weighs in at over 800 calories!)

Verdict: We both love them and were so proud! We'll be making them again- hopefully for a fun family breakfast, like Thanksgiving or Christmas. They're sure to impress. :)

TTYL,
Claire

Adventures in Oatmeal: Rainbow Oats (aka My Ode to Cereal)

Ah, the age-old question: How does one sully a perfectly good, healthy, sugar-free batch of oatmeal?

My answer: Dump in some yummy, colorful, and oh-so-deliciously-sugary Fruity Pebbles!

I've loved this fabulous-yet-nutritionally-sinful cereal since I was a kid. It ties for "Best of All Time" with Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Don't judge. I have developed a more grown-up taste in cereals over the years (I adore the All-Bran Strawberry Medley. It's delicious, with a lot going on in the texture/flavor department, and it's very high in fiber. Gotta love it.), but my old favorites will always have a soft spot in my heart. In addition to the above 2, to round out my...
Top 5 Cereals:

1. Fruity Pebbles

2. Cinnamon Toast Crunch

3. Cracklin' Oat Bran: Looks like dog food; tastes like heaven. This one is actually a sneaker in the same way as granola. It has the appearance of being very healthy for you (calls out to you, "Just eat me! I'll do lovely things for your waistline and blood pressure!") but upon inspection of the nutrition label, its dark secrets are revealed:


Image courtesy of Kellogs.com


True, you could do worse- its first ingredients are whole oats and wheat bran- and admirable start. However, check out the calories per teeny serving, as well as the sugar (15g) and fat (7g) content per teeny serving.

Ok, ok. Now that I look at it again it's really not all that bad for you. Good fiber content- just watch the calories because it's hard to eat only 3/4 cup!

Ooh I bet it would be fabulous mixed in some oatmeal...

But I digress-

4. Golden Grahams: How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...no, there are too many. Golden grahams were another childhood staple of mine. Great, light, simple graham flavor and they do that awesome thing (I don't understand people who don't like this- what's up with you?!) where they flavor the milk as you go. The end result is a yummy, sweet, honey-flavored milk to gulp as a grande finale to your delicious breakfast (lunch...dinner...snack...). We won't even address nutrition/health here. :)

5. Oh's: More on the "graham" front- This is a newer (read: past 5-6 years) find of mine. It's like Quaker's version of stuffed bell peppers... except the bell peppers are Cheerios and the stuffing is grahamy goodness... get it? Anyway. They fabulous! You just have to watch out for the first few bites (before the milk starts to work its magic) because they're crunchy little buggers that might wreak havoc with your gums. Shockingly, their nutrition info is better than that of Cracklin' Oat Bran, but I'm not sure if the lack of whole grains cancels out the benefits. Hm.


Just a note on cereal itself:

I. Love. It.

Cereal is the perfect food (more philosophically than nutritionally, of course) for the following (and of course infinitely more) reasons:

  • Flavor Variety: Of course this is one of the reasons- so many fun flavors!
  • Contrast of Cereal with Cold Milk: Probably my favorite aspect of cereal. There's something so comforting about the crunchy bites swimming around and getting soggy in the cool, creamy milk.
  • Ease: Open box. Pour. Add milk. Serve.
  • Shelf Life: Probably shouldn't be on my list because it's indicative of a lot of preservatives, but oh well. It's a nice perk.

If anyone has recommendations- I'd love them! Although, please keep in mind that I am not, never have, and never will be a fan of chocolate cereals (i.e. cocoa pebbles). I can't do it! Dunno why.

But now, back to the Rainbow Oats.

I had my doubts about this concoction, mainly because I didn't plan on adding any sugar (other than that housed by the Pebbles, of course) and I was right. While it was completely fun to look at, it only had a faint Fruity Pebbly taste. It would probably be a good way to get kids to eat their oatmeal without adding too much of the 'bad stuff.' I only added 1/2 a serving, so it wasn't an absolute sugar overload.

Verdict: I ate it! I liked looking at it!.. I probably won't do it again. Don't be surprised, however, when you find Fruity Pebble cookies or muffins in future posts. :)


TTYL,
Claire

Without Further Ado(bo)

We recently had our friends, Jeff and Krista, over for a mini-Mexican Fiesta. It was a great excuse to:
  1. Cook fun things
  2. Use some of the myriad Mexican-y things we had (cilantro, tomatillos, avocado and various other veggies)
  3. See Jeff and Krista (most importantly, of course!)

This was the first time he and I had tried to make a big dinner involving people other than ourselves and my kitty on a weeknight, and believe me, we cut it close! Even though it was a fairly easy meal to prepare, we were relieved when they called and said they'd be a few minutes late (picking up a tres leches cake- mmmm...) so we had time to finish some things up.

On the Menu:

Cocktails

  • Chris's Frozen 'Ritas (recipe soon to come!)
  • Sol (my favorite Mexican beer)

Appetizers

  • Traditional (read: the way I always make it, therefore it's "traditional") Guacamole (recipe below)
  • Charred Tomatillo Guacamole
  • Fresh Salsa
  • Pepita/Cilantro Pesto-Marinated Shrimp, Avocado, and Chipotle Tostada Bites (recipe below)

Entre

Dessert

  • Tres Leches Cake (courtesy of our lovely guests!)

Everything turned out well! Some pictures of the final products:

Chris's Frozen 'Ritas

Clockwise from Left: Traditional Guacamole, Jeff's Hand, Fresh Salsa, Charred Tomatillo Guacamole


Pepita/Cilantro Pesto-Marinated Shrimp, Avocado, and Chipotle Tostadas

Chicken Tamale Casserole
Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of the beans and tres leches... Blame it on the Fabulous 'Ritas?

Here're the recipes and reviews:

Claire's Traditional Guacamole
I make this differently every time, with no real recipe, but I'll try to hit the high notes. I prefer my guac chunky, so I try not to mash it up much:
Ingredients
  • 3 large avocados
  • 1-2 large tomatoes, liquid drained, roughly chopped
  • 1 bunch cilantro, leaves roughly chopped or torn (I like big pieces of cilantro!)
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1-2 tsp salt (I prefer more)
  • freshly ground black pepper to-taste

Combine chopped tomatoes, cilantro, chili powder, garlic powder and cayenne. When you're ready almost ready to serve, dice avocado into large chunks and mix it in, followed by the lime juice, salt and pepper. Voila! Serve with tortilla chips.

On a side note- I grew up eating everything (queso aka cheese dip, guacamole, etc) with Fritos, and was shocked to see that the world outside of my family didn't follow suit! Now I'm comfortably acclimated to using tortilla chips, instead, but still like to sneak a thick, crunchy, salty, scoopy Frito in every once in a while.

Verdict: The collective group couldn't decide if we liked this one or the tomatillo guac better. I always love my guac, so maybe I'm a bit biased- but it was awesome!


Charred Tomatillo Guacamole

We pretty much followed the recipe exactly on this one. It's always fun to char things... at least to me. Hopefully I'm not alone in that penchant.

Verdict: Like I said, I'm biased towards my simple, chunky guacamole. This was a nice change, though! It was a bit spicier and a little more smooth than mine. I added more salt to it, and that seemed to intensify the flavors.

A word of caution about the recipe, though- Make sure you pick out the tomatillo skins after smushing them into your guac. I noticed a few of them hanging out in the dip, and fished them out. I can imagine that it would be a little bit of an awkward maneuver to pull one of those babies (they stay in-tact!) out of your mouth. Ew.

Fresh Salsa

The only changes we made to the original recipe were:

  • We chunked about a 3/4 of the recipe into the food processor for a bit, just to give the salsa a little more interest (smooth vs. chunky).
  • I used 2 jalapenos instead of serranos- Maybe it would've been better with the heat of the serranos? As it was, I didn't think it was very spicy at all.

Verdict:

This... this was just ok. Yes, it was nice and fresh, but I would've liked more depth of flavor. I thought maybe it should sit longer, but when I dug into leftovers the next day, the only change I noted was that the color was a but muted. Everything said and done, though, I probably won't make it again.

Pepita/Cilantro Pesto-Marinated Shrimp, Avocado, and Chipotle Tostada Bites

These little mouthfuls (the title alone is a mouthful!) were my attempt to copy ZTejas's Grilled Shrimp and Guacamole Tostada Bites. They definitely weren't a perfect copy, but they were still pretty tasty:

Ingredients

  • 2 c fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 c fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 Tbs lime juice
  • 1 small can chipotle adobo puree
  • 1 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted and divided (pepitas- found in the produce section of my HEB grocery)
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 10 large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • guacamole (I just used some of my Traditional Guacamole)
  • 10 mini round tostada chips (I used Tostito's brand)

Preheat broiler.

Combine cilantro through lime juice, plus 2 Tbs chipotle and 1 cup pumpkin seeds in food processor; pulse until combined. Add olive oil in a slow, steady stream while blending until desired consistency is reached. Don't add too much or it will over-power the flavor of the herbs! Add salt and pepper to taste.

Place shrimp in oven-safe dish in one layer. Cover with pesto and marinate for 15 - 30 minutes. Broil shrimp and marinade, uncovered, 5-8 minutes, or until pink and curly.

Assemble: Top each tostada with a spoonful of guacamole. Dollop a bit of chipotle adobo puree on top of the guac, and top it with one shrimp. Sprinkle with reserved pumpkin seeds. Serve immediately.

Verdict: These were good, but not exactly as I'd hoped. Next time, I'll reduce the olive oil in the pesto (like I said, it easily over-powers the herbs), and add a serrano chile to the pesto. They were a little bland, but still seemed indulgent and fancy. Make sure you give them a good-sized dollop of the chipotle adobo sauce on top of the guac, as we couldn't really taste that layer. I'm glad I made them!

Chicken Tamale Casserole

We followed this recipe pretty closely, with just the following modifications:

  • We used full-fat milk/cheese and regular eggs- it was what we had on-hand.
  • We added about double the amount of enchilada sauce that the recipe called for- it still wasn't enough!
  • We omitted the sour cream- just forgot!

Verdict: I'm not sure what to think- it had potential. All in all, it was easy and satisfying, but I found the sweetness of the cream-style corn to be a little distracting. And, as I mentioned, it was a bit dry. Next time, I'd add even more enchilada sauce, nix the cream-style corn and just use regular canned corn, and add the dollop of sour cream. Those aught to fix the only issues I had with the dish.

Black Beans with Cilantro

Pretty straight-forward, here, kids:

  • 2 cans black beans
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, torn or chopped

Mix it all in a pot and simmer until you're ready to eat! We topped it (even though we forgot about the tamale casserole) with a good spoonful of sour cream.

Verdict: They were tasty and super-simple! The side went really well with the casserole, too. Mexican rice would've been carb overload.

There you have it. A full-on mexican fiesta.

TTYL,

Claire

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mmmm... curly.

So, not that I'm an avid consumer of fast food, but I must say that if I were to consume at Jack in the Box (*pauses while every reader closes my blog in disgust*), I'd get the curly fries. They are... fried to perfection? A crispy, curly, roller coaster ride of the palate?

Whatever. I mean- they're french fries. They're curly. They're seasoned. And I love anything I can dip in ketchup. Here's a one-day-only coupon for a free small fry and drink (presumably to try and vanquish all of the remaining grease from your mouth after you finish your fries) at Jack in the Crack. Bon appetit!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Zucchini-palooza- It happens. Oh and some chocolate.


I had an absolute ton of zucchini to get rid of, er, use before they went bad. What else could I do but make zucchini bread? I started with Paula Deen's recipe and ended up tweaking it quite a bit. I know it's practically a mortal sin to "healthify" one of Mrs. Deen's southern yums, but I was in the mood. Go ahead- report me to the oil police!


The final product is what I humbly and rather verbosly call "Whole Wheat Zucchini & Fresh Cranberry Muffins (with a little bit of white chocolate)". Yep. I added fresh cranberries as an extension of my attempt to clear the fridge.


A month or so back, Chris went to the store to get ingredients for a salad we were taking to a pot luck. I'd put cranberries on the list, not thinking that he would interpret it as fresh cranberries instead of my intended dried. I thought it was a cute mix up (we used pears for the salad, instead) and ended up with a bag of cranberries taking up space in our refrigerator. I used the first half in a cranberry oat bread- I'll post about that, soon.

Whole Wheat Zucchini & Fresh Cranberry Muffins
(with a little bit of white chocolate)

Adapted from Paula Deen's Zucchini Bread



  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1 1/2 tsp salt

  • 1 1/2 tsp grated fresh nutmeg

  • 2 tsp baking soda

  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon

  • 3 cups sugar, divided

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil

  • 1/2 cup apple sauce (all I had was cinnamon-flavored...no regrets!)

  • 4 eggs, beaten

  • 1/3 cup water

  • 2 cups grated zucchini

  • 1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries (1/2 of a bag, however much that is)

  • 1 tsp lemon juice

  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine cranberries and 1/2 cup sugar in the food processor and chop into bits. Let sit while you combine the rest of the ingredients:

2. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, nutmeg, baking soda, cinnamon and remaining 2 1/2 cups of sugar. In a separate bowl, combine oil, apple sauce, eggs, water, zucchini, chopped cranberries and lemon juice. Mix wet ingredients into dry and fold in white chocolate chips.

3. Spray muffin tins with cooking spray. Fill each almost to the brim with batter* and bake 17 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

*At this point, I thought they looked a little, well, ugly so I topped some with a sprinkle of quick-cooking oats. Now that's pizazz.

Verdict
Me: I liked 'em! Still not the healthiest thing ever (hell-o sugar!) even after the changes I made, though. I guess you could take things further and use egg beaters and probably cut the sugar down a bit. However, their flavor and texture was good. Not the best quick bread ever, but a good use of zucchini and fresh cranberries! Oh, and speaking of the cranberries- other than the pretty red flecks, I couldn't really taste them. I'd make sure they weren't chopped quite so small, next time.

Chris: He liked 'em! It's hard to tell with him, though. I don't think he loved them.

Co-workers' Inferred Review: I took about 15 of them and only 2 were left at the end of the day. I didn't get any personal raves, though, so I don't think they were judged as anything outstanding. I tried a piece again at work (a day after making them), and I found them a bit watery, so I might just do away with that 1/3 cup water if I make them again. I imagine the zucchini lets off enough on its own.

So... that's 2 cups of zucchini down...

Did I mention I had a ton of zucchini to use? In addition to the zucchini bread, I had set out to make zucchini cookies from a neat-sounding recipe I'd come across not too long ago. But, I ultimately decided that double zucchini treats in one day might not be so fantastic for my poor co-workers. (Some of them had already expressed rather negative sentiments regarding the general healthiness of the muffs.) Unfortunately, I had already softened a stick of butter. Hm. What to do?

I know- make Chewy Chocolate White Chocolate Chip Cookies!
Didn't see that one coming, did you?

Really I just wanted to make something that Chris would flip over- and flip he did!
Chewy Chocolate White Chocolate Chip Cookies
Recipe from Picky Palate
I lazily halved the recipe (read: inexact half) because I only had 1 stick of softened butter and 1/2 a bag of white chocolate chips, and it worked out great. Here's my "lazy" version:


  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar

  • 1/3 cup brown sugar

  • 1 egg

  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • 1/2 tsp vanilla

  • 1 scant cup all-purpose flour

  • 3/4 cup cocoa

  • 1 tsp baking soda

  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
1. Cream the butter and 2 sugars.
2. Add the egg and beat well. Add the salt and vanilla.
3. In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa and soda. Mix into butter/sugar mixture. (My batter was super thick!)
4. Fold in (more like cram in...) white chocolate chips.
5. Scoop by rounded Tbs onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes.

Verdict:
Me: Good GAWD, these were good! Yummy flavor and fantastic, chewy texture. These are just a nice, simple, quick go-to, crowd-pleasing cookie. Is that enough adjectives for you?
Oooh. It just occured to me that these would be so good with re-hydrated craisins in them! I'm going to have to remember that for next time.

Chris: He closed his eyes while he was eating them, if that tells you anything. I really think he loved these. I think I need to get him to commit to a solid rating system, though, because when I asked him if he liked them better than aaaaaaanything else I'd made, well, he couldn't remember. Helpful, Christopher. Oh well- at least he liked them!

Co-Workers' Inferred Review: To come! Had to space out the treats, so I'm taking them tomorrow. :)
Update: No real review to give- no comments/thank you's. If they liked 'em, they kept it to themselves. Only one was left at the end of the day, though.


That's it! I still have quite a bit of zucchini left, though. Maybe I should try it in something savory, like a pasta dish? We'll see.

I'll leave you with a picture of me working on my photography skillz:

Friday, March 6, 2009

My Omnivore's 100

Rather than eerie blog silence (if a blog gets updated in a forest and there's no one there to read it, does it really change? or something...), any readers can amuse themselves with my response to Very Good Taste's Omnivore's 100! I've been wanting to do this for a while. I'm such a nerd.

Here’s how it goes:
1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out [I italicized them...] any items that you would never consider eating.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:
1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi (sounds yummy!)
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle (I should be so lucky)
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream (mmmm...)
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda (sounds really tasty...)
31. Wasabi peas (love 'em!)
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl (both separately, but I've never had the combo)
33. Salted lassi (I loves me some salt)
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar (I would, but I probably would hate it- hate cigars!)
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O (well, I did go to a the one-time #1 party school in the US)
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail (that's a big fat maaayyyybe)
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal (only with a big glass of milk handy...)
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu (too chicken!)
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut (reaction: meh.)
50. Sea urchin (tasted pretty awful)
51. Prickly pear (I'm assuming the margaritas at Vivo count?)
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal (I just can't rule out that I'll get really desperate, some day...)
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV (not sure whether I've had this or not...)
59. Poutine (sure, why not)
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin (digestion = good!)
64. Currywurst
65. Durian (I'd hold my nose)
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain (meh)
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost (sounds kinda cool)
75. Roadkill (yep.)
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie (mmmm...cherry...)
78. Snail (mostly tasted like butter- not a bad thing!)
79. Lapsang souchong (campfire-flavored tea sounds cool)
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum (oh lord, I love it)
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant. (again with the luck)
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers (soon, probably!)
89. Horse (I mean, I've eaten a hot dog?)
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox (super love!)
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Not too shabby...only a 6% "no way" rate. Looks like I've got a lot of neat foods to try (and make Chris try), too!

TTYL,
Claire

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Quick Update and Jamba Juice Oatmeal Cupon



Long time, no post... I can't make many excuses, although I have been moving so the techonology "situation" hasn't quite been straightened out. I have, however, definitely had time for baking/cooking and taking photos of the results, so when I finally get my act together I'll have tons of posts. Hopefully next week I can make some of that happen.


Posts of Christmas Future:


  • Blueberry and Cream Cookies

  • Oatmeal Cranberry Bread

  • Oreo Cupcakes (pictured, sans final whole-oreo topper)

  • Chocolate Guiness Cakes

  • Tamale Casserole

  • Charred Tomatillo Guacamole

  • Zucchini, Cranberry, White Chocolate Bread

  • ...and many more!

As a partial "I'm sorry- please forgive me," here's a Jamba Juice link that will get you a cup of their oatmeal (topped with berries and brown sugar) for just a dollar. I can't vouch for how tasty it is, but I'm going to print the cupon myself and try it out next week. At 290 calories, it's not a bad breakfast- watch out for the excessive (25g!) sugar, though. At any rate, the cupon is good through all of March.


Enjoy!


TTYL,


Claire

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Muffin-to-Cookie: Hopefully a Magical Transformation

Bleh. Rough weekend- I'm bouncing back, though! So much so that I'm already planning (and super excited about) my baking adventure this weekend.


I'm going to make some totally delicious-sounding cookies from marthastewartliving.com. Blueberry-and-Cream cookies? Are you kidding me?! Dangerous to the diet, for sure. Results and recipe to follow.


For now, all I have to report is that Chris and I went to Kenobi, a new sushi place in Austin, last night for dinner. All in all, it was nice- The ambiance definitely outweighed the quality of the food, though. I'm not saying it was bad, but I can safely assert that I've had better (namely at Maiko and Musashino) in the Austin area. Maiko has to be my favorite, because it has the modern/hip atmosphere and really great, albiet slightly more expensive, sushi. Musachino has slightly better food, but is definitely lacking in decor. Either way, it's good to be able to mix it up. As for Kenobi, it's conveniently located and I'm a sucker for ambiance, so I'm sure we'll go again.

Friday, January 30, 2009

This Hurts My Heart

For those of you who know me personally, today is a sad day with or without this news. Apparently it's been public for some time that Mother's Cookies is shutting down. This is rather poignant, considering today's events. These cookies, Circus Animals specifically, aside from being completely delicious, remind me of my childhood. I wasn't really allowed many sweets at home (I'd actually like to thank my Mom for that), but during holidays we'd travel to relatives' houses and I would always go straight for these. They don't remind me of my Grandmother, directly, since I used to get them mainly at my Aunt's house; just indirectly, as having them usually corresponded with spending time with her, and our family, over the holidays.


I'm so sad to hear that they won't be produced any longer. I'll definitely have to head to the store to see if I can stock up.

Here's a picture from Dessert First- as I currently don't have one on-hand:

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Product Reviews: Yogurt, Yogurt and Healthy Cookies

Yogurt: Chobani
Rating: *****

I've never been just a huge yogurt person (much less greek yogurt that doesn't have all of the yummy sugar in it like Yoplait, etc.), but I'd heard enough about this brand to be tempted to try it. I bought the vanilla kind from Whole Foods, as well as some fresh blueberries and teeny whole grain cookies (see review, below) to mix in.


To my surprise- yum! Tasty and way more nutritious than the sugary stuff. Also- wow, much thicker. It actually feels nourishing while you're eating it (the fresh blueberries help and, oddly enough, the crumbled cookie does not detract).


I'll definitely buy this again and try to the other flavors, although it is sort of pricey.


Yogurt: Fage Total 0%
Rating: **** (five, if you add yummy stuff to it)

My second yogurt endeavor of the week. Fage has the same, luxurious thickness of Chobani, without the flava-flav. I definitely appreciated my blueberry/cookie mix-ins with this one. Eating this greek yogurt inspired similar feelings of, "Wow. I'm doing something lovely for my body/soul!" as the Chobani, for 30 fewer calories.


I would say that plain yogurt is definitely an acquired taste, though. Either that, or you really, really want to like it (that's sort of my approach). So yep- I like it! I'll buy it again. Plus, it's nice that it's available at regular groceries, and doesn't require a trip to Whole Foods.


Healthy Cookies: Cookiehead
Rating: *****

May I just be an annoying individual of my generation and give this an "OMGYUM!" These little cookies are completely wonderful. They're all natural (nothing on the label you can't pronounce or couldn't find in your local super market), relatively healthy (grains 'n' stuff, and not a ton of sugar), in small portions (3 cookies is 150 kcals, but one 50 calorie cookie is more than sufficient to squelch a sweet tooth) and they're soft and chewy!

Clearly I'm amped about the soft/chewy bit. I didn't expect that at all from a cookie that doesn't have any nasty preservatives in it.

As for the 'healthy' part, here's what their website has to say: "All natural cookies made with whole grains, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, dark chocolate, flaxseed, dried berries and nuts, phytonutrients and flavanols. Food for runners, food for hiking, convenient, nutritious, grab-and-go cookies with no preservatives. Trans fat free."


As I mentioned earlier in the post, I've been crumbling up one cookie in my yogurt. It makes a perfect topping! So far, I've tried the Honey Maple Walnut Flaxseed (! check out that roll call of good stuff!) and I was so in love that Chris and I bought a package of the Belgian Chocolate Chunk (his choice) for him to try. He was impressed- lots of eye-bugging and 'mmm'-ing ensued.

Will I buy these again? Duh- I already have. I'm glad my gym is right next to Whole Foods so I can trot over after a workout and...um...buy cookies.

Earl Grey and White Chocolate Chunk Muffins

I found this recipe and got excited for three reasons:



  1. Oh man, I love baking.

  2. Tea in a muffin sounded really neat- like the aromatics and white chocolate would go really well together.

  3. My boyfriend has this thing for Earl Grey tea. Gotta support his antioxidant habit!


I didn't take a picture of the finished product, but here's one from the original source of the recipe (thanks, eat me, delicious):

Mine looked pretty similar except for the important fact that they were a little beyond al dente... i.e. crunchified. I didn't really mind, but they were crispy enough to keep me from bringing them in to share with co-workers, so the boyfriend was 'lucky' enough to keep them all. Really, though, as far as flavor goes- they were pretty great!

Next time, aside from the obvious reduction of cooking time, I'd probably go balls-to-the-wall and add more mashed up tea. Chris and I were both a bit nervous about the amount that went in, since Earl Grey is pretty pungent stuff.

One other issue I had is this- Just when exactly would you eat an Earl Grey 'muffin' with white chocolate chunks? Seems a little sweet for breakfast, but then a little, well, UN-sweet for dessert. I know Chris had one this morning (what a nice boy!) but I don't know if I could swing that, myself.

So here we go- stats time:

Flavor: **** (pretty darn tasty)

Consistency: *** (a little dense for my liking)

Ease: ***** (super dooper easy)

I'll definitely make them again with the modifications above. Here's the original recipe, from eat me, delicious:

Earl Grey White Chocolate Chunk Muffins

Adapted from eat me, delicious; Adapted from Baking From My Home To Yours

2/3 cup sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsps baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 Tbs ground Earl Grey tea (I'll make it 2 Tbs, next time)

3/4 cup sour cream

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

3/4 cup white chocolate chunks

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400F. Butter or spray the 12 molds in a regular-size muffin pan or fit the molds with paper muffin cups.In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and ground Earl Grey tea. In a large glass measuring cup or another bowl, whisk the sour cream, eggs, vanilla, and melted butter together until well blended.

Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and, with the whisk or a rubber spatula, gently but quickly stir to blend. Don't worry about being thorough - a few lumps are better than over mixing the batter. Stir in the white chocolate chunks. Divide the batter evenly among the muffins cups. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes*, or until the tops are golden and a thin knife inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes before carefully removing each muffin from its mold.

*I'll reduce the time to 15, next round.

It's Thursday

...I never did get the hang of Thursdays...

Nothing fancy, kids. I'm just planning to use this blog mostly as a way to review recipes I've tried.

I'll give everything a rating out of 5 stars.

Enjoy!