Archive for September, 2009

Seasoned Oyster Crackers

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Recently, my family had a party celebrating my grandpa’s life. He died a few years ago, but we decided to celebrate his birthday this year by coming together as a family and playing some of his favorite games and eating some of his favorite foods.

There are a few things that stand out in my mind when it comes to “Paw-Paw” foods, but I knew that the family would have most of them covered. (Fried Bologna Sandwiches, Colby Cheese in the wax wrapping, and spreadable yellow mustard in a jar, in case you were wondering). But one of the most iconic “Paw-Paw” foods for me has to be oyster crackers. My grandparents kept them in a canister on the fridge, and when he ate soup for lunch, the canister would come down as he set out everything he’d need for his midday meal. They were fun for me, as a little kid–we didn’t really have them at home. And as I got older, whenever I happened to come across them (mostly on the side of a Steak ‘N Shake cup of chili), they always made me think of Paw Paw. Today, they’re my own soup-cracker of choice, and I remember him fondly whenever we have chili or soup at home.

For the party, I wanted to be a little creative with oyster crackers–treat them as my own kind of “secret ingredient,” Iron Chef style, but I was stuck. When I mentioned my dilemma to some co-workers at lunch, a few people suggested this recipe for seasoned snack crackers. On their recommendation, I decided to whip them up.

When my roommate Leah came home and saw me making them, she got super-excited…apparently they’re a treat from her own home, something her mom would make from time to time when she was younger.

The recipe was about as simple as can be, and the crackers were pretty tasty. Nothing extraordinary, but a quick and tasty treat. The kind of thing that will be nice to have in my back pocket for late-notice parties. These could be set out anywhere you’d put out Chex Mix, or mixed nuts, for example. I also ate some of the leftovers with a bowl of tomato soup, which really dressed up a basic soup.

Seasoned Oyster Crackers

  • 2 bags oyster crackers
  • 2 cup canola oil or vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried dill weed
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 packet dry ranch dressing (I used Hidden Valley Ranch)
  1. Microwave oil in a 2 cup glass container for about 45-60 seconds. Whisk in seasonings and buttermilk ranch dressing package.
  2. Pour over oyster crackers in a large container and mix until thoroughly coated. Store in an air tight container.

Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuits

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

I like seafood, and my family likes seafood, but unfortunately, I’ve got a circle of friends who don’t care much for it, as a rule. In college, even though I could share an employee discount from my part-time job at The Olive Garden, most of my friends weren’t interested in Red Lobster–until I introduced them to the biscuits.

Red Lobster calls them Cheddar Bay Biscuits. They’re soft and fluffy in the middle, crispy at the edges, flavored with garlic and cheddar cheese throughout, and finished with butter and fresh parsley. Best of all, they come in a bottomless basket, like chips & salsa at a Mexican restaurant or more standard dinner rolls at a steakhouse. They truly are crave-able.

So you can imagine how excited I was when the most recent issue of Food Network Magazine claimed to have cracked the secret recipe. I couldn’t wait to try them.

And you know what? They’re really good. I thought they tasted just like the real thing! Next time, I think I’d take more care to make smaller biscuits. The larger ones that I made didn’t get as crispy as I would’ve liked. I ended up with an even dozen, but I’d probably aim for 14 or 16 next time to get the proper size.

Almost-Famous Cheddar Biscuits
From Food Network Magazine, October 2009

For the Biscuits:

  • Cooking Spray
  • 1 3/4 Cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable shortening, at room temperature
  • 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 6 ounces grated yellow cheddar cheese (about 1 1/4 cups)
  • 3/4 cup whole milk

For the Garlic Butter:

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley

1. Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees. Lightly mist a large baking sheet with cooking spray.

2. Make the biscuits: pules the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Add the shortening and pulse until combined. Add the cold butter cubes, pulse 4 or 5 times, or until the butter is in pea-sized pieces. Add the cheese and pulse 2 or 3 times. Pour in the milk and pulse just until the mixture is moistened and forms a shaggy dough. Turn out onto a clean lightly-floured surface and knead gently until the dough comes together. Do not overwork the dough, or the biscuits will be tough.

3. Drop the dough onto the baking sheet in scant 1/4-cup portions, 2 inches apart, and bake until golden, 15 to 20 minutes.

4. While the biscuits are baking, make the garlic butter. Melt the butter with the garlic in a small sauce pan over medium heat; cook for 1 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley. When the biscuits are finished, brush them with the garlic butter and serve warm.

Note: I like that this recipe is made in the food processor, but I don’t have any experience with how it would work without the food processor. I do have an instinct that everything up to the vegetable shortening could be replaced with Bisquick–but I haven’t tried that either.

Crockpot Rotisserie Chicken

Friday, September 25th, 2009

I love crockpot cooking. I know it’s not “cool” or fancy. I’ve talked about this before, but it’s really a fantastic thing to be able to walk in to the smell of a completed dinner after working all day. Most of the time, I want to cook–it’s relaxing, and  a natural part of my day. But not every day.

Our slow cooker standbys are Beef Stroganoff, Pepper Steak, and Pot Roast. These items all lend themselves to crock pot cooking, in large part because you can take a less expensive cut of meat and make it tender and delicious, just by giving it all day to cook. Pork chops work well enough. Chicken is the one thing I haven’t been able to make in a slow cooker. In the past, I’ve tried a number of recipes with boneless skinless chicken breasts in the crock pot, but I haven’t been happy with the texture of the chicken. It always got too soft. This recipe was different, though.

Using the whole chicken maintained the right texture, and it really couldn’t have been easier. You could season this any way that you choose–I used a chicken spice rub that my friend Jeff bought me for my birthday, but more traditional lemon & herbs, lemon pepper, or paprika would work just as well. Salt, pepper & garlic would be delicious. This chicken tastes like the rotisserie chickens that you would pick up at the grocery store, but it’s more fresh, healthier,  and only a fraction of the cost.

roasted chicken

Crockpot Rotisserie Chicken

  • 1 whole roasting chicken
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, or extra virgin olive oil spray
  • 3 tablespoons Rub With Love Chicken Spice Rub
  • aluminum foil
  • 4 medium potatoes (optional)

Clean chicken inside and out. Rub with extra virgin olive oil all over, or spray with olive oil spray. Sprinkle with Spice Rub.

For easier cleanup, use a liner, or spray the inside of your crockpot with a bit of non-stick cooking spray.

Next, make 3 or 4 balls of aluminum foil (about the size of baseballs) and place in the bottom of your crockpot. This will keep your chicken out of the drippings while it cooks. Rest the chicken on the balls of foil breast side down. Cook on high for 45 minutes to an hour, then reduce heat to low for 4-6 hours.

Note: Instead of just using balls of foil, I wrapped potatoes in foil and placed them at the bottom of the crockpot. This meant we had roasted potatoes for dinner with the chicken. I also used the pan drippings to make a simple gravy to go with the chicken and potatoes (2 tablspoons of flour with 2 tablespoons of butter cooked to golden brown over medium heat to make a roux, then whisk in about 2 cups of pan drippings from the crockpot and season with salt and pepper. If you don’t have 2 cups of drippings, you can add some chicken stock or even white wine to get the right amound of liquid). Next time, I’d probably do some wrapped potatoes with some baby carrots. I don’t know when it happened, but I love carrots when they’re cooked with a roast or other meat.

Spaghetti Sauce

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

I’ve been crazy-busy at work lately, traveling at least a couple of days a week. That’s why the blog’s been so quiet–between the actual being on the road part, and the being exhausted when I get home part, there hasn’t been a lot of noteworthy cooking going on. There also hasn’t been a lot of grocery shopping going on. Much of what’s happened lately has been thrown together at the last minute, based on whatever’s in the cabinet.

Which led me to make my own spaghetti sauce. We had tomatoes, tomato paste, shallots, garlic—just no actual spaghetti sauce. I could’ve gone to the store, I guess. But instead, I took the “lazy” way and made the sauce from scratch. It turned out to be quite tasty!

Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

  • 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 15 ounce cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 15 ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning mix
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup red wine

Heat the oil and saute the onion until soft. Add the garlic and cook a few minutes, stirring frequently. Add the tomatoes, sauce, sugar, Italian seasoning, red pepper and wine. Simmer 30 minutes or more over very low heat, stirring occasionally. For meat sauce, add one pound of browned ground beef or cooked Italian sausage. Serve over hot spaghetti noodles.

Chicken Tamale Casserole

Monday, September 14th, 2009

I’ve been playing with the idea of making tamales, but I know how much work they really are. Well, I know how much work they are on paper. I’ve never tried to make them before–and honestly, I imagine they’re even more work than I’ve heard.

That is why the idea of a Chicken Tamale Casserole appealed to me.

It was good, but not great. The good news is, I know what went “wrong” and have some solid ideas of how to fix it. I definitely plan to try this one again sometime.

Chicken Tamale Casserole

Chicken Tamale Casserole
Serves 8 – From Cooking Light

1 cup (4 ounces) preshredded 4-cheese Mexican blend cheese, divided
1/3 cup fat-free milk
1/4 cup egg substitute
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 (14 3/4-ounce) can cream-style corn
1 (8.5-ounce) box corn muffin mix (such as Martha White)
1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chiles, drained
Cooking spray
1 (10-ounce) can red enchilada sauce (such as Old El Paso)
2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast
1/2 cup fat-free sour cream

1. Preheat oven to 400°.

2. Combine 1/4 cup cheese and next 7 ingredients (through chiles) in a large bowl, stirring just until moist. Pour mixture into a 13 x 9–inch baking dish coated with cooking spray.

3. Bake at 400° for 15 minutes or until set. Pierce entire surface liberally with a fork; pour enchilada sauce over top. Top with chicken; sprinkle with remaining 3/4 cup cheese. Bake at 400° for 15 minutes or until cheese melts. Remove from oven; let stand 5 minutes. Cut into 8 pieces; top each serving with 1 tablespoon sour cream.

Note (Or what I would change for next time): First of all, I used Jiffy cornbread mix, which is usually pretty satisfying, as far as corn bread mixes go, but for this recipe, a little too sweet. A less-sweet southern style cornbread mix would have worked better. This recipe came from Cooking Light magazine, but if I wasn’t as concerned about the health aspects of the dish, I probably would have used more cheese. Even trying to keep it light, using reduced fat cheese (there are lots of great 2% blends these days!) would’ve kept the nutritionals the same for a bit more cheese. I think it would’ve made a difference. Finally, I should mention that a handful of crushed corn chips sprinkled over the top was delicious. That one was Cara’s idea.

Monte Cristo Sandwiches

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

When I was in college, Bennigan’s was one of our frequent dinner spots. For one, there was a Bennigan’s in each of the malls where we shopped the most. For another, we were all pretty broke, and the food was relatively cheap.

There were also these Monte Cristo sandwiches.

monte cristo

Our friend Sarah swore they were delicious, but Leah and I were hard to convince. The sandwich itself is basic turkey, ham, and cheese on white bread. The special part is that it’s battered and fried, then dusted with powdered sugar. Bennigan’s serves the sandwich with a sauce made of raspberry preserves.

For the longest time, it didn’t sound like anything I wanted to eat. I couldn’t quite place it, but it just sounded all wrong. Too many flavors going on. Raspberry jam  and a turkey sandwich? I was definitely not on board. (It didn’t help that Sarah had tried to recreate this “treat” in our school cafeteria with some collection of french toast, turkey, and generic grape jelly). Finally, somehow, she convinced us to try it, and we had to admit we were wrong. It’s delicious.

It really is.

I use pancake mix for the batter, and deep fry a turkey, ham, and cheese sandwich, like I said. We use good quality raspberry preserves for the dipping sauce. The sandwich is a great blend of salty and sweet, which I enjoy. One thing I never seem to remember is that half a sandwich is really enough for anyone, so we always end up with too many. The recipe below tastes exactly like the Bennigan’s original. With it being deep-fried, I certainly wouldn’t recommend this as an all-the-time thing, but it’s grate for a treat, and definitely worth the trouble.

Deep Fried Monte Cristo Sandwiches
Serves 4

  • 4 slices of white sandwich bread (you want the slices that are a bit longer than your standard wonder bread square–more rectangle shaped)
  • 4 oz deli turkey, sliced thin
  • 4 oz deli ham, sliced thin
  • 4 slices medium cheddar cheese
  • Vegetable Oil, for deep frying
  • 1/2 cup raspberry preserves, for dipping
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar, for dusting
  • 1 cup pancake batter, prepared according to package directions (I use a Just-Add-Water mix, and it works just fine)

1. Heat your cooking oil in a deep fryer or heavy bottomed pot. When the surface starts to shimmer, add a couple of drops of the pancake batter. If it bubbles and starts to brown at the edges, the oil is ready–if it sinks to the bottom, wait a few minutes longer and try again.

2. While the oil is heating, assemble the sandwiches. I made each sandwich with 2 ounces of turkey, 2 ounces of ham, and 2 slices of cheese. You want to assemble the sandwiches so that the cheese  is closest to the bread slices, which will help the sandwich stay together when you fry it. Cut each sandwich in half along a diagonal.

3. Dip each sandwich half in the prepared pancake batter, turning to coat. It will be thick–that’s okay. Carefully drop each sandwich into the deep fryer or prepared oil to fry.  Sandwiches will float as they fry, and take about 6 or 7 minutes to fry completely. Be sure to turn them once about halfway through, so that both sides get golden brown and crisp. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels to drain, and sprinkle the hot sandwiches with powdered sugar. Serve with warmed raspberry preserves on the side for dipping.

Anniversary Presents!

Friday, September 4th, 2009

David and I got married a year ago. Well, a year ago last Sunday. First, I’d like to take a moment to be a little bit mushy and point out that I love David, he loves me, and this year has been awesome.

Now, I’d like to brag about the amazing anniversary presents he got me—from Le Creuset!

I couldn’t have been more excited, I don’t think. I’ve wanted a Le Creuset French Oven for a long time, and it’s really the one slight disappointment from our wedding registry–we got pretty much everything else you could think of or want.

So David made the lengthy excursion to the Le Creuset Outlet Store way out in the suburbs and picked up a few amazing presents.

First, these oil & vinegar bottles (but mine are the same blue). They’re awesome, and match my salt cellar from Leah.

OIL

Then, an amazing French Oven in the same cobalt color. I’m having visions of Coq au Vin, dear readers, I definitely am.

oven

Finally, a heart shaped French Oven. Why? Because David thought it was ridiculous and that I would love it. And he was 100% right–it is ridiculous, and I do love it! I feel like heart shaped Chicken Pot Pie is in our future.

heart

I know some girls would’ve wanted jewelry. And I know that the 1st Anniversary is traditionally paper. But for me, this was the perfect 1st Anniversary gift, and like David, something I plan to keep pretty much forever. :)

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

This weekend, David and I attended a wedding in Iowa. On our way out of town, we stopped at a small-town restaurant for “Brunch” which turned out to be just plain lunch. The food was good, if homey, and reminded me of every church pot-luck I’ve ever attended. Green Bean Casserole. Four kinds of Pasta Salad. Brownie bars. Fried Chicken.

I mentioned to my friend Sarah that this was “church-lady food” and she agreed whole-heartedly. This refrigerator pie from The Pioneer Woman is another example of “church-lady food,” which isn’t a complaint! My grandmothers are church ladies, and they make awesome food for pot-luck dinners.

But back to the pie. It was super-easy to throw together, and surprisingly rich. One friend (Hi Cara!) said it tastes exactly like Reese’s Peanut Butter Puffs Cereal, and she might be right. Again, not a complaint (Yum!). I do have to warn you that it’s rich, however. A small slice is enough!

IMG_2258

Chocolate Peanut Butter Icebox Pie
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman

  • 25 Oreo Cookies
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 8 ounce package of cream cheese, softened
  • 8 ounce tub of Cool Whip, thawed
  • 1 cup of peanut butter (chunky or smooth–whichever you prefer)
  • 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350. In a food processor, crush the Oreo cookies until the mixture is all one color and all the white has been incorporated into the crumbs. Place in a medium mixing bowl and drizzle with the melted butter. Stir to combine. Press into a pie plate and bake for 7-10 minutes, or until crust is set. Cool completely.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine the peanut butter and cream cheese. Beat with the paddle attachment until smooth. Carefully add the powdered sugar (start your mixer on low to avoid the sugar cloud!) and beat again until smooth. Add the Cool Whip and, once again, beat until smooth. You may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl from time to time.

Pour filling into crust, evening out the top with a knife or spatula. Chill in the freezer for at least an hour before serving. Let rest at room temperature for 5-10 minutes before cutting into the pie. Or…well..lets just say your pie won’t be very pretty if you don’t. Right mom? Liz?