My little sister does not have very exacting tastes. She likes spaghetti, and cheeseburgers, and Skittles, and Diet Coke. And she likes Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies. Rather adorably, she pronounces them Oitmeal Cream Pies. (Oatmeal starts like Ointment in Liz’s world–no one knows why or how that started).
You might think from this story that Liz is about 7 years old. In reality, she’s 21. Though to be fair, her tastes haven’t changed too much since she was 7 years old. That’s just fine with me, for the most part. She likes what she likes, and she’s pretty straightforward about it.
Last weekend, my 21 year old sister took and passed the exam to become a Licensed Massage Therapist. Congratulations to her, right? Congratulations, indeed. To celebrate, I set about making her favorite treat. They turned out to be a delicious, delicious sucess.
Little Debbie Style Oatmeal Cream Pies
Adapted from backtothecuttingboard.com
- 1 cup butter
- 3/4 cup light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tbsp molasses
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 eggs
- 1 3/4 cups flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/8 tsp cinnamon
- 1 1/2 cups rolled oats
- 2 tsp very hot water
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1 (7.5 ounce) jar marshmallow cream
- 1/2 cup shortening
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon in a bowl.
2. In a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars. Add in eggs, one at a time. Finally beat in molasses and vanilla.
3. Slowly add the flour mixture to creamed mixture and beat until just blended; mix in the oats with a wooden spoon.
4. Drop dough by tablespoons. I used a tablespoon sized cookie scoop to make sure that my cookies were the same size–important when you’re going to sandwich them together! Bake on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, at 350 degrees (F) for 10-12 minutes, or until just starting to brown around the edges. They will look moist; do not overcook them. Let sit on cookie sheet for about 5 minutes and then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
5. While the cookies bake, prepare the cream filling. In a small bowl, dissolve the salt in the hot water.
6. Combine marshmallow cream, shortening, powdered sugar, salt water, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment; mix on high until fluffy–about 3-4 minutes).
7. When cookies are completely cooled, spread filling on flat side of one cookie, press 2nd cookie on top.
Note: I’d love to tell you how to store them, but I’ve made them twice now, and neither batch lasted longer than 24 hours. This recipe yields about 2 dozen sandwich cookies.
I pulled this recipe from a recent issue of Cooking Light magazine. I don’t really have a lot to say about this one–it was good, but not great. I prefer the Cashew Chicken Stir Fry that I made before. Really, there shouldn’t have been a lot of difference, but to me, the previous version was much better. I’ll be keeping that as my standby, as far as Cashew Chicken goes.
Chicken & Cashews
Adapted from Cooking Light, May 2009
- 3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce, divided
- 2 tablespoons dry sherry
- 4 teaspoons cornstarch, divided
- 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1/2 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil, divided
- 3/4 cup chopped onion
- 1/2 cup chopped celery
- 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
- 1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 cup chopped green onions (about 3 green onions)
- 1/4 cup chopped unsalted dry-roasted cashews
1. Combine 1 tablespoon soy sauce, sherry, 2 teaspoons cornstarch, and chicken in a large bowl; toss well to coat. Combine remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce, remaining 2 teaspoons cornstarch, broth, oyster sauce, and honey in a small bowl.
2. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken mixture to pan; sauté 3 minutes. Remove from pan. Heat remaining 1 teaspoon oil in pan. Add onion, celery, and bell pepper to pan; sauté 2 minutes. Add ginger and garlic; sauté 1 minute. Return chicken mixture to pan; sauté 1 minute. Stir in broth mixture. Bring to a boil; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Sprinkle with green onions and cashews.
Rice pilaf: Heat 1 tablespoon canola oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 1/2 cup chopped onion and 2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger to pan; sauté 2 minutes. Stir in 1 cup water, 1/2 cup long-grain rice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 12 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat; stir in 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro.
It was a lazy Saturday morning. Well, it was probably (technically) a Saturday afternoon, but I hadn’t been awake for long. I didn’t have any plans for baking or an elaborate dinner, like I often do on the weekends. I didn’t really have any plans at all, and I was getting bored. Already. I’d bounced from my laptop to my kindle to the TV to back to bed to my kindle, all in approximately half an hour. I couldn’t even count on the Cubs to entertain me (they were scheduled for a night game).
Then, David perked* things up. He told me to get dressed, that we were going out. And wouldn’t tell me where.
“Should I eat something?” I asked.
“Sure,” he said, refusing to elaborate.
So we got ready, and we walked to the El. We changed trains, ended up on the Brown line, which I almost never take. As we walked down the street, I slowly recognized the neighborhood, from the charity events we’ve attended at Second City. We turned and walked through the wrought-iron gates labeling the neighborhood Old Town.
As we walked, I asked David for hints, pretended to believe that we were going to get a puppy (so not happening right now!) and just badgered him in general. He wouldn’t crack. Finally, we arrived at our destination: The Spice House.
The Spice House is, well, what it sounds like mostly. It’s a store that sells spices and spice blends of all kinds. You might be thinking, “But my grocery store has spices, why do I care?” The cool thing about The Spice House is you can buy what you want in just about any quantity, AND the store is set up like a Bath and Body Works, with samples and testers everywhere.
When we walked in, there was a long set of shelves to the right of the door that showcased individual spice blends for each historical neighborhood in Chicago. Like the “Greektown ‘Billygoat’ Seasoning,” a blend of salt, garlic, Tellicherry black pepper, onion powder, Greek fancy oregano and powdered lemon peel. Or the “Bridgeport Seasoning,” a blend of red peppers, romano cheese, salt, toasted onion, thyme, rosemary, cayenne, basil, white onion, and Tellicherry pepper. I really enjoyed tasting each of the spice blends they had available.
We ended up buying five things:
1. “Little Italy Herbs,” an updated version of classic Italian seasoning. I picked this one because we were out of dried Italian seasoning (I use it quite a bit), and even though David thought I should get something a little more out of the ordinary, I am very happy with it. Much tastier than the basic grocery store Italian seasoning we were using. I think it’s the lemon peel.
2. Adobo Seasoning. This is a Mexican spice blend made from salt, onion powder, garlic powder, Tellicherry black pepper, ground cumin, and powdered Mexican oregano. It’s along the lines of a taco seasoning, but without the chemicals and added sodium. Also, without the spice. This adds lots of flavor, but no heat, so you can control the flavor and the spiciness separately. I used it to make Mexican Risotto last night.
3. Toasted White Sesame Seeds. I use sesame seeds in a lot of different recipes. I sprinkle them on rolls, over Chicken Baseballs or Pot Pies. I also include them in any kind of asian or stir fry recipe, even if it’s only my portion. I really like sesame seeds. When I’m making Baked Brown Rice to go along with Pepper Steak or Stir Fry, I’ll add sesame seeds to the dry rice before I add the water. It lets the seeds add flavor to the rice. I was almost out of Sesame Seeds, which is why I chose this one, but they are very tasty. Perfectly toasted, and much more reasonably priced than the last sesame seeds I purchased.
4. Herbs de Provence. This is a classic blend of herbs used in French cooking. I’ve been meaning to buy one of these blends–it pops up often enough in the ingredients list of The Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics cookbook, which I love. I haven’t used this yet, but I’m looking forward to trying it soon. This blend is made from rosemary, French thyme, tarragon, basil, savory, cracked fennel, lavender and marjoram.
5. Italian Salad Seasoning. This spice blend is the basis for Italian dressing. Mixed with oil and vinegar, it makes a tasty dressing. So far, I’ve used it to make pasta salad (one very reminiscent of my favorite Suddenly Salad brand), but I’m really looking forward to mixing up a creamy Italian dressing, which is hard, if not impossible to find outside of certain restaurants. I also think it will make a good dip for veggies.
Verdict: I love The Spice House. I’m excited to go back and bring home a few more things. Like the hickory smoked salt, the “true” cinnamons, that Bridgeport potato seasoning, Cocoa nibs, buttermilk dressing blend, crystallized ginger, and…well, whatever strikes my fancy at the time. I had a hard time choosing this time, though I am happy with my choice. I loved the selection at The Spice House, I loved being able to taste and sample my way through the spice racks, and I thought the prices were very reasonable, especially considering the quality is much better than the more expensive spice blends that are sold at the grocery store. I also like the option to buy in zip top bags or glass jars–if you don’t need a jar, the price is lower.
I do a good amount of travel for work. It’s not out of control, but during this time of year, I take a trip every 2-3 weeks at least, sometimes more often. And I enjoy it. I like to see different places, get a feel for different areas of the country. Through my work travels, I definitely have. Another thing that I enjoy is having the chance to try regional foods. Sometimes, it’s hard to get outside of the chain restaurants or airport food courts, but when I’m lucky, I get to try some real local treats.
On my last visit to Nebraska (I know, exotic, right?) we had lunch in a small-town diner. From the outside, it was nothing special. And the menu was, for the most part, exactly what you’d expect. Even so, the food was tasty and the service was good. My main dish was a baked macaroni and cheese that was quite good, but the highlight for me was the corn chowder. I had never in my life eaten corn chowder before, and I could tell by their curious glances and raised eyebrows that neither had my two coworkers. But when the person we were meeting with suggested it, we were convinced, and all three of us ordered the corn chowder.
And were rewarded.
The soup was creamy, with chunks of potato, chicken, and of course, sweet corn. We’ve joked about having that soup again, even around the office (some 500 miles away from the diner where we shared lunch) ever since. Finally, tired of thinking about a soup that I may never have the chance to eat again, I decided to make my own. Last Friday was a cool, rainy day, and sweet corn was on sale for the first time all season. It seemed like a sign. So for dinner Friday night, I threw together my version of this awesome Nebraskan soup. And it was delicious. If I was trying to convince my sister or mother, I’d tell them it was just like clam chowder. When I was trying to convince my husband, I told him it was just like potato soup. And while both of those statements were true, it tastes more like corn than either of those. If you like corn, you owe it to yourself to try this soup.
Sweet Corn Chowder with Yukon Gold Potatoes & Pancetta
- 3 ounces pancetta (You can substitute bacon, if necessary)
- 1 tablespoons butter
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 6 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 6 cups prepared chicken stock
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1.5 pounds yukon gold potatoes, diced
- 5-6 ears sweet corn (do not substitute cans or frozen corn–fresh off the cob is important!)
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat the butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the diced pancetta and cook until crisped. Next, add the onion, garlic, and thyme and continue cooking until softened, about 8 or 9 minutes.
2. Sprinkle the flour into the pan, stirring to coat everything evenly. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Once boiling, stir in the cream and the potatoes, bring to a boil for 7 minutes, until the potatoes begin to break down. The potatoes should be soft, but not completely broken down.
3. Cut the corn kernels off the cob and add to the soup. Season with salt and pepper to taste and simmer until the corn is soft, about 10 more minutes. Stir in the chopped parsley and serve.
Note: If you’ve never cut corn off of the cob, here’s a good tip. Take a small bowl (like a cereal bowl) and stand it upside down in a large mixing bowl. Shuck the corn and remove any additional silk. Stand the ear of corn straight up on the small bowl (inside the larger bowl) and use a sharp knife to cut straight down once side. Turn the ear of corn, and cut straight down the next side, working your way around the corn. This will give you a steady platform for cutting the corn off the cob, while catching all of the loose corn kernels in the larger bowl without making a mess.
As far as the soup goes, I think it was a hit. It was flavorful, sweet and fresh, just like corn on the cob. I don’t think it would have been anywhere near as good if I had tried to use canned or frozen corn. The pancetta added a nice layer of salty flavor to the soup base, and the potatoes were good, but the corn was really the star of this soup. I’m sure we’ll be making this again. It would have been good with leftover chicken, regular bacon, or a smoky ham also.
Mara from What’s For Dinner? has been inviting guests “over” for dinner, by having guest bloggers pop in with an extra recipe. I sent her my recipe for Beef Stroganoff, and it’s posted over there. Feel free to check it out.
I’ve been reading Mara’s blog for a while now, and really enjoy it. I like that she’s a local girl, and she talks about planning her wedding every now and then, which I can appreciate, having been married for less than a year. Her recipes tend to be simple and tasty, and she takes pictures of nearly everything they eat, from grocery store finds to restaurant foods, which I think is cool.
I have always liked the idea of shepherd’s pie.
I really like ground beef, and casseroles of any kind tend to appeal to me (even though that’s the opposite of how I was raised–very few casseroles show up in my parents’ kitchen). I also like mashed potatoes, and can’t seem to make them without having a bunch of leftovers.
Leftover potatoes is what lead me to shepherd’s pie this time. I read through a bunch of different shepherd’s pie recipes, before deciding how I would make mine.
I really liked the flavor of the dish, but I’ve got to say–the pictures leave something to be desired. Once it came out of the baking dish, it did not look like something you would want to eat, which is why I have no plans to post pictures. If everyone really wants to see, and leaves comments to that effect, I might be persuaded.
That being said, even though it wasn’t pretty, it was very, very tasty.
Creamy Shepherd’s Pie Bowls
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1 can beef consumme
- 1 can mixed vegetables, drained
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- salt and pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon mild curry powder
For potato topping:
- about 4 potatoes, mashed (I used leftovers)
- 1 cup shredded cheese (we had Gouda on hand, but Parmesan would be good, or anything you like, really)
- 1/2 cup sour cream
1. Brown ground beef in a large skillet, with garlic powder, salt & pepper, and curry powder. Do not drain the drippings (they will be used to build the sauce).
2. When the meat is cooked through, add the can of vegetables. Sprinkle with the flour and stir until everything is evenly coated. Continue cooking for one or two minutes so that the flour is browned, to remove that chalky raw-flour taste.
3. Add the can of consumme, Worcestershire sauce, and balsamic vinegar. Continue to cook over medium-high heat until sauce thickens. Pour into a baking dish. (I used a Corningware casserole dish, 2 1/2 quarts. Pyrex would probably work fine here as well.)
4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees while you prepare the potato topping.
5. In a medium mixing bowl, combine mashed potatoes, 3/4 cup of the shredded cheese, and sour cream.
6. Carefully spread the mashed potato mixture over the top of the meat filling. Spread to the edge of the dish to avoid the sauce leaking out of the dish. Use a fork to add texture to the top of the mashed potatoes. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup of cheese. Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 25 minutes, until heated all the way through. The mashed potatoes should be brown and crispy at the top and edges.
Note: I’m calling this a shepherd’s pie bowl (and this is part of the problem with the pictures) because the mashed potatoes kind of ran together with the filling once you scooped it out of the pan. It was delicious, but not really the two separate textures that you expect from a true Shepherd’s Pie. I do have some ideas to correct that, and will try them next time. One is simply more mashed potatoes. A thicker layer of potatoes would have browned better and held up more easily I think. My other idea was to treat the mashed potatoes like a potato pancake batter, adding an egg and a little bit of flour along with the cheese and sour cream. I actually would have done that this time, but we were out of eggs. I’ll definitely be making this again, but I do hope to get the potato crust better next time.
Last week, I handed David a cookbook and asked “What should I make for dinner?”
I should not have been surprised when he thumbed to the Pasta chapter for inspiration.
Nor should I have been shocked to hear him suggest variations on the theme of noodles, cheese, and sausage.
I wasn’t surprised. I really wasn’t. I ended up making this Rigatoni with Cheese & Italian Sausage from the Bon Appetit Fast Easy Fresh cookbook.
Side Note: don’t think I’ve talked much about this cookbook before, and I really should. I picked up it up at Costco in a two book set (bundled with the Bon Appetit Cookbook). I like both books. Though they don’t have pictures of every recipe, what it lacks in illustrations it makes up in volume. Each book contains hundreds of recipes. The one we’re talking about today is broken down into sections on Starters, Soups, Salads, Sandwiches, Pasta & Rice, Chicken/Poultry, Salmon, Shrimp, Meat, Potatoes, Vegetables, Breakfast, Quick Breads, Frozen Desserts, Cookies & Brownies & Pies & Cakes, Custards & Puddings & Fruit Desserts, and Drinks.
Food Network Magazine has divided its recipe sections into weeknight cooking and weekend cooking. I really like that distinction. I love to cook, but there are things that just don’t make sense for a Wednesday night, and I appreciate the ability to flip through recipes knowing that I have the time and energy to prepare any of them. This set from Bon Appetit really makes the same kind of distinction. While I like both books a lot, the Fast Easy Fresh cookbook is really for weeknight cooking. The Bon Appetit Cookbook is more weekend fare. (P.S. Not to oversell it, but for the price of either book, you also get a free subscription to Bon Appetit magazine. Not a bad deal at all, if you’re into that sort of thing. And I am!)
Now, back to David’s pasta.
The Rigatoni with Cheese & Italian Sausage is just what the title of the book promises. The recipe came together fast, and uses just enough prepared ingredients (the marinara sauce, sausage) to be simple–without compromising flavor. Freshly grated cheese and fresh herbs bring a brighter, fresher taste to the dish than the pasta we’d normally throw together on a weeknight.
Rigatoni with Cheese & Italian Sausage
Adapted from the Bon Appetit Fast Easy Fresh cookbook. (4 servings)
- 1 pound box rigatoni noodles
- 8 ounces hot Italian sausage, casings removed
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 3 cups prepared marinara sauce
- 1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
- 1/4 cup grated mozzarella cheese
- 1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
- 1 ounce freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
- Extra-virgin olive oil
1. Cook rigatoni in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain.
2. Meanwhile, preheat broiler. Saute sausage in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until no longer pink, breaking up into crumbles as it cooks. Add garlic, stir 2 minutes. Drain off excess drippings and return to medium-high heat.
3. Stir in marinara sauce, crushed red pepper, and cooked pasta. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to 9×13 inch broilerproof baking dish. Sprinkle mozzarella and Parmesan over top.
4. Place under broiler until cheese melt and begin to brown, watching closely to prevent burning (about 1 1/2 minutes). Sprinkle rigatoni with fresh parsley and drizzle with olive oil.
Mmm. Fried Chicken. One of those classic, delicious, decadent treats. I can’t say we’ll be eating this every night, because who needs fried chicken every night? But I found myself facing some pretty bare cabinets last week, with boneless, skinless chicken breasts in the freezer, and needing to make something. So I decided to adapt Alton Brown’s Fried Chicken recipe to work with boneless skinless chicken breasts. And really, once you remove the skin from the chicken, is it really *so* bad?
Alton Brown’s Fried Chicken
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1 cups low fat buttermilk
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon Hungarian (smoked) paprika
- 1 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Flour, for dredging
- Vegetable shortening, for frying
Place chicken pieces into a plastic container and cover with buttermilk. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Melt enough shortening (over low heat) to come just 1/8-inch up the side of a 12-inch cast iron skillet or heavy fry pan. Once shortening liquefies raise heat to 325 degrees F. Do not allow oil to go over 325 degrees F.
Drain chicken in a colander. Combine salt, paprika, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper. Liberally season chicken with this mixture. Dredge chicken in flour and shake off excess.
Place chicken in a single layer in the pan. The oil should come half way up the pan. Cook chicken until golden brown on each side, approximately 6 to 8 minutes per side. More importantly, the internal temperature should be right around 180 degrees. (Be careful to monitor shortening temperature every few minutes.)
Drain chicken on a rack over a sheet pan. Don’t drain by setting chicken directly on paper towels or brown paper bags. If you need to hold the chicken before serving, cover loosely with foil but avoid holding in a warm oven, especially if it’s a gas oven.
Note: The chicken was tasty, but even though I halved all of the spices from Alton’s original recipe, meant for a full chicken, it was a little too salty. I would lower the salt by another half, if not more, next time. That said, the breading was crunchy and flavorful. I’m certain that it would be amazing using a full chicken. I served this with a variation on that parmesan pepperoni pasta salad, with a side of corn.