Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

August 11, 2013

I feel like so many people are intimidated by chocolate dipped strawberries because they’ve heard the stories about how hard it is to work with chocolate, or they just automatically think – “eek, it’s candy, it’s too complicated” when really none of that is true. Yes, chocolate can be temperamental, but if you go gently with the heat and don’t try to make it fancy, you’ll be just fine.  Honest. So I urge you to try chocolate dipped strawberries on your own sometime.  It’ll be great, it’s fun, and then you’re not paying ridiculous chocolate-store markup for something so easy.

The goods:

1 11.5 oz bag semisweet chocolate morsels (A heck of a lot easier than chopping chocolate.)

canola oil or shortening – 1 tablespoon, TOPS (and this is optional, but I find it gives my chocolate a bit more smoothness once it re-hardens)

2 pounds strawberries

parchment paper

The method:

Okay, so I used to swear by a double boiler for melting chocolate (or just a bowl set on top of a smaller pot with about an inch of water simmering in it, but don’t let the bowl touch the water) but honestly – yesterday I melted the chocolate in a glass bowl in the microwave and it was still fine.  What you want to do is keep stirring, no matter what heat medium you use.  So that means that if you’re being lazy and using the microwave, stop EVERY MINUTE and stir the tar out of that bowl.  Around minute 2 or so when everything’s actually melted but maybe not totally smooth, you can add in your oil or shortnening.  But remember, go easy on it.  A little goes a long way, and if you add to much your chocolate will never set up right.

So once your chocolate is all nice and velvety and smooth, start dipping your berries.  Here’s the important thing: Make sure your strawberries are DRY before they get anywhere near the chocolate.  Water will cause your chocolate to seize up, and it will ruin everything.  So use a towel or paper towels to blot your strawberries if you have to, but they have GOT TO BE DRY.  Okay, so grab the stem/stem end, gather up all the leaves towards you, and dunk your berry gently into the chocolate.  Shake off the excess as best as you can, and get it onto some parchment paper (parchment paper spread onto a cookie sheet is the best.).  Now go ahead and do that for all your berries.  If your chocolate starts lumping up or generally not behaving the way you want it to, you can reheat your chocolate until it behaves itself again.

Once all your strawberries are dipped, you want them to set.  If you are at all able to, get them into the fridge (still on the pans, so you need a whole lot of flat surface to get them to.)

Give them a few hours, until the chocolate is set again, and plate up and enjoy. =)

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Sweet Potato and Corn Hash

August 3, 2013

I was over at a friend’s house for dinner last night, and she was kind enough to let me raid her kitchen and iron-chef us a quick and simple dinner.  And, really, who am I to turn down sweet potato?  Oh, and just to note – there are NO measurements or amounts in this recipe because you can and should scale it to how many people you’re feeding, how much you want, and any other considerations you might have.  It’s a simple recipe, really, folks, so do please play with it.

The goods:

– sweet potato, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch ish cubes.

– corn (i really prefer fresh, if you can get it – it’s not hard to cut the kernels off the cob.  in a pinch, frozen will do.  avoid canned.)

– garlic, minced

– onion, peeled and julienned

– herbs: i like sage, dill, and rosemary, but feel free to also play with thyme, and oregano.  dried or fresh, up to you.

– salt and pepper to taste

– maple syrup (optional)

– good olive oil

– eggs (optional)

The method:

– before you do ANYTHING else, process your sweet potato and cook it.  You can either boil it or roast it.  I really love the flavor that develops when you roast it (toss with a little oil first and for god’s sake, grease your baking sheet) but if you don’t want to heat up your kitchen that much, boiling is fine.  Either way, cook it until a knife goes in and out easily from any ol’ piece.

– Caramelize your onion with a smidge of your olive oil in the biggest dang cooking vessel you have.  Wok, giant skillet, electric griddle, whatever.  You want a LOT of surface area.

– Add your corn and garlic once your onions are nice and brown and sweet.  Keep everything moving.

– Add the sweet potatoes once they’re cooked.  Add salt, pepper, herbs to taste.

– If you want to punch the sweetness, splash in some maple syrup.  The real stuff, please.

– Once all the ingredients are incorporated, let it sit.  Seriously.  You want to develop a little bit of a crust on the bottom of the food.  Or at least, I like it that way.

– Serve with fried or poached egg (My preference is to keep the yolks runny so you can create a glorious oozy hodgepodge on your plate)

Enjoy!

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Slow-Cooked Turkey Chili

July 28, 2013

I have a very unhealthy relationship with turkey chili.  It’s one of my favorite things ever, and I pretty much crave it all the time.  So I figured it was about time I actually figured out a recipe for it.  So chili is a very touchy subject for many people, depending on whether you like the kind that’s more like a soup, or the kind that’s very thick and is basically just meat and seasonings.  I like it to be somewhere in between – if it’s too soupy, it’s no good, but I do like vegetables and stuff in it.  So take that how you will.

The goods:

1 large red or yellow onion, diced

2 green peppers, seeded and diced

1 entire celery heart, leaves removed, trimmed and diced

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 14.5 oz can tomato puree (crushed tomato is just fine)

1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes (or diced tomatoes with chilies)

1 package ground turkey (I think they come in like 20-oz packages these days?)

1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 or 2 cans diced chilies (I think I used 2 4 oz cans)

salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder, crushed red pepper, paprika, ground chipotles

a dash of ground cinnamon

The method:

In a big ol’ skillet or wok, brown your turkey.  (This is particularly pleasant if you’ve got a nonstick wok, because you don’t really even need any oil.  If you don’t have a nonstick, heat up a tablespoon or two of oil before you add your meat)

Meanwhile, dump your canned stuff into your slow cooker.  Once the turkey’s cooked, drain off any fat that’s accumulated and add the turkey to the canned stuff.  Saute your veggies and garlic in your still-hot skillet/wok until the onions are translucent.  Add those to the slow cooker as well.

Add a couple heaping tablespoons of chili powder and cumin, and dashes of your other spicy stuff as you see fit.  Stir the whole lovely mess together and cook on low for 6ish hours or high for 4ish hours.  Taste, re-season as desired.

Serve topped with sour cream or shredded cheese, over rice, or with cornbread.  Enjoy =)

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Summery Panzanella

July 14, 2013

This is a great salad for a hot day, when the thought of turning on any cooking appliance just makes you want to flop into a pool and stay there until the winter freeze.  All you need is some patience and a knife.

The goods:

vine-ripe or heirloom tomatoes, chopped.  I leave them in fairly good-sized chunks.  As long as they’re bite-sized, they’re good enough.

cucumber, chopped (to about the same size as the tomatoes).  I prefer seedless English cucumbers, but go with whatever.

green bell pepper, seeded and chopped

celery, chopped

red onion, diced (since onions are so strong, I would cut them up quite a bit finer than everything else.)

kalamata olives, cut in half

capers, drained

red wine vinegar

extra virgin olive oil

salt, pepper, dried oregano, dried thyme

croutons (used bagged croutons if you like – I’m awfully lazy these days, so I certainly did.)

 

The method:

Mix however much you want of each of the veggies into a big bowl.  Drizzle with vinegar and oil, toss to coat.  season to taste. Just before serving, mix in the croutons.

Variations: punch up the flavor with a little caper brine.  Add protein by mixing in chopped chicken or chunked tuna.  Make it really pop with some minced fresh basil.

Enjoy!

 

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Chicken Tortilla “Soup” – Slow Cooker Style

July 14, 2013

So Rachael Ray has this term she uses: “stoup.” It’s a soup that’s thick enough to be a stew.  I like that.  Broth-y soups are great, but honestly, if the soup is my entire meal (which it often is) then I want it to have some body, have that “stick to your ribs” kinda feeling.  Yeah, so this recipe – at least the way I make it – is a “stoup.” And I love it.

The Goods:

– 1 lb (or so) cooked chicken breast, shredded or chopped

– 1 15oz can crushed tomatoes

– 1 10oz can enchilada sauce (I know, I know, I always make my own mole for real enchiladas.  But this is a soup.  And I’m getting lazy.)

– 1 large onion, chopped

– 1 large green bell pepper, chopped

– 2 cloves garlic, minced (or go with more if they’re little or you just like a lot of garlicky goodness.  I think I ended up using 4)

– 1 10oz bag frozen corn (use canned kernels if you like, just drain them first)

– 1 14.5 oz black beans, drained and rinsed

– 7-8 corn tortillas, or a few handfuls of tortilla chips

– 1 4oz can tomato paste

– 1 14.5oz can chicken stock (unsalted/low sodium if you can get it)

– 2ish cups water

– chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt, black pepper (about 1 teaspoon of each except for the black pepper.  I eyeball it, and go with just a few grinds of black pepper from my pepper mill… maybe about 1/4 teaspoon ish)

– red pepper flake/chipotle powder/cayenne pepper (optional, and to taste.  I used all three because… well, I’m me.)

– 1 bay leaf (totally optional)

 

The method:

Everything in the pot, except for the tortillas.  Stir well and cover. Cook in your slow cooker on Low for 6 to 8 hours or High for 3 to 4.

About a half hour/45 minutes before serving, crumble/tear your tortillas or chips into the mixture.  It’s okay if it’s chunky, the tortillas will dissolve beautifully and thicken your soup up perfectly.

 

At time of service, stir well, and dole out into your favorite bowl.  Top with sour cream, fresh chive, fresh avocado, and/or shredded cheese.

I love this soup.  It’s hearty and rich and tasty, and this batch fed me for an entire week.  Enjoy!

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Braised Chicken Thighs, Reduced Red Wine and Brown Butter Sauce

June 2, 2013

Okay, so this one a) sounds a heck of a lot more complicated than it really is, and b) is a result of me making too much of one thing and trying to use it up.

So, some time ago, I had made some spinach and mushroom crepes and served them with a red wine and butter sauce.  There was about a cup and a half of sauce left over.  I found the leftover sauce in the fridge a few weeks later and I thought to myself, “MAN, that would go great on chicken.” And that’s… the whole story, really.

The Sauce:

1 bottle red wine.  Any ol’ red will do.

2 Tablespoons granulated sugar.

2ish oz butter.

-> Combine the sugar and wine in a saucepan and reduce by two-thirds.  This is going to take a while.  It’s cool, man.

-> In a separate pan, heat the butter until it browns.  WATCH IT CAREFULLY.  Butter goes from beautifully nutty and brown to burned and gross in the blink of an eye.

-> Whisk brown butter into wine reduction.  It’ll separate if it sits, that’s okay.  Just re-stir.

The Chicken:

4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs.

Salt, Pepper, pan spray or olive oil

Sauce

The Method:

Heat a skillet on medium-high.  Spray or lightly drizzle with oil.  Salt and Pepper your chicken.

Sear chicken until golden on all sides.

Pour in your lovely red wine sauce. Reduce heat to low.

Cover (but leave the lid a little cracked) and let it braise until your chicken is done.  You’ll want to check it now and again to flip the chicken, make sure it’s not sticking, stir the sauce around, etc.

So the chicken will be lovely and tender because it’s cooked low and slow.  The sauce will reduce to this rich, wine-y, buttery, chicken-y syrup.  And you will love your life.

Enjoy!

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Super Easy Spinach Artichoke Dip

March 17, 2013

Not much preamble needed here – it’s spinach, artichokes, and gooey creamy goodness.

The Goods:

1 big package of fresh baby spinach (I honestly don’t remember the size – I want to say around 10oz, but it’s the big plastic box in the premade salads section.  And hey, this recipe is pretty foolproof, so feel free to add more spinach if you want.  I won’t tell. =)

1 14oz can artichoke hearts (can be marinated or plain, your choice), drained and chopped

1 pound cream cheese

16 oz sour cream

1 cup or so (use more, I won’t stop you) shredded parmesan cheese, with a small handful reserved for topping

good olive oil

optional: salt, pepper, oregano, dry mustard, nutmeg, red pepper flakes, cumin, smoked paprika, minced garlic, minced shallot

The method:

– Get a nice big saucepan hot on medium-ish heat, drizzle in a few tablespoons of oil and heat.

– Toss in all your spinach, saute until all wilted. (if it looks or smells a bit dry or nutty, drizzle in some more oil)

– if desired, add in minced garlic and shallots

– Toss in artichokes and heat through

– add dairy, stir until it’s all combined and melted together

– taste.  add any optional flavorings you desire.

– spoon the whole gooey mess into an oven-safe dish, top with reserved parmesan, and bake in a 375 degree oven until the top is lovely and browned and the sides are bubbling a bit. This probably takes roughly half an hour, but I don’t pay nearly as much attention as I should

– Let cool slightly before serving with tortilla chips, pita chips, crostini, crusty bread, or veggie sticks.

Enjoy!

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Chocolate Cupcakes, Peanut Butter Frosting, Candied Bacon

March 10, 2013

Chocolate Cupcake with PB Frosting and Candied Bacon

So yeah, this happened.  I was chatting with a friend online, and somehow it degraded into me promising this particular dessert next time we hung out.  I’m never one to back down from a challenge, so I was perfectly fine rising to the task.  I will happily admit that I cheated and used boxed cake mix, though.  I may be a good baker, but I’m not usually patient enough to deal with it.  So save yourself some time, use the box mix, and make your own frosting and candy your bacon.  You’ll be much happier.

The frosting is intensely easy.  You need 2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened, 1 cup of creamy peanut butter, and a slightly obscene amount of powdered sugar.  With your favorite electric mixer (either hand or stand is fine) cream the butter and peanut butter together until they’re smooth.  Start adding your powdered sugar in small increments, and begin incorporating it with the pb/butter mixture.  Keep going until you get a good sweetness and your desired texture/thickness.  The end!

For the candied bacon, all you really need to do is lay out some bacon flat on a wire rack (over a sheet pan, good lord, or you’ll have nasty greasy spatters all over your oven, or you’ll burn the place down) and sprinkle some brown sugar in a very very thin layer over the top.  I actually mixed the brown sugar with a bit of ground mustard and black pepper, just to make it pop a bit more.  I used my fingers to smooth the sugar into a thin and even layer over each slice of bacon.  You want an even, thin layer, or it’ll pool on the bacon as it melts down and it won’t candy evenly.  Then just whack your bacon into a 350 degree oven until it’s dark and caramel-y and crispy.  This will probably take around 20 minutes, but be vigilant and keep an eye on it because bacon (and sugar, especially) will go from AWESOME to BURNED in the blink of an eye.  Once your bacon is out of the oven, let it cool for a minute or two then remove them (use tongs, that sugar is still nuclear) to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

Once your cupcakes are nice and cool, pipe or spread on the frosting, then crumble (or rip up) your bacon and sprinkle it on top.  Enjoy!

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Disappearing Deviled Eggs

January 27, 2013

You know, I spent a long time thinking that I just didn’t make very good deviled eggs.  Every  now and again I’d make up a batch to take to a gathering and… they’d just sit there.  But I liked my recipe, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what I was doing wrong.  Turns out, I was just cooking for the wrong crowd.  I made a batch for a party recently, and they lasted a grand total of ten minutes.  Which was about how long it took for the pan to circulate around the room.

Well, all right then.

The goods:

1 dozen eggs, hard-boiled, peeled, and split in half.

mayonnaise, a couple tablespoons

pickle juice (no, seriously, get yourself a jar of sweet gherkins and use the juice. I should mention that you should absolutely use sweet pickle juice. Not sour.)

salt, pepper, paprika, ground mustard

lemon juice (optional)

The method:

– Gently fish the yolks out of your eggs and place them in a bowl.  Arrange your egg whites on a nice platter.

– Mash the yolks.  Add a little mayo (I seriously have never measured this, sorry.  Go with a little and add more if it looks to chunky/dry).  Keep mashing.  Drizzle in some pickle juice (not more than a spoonful, a little goes a long way).  Continue until your yolks are nice and smooth

– Season with salt, pepper, and a pinch or two of ground mustard.  Don’t go overboard, you want to be able to taste the sweet brininess of the pickle juice.  Add a drop or two of lemon juice if you want some more zing.

– Spoon or pipe your egg mixture back into the whites.  Sprinkle tops with paprika (this is purely decorative)

Enjoy!

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Bacon and Maple Candied Nuts

January 13, 2013

So… bacon is a pretty big deal.  Wikipedia even has an article on “bacon mania.”  For me, I’m not like, obsessed with bacon, but I won’t deny its awesome smoky power.

So of course, a year or so ago, when I went out drinking with some friends and was introduced to the concept of bacon and maple nuts, I was hooked and immediately needed to reverse-engineer it.  It’s sweet, smoky, crunchy, and… just… okay, so it’s really bad for you, but it’s just one of my favorite snacks to make.  So it’s probably a good thing I don’t actually really like working with raw bacon, so I don’t make this very often.

Anyway, I recently made a pretty big batch for a party, and had a whole bunch of people fall in love with me, so I figured I would share my incredibly imprecise recipe.  Because, really, maple and bacon, how can you go wrong?

The goods:

10 oz applewood smoked bacon

2ish lbs nuts (I like a mix of cashews and brazil nuts, but you can go with you favorite kind.)

ground mustard

ground cumin

salt, pepper

paprika, ground cayenne

real maple syrup.  I’m serious.  If you get “maple flavored pancake syrup” or something like that, it’s just not going to be very good.

The method:

Crank your stove to medium-ish and stick your favorite large skillet on.  I like using a nonstick skillet because really, who enjoys scraping burnt bacon bits off of pans?

Dice up your bacon and drop it in the pan.  It should sizzle but not go crazy.

Render your bacon until it’s nice and crispy.  (And by render, I mean cook gently to melt away all the fat and leave you with beautiful crispy bacon bits)

Remove your bacon to a paper-lined plate.  Pour off some of the bacon fat if you like; just make sure you’ve got a couple good tablespoons left in the pan to work with.

Add your nuts to the hot bacon fat, return the pan to the heat.  Toast nuts for a few minutes.  Add salt, pepper, cumin, mustard, paprika (didn’t really measure, a pinch or a couple dashes of each), and a dash of cayenne.  Toss to evenly coat, and keep your nuts moving as they cook until crunchy and fragrant.

Return bacon to skillet.  Pour in several tablespoons of maple syrup.  Toss to coat.  Cook until most of the syrup has reduced away.

Turn the whole mess out onto a parchment-lined sheet pan.  Taste a nut.  If it’s still a little raw, throw the whole pan into a 350-degree oven for no more than 10 minutes. (And keep an eye on them, nuts go from toasty to burned in a blink of an eye)

Once cool, dig right in!  If you’re spot-on, you’ll have a lovely brittle.  If you’re a little undercooked like my most recent batch was, then it’s still tasty, but the nuts are a bit gooey and stick together.  It’ll dry itself out if left uncovered overnight (if it lasts that long) or you can just gently keep toasting in the oven until you get brittle.

Experiment and play, but most of all, enjoy your bacon-y, maple-y, nutty goodness.  I did. =)

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