Monthly Archives: October 2012

Inside Out Peppermint Patties

When I think of Peppermint Patty, I think of the Peanuts Gang.  She is one of my favorite characters, even though she doesn’t show up very often.  She’s got attitude, and I love that.  And she is one of the only characters who is nice to Charlie Brown (at least sometimes) and that’s pretty cool in my book.

Speaking of Peppermint Patty…peppermint and chocolate together make one of the happiest combos in chocolate land.  I never really thought about making them myself until I came across a recipe one day.  And even then I may not have made them right away but I was fortunate enough to be asked to mentor a lovely girl in her candy making project for school.  Funny how events coincide.  You find a great recipe, and then somebody asks you to do something that involves making that very thing.  Wonderful.

I liked these so much that I have made them twice this week.  These are more of an inside out peppermint patty.  It makes for a pretty presentation.  Could you dip them in chocolate instead of putting the chocolate in the peppermint?  Well, sure.  If you want to, go right ahead.  Me?  I’ll go for the option that’s easier to execute.  I love the way they look, and I also like to eat the white part around in a circle and get the little chocolate center at the end.  Life’s little pleasures.

Inside Out Peppermint Patties

Peppermint Patties
(from She Wears Many Hats)

1 pound powdered sugar (about 2 cups)
4 oz. cream cheese (1/2 package)
1/2 tsp. peppermint extract
6 oz. semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips

In a mixer, blend the powdered sugar and cream cheese on low to medium speed.  Once the mixture is started you can toss in the peppermint extract and continue blending until you have a cohesive ball of stuff.  If you don’t have a blender, you can do this with a spoon or your hands.  You want a mixture that is about the consistency of play dough.  Not crumbly but not sticky either.  If you need to add a little extra sugar or cream cheese to get the right consistency, do so.  Roll into 1 tsp. size balls.  Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or wax paper.  Make a depression in the ball so it looks like a little bowl.  Work quickly so the mixture doesn’t dry out (it helps to have more than one pair of hands). Put in the fridge to cool off and set up (at least 30 minutes).

Making the peppermint molds. A little cooking spray on your hands helps if the mixture is sticking to you.

In a small bowl, microwave chocolate chips for 1 minute.  Stir until smooth.  Put in a ziplock bag and push down into one corner.  Snip off the corner and pipe into the peppermint molds.

Filling the peppermints. Start out with a very small snip because it comes out pretty fast!  You can always make the opening bigger if you need to.

Put back into the fridge to set up for at least an hour.  Remove from trays and keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator until you are ready to eat them.

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Roasted Pumpkin Seeds!

As Halloween approaches my little household usually indulges in some fall craftiness.  Some pumpkin painting…

And some pumpkin carving…


Which leads me to the really fun part of pumpkin carving.  No I don’t mean plunging your hands into the oooey gooey pumpkin guts.  I mean cooking and eating the yummy pumpkin seeds!    You can season these with just about whatever strikes your fancy.  I prefer something with a little kick.  Some time ago I came across a seasoning salt called “Jamaica Me Crazy!”  This spicy mix was the perfect combo for my seeds this year.  If you don’t happen to have that, any seasoning blend would work fine, or make your own.  I often combine salt, pepper, chili powder and garlic powder.  Or lemon pepper, dill and salt.  Or curry, salt and sugar.  You get the idea.  Let your taste buds guide you.

Yummy, toasty goodness.

Remove the seeds from the pumpkin and rinse them in a colander to remove most of the pumpkin gunk.

Contemplating their toasty fate.

Pat dry with paper towels and spread on a lined cookie sheet.  Toss with seasonings.

Ready to pop in the oven.

Bake at 400˚ for about 20 minutes, stirring once somewhere in the middle, until seeds are crunchy and starting to brown.  Munch on them while they are hot, warm or cold.  Keep leftovers in a sealed container or ziplock bag to maintain freshness.

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Maple-icious Legs

Sometimes dinner doesn’t go as planned.  A couple of days ago I had wonderful plans.  Lovely pork loin cooked in a mouthwatering maple marinade.  I mixed up my favorite pork marinade (from my Crazy Plates cookbook), grabbed my pork loin out of the fridge…and discovered that I had bought one of those pre-marinated loins instead of the plain ones.  Drat.  So I sealed up the marinade in a ziplock bag, stashed it in the fridge and cooked my pre-fab lemon garlic pork loin with great disappointment.

Enter my jumbo pack of chicken legs.  What’s good for the pig is good for the chick, right?  Well, it was good for this chick.  Into the marinade they went.  I let them sit overnight and most of the day until dinnertime.  I don’t think it’s necessary to marinate that long, but I would at least give them a few hours to really soak up those incredible flavors.  The results?  Well let’s just say…my favorite pork marinade might now be my favorite chicken marinade instead.

Maple-icious Chicken Legs with couscous and salad.

Maple-icious Chicken Legs

1/2 cup pure maple syrup
2 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsp. ketchup
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. grated orange zest
1 1/2 tsp. curry
1 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
12 chicken legs (no, you don’t have to cook that many, but if you don’t you’ll probably wish you had)

Mix up marinade in a large ziplock bag.  Add chicken legs.  Seal up and place in a shallow dish (just in case the bag leaks).  Marinate at least 2-3 hours and up to 24 hours, turning bag occasionally.  Preheat oven to 400˚.  Line a large cookie sheet or baking pan with foil.  Place chicken legs on the pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, until slightly browned on top.

Maple-icious Chicken Legs

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Quinoa-Stuffed Portobellas

What do you make when you have one dinner guest who’s a vegetarian and one who’s watching the carbs?  It’s a challenge, but not insurmountable.  For this meal I combined these stuffed mushrooms with a big Harvest Salad.  I love portobellos, and they are perfect for stuffing with whatever strikes your fancy.  I gave these a little Greek spin with some feta and kalamata olives and if I do say so myself, they turned out great!  If you’re going “no carb” instead of low carb, add more veggies and ditch the quinoa.

Quinoa-Stuffed Portobella

Quinoa-Stuffed Portobellos

6 portobello mushroom caps
1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa
2-3 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups spinach
1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives
2 tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup feta cheese
Salt & pepper
1/4 cup chopped basil

Cook quinoa according to package directions.  Preheat oven to 375˚.  Remove stems from mushrooms.  Turn upside down on lined cookie sheet.  Sprinkle with salt & pepper and drizzle with a bit of olive oil.  In a little more olive oil, saute onions and garlic until soft.  Add spinach right at the end and saute a minute or so until wilted.  In a bowl combine quinoa, onion and spinach mixture, olives and tomatoes.  Season with salt & pepper.  Scoop into mushrooms.  Top with feta and basil.  Bake for 20 minutes.  Serve hot.

Quinoa-Stuffed Portobellos, ready to pop in the oven.

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Don’t Mess With My Brownies!

Fiddling with recipes is one of my favorite pastimes.  And brownies are one of my favorite foods.  So I have spent plenty of time playing with brownie recipes and looking for new ones, in search of the perfect brownie.  I’ve gone way beyond basic.  I’ve tried adding peanut butter, peppermint, coconut, frosting, nuts…even marshmallows.  And I’ve made an important discovery.  As yummy as those variations might be, I like the plain ones best.  So you can keep your sprinkles, and your walnuts, and your orange peel.  Don’t be messing with my brownies.

This is the most simple and wonderful brownie recipe I’ve found.  Absolutely foolproof, yielding a rich, fudgy brownie that is just about as perfect as you can get.  Every time I make these, the results are delightful.  But this time I didn’t make them.  My 12 year old daughter, Claire, has become chief brownie maker in our house.  In a blind taste test, I would not have been able to tell the difference between hers and mine.  I couldn’t be more proud. *sniff*

Perfect Brownies Every Time

One-Bowl Brownies
(from the inside of the Baker’s Unsweetened Chocolate box)

4 squares Baker’s unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks, cut into pieces)
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup flour

Heat oven to 350˚ (325˚ if using a glass dish). In a large microwavable bowl, combine chocolate squares and butter.  Microwave on high 2 minutes.  Stir until chocolate is completely melted and all the lumps disappear.  Stir in sugar until well blended. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Stir in flour.  Spread in greased baking pan.  Bake 32 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool in pan.  Cut into squares and try not to eat them all at once.

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Bumped Up Banana Bread

One of the first cookbooks I owned was the Better Homes and Gardens red & white checkerboard thing.  I got it for Christmas  long ago and I have to say, I couldn’t live without it.  With all the cool cookbooks I have and use, when I need just a basic recipe for this or that I go back to the old standby.  This is where I go when I need to know how long to roast a chicken, or how to make pizza dough, or what should go in lentil soup.

Here’s the thing that always makes me laugh.  It’s got a basic recipe for everything, but nothing more than basic for anything.  And there are lots of things with lard and margarine and other stuff that I don’t generally cook with.  So I find a recipe, and then I replace stuff I don’t like with ingredients I actually use, and then add stuff to make it more interesting.  And that sort of messing around is how I ended up with this delicious banana bread recipe.  Here’s the funniest part:  the original recipe says to let it cool overnight before slicing.  Hahaha!  Yeah, right.  Who does that?

Bumped Up Banana Bread

Bumped Up Banana Bread
(adapted from Better Homes & Gardens)

1 3/4 cup flour, divided
2/3 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups mashed ripe banana (3 bananas)
1/3 cup butter
2 tbsp. milk
2 eggs
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

In a large mixer bowl combine 1 cup of flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add mashed banana, butter and milk.  Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until blended, then on high speed for 2 minutes.  Add eggs and remaining flour and beat until blended.  Stir in nuts and chocolate chips.  Grease & flour a loaf pan.  Bake at 350˚ for 55-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.  Cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack.  Remove from the pan and cool completely on the rack.

Banana Bread, fresh out of the oven

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Thai Chicken Soup

Usually when I think of Thai food my mind fills with thoughts of Pad Thai, red curry and incredible peanut sauce.  But one of my very favorite Thai dishes – and probably the one I make the most – is Tom Kha Gai, a flavorful Thai chicken soup with a coconut milk base.   It’s easy to make, satisfying and delicious.  Traditionally it doesn’t have the green veggies, and you can leave them out if you want, but I like the extra veggies and usually throw in a handful of whatever I happen to have.  I love this soup!

One of my friends served this to his son and was surprised when he wasn’t a huge fan.  As it turned out, he had eaten the big chunks of ginger and lemongrass and not enjoyed them much.  They are used just for flavoring the soup as it cooks, but aren’t meant to be eaten (though they are edible).  Now you could go through and fish this stuff out before serving it but I usually don’t.  Instead, I serve this with small bowls to discard the ginger and lemongrass as you come across them.  Second time around, the kid skipped those pieces and loved it!

Tom Kha Gai, one of my favorite chicken soups of all time!

Thai Chicken Soup (Tom Kha Gai)

1 pound chicken thighs (or breasts), cut into bite size pieces
2 cans coconut milk
4 cups chicken broth
3 inch piece of ginger, cut into slices (no need to peel)
2-3 stalks of lemongrass, cut into 2-3 inch pieces, smashed with flat of knife
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 cup green beans or peapods
2 tbsp. lime juice
2 tbsp. fish sauce
2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. thai chili paste
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
Sriracha sauce (optional if you want an extra kick)
Cooked rice

In a dutch oven or soup pot, saute chicken in a tbsp of oil until no longer pink.  Add coconut milk, broth, ginger and lemongrass. Bring to a boil.  Add veggies, lime juice, fish sauce, sugar and chili paste.  Reduce heat and simmer til veggies are tender and chicken is cooked all the way through.  Ladle over rice, garnish with basil and cilantro.  Spike with sriracha if you want it a little spicier.  Serves 6.  Serve with some small empty bowls for discarding the pieces of ginger and lemongrass.

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Green Chile Chicken & Green Rice

I had someone ask me recently if I had any good slow cooker recipes.  And that reminded me – oh yeah! – I have one of those!  I decided to dust it off and take it for a long overdue spin.  So…this morning I took a look at the supplies I had and threw something in the magic pot to see what it would make me for dinner.  I have to say…the magic pot treated us very well.  Frozen chicken breasts and a couple other things transformed into a savory, spicy concoction over the course of a few hours.

Now you could serve this over regular rice, or just wrap it in a tortilla.  I decided to ramp it up and make some “green rice” to go with it.  I have to say, that stuff was so good I could eat it all by itself.  But why do that when you have some yummy chicken with which to smother it?  Sprinkle on some diced red pepper or tomatoes for a little touch of color, and dig in!

Green Chile Chicken & Rice

Green Chile Chicken

3 chicken breasts
2 cans of diced green chiles
1 onion, diced
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. salt

Put all ingredients in a crock pot.  Cook 4-6 hours.  Using two forks, pull the chicken apart into shreds.  Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

Green Chile Chicken, all ready to eat.

Green Rice.  Well, it’s sort of green.  And definitely delicious!

Green Rice

2 tbsp. oil
1/2 onion, diced
1 1/4 cup rice, uncooked
1/2 cup cilantro
1 tbsp. lime juice
2-3 cloves garlic
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 jalapeno
1/2 tsp. salt

In a blender combine cilantro, lime juice, garlic, cumin, jalapeno and salt, and 1/4 cup water (or liquid from the green chile chicken).  Puree.  Heat oil in a medium-sized sauce pan.  Saute onion for a minute or two.  Add rice.  Cook and stir for 2-3 minutes.  Add 2 1/2 cups of water or chicken broth and pureed cilantro mixture.  Stir to combine. Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or so until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.

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Rustic Chicken Chowder

So it’s been a long day, and you stop and get one of those tasty rotisserie chickens from the grocery store deli, dig in like a ravenous beast and throw the leftovers (if any) in the fridge.  Now if you’re like me, you think, “don’t throw that away, you can make something out of it like your grandma would!”  I’ll be honest.  Sometimes I just throw it away.  But sometimes I get industrious and soup happens the next day.

I know it SOUNDS like a lot of work, but what it really is is throwing everything in a pot and letting it simmer while you’re having a lazy day at home. I love how the chicken just falls off the bones in little shreds that permeate the whole soup.  You just don’t get that when you cut chicken up in neat little bites.  You end up with something that tastes rustic and homey, and honestly tastes like you slaved over it, when maybe you just know how to boil.  And if that’s the case, it’s okay, because it’s still going to be awesome.

Rustic Chicken Chowder

Rustic Chicken Chowder

Leftover roasted chicken (with the bones if you have them)
6-8 cups water or chicken broth
2 bay leaves
1 onion, diced
2 stalks celery, sliced
4-5 russet potatoes, diced
1 cup frozen corn
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt & pepper
1/2 tsp. marjoram
1/2 tsp. paprika
1-2 tsp. chicken bouillon (optional)
2 tsp. cornstarch (optional)

Put the whole chicken carcass in a soup pot (including any meat left on it and the weird jelly-like stuff in the bottom of the pan or package) and cover with water.  Add bay leaves and bring to a boil.  Turn heat down, cover and simmer for a couple of hours.  (If you want to skip this step, you can always use prepared chicken broth and add cooked chicken).  Before adding the other ingredients, remove the bones and skin and return broth and chicken to the pan.

Add onion, celery, potatoes and corn.  Cook for 30 minutes or more until veggies are all soft.  Add cream and seasonings.  If you want more intense chicken flavor, add some chicken bouillon (I like the “better than bouillon” paste stuff) for an extra punch.  I like my soups to be soupy but if you prefer a thicker, more “chowder-like” consistency, mix some cornstarch with water until it dissolves and stir into boiling soup to thicken.

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Eggplant Parmesan

I’ve never really embraced the eggplant.  Oh believe me, I’ve wanted to.  They are pretty.  They look delicious.  But I’ve just never been a huge fan.  I don’t hate it or anything, but I would like to like it more.  So…I’ve been eating more eggplant.

Eggplant parmesan is one of the few eggplant dishes where I think, “okay, I can get into this.”  However, I’ve never made it myself. I’ve had it several different ways in restaurants; it seems like everybody has their own little method.  So I had an idea of what I liked and didn’t like about the ones I’ve had.  Mushy eggplant, no thanks.  Greasy…eh. Crispy…mmmm.  But do I have to fry it to get it crispy?  Maybe not.  I looked at 5 or 6 different recipes.  Took tips and hints from here and there, tossed in my own marinara sauce and gave it a go.

And the results?  6 thumbs way up!

Crispy, crunchy, savory, yummy.  Great texture, just enough sauce to add flavor without swamping the eggplant.  Cheesy, melty wonderfulness.  I think I might be an eggplant fan.  Who’d have thought?

Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant Parmesan

2-3 medium eggplant, sliced into disks about 1/4 inch thick
1 tbsp. salt
2 cups panko
1 cup shredded parmesan
1 cup flour
1 tsp. black pepper
3 eggs
1/2 cup half ‘n half
6 tbsp olive oil
1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. capers
1/2 cup red wine
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced or minced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
8 oz. mozzarella, sliced
1/2 cup parmesan
3-4 tbsp. fresh basil, chopped or sliced into ribbons

Slice eggplant, toss with 1 tbsp. salt and put in a colander set over a large bowl.  Let sit for 30 minutes to drain out excess moisture.  Lay out a couple of paper towels, lay the slices on it, cover with another paper towel and press out any additional moisture.  Wipe off any excess salt.

Sliced eggplant. I was surprised at how much liquid came out of these!

While eggplant is draining, make sauce.  Use a blender or food processor to grind up the can of tomatoes.  In a pinch you can always just squeeze them up with your hands or a potato masher.  In a large skillet, heat a drizzle of olive oil, add garlic and crushed red pepper.  Stir and cook 1 minute or so.  Add canned tomatoes, wine and 1/2 tsp. salt. Cook on medium heat for 20 minutes or so to reduce the sauce down a bit.  Stir in capers, cherry tomatoes and basil and set aside.

In one shallow dish, combine panko and 1 cup parmesan.  In another shallow dish whisk eggs with half ‘n half.  In a large ziplock bag combine flour and black pepper.  Set up a little assembly line for yourself.  Shake each slice in the flour bag, shake off excess flour, then dip into the egg mixture.  Coat both sides and lift out, letting the extra egg drip off.  Then into the panko mixture.  Coat both sides well and set on wax paper.  Continue until all slices are ready.

Eggplant assembly line.

Heat oven to 425˚. Put 2 cookie sheets in to preheat on two racks.  Take them out and coat each pan with 3 tbsp. of oil. Lay out the eggplant slices in a single layer.  Cook for 10 minutes.  Switch pans and cook another 10 minutes.  Flip all the slices with a spatula.  Cook another 10 minutes (30 minutes total cooking time).

Spray or oil a 13 x 9 casserole dish.  Start with 1/3 of the sauce.  Then layer half of the eggplant (overlap a bit if needed).  Then another 1/3 of sauce.  Dot with half of the mozzarella slices.  Then layer the other half of the eggplant slices.  Top with the remainder of the sauce. Dot with the rest of the mozzarella.  Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of shredded parmesan.  Bake 15 minutes until cheese is melted.  Serve hot!  Makes at least 6 servings.

Eggplant Parmesan.  Where’s my fork?

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