Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sugar Cookie Bars

Last week, my younger sister Dana finished up her month long trip to Australia. After a brief stint in Los Angeles to visit with her fiance, she's back in Michigan with memories of a fabulous trip that she'll never forget and the pictures to prove it.

So yesterday I headed up north to hang out with her and my other younger sister. She told (and showed) us all the highlights of the trip, which looked amazing. She also showed us some of the mementos she bought during the trip, including a didgeridoo (an Aboriginal instrument about 5 feet long - try explaining that in customs...) and an authentic boomerang. Here's the three of us girls and our brother Calvin attempting to properly throw it, with decidedly mixed results (I'm in the blue). I may look like I know what I'm doing but I'll tell you, I'm a girl and I definitely throw like one too.
















Additionally, I decided to make and bring up some sugar cookie bars that I found on the Stylish Cuisine blog. I heart sugar cookies, and was happy that baking them in this manner was much less work... a good thing since I started making them well after 10pm on Friday night. As for the frosting, I just went with good 'ole canned vanilla frosting (1 1/2 cans). With a nice dose of colorful non-pareils, you can't get much more festive.



















On another note, I'll be headed back up north next Saturday for Dana's mini-graduation + 4th of July combination party. I'm in charge of food for about 15 people. I'm thinking chicken kabobs on the grill for the main course. I would love some suggestions from you regarding side dishes... What are your ideas for tasty summer time side dishes, to be eaten outside picnic-style?


Ingredients
1 c. (two sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 c. white sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
5 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 cans vanilla frosting
Sprinkles of choice (optional but cute)

Directions
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a large, rimmed baking sheet (jelly-roll pan). Set aside.

Cream butter and sugar until smooth and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and mix well. In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt, and baking soda and whisk to incorporate. Add dry ingredients to wet ones and stir until just combined. Spread dough evenly across the entire baking sheet (I had to flour my hands and a spatula to achieve this).

Bake for approximately 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden. Cool completely before frosting and adding sprinkles.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Do you ever get really ambitious relatively late at night, only to be thwarted at your every attempt at productivity? That seemed to happen to me last night, as I set out to make these Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip cookies. I've been eying several of Joy the Baker's recipes (with accompanying awesome pictures... instant tummy growl every time I even think about that website) for months now, but have not ever had the chance to pick one out to actually make.


















Finally yesterday, I ended up choosing this one. I had planned on making them earlier in the day, but had to wait until the butter warmed to room temperature. Then with a half hour of cooking time left on my taco stuffed shells, I thought I could whip up this cookie dough in no time flat. Unwrap the butter, beat in for two minutes, add the peanut butter. Peanut butter? ... peanut butter. Awwwwww, crap. I only had a quarter of what I needed, with no real substitutes in sight. And I had only been to the grocery store a few hours earlier. Ergh!


By this time, it was close to 10pm and I was about ready to throw in the towel. I'm sure I could have left them until the next day, but I didn't want to wait that long. I mean, these are peanut butter chocolate chip cookies from Joy the Baker herself. They had to be worth it, right? So I ran back to the store, grabbed some PB (thankfully, on sale) and finished out the recipe.

I am glad I did, because these cookies are every bit as amazing as they look on Joy's website. Because my oven can't settle on one temperature, let alone the right one, I have a good mix of soft/chewy and crunchy cookies. I prefer the former, but honestly, the latter tastes pretty darn good too. Oh, and the dough itself is quite addicting too. So how can you go wrong? So whether it's 9am or 9pm, you won't regret making these cookies... Just make sure you have all the ingredients first! :-)
















BTW... My next endeavor from Joy the Baker: Peanut butter and chocolate fudge rice krispies treats, found here. There are no words. No words.

Ingredients
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c. peanut butter (I used crunchy)
1 c. packed light brown sugar
3/4 c. white sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 c. chocolate chips
additional white sugar for rolling

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Position racks into thirds. Grease large cookie sheets with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Stir to incorporate. Set aside.

In another large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed for about two minutes, until smooth and creamy. Add peanut butter and beat for an additional minute. Add light brown and white sugar and beat for an additional three minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating for one minute after each addition. Add the dry ingredients and mix only until incorporated. Fold in chocolate chips. The dough will be soft and pliable.

Pour sugar for coating in a small bowl. Form dough into 1-Tbs. portions and roll into a ball. Roll dough balls in white sugar and place on baking sheets. Dip the tines of a fork in the sugar and press a criss-cross into the top of each cookie.

Bake for about 10 minutes, rotating sheets half way through the cooking time. When done, the cookies will be lightly colored and slightly soft. Let cool on baking sheets for a minute before transferring to wire racks to cool. Store in airtight container. Makes about five dozen cookies.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Taco Stuffed Shells

Just want to start out by congratulating my friend Crystal, who got married on Saturday. It turned out to be a mini-high school reunion, which was pretty cool. But the wedding was beautiful, and now the happy couple is jetting off to Hawaii for their honeymoon! Best of luck to you both!

















Despite being a busy weekend, I did find time to do a lot of cooking. Only, most of the cooking wasn't for us. It was for my dad and siblings. My dad owns his own business (and us kids are/were his 'employees') and summer is the busiest time of year. Because of that, they often don't have time to make meals for themselves as they're running around like crazy. So when my dad asked me to make a few casseroles and bring them up Saturday, I jumped at the chance. First, it was a good opportunity to help them out; but second, it was also a chance to try out a new casserole recipe.


I'm sad to say I didn't have the time or ambition to take any pictures of the two dinners I made. But from the multiple texts I received around dinner time after delivering the goods, it seems as though both were a great success. The two dishes I made? Shepherd's pie (my own recipe), and Chicken Divan from Dinners for a Year and Beyond (GREAT blog, love her recipes).

I had some leftover uncooked hamburger after making the Shepherd's Pie, and I knew I wanted to make something Mexican out of it. Luckily, I had printed off a recipe for Taco Stuffed Shells from Artichokes and Garlic blog a few months ago. The concept is genius, and after the yummy success of my other stuffed shells, I knew these would be super good too.

I did make a few modifications to the recipe (who doesn't, right?), and the resulting meal was super good! I especially liked the idea of the cream cheese mixed in with the meat; it bound the mixture together and added a nice tang to the filling. I will definitely make these again!
















Ingredients

1 (12 oz.) box jumbo shells
1 lb. ground beef
1 tsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 roasted red pepper, finely chopped (I used from a jar)
1 (4 oz.) jar chopped green chilies
1 pkg. taco seasoning
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
4 oz. cream cheese
1 c. salsa
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1 c. taco or enchilada sauce
up to 1 c. crushed tortilla chips
Mexican toppings of choice

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add ground beef and cook until browned. Add roasted red pepper and green chilies and stir to incorporate. Remove from heat, drain excess fat and return to skillet. Add taco seasoning, garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, and cayenne pepper. Add cream cheese and melt into meat mixture. Remove from heat and cool.

Meanwhile, cook jumbo shells in boiling water until al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water. Pour salsa in bottom of a large baking dish. Stuff each shell with meat mixture and place in baking dish (Note: I had about 8-10 shells left over). Cover with enchilada sauce, then with cheddar cheese and crushed tortilla chips.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until hot and bubbly. Let cool about 10 minutes before serving. Place on a plate and top with your favorite Mexican toppings (or, at least whatever you have on hand). Enjoy!


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Chocolate Muffins

So I've been noticeably absent from blogging the last week or so (okay, who am I kidding... not noticeably absent to anyone in particular, but absent nonetheless), and I've also been noticeably absent from my kitchen too. Work has been pretty busy in that time. On a normal day, I usually don't get home until after 6pm and, when working late, it's obviously much later than that. And those days I did get home at a reasonable time, I still found myself doing work stuff. So that didn't leave much time (or energy) to create something yummy. PBJ anyone?

Anyway, enough of that. The project that I've been working on is about to launch, so a breather is in order. We enjoyed a great weekend at home. I had to finish up some things yesterday with earlier said project, and today was a beautiful day to sit by the pool and relax. So that's what we did.


















So to celebrate finding my way back into the kitchen, I made these fabulous chocolate chocolate muffins. Again, who am I kidding.... they are totally like cupcakes but I'm sticking to my guns and calling them muffins so I don't feel guilty about eating one for breakfast tomorrow morning. Anyone really know what the difference is between a chocolate cupcake and a chocolate muffin?

I found this recipe over at Joy the Baker website a few months ago. The original recipe called for mini muffins, but unfortunately I don't yet have a mini muffin pan. So I adapted them to full-size muffin status. And besides, anything with chocolate deserves to be upgraded to full-sized status. None of this mini business for us when it comes to chocolate-y goodness.

Ingredients
2 c. all-purpose flour
2/3 c. white sugar
4 Tbs. cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. sour cream
1 c. (scant) milk
2 Tbs. canola oil
2 egg whites
1 c. dark chocolate chunks

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Position a rack in the center of the oven. Grease or line a regular-sized muffin pan. Set aside.

Combine all dry ingredients in one bowl. Whisk to fully incorporate. In another large bowl, combine wet ingredients. Whisk to combine, being sure to remove all lumps. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir to incorporate. Fold in chocolate chunks.

Scoop the muffin batter into the muffin pan. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center of muffin comes out clean. Cool muffins for 5 minutes in pan before removing to wire rack to cool completely. Made 14 muffins (could have and should have gotten them to fit in 12 though).

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Sausage and Pepper Calzones

Earlier this week, I read a news article about competitive eating celebrities Joey Chestnut and his archrival /nemesis Takeru Kobayashi. Apparently, Pizza Hut sponsored a calzone-eating contest and invited both competitors to compete head to head to see who could eat the most 'P-zones' in six minutes. In case you were wondering, Kobayashi reigned supreme, downing nearly six of the 12-inch calzones in the alloted time. Um... ewwww. Don't get me wrong, this girl can and loves to eat. But this is taking it a bit too far, lol.

If you aren't feeling a little nauseous at the thought of this, and you're interested in checking out other upcoming competitions, don't forget to watch the annual Fourth of July hot dog eating contest. It takes place in Coney Island, NY, and is usually shown on ESPN.

So while the thought of these crazy guys gorging themselves silly in just a few short minutes is somewhat unappetizing, the thought of a hot, spicy calzone definitely got my taste buds buzzing. So I knew I needed to whip some up this week.

















Two great things about calzones, in my opinion. First, they are so easy and versatile. For the outer shell, I use frozen pizza dough. For the filling, it really just depends on your taste... or what you're craving at that particular moment in time... or what you have on hand. Generally speaking, most ingredients that you think taste good on pizza will taste equally delicious inside a calzone. Second, they reheat very well in a toaster oven. So feel free to make some extras and bring them for lunch the following day... that's what we did!

This time around, we used hot Italian sausage paired with onions and green peppers. They turned out pretty good and, despite the fact that he doesn't particularly care for spicy food, Gabe agreed that they were just right.


















Ingredients

1 pkg. frozen pizza dough, thawed
1 lb. hot Italian sausage, casings removed
1 green pepper, diced
1 large onion, diced
1-2 c. mozzarella cheese
1 egg, beaten
2-3 Tbs. Parmesan cheese
Dip of choice (marinara, Ranch dressing, etc)

Directions
In a large skillet over medium heat, cook sausage, green pepper, and onion until browned. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat 2 large baking sheets with cooking spray. Set aside.

Meanwhile, divide thawed pizza dough into 8 equal pieces. Roll into circles (maybe about 6-8 inches in diameter), at about 1/8-in. thickness. Add meat mixture and cheese. Fold one side over to form half circle and press to seal edges. Crimp the edge with a fork. Place on baking sheet.

When all calzones are completely sealed and on baking sheets, brush tops with beaten egg. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and place in oven. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until calzone is golden brown. Remove from oven and cool slightly before serving. Serve plain, or with marinara or Ranch dressing... depending on your preference. Enjoy!