Friday, April 29, 2011

The Secret to the Best Cookies Ever

Janet here: Yup, I'm still obsessed with making better cookies. (You can read my rantings on the topic here and here.) I am happy to report that I think I'm on to something thanks to Tina Casaceli.

Tina Casaceli is the chef/owner of Milk & Cookies Bakery in Greenwich Village, a reason in and of itself for me to make going to NYC a top priority. She is also the author of a new book called, obviously, Milk & Cookies by Chronicle Books. She is also clearly a cookie goddess.

Her cookbook will have you drooling at the cover. She cleverly divides her cookies — she also has some bar and brownie recipes — into dough chapters, i.e. those with vanilla dough, those with chocolate dough, those with sugar dough, those with oatmeal dough, and those with peanut butter dough. Then she just tells you what to add to make the cookies of your choice — or in my case a cookie of my own based on her inspiration.

Now we get to the secret: she kneads her cookie dough. That's right, with her hands. While she starts out with a mixer, Tina ends her basic cookie dough creating with kneading. This is a little messy but boy the results are unbelievable.

Her vanilla dough also includes ground-up rolled oats, which adds a lovely texture and allows those of us who like to eat more than a few homemade cookies feel as if we're eating something more nutritional. (Don't pop my bubble!)

Anyway I'm sharing her basic vanilla dough recipe and my inclusion of white macadamia nuts and semi-sweet chocolate chips. For the rest you're going to have to buy the book...which you should. No joke. (And Rachel, I am so ready to take you on in a cookie bake-off!)

Basic Vanilla Dough
makes about 2 dozen cookies

2 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups (8 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
1 cup (7 ounces) light brown sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.

Put the oats in the bowl of a food processor and process until finely ground. Transfer to a mixing bowl. Stir in the flour, baking powder,baking soda and salt. Set aside.

Put the butter in the bowl of a standing mixer with a paddle. Beat on low speed to soften. Increase the speed to medium and beat for about 3 minutes until light and creamy. With the motor running, gradually add the sugar and then the brown sugar, beating until very light and creamy.

Add the eggs one at a time and beat to incorporate. Beat in the vanilla and when blended, slowly beat in the reserved dry mixture. While the dough is still streaky, remove the bowl from the mixer and scrape the paddle clean.

Lightly flour a clean work surface. Scrape the dough onto the floured surface. Lightly flour your hands and finish mixing the dough by a gentle kenading motion, working until the dough is just blended. Do not overwork the dough; you want to be certain all of the ingredients are blended together.

Now you add whatever ingredients you are using. I added 2 cups chopped macadamia nuts and 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips. Mix them in with a large wooden spoon. I put mine back in the bowl to do this.

Using a small ice-cream scoop or tablespoon, make mounds of dough and roll them into balls about 1 1/2 inches around. Place the balls on the sheet and then gently flatten with your palm.

Bake for about 15 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges. Transfer to a wire rack to cool....and then try to just eat one.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tasty Bite Makes Tasty Bites

Rachel here.

While John and I get most of the credit for keeping the chaos of becoming parents to a dull roar for the past ten months, and M gets her fair share for being a generally agreeable baby, there's a shout-out coming in the form of this post that's long overdue.

Tasty Bite, we love you.

Countless--and by countless, I really do mean countless--pizzas have not been ordered thanks to your microwavable awesomeness.

For those who don't know, Tasty Bite is boxed Indian food. Since visiting their website for this post, I can now happily tell you that they make Thai food, too, though I can't vouch for it personally not having tried it. Offering a plethora of options, Tasty Bite requires little more than the making of some rice or, if you're like us and you only remember that you need dinner once you're starving, couscous (which takes, what, 3 minutes?). Cut open the pouches of your personal Indian favorites, pour contents into a microwave safe bowl, zap and serve. Hot, healthy, and easy on both the prep and clean-up sides of the dinnertime equation...what more could new parents want?

I'm not saying Tasty Bite is as good as home-cooked Indian. What I'm saying, though, is that it's a darn good cheap alternative. What I'm saying is that you should probably keep a few boxes in your pantry for the next night the prospect of cooking dinner makes you want to fall over. Oh! And the leftovers are totally delicious, too.

Monday, April 25, 2011

P-P-P-Pizza! (w/ peas, prosciutto and other awesomeness)

Rachel here.

So, we've been making pizza. And by making pizza, I mean letting store-bought dough rise and then rolling it out (ok, John's been doing all of this...he's just, you know, sooooo good at it) in some semolina flour and topping it as we please. It's yummy and it's gotten kind of fun as it's become a bit of a weekly routine. Plus, it's cheaper than delivery or take-out AND we can put whatever we want on it.

Until recently, we weren't re-inventing the wheel with this whole toppings shindig. This past week, though, we upped the ante. And now, with not only no reservations but also kind of intense enthusiasm (I only say "kind of" because, you know, it's pizza...not the end of the US involvement in the Middle East...trying to keep things in perspective), I can recommend this combination to you:

Fresh peas (so much better than frozen and so, totally worth shelling all those little buggers)
Pea shoots
Caramelized onion

Ok, my mouth totally watered while I was writing that list. When I told my mom about the pizza before we made it she said, "You had me at caramelized onions." When I asked John whether shoots was "shoots" or "chutes" he answered and then said, "Thanks, now I'm totally hungry." Seriously, people, make this pizza. I know you're probably still full from the various April holidays, but hop up and down to make a little more room and then dig in. You won't be sorry, even if it sends you right back into the food coma you only recently emerged from after the holidays.

And stay tuned. This whole toppings thing just might have to become a regular feature.

What do you like on your pizza?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Peanut Butter + Snickers Bars = Heavenly

Regular readers may see a pattern evolving here. Rachel posts some incredibly healthy concoction like the hummus she made recently, and I counter it with some decidedly not-healthy but oh-so-tasty and good-for-the-soul sugarfest.

Hence today's post on peanut butter Snickers bar cookies. I remain inspired by the stuffing cookie concept first started by Picky Palate (at least for me) and then continued by every creative, candy crunching chocoholic in the culinary world. If Oreos work, why not Heath bars? Why not Butterfingers?

And why not peanut butter cookies with some chopped up Snickers bars thrown in?

So I took it upon myself to give these a whirl. Peter proclaimed them a little on the dry side. I took them to a baking event thrown by the orchestra I play in and while they did not win, a number of people voted for them and proclaimed them tasty. I, meanwhile, have eaten most of what's left over so there it is. I will say this as a further inducement: the caramel in the Snickers melts into this divine gooey mess while hot and into a more toffee delight after the cookie cools.

Let us know what you think.

Peanut Butter Snickers Bar Cookies

1 1/4 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup softened butter, unsalted
pinch of salt
1 cup cream peanut butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
about 1 1/2 cups chopped up Snickers bars
3/4 cup milk chocolate chips

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Cream together the butter and sugars. Add the peanut butter and beat until smooth. Add the eggs. Beat again. Add the dry ingredients and beat until creamy. Add in the milk and stir. Then add the Snickers pieces and milk chocolate chips. Stir until blended.

Drop in large spoonfuls on a cookie sheet. Bake for 10-11 minutes. Don't overcook. Cool on the sheet for a minute before adding to a cookie rack to cool further.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Hummus for Babies (That Parental Types Might Sneak a Few Bites of Too)

Rachel here.

So, we've got an eater on our hands. I mean, M has been eating since day 1, obviously, but something has changed recently. The kid wants food, like the mama and dada kind, and her patience for being spoon fed just any old jar of baby food is disappearing before our eyes (unlike a good number of her jars of said baby food). I have been slow to get on board with this new development, clinging a little bit to the simpler mealtimes of picking a vegetable and a fruit, maybe mashing it in with some tofu, and watching her gobble until she turns her head away, full. John has been quick to meet her burgeoning interest in new foods, offering her little tastes of most things he eats and giggling with delight as she nods her head in affirmation of deliciousness.

So, in short, these are the days of beans (This was obviously where I was headed, right? No? Well, keep reading). Using her very refined pinching skills, M has been enjoying black beans. A little while back she was eating her beans and I was eating mine in hummus form on carrots when she started reaching towards my lunch and grunting. If I've learned anything in the last 10 months (holy crap! ten months? TEN MONTHS!) it's to selectively resist my grunting child, saving said resistance for dangers and, in the process, my sanity (she will grunt diligently until satisfied). So I dipped a carrot in the hummus and offered it to her, only to watch her eyes grow wide while she slobbered the stuff off before demanding more while nodding fiercely in testimony to the awesomeness of hummus. I gave her a few more licks and then returned the hummus to the fridge, noting its saltiness. While we're all for flavor when it comes to M's meals, we are also interested in holding off on the salt. Cumin is good, salt is to be staved off as long as possible for its health detriments from where we're sitting. Anyway, as I closed the refrigerator door I vowed to try my hand at making M some hummus of her own, filled with all of the yumminess but none of the salt.

Fast forward to this weekend and I can proudly declare victory. Oozing with raw garlic and lemon, tahini and cumin M devoured my homemade hummus today at lunch. She then took the tub (ok, I let her have it) and dumped the rest of the batch on the floor. In terms of a 10 month old's valuation system, I consider this a raging success. She liked it so much she wanted to eat and play with it and that's about as big a compliment a mama can get.

2-3 cloves garlic
25 oz. garbanzo beans (If using canned, buy without salt and rinse thoroughly. If cooking your own, cook well.)
1 tspn cumin
1 large lemon

In food processor fitted with steel blade, mince garlic until very fine. You may need to scrape the sides and give the blade a few more spins. Add the garbanzo beans, all of the tahini (I bought some made at our local and fabulous grocery store, but no matter where you got it from add it all), the cumin and the juice from the lemon. Run food processor until all is smooth. Voila!

If you wanted to make this for adults, which I did with part of mine after removing most for M, add another 1/2 tspn cumin, 1 tspn onion powder, salt to taste, a drizzle of olive oil and then water to thin for dippability. The part I reserved for M I left thick so I could roll it into balls that would withstand her pinching fingers. Both versions are pretty darn yummy.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Enchifajitas? Fajitaladas? Does it Matter?

We had good friends over for dinner and Susan (she of Fake It Til You Make It fame) requested enchiladas. I blithely said sure and kept this little secret to myself: I had actually never made enchiladas before.

I know, I know, it seems incredible after this many decades of cooking but so it goes. I had made tacos and burritos and even fajitas but never enchiladas. I also had never eaten an enchilada — none of which I was going to share with Susan. After all, she can still whip out the Cool Whip story on any given day in front of anyone. (See same post on Fake It Til You Make It.)

Anyway, I have a fair amount of faith in my cooking so I wasn't that worried. I did a little research online and most of the recipes seemed to call for chicken and cheese with sauce and little else. That seemed a little boring to me, so I decided to saute some onions and peppers and add them to the mix.

The result was a fajita/enchilada mix, and, I am happy to report, Susan pronounced them tasty. Another bullet dodged.

serves 5-6

6 enchilada size flour tortillas
4 chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 large red pepper, sliced
1-2 yellow peppers (1 if large, 2 if medium), sliced
1 medium red onion, diced
2 jalapeno peppers, diced
1 1/2 cups or so grated cheddar cheese
1 large teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 bottle enchilada sauce (I like Trader Joe's myself)
salt, pepper to taste

In a large sauce pan, add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and saute the onions and peppers with the spices until just tender. Remove from the pan to a bowl. Add the chicken pieces to the same pan and saute until just cooked. Remove and place into the bowl. Toss with the grated cheese. Taste and adjust spices.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Divide the mixture evenly into six tortillas and roll them up. Place in a baking pan withe seam side down. Pour the sauce over the tortillas. Place in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Amazing Oreo Cheesecake Bars

I'm so glad Rachel kicked off the week here with her very healthy looking salad so I could have complete license to take us down, down, down into the sugar gutter.

My hankering for something wildly fatty and sugary started with a major jonesing for cheesecake. I wanted it and I wanted it bad. And then I started thinking about Double Stuffed Oreos (did you know you can follow Oreos on Twitter? What exactly would that mean? What does an Oreo have to tell us about its day?). Anyway it wasn't long before a moment of brilliance struck: Why not combine the two into a sinfully delicious dessert?

And so I did.

The result, I am happy to report, is a new favorite concoction. It's also ridiculously easy to make, i.e. you can have all the creamy wonderfulness of cheesecake without all the time-consuming prep. About the longest anything takes here is the time it needs to cool in the fridge — assuming you can wait that long. :)

Oreo Cheesecake Bars

12 ounces of softened cream cheese
1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

for the crust
1 1/2 cups crushed Oreos
5 tablespoons of melted butter

Heat oven to 325 degrees.
Crush the Oreos with a pestle in a bowl. Melt the butter and then pour into the bowl and mix well. Press into an 8" X 8" baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.

In another bowl, mix the cream cheese, sugar, eggs and vanilla until creamy. I used a hand mixed and it took a few minutes.

Pour into the pan.
Bake for 30-35 minutes or until set and just starting to get brown on the edges. Let cool for about 15 minutes. Then place in the fridge for a couple of hours to completely set.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Plums with Prosciutto, Goat Cheese, Baby Arugula and Champagne Vinegar

Rachel here:

After spending, no joke, all of last week sick, I was definitely thinking "quick and easy" when it came to dinner last night. Usually when quick and easy is on my mind I consider soup, but there was simply no way in hell I was going to eat another bowl of soup. I'm not exaggerating when I say that it's all I ate last week and, while I was totally loving it at the time, it's now going to be a cool minute before I'm looking to slurp my food again.

Plus, I can taste again! Or, like, 2/3rds taste, but I'll take it. Which left me wanting to eat something with lots of different flavors, though I had not a single additional idea about what to make in my brain.

So I did what I often do when I'm drawing a blank on dinner, which is stop on by the epicurious website. Here I found a recipe for plums with prosciutto, goat cheese, baby arugula and champagne vinegar.

Yummy. Yummy, yummy, yummy.

Everyone on the website said they'd make it again and I'm here to declare that I will be, too.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Grilled Cheese (yes, again)

Janet here:

Regular readers may remember that I informed Rachel here that I expected this delectable little goody from the most recent Food Network Magazine on my plate sometime during our week together in California. I am happy to report that we did, indeed, have this most amazing grilled cheese sandwich with my curried butternut squash soup, and that it was as tasty as the picture suggested.

So tasty in fact, that I made it again last night, not even one week after having it the first time so that G could have a taste. This time I served it with potato, leek and bacon soup. The key is getting good bread — I used sourdough each time — and sliced it myself to make sure the slabs were nice and thick.

Rachel here:

Seriously? Grilled cheese, categorically speaking, is one of the good things in life. On sliced bread and with tomato soup, it's an excellent end to a long day or a satisfying lunch when you're in from the cold. The grilled cheese sandwiches that my mom demanded when she visited, though, are almost too good to be true, though. The cheese! The bacon! The bread! The thousand island dressing! My mouth is watering just recalling that dinner. I'm officially going to make vats of her curried butternut squash soup (so, so so so good) and keep the ingredients for this grilled cheese version on hand so that we can have a simple, satisfying, delicious and just a wee bit decadent dinner at the drop of a hat. I'm pretty sure this is something you all should do, too.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Matzoh Magic

I can thank my father-in-law for introducing me to matzoh. Although he is not Jewish, he always had a handy supply around this time of year and I discovered their light goodness.

I can thank my friend, Sharon, for letting me know about something she called matzoh brickle. She gave me a sample last year and I immediately vowed to make a variation of her recipe the next time matzoh hit the supermarket shelves. While you might not think to pair matzoh and chocolate, once you make this, you will always want to put them together again. Trust me, it's that addictive.

Matzoh Magic

3 matzoh sheets
1 1/2 sticks salted butter
3/4 cup dark sugar
10-12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate bits
3/4 cup sliced almonds
These will vary a bit depending on the size of your baking tin with sides. Mine held two large matzoh squares, plus some broken off bits. If yours holds more, I would move up to 2 sticks of butter and 1 cup of dark sugar.

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Line the baking sheet with aluminum foil. Melt the butter and dark brown sugar in a pan, stirring frequently. Cook until starting to bubble. Then pour evenly over the matzoh squares and place in the oven for 1-2 minutes.

Take out and sprinkle the chocolate bits over the matzoh. Put back in the oven for 2 minutes. Take out and with a spatula spread the chocolate evenly. Sprinkle with the almonds. Place in refrigerator or freezer and let harden. Then break into pieces. Keep in the freezer or the refrigerator — assuming it's around long enough to have to save.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Presto Pesto...and our Book Giveaway Winner

First some bookkeeping: We are happy to announce that the winner of Melissa Clark's In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite is CC. Congrats CC — we'll be contacting you by email — and thanks to everyone who entered!

Now on to Mike the Gay Beer Guy's April post

It’s spring time ... well it’s supposed to be. I think the weather in the Midwest is so much less stable than the East or West; it seems that every other day is something different. Like one day it is 70 degrees and sunny, and then the next day it’s below freezing and on the verge of snowing (yeah, for REAL! As I’m writing this, it was 65 yesterday, this morning it is in the low 50s, and tomorrow, when I’m planning to brew, it’s going to be a rainy 40 and falling for the next few days)(UPDATE: As I’m editing the post, Kansas City received a few inches of snow this past weekend... for REAL!?!?! And keep in mind it was in the 60s this afternoon)(And update from Janet, as I put this online, the East Coast is expecting up to a foot of snow, no joke!)

But let’s be positive, spring weather is around the corner. And when it’s spring time, my thirst for beers changes drastically. No longer do I crave anything high in alcohol, nor anything with a big, malty backbone or spiced up with a whole bunch of hops. Key words become crisp, clean, easy, and most important, social. OK, you can call me out: “social” doesn’t exactly describe beer. BUT, when I’m hanging out with friends or family for late spring and summer dinners, sitting under the stars, or watching the baseball games, beer suddenly becomes a part of the atmosphere.

I have a few standard warm-weather beers styles I go to. The easiest and most successful is my wheat beer. It’s a relatively simple recipe, pairs well with sooo many dishes, and best of all, it’s very low in alcohol, easy drinking, and easily entertains a crowd for one of those warm days and cool evenings!

So what to serve? One of my favorite warm weather pairings are pasta dishes. My mom used to make a pasta salad with tomatoes and cucumbers and all sorts of other fresh veggies from our garden. Anyone who knows me realizes that I didn’t inherit a green thumb like my mother... my thumbs are black as death! BUT I’m proud to say that I do have a basil plant. I am so excited that it has not only survived the winter, but that it’s generally in good health, and, well, still alive! Um... PESTO?

4 cups FRESH Basil... yes, you can go to the supermarket and buy pre-packaged, but it’s not the same as cutting it from your own plant. If you don’t have a garden, try a farmers' market!
Feel free to experiment a little too: try Thai Basil form the Asian market, or maybe Arugula, or some other green? My plant has exploded with leaves, so I have enough for this batch.
A few cloves of garlic... maybe 3 or 4?
⅓ cup pine nuts... or sunflower seeds
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup EVOO
Salt/Pepper to taste

Put the basil, garlic, pine nuts, and cheese in a blender or food processor. Blend until everything comes together in the form of a smooth paste, scraping down the sides of your bowl every now and then.

Once everything has come together, you want to emulsify the EVOO into the basil mixture; add the EVOO through the opening in the top of the blender in a slow and steady stream so that it incorporates into the basil mixture evenly. Taste and season appropriately! The pesto will keep for a day or two, but I think it’s better to eat it right away.

Although you can use any pasta, I think it’s better with something a bit wider than spaghetti! This makes about a cup of pesto, which is enough to use for 4 as a side dish, or 2 as a main course!

I have to give a big thanks to my friends C, S, and E. Not only did C and S invite me into their home, but they let me use their high powered camera from their business... E works for them, so it was perfect timing; the three of them finished their work day with a delicious meal!

Mike’s Wheat Beer

So I must confess... the best wheat beer I ever made was the one where I cut ALL the corners! These are relatively simple recipes, so cutting corners is easy to do, in my opinion. Here is the result. For information on how to make this a fruit-wheat beer (such as raspberry or blueberry... hahaha or you could say blue-beery... ok sorry), check my blog! The address is at the bottom of this post!

OG 1.043, FG 1.009, ABV 4.5%, IBUs 17
4 ½ pounds Base Malt
4 ½ pounds malted Wheat
1 oz Tettnanger hops at 4% AA (or something else?), 60 minutes
Yeast of your choosing
Mash grains at 150* F for 60 minutes. Sparge and lauter as usual...there is always the
possibility of a stuck sparge, so use rice hulls as appropriate. For hopping, simpler is better. If you’re going to drink this straight up with a neutral ale yeast, maybe try something more interesting, like East Kent Golding, or Styrian Golding, or even an American “C” hop. If you’re going to use a more flavorful yeast, keep the hop rather neutral. (if you plan to use the Weinhenstephen yeast, which commercially is WLP300 or WY3068, keep the reins in on your fermentation temp...too high and you get all sorts of over fruity nastiness!) If you’re planning to add fruit, keep both the hops and yeast neutral so the fruit flavor shines through.

In the past, the best yeasts I’ve used have been US-05 and my house Pacman strain. For
a discussion on all of these factors (“all” being fruit and yeast), check out my blog at:

- Mike TGBG