Monday, October 31, 2011

Cocoa Roasted Pecans

So there I was, sitting there at work on a Thursday afternoon and instead of paying attention to my daily 1 o'clock meeting like I really should be, my mind wanders.  I want to be in my kitchen, making something new, something excited.  On top of that, I am hungry and jonesing for a snack.   So where does my mind wander?  To cocoa roasted nuts, of course.  Isn't that where your mind always wanders off too?

Alright, I admit, it was quite a random thought, but the idea has been floating around my head for awhile, I just never acted upon it.  And as I sat there in my meeting, once again zoning out and day dreaming of food, I realized I didn't really know how I would go about tackling these things.  I didn't think I could take the candying approach I use for my spicy pecans, but that's all I really knew.

Until Thursday afternoon, during my break of course, when I ventured online to take a peak at how other's had accomplished cocoa dusted nuts.  And I found 3 new blogs that seemed to have a handle on it, each with their own spin on it.  So I did the only reasonable thing: between the different recipes, what I knew I did and did not have at home and my own special brand of logic, I hodge-podged together my own recipe. 

And surprise of surprises, my recipe mojo must have been pumping full blast on Thursday, because these are fantastic.  Really fantastic.  I, of course, will attribute it to my magical recipe combining skills, but you're more than welcome to attribute it to the fact that cocoa + sugar + toasted nuts = really yummy, snacky, healthy goodness.  Really, what more could you ask for?  Oh wait, did I mention that they will make your kitchen smell wonderfully chocolaty and spiced and warm?  And that they taste a little bit like Christmas in your mouth?  And that they come together very quickly and easily?  And that if I could make these with only what I have sitting in my pantry, then so can you?  Cause really those are all very valid points.

Anyways, silliness aside, my batch was purely pecans, but I stocked myself up on other assorted nuts this weekend at Costco to make myself a mix batch (almonds, pecans, cashews) just as soon as I go buy more eggs for my fridge.  In my head, I have great images of myself cooking up several batches and making them pretty in nice jars with ribbons and Christmas bows to give away, but we'll see if that actually happens.  If nothing else, I plan to bring a load home for Thanksgiving to share, but that's a few weeks off as well, so really, I can't promise anything.  Or in other words, stop waiting for me, you'll be much happier the sooner you make these for yourself.

Cocoa Roasted Pecans

3 c. pecans
1 large egg white
2 tsp. vanilla
1/3 c. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 300 degree F.  On rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper, spread out nuts.  Roast in oven for about 10 minutes or until nuts are fragrant.

While nuts are roasting, whisk together sugar, cocoa, cinnamon and salt.  Set aside.  In larger bowl, whisk egg white and vanilla until soft peaks form.  Gently fold in sugar mixture.  Fold in roasted nuts and stir gently until nuts are completely covered.

Spread nuts back onto baking sheet lined with parchment paper evenly.  Roast for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so.  Let cool and store in an airtight container.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Kitchen - TH

After 2 weeks away from my apartment, and more importantly, away from my kitchen, I was itchin' to come home and both make and eat a homecooked meal.  So it came as a surprise last night when I tried to figure out what I wanted to blog about next and I came up with a big, fat nada.  Don't get me wrong, I made one hell of a dinner/leftovers Monday night.  It was delicious.  And healthy, which I had been craving after 2 weeks of restaurant food.  It was the product of doing a quick walkthrough of my grocery store and buying what was on sale.  It came together without headache and with few ingredients.  It came together easily, but slowly.  It was the perfect welcome home dinner.  And Tuesday lunch leftovers.

 So, of course, there are no pictures.  I wasn't in the mood to have to think about trying to make my food look appetizing.  Or to try to remember to take pictures each step along the way.  Or to find and follow a recipe.  Instead, I let myself enjoy slowly carmelizing long strips of red onions and button mushrooms over the lowest possible heat, deglazing the pan with a hearty dose of balsamic vinegar.  I baked some healthy tilapia in my new Le Cresuet bakeware (yay, Cinci Outlet Mall!), seasoned with some salt, pepper and dried oregano.  And after everything came together with a melted sprinkling of parmesan cheese, I sat and enjoyed each bite.  It was a fabulous welcome back to the Haute dinner.  Unfortunately, no pictures and no real recipe (although this might have to officially become a recipe one day...) means no real blog post.  So instead, I'm giving you what I know you've all been waiting for... my Terre Haute Kitchen Tour!! 

No?  Not what you've all been waiting for?  Interesting... well, it's happening anyways, so smile and pretend to be interested.  Or I suppose you always have the option to stop reading, but you wouldn't do that to poor old me now, would you?

Didn't think so.  So, as far as apartment kitchens go, and I've had a decent share of them, I'm loving my Terre Haute kitchen.  I have 3 usable counters, 1 of which holds my large wooden cutting board, another just large enough to hold my yellow pepper Kitchen Aid when I pull it out and another that basically holds today's mail, dirty dishes and whatever cookbook/recipe I'm using.  I have a panty!  Kind of, I bought myself an industrial wire shelf cause it looks awesome and stocked it up, it is my pantry.  With the rate I'm gathering kitchen stuff, any kitchen I have will never have enough storage space.  But that's a problem for another day.  Another new addition is the knife strip hanging above my sink.  I don't know how I got along without one for so long.  There's something quite fulfilling about needing a knife, whipping around and grabbing what you need from the wall.  It might not exactly be safe, but it's sure fun.  The place has new counters, new linuleum floors, a huge sink with a hose.  Even if it's technically not much bigger than what I had going on in Greenville, it is infinitely better.  Needless to say, it's my Terre Haute Happy Place.

And hopefully soon will be turning out something yummy to share!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pickled Carrots

I have been on the road for the last two and a half weeks, living out of a rather small hotel room, my suitcase and to some extent my car.  It's been rather exhausting.  Which of course makes sitting cross legged in the middle of my living room, in front of the TV all the more wonderful.  Because I was going to be away from home for half of a month, I had some cleaning out of my fridge to do.  I finished the milk, the eggs and the fruit.  And when I ran across a recipe for pickled carrots a few days before heading out, I know how I would finish off my half bag of carrots.

For a quick confession, I've never actual eaten anything pickled that wasn't actually a pickle.  Maybe there might have been a pickled beet somewhere in there at some point in my life, but it obviously wasn't that memorable.  So I wasn't really sure what to expect here.  But I really like carrots, and I really like vinegar and garlic isn't half bad itself, and wouldn't you know it, I really like these.

I have been snacking on them ever since I got home this afternoon.  That first bite is interesting.  The second one is good.  And then you start to crave them and eat about 5 sticks more.  You manage to get them back in the fridge, but will be standing there with the door open 40 minutes later repeating the whole routine. 

What I want to try with the next round of these is to shred the carrots instead of cutting them in sticks.  I am hoping that would make it as amazing and delicious as the carrot salads I loved in Germany, because the pickling liquid is yummy.  And less dill, I wasn't too terribly thrilled with the way a dill smell over took my entire apartment, but then I left for almost 20 days and the smell disappeared somewhere in that span.  Anyways, I know pickled carrots sounds different, but if you think they sound good or interesting or even curious at all, you gotta try them.  And then try to remember to not eat with your fridge door open.  Don't want to waste electricity.

P.S. - This post is dedicated to my sister, who we just found out will be bringing what I imagine will be one of the most adorable, beautiful baby boys into the world in just a matter of months.  Yay!  Pregnant ladies like eating crazy things, right??  Like Pickled Carrots??

Updated 12/29/11:  My shredded carrot version worked wonderfully, just as I had hoped!  Although it wasn't exactly like the carrot salad I remembered and loved from my time in Germany, it was a very good stand in.  Personally, I am a fan of the shredded carrot over the sticks, but to each their own.

Pickled Carrots
Adapted from the ever wonderful Smitten Kitchen, thanks be to Deb

1 pound carrots, cut into snack sized sticks or shredded
1 1/4 c. water
1 c. apple cider vinegar
1/4 c. sugar
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbsp. dill
1 1/2 Tbsp. kosher salt
1 Tbsp. mustard seeds

Peel and cut carrots into equal sized sticks (about 3 1/2 by 1/3 inch sticks).  Place in large, heatproof bowl.  In medium sized sauce pan, combine the rest of the ingredients.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and pour "pickling liquid" over prepared carrots.  Let cool to room temperature, uncovered.  Once cool, cover and place in fridge at least 1 day so flavors can develop.

Carrots will keep for about 1 month in your fridge, in an airtight container.  (We're going on 3 weeks here and still yum, yum!)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Caramel Brownies

If there was a fugly award for brownies, these guys would win it hands down.  The sad thing is, when I opened my September Cooking Light issue, these were by far the prettiest.  A thick, fudgey brownie with an almost as thick gooey caramel layer and a sexy dark chocolate drizzle over top.  These, obviously, are no where near that picture.  These, in my own personal opinion, were butt ugly.  However, somehow they managed to taste better than I even thought they would from looking at the pretty, touched up magazine picture.  I'm not quite sure what happened, but surprisingly something good did result.

I say surprisingly because I didn't know how in the world these guys were going to come together while I was making them.  There was about 2 minutes of pride in the beginning, followed by a few hours of uneasy worrying.  Pride because all of a sudden I realized that I had just made my very own brownie mix and the world was all rosy colored and grand.  And then uneasy worrying as everything went downhill from there. 

You know when you get something from the menu at McDonald's and you never really expect it to look like the picture because past experience has taught you to know better?  I guess I haven't learned that yet with my Cooking Light.  This isn't the first time that I have felt betrayed by the magazine, but at least this time the end results were edible.  It's almost enough to make you question whether or not they actually test run their recipes before printing them.  But the must, right?  They have to, right?  Otherwise how would they get the pretty pictures?  Like the one that looks absolutely nothing like the brownies I just made?  It's really a mystery. 

Anyways, here are my thoughts.  The brownies took about 4 times longer to cook then they suggested.  The caramel coating isn't as thick as it was supposed to be, but that's ok.  I actually think it might have had too much butter in it (which I know is almost a cardinal sin to admit, but it just might be true) and not enough powder sugar.  It sweated quite a bit and was greasy.  The chips plus the evaporated milk made for a horrible chocolate drizzle over the top.  It was runny and ended up being just a thin, runny chocolate layer across the top that never really hardened up.  I could have made it thicker by adding more chocolate maybe, but I was tired and it was late.  Next time, I'm just melting the chocolate alone.  Which leads me to the last criticism.  What was up with the evaporated milk?  I hate wasting food and that is what it ended up being.  I opened up a can and used only a few tablespoons out of it.  There has to be a better way.

The brownie part was delicious.  The homemade brownie mix may just have to be made again.  It was the top half that I really struggled with.  It needs a better caramel recipe and a not so complicated chocolate drizzle recipe.  It's such a good idea with such an amazing brownie bottom, it's just not there yet.  And since Cooking Light apparently can't be bothered with trying and testing and perfecting their own recipes, I guess I'll just have to do it for them...  I'll keep you updated, the idea of salted caramel and fudgey brownie is just too yummy. 

Caramel Brownies
Adapted, and soon to be more so, from Cooking Light's September 2011 issue

3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. granulated sugar
3/4 c. unsweetened cocoa
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
6 Tbsp. butter, melted
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Caramel Topping:
1/4 c. butter
1/4 c. brown sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp. evaporated milk
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 c. powder sugar

1-2 Tbsp. semisweet chocolate chips, melted, for drizzling

Preheat oven to 350 degree F.  Lightly grease a 9x9 glass pan.

Combine flour, sugar, cocoa, brown sugar and baking powder in large bowl and whisk until well blended.  In smaller bowl, whisk together melted butter, eggs and vanilla.  Add slowly to dry mixture and stir until just combined, without over mixing.  Pour batter into prepared pan and move to preheated oven.  Bake 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick  inserted in the center comes out with "moist crumbs clinging".  Don't over bake!  Place on wire rack to cool.

While brownies are cooling, prepare caramel.  Melt butte in saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk in brown sugar and evaporated milk.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and powdered sugar.  Continue to whisk until caramel is smooth.  Pour over cooled brownies and spread evenly.  Let cool until set, about 20 minutes.

Melt chocolate chips and stir until smooth.  Using small spoon, drizzle chocolate in neat patterns over brownies.  Let set, cut into squares and enjoy!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Balsamic Pepper Pork

There's not much of a story behind this recipe here.  Last weekend, after a long Saturday of hiking through southern Indiana among beautifully colored leaves and a tiny bubbling creek, I made Ben this recipe.  It was taken from my most recent issue of Cooking Light, which had a section devoted to pork tenderloin which I will be revisiting soon.  It was only a little bit of a pain and, spoiler alert, it was only ok.  

I'd be more excited to talk about the hike Ben and I went on through and all around McCormick's Creek.  It was beautiful as the leaves were starting to change, the creek was tiny and running and much more warm than I ever would have expected.  There were flowers and I collected a little bouquet of orange, yellow and red leaves to bring home.  My pictures from the hike are much, much prettier than my pictures from dinner afterwards.  So, I'll spare you and give you pretty pictures of fall instead.  Happy October!  

By the way, the pork tenderloin was ok.  I think I would have enjoyed it more without the kalamata olives.  Ben liked it more than I did, but he really loves roasted red peppers.  But even he gave it just mostly, yeah, it was good.  If you like balsamic, roasted red peppers and kalamata olives, give it a go.  Otherwise, I'll have to work on some of those other pork tenderloin recipes for you!  Because, I don't know about you, but I really do like pork tenderloin.  I promise, we should be seeing it again soon.

Balsamic Pepper Pork
Adapted from October's Cooking Light

1 c. roasted red peppers, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar, divided
1 lb. pork tenderloin
1/4 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 c. low sodium chicken broth
1 tsp. flour
1/3 c. kalamata olives (optional)

Mix roasted red peppers and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar.  Set aside.

Butterfly pork tenderloin so that it opens like a book.  Cover with strong piece of plastic and pound until pork is 1/2 inch thick all around.  Pour pepper mixture over pork and spread evenly, leaving a 1/2 inch border around the edge.  Starting at the long side, roll pork tenderloin.  Secure roll with toothpicks.  (Remember to count and remember how many you used!)  Season outside of pork with salt. 

In large dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat olive oil.  Add pork and brown on all sides, about 6 minutes.  Once browned, add chicken broth and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes, until a meat thermometer stuck in the center reads 145 deg.  Remove pork from pan and let rest for 5 minutes.  While resting, combine flour and remaining tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, whisking well.  Add flour mixture and olives, if you want, to pan.  Reduce sauce to about half, around 15 to 20 minutes.  Slice pork into 1 inch rounds and serve with sauce.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sun Dried Tomato Focaccia

I have mentioned previously me and Ben's purchasing prowess when it comes to focaccia.  Consequently, trying my hand at making my own round has been on my kitchen bucket list for awhile.  And really, there is no reason for me to have put it off for as long as I have.  I possess no less than three cookbooks, two dog-earred magazine and at least one newspaper clipping that contains a recipe for focaccia. 

So what did it finally take to push my lazy bum into gear?  I went a bought myself a fancy dancy pizza stone!  Nothing will get me into the kitchen faster than a new addition to play with.  And this new addition came with it's own cookbook.  Foregoing the obvious first use of a new pizza stone, I saw a focaccia recipe inside and realized I would christen my new kitchen toy with my first attempt at focaccia making.  I just had to decide which recipe to use, a task easier said than done.

So there I was, sitting cross-legged in my living room in front of the TV with my various focaccia recipes surrounding the floor around me, trying to decide which to go with.  I'm not going to lie, I was a tad overwhelmed initially, especially considering one included a cup of mashed potatoes.  I just wasn't sure what to do with that.  After much internal debating and whatnot, I decided to use the recipe that came with my pizza stone simply because they were made to be together, right?

Ok, maybe that wasn't the only reason.  It looked pretty simple and I figured I deserved that because I was doing this on a weeknight.  And you know what?  That's how it tasted.  Simple.  The dough itself, even though it came together very easily in my food processor was boring and lacked seasoning.  The sun dried tomatoes I covered the dough with got much more charred than I expected in the oven.  The suggested sprinkling of herbs over top was not enough.  I admit, the bay leaves were mostly for aesthetics, but I really did think they would at least give something.  And, nada.

I suppose I brought this on myself.  I thought the toppings would be enough.  I really did.  And they weren't.  But at least now I know, the flavor has to come within the bread, not just from the top.  That being said, Ben and I did eat the whole loaf in one weekend, and it was quite a huge loaf.  We dipped some in oil and vinegar on Friday night, made sandwiches from it on Saturday, and finished off the rest as toast on Sunday morning, cut in half, topped with shredded cheese and broiled quickly.   I guess I'm trying to say, it wasn't bad.  It just wasn't spectacular.  It was a good, boring, background note for each of our weekend meals. 

But never fear, I have at least five other focaccia recipes to try.  I will find the one that stands alone and makes me knees go weak.  And after I eat it all, I promise to share the recipe at least.

Sun Dried Tomato Focaccia
Adapted from The Haeger NaturalStone Pizza Cookbook

I halved this recipe for you, because it isn't fantastic enough to make the giant round that I did.  I included the toppings that I did, but I wouldn't throw them on at the beginning of cooking, rather in the last 5 minutes.  The addition of some grated Parmesan cheese may really help out here until I find the focaccia recipe.

2 1/4 - 2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 package (2.5 tsp) active dry yeast
1 tsp. fine sea salt
1/2 tsp. sugar
7/8 c. warm water (110 deg. F)
1/4 c. olive oil, plus more for brushing
1/2 tsp. coarse see salt
small handful of roughly chopped sun dried tomatoes
2 bay leaves
2 tsp. Italian seasoning (or basil, or oregano)

Combine first 4 ingredients in food processor, starting with only 2 1/4 c. flour.   Pulse food processor to thoroughly blend together.  With food processor running, slowly drizzle in warm water and olive oil.  Pulse dough until it just comes together.  Dough should be "tacky to the touch but not sticky".  If it feels too sticky, slowly add up to 1/4 c. more flour until it feels right.  Turn out into large oiled bowl, turning several times so dough is covered in oil.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm, draft-free area until dough has doubled in size, about 1 1/4 hours.  (Timing for double batch, so keep an eye on your dough)

Flour work surface and turn out dough onto it, sprinkle light with flour.  Punch dough down, then pat and stretch dough into a round about 3/4 in. thick.  Transfer dough onto pizza stone and cover with a clean kitchen towel.  Let rise for 1 hour. 

Preheat over to 400 deg. F, with rack in the middle. 

After dough has risen, dimple dough with fingertips all over.  Generous brush dough all over with olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt, Italian seasoning and place 2 bay leaves in middle of round.  Put pizza stone in oven and bake until golden brown, 15-25 minutes (again, estimate for smaller batch.  Watch like a HAWK).  5 minutes before focaccia is finished, sprinkle with sun dried tomatoes.

Remove focaccia from pizza stone as early as possible (and safe) and let cool. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Spiced Honey Glazed Chicken Thighs

Do you know what I just discovered?  Boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  Seriously, I've been on my own for a good while now.  You add up the random summers and the time I've just spent in the real world and you have a good solid few years.  So how is this the first time that I've cooked the these little dark meat nuggets? 

Being of the dark meat kind of gal variety, it should have come as no surprised that I liked these as much as I did.  True, they have a little bit more fat than their very near cousin, the boneless, skinless chicken breast.  But you know what?  All that means is that, consequently, they have a little bit more flavor too.  And cheap!  Oh boy, another surprise, another happy surprise.  I'm still lucky enough to be considered among the just scrapping it by, newbie to the real world, recent college grad group (I really hope to never get to that yuppie stage) and anytime I can fix myself dinner and 2 leftover lunches for $3.53 worth of meat?  Well, that's a gold star in my book.

And not just because of the nice price tag.  These are dry rubbed with a nice 6-spice concoction, and get a quick blast of heat under the broiler.  Then, to top it off, for the last minute on either side, a honey glazed is brushed over and becomes this sticky, sometimes crispy, caramelized coating on the outside.  This crust forms a sort of make shift skin that is almost as good as roasted chicken skin.  I say almost because, really, what is better than roasted chicken skin?  Right?  And the cook thing is, I promise you won't even miss the chicken skin here.  This is delectable.  Hm, you know, as a food blogger, I do believe I don't use that word enough...

And now, we have just enough time for a small confession.  While I would consider this recipe more than big, green cookbook worthy, it already has a place in a real live, actually bound cookbook:  Cooking Light's Way to Cook.  Which is almost a shame, because my poultry section is a bit skimpy.  But nevertheless, bound already or not, this recipe is definitely worth the test drive.  Guten Appetit!

Spiced Honey Glazed Chicken Thighs
Adapted from Cooking Light's Way to Cook 

2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. paprika
3/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, visible fat cut away
4 Tbsp. honey
1 1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

Preheat broiler and place broiler pan in over to heat up.

Combine all 6 spices in large bowl.  Whisk to combine.  Add chicken to bowl and toss to coat.  Pat spice rub into chicken thighs.

Coat broiler pan with cooking spray.  Place chicken on broiler pan and return to oven.  Broil thighs for 5 minutes on either side.

Combine honey and vinegar in small bowl and whisk well.  Remove chicken from oven and brush with 3/4 of honey/vinegar mixture.  Broil for one minute.  Remove chicken from oven and flip.  Brush with remaining honey/vinegar mixture and return to oven, broil one minute or until chicken is done.