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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Lemon Couscous with Asparagus and Tomato

This is a great side dish for summer. The citrus undertone works well with the veggies and sharp flavors of the cheese.

Ingredients

• 1 cup plain dried quick-cooking couscous
• 12 ounces asparagus, tough ends removed
• Cherry or grape tomatoes, halved.
• Finely grated zest and freshly squeezed juice of 2 lemons (2 tablespoons zest and about ½ cup juice)
• 2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• Salt
• Freshly ground black pepper
• Fresh grated parmesan cheese

Directions

Prepare the couscous according to package directions. Transfer to a bowl.
Fill a large bowl with ice water. Bring a shallow pan of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the asparagus and cook for 4-6 minutes, until just tender. Transfer the asparagus to the ice water; cool for 5 minutes. Remove and dry the spears; then cut into ½ inch lengths.

Add the following to the couscous: asparagus, tomatoes, lemon zest and juice, 2 tablespoons of the oil, salt and pepper to taste; toss to combine. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed. If the couscous seems dry, add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Garnish with parmesan cheese.

Serve immediately. (This is best served right after it is made; otherwise the lemon juice will discolor the asparagus.)



African Peanut Soup

From the Colophon Cafe, one of my favorite hangouts in college.

Blend in food processor to create soup base:

1 oz fresh ginger root, scrubbed and diced
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp crushed chili peppers
3 ¼ cups diced tomatoes, canned or fresh
1 ¾ cups dry roasted unsalted peanuts
1 small onion, chopped

Add the following and cook to 165 degrees:

1 ½ cup chicken stock
3 cups water

Make a roux paste and add to thicken:

1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup flour

Finally add:

2 cups diced tomatoes, canned or fresh
½ lb cooked and cubed turkey or chicken

Hints: Whisk warm roux into soup and simmer to thicken. Add final tomatoes
to thin and add chunkiness to soup. Thin with water to desired consistency.
(For vegetarian version, leave out the turkey and use vegetable stock instead of
chicken stock.)

Garnish with peanuts and cilantro (optional).

Serves 6-8 people.





Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies with Peppermint Frosting

I love the peppermint/chocolate combination, and it seems to be most readily available during the holidays. Why I can’t get peppermint M&M’s year round is beyond me, but I’ll take what I can get. Every year I make a vow to discover the perfect peppermint hot chocolate, and every year I find myself disappointed when the holidays come to a close. If anyone knows of an amazing hot chocolate distributor in the Portland, OR area, please...hook a girl up.

Also, Trader Jo's Candy Cane Joe-Joes are pretty much the best thing on Earth. If you've never tried them, leave your house RIGHT NOW and buy a box. You'll be glad you did.

To satiate the chocolate/peppermint craving, here’s a recipe for Chocolate Sandwich Cookies with Peppermint Frosting. They're not quite Joe-Joe's, but close enough. As you’ll notice from the photos, this baking frenzy happened during a rare Seattle snowstorm (perfect backdrop!), and I added crushed candy canes for added zing. More peppermint! MORE!

Chocolate Cookies
1 2/3 cups flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup butter, softened

Peppermint Frosting
3 1/4 cups (about 14 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon peppermint flavoring or extract
Pinch of fine salt

For the cookies, whisk together flour, cocoa and salt in a large bowl; set aside. In a second large bowl, beat sugar and egg together with an electric mixer until pale and thickened, about 2 minutes; beat in vanilla. Add butter and beat again until smooth, about 1 minute more. Add flour mixture in two parts and beat until combined. Shape dough into two logs then wrap each snugly in parchment paper, twisting the ends in opposite directions. Make it uniformly round and about 8 inches long. Chill for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350°. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Cut dough crosswise into ¼-inch thick slices and transfer to prepared baking sheets, arranging cookies about 1 inch apart. Bake until puffed and just cooked through, 9 to 10 minutes. Set aside to let cool completely.

For the frosting, put sugar, milk, butter, peppermint flavoring and salt into a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer for 1 minute. Spread the flat side of half of the cookies with some of the frosting, then sandwich with remaining cookies. Serve immediately or store cookies in an airtight container until ready to serve.






Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Homemade Cracker Jack

A few years ago, a friend of mine had a birthday and invited a group of about 15 people out to a ball game. I wanted to make snacks for everyone and after some thought on how I could stay in line with the baseball theme, I decided to make homemade Cracker Jack.

I used this recipe and doubled it. For the “prizes”, I headed over to Archie McPhee and pawed through their ‘small toys’ section. I had a lot of fun with this project!!

Deluxe Caramel Corn

Pop 4-6 quarts of your favorite popcorn and place in a large buttered roaster. Preheat oven to 200 degrees, put the popcorn in the oven while you make the syrup.

In a deep pot, stir together constantly while heating, then boil together at a full boil for 5 minutes without stirring:

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup honey OR corn syrup

Remove syrup from heat, stir in:

1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1-2 cups toasted pecans, almond slices or other choice nuts

Syrup will foam high when you add the soda. Stir down and as it cools slightly, pour in a thin stream all over the popcorn. Stir in well with two large spoons or gloved hands. Put the well mixed popcorn in its roaster into the oven uncovered, increase temperature to 250 degrees. Stir thoroughly every 15 minutes for 1 hour 15 minutes. Break apart and cool before eating or storing.

The toys:



Slide whistles, spy glasses, warbling bird whistles, siren whistles, “sports fan” (get it?), and hamburger yo-yo’s. Anything that wasn’t already wrapped in plastic I put into small snack-size Ziploc bags.

The popcorn:



The recipe says to make enough to fill a roasting pan. Since I wanted to double the recipe, I made a full roasting pan plus two large-ish bowls. If you look closely, you can see that I buttered the pans.

In the oven:



Of course, I checked to make sure all three containers could fit comfortably in the oven. I let the popcorn sit in there at 200° while I worked on the caramel sauce.

The syrup:



One full cup of butter – melting, melting, melting.

Plus two full cups of brown sugar:



At this point, things started to get a little hairy. I had hot, sugary butter cooking on the stove and slow-moving honey that I was trying to measure out and I just didn’t have enough hands to handle the camera on top of that. But I did get a shot of everything all mixed up and bubbling away:



Now the recipe says to let the mixture sit and bubble without stirring for a full 5 minutes. This was probably the hardest part of the entire recipe for me. I’m an overzealous stirrer. If something is on the stove, I can’t just leave it alone. I must stir! For this reason I am the world’s worst omelet maker, and whenever I make fajitas the meat and veggies end up battered and torn from all the stir treatment they got. Knowing I had to follow the recipe, I gave the syrup a final quick stirs, set the timer for 5 minutes, and forced myself to walk away. I busied myself with dishes and cleaning up while the syrup bubbled.

After 5 minutes, it looked like this:



You can’t really tell from the photo, but it nearly doubled its size in the pot.

Next, a full teaspoon of baking soda:



I was a little nervous about this step, because the recipe warns that the syrup will omgfoamhigh when the soda is added.

I was a bit disappointed, as it didn’t really do anything:



But then I added the vanilla and holy cow WHOOSH:



It even started to smoke/steam a bit, as you can see from the steamy haze in the picture.

I had 12 oz of peanuts in the cupboard, as well as a partial package of chopped pecans. I roughly chopped all the nuts and mixed them in with the syrup, took the popcorn out of the oven, and started to mix the syrup over the corn.

Again, time was crucial at this point because I didn’t want to ruin the syrup. Once I took it off the heat, it immediately started to thicken up. Since I had 3 large containers to drizzle and mix hot syrup into, I really didn’t have a chance to take photos.

But once everything was mixed together, I stuck it all back in the oven and increased the temperature to 250°:



I stirred the popcorn every 15 minutes like the recipe said. However, at about 40ish minutes I did a little taste test with some popcorn that had fallen from my stirring spoon. It had just the slightest taste of char to it, so at 45 minutes I took all the popcorn out. (It’s a good thing I did, because later I asked a few other people if they thought it tasted burned. At first they said ‘no’, but after a moment they said, ‘Yeah. But only just a little!’ Can you imagine what would’ve happened had I left it in for the full 75 minutes??). Next time, I’ll leave it in the oven for 30 minutes and call it good. Or maybe keep the temp at 200 instead of 250 and cook for 45.

I took it all out of the oven and set it out on wax paper to cool. As you can see, the popcorn darkened up in true Cracker Jack form:





While that was cooling, I set out to create the containers. I had looked high and low for some sort of box to put my Cracker Jack in, reminiscent of actual Cracker Jack boxes. But later that afternoon I was at my local QFC picking up popcorn kernels and I noticed some Cracker Jack in the aisle. Did you know Cracker Jack comes in ONE OUNCE boxes?? One ounce, people! Entirely unacceptable! Anyway, QFC just happened to have Cracker Jack on sale. Three (one ounce!) boxes are normally $1.79 (the boxes were taped together and packaged in three). They were on sale at 10/$10. So I bought three boxes of CJ for a buck and thought I’d somehow use the boxes for inspiration.

Later at home I got a brilliant idea:



Lunch sacks! I cut off the front of the Cracker Jack box and scanned it to my printer, then printed up the image and glued it to the front of lunch sacks. I liked the end result. Gave it more of an authentic feel, somehow.

Plus, I was able to fit much more than one measly ounce of snack into each bag:



The final touch was a sticker on the back of the bag to keep it shut:



Everybody seemed to enjoy it and I had tons of fun, too. Here are some photos from the game:

Center Field:



He couldn’t get over the fact that I actually put prizes in with the popcorn:



Pass me some of that!