Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Foodiness

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31-recipe challenge Day 15: Chicken Pot Pie

There’s something so quintessentially wintery and cozy about chicken pot pie.  It’s really the ultimate winter comfort food.  And making my own lets me totally control what goes into it, unlike most of those frozen, pre-made ones from the store.

Chicken pot pie whole

Overall, this was a good recipe, though, of course, I skipped the mushrooms in lieu of an extra pour of chicken stock. Once it was all baked up, I did feel the whole thing could have benefited from some more salt, which is unusual for me, but nonetheless, an extra pinch of salt would’ve brought all the flavors out even more.

I used all white meat in my pot pie, breast specifically. I made chicken soup the same day (more to come on that later), so I used one of the breasts that cooked in the stock. (Multitasking!)

I really wish there was more I could say about this pot pie, other than Kevin loved it and I wish I had more, because it’s still cold and bitter and pot pie weather. But March is so close now, and I’m hoping the mid-Atlantic catches on that March means spring. (One can dream, right?) And I love the whole wheat crust instead of the typical white crust (not that the thought of topping it with biscuit dough hasn’t crossed my mind…yum.)

Chicken pot pie filling

I’m also still suffering from a bit of anesthesia hangover from my wisdom teeth surgery yesterday. On the good side, I’m in very little pain; I’ve only taken two Tylenol and none of the Vicodin the surgeon prescribed. On the downside, I’ve been super tired and groggy since yesterday, and there are solid chunks of time directly post-surgery that I remember NONE of.

I’ve been tucking into all the soup I prepped for myself last week–I’ll have a separate post about that coming soon.

 

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31-Recipe Challenge: Day 3–Super Bowl Sunday!

If you remember my Super Bowl post from last year, you know I like to throw a Super Bowl party. This year was no different, except Kevin hosted and I had even better recipes to work with.

The Super Bowl menu? Beer and bacon butter beans, four-cheese macaroni and cheese and pumpkin pie bread pudding. Plus, Kevin made chicken fajitas and pigs in blankets.

Yes, this was a far departure from Day 2’s vegetarian recipes.

On to the recipes! First let’s start with the one I know you’re all looking at–Beer and Bacon Butter Beans. Let me repeat that one. Beer. And Bacon. Can you think of a better football food? I used this recipe from Crepes of Wrath and pretty much didn’t change a damn thing.

Despite the beer and bacon (or should I say, THANKS TO the beer and bacon), this is actually a very complex and sophisticated side dish, especially thanks to the whole sprig of rosemary that goes in. But seriously, just in case you had any doubt that beans slow-cooked in beer and bacon fat would be delicious, these were drool-worthy. I’ve never appreciated a plate of beans so much. And puff-pastry wrapped pigs in a blanket were a much better franks-and-beans accompaniment than plain old hot dogs.

Beer and bacon butter beans

As much of a bacon lover as I am (and I’m a huge bacon lover), I rarely cook it. Sunday I cooked it. A lot of it. 8 thick-cut strips, to be exact. And I chopped it first. I never want to do that again. Trying to cut through thick, chewy, raw bacon fat can make you never want to eat bacon again. (OK, that’s not true. But it doesn’t make you want to prep it again.)

But once that starts cooking, it’s a whole different story. The salty, smoky, bacon-y smell fills the kitchen, and all is right with the world.

Then, you strain out the bacon and cook the beans IN THE BACON FAT. Add chicken stock, lemon juice, honey, a whole bottle of malty amber ale (I used Sam Adams Boston Ale), spices and a sprig of rosemary, and pop that bad boy in the oven for a solid two hours. Then top with crispy bacon. 1) your house will smell amazing and 2) what comes out at the end of those two hours is well worth the wait.

I can’t believe I’m waxing poetic about baked canellini beans, but these beans were off-the-wall good. Granted, cook anything in bacon fat and beer and it will probably be off-the-wall good.

I’ll put it to you another way: my friend J, who still doesn’t even consider beans a viable food group, said these were good. That’s, like, Kevin loving the sweet potato tacos huge! (This has been a pretty good weekend!) Heck, the fact that he even willingly ATE the beans was a good enough compliment for me.

UPDATE: In hindsight, I realize I skipped the very last step of the recipe, which is to stir in a tablespoon of unsalted butter once the beans come out of the oven. Oh well, I didn’t miss it.

For dinner, I made Four-Cheese Baked Rigatoni from How Sweet It Is. I’ve made TONS of macaroni and cheese in my day–it’s almost become a staple for me–but this one was unique. In addition to cheddar, fontina and gruyere, this mac and cheese uses 1/3 cup of mascarpone, which is super luscious and creamy and smooth. And, as she warns, does give the mac and cheese extra oiliness, though not in a bad way. I’ve had mac and cheese like this before, and the extra oil actually lent itself well to reheating. It’s super gooey and cheesy. I used fat rigatoni noodles, like the recipe originally called for, which trapped lots of extra cheese sauce inside.

3-cheese mix

Come. To. Mama.

Although, I didn’t have any panko bread crumbs on hand, so I used regular whole wheat ones, which were fine. I also subbed a pinch of dried mustard seed for the nutmeg, since one of my friends in attendance has a nutmeg allergy. (The goal is to not kill people.)

One interesting thing about this day was that a sort of theme emerged: one pot wonders that I turned into two-pot wonders. You see, both the beans and the mac and cheese were supposed to go from stove to oven in the same cooking vessel: the beans in an oven-safe pot or deep pan, the macaroni in a cast iron skillet. I do not own either of those things (sadly), so for the beans, I cooked everything in a deep pan and transferred into a covered deep casserole dish to bake. I cooked the macaroni and cheese in the same deep pan and transferred to a traditional casserole dish to bake. I really need to get my hands on a cast iron skillet, because as ooey-gooey and lovely as that mac and cheese was, I bet it would be incredible in cast iron.

Mac and cheese

Then came dessert. Let’s just say I’m really glad someone brought cookies. I was probably the least impressed with this of everyone who ate it, but then again, I am always my own worst critic. I’m also picky about my bread pudding. I made this gorgeous-looking Pumpkin Pie Bread Pudding with Bourbon Icing from Eats Well With Others. (Well, hers was gorgeous-looking.)

It wasn’t a terrible recipe, I think I just executed it wrong. Though granted, three pounds of butternut squash to one pound of bread in a bread pudding does seem a tad imbalanced. I’d probably recommend trying something closer to a one-to-one ratio.

When the finished product came out of the oven (after it baked for way longer than called for yet barely felt done), there were more chunks of hard, raw squash than soft, melty baked ones. And the inside was decidedly, well, mushy. Too mushy for my taste. Not so bad for a bread pudding, but, like I said, I’m picky. I feel like if this was perhaps baked in individual-sized ramekins rather than one large springform, it would be more up my alley–lots of crispy outside and a semi-liquid center that’s still mostly baked.

There are a few things I think contributed to my underwhelming result: For one, I’m assuming I didn’t pre-cook the squash long enough on the stove, though I feel like I let it go even longer than the recipe called for. Also, while the recipe called for a 10-inch springform, I only had a 9 1/2-inch. So although I left some filling behind,  perhaps I still overstuffed the pan, leading to the longer-than-called for baking time.

I also made a couple of *slight* tweaks to the recipe, but I doubt they were disaster inducing: again, I cut the nutmeg so as not to send anyone to the hospital, and I subbed one cup of almond milk and two cups of regular milk (1%) for the three cups of almond milk because I didn’t have enough on hand.

Nonetheless, this is definitely one I won’t be making again, even though Kevin wants me to re-attempt it with apples in place of the squash. This one brought me back down to earth a little bit–I was getting pretty confident in my baking skills after the pizza dough victory on Day 1, but this proved I’m really still not a baker. I’m gonna stay on the stove top where I belong.

However, it wasn’t all a bust. There was that bourbon icing. Oh man, that icing. I don’t even like bourbon and I couldn’t stop stealing tastes of this stuff. Which was bad, because I’m on antibiotics and not allowed to have alcohol!

Pumpkin pie bread pudding w/ bourbon icing

But if you need a dessert topping for, well, pretty much anything, throw this together! A stick of butter, 2 cups confectioner’s sugar and 2 tablespoons bourbon. Whisk and imbibe. And to get it more glaze-y and less icing-y, just pop it in the microwave for 30 seconds or so.

Because, dude, you want this icing on EVERYTHING. It was pretty good on the cookies, I was told. (I had eaten enough off the spoon by that point, I figured it was better if I cut myself off.)

I’m exhausted just writing this, so it’s no surprise I nearly forgot to cook on Monday. (Don’t worry, I did!)

Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year! (And Chocolate Truffles!)

I’ve been away quite a while, so I wanted to make sure I got all of my holiday wishes in there. With a new year, hopefully, comes an opportunity to blog again, now that my life is somewhat settling into order.

Lots of things happened since we last met.  Biggest of all is I moved. Now that I’m settled into the new digs, I have a new (and unfortunately much smaller) kitchen, but I’m learning to work with it. (For now, anyway–I’ll be moving again in a few months.)

New kitchen

I also received an awesomely nerdy, foodie Christmas gift that I’m so excited to share with you! (If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you may already know what this is!)

Dorothy Wizard of Oz apron

For those who don’t know, I’m a HUGE Wizard of Oz fan, and when I saw this apron in a local shop, I *had* to have it. So there it was, waiting for me on Christmas morning, thanks to Kevin’s brother! Now I can pretend I’m on my way to Oz AND stop ruining my good t-shirts!

Anyhow…back to the food: what did you guess I’d be making with that big batch of chocolate ganache I showed you last week? If you guessed I’d make it into truffles, good for you! Or, you follow me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and already saw what I made. If not, then 1) you should follow me and 2) let me know what you guessed, because I’d love new ideas!

I did indeed make a big batch of Christmas truffles (I gave them away as gifts because Kevin has a huge family), but you could make these any time of the year, and add any flavors or toppings you want.

For my Christmas truffles, I just made a basic chocolate truffle and rolled them in crushed peppermint, cocoa powder and cinnamon (think spicy Mexican hot chocolate), but you could totally add different extracts–or booze–to infuse a new flavor in, and you can roll them in just about anything you want: colored sugar, powdered sugar, spices, nuts, espresso, etc.

(P.S. Some flavor infusion ideas/substitutions: mint extract, coffee extract or strong espresso, Kahlua, rum or rum extract, Bailey’s, raspberry liquor, orange liquor, mint or cinnamon schnapps)

*NOTE: This recipe yields roughly 100 truffles (give or take depending on the size you make them.) I tripled and adapted an original recipe I had found on allrecipes.com (I had a LOT of family to feed!) If you feel like that’s a *tad* too many truffles, go ahead and halve it, third it, whatever.

Truffles

Basic chocolate truffles (adapted from Allrecipes.com)

36 ounces of good chocolate*
1 cup heavy cream
3 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt

1. Add cream and 1/3 to 1/2 the chocolate to a medium saucepan. Bring to medium heat, stirring constantly. Add the rest of the chocolate in gradually, stirring until smooth. **Watch this carefully, as it can burn quickly.**

2. Once the chocolate mixture is smooth, remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla and the salt.

3. Transfer ganache to a medium bowl and refrigerate 1-2 hours (or more if necessary–you want it solid, but scoopable.) Stir halfway through, if possible.

4. Once ganache is cooled, scoop out small sections and roll into a ball. Roll in desired topping and refrigerate again to re-solidify.

Don’t fret if they’re not perfectly spherical. The perfectionist in me wanted perfect, round, restaurant-quality truffles, but the realist in me (the half that was already getting frazzled and realized it was the day before Christmas Eve) wanted as stress-free of an experience as possible. And you know what? Not stressing over making them perfect was the best decision I ever made. Because it simply wasn’t going to happen, and I would’ve made myself crazy. Besides, imperfection is beautiful!

*Note: I used Ghirardelli chocolate, half bittersweet and half semi-sweet. You can use all bittersweet or all semi-sweet or another ratio based on your palate. You may need to add sugar to taste, as well. I also used a combination of chocolate chips and chopped up chocolate bars to ensure an even consistency.

My chocolate mix: 50-50 Ghirardelli semi-sweet and bittersweet

Chopped chocolate

Chocolate ganache

Truffle assemble line--ganache, peppermint, baking sheet with finished truffles

If you want to roll your truffles in peppermint, you’ll need to make a peppermint powder, basically. This could be done the old-fashioned way withe a mallet or rolling pin and a zip-top bag, but I found a Magic Bullet (or food processor) works much more efficiently. Throw in some whole peppermint candies (or broken up candy canes), whir for a few seconds and, voila! Peppermint powder.

Peppermint powder-making

By the way, if you have extra of this, keep it. It mixes nicely into hot cocoa or coffee, or you can use it in place of sprinkles on ice cream and other desserts! YUM!

And there you have it! These make great gifts, or a decadent treat for any occasion. And even though these are super easy to make, there’s an elegance and sophistication associated with truffles, so everyone will think you’re simply amazing for making these from scratch! (No one has to know how insanely simple it was!)

If you want to give these as gifts, like I did, find a pretty little box, some fun tissue paper and some festive mini paper cupcake (or candy) cups. I got boxes at the dollar store that were shiny and Christmasy, along with sparkly tissue paper. (Just make sure if you’re using something sparkly that there’s either tissue or paper cups between the truffles and the sparkles, or else you’ll end up eating glitter.)

Or, of course, you know, you could always NOT give these away and keep these rich little gems for yourself. (I’m in full support of that option!)

So, again, I hope everyone had a Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I’ll see you around more in 2013!

Gluten-free cookies that actually taste like…cookies! — The Butterfly Bakery review

Anyone who reads my blog on semi-regular basis knows that my mom is gluten-free by way of Celiac disease. We don’t keep an entirely gluten-free household, but she keeps plenty of gluten-free alternatives for herself, and she’s always looking for new ones to try. (Because, believe it or not, many gluten-free baked goods aren’t so, well, good.) I also often make sure if I’m cooking or preparing food that it’s either entirely gluten-free or easily adaptable for her.

So, needless to say, we were both totally excited when the Butterfly Bakery in Clifton, NJ, contacted me about sampling and reviewing some of their gluten-free baked goods.

Funnily enough, the Butterfly Bakery started out of owner Brenda Isaac’s desire to create tasty baked goods for her dietary-restricted mother. Isaac’s mother was a diabetic, so she started experimenting with sugar-free baked goods in 1998. Fourteen years later, the Butterfly Bakery now has multiple lines that include gluten-free, no sugar added and 100% whole grain.

Naturally, the question on everyone’s mind is…gluten free baked goods? So how do they taste? Well, not half bad! The Butterfly Bakery sent me a package of chocolate chip cookies and a package of blueberry mini muffins to taste. When they arrived, it was clear they did not hold up to shipping well–some of the cookies had started to crumble and a couple of the muffin tops had separated from the base. Otherwise, though, they were in decent shape (as in, not a package of crumbs.)

See? Only the top couple of cookies took the brunt of the damage. (This is how they arrived.)

Luckily, they tasted better than they looked. Of course, as soon as the package arrived, Mom and I dug right in. It was like Celiac Christmas. The cookies actually had a really nice nutty, almondy flavor, though they were nut-free. (Most likely, the flavor came from the brown sugar or the Teff flour in the recipe–more on that in a minute.) I was, admittedly, surprised by how addictive these cookies were! The downside, though, was the texture.  The crumbling in the package was not a one-time fluke. They had a really nice flavor, but they were too messy to eat. We literally stood over the sink as we nibbled on them to catch the crumbs. Perhaps the recipe could benefit from some kind of extra binder, like honey or molasses. Then again, maybe it’s a trade-off for the freshness. (Many packaged gluten-free cookies are more processed; these are pretty much oven-to-door.) And if that’s the case, I can handle that.

Some of the tops were dented, while a couple (like the one down in front) were totally separated. But really, the top’s the best part of the muffin anyway, so it’s kind of like they were doing the dirty work for us!

Fun discovery: the cookies actually benefit from refrigeration. Instead of leaving them out on the counter, we refrigerated them (also instead of just eating the whole batch.) When I ate another one after it had been in the fridge overnight, it held together much better and was much easier (and even tastier!) to eat. So fridge=happy gluten-free cookies. The flavors were more pronounced, and the overall cookie had a better, chewier bite.

I wasn’t quite as enamored with the muffins. They looked just like any other packaged blueberry mini muffins you’d buy at the store (minus the shifting tops), but the texture was a bit more…off. The muffins were grainier and grittier than a regular wheat-based muffin and, like the cookies, fell apart easily. These were more obviously gluten-free. That being said, they were still chewy and sweet and tasted like a blueberry muffin. I wouldn’t buy them over regular muffins, but they’re still a solid option for those who maintain a gluten-free diet. My mom liked them enough to finish off the package while I was on vacation. I have a feeling they became more than a couple breakfasts.

So…their secret to gluten-free baking? They use teff flour, a flour ground from an Ethiopian grain similar to quinoa or millet.  Both the light and dark varieties of teff have a nutty flavor: the white teff has a chestnut-like flavor while the darker teff can have an almost hazelnut-like flavor. (And there we may have some of the nutty flavor in the cookies!)

Teff has 14% more protein than normal wheat flour and is full of other nutrients like potassium, vitamin B, iron, thiamin and calcium. It is also high in fiber and naturally gluten-free.

Both the tub of 13 chocolate chip cookies and the package of 12 mini muffins retail for $5.99 at the Butterfly Bakery web site. You can also buy Butterfly Bakery products in grocery and specialty stores nationwide or on Amazon.com. The coolest part? The Butterfly Bakery has a request form on their site than you can print and fill out to take to your local grocery store’s bakery department to request they carry Butterfly Bakery products!

Now I’m not going to say these are health foods. They are still cookies and muffins (which have an undeserved false “health halo” for what is really an icing-less cupcake.) That being said, for someone with dietary (gluten) restrictions, they’re a great alternative and a way to indulge without having to go for processed or unappetizing substitutes.

I’ll tell you this–they got my mom’s stamp of approval, though she admits it’s been so long since she’s had “real” baked goods that she may not be the best judge. But what’s even better? I couldn’t stop eating those cookies, either! (The muffins? I could take or leave them.) But the cookies definitely get the gluten-free AND the gluten-full (not a word, but now it is!) stamp of approval!

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