31 May 2009

Mac and Cheese

I love the old-fashioned, roux-based, macaroni and cheese. The kind that hits your stomach and heads straight to your hips to set up camp. This recipe can be a bit tricky if you have never made a roux before and I'll be the first to admit that it does take quite a while to make. But it is so worth it. I have made the recipes that call for evaporated milk, used to thicken without a roux. Too sweet. I've made the soup-based, quick-cook recipes. Good, but they don't hold a candle to the old-fashioned kind. Now, this recipe is NOT low fat. In fact, put all thoughts about fat content and calories under lock and key in your head and do not let them out until all the mac and cheese is long gone. You'll thank me for that bit of advice.

3T butter
3T flour
1 cup milk (skim is fine)
1 cup half and half
1/2 tsp dry mustard (or 1 tsp prepared Mustard)
8-10 oz. macaroni (your choice of variety), cooked
4 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

A couple of notes: I don't know why I am always out of dry mustard. I can't think of what I use it in but this mac and cheese recipe and I buy it all the time. But I couldn't find any when I went to take pictures of the ingredients, so I used prepared mustard. I have not found that it makes a bit of difference whether you use dry or prepared. I like to use small shells instead of elbow macaroni. The shells have those nice little folds that fill up with cheese sauce.

To make the roux, melt the 3T butter in a large pot and add the flour. Whisk together over medium heat until it boils and then continue whisking constantly while cooking for one minute. You don't want it to brown, but it does need to cook a bit.

With the burner still on medium heat, slowly whisk the milk and half and half into the roux. Add the salt (to taste, I add about a 1/2 tsp) and mustard. Keep whisking...don't stop now! If you don't whisk, the milk will scorch. Now keep whisking until the mixture boils and thickens. It should coat the back of a spoon.

Remove from heat and add 3 cups (or 3 big handfuls) of cheese to the pot and stir. You can definitely add a couple of extra handfuls of cheese. :) Stir until smooth.

Add the macaroni and stir until combined. Pour mixture into a buttered 9x13 pan and bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Remove from oven...

now add that fourth cup of cheese. Sprinkle it on top and bake for 10 more minutes.

You want a bite, don't ya? Mmmmm. The time it takes to prepare this recipe (the whisking sucks, I won't lie) is completely worth it!

26 May 2009

Whoopie Pies

Have you heard? The whoopie pie is the new cupcake. Whether or not that is true, whoopie pies are making a comeback. The story of their origin depends largely on the storyteller's heritage. Was it the Pennsylvania Dutch who carried the little pies in their lunchboxes while working the fields and would "whoop" with delight at the treat? Or did they originate in the South where cooks would make them to keep children out of the kitchen, like hush puppies created to keep dogs quiet? Anyone familiar with my blog knows which side I back. :) I scoured the internet for a cream filling that did not include shortening and found this one.

Personally, I'll take a whoopie pie over a cupcake any day and this recipe is the best I have found. In fact, it is so perfect that I will stop trying out other recipes and use it exclusively. When Tinker Bell took a bite she said, "there are no words for how good this is." I agree!! Then she said, "you're pretty good at this baking stuff." Aw, shucks.

But the best part of this recipe is that the little pies are even better the next day. They should be wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in the fridge, but allow them to come to room temperature before eating.

For the cakes:
2 cups flour
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder (it has a stronger, deeper flavor than regular cocoa)
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt (I used less, about 1/2 tsp)
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
1 stick butter, softened (I used Smart Balance 50/50)
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg

For the filling:
1 stick butter (again, I used Smart Balance)
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 cup Marshmallow Fluff
1 tsp vanilla

Combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and set aside. Combine buttermilk and vanilla in another, small bowl and set that aside. Beat the butter and sugar together in mixer on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and beat until combined.

With mixer on low, alternate adding the flour mix and buttermilk mix, beating after each addition. Begin and end with the flour mixture. Grease or line with parchment at least two cookie sheets. I used two large and one small and greased them with cooking spray--I was out of parchment paper. The original recipe calls for using a 1/4 measuring cup, but I just used a large soup spoon and got 24 cookies total, which makes a dozen whoopie pies. Using a 1/4 cup with give you 9 pies total.

They are not exactly round and perfect, are they? It won't matter when you eat them!

Bake at 325 for 13 minutes, let set on the cookie sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool.

While they are cooling (and they do need to be completely cool before frosting), beat together the butter, sugar, marshmallow, and vanilla on medium speed until smooth. About 3 minutes or so.

I turned over 12 of the 24 cookies and evenly distributed the unbelievably delicious filling amongst them, then topped them with the remaining cookies.

We couldn't wait until the next day and ate, well, most of the pies right after they were made. I stacked the leftovers on a plate, covered them in plastic wrap and put them in the fridge. The next day...oh, wow. Perfection.

Orange Chicken?

I was looking online for a recipe for orange chicken and couldn't find one that I liked or that I had all the ingredients for until I stumbled on this one. But I don't think you can call this orange chicken. It's good, really good, especially on a salad, but orange chicken it is not. :) It's very simple, though, and I bet you have all of the ingredients on hand.

1 cup orange juice
1 T soy sauce (I used reduced-sodium)
1 envelope Lipton onion soup mix
1/2 tsp garlic powder
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

I cleaned the chicken, cut it into strips, and put them into a plastic bag. (I use kitchen shears to cut up chicken and like the smaller pieces because they cook more evenly.) I mixed together the oj, soy sauce, Lipton, garlic powder and poured the mixture on top of the chicken. I let it marinate in the fridge for a couple of hours, but you could leave it alone all night or for just 30 minutes. I lined a 9x13 inch glass dish with foil and poured the chicken and marinade into it.

Bake at 375, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until the sauce has thickened a bit and the chicken is cooked through. I served it over brown rice for hubby and the girls, but I ate mine on a salad.

In my salad I had iceberg and romaine lettuce, carrots, the chopped up chicken with a bit of the sauce, pumpkin seeds, and a honey dijon vinaigrette.

25 May 2009

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

These cookies were a huge hit in our house. They seem to have the perfect combination of peanut butter and chocolate. Peanut butter cookies are dense and do not cook evenly, which is the original reason for pressing the tines of a fork into each one. With the addition of the chocolate chips, it is not necessary to do so.

1 3/4 cup flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter (2 Smart Balance sticks)
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips (or semi-sweet)
1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Using the paddle attachment of your mixer, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, beating after each addition.

Add vanilla and peanut butter...

and beat just until combined.

Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and add just half of that to the cookie mixture. Mix for 30 seconds on a medium low speed, then add the rest of the flour and mix until incorporated.

At this point you can refrigerate the dough for about 30 minutes, a few hours, or even overnight, but it is not absolutely necessary. Refrigerating cookie dough gives you a chewier cookie texture, but these cookies are great either way.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and line cookie sheets with parchment paper or lightly grease them. I use a rounded scoop of a soup spoon for cookies and am not at all concerned with uniform shape. Use a cookie scoop or small ice cream scoop if you like every cookie to look alike. It's important to use basically the same amount so that they will cook evenly, but I like the uneven shape of homemade cookies.

Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned on top.

Let them set on the cookie sheets for 2 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool...if you can leave them alone that long! They are amazing while still warm from the oven. I stored the very few leftover cookies in a plastic bag in the fridge overnight. I don't know what happened to them after that...they had mysteriously disappeared by the time I got up the next morning.

24 May 2009

Hasselback Potatoes

Hasselback Potatoes originated in Scandinavia sometime in the 1700's and quickly became a common European dish, although they may be known by other names. (They are accordion potatoes in Ireland.) These potatoes are incredibly easy to make and come out looking like they belong alongside filet mignon.

No measurements with this recipe. Use as many potatoes as you need of any variety and scrub them clean.

I use this little guy to get the potatoes squeaky clean...

Cover any pan with sides in foil and either use cooking spray or oil to grease it. Slice the potatoes in about 4mm intervals about 3/4 of the way down. Place them in the pan, drizzle with oil (any type), and sprinkle them with salt. I used Kosher salt, but you can use garlic salt, pepper, slices of fresh garlic, parsley, or even red pepper to spice them to your tastes.

Bake at 425 degrees for about 45 minutes or until tender.

23 May 2009

Cast Iron Skillet Corn Bread

An old, well-seasoned cast iron skillet is a thing of beauty. My skillet belonged to my grandmother and I think about her whenever I use it.

This recipe is the only one I make anymore. I take a basic homemade cornbread recipe, sweeten it to our Southern tastes, and bake it in my skillet.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow self-rising cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup honey
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 T butter

If you don't have self-rising cornmeal then add one tablespoon of baking powder to whatever you do have.

In Florida we have honey made from bees who frequent our many, many orange groves. I use Orange Blossom honey exclusively, which is much sweeter than Clover, but for this recipe, any honey will do.

Don't have any buttermilk? You probably know the trick of adding one tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice to a cup of whole milk and letting it sit for five minutes, but here's another trick that I think gives you a result closer to the real thing: mix equal parts plain yogurt and milk (even skim). For this recipe you would use one half cup of plain yogurt and one half cup milk. Whisk together and there is no need to let it sit.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Put three tablespoons of butter into your skillet and place it in the oven while it preheats. The butter will melt and not only grease your pan, but add an amazing crust to your cornbread.

Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, make a well in the center, and add the buttermilk, oil, honey, and eggs.

Mix until just combined and pour into hot skillet. Be careful with the handle. A cast iron skillet has no protective plastic to keep you from burning your hands.

Bake for 20 minutes, but check it after 17. Overbaked cornbread is dry, which is one reason some people don't like it. Your bread should be golden and barely brown around the edges.

Store the leftovers in a plastic bag in the fridge for at least three days. It usually doesn't last that long around here!


my recipe card:

Cast Iron Skillet Corn Bread

See Cast Iron Skillet Corn Bread on Key Ingredient.

20 May 2009

Mini Blueberry Pies

I love those rolled, refrigerated pie crusts. They taste even better than homemade, I think. Well, homemade without lard. Every Southerner knows lard pie crusts are the Crown Jewel. But these store bought crusts are on-hand when you need them and the perfect excuse to make a pie at the last minute. I made these mini pies after dinner one night when the family was begging for a dessert and I didn't have anything planned, but did have two store bought pie crusts and some homemade low-sugar blueberry jam. As fast as these little suckers were eaten, I'm sure I'll be making them again soon!

I unrolled the crusts and used a large biscuit cutter to cut out the mini crusts. I got nine perfect circles from each crust, but had a lot leftover and could have kneaded it out and made more. 9 mini pies is enough for a family of four, though. :)

I had a munchkin spoon about a tablespoon full of jam

onto each pie bottom on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet.

When she finished with each pie I placed on the top crust and used a fork to seal the edges.

Cut three tiny slits into the top of each pie to let out the steam. I brushed the tops with milk and sprinkled on some cinnamon sugar.

Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.

We learned the hard way that the filling gets very, very hot. So be careful when biting into these little guys!