Friday, March 29, 2013

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars

These are my new favorite treat.  HOLY SMOKES. I love them so much I made them twice this week. 

Here are some thoughts and suggestions I have on these yummy little bars:
  • Only refrigerate the bars as long as needed to get the ganache to set up.  Too much refrigeration dries out the bottom layer. 
  • The original recipe called for chopped peanuts in the peanut butter layer.  I didn't use them because I didn't have any and was very happy with the result.  No peanuts necessary, in my opinion.  Keep it smooth and simple. 
  • Use something other than chocolate chips for the ganache layer.  I find that chocolate chips don't always melt smoothly.  If the ganache is not initially smooth, use a whisk to smooth things out. 
  • I'm thinking it might be a very good idea to top these with the mini peanut butter cups from Trader Joe's.   
  • You might also want to serve them with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. 














CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER BARS

Bottom Layer:
  • 1 Devil's food cake mix
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 1 egg
Middle Layer:
  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons whipping cream or milk
Top Ganache:
  • 1/ 2 cup whipping cream
  • 12 ounces milk chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.


Line a 9 x 13 baking pan with foil (or parchment), extending foil over the pan edges. Lightly grease foil. No need to grease the parchment, if that's what you're using.


In a mixer, combine cake mix, melted butter, and egg. Beat on low speed for 1 to 2 minutes or until mixture is combined.


Press mixture into bottom of the prepared pan.


Bake for 12 minutes. Cool completely in pan on a wire rack.


In mixer, combine softened butter, peanut butter, and vanilla. Beat on medium speed for 30 seconds.


Add powdered sugar one cup at a time and beat well after each addition, scraping the bowl as needed.


Beat in the 2 tablespoons whipping cream.  Continue beating until very smooth and fluffy. 


Spread mixture evenly over the cooled crust.


Place bars in the refrigerator while preparing the ganache.
                  
In a small saucepan, bring 1/2 cup whipping cream just to boiling over medium-high heat.
Remove from heat and add chocolate pieces. Do not stir. Let stand 5 minutes.


Stir until smooth.


Cool 15 minutes. Very gently pour ganache over bars, lightly spreading it to the edges.


Cover and chill for 1 to 2 hours or until set.


Using the edges of the foil, lift the uncut bars out of the pan and cut. 


Source:  Better Homes and Gardens

Monday, March 25, 2013

Cheese Ball

This is a family holiday classic, at least for my family.  In fact, my mom had a hard time giving me a recipe for it because it's just one of those things that she's thrown together for years and years.  I got a general idea from her and then paid attention to amounts as I made it tonight.  She never actually forms it into a ball or rolls it in nuts (which has always seemed gross to me) as many recipes instruct you to.  Nevertheless, we've still always called this cheese ball. 

This is definitely a recipe that can be adjusted and tweaked, depending on your preferences.  You could use medium or sharp cheddar, depending on what you like (I used sharp).  You could also reduce the cream cheese if you're looking for a more intense cheddar flavor or go heavy on the bacon if that sounds good to you.  In fact, I feel like I remember my mom's having a darker orange color which makes me think she didn't use equal parts of cheddar and cream cheese.  My version tasted pretty darn good though so I didn't mess with it. 

And why am I making cheese ball on this Sunday evening in March?  Because it is my TREAT WEEK at school.  This is a super big deal, people.  Every Wednesday at school is treat day.  Each week one teacher or staff member is in charge of bringing tasty treats for everyone to enjoy.  It's amazing how a few fun snacks can improve the mood of an entire building of educators.  I think this is what I like best about cooking: bettering someone's day by feeding them something delicious. 

So, yes, it's Sunday and I'm already working on snacks for Wednesday.  I've got a few other things to make and a pretty busy week and since cheese ball is perfect for making ahead I went for it.



 CHEESE BALL
  • 1/4 pound bacon, roughly chopped
  • 8 ounces shredded cheddar cheese (about 4 cups)
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 1-2 tablespoons bacon grease
  • 1-2 tablespoons milk or cream (optional)
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions

Cook chopped bacon on medium heat until crisp.  Reserve1-2 tablespoons of bacon grease.


In food processor, mix cheddar cheese and cream cheese for 2-3 minutes or until well combined. 


Add bacon grease, 1 tablespoon at a time until mixture is a consistency you like.


If you want your cheese ball to be crumbly, don't add milk here, but if you want your cheese ball to be more like a spread, add milk or cream until the mixture if your desired consistency. 


Add green onions and bacon pieces and pulse the food processor a few times until well incorporated.


Chill. 


I prefer this to be room temperature when serving so that is spreads more easily.  Let cheese ball sit out for a bit before serving. 


Serve with crackers and veggies.  I think it should be served with Wheat Thins.  


Source:  Marsha Porter 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Swimming Rama

I love Thai food, but am a pretty big wimp when it comes to spice.  I feel like I can't enjoy or taste food when it's too spicy and my nose is running like crazy.  It's not pretty, folks.  I also don't like when holding back on spice means the dish lacks flavor, which can happen.  I love curries, but not if the above happens.  Thai can be tricky.  Swimming rama is the answer to my Thai food dilemma.  Swimming rama is chicken and peanut sauce on a bed of steamed spinach and it tends to be mild, yet still delicious and flavorful.  Plus, I like that there's a pretty hearty helping of spinach since spinach is good for you and all.   
 
On another note, I've recently tried several new recipes for peanut sauce and have been disappointed.  I'm not sure what I was thinking because I already have a peanut sauce recipe that I love from Ina.  After making yet another sauce that was just so-so, I decided I could use Ina's recipe for swimming rama by thinning it down a bit with coconut milk so that it was more like a sauce than a dip.  Problem solved, lesson learned. 

Also, feel free to make the peanut sauce ahead of time to let the flavors blend and to save yourself some time.


  
SWIMMING RAMA
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 2/3 cup small-diced red onion (1 small onion)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 cloves)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger root
  • 1/8-1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (depending on how much heat you want)
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 cup coconut milk 
  • 2 (6 ounce) bags fresh baby spinach
  • 1 1/4 pounds chicken tenders or breasts, sliced into very thin strips
  • cooked white or brown rice

PEANUT SAUCE

Cook the olive oil, sesame oil, red onion, garlic, ginger root, and red pepper flakes in a small, heavy-bottomed pot on medium heat until the onion is transparent, 10 to 15 minutes.


Stir in vinegar, brown sugar, soy sauce, peanut butter, ketchup, and lime juice.  Cook for 1-2 minutes. 


Add coconut milk and stir until well combined. 


Set aside peanut sauce or refrigerate if making ahead for later use. 


SPINACH

If you HAVE a steamer basket:  Set steamer basket in a large pot and add water within an inch of the bottom of the basket.  Bring water to a boil over high heat.  Fill basket with as much spinach as it will hold, cover and steam for 30 seconds.  Leaves will be bright green and slightly wilted.  Repeat with remaining spinach.   


If you do NOT have a steamer basket (which I do not) but you do have a mesh strainer:  Fill large pot with 4-5 inches of water and bring to a boil.  Fill strainer with spinach leaves.  Rest strainer on the top edge of the pot and cover with the pot's lid for 30 seconds.  Remove to colander and repeat with remaining spinach.


CHICKEN

Bring water to boil in a large pot or saucepan. 


Add chicken to boiling water, place lid on pan, and turn off heat.


Let stand for 5 minutes or until the chicken is no longer pink in the center.


Drain chicken. 


Serve chicken and peanut sauce over spinach and rice. 


Source:  peanut sauce slighty modified from Ina Garten

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Almond Cake

It's hard to put into words how much I love this cake.  It's on the dense side, in a good way, and explodes with almond flavor.  It doesn't look like much, but if you love almond, and I definitely do, this cake will blow your mind!  David Lebovitz really came through on this one.  I'm so happy to know about this lovely little cake and will be making it many, many more times in the future. 

I made this for a lunch at school and served it with this chocolate sauce and fresh strawberries.  Now I'm eating it with a few raspberries.  I think it would also be delicious with this blueberry sauce or pastry cream or whipped cream or jam or . . .  you get the idea.  It's pretty darn good all on its own, too.   

You'll definitely want to bust out your food processor for this cake.  The food processor helps get the almond paste really fine and makes it really easy to mix everything together. 

If you've never used almond paste, you'll find it on the baking aisle at the grocery store.  It's a little pricey ($6-7 for an 8 ounce can), but be assured, it's worth every dime. 




















ALMOND CAKE

  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 8 ounces almond paste
  • 3/4, plus 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 6 large eggs, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 325ºF.


Grease a 9-inch cake pan (with 2-inch sides) with butter.  Soften butter and use a silicone brush or paper towel to thoroughly coat pan with butter.  Dust it with flour and tap out any excess. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper. There are some good tips about this here. 


In the food processor, grind the sugar, almond paste, and 1/4 cup of flour until the almond paste is finely ground and the mixture resembles sand.


In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 3/4 cup of flour, baking powder, and salt.


Add the cubes of butter and the vanilla and almond extracts to the food processor and process until the batter is very smooth and fluffy.


Add the eggs one at a time, processing a bit before the next addition.  Open the machine and scrape the sides down to make sure the eggs are getting fully incorporated.  After you add all the eggs, the mixture may look curdled. Don’t worry; it’ll come back together after the next step.


Add half the flour mixture and pulse the machine a few times, then add the rest, pulsing the machine until the drying ingredients are just incorporated, but do not overmix. You can also transfer the batter to a bowl and mix the dry ingredients in, which ensures the dry ingredients get incorporated evenly and you don’t overbeat it.


Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake the cake for 65 minutes, or until the top is deep brown and feels set when you press in the center.


Remove the cake from the oven and run a sharp or serrated knife around the perimeter, loosing the cake from the sides of the pan. Let the cake cool completely in the pan.


Once cool, tap the cake out of the pan, remove the parchment paper, and set on a cake plate until ready to serve.


Dust with powdered sugar prior to serving. 


TIP: Warm the bottom of the cake pan directly on the stovetop for just a few seconds, which will help the cake release.

STORAGE: This cake will keep for four days at room temperature, well-wrapped. It can also be frozen for up to two months.  


SOURCE:  David Lebovitz

Monday, March 11, 2013

Chinese Orange Beef

This is quick, easy, and YUMMY!  I pretty much love anything with citrus zest and this falls in that category.  Be sure to cut the steak thinly and cook it carefully and you'll end up with tender orange beef that melts in your mouth and will make your co-workers jealous when you bring your leftovers for lunch!  Right, Cory?  

 
CHINESE ORANGE BEEF
  • 1 1/2 pounds flank steak
  • Kosher salt
  • pepper
  • vegetable oil
  • 2-3 teaspoons grated orange zest (zest of 1 whole orange)
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Asian chili sauce
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • green onions, sliced (for garnish)
  • hot white or brown rice

Place flank steak on a cutting board and place in the freezer for 15-20 minutes. 
(Trust me, this is a great tip!  Slightly freezing the meat makes it so much easier to cut.  Don't let it freeze all the way through; just let it firm up a bit.) 


While the steak is in the freezer, mix up the sauce. 


Whisk orange zest, orange juice, brown sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, chili sauce, ginger, and cornstarch together in a bowl.  Set aside.


Side Note on Ginger:  Keep your leftover, peeled ginger in the freezer.  When you're ready to use it, grate it frozen.  It is so much easier to grate this way!  The freezer is our friend in this recipe.  Here's a great post on ginger, in case you care. 


Remove the steak from the freezer and use a serrated knife to cut it into very thin strips across the grain. 


Lightly salt and pepper the steak. 


Heat a large skillet over medium high heat.  Drizzle the pan with oil.


Place a portion of the beef in the pan and let it cook without stirring for one minute.
(Add only as much beef as will fit in the pan without crowding it.  Depending on the size of your pan, you might need to cook the beef in 3-4 shifts.) 


Stir beef and continue to cook until browned, about 2 minutes; transfer to a bowl and cover.


Repeat with remaining beef.


Whisk sauce to recombine, add to empty skillet, and cook over medium heat until thickened, about 2-3 minutes.


Return cooked beef, with any juices, to skillet and toss to combine.


Serve over rice and garnish with green onions.


Source:  Our Best Bites

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Shredded Beef Taquitos

I really wanted these to be good.  I specifically cooked a roast to make them and have been thinking about them all week.  There's nothing worse than when you are super excited about a new recipe and dream about it being amazing, only to be disappointed.  I really hate that.  That's why I only post recipes I really, really love on this little blog.

Good news . . . these were outstanding!  The lime zest was a very nice touch and I maybe even loved them a little more than these chicken taquitos, which is saying A LOT, because those were pretty darn de-lish, too.  I'm thinking about making them again very soon and freezing some to have on hand for a quick dinner.  (See directions for freezing below.)  Make these.  You'll love them.  Serve them with yummy guac and you won't be sorry.   
















SHREDDED BEEF TAQUITOS

  • 3 cups cooked and shredded beef
  • 4 ounces green chilies, undrained
  • 1/4 teaspoon minced chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (add more if you want more spice)
  • 3 teaspoons adobo sauce from the canned chipotle peppers (see below for note)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • zest from one lime
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 package Queso Fresco (12 ounces)
  • white corn tortillas (about 20)
  • olive oil
  • Kosher salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.


Place shredded beef in a medium-sized bowl.  Make sure pieces are sufficiently shredded so the sauce can really soak in and flavor the meat.


SIDE NOTE ON CHIPOTLE PEPPERS IN ADOBO SAUCE:  Remove a pepper from the can and slit it open to get at the seeds inside.  Scrape out the seeds with a knife or run it under a slow stream of water to wash them out.  Mince the pepper.  Don't get your hands near your face or eyes until they are well washed.  Think jalapeno peppers and apply the same rules to avoid a burny nose and eyes.  Also, pay attention to whether or not there are seeds in the extra sauce you add.  There were quite a few seeds in the sauce so I quickly ran it through a small strainer because I didn't want the extra heat from the seeds.     


In a small bowl combine green chilies, minced chipotle peppers, adobo sauce, garlic, coriander, cumin, and chili powder.  Mix well.


Pour the mixture over the beef and add the lime zest and juice.  Stir gently. 


Open the queso fresco and use your hands to break it into crumbles.


Place 3-4 tortillas wrapped in damp paper towels in the microwave for 45 seconds.  Keep the heated tortillas covered by the paper towels while you roll one at a time.   


Fill each tortilla with about 1 tablespoon of queso fresco and 1-2 tablespoons of beef mixture.


Roll up and place seam side down on a lightly oiled baking sheet.  


Spray or brush tops with olive oil and lightly sprinkle with Kosher salt. 


Bake at 425 for about 20 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. 


FREEZING:  Next time I think I'll double this recipe and freeze some for later.  I love having homemade, frozen, delicious dinner options.  Completely assemble these including spraying with olive oil and sprinkling with salt.  Freeze on baking sheet, making sure that the taquitos are not touching each other.  After they are completely frozen, place taquitos in a sealed bag.  When cooking later, heat the oven to 425, place taquitos on a baking sheet and bake until edges are golden, about 30 minutes.    


Source:  Our Best Bites