Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Aaron McCargo, Jr.: Buffalo Chicken Cheese Balls

When my sister said she wanted to make these for New Year's Eve, I was a little skeptical.  I mean, if you're going to go to all that trouble, why not just make hot wings?  Why make these?  Because they're magical-unicorn-buffalo-chicken-cheese-balls, that's why.  You're going to say no to chicken and melty cheese in a crispy crust with buffalo sauce?  Yeah, didn't think so.

Buffalo Chicken Cheese Balls
From Aaron McCargo, Jr.

1 store-bought rotisserie chicken
¼ cup Frank's Red Hot sauce
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1¾ cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
¼ cup freshly sliced scallions
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups panko bread crumbs
Vegetable oil, for frying

Blue Cheese Dip
1½ cups mayonnaise
½ cup blue cheese crumbles
½ teaspoon Frank's Red Hot sauce
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ lemon, juiced
1 teaspoon chopped garlic

Have oil heated to 350°F.

Pick the meat from the chicken and discard the skin. Place the chicken in a large bowl and add the hot sauce, pepper, cheese, and scallions, and toss to combine. Roll the chicken into 2-ounce balls, about the size of a golf ball. Place the flour, eggs, and bread crumbs in 3 separate bowls. Roll each ball
in the flour, then the egg and then the bread crumbs. Set aside.

When the oil is hot fry the chicken balls in batches. Cook for about 2 minutes per batch. Remove the chicken to paper towel lined plate to drain the excess oil.

To make the sauce, combine all ingredients in a large bowl and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve the chicken alongside the dipping sauce.

Makes 15 to 20 balls

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Simply Recipes: Green Beans with Tomatoes and Bacon

So when our nasty winter ice storm hit about a week ago, I finally managed to get out of my apartment on about the fourth day and made my way to the local Walmart.  The place looked like it had been turned upside down by a swarm of locusts.  Luckily I have no desire for most of the crap on the aisles.  I was checking out the produce.  Not much to pick from there either, but some beautiful crisp green beans.  I mean, why buy fresh when there's a can a couple of aisles away, right?

After fighting off the only other person in the store who wanted some, I raced home with my treasure.  And then realized I had no idea what I was going to do with the darn things.  I've actually spent this long trying to figure it out.  But this recipe is a delicious way to take some fresh beans and turn them into genuine Southern braised beans.  Soft, salty, sweet.  It hits all the right buttons.

Green Beans with Tomatoes and Bacon
Adapted from Simply Recipes, originally from The Pioneer Woman

4 slices thick cut bacon (about 4 ounces), cut into 1-inch segments
½ large onion, diced (about ¾ cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pounds of fresh, firm green beans, stem ends trimmed
1 (14½-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 large sprig fresh thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
 to ¼ teaspoon of cayenne

Place the bacon pieces on the bottom of a large, thick-bottomed pot. Heat on medium heat for several minutes until the bacon fat begins to render.  Add the chopped onions to the bacon. Cook a few minutes until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic (if using) and cook a minute more. Drain off any excess fat.  Add the green beans to the pot. Add the canned tomatoes and their juice. Add a sprig of thyme to the pot. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and cayenne.

Cover the pot and lower the heat to low. Simmer for an hour, or until the beans are cooked through and tender, stirring occasionally.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Mom 100: Bacon Wrapped Shrimp

I'm all about quick appetizers that come out tasting better than they have any right to considering how little time and effort you put into them.  It's called culinary laziness.  I want minimum effort, maximum flavor.  That's pretty much what I got with these shrimp.  But you have to use those big, juicy Gulf shrimp.  Not those nasty things that they dig out of polluted rivers in China.  I promise you can taste the difference.  Gulf shrimp are sweet and tender and awesome.

Bacon Wrapped Shrimp
Adapted from The Mom 100 blog

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1½ teaspoons smoked paprika
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound jumbo Gulf shrimp (16/20 pound), shelled with tails left on
4 ounces applewood smoked bacon, sliced lengthwise into ½-inch strips

Preheat the broiler, and place the cooking rack about 4 inches below the heat source. Spray a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray, or line with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, paprika, and pepper. Add the shrimp and toss until they are coated with the seasoned olive oil.  Wrap each shrimp with a strip of the bacon, spiraling it up the shrimp until the shrimp is encased. Place the shrimp on the prepared baking sheet.

Broil for 3 minutes, until the tops are crispy, then turn and broil for another 3 minutes until the other side is browned.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Light & Luscious: Praline Cheesecake

When you're tired of pumpkin pie and pecan pie and apple pie, where do you turn?  What is left to sate your sugar cravings during the holiday season?  Why not a sinfully rich cheesecake?  I mean, you're busting your gut anyway.  Might as well go whole hog and enjoy every last crumb.

I found this recipe years ago in a cookbook my mother had.  I first made it when I was probably about 16, and my mother fell in love with it.  She requests it any time a cheesecake is mentioned.  So being the horrible daughter I am, I pretty much never make it.  Hey, don't judge.

Praline Cheesecake with Butterscotch Sauce
From Light and Luscious

1 cup ground toasted pecans
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
¾ cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 (5-ounce) can evaporated milk
3 tablespoons praline liqueur or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 (8-ounce) carton sour cream
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg yolk
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
16 pecan halves, toasted
Butterscotch Sauce

Combine the first four ingredients in a medium bowl, stirring well. Press the mixture into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan. Bake at 350°F for 15 minutes. Let the pan cool completely on a wire rack.

Beat the cream cheese at medium speed of an electric mixer until fluffy. Combine the brown sugar and cornstarch; add to the cream cheese mixture, beating well. Add the milk and liqueur, beating at low speed until blended. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating just until blended. Spoon the cream cheese mixture onto the prepared crust.

Set the springform pan with the cooled crust on an 18-inch square of double layer heavy-duty foil and wrap the bottom and sides; set the wrapped pan in a roasting pan.  Pour the filling into the springform pan and smooth the surface; set the roasting pan in the oven and pour enough boiling water into the roasting pan so that it comes halfway up the side of the springform pan.  Bake the cheesecake until the center of the cake is slightly wobbly when the pan is shaken, about 1 hour.  Combine the sour cream, sugar, egg yolk, and vanilla. Spread the mixture on top of the cheesecake and bake an additional 5 minutes.  Set the roasting pan on a wire rack.  Cool until the water is just warm, about 45 minutes.  Remove the springform pan from the water bath, discard the foil, and set the springform pan on the wire rack; continue to cool until barely warm, about 3 hours.  Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours.  Decorate with pecan halves and serve with Butterscotch Sauce.

Makes 16 servings

Butterscotch Sauce
From the 1974 edition of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook

1 large egg yolk, slightly beaten
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
¼ cup water
⅔ cup packed light brown sugar
⅓ cup light corn syrup

In a heavy saucepan, combine the ingredients. Cook and stir over low heat until thick. Stir before using.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Bakelist: Almond Butter Bars

I think I'm heartily sick of chocolate at the moment.  Good lord, I never thought I would utter such blasphemy.  But you can only eat so much before you start yearning for something a little different.  Something like these little slices of heaven.

Tons of butter?  Check.  Tons of sugar?  Check.  Awesome almond flavor?  Check.  These are amazing warm and still pretty awesome at room temperature.  I didn't attempt the chocolate dipping (for reasons stated above), but I can imagine that probably just about tips them over the top.  Definitely on my cooking bucket list.

Almond Butter Bars
Adapted from Bakelist and the San Francisco Chronicle

1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups granulated sugar, plus 4 teaspoons (divided)
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
4 large eggs
4 teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2½ cups flour
½ cup almond meal
A pinch salt
½ cup sliced almonds
8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips or chunks (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a 9x13-inch baking pan generously with cooking spray.

In a large microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter.  When the butter is melted, stir in the granulated and dark brown sugars, reserving the 4 teaspoons of granulated sugar. Whisk in the eggs one at a time until pale golden in color and completely blended. Stir in almond and vanilla extracts and salt. Mix in the flour and almond meal until batter is smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Sprinkle 4 teaspoons of granulated sugar over the top and then sprinkle with the sliced almonds, pressing them in slightly so that they won’t fall off after baking. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until dark golden on top, making sure not to burn the almonds. The bars will not be completely set in the center and will not test clean with a toothpick. Let cool completely before removing and slicing.

Store at room temperature in an airtight container up to 3 days, refrigerate for 1 week or freeze. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Optional: If dipping in melted chocolate, freeze the cut bars for at least 30 minutes. Melt 8 ounces of semisweet chocolate in the microwave.  Dip the frozen bars in the chocolate and place on a tray to either set out to cool or freeze. Let come to room temperature before eating.

Makes about 60 squares

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Nestlé: Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Muffins

Did you take home economics in school?  Do they even offer that anymore?  I did.  Even though my mom had already taught me to cook.  I figured that there's not much better than taking a whole class period to cook things and then eat them.  This is where all those guys went wrong.  Tons of girls + freshly baked muffins = AWESOME.  But I digress.

This recipe was one of the handouts from my home ec class, oh, let's just say a while ago.  You can tell that these muffins came from an older cookbook, because these are not those super sweet sugar bombs you get today.  And they are normal size.  No monster muffins.  So yes, I think you can call these relatively healthy and not feel an ounce of guilt stuffing one in your pie hole on a cold morning.

Tollhouse Chocolate and Peanut Butter Muffins
From Nestlé

1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup milk chocolate morsels
⅓ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup whole milk
½ cup creamy peanut butter
⅓ cup canola oil
1 large egg

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

In a large bowl, combine flour, morsels, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a small bowl, combine milk, peanut butter, oil, and egg; stir into flour mixture just until dry ingredients are moistened. Spoon into muffin cups, filling each ¾ full.

Bake 20 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes; remove from pan. Serve warm or cool completely.

Makes 12 muffins

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Swiss Woods Bed and Breakfast Inn: Parmesan Cherry Tomatoes

Once winter comes along, you stop seeing all those pretty fruits and vegetables at the grocery store.  It's just masses of winter squash, potatoes, and cabbage.  And you can only eat so much of those.  Sometimes you just need something sun-kissed and sweetly tart.  Something grown in a friggin' hothouse.  Why should winter stop me from having my tomatoes?  I LAUGH in the face of winter.

This side dish is super easy, super fast, and super delicious.  Convinced yet?  It's a perfect balance of soft and crunchy, sweet and tart, rich and fresh.  And it certainly put a smile on my face seeing those pretty little yellow tomatoes just waiting for me to gobble them up.

Parmesan Cherry Tomatoes
From Swiss Woods Bed and Breakfast Inn

2 pints cherry tomatoes, red and yellow
½ cup panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
Cracked black pepper
Sea salt
¼ cup chopped herbs (any combination of basil, parsley, and chives)
2 tablespoons olive oil

Cut the cherry tomatoes in half lengthwise. In a bowl, toss the tomatoes with the panko, Parmesan, herbs, cracked pepper, and salt. Spoon the mixture into six ramekins. Drizzle with the olive oil. Bake at 375°F until the tops of the tomatoes are slightly browned, about 15 minutes. Serve hot.

Makes 6 servings

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Pinch of Yum: Crockpot Red Lentil and Spinach Curry

I love Indian food.  LOVE IT.  But it's pretty much a major production to make it at home.  And I don't know of any cheap little holes in the wall near my apartment.  So I've had a serious Indian famine lately.  Lucky for me, trying to be vegetarian means you start looking at Indian and Asian food with a certain longing.  After all, they know how to do vegetables right.

This is pretty easy to make, as you just through the whole mess into a slow cooker and hit GO.  I had to seriously tinker with the recipe though, as the original came out surprisingly tasteless.  After a bunch of spices and salt later, it's pretty darn good.  And I'm always a fan of something that cooks without my help.

Crockpot Red Lentil and Spinach Curry
Loosely adapted from Pinch of Yum blog

2 cups red lentils
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons ginger, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons red curry paste
2 teaspoons garam masala
¾ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon Madras curry powder
1 teaspoon sugar
Pinch cayenne pepper
2 (15-ounce) cans tomato sauce
2 teaspoons salt
½ cup coconut milk
5 ounces fresh baby spinach
Juice of 1 lime
Cilantro for garnishing

Rinse the lentils and place them in a large crockpot. Add the diced onions, garlic, ginger, butter, curry paste, garam masala, turmeric, coriander, cinnamon, cumin, curry powder, sugar, and cayenne. Stir to combine.

Pour the 2 cans of tomato sauce over the lentils. Refill the can with water once and add to the crockpot. Stir to make sure that the lentils are covered with liquid. Cover and cook on high for 4-5 hours or low for 7-8 hours.

Check once or twice during cooking to add more water if the lentils are soaking up all the liquid. The amount of water or tomato puree you add depends on how soupy your want your lentils to be. Taste and season with salt. The lentils will be soft when they are done cooking.

Stir in the coconut milk and spinach.  When the spinach is wilted, add the lime juice.  Sprinkle with cilantro just before serving. Serve over basmati rice.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Vegan Planet: Smoky Maple Mixed Beans and Kale

I'm trying to eat healthy.  Honestly I am.  I'm looking towards the end of the month and all of the holiday craziness and thinking...I am going to gain about 10 pounds if I don't reign this sucker in.  Everyday can't be a holiday after all.  So I'm going to try being a vegetarian for a little bit.  Maybe a week.  Maybe a month.  Maybe a day.  But at least I'm trying.

I saw this recipe online as I was desperately scouring vegan and vegetarian websites for something filling and tasty and meatless.  The dish is actually pretty fabulous.  I would definitely eat this next to my roast chicken.  And see all that green?  That's vitamins calling your name.  You'd better answer.

Smoky Maple Mixed Beans and Kale
Adapted from Vegan Planet by Robin Robertson

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium-sized onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 bunch kale, ribs removed and leaves chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
2 chipotle chiles in adobo, minced

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic, cover, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the kale and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the beans, then add the remaining ingredients, stirring to combine.  Simmer for 10 minutes longer to blend the flavors.  Taste and adjust the seasonings, if needed.  Serve hot.

Makes 4 servings

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Allrecipes: Light Wheat Rolls

Somehow whenever Thanksgiving rolls around, I manage to talk myself into making all sorts of big dishes that end up with a long suffering cook barely on her feet.  I really need to get control of my bravura, because this is getting out of hand.  But why have those nasty little pre-made shelf-stable rolls when you can turn these puppies out in a couple of hours?

These are really pretty simple to make, especially considering that they are in fact yeast rolls.  Whenever I'm struggling with a way to proof the dough (no, I don't have one of those fancy ovens with the proofing setting), I just pull out my handy heating pad.  Under the bowl it goes, and my dough is nice and toasty and happy.

Light Wheat Rolls
From allrecipes.com

2 (¼-ounce) packages active dry yeast
1¾ cups warm water
½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg, beaten
2¼ cups whole wheat flour
2½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Mix the sugar, salt, melted butter, egg, and whole wheat flour into the yeast mixture. Stir in the all-purpose flour, ½ cup at a time, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface, and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.

Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl, and turn the dough to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour. Punch down dough. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled again, about 30 minutes. Grease a baking sheet. Punch down dough and divide into two equal portions. Roll each portion into a 6x14-inch strip and cut into twelve squares. Roll the squares into balls and place in rows on the baking sheet. Bruch the tops with melted butter. Let rise, uncovered, in a warm place, for 40 minutes, or until doubled in bulk.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Bake the rolls for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and brush again with melted butter.

Makes 24 rolls