Saturday, June 4, 2011

Out of Stupidity Comes Genius

Yeah, yeah, I know that's not how the saying goes (re: title of this entry), but I had a series of very stupid moments in the kitchen today that led to - well, let's not say genius quite yet - one shining moment of tastiness.

The story about making Oreo truffles started off harmless enough. Around Christmas, a photographer friend sent me homemade Oreo truffles as a thank-you gift for giving her a list of places to shoot in Atlanta (that's "shoot" in the photographer sense, not in the put-a-cap-in-your-bum sense). They are lovely little things - crushed Oreos and cream cheese formed into balls and dipped into melted white chocolate. My husband and I inhaled them, and I begged my friend for the recipe. In her email, she modestly said, "I don't know if you'll think they're so great once you know how easy they are to make."


This is what brings me to my entry today, with a very valuable lesson learned - just because your friend (and according to the reviews for the same recipe on, 300-plus other people...) can make something, doesn't mean you can.

The first part was easy - blitz a package of Oreos in the food processor with a package of softened cream cheese, form into balls and chill for 15-20 minutes. Then melt white chocolate chips over a double boiler and dip the balls into the melted chocolate with a toothpick. Seems easy enough, right?

Well, perhaps for the candy-making inclined. Today I learned I do not fall into this elite group of people.

To make things even easier on myself (in hindsight, HA!), I made the first part the week before and froze them, thinking all I had to do today was melt the chocolate and dip them into it. I melted the chocolate as directed, but it dried out quickly, forming these little hard lumps instead of the smooth, glossy chocolate of my dreams. I added a little evaporated milk to it in lieu of cream, something I have seen on countless cooking shows, which made the situation just gross-looking: a beige, sticky mess with what looked like white chocolate boulders in it. I tried dipping the truffles into this unappetizing mess anyway. The chocolate slid right off the truffle and pooled around the bottom when I set them on parchment paper. At that point I emailed my friend who gave me the recipe, and she advised me to let the chocolate cool some before I tried dipping them. Wrong. The chocolate then was so thick that it pulled some of the Oreo part into the mix.

At this point, I went back to the grocery store and purchased two more bags of white chocolate chips. At home again, I started over. Perfection! Two perfectly dipped, wonderfully appetizing truffles. Then the chocolate dried out again. Sigh. After a quick Google search for why this was happening (my double boiler leaked a DROP of water into this oh-so-sensitive chocolate), the remedy was to add a tablespoon and a half of vegetable oil for every four ounces of chocolate. This meant I had nine tablespoons of oil to add. When the chocolate was melted again, it was still way too thick to stay on the truffles. (And I also sort of wanted to burn my kitchen down at this point, or at least pitch a fit.)

I should probably interject that I was making these truffles for an engagement party I'm helping host tonight, and they had to be good. In my circle, I'm known for hosting, baking and cooking, so God forbid Suzy KitchenAid show up to this party with totally unappetizing food.

I don't know if it was an act of desperation or just wanting to see the end of these ill-fated truffles, but on a whim I dumped all of the undipped truffles and dipped ones into my food processor with a softened half-block of cream cheese that I had in the fridge, whirred it around and... well, this is the dessert that came out of it. It's not as cute or kitschy as truffles, but by God, it is delicious.

Now I'm exhausted. I think it's all the brain cells I used up while making this. I suppose it happens to all geniuses...

Oreo Truffle Bars
* 1 16-oz. package Oreos or cream-filled chocolate cookies
* 1 tablespoon brewed coffee (optional)
* 2 8-oz. packages cream cheese, softened
* 2 packages white chocolate chips (I prefer Ghirardelli, melted
* 1 bar good-quality dark chocolate, melted

Spray a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray. In a food processor, grind the Oreos until they're small crumbs. Add two packages softened cream cheese and coffee if using and pulse until the mixture forms a dough. Spread the mixture out in the baking dish. In a microwave-safe bowl at 20-second intervals, melt the white chocolate chips and spread over the Oreo mixture. In a separate bowl, melt the dark chocolate and drizzle over with a spoon. Chill for two hours, cut into small bars (it's quite rich) and serve.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Better Than Anything in a Box (Except Diamonds)

A few months ago, one of my Facebook friends posted, "Nothing beats Kraft macaroni and cheese for dinner sometimes!" and it prompted a fury of agreeing comments from all of her friends.

Er, I stand to disagree - the one major dish that beats Kraft macaroni and cheese (or macaroni 'n cheese, I should say) is real, homemade macaroni and cheese. Y'all agree?

I'm not totally against processed foods for convenience or even for familiarity's sake; after all, most recipes I loved while growing up began as a can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup. I don't make a habit of using these ingredients, mostly because it's often cheaper to make them at home.

I don't know why people don't make food at home anymore, or why they don't do it more often. It is so. much. better. than its storebought counterpart.

It's true for mac 'n cheese, and it's true for chocolate pudding. This homemade chocolate pudding comes together in 10 minutes on the stovetop, and even though the directions say to eat it cold, I prefer to let it sit in the fridge only until it cools to room temperature, or I eat it warm for the ultimate delicious, easy and fast comfort dessert. It's creamy, light and indulgent. In a word, it's perfect.

Chocolate Pudding
* 2 tablespoons sugar
* 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
* 1/8 teaspoon salt
* 1 cup good-quality chocolate milk, 2% or whole
* 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
* 1 1/2 teaspoons butter
* 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 2 tablespoons chocolate chips, optional

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, flour and salt. Gradually stir in chocolate milk. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Reduce heat; cook and stir 2 minutes longer. Remove from the heat.

Stir a small amount of hot filling into egg yolk; return all to the pan, stirring constantly. Bring to a gentle boil; cook and stir 1 minute longer. Remove from the heat. Gently stir in butter and vanilla.

Cool for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer to dessert dishes and sprinkle with chocolate chips. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Serves 2.

Photo Credit: iStockPhoto:sallyjshintaffer

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

It’s Butter and Biscuits, and I Helped!

I can make my own butter, and I’ve done it a few times – only because I was out of butter at the time and happened to have cream on hand. Each time I make my own butter for a recipe, I want to shout out to everyone, “YOU KNOW THE BUTTER IN THERE IS HOMEMADE!?” but then I also feel sort of ashamed, like they won’t believe that I created not only the dish, but an actual ingredient for it. It’s such a tough situation. Sigh…

But then again, y’all, making butter is really the easiest thing in the world (well, next to making granola. See previous post.)… if you have a KitchenAid mixer. (If all you have is cream, a really large jar and weak biceps, I don’t envy you.) Just pour cream in (however much you have/need/want) the bowl of the mixer, and, using the whisk attachment, turn the mixer on 8 or 10, as high as it will go. Let it whirl around for about 10 minutes, until the solids turn pale yellow and separate from the liquid. Let the cream pass the whipped cream stage. Once it starts to look like a very liquid ricotta cheese (i.e., the solids separate from the liquid), turn the mixer off, and pour the mixture into a bowl lined with a clean kitchen towel. Gather the ends of the kitchen towel and squeeze out the liquid, and then open the towel. What’s left is pure, unsalted, delicious homemade butter – complete with a cool kitchen-towel pattern.

This morning for my work’s weekly potluck breakfast, I made garlic and cheddar biscuits with country ham and used that lovely homemade butter. Feel free to just slather it on good bread; my farmers market has pecan bread that would serve as a perfect butter vehicle. Or, use a store bought butter – either way, the biscuits below were gone from my weekly potluck in 30 minutes. I’d like to think it was the homemade butter that put them over the top.

Garlic and Cheddar Cream Biscuits with Country Ham Filling

- 1 ½ c. whipping cream
- 2 cups self-rising flour
- 1 c. grated sharp cheddar
- ¼ tsp. garlic powder
- 3 Tbsp. butter
- 1 ½ c. ground country ham

For the biscuits: Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Combine whipping cream, flour, cheddar and garlic powder in a bowl until mixture forms a dough. Pour mixture out on a floured surface and knead a few times, patting the dough out to a 1-inch thickness. Cut 8-10 biscuits out with a 2-inch round cookie cutter, combining the scraps and patting out the dough again if necessary. Place biscuits on a cookie sheet two inches apart, lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper, brush the tops with melted butter and bake for 6-7 minutes.

For ham filling: Combine the ham and butter in a food processor and pulse until combined. Check ham package to make sure ham is cooked – if it’s not, fry the butter and ham mixture until lightly browned, 3-5 minutes.

Cut the warm biscuits in half and fill each with about a tablespoon of the ham filling. Makes 8-10 ham biscuits.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

M-M-M-Myyyyyy Granola!

Let's temporarily (read: permanently) forget how I haven't updated this blog in, oh, eight or nine months. Instead, let's talk about m-m-m-myyyyy granola (sung to the sound of "My Sherona," in case you couldn't tell).

Since my husband and I started watching Suze Orman religiously over the winter, we've really buckled down to boost our emergency fund. In other words, we've been very frugal the first part of the year and have saved a significant amount of money. When we sat down to budget, I knew right away where my problem area would be. Say it with me... "Food!" So I sort of became obsessed (but in a pleasant way) with green- and frugal-living blogs, such as Our Little Apartment, Cheap, Healthy, Good and WiseBread. The writer at Our Little Apartment is pregnant and blogs mostly about that these days, but still, every now and then she encourages me to venture out and make something homemade that formerly intimidated me.

Such was the case with granola... a few months ago. Now, having made it a million times, I can't believe I was ever intimidated by it. It is, seriously, the easiest recipe ever. You just dump a lot of ingredients in a bowl, stir it, spread it out on cookie sheets and... well, it's all in the recipe below. :) What was NOT easy was tweaking the recipe to make it taste similar to Cascadian Farms Dark Chocolate Almond Granola, otherwise known as My Favorite Granola Ever. I must have read the ingredients on the back of it a million times (Cane juice? Is that even available to me? Or do I have to somehow hack down a sugar cane and extract its juice...?) before I finally found the secret to its goodness tonight - pure almond extract.

So now, armed with the granola recipe that may just be my keeper recipe, I share with you my version of Dark Chocolate Almond Granola, which is cheaper and has less fat than Cascadian Farms' recipe.

Dark Chocolate Almond Granola

- 4 1/2 c. rolled oats
- 1/2 c. flax seeds
- 1 c. slivered almonds
- 1/2 c. good dark chocolate chips, or chopped dark chocolate
- 1 c. unsweetened coconut flakes, optional
- 1 tsp. salt
- 3/4 c. brown sugar
- 1/4 c. good maple syrup
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil or canola oil
- 3/4 c. unsweetened applesauce
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp. pure almond extract (not imitation)
- Dash cinnamon
- Dash nutmeg

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Spread mixture out on two large cookie sheets lined with parchment paper or silicone mats. Bake for 20 minutes and stir, bringing the granola from the outer edges in and vice versa. Bake for an additional 20 minutes. Let it sit in the cookie sheets on the counter for at least 10 minutes, allowing it time to crisp more. After it cools, store it in an airtight container for up to three weeks --- though it probably won't last that long. It never seems to last long in my house. Enjoy with milk, in yogurt or over sliced bananas.

* Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons; (c) David Corby

Monday, October 12, 2009

It's Picadillo, Yo

Never in my life would I have thought the combination of ground beef, raisins and green olives would be so delicious... until I met my friend Barbara, who introduced me to picadillo, which is kind of like the Cuban version of spaghetti (except it doesn't have noodles).

Her version calls for sofrito, a speciality mix of herbs, garlic, onions and green peppers, that she brought back from her trips to Orlando or Miami. The enormous bucket of it would last forever in its brightly green glory in my refrigerator... until once when my mother thought it was that green color from mold, and then threw it away.


So, since the grocery store version of sofrito is red and more acidic - and since I can't travel to Orlando every time I want to make picadillo - a simple saute' of onions, garlic, green bell peppers and a splash of olive brine or white wine vinegar will do. You could use Recaita, the green stuff found next to the Sofrito on the grocery store shelf, but I prefer the fresh mix as opposed to the jarred version.

I am still surprised that no store in Atlanta carries this mixture, but I keep looking for it. If anyone knows of a farmers market that does carry it, please let me know. In the meantime, enjoy the delightful mix of savory and sweet in picadillo, which you can throw together in less than half an hour. I serve it over white rice, but you could easily use it as a filling for tacos, empanadas, enchiladas, bell peppers or over crusty bread.


- 1 lb. ground beef, 80-90 percent lean
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 seeded and diced green bell pepper
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large russet potato, peeled and diced into small pieces (optional)
- 1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
- Olive brine to taste
- 1 bay leaf
- 10-15 pimento-stuffed green olives, cut in half
- 1/3 cup raisins
- 1 tsp. dried oregano or 1 Tbsp. fresh oregano
- Salt and pepper to taste

In a skillet over medium heat, brown the ground beef, onion, green pepper and garlic. Drain off excess fat and add potatoes, if using. Toss to combine. Add tomato sauce, olive brine, bay leaf and bring to a simmer. Add olives, raisins and oregano. Cover and simmer over medium low heat for 20 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve over steamed white rice. If you are using the mixture as an empanada, enchilada or bell pepper stuffing, continue to simmer over medium low heat until most the of the liquid has evaporated.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Say it with something homemade, even if it's a ski slope

I am so glad I didn't inherit my mother's cake-baking genes. This woman can make homemade bread with a smell so wonderful a line forms around the block (I mean that figuratively - she lives on a lake so there is no "block"), grow an enviable organic garden and tell you what region most coffees comes from upon tasting them, but when it comes to making cakes, she is all thumbs - er, ski slopes.

I don't know how she does it, but across multiple homes, ovens, cake pans and recipes, each homemade cake she attempts is sloped on one end. The woman can even do it with brownies.

I've watched her from start to finish before, just to see if she kind of, you know, slams the pan into the oven with greater force than any other dish, but no, she's just talented at making really tasty cakes that have a whole lot of batter on one side and not so much on the other.

Once, she produced a cake so diagonal that she covered it in green icing, poked a hole in one end and added a flag made from a toothpick in front of the hole. "It's a putting green!" she exclaimed proudly upon presenting the cake to my stepfather for his birthday. He just shook his head. He knows better than that.

My cakes do not turn out this way, thank goodness. But just in case yours usually do - or if you always resort to boxed cake mixes and canned frostings (that's "icing" to us Southerners), give this homemade yellow cake and chocolate frosting a go. If you have an electric mixer, from start to finish this will only take you an hour, which is about the same length of time a boxed mix will take. Believe me, you can tell the difference between a homemade one and a store-bought one or mix, especially on the second day, when this golden cake becomes even moister. (Is that a word?)

You don't have to drag out the layer cake pans if you're making this for someone special: a sheet cake or cupcakes will be just as tasty. And yes, it does call for butter-flavored shortening, but don't try to substitute an equal shortening-for-butter ratio. Shortening is 100 percent fat, and butter is not, so you will need to look up the substitution method --- though I highly recommend using the shortening. When in doubt, full fat is best.

Yellow Layer Cake
- 3/4 cup butter flavored shortening
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup plain flour
- 1 cup self-rising flour
- 5 eggs
- 1 cup milk
- 1 T. vanilla flavoring

Cream shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Sift together plain and self-rising flour and set aside. Add eggs to sugar mixture and mix well. Add flour and milk alternately. Add vanilla. Pour into a greased and floured 9x13 cake pan, three 8- or 9-inch round cake pans or into a muffin tin with cupcake liners. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

Perfect Chocolate Frosting
- 1 6-ounce package semi-sweet chocolate morsels
- 1/2 cup half and half
- 3/4 cup butter
- 2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

Combine chocolate morsels, half and half and butter in a saucepan; cook over medium heat, stirring until chocolate melts. Remove from heat, add confectioners' sugar and mix well. Set saucepan in ice or ice water (important) and beat until frosting holds its shape and loses its gloss. Add a few drops of half and half if need to make spreading consistency. Note: This frosting needs to cool completely, so you cannot "hurry" it. Keep beating until it is glossy.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Chicken Cattiatore, or What to Do With All of Those Other White Beans

I'm humoring myself and assuming that maybe one of you cooked the entire pound of white beans as suggested in the previous blog entry and didn't just resort to using canned, rinsed white beans (though that certainly will do). Like I said before, the big pot o' white beans is just a more economical approach to stocking your pantry with multiple cans of white beans. And now you - that one person - are wondering what in the world you will do with another half-pound of frozen white beans.

The answer, dear faithful sole follower, is in my variation of Nigella Lawson's Chicken Cattiatore. (I have to look up how to spell that word every time I write it.) It is simply "chicken cooked in the hunter's way," for you, that means it's a one-pot meal that could potentially be cooked over a campfire. Don't worry; it's stovetop-friendly, too.

Here at Will Blog for Food, I'm a big fan of one-pot meals, and well, so is my husband. Few things make him happier than facing only one pot to wash after a delicious dinner. And oh, how I love me some Nigella Lawson! She speaks food poetry, lyrical recipes, even, with her usage of words such as "jewel-toned vegetables," and "Let it come to a bubble" instead of "Let it boil." Lovely! My words won't sound as fancy (that's "faincy" if I was saying it out loud) as hers do, but I'll try.
I discovered Nigella's recipe after seeing her show "Nigella Express" (Love it! Please bring it back, FN!) on the Food Network, and maybe some measurements are lost in the metric system conversion, but somehow, each time I made it, the dish seemed more like soup instead of the thickened dish seen on the Food Network. After some experiments and tweaking, I figured out the answer: Cut the chicken into smaller pieces, add a little thickener and let it cook with the lid off.

On another thrifty note, chicken thighs are more flavorful and less expensive than chicken breasts, though for the sake of time, I do recommend spending a bit more on the boneless, skinless chicken thighs. This meal comes together in 20-25 minutes, especially if you snip the bacon and green onions with kitchen shears right over the pot, instead of dragging out the knife and cutting board.

One last plug: I made this for my mom once when she was visiting for the weekend, and she immediately demanded the recipe. Economical, one dish and healthy, with a dose of fiber from the white beans, this Chicken Cattiatore is all that a one-pot meal should be.

Chicken Cattiatore

- 1 T. olive oil
- 4 slices bacon, chopped, preferably center-cut
- 6 green onions or 1/2 c. chopped white onions
- 2 T. minced garlic (about three large cloves)
- 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary, slightly crumbled between your fingers
- 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 2 T. all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
- 1/2 c. dry white wine
- 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 tsp. sugar
- 1/2 lb. thawed white beans (cannellini), or two cans drained, rinsed white beans

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large saucepan, and add the bacon and onions. Fry until the bacon renders its fat, 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and rosemary and stir. Add the chicken pieces to the pan and sprinkle the flour and Old Bay over. Toss everything together. Pour in the wine next, then add the tomatoes (undrained), bay leaves and sugar. Stir everything and let simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Stir in the white beans at the end and serve. Serves 4.