Saturday, November 22, 2014

Bourbon & Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars with a Cinnamon Crust


As you finalize your plans for Thanksgiving this week, let me put one small and undeniably delicious wrinkle in your plans. This "wrinkle" is in the form of a gooey, rich bourbon and chocolate pecan bar with a buttery crust and a hint of cinnamon. 

Despite the fact that I love trying out new recipes and experimenting, one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving is my family's tradition of a set menu. We all gather at the same place and have the same delicious dinner year after year. Sure, we might change a side dish here or there (and we once recreated our Thanksgiving from an apartment in Rome), but my favorite meal of the year is the one that never materially changes. Tradition is so comforting sometimes (plus I have some amazing cooks in my family). I love our Thanksgivings. 

I also love pecan pie. And this recipe. These dense cookie bars are best served cold, the day after baking (in my opinion), with a heavy dollop of whipped cream. The thick crust layer helps the bars hold their shape very well; I think they would also be great on a holiday cookie tray, if you're the type who likes to give food gifts. 


Aside: I'm not sure how much I should read into the fact that my husband can wake up and walk into the kitchen to see me with a bottle of bourbon first thing in the morning and not raise an eyebrow. 


Bourbon & Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars with a Cinnamon Crust
Adapted from Inquiring Chef

For the crust, you will need:
  • 2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 4 cups all purpose white flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 tsp. cinnamon
For the filling, you will need:
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 cup dark corn syrup
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips
  • 3 cups pecan halves
Crust method:

  • Preheat oven to 350. 
  • Mix together butter and sugar for two minutes on medium speed, until creamy. 
  • Add eggs, vanilla, and salt and mix to combine. 
  • Reduce speed to low and stir in baking powder, flour, and cinnamon. Stir until just mixed. 
  • Using lightly floured fingers, press dough into two greased 9x9 baking dishes (or two pie dishes). The dough will be sticky. Make sure to press the dough up the sides of the dishes. 
  • Bake for 15 minutes, then remove from heat and let cool. 
Filling method:
  • While the crust is baking, start on the filling.
  • Combine butter, brown sugar, and syrup in a large saucepan on medium-low heat. Stir until butter is melted and texture is even. 
  • Stir in eggs, salt, bourbon, vanilla, and cinnamon. Cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes, reducing the heat to low. 
  • Remove from heat and add pecans and chocolate chips. 
  • Transfer filling to baked crusts. Bake, uncovered, for ~30 minutes, until filling is set. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Herbed Potato Crisps with Asiago, Bacon, and Honey


Disclaimer: I was given free Asiago cheese to review for this post. All opinions are my own. 

After receiving a huge chunk of mature Asiago DOP in the mail one blissful day last week, I made plan after plan to whip up something deserving of a truly delicious cheese. The Asiago Consortium provided a lot of drool-worthy material to get me excited about experimenting with this flavorful chunk of Italian goodness. 


After Husband fell victim to a completely unexpected hangover (emphasis on the word "victim"), I felt that I would have to make some snap decisions in order to save my own day. I know a lot of things about Husband at this point, including that he loves bacon, potatoes, and cheese. I actually had two suffering victims in my house last weekend (Mops claims first position as perpetual victim):


While Mops and my ailing spouse were commiserating on the couch, I took action. I debated making oven-roasted potato chips, potato skins, or french fries for the poor boy. I ended up making somewhat of a hybrid. These potatoes are sufficiently crunchy, but are cut thicker than potato chips and have a bit of softness in the middle. 


The sliced potatoes are tossed in a blend of olive oil, garlic, thyme, and cayenne pepper before they are baked to a golden brown. While the potatoes are crisping, cook and crumble bacon (not a maple-smoked or sweet variety). The potatoes are topped with bacon, authentic Asiago PDO, a bit more spice (if you dare), and honey, then returned to the oven. I drizzled balsamic reduction and topped with green onions right before serving. 

Back to that cheese that I got to use in this recipe: it's delicious. When buying Asiago in the grocery store, take care to read the labels. If it doesn't say Asiago Formaggio DOP on the side, it isn't the real stuff. Why is buying the "real stuff" important? Authentic Asiago DOP follows a thousand year old tradition of making the cheese in the same way in the same region in Italy. 


Mature Asiago DOP (or Asiago DOP Stagionato, if you're brushing up on your Italiano) is produced with skimmed milk and has a more full-bodied, stronger flavor than fresh Asiago (you can compare the flavors on the Consortium's website). Mature Asiago DOP is ripened from 3 to 15 months before being put on the market. It has a distinct, milky, nutty flavor and it couldn't be more perfect in a dish like this one, paired with strong flavors like bacon, honey, and balsamic. 

Herbed Potato Crisps with Asiago, Bacon, and Honey
Serves 4

You will need:
  • 1 medium sweet potato, unpeeled, sliced into 1/4 inch thick "coins"
  • 1 medium potato, unpeeled, sliced into 1/4 inch thick "coins"
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried thyme (divided)
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic salt
  • 1/2 tsp. minced fresh garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. coarse sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. cayenne (divided)
  • 3 slices smoked bacon 
  • 1/2 cup aged authentic aged Asiago DOP, shredded
  • Honey, to drizzle (~2 tbsp.)
  • Balsamic reduction, to drizzle (optional)
  • 1/4 cup thinly-sliced green onions (optional)
Method:
  • Preheat the oven to 400. Place a non-stick liner on a baking sheet, or lightly spray with non-stick spray. 
  • In a medium bowl, toss together potatoes, olive oil, 1 tsp. thyme, garlic, garlic salt, pepper, and 1/2 tsp. cayenne. 
  • Arrange potatoes in a single layer on the baking sheet. 
  • Bake for 25 minutes, then turn crisps over. Apply extra olive oil, if needed, and scatter remaining cayenne pepper and thyme over chips. Add more salt and pepper, if desired. 
  • Return to oven and bake for 20 minutes, until potatoes are crisp.
  • While potatoes are baking, cook the bacon on a skillet until crispy. Transfer cooked bacon to a paper towel to remove excess fat. When cool, crumble bacon into small pieces and set aside. 
  • Remove potatoes from oven, then top with chopped bacon, Asiago, and honey. Return to oven and bake for 5-8 minutes longer, until Asiago is bubbling. 
  • Remove from oven, let stand for about 10 minutes. Drizzle with balsamic reduction and top with green onions prior to serving, if desired. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Biscoff No-Bake Cookies


No-bake cookies are a simple pleasure. They take no more than five minutes of active time and can be made during a commercial break. Let them firm up for the next twenty minutes, then walk into the kitchen and enjoy one of your sweet little treats. 

I decided to doll up the classic no-bake recipe with the addition of Biscoff, a creamy cookie spread imported from Belgium. Biscoff is a highly addictive substance, so consider yourself warned. The reason for sharing this recipe today? Well. Husband and I booked tickets to Belgium yesterday and we had to celebrate with an appropriate treat! Sure, he may have preferred Belgian beer or chocolate, but for my effort, it's a Biscoff celebration. I might have to sneak over to the Biscoff factory to see if I can get my hands on some of the "good stuff" while Husband is off at the brewery...

Biscoff tastes somewhat like graham crackers, so I enhanced the flavor with cinnamon, brown sugar, and vanilla. For some extra fun, add shredded coconut. 


Enjoy these easy little morsels of goodness, and please share any tips or links that can help us plan our Belgian vacation!

Biscoff No-Bake Cookies
Makes ~2 dozen

You will need:
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup creamy Biscoff spread
  • 2 1/2 cups old-fashion oats
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon 
Method:
  • Melt the butter, milk, and sugars in a large pan on medium heat until the mixture reaches a boil, stirring constantly. Let boil for about one minute. 
  • Remove from heat. Stir in remaining ingredients until evenly mixed. 
  • Drop mixture by large spoonfuls onto parchment paper, leaving a bit of room between each cookie. Let the cookies set until cool and firmed up, about 20 minutes. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Tomato, Roasted Red Pepper, and Chickpea Salad with Chevre


I approach making salad as I approach most things in my life. I either have a carefully thought-out method and have planned ahead of time, or I get an impulse and figure out how to make it happen. 

This was one of those stand in front of my fridge, mouth slightly wrinkled, and sort through everything I own to pull together salads. 

We were going to have what we call a "picnic dinner", which is a cute way for me to dress up the fact that I really do not want to cook. Picnics in our house are, of course, impossible. Two full-time dogs and one foster dog do not make for a relaxing experience when we try to eat outside. Our picnics, then, are coffee table picnics, which involve a spray bottle of water to keep the eager dogs at bay. Once I had pulled together quite the picnic spread, I realized I wanted a salad to accompany the rest of the "meal."


I didn't have a specific "vision" for a salad in mind when I started pulling things out of my fridge. However, once I had tossed these ingredients together and had a bite, I realized the resulting salad was so delicious that I would need to write down what I used so that I can make it again. 

Isn't it the absolute worst when you make something delicious, but then can't remember how you did it? This happened to me and the very best pumpkin ice cream that I've ever had. My mom made this coconut-milk based pumpkin ice cream, sweetened with dates (we are sure of) and honey (we think maybe). We ate the equivalent of a pint each. The next fall, I begged and pleaded requested that she make the same delicious ice cream, and she realized that she didn't ever write down what she had done. We still lament the loss of that perfect bowl of pumpkin ice cream, but we don't mind tasting out every possible iteration to try to come up with something close. 


This time, I'm not going to fail to document a dish that I know I will want again - and I hope you will enjoy it as well. 

Tomato, Roasted Red Pepper, and Chickpea Salad with Chevre
Serves 2

You will need:

  • An assortment of ~1 cup of small tomatoes, different colors and sizes (I used yellow cherub tomatoes and mini red San Marzano tomatoes)
  • 2/3 cup chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup roasted red pepper, thinly sliced into strips
  • 1/3 cup pepitas, toasted
  • ~1/4 cup crumbled chevre, room temperature
  • 1/2 fresh avocado. sliced
  • 1/3 cup fresh parsley or arugula, optional
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
Method
  • Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, crumbling in chevre to make sure that it evenly distributes and gently adding the avocado last. Drizzle lime juice, olive oil, and balsamic last. 
  • Transfer the mixture to two plates and top with sea salt and black pepper, to taste. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Peri Peri Hollandaise Sauce


We had some fantastic leftover steak from a rare (pun intended) weeknight dinner date early in the week. Steak can be a bit tricky to reuse as a leftover, in my opinion. The marinades and flavors are all fairly well "set"; you can't reimagine it into something new very easily. 

I'm a proud leftover-user, though, and I try not to let a challenge keep me from creating something delicious out of foods that we have already paid for enjoyed once. I was also determined this week to stay at home for brunch, as we are hosting a sweet new foster (everyone, meet and adopt Jill): 


With that in mind, I amplified my normal "weekend potatoes," as my husband fondly (or, I think "fondly," at least) refers to them with chunks of leftover steak. I make my potatoes by sauteeing half an onion with 2 teaspoons of garlic and adding one yellow potato and one sweet potato to a skillet. I like to use a Cajun spice blend with just a bit of heat, and maybe a dash or two of hot sauce, if we are really feeling crazy. I cook on medium-high heat for ten minutes, then reduce to medium and cover my skillet with a lid, and cook for another 10 minutes to steam and soften the potatoes slightly. After that, I add in any extras (this week featured leftover steak and thinly-sliced roasted red peppers), increase the heat again, and cook until the potatoes start to brown. In addition to the steak, I made a creamy, flavorful Peri Peri hollandaise sauce to tie the flavors together.


Hollandaise is so shockingly easy, but its rarely made at home, in my experience. How hard is it to blend together five ingredients? I think it's more difficult to live without extra butter than it is to just pull out the immersion blender and make a batch of decadent hollandaise. Maybe more people avoid hollandaise because it's basically just butter and egg yolk. I suppose that would make more sense. In any event, try this recipe and you will absolutely insist that all of your "weekend potatoes" and eggs benedict are topped with a solid drizzle of peri peri-spiced goodness!


Peri Peri Hollandaise Sauce
Serves 4

You will need:
  • 3 large egg yolks, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup salted butter
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. Peri Peri spice blend
  • 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
Method:
  • Melt butter in the microwave in a medium sized microwave-safe bowl for 30 seconds. 
  • Whisk egg yolks together lightly in a separate small bowl. 
  • When butter is melted, add ingredients to the bowl containing the butter. 
  • Use an immersion blender (or a standing blender) to blend the mixture until thoroughly incorporated, about two minutes. 
  • Mixture will be slightly warm. Serve immediately. If not serving immediately, transfer the hollandaise to a small sauce pan set on low heat until ready to use. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Italian Butternut Squash & Tomato Soup


When I make soup with pumpkin, I usually gravitate to curry flavors. My favorite pumpkin soup recipe, for example, includes an apple, peanut butter, and plenty of curry. Although I live on a diet that is approximately 35% butternut squash during the fall, there are some things that I do not understand about the way that many like to cook with the king (or queen?) of fall produce. Number one on my list is sweet soups. Cinnamon, brown sugar, and maple syrup with butternut squash in soup form is just not very tasty, despite the sugar. There are so many recipes that really dull down the mellow squash flavor and play up sugar. Butternut has so much to offer the tastebuds on its own, especially if you roast it first to really bring out its full flavor. 

Fall is the best season of all to explore the farmer's market. I went yesterday and picked up some Jerusalem artichokes, butternut squash, eggplant, and purple sweet potatoes. I used the butternut squash to make this fantastic, Italian-inspired take on butternut squash soup. We took one little tag-along with us to the farmer's market and she rested from her big adventure while the soup was simmering away. 


In this soup, I broke tradition for myself (it's curry-free), and for those of you who may be used to bland, thin butternut squash soups that contain tons of butter and heavy cream. I love butter and heavy cream much more than as much as the next girl, but keep all of that away from my squash! Nobody puts butternut in a corner, not even you, butter. 


The flavors in this soup are more robust, Italian-inspired, and acidic (although the soup still maintains that creamy goodness that butternut does so well). I used tomatoes, Italian-inspired spices like thyme and oregano, and a good dollop of pesto to form the major flavor components. I don't think that the flavors are overpowering or "bold" by any means, and I think that the butternut squash is still on center stage, which is right where it belongs. 


Italian Butternut Squash & Tomato Soup
Yields ~8 servings

You will need:
  • 1 medium butternut squash
  • 1 leek, thoroughly washed
  • 1 tbsp. garlic
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil, plus a little bit more
  • 28 ounces whole tomatoes 
  • 1 cup chicken stock or vegetable stock (low sodium)
  • 1/2 tsp. each oregano, parsley, salt, and pepper
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne (adjust to taste)
  • 1 can evaporated milk or coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup prepared pesto
Method:
  • Preheat the oven to 400. Cut unpeeled butternut squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out seeds and stringy bits from the bulbs. Drizzle slightly with olive oil. Place face-down (i.e. mounded, unpeeled side up) on a baking sheet. Cook for 35-40 minutes, then let cool for another 15 minutes. Discard skins. 
  • Start to cook the rest of the soup in the 15 minutes that the squash takes to cool, 
  • Heat the garlic in olive oil on medium in a large pot. 
  • Prepare the leek by washing thoroughly. Discard green leafy pieces. Thinly slice the white-light green "stalk" of the leek into small pieces. Add leeks to pot. Cook for about 8 minutes, until leeks have cooked down and are mainly clear. 
  • Once the butternut squash is cool and skins are removed, scoop out the center into the pot. Add tomatoes, spices and chicken stock. 
  • Cook for 20 minutes on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. 
  • Add in pesto and evaporated milk or coconut milk. Cook for approximately 10 more minutes, until evenly heated. 
  • Use a hand-held immersion blender (or transfer in batches to a food processor) to puree the soup to your liking. Serve hot, with an extra drizzle of pesto, if desired. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Shepherd's Pie with Pork and Sweet Potato



It's chilly, it's fall, and it's time to pull out the comfort food dishes! I have always loved British comfort food recipes and one of my absolute favorites is shepherd's pie. 

I left most of the key components the same: it's still a ground meat base topped with a layer of English peas and sweet potatoes. However, I changed the traditional recipe a bit by making a few easy switches that I think amplified the flavor tremendously. First, I swapped the traditional potatoes for sweet potatoes. The mashed sweet potato topping has a bit of tangy chevre crumbled in, which adds to the rich texture. Second, I used ground pork instead of lamb or beef. We had a pound of ground pork from the farmer's market that I had been intending to use in dumplings or meatballs. But when the rain started pouring and we had our first freezing (read: 50 degree) weather, I knew I needed to make something far more comforting than Chinese food. 

I know it isn't the most photogenic dinner on the planet, but it's a delicious, if humble, little mound of flavor: 


The dish served six, but we ate almost half of it between the two of us for dinner. No side dishes, no appetizers, no desserts. Just a few servings each of this, served steaming hot. Husband, who gets a lot of grief from me for refusing almost all leftovers, woke up the next morning and after telling me how pretty and sweet and wonderful I am asked me if he could have the rest of the leftovers for breakfast. Romance is still alive and well in Bentonville, folks. 


Shepherd's Pie with Pork and Sweet Potato
Adapted from Alton Brown's recipe
Serves 6

For the shepherd's pie, you will need:
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 3/4 cup leeks, finely chopped
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. thyme
  • 1 tsp. dried parsley
  • Red pepper, to taste
  • 3 tsp. flour
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsp. diced tomatoes 
  • 1 can English peas, drained
For the mashed sweet potatoes, you will need:
  • 2 large sweet potatoes
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup chevre
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 1/2 cup grated sharp white cheddar (optional)
Method:
  • Boil sweet potatoes in water with a bit of salt for about 10-12 minutes, until cooked. Transfer the cooked potatoes to a large bowl. 
  • While potatoes are cooking, place olive oil, onions, carrot, garlic, and leeks in a large pot. Heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes, until vegetables have softened. 
  • Add meat and seasonings. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes, breaking up any clumps of meat with a wooden spoon. 
  • Once meat has browned, stir in flour, Worcestershire sauce, chicken broth, and tomatoes. Continue to cook, stirring constantly for 3 to 5 minutes. Turn off heat. 
  • Transfer meat mixture to the bottom of a 9x9 baking dish. Evenly distribute. Top with peas. 
  • To finish the mashed sweet potatoes, mix in butter, milk, cheese, salt, pepper, and thyme. Mash until thoroughly combined. Spread the mashed potatoes on top of the meat and pea mixture. Scatter grated cheese on top, if desired. 
  • Bake, covered, at 350 for 30 minutes. Remove aluminum foil for the last 5 minutes. 
  • Let cool for at least 10 minutes prior to serving.