Thursday, February 21, 2013

Peanut Butter Chocolate Pillows

from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar

My daughter has made these a few times now so I felt it was time to blog them on her behalf. They are so tasty and vegan to boot!

These are chocolaty cookies wrapped around a delicious peanut butter filling. What could be tastier? They are a teeny bit more time consuming then your average cookie but they are definitely worth it.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Pillows

For the Chocolate Dough:
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup (my daughter used agave syrup)
  • 3 tbs pure vanilla etract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa owder
  • 2 tbs black unsweetened cocoa powder (my daughter skipped this)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
For the Filling:
  • 1/4 cup natural salted peanut butter, crunchy or creamy
  • 2/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 to 3 tbs soy creamer or nondairy milk
  • 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
  1. In a large mixing bowl, comibie oil, sugar, maple syrup, nondairy milk, and vanilla and mix until smooth. Sift in flour, cocoa powder ,black cocoa powder if using, baking soda and salt. Mix to form a moist dough. 
  2. Make the peanut butter filling: in another mixing bowl, use a hand mixer to beat together peanut butter, powdered sugar, 2 tbs of the soy creamer, and vanilla to form a moist but firm dough. If peanut butter dough is dry and crumbly (natural peanut butters have varying moisture contents), stir in the remaining tablespoon of nondairy milk. If dough is too wet knead in a little exgtra powdered sugar.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. 
Shape the Cookies:
Create the centers of the cookies by rolling the peanut butter dough unto twenty-four balls (try dividing tough in half then each part in half again,and roll each portion into six balls). Scoop a generous tablespoon of chocolate dough, flatten into a thin disc, and place a peanut butter ball in the center. Fold the sides of the chocolate dough up and around the peanut butter center and roll into a smooth ball between your palms. Place on a sheet of waxed paper and repeat with remaining dough. If desired, gently flatten cookies slightly, but this is not necessary.
Place the dough balls on lined baking sheets about 2 inches apart and bake for 10 minutes .Remove the sheet from the oven and let the cookies stand for 4 minutes before moving them to wire racks to complete cooling. Store cookies in tightly covered container. If desired, warm cookies in a microwave for 12 seconds before serving. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Easy Homemade Salsa with Black Beans and Corn

I like store-bought salsa fine but even when you have to use canned tomatoes, homemade is so much better and very easy. I ate 3 bowls of this before writing this blog. My husband has just gone back for his second bowl. 

Mixxie's Chunky Salsa with Black Beans and Corn

Makes a large bowlful. Scientific, eh? Seriously, I would guess it makes about 8 cups. I forgot to measure.
  • 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes, slightly drained (I used regular dice and had to chop them some---I recommend petite diced)
  • 1 14 oz can black beans, drained well under water til the water runs clear and free of blue color
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded, membrane removed and minced (if you want it spicier leave the membrane and some, 
    or all of the seeds)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 red onion diced very fine
  • 1 tps cumin (roasted is nice)
  • 1 pinch cayenne
  • 2 tbs agave nectar or 1 tbs sugar (or to taste depending on sweetness of tomatoes
  • juice from two limes
  • 1 tbs mild vinegar (I used white balsamic)
  • salt to taste (start with a teaspoon depending on how salty your tomatoes are)
  • 1/2 cup cilantro chopped (or less if you are not as crazy about cilantro as I am)
In a glass, ceramic, or plastic bowl, mix the tomatoes, corn, beans, jalapeno, garlic, onion, cumin,
cayenne, lime juice, and vinegar. Taste and then add the sweetener and salt a little at a time until you
come to the taste you like. I save stirring in the cilantro until the very end for the freshest flavor.

Other things you can add: diced seedless cucumber, diced avocado, diced red and yellow bell pepper,
diced yellow squash or diced zucchini. 

My husband and I enjoyed the salsa with tortilla chips while watching Modern Family but this salsa would also be great as a topping for grilled fish, chicken, pork, or tofu. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies EVER....

come from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. 

This is my daughter's go-to recipe when she wants to make cookies. They are hands down the favorite cookie in this house. Chocolate chip cookies aren't even my favorite but these are just so dang good.Here's the recipe as copied from Post Punk Kitchen.

Chocolate Chip Cookies 
makes 2 dozen 2" cookies or 16 3" cookies

  •  1/2 brown sugar
  • 1/4 white sugar
  • 2/3 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk (or your favorite non-dairy milk)
  • 1 tablespoon tapioca flour (every time my daughter has made these she has used tapioca starch and it's been fine)
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cups chocolate chips (If you want them to be vegan without the hassle, Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips are accidentally vegan)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease two large light metal baking sheets.

Mix together sugars, oil, milk and tapioca flour in a mixing bowl. Use a strong fork and mix really well, for about 2 minutes, until it resembles smooth caramel. There is a chemical reaction when sugar and oil collide, so it’s important that you don’t get lazy about that step. Mix in the vanilla.

Add 1 cup of the flour, the baking soda and salt. Mix until well incorporated. Mix in the rest of the flour. Fold in the chocolate chips. The dough will be a little stuff so use your hands to really work them in.

For 3 inch cookies, roll the dough into about ping pong ball size balls. Flatten them out in your hands to about 2 1/2 inches. They will spread just a bit. Place on a baking sheet and bake for about 8 minutes – no more than 9 – until they are just a little browned around the edges. I usually get 16 out of these so I do two rounds of eight cookies. Let cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes then transfer to a cooling rack.

For 2 dozen two inch cookies roll dough into walnut sized balls and flatten to about 1 1/2 inches and bake for only six minutes.

Ivy actually got distracted and messed up the recipe a little bit (she forgot to add the almond milk to the oil/sugar mixture and the salt to the flour mixture) and they still came out amazing, as you can see from the photo. She added the salt to the almond milk, per my advice, and added it to the dough mixture. 
Also, today she adopted a cat from our local SPCA shelter so here is a gratuitous cute cat photo. 

The kitty is unnamed as of yet. His name at the moment is "Bear" and he is 9 years old. He belonged to someone who died and left behind three kitties. Fortunately, they've all been adopted. Ivy doesn't really like "Bear" for a cat although seeing how big he is I understand the thought process. She just said, "Oh man, I could name him Totoro!" He has a very Totoro-esque roundness. But that's probably not going to happen. We'll see. 

UPDATE!!!  Kitty has now been named Lennie Briscoe. He's currently hiding out but we have confidence that he'll emerge soon. He was briefly introduced to two of our toy poodles and it didn't phase him a bit. 

Fun with Pressure Cooking

I'm not one for making New Year's resolutions but this year, I did resolve to get past my fear of the pressure cooker. My mom used hers all the time. In fact, I think mine was inherited from her but since I'm a big thrift store shopper, I can't actually recall. Sadly, I never got around to having her show me how to use it before she died. 

Last year, I resolved I would get over my fear of beans exploding all over my kitchen, dusted off the cooker, and contacted T-Fal who kindly emailed me the instruction manual. The PDF file was of a badly photocopied manual laid out every which way which meant I kept having to rotate the view so I could read it. Not that their was much to read. Most of the instructions were cartoon drawings with no explanation or even directional arrows to help clarify things. Oh well.

 Next, I discovered I needed a new ring gasket for the lid. I went online, spent 10 bucks and had one delivered within a few days. By then, my resolve had begun to wain. I put it all away and forgot about it except for the occasionally twinge of guilt when I'd glance down at it in the cabinet where it was stored. 
Recently, my daughter told me that we should start using it because her friends who live in a vegetarian collective have started pressure cooking their beans, whereas before than had been slow-cooking them. Ivy never cared for the beans at the Starship collective because they were always underdone and she prefers (as do I) more of a 'can' texture. I figured if these post-hippie anarchists could manage a pressure cooker, so could I.

Today, I present to you, two soups made with similar ingredients, over the course of an hour. 

The first is Lima beans and Cabbage with Pasture Raised Ham. 

  • 2 tbs fat from the rind of a ham steak, minced (you could also use bacon or salt pork)
  • 1 onion diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 2 lg carrots diced
  • 2 celery stalks diced
  • 1 quarter cabbage, sliced once horizontally then sliced vertically into strips about 2" long, 1/2" wide
  • 1 large (28 oz) can diced tomatoes and their juice
  • 2 cups soaked lima beans*
  • 1 cup diced ham (I used a ham steak from pasture raised pigs from Dismas Family Farm)
  • 1 tbs kosher salt
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregeno
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 tps dried thyme
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 3 tomato cans water 
  1. Over medium high heat, render the fat until it is browned and crispy. I originally started with about 1/3 cup of minced fat and it gave off way more liquid then I wanted so I drained all but about 2 tbs, keeping the crispy bits. I reduced the amount in my recipe but you may still need to drain some of the rendered fat. What I was after is a flavorful base for sauteing my veg, not a greasy mess. 
  2. Add the onions, carrots, and celery to the pan and cook on medium heat until the onions are translucent and the veg are giving off a nice fragrance.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients, stirring to incorporate, and lock the pressure cooker cover in place. 
  4. Bring to full pressure than reduce to the lowest setting on your range that will allow you to keep full pressure. Cook for 14 minutes and use the quick release method (aka, carefully bring the cooker to the sink and gently run cold water over the lid, being careful not to get water into the pressure valve thingee). 
Taste for seasoning and doneness. If it is not quite cooked to your satisfaction, finish it off on the range the regular way. A few more minutes cooking time should do it. I did not have to do anything or even adjust seasonings. 

The next soup I made was Dilly Lima Bean and Cabbage with Beets. It turned a lovely deep coral. It would have been perfect for Valentine's Day. 

  • 2 cups Lima beans, soaked*
  • 1 cup hulless or pearled barley (if you use hulled barley, be sure to pre-soak it for a few hours)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 1 quarter wedge cabbage, sliced one horizontally, than sliced vertically to make strips about 1/2" wide and 2" long)
  • 2 small or 1 large beet peeled (or scraped if they are small) and diced
  • 1 golden delicious apple, peeled and diced
  • 4 cloves garlic chopped
  • 2 wedges lemon, seeded
  • 2 tbs currents
  • 2 tbs brown sugar
  • 2 tbs apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp dill
  • 1/2 tsp caraway seeds
  • 1/4 tsp anise seeds
  • 3 whole allspice berries
  • 8 cups water
Place everything in at least a 5 qt pressure cooker, stir a bit to combine, then bring to full pressure over high heat. Once it's at full pressure, reduce the heat on your range to the lowest possible setting to maintain full pressure. Cook for 28 minutes. 
I found the soup needed a bit of thickening, perhaps because it is covered under pressure, very little of the liquid evaporates. I simply cooked it for a few more minutes, uncovered, and stirred in 1/4 cup flour mixed with a bit of cold water to prevent lumping. 

Both soups were delicious but the beet soup had a great depth of flavor that I kept going back for. The only change I would make is to add more barley as the individual grains got rather lost. 

*I soaked my beans using the quick soak method which is to cover the beans with 8 cups of hot water, bring to a boil and continue to boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let soak for 1 1/2 half. I also added a tbs of baking soda once I turned the heat off. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Crock-Pot Chicken Fail (Sort Of)

First, here is a gratuitous picture of one of my favorite simple lunches; a Trader Joe's sesame bagel schmeared with smoked wild salmon (also from Trader Joe's), cream cheese, and dill pickles. Yum. The awesome Donald Duck mug came from The Christmas Tree Shoppe.

So, I still have plenty of the amazing bacon I talked about in this entry. I've been doing a lot of Pinterest prowling in search of great comfort food recipes and, of course,that means lots of Crock-Pot entries. I found this recipe for Slow Cooker Bacon-Wrapped Apple BBQ. It looked delicious and simple and combined two things I love---fruit and pork. Bingo. Also, it looks delicious in Chef in Training's photo. The ingredients and prep are very simple:
  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 cup BBQ sauce
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/8 cup lemon juice
  • 5 small apples, peeled and chopped
  • 8 slices bacon
  1. In a small bowl, combine BBQ sauce, brown sugar, lemon juice and peeled/chopped apples.
  2. Wrap each chicken breast with two slices of bacon and place in a greased slow cooker.
  3. Pour BBQ-apple mixture over chicken and cook on low for 6-8 hours or until chicken is done.

I only had 3 chicken breasts. I got a small bag of organic, locally raised chicken from Fertile Underground, a co-op in Providence. Three was plenty since I'm only feeding myself, my husband and my dad. I only used 2 apples, but they were very large ones I got from the older fruit section of Stop & Shop (a great tip if you are buying fruit for cooking---I also bought some barely old red peppers for super cheap which I took home and promptly roasted). I'm glad I did not use the amount of apples as instructed because the juice from just the two really made for a soupy final product.

It looks pretty in the Crock-Pot so far...

The instructions say to cook it on low for 6-8 hours. I was suspicious that the bacon would not get as crispy as it looks in Chef in Training's photo at that setting. I was also worried that the chicken breast would dry out. I wish I had listened to my instinct and experience. My results were far less visually appealing than Chef in Training's.

The bacon was soggy and unappetizing, the chicken was dry and there was way too much liquid. This was after cranking it to High for about 2 hours. All that really did was dry out the chicken and cook down some of the excess juice.

It smelled pretty terrific though. Here's how it looked plated up with some mashed potatoes and a veggie mix I concocted.

Would I cook this again? Maybe, but probably not in the Crock-Pot. I don't work so I can easily prepare a dish like this in a slow oven in my Dutch oven or other covered casserole. Where I may have gone 'wrong' was in making my own quickie BBQ sauce. Perhaps a bottled sauce, which contains corn syrup, would have thickened up more than my recipe which had a base of crushed tomato and about 1/2 cup brown sugar. I also forgot to add the lemon juice although that wouldn't effect the texture. If I were going to try this in the Crock-Pot again, I would cook down the apples for a few minutes on the stove top to release some of the juice. The juice can always be reserved and thickened with some flour or corn starch and added to the Crock-Pot during the last 30 minutes. Also, I would cook it on High for 2-3 hours rather than the 6-8 hours on Low called for in the recipe.

Was it tasty? Yes. In the end my husband proclaimed it "good grits" (a family saying he adopted when he married me, a girl with paternal roots in the South). It was sad that that beautiful bacon was mostly wasted in this. It did add nice flavor but I,personally,could not eat the soggy meat. My husband and dad probably did. It's not something I would serve to polite company.

I needed a nice veg to go with this but didn't feel like dealing with salad so I scoured the freezer for something I could cook up quick.

I chopped some garlic, tossed it in a large saute pan with olive oil and added some frozen cut green beans that had seen better days, some frozen corn (Trader Joe's---delish!), and some of those home made roasted peppers I mentioned earlier, diced up. A dash or two of Frank's Hot Sauce, some fine sea salt, and a grind of pepper and I had a nice vegetable side dish.

Stay tuned for an idea I have to adapt this recipe for a more successful outcome.


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Baked Eggs With Avocado and Bacon

I still have quite a few avocados that need eating so tonight's meal was going to be this
from crafty blogger Betsy at  The View From In Here  but even though I scooped out quite a bit of the flesh I had trouble with the whites spilling out over the avocado. 

I changed tactics before I had a total fail on my hands and carefully poured the eggs out of the avocado into a holding dish and instead, scooped out all the avocado flesh into a square baking dish sprayed with cooking spray. I didn't try to be particularly neat except to chunk the flesh up with the spoon a bit.

I made little wells for the eggs (well, I did after the first couple of eggs spilled into each other) and placed the eggs over the avocado. I had bacon ready that I had chopped and browned in a skillet. I didn't cook the bacon perfectly crispy because I figured it would brown a bit more in the oven. I topped the avocado with the bacon and added some chopped cilantro and halved grape tomatoes. I drizzled the top with 1/4 cup of half-and-half, a little salt and pepper, and popped it in a 425 degree oven for 20 minutes.

I would have liked to add some shredded Colby cheese but my husband loves his bacon and eggs but cheese, not so much. 

 I served the eggs (it cut like a crustless quiche) with a simple salad of Romain hearts and baby Romain, grated beets, and a dressing made from Trader Joe's blueberry preserves. 

I'm pretty proud of my method for making the dressing. The jar of preserves was nearly empty. I could maybe have scraped a scant tablespoon with a lot of effort. So I figured the jar would make a great shaker and just added the other ingredients;a bit of walnut oil, a bit of canola oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt; and shook it up. So simple. 

And on another note...last night's dinner was pretty great!

Simple Farmhouse Supper of Eggs, Roasted Bacon, and Baked Potatoes

My daughter has a friend who is the manager of Dismas Family Farm In Worcester, Ma. The following is their mission statement.
The mission of Dismas is to reconcile former prisoners to society, and society to former prisoners, through the development of a supportive community.
Supportive community is characterized by: students and former prisoners living together in a family setting, active involvement of volunteers from the broader community, and a spirit of open and participative decision-making by all in the community, with emphasis on the common good.
I've gotten beautiful fresh eggs from the farm in the past. A couple of weeks ago, Jen posted that they were offering a pork sampler for $50. The package includes: 
  • 4 pork loin chops (and these chops are at least 1" thick!)
  •  1 package of smoked bacon
  • 2 smoked ham steaks
  • 1 package of ground pork

It was a no-brainer for my husband and me. My husband and I love pork but I don't love factory-farmed meat. Also, the money supports a fantastic organization. Also, Jen is a fantastic person.

Last night's dinner was very simple. This isn't a recipe so much as a shared meal and one new technique if you've never roasted bacon before.

I started with the baked potatoes. Most people know how to bake a potato but here's my method:
Wash and pat dry a nice Russet potato. Poke all over with a fork or knife. Rub or brush with olive oil (or bacon fat if that's how you roll). Sprinkle the top with a little salt and place directly on the center rack of a 375 degree oven. Bake for 40-45 minutes.

Once the potatoes are done, raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees.

Place your bacon on a rack in a cookie sheet. For easier clean-up, line the cookie sheet with foil.  I had a last-minute inspiration and sprinkled fresh rosemary over the bacon. YUM!
Roast for approximately 15-17 minutes depending on the thickness of your bacon. I've read that this method works best with thick-cut bacon (for thinner slices you can broil the bacon for less time, keeping a close eye on it).

The finished bacon is perfectly crispy, with very little grease. Still, you should remove the bacon to a paper towel to absorb any remaining grease.

I cooked the eggs over easy which is my husband's favorite. My method is to cook over fairly low heat to insure a well-cooked white while preserving the runny yoke my husband and I love.

 If you've never had an egg straight from a farm, do yourself a favor and find a source. There is no comparison to those you find in the grocery store. Even the expensive 'cage-free' eggs do not come close. As for the bacon?

I'm one of those folks that finds the smell of bacon is so good that I'm left disappointed by the taste. This bacon was smoky without overwhelming the taste of the meat. The pungeant woodiness of the rosemary was a perfect compliment to the smoke. Heavenly.

My husband immediately transferred one of his eggs to his potato. It's not pretty but it's pretty delicious.