Sunday, August 30, 2009

No Bake PB and Chocolate Cookies

This week was my first week back as an adjunct professor of Humanities. I teach six credits, two classes that last 3 hours each on Wed. and Thurs. evenings. When I walked through the door on Wed. night, the sweetest surprise was waiting for me. It was from my thoughtful "Young Women," the 16-18 year old girls I teach in my Sunday class. It was such a kind gesture, such a welcome gesture after a long night.

This is how I will repay them today. They don't know it yet.
But this isn't even the recipe that I wanted to share. This is. When I was growing up in California, my siblings and I were allowed to make cookies whenever we wished. There were a lot of cookies rolling through our oven; peanut butter, chocolate chip, sugar-you name it. But there were also a lot of mouths around to eat those cookies, so they didn't last long. One of our favorite quick cookies were no-bake cookies. These are not beautiful cookies, in fact they are rather homely, bumpy and odd. (I'd love to tell you what my brother Roy calls them, but I don't think I should write such things on a food blog.) Don't let their awkward appearance stop you from making them, since they are really very yummy. I love the fudgy peanut buttery flavor together with the hearty oatmeal. They're lightening fast, since they don't even have to bake, which is just perfect for late summer afternoons when you can't be bothered to turn on the ovens. Make a few extra to share. Have a wonderful day!
No Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies
Estimated Cost: $3.00 for 2 dozen
1/2 cup butter
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup peanut butter
3 and 1/2 cups oatmeal (Old Fashioned or Quick Cooking)
In a medium saucepan, bring butter, sugar, cocoa powder and milk to a boil over medium heat, stirring often. Boil for one minute. Add peanut butter and oats. Drop by rounded teaspoonful on to waxed paper. Let cool to harden.
Up Next:
Black and White Cheesecake Brownies

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Secret for Perfectly Grilled Pork Chops

Psst.... Come on over here and I'll tell you my secret to perfectly grilled pork chops. I've bet you've heard about it before, but if you're like me, you hadn't tried it yet. It's easy and it's cheap. Interested?

Then come back tomorrow with 5 bucks.
All right, since you're all my loyal friends and readers, I'll let you know for free.
It's a BRINE SOAK. That's it. Just put your pork in a plastic bag in the fridge with some water, sugar, and salt. For some magical, mystical reason, it will erase pork's tendency to toughen, and instead make it soft and tender and juicy and succulent.
I threw my brine soaked pork on the grill with some peach halves that I rubbed with brown sugar. Peaches and pork both grilled for six minutes (three minutes per side), then I sliced up the peaches and put them along to catch all the savory pork juices. Make some right now while the peaches are perfect. And I'll bet you'll make them later and again and again. You're going to love it.
Money Saving Tips: I always buy my chops when Albertson's has a two for one deal. I end up spending about three dollars for 2 lbs. You can't beat that!
Brine Soaked Pork Chops with Peaches
Estimated Cost: $4.oo for four servings
Notes: This was yummy with rice pilaf, but couscous would work well also.
1 lb. boneless pork chops
2 cups water
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 peaches, halved, pit removed
cooking spray
2 tablespoons brown sugar
chopped parsley, for serving
Combine pork, water, sugar, and salt in zip top bag. Let sit in fridge for at least 6 hours and up to 18 hours. (I let mine go for 24 and they were practically falling apart, but still fantastic.) Preheat grill. Discard marinade. Spray cut side of peaches with cooking spray and rub with brown sugar. Grill peaches and pork for three minutes per side. Let stand for five minutes. Peel peaches and slice. Serve with pork. Sprinkle with parsley if desired.
Up Next:
Chocolate and PB No Bake Cookies

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Creamy Lime Pies

This week's assignment for my weekly on-line baking club, Tuesdays with Dorie, was Creamy Lime Pie. It really was the creamiest and dreamiest lime pie. But I'll never make it again. Never, ever. Oh, the hassle and the mess! First you whisk the lime custard over a bowl of gently simmering water, hoping that it will reach 180 degrees on your akwardly dangling candy thermometer that clanks into your whisk every time you circle by. After twenty-three minutes, yes, twenty-three minutes, I had the heat cranked up to high, the water boiling furiously (and this in the middle of August), as I continued to whisk. I think I hit 175 degrees at best, and hung up my gloves. Then the hot mixture must be strained into the food processor, and if you're me, then you lose a few globs of custard on the way in. And a few more globs on the way back to the saucepan. And by the time I was done with this custard, I had Creamy Lime Chaos all over the kitchen. And to think, I probably had less mess than most, since I didn't make crust. I had itty bitty purchased graham cracker pie tins in my cupboard, leftover from a mini cheesecake class I taught at church. So at that point, after scrubbing up the kitchen counters and washing the pans, and zesters, and juicers, and strainers, and food processor, I almost quit. But the pie was supposed to be topped with a billowy meringue. Normally when I make key lime pie, you use the egg yolks in the custard and the whites for the meringue. Sigh. Lovely and economical. Not so with Creamy Lime Pie. Whole eggs go into the custard and so you must begin again with egg whites. It always bothers me to be lopsided like that. I know how to use extra yolks and extra whites, but I really prefer it to all come out even and symmetrical. So I went with a whipped cream a topping, and a little sprinkle of lime zest. The pies were superb, heavenly, ethereal. But I'll never make them again. And if you decided to make them, give yourself plenty of time. And Formula 409. And Palmolive.
This will make it look easy:
Click here for the recipe, plus gorgeous photos.
Next Up:
The Very Best Grilled Pork Chop with Grilled Peaches

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Classic Buttermilk Biscuits

This summer, I thought it was time to teach my sweet 8 year old charge to cook. Although, she's happiest sitting in a comfey chair with a good book, she has shown a particular interest in baking. She's been cooking at (or on) my side since her infancy, but I still thought it might be nice to have a few formal lessons in the basics. Just her and I, with no distractions from any light saber wielding younger brothers. It had to be something simple, rewarding, fast paced, and delicious. Biscuits seemed like a logical place to start. It's easy enough to measure the dry ingredients in the bowl and give them a quick stir. Although you can use your high fangled food processor, I taught my Sailor-girl to use a pie cutter to cut the butter into the flour. After moistening the mixture with buttermilk, all that is left is a quick patting down of the dough, and some cutting into circles. Easy enough, right? And it's funner than play dough because you get to eat your projects. (Although I have seen a kid or two eat playdough, but it never ends pleasantly.) Fresh out of the oven, oozing with butter, these biscuits just can't be beat. And now that Sailor knows how to make them all by her little self, I'll bet we'll be having them a lot.Money Saving Tips: If you don't have buttermilk on hand, pour 1 tablespoon vinegar into the bottom of a one cup capacity measuring cup. Fill with milk and let stand for 10 minutes.
Classic Buttermilk Biscuits
Estimated Cost: $1.00 for a dozen
2 cups all purpose flour
2 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces
1 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Stir dry ingredients together in a bowl. Cut in butter until mixture resembles small peas. Pour in buttermilk and stir just to form a ball of dough. Turn it out onto lightly floured surface. Pat into 1/2 inch thick oval. Cut about 12 (2 inch diameter) circles from dough. Place on greased cookie sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes.
Up Next:
Miniature Creamy Lime Pies

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Lightly Fried Chicken Drumsticks

I was thinking how lovely it would be to have a picnic on one of these Saturdays, these long, sizzling August Saturdays that are dwindling in number. August. August. I love the word August. I love the heavy, throaty, roundness of the sound. To me it is almost an onomatopoeia; I can almost feel the weighty heat, the lengthy hours, the sticky anticipation of Fall, just in the word "August." If you use august as an adjective it means "inspiring awe, imposing." You can even use the related adverb "augustly," as in, "Augustly, and with an air of assumed innocence, she sauntered into the courtroom." Or the noun, "augustness" as in "Struck by the augustness of her demeanor, he regretted his trite gesture of flowers." Or you can use the proper noun August, the one we know so well, the one that means the eighth month of the year. Or in bold augustness, you can skip the grammar indulgence, and just augustly plan a picnic in the august heat of August. Either way, I hope you'll include these chicken drumsticks.

Drumsticks are ridiculously cheap, and you know why? Because no one wants them anymore. We all want our boneless, skinless chicken breasts and so the other parts of the bird are shipped to other parts of the world, or are left languishing in the refrigerated section. Snatch them up and take them home. Drumsticks are just perfect for a picnic, a sort of savory lollipop, that can be made ahead and enjoyed later. I made my recipe with just a minimal amount of oil for frying, so they need to cook a little longer than most. Have a happy August day.
Money Saving Tips: You could easily you use a whole chicken cut up as well. I paid $1.69for eight large drumsticks, plenty for a hearty meal for four. You can deep fry these drumsticks, but I cook them in just a generous slick of oil. It saves money and you know what else.
Fried Chicken Drumsticks
Estimated Cost: $4.00 for 8
1 cup buttermilk
2 pounds chicken drumsticks (or equivalent amount of bone in chicken)
1 and 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
about 1/3 cup vegetable oil
In a zip top bag, combine 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper, buttermilk and drumsticks. Marinate for at least two hours or up to overnight in fridge. Remove from bag and discard marinade. In a separate zip top bag, combine flour, chili powder, ground red pepper, plus 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Place chicken in bag, a few pieces at a time, zip top shut, and shake to coat well. Place chicken on a rack to dry for about 15-30 minutes, if you can. (This will help the coating adhere.) Heat about 1/4 inch vegetable oil in a heavy large skillet over medium high heat. Place the chicken skin side down in skillet. Cover and cook for 15 minutes. (if they are getting to brown turn the heat down.) Turn the chicken over and cook uncovered for another 10-15 minutes, or until nicely browned. Drain on paper towels.
P.S. Thank you so much to my sweet reader, Anella (sp?) M, for your kind words. It's readers like you that keep me going and going and going.
Up Next:
Those Homemade Biscuits Up There

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

AppleBars, Popcorn Balls and Back to School

Yesterday was something of a beginning and an end. On the one hand, we began our homeschooling in earnest. In honor of the occasion, we surprised the charges by painting a four square court in the backyard, complete with an extra bouncy red rubber ball. (We painted a hop-scotch court as well, but so far it has been met with only casual interest.) In the evening, I attended my adjunct faculty meetings, gearing up for courses that begin next week. Enrollment is up some 23 percent over last year, so I've got full classrooms and lots of emails from desperate students hoping to add classes. There's an excitement in the air, and it looks like freshly sharpened pencils, Trapper Keeper notebooks, and juicy red apples.

But I mentioned that yesterday was a bit of an end. I wasn't only referring to the end of summer, but also an end of schooling. Yesterday morning, the Quiet Man presented his doctoral portfolio. Which means that henceforth, he shall no longer be known as Quiet Man, but instead Dr. Quiet Man. Of course, there is never really an end to learning, but maybe...this could signal the end of student loans. To Dr. Quiet Man, I issue not only my congratulations, but also my sincerest promise to bake him a cake, possibly as soon as tonight.
But today is Tuesday, which means that I am morally obligated to share my assigned treat from TWD baking club. So here it is. It's an apple bar that I didn't quite love, but I didn't dislike it terribly either. Meh. That isn't much of an endorsement, so I'll move on.
I also made popcornballs that our brightly red and bouncy, just like that four square ball I mentioned. The girls in my Sunday class delivered these and other goodies to neighborhood kids for their first day of school lunches. What a fun tradition, don't you think? These popcorn balls are perfect for sharing since they are fast, easy, super cheap (till you get the dental bill), and surprisingly yummy. Make some for your back to schoolers.
Here's what you'll need to do:
Pop about 10 cups of popcorn. (I did mine from scratch, but you could use a bag and a half of low fat microwave popcorn.)
In a small saucepan, combine 1/2 cup sugar, 1 cup corn syrup, and a 3 ounce box of jello, any flavor. Bring just to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly to dissolve sugars. Pour the hot syrup over the popcorn and toss to coat. When the mixture is cool enough to handle, butter your hands and shape it into balls. Wrap balls tightly in saran wrap and eat them up within 24 hours. It'll cost you about $2.00 for 24 popcorn balls. Up Next:
Crispy Fried Chicken Drumsticks

Friday, August 14, 2009

Homemade Wheat Thins for Back to School

Although I still firmly believe that the true back to school is in September, right after Labor Day, I'm forced to keep up with these modern times when plaid-clad students march back to active learning in August. We'll start our homeschool learning in earnest on Monday, just to keep up with the local kids who went back yesterday. And in two weeks, I'll head back to Dixie State College, where I teach Humanities in the evenings. I'm busy organizing my courses, preparing assignments, writing up syllabi, and collecting materials. But I'm never too busy to turn my attention to food. The first few weeks of school, I pack lunches for my children, simply for the sheer novelty of using a lunch pail and pretending that our school is as formal as any other brick and mortar institution. We set about making homemade crackers this week, which make a very fine lunch when combined with some sharp cheddar cheese and a crisp apple. I needn't tell you that making your own crackers is ever so much cheaper than buying them, but they do take a little effort to make. Enlist the help of your little charges, if possible, for the rolling out. I recommend making a double (or even a triple batch) and storing them in an airtight container. And don't blame me if they get devoured by the adult crowd before school ever starts. They're that good.
Homemade Wheat Thins

Notes: These taste great when they are really good and browned. They will crisp as they cool, so don't be tempted to eat them warm.
Estimated Cost for 60 crackers: $1.00
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
pinch of salt, plus more for the tops
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2/3 cup milk
In a large bowl, combine flours, salt and sugar. Add oil and mix with a fork. Pour in milk and mix just to form a ball. Roll out half the dough on a floured surface to 1/8 inch thick. Repeat with remaining dough. Cut into 2 inch squares and sprinkle with salt. Place on greased cookie sheets and bake in 350 degree preheated oven for about 20 minutes.
Coming Next:
Crispy Fried Chicken Drumsticks

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Uber Cute Brownie Buttons

Hiya cutie pies. I even like your darling little name: Brownie Buttons. You're brownies, but you're helpless little newborn brownie infants with a little sprinkling of baby powder-uh- I mean powdered sugar. You're so darn adorable, I want to sneak you into my Hello Kitty pencil pouch and carry you off to school. Or I could meet you later, when the bell rings. My house, say at 3? Wouldn't you like to have one of these waiting for you after a day at school with Mrs. Crabtree? The apple is only for decoration, dear readers.
Click here for the recipe. Just as a note, these are a little bit tricky to get out of the pan, so butter it well. I tried mini muffin liners-big sticky mistake. Also, this recipe makes 14 brownie bites, but I filled my 12 cup mini muffin pan a little full and they came out just perfect.

Coming Next:
Spicy Fried Chicken Drumsticks

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Tamale Griddle Cakes

Last week, my little sister went out to dinner with friends at the Cheesecake Factory, where she ordered a tamale cake appetizer. She wrote me an email telling me how good they were, with an attached copycat recipe, and promised to make them for me the next time she came for a visit. But then I couldn't stop thinking about them. Last thing before I went to bed, first thing when I woke up. Was it really possible to have the taste of tamales without all of the work? The notion made my heart leap up and dance the cucaracha. I was in love, enamorado, and we hadn't even been introduced. Mexican food, next to long walks on the beach and long stemmed red roses, has always had a special place in my heart. And so we met, and we've been inseparable ever since. You've got to try them to believe me. One bite and you'll find true love too.

Money Saving Tips: You'll need to buy masa harina for this recipe and you'll get a hefty bag. Store it in an airtight container and use it for tamales, corn tortillas, and sopas. It also makes a nice thickener for chilli and mexican style soups. Use leftover fresh corn kernels to save even more pennies. The original recipe calls for twice the amount of butter that I've used. I swapped out the excess for some broth.
Tamale Griddle Cakes
Notes: These make a fabulous light meal or appetizer. Leftovers are out of this world, too.
Estimated Cost: $2.00 for 12
1 and 1/2 cups corn kernels, divided use
1/4 cup vegetable broth or chicken broth or water
1/4 cup butter, softened
3 tablespoons sugar
1 pinch salt
heaping 1/2 cup masa harina
1/4 cup flour
In a blender, combine 3/4 cup corn kernels and butter. Process until almost smooth. Pour into bowl and add remaining ingredients, including remaining 3/4 cup corn kernels. Shape into 12 small patties. Preheat griddle over medium high heat and lightly coat with butter. Cook patties like pancakes, until golden brown on each side. Serve with avocado, sour cream, and fresh salsa.
Up Next:
Brownie Bites

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Blackened Corn Salsa for Quesadillas

I wonder if back to school month is on par with Christmas, in terms of cost. I think it just might be a little bit pricier, between you and me. There are school clothes and shoes, school pictures, school donations, school supplies, school registration fees galore, plus it's time to re-start all of the after school lessons, which for us are tap, ballet, acting, voice, and fencing, not to mention continuing with violin and piano. To be fair, since I homeschool, I don't have to pay some of the aforementioned fees, but then again, I am buying curriculum. And I don't have to pay for a piano teacher since I'm teaching the charges myself until they pass me up, which isn't too far off for Sailor. But still. Money. There's a lot of money flooding, rushing, oozing, hastening out the door. Hundreds and hundreds. And what we're hoping to have to show for our sizeable investment are two well shod, well dressed, well educated little charges, leaping and singing and fencing and dancing around the room....while their parents bite their fingernails.
Here's a good cheap dinner to help offset some of the costs of a modern education. Who doesn't love making quesadillas for dinner on a hot, summer night? Use a combination of a few different cheeses like cheddar, jack, mozzarella, cotijo, or colby for the best flavor. Stir up some quick blackened corn salsa to send ordinary quesadillas over the moon. It's so delicious, you could skip the quesadillas and just eat it with a spoon. Corn is so marvelous and inexpensive in August, so get your good, cheap fill. Have a great weekend, everybody and best of luck with all of your back to school costs!
Money Saving Tips:
I love making this salsa with leftover unbuttered corn on the cob. Boil a few extra ears next time with this dish in mind. You can always use frozen thawed corn in a pinch, too. If you've got fresh tomatoes, corn and chilies in the garden, then this one is practically free.
Blackened Corn Salsa
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cups corn fresh or thawed, if frozen
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 jalapeno or serrano pepper, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
juice of one lime
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Heat oil in a skillet over high heat. Add corn and onion and cook, stirring from time to time, until corn and onion are blackened in places. Combine with other ingredients in a medium bowl and serve with quesadillas.
Up Next: Tamale Griddle Cakes