February 27, 2009

Kale Chips

Simple, healthier than your average chip, and delicious.  That's what I have to say about kale chips.  My mom recently discovered these, and she has been obsessed ever since.  I gave them a try yesterday, and I could not stop eating them.  

Here's what you'll need:
Olive oil

Optional ingredients:

Preheat oven to 250.  Rinse and dry the kale.  I used about six or seven leaves.

Cut out the thick part of the stem, or just tear off the leaves from around the stem.  Tear pieces that are the size of your average potato chip, and put them in a big bowl.  

Drizzle with olive oil.  Start out with just a little, then add more as needed.  

Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Mix well.  

I had to add a little more olive oil so the leaves were all coated, but you don't want them to be drenched.  

Lay them out on some sort of rack over a pan.  I used a cooling rack and a cookie sheet, and it worked well.  

I sprinkled a little grated Parmesan on a few of them.  My taste buds are still fairly nonfunctional from my never-ending cold, so the verdict is still out on whether the Parmesan addition was good or not. 

Bake for about 20 minutes.  They'll be really light and airy.  Most of them were crisp, but the ones that still had a little chewiness to them were my favorite.  

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February 26, 2009

Saltine Toffee

Saltine toffee is probably the most highbrow dessert you could ever make.  If it's the only dessert you ever make.  It requires a whopping four ingredients (five if you want to be really fancy), and it takes about 10 minutes of your time.  Your stomach, as well as those of your friends, will be appreciative.  

Here's what you'll need:
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
35-40 saltines
Chocolate chips
Chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350.  Line a pan with foil, and make a single layer of saltines.  I used a jelly roll pan, but you can use any similar device.  The most important thing is that there are sides so you don't end up with a sugary mess in your oven.  

How could this combination not be good?

Heat the butter and sugar in a saucepan over medium-low heat.  

Give it a little stir to make sure it all gets mixed and the sugar doesn't burn.

Let it boil for about 3 minutes.  It will bubble and get a little foamy.  If you have a candy thermometer, heat it to a soft ball stage.  Then remove it from the heat.  

Pour the mixture over the crackers, and spread it around so all the crackers are covered.

Stick it in the oven for 5-10 minutes.  Mine bubbled a little, and I think I came close to burning it.  Then again I always get nervous and think I'm royally screwing up the recipe, but it always turns out well.  

Right after you take it out of the oven, sprinkle the top with chocolate chips.  I didn't measure them, but I'd guess I used a cup or so.  Please don't judge me for having stale chocolate chips.  Judging by the sheer volume of chocolate chips that my mom has stowed away in her kitchen cabinets, I would venture to say that she has far more stale chocolate than I do.  I would post a picture, but my birthday is coming up soon and I wouldn't do such a foolish thing. 

The heat from the toffee should melt the chocolate in a few minutes, but if you want to speed up the process you can throw the pan back in the oven for about 30 seconds.  

There's just something about molten chocolate that puts a smile on my face.

Spread the chocolate over the top with the back of a spoon or a spatula.  Sprinkle with chopped nuts if it suits your fancy.  I opted not to since I was making them for a bake sale, and it seems like nut allergies are all the rage these days.  

Refrigerate (or freeze if you're in a hurry) until the chocolate hardens.  Slice, and serve on your finest china.  

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February 22, 2009

Make Me Taste Something Baked Pasta

Here's the deal.  I've been sick for two weeks now, and I am SO sick of it.  It started out with a sore throat and exhaustion, which I could totally deal with relative to the cold I have now.  I would pick a sore throat over this torturous state of having only three senses any day.  The only thing I've been able to taste in the last week is grapes, grape tomatoes, a nectarine, and the outermost shell of Gobstoppers.  Everything else is just a bland mouthful of food.  

When I finally had a bit of an appetite last night I knew there were two things that would be essential to whatever I made - spice and texture.  I looked around at what I had, and I decided to make a baked pasta dish.  

Here's what went into it:

8 oz. uncooked whole wheat farfalle
25.5 oz jar pasta sauce
5 smallish kale leaves
1/2 cup grape tomatoes
1 to 1-1/2 cups cooked ground beef
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons oregano
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/3 cup grated Monterey Jack (optional)

Step one: boil the pasta.  I had this partial bag of farfalle sitting around, so that's what I used.  I'm always surprised by how much cooked pasta comes from a seemingly small amount of dry pasta.  I was worried that this amount would not be enough for a 9" round baking dish, and I ended up filling a 9"x13" dish.  Shows how much I know!

I decided to use kale because 1) it's delicious, 2) I had some in the fridge, and 3) it holds up well when cooked.  Texture texture texture.  Try saying that three times fast.  

Rinse the kale, and cut out the thickest part of the stem. 

Roughly chop it into about 1" pieces.  

I was lazy (and sick, give me a break!) and used a jar of pasta sauce, but you could also make your own.  I actually only used about 3/4 of the jar, but I should have just used it all.

Here's where the spice element came in.  Heat up the sauce in sauce pan over medium-low heat.  I added a good tablespoon of crushed red pepper.  If you are not attempting to clear out your sinuses, I would cut back on this amount.  Just add it in little by little until you're satisfied.  

I'm kind of addicted to oregano, so I threw that in, too.  I probably could have done without it since it is not spicy, and therefore I cannot taste it.  Ugh.  When will this end?

I added some ground beef that was left over from a pizza we made, but you could easily skip this step for a nice, vegetarian-friendly meal.  This is also a great way to use up little tomatoes that are getting wrinkly and are losing their appeal when they're raw.  

Stir it all together, and cook for a few minutes so all the flavors combine.  Add a little salt if it needs it.  

Once the pasta is done, mix it into the sauce.  

I realized I needed a larger mixing vessel, so I transferred it all to the pasta-boiling pot and threw in the kale.  

Transfer the mixture to a 9"x13" baking dish.  

Sprinkle a little grated Parmesan over the top.  

If you want a little extra cheesiness, add some Monterey Jack or mozzarella.  

Bake uncovered at 350 for about 20 minutes or until the cheese melts.  

And enjoy!  I sure did.  It was a nice combination of various textures with a little kick of spice.  

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February 20, 2009

Mussels with Garlic Butter

To start out our Valentine's dinner, I decided to make mussels.  The last time I had them was almost a year ago at Hopleaf in Chicago, and Matt had never(!!) had them before.  I was pleasantly surprised by how inexpensive mussels were - about $6/lb.  I guess when I comes down to it there's not that much edible matter in them, but I still thought that was a pretty good deal.  

I looked up a bunch of different recipes, and I settled on a simple one with a lot of positive reviews.  You can find the recipe here.  Since there were only two of us, I ended up cutting most of it by a third.  All of the amounts below will be the amounts I used.

Begin by chopping 1/4 cup shallots, mincing 2 cloves of garlic, and chopping about a tablespoon of parsley.  

Squeeze about 3/4 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, and get about 1/4 teaspoon lemon peel.  My lemon peel was more like lemon mush.  Oh well.  

Rinse and scrub the mussels.  I bought 1 pound, and it was plenty for the two of us.  

Place the mussels in a heavy pot, cover them, and cook them on high for about 5 minutes until they open.  Give the pot an occasional shake during that time.  

Here's what they look like when they've opened up.  Lookin' good.  

The actual recipe tells you to drain the mussels and reserve the liquid before transferring them to a bowl, but I only ended up with about a tablespoon of liquid.  Did I miss something?  Was I supposed to put some liquid in with them during the initial five minutes?  I'm still not sure about that one.  Oh, and be sure to throw out any that don't open.  You don't want to mess around with any bad seeds.

Cover the bowl loosely with foil so the mussels stay warm while you prepare the sauce.  

Melt about 3-1/2 tablespoons of butter in your pot over medium-high heat.  

Add the shallots and garlic to the butter and cook for a few minutes until tender.  

I decided to add a little white wine at this point because I realized how little liquid I had, and I really wanted more.  I probably added between 1/2 cup and 1 cup.  

Add the lemon juice, lemon peel, and reserved liquid.  Bring to a boil.  I decided to thrown in the mussels for a minute or so to warm them back up and cook them with the sauce.  I also added the parsley, but you can also save it to sprinkle on at the end.  Should you decide to follow the actual recipe, just pour the sauce over the mussels once it comes to a boil instead of throwing the mussels into the pot.  

Serve with crusty bread to soak up the sauce.  

I'm still not sure how I feel about this recipe.  The mussels were pretty good and very meaty, but I've definitely had better.  I was kind of hoping for a greater amount of liquid, so I might add more wine next time.  Making the sauce first and then cooking the mussels in it might help them soak up more flavor, too.  Maybe my lackluster review is due to the fact that I had the flu at the time, and shellfish is probably not the best cure.  I think I'll do a little more research before I make another attempt.  They make for pretty pictures, though!

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February 15, 2009

Chocolate Cheesecake

Whenever I have the opportunity to make dessert for a special occasion I usually end up making a cheesecake.  The first one I ever made was a double-layered one for either Thanksgiving or Christmas my senior year of high school.  It was a layer of pumpkin cheesecake topped with a layer of chocolate cake and covered in chocolate ganache.  I don't think I'd ever eaten cheesecake before I made it - I was just really excited by the idea of a cake made with cream cheese.  My rather ambitious start into making cheesecake has changed my dessert-eating life forever.  

With yesterday being Valentine's Day, I of course wanted to make a cheesecake for dessert.  I came up with this grand plan of making a whole cheesecake, cutting out heart-shaped pieces, stacking them to make individual layer cakes, and covering them with ganache.  Instead I got sick, slept a lot, made a somewhat disastrous Valentine's dinner, and made the simplest cheesecake I could.  Fortunately, cheesecake makes everything better, and even in its less grandiose form it was the best part of the meal.  

For the full recipe, click here.  FYI - I skipped the topping part.  

Start by grinding 24 chocolate wafer cookies in a food processor.  

Add 1 tablespoon sugar and blend.

Add 1/4 cup melted butter and blend well.  At this point of my Sutafed-and-Ibuprofen-induced haze I decided to stop taking pictures of the process.

Two minutes later I decided to resume the picture-taking.  Once the butter/sugar/cookie mixture is combined, press it all into a buttered 9" springform pan, and bake it at 350 for about 5 minutes.  Set it aside while you work on the filling, but keep the oven on.  

If you realize that a recipe calls for 9.7 ounces of bittersweet chocolate and you have 8 ounces of unsweetened chocolate and a bag of bittersweet chocolate chips but no scale, what to do you do?  Line them up!  You can do a little side-by-side estimate of how many chocolate chips equal 9.7 ounces, and you're good to go.  

Melt the chocolate over a pan of simmering water until smooth, and give it a little stir every so often so it doesn't burn.  

Ohhh, almost there.

Molten chocolate!  When it looks like this take it off the heat, and let it cool while you work on the rest of the filling.  

In the bowl of a mixer add 4 packages of room temperature cream cheese.  Yes, four.  Don't even think about how many bagels it would take to use up four packages of cream cheese.  Just don't do it.  

Add 1-1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar.

And 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder.  

Mix until combined.  Doesn't that look amazing?  

Scrape down the sides and mix a little more.  You might want to taste it at this point - just to make sure it's fit for human consumption, of course.  

Oh my.

You should probably wrap up all your taste-testing at this point, because the eggs are about to go in.  I like to crack them into a little bowl first so I don't risk marring the cheesecake with a stray piece of eggshell.  

Blend in four eggs, one at a time.

If you think this looks good, just wait.

At this point your melted chocolate should have cooled down a little.  Once it's lukewarm, add it to the mixer and mix away.  

I went a little crazy with the picture-taking.  Can you blame me?  It's like art.  

Oh yeah.

I don't even know what to say.  

I contemplated pouring it into the pan at this point, but I figured I would probably lose the design in the pouring process.  

Don't you just want to dive in?  I think bobbing for apples would be more appealing if they were in a bowl of cheesecake batter.  Is that going too far?  

Seriously, I cannot get enough.  Scrape down the bowl one last time.

And stop mixing.  

Pour the batter into the pan, and smooth the top.  Bake at 350 for an hour or a little more.

Here's what mine looked like after about an hour and five minutes.  The center appears to be a little unset, but it's done.  

Let it cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the edge.  Then let it cool completely, or as long as you can, before refrigerating it.  It's best to chill it overnight, but I'm fairly certain that it will taste delicious regardless of chilling time.  

Here it is after about 10 hours of chilling.  

Voila!  This cheesecake is delicious.  It's SO easy to make, and equally easy to eat. :)

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