Saturday, February 11, 2012

chels couldn't resist baking cookies

baking cookies is probably the easiest kind of cooking to do when you've only got one useful arm! today i was craving cinnamon, and these babies did not disappoint...

mexican hot chocolate cookies! like a chocolate snickerdoodle - the delicioso little nibbles have that great cinnamon-sugar shell that gives way to a fudgy, chewy chocolate center, almost like a brownie with a little cinnamon-chile kick! will definitely be making these again. soon! especially because these just might be the perfect little treat to share with your valentine.

chel's mexican hot chocolate cookies


2 1/4 c.flour
1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. mccormick's cocoa chile blend
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

1 c. butter, softened
1 1/2 c. sugar (plus 1/4 c. more for rolling)
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 splash rum extract

2 tsp. cinnamon for rolling


sift dry ingredients in separate bowl. in mixer, cream butter and sugar. beat in eggs. add dry ingredients & mix well. in a small bowl mix together the 2 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 c. of sugar. roll dough into balls and roll balls in cinnamon sugar. bake at 400° for 8 minutes. nummy!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

chels doesn't fry green tomatoes

so, at some point in october the family goes into garden-panic mode, usually (but not always) right before the first freeze. this year, mom was already in yard project panic mode trying to finish the framing for the outdoor kitchen, so grandma came down with grandpa dave and went into garden-panic mode vicariously for my mother (i was stuck in new york.) they pulled all the tomato plants and picked every last tomato, including all the green ones. so! we had like a million green tomatoes that i was tasked with figuring what the heck to do with.

last night i used about half of them (5 lbs, once they were cored and diced) to make a spiced green tomato jam. it turned out much better than even i had imagined, never having eaten green tomato anything before. instead of just being sour and tasting green, the jamming process and the spices really do enhance the intriguing fruity flavor of the tomatoes. almost like a green apple, curranty flavor, but with an entirely different texture. i was quite pleased, and had my first taste straight-up on mom's homemade whole wheat oatmeal bread and it was delicious!

so! if you're scrambling for something to do with all your green tomatoes, check this out. (bonus feature: it'll make your house smell like wassail for the two hours it cooks down, and you can totally pack it in cute little jars for holiday gift-giving.)

spiced green tomato jam
5 lbs green tomatoes, cored, diced (i did a 1/3" dice) and seeded (if you prefer)
2.5 lbs sugar
1 vanilla bean
juice of 1 big lemon (you can use the zest too, if you want)
2" chunk of ginger, peeled and finely grated (i use a lemon zester)
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp mace
1 pinch of nutmeg

once your tomatoes are diced, weigh them so you know how much sugar to use (half the weight of the tomatoes.) i had 5 lbs of diced tomatoes, hence the 2.5 lbs of sugar.
grate your ginger, or chop it very finely. the easiest way to grate ginger root is to freeze the thing (we always keep a ginger root in a ziplock bag in our freezer.) after it's frozen, peel the two inches you're going to grate and then grate with a microplane zester, or just a small-holed grater.
slit the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds with a knife, holding each half flat against the cutting board as you scrape.
get out a really big pot. add the tomatoes, sugar, lemon juice, ginger, spices and vanilla bean with the seeds. i did this in 3 layers. 1/3 of the tomatoes, 1/3 of the sugar, etc to kind of get it all in evenly before i stirred it all up.
bring to a boil, stirring, over medium-high heat. then reduce the heat to medium low and let the jam bubble (smack dab between a simmer and a hard rolling boil) and reduce until thickened. it should look like a thick, syrupy green tomato sauce, and can take up to two hours. my batch reduced to about 1/3 of what the pot started with. you want your tomatoes to be completely translucent.
to test doneness, put a small saucer in the freezer for about 5 minutes. take it out and add a small spoonful of the liquid onto the plate and drag your finger through it. if the jam doesn't fill in the space your finger made, and it feels thick, it's set and the jam is done.
when you've got about 20-30 minutes left on your reduction time, get out your half-pint jam jars, lids and rings and sterlize them by boiling them for 10 minutes, or washing them well and putting them in the oven at 375 to dry for 20 minutes.
fill the jars with the jam while both the jam and jars are very hot. seal with clean lids. process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes to ensure a good seal if you're planning on storing these anywhere other than the refrigerator.
and enjoy! it's super yummy on toast, or on cream cheese and crackers, or even as a glaze or sauce for chicken or pork.

i want to make some green tomato jam thumbprint cookies, but this stuff really is so delicious by itself on some great homemade bread...

Monday, September 26, 2011

chels is just peachy!

what a weekend! the top branch of the peach tree broke (so sad!) and we had to save all the peaches we could. also, it was about time i went out and picked all the tomatoes. so much produce! we planted 6 tomato plants this summer. my favorites are always the cherry tomatoes and the romas. i love romas. i love how meaty and red they get. i love putting seven or eight perfect red tomato circle slices on homemade bread with a good slather of mayo and tons of fresh-ground pepper, salt, greeeeen lettuce and bacon! it's not allowed to be autumn until you're sick of BLTs. seriously, though. i love homegrown tomatoes so much. check out these beauties!

so good! so good. a few of our romas had the dark ends from too much water (such a wet summer,) so these were left of those ones that we salvaged. anyway, i had a brilliant idea to use the salvaged tomatoes and the windfall peaches that fell when the branch broke, and i whipped up a big bowl of peach pico de gallo. it turned out super nummy. i blanched and peeled the peaches and the tomatoes, and chopped them up into about 1/3-4" dice... here, i'll just share the recipe and show the picture so you can see how pretty it turned out!

chel's peachy pico
6-8 medium peaches, skinned and diced in 1/4" dice
6-8 roma tomatoes, skinned and diced in 1/4" dice
1/2 sweet yellow onion, diced in about 1/6" dice
4 jalapenos, seeded (unless you like it hot, then leave in some seeds) and diced in 1/6" dice
2 green bell peppers, diced in 1/6" dice
2 cloves minced (super finely) garlic (or you can substitute garlic or onion powder or both)
A whole bunch of finely chopped fresh cilantro
3-4 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp honey (to taste, i added it to cut down a bit on the acid of the lime juice)
1 tbsp salt (or more, or less, to taste. i might have used 1 1/2 tbsp.)
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tbsp chili powder

skin and dice the peaches first, and then toss them in a big bowl with the lime juice before you get started on the tomatoes, so they don't go brown. add the tomatoes, honey, cilantro, garlic, salt, pepper and other seasonings while you finish chopping the onion and peppers. this really is just the easiest salsa to make, as long as you put the lime juice on the peaches first, you can just chuck everything in as you go. mix it all up good, and dig in with your favorite tortilla chips. it's even better if you put it in an airtight container and let it sit overnight to build the heat and let all those yummy flavors get cozy and acquainted.

just remember that with salsa fresca, you probably want to eat it all within a week (if you can make it last that long!) and keep it in your fridge in an airtight container. we had it with chicken enchiladas for sunday dinner, and it was great!

and that was just the salsa! spent most of today peeling and slicing and canning all the rest of the peaches, ol' fashioned style in some simple syrup. they really are delicious peaches, i'm so glad we have a tree. anyway, a few of the peaches were just a little too bumped and bruised to can them safely, so i set them aside and while i was peeling and canning i pondered in my li'l brain what i was gonna do with the extras. we made cobbler on saturday, and it was yum, but it's AUTUMN and chels loves her some autumn spices. it seems every year i wind up making some version of tiny peach pies... so here's this year's twist on...

chel's spiced peach harlot - i mean, tartlets
for the crust (you can double this recipe if you wanna make a whole regular-sized pie)
1 1/4 cup flour
3/4 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt (none, if you're like me and could only find salted butter)
1/2 cup (1 stick) of COLD unsalted sweet cream butter, cubed (super small!)
3 tbsp COLD water
for the filling
4-5 medium peaches, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp rum extract
1/2 tsp ground cardamom (if you're not a cardamom fan (sad) then feel free to scale this back to taste)
big pinch of cinnamon
big pinch of nutmeg
dash of allspice
dash of ginger
in a large bowl, combine the flour, salt and sugar for the pie crust. cut in the cubes of butter with a pastry cutter, or throw the lot in your food processor and let it go until it's got a coarse, mealy consistency. and the water 1 tbsp at a time until the dough is just wet enough to stick together. mush it all into a ball, flatten the ball a bit into a disk, wrap it in plastic wrap and stick it in your freezer to chill while you mix the peach filling. oh, and preheat your oven to 375 while you're at it.

in another large bowl (i just used the bowl i mixed the pie dough in, let's be honest, i hate washing dishes) put in the 1/2 cup of sugar and add the vanilla extract. mix it all up with a fork until it's been completely mixed through. if i were fancier (and wealthier) i'd have gotten half a vanilla bean, chopped it into chunks and put it in the tiny food processor and made some legit vanilla sugar. but instead i had to half-arse it. at least i used the good extract. toss the spices in, and the rum extract (for those of you so inclined, throw in a splash of the real deal) mix up all that sugary spicy goodness and then add the peaches. depending on how wet it looks, add 2-3 tbsp of flour (this will help thicken the filling while it bakes.)

stir it all up and let it macerate for a bit while you pull out the pie dough and roll it out to about 1/4" thick. get a big ol' biscuit cutter (like the 3" diameter ones) and a 12-muffin muffin pan. use your awesome baking skills to get 12 circles of outta that dough, and tuck them carefully into the bottom of each cup of the muffin tin making sure there's about a 1/2" of edge up the side. DON'T try to get them to fit the whole cup, they won't, these just sit nice and snug in the bottom. spoon your yummy filling in to the unbaked shells (try to get more peach than liquid in there. more fruit always = better.)

if you're so inclined, feel free to decorate your tartlets with the leftover scraps of dough. because these smell so yummy and autumnal, i had to use my cute tiny leaf cookie cutters to decorate, adding some leafy veins to them with a small paring knife. if you're feeling pro and want these picture perfect, egg wash the leaves so they golden up a bit better than mine did.

these baked at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes. et voila! it's officially fall.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

chels tries her hand at homemade pasta

yesterday, for dinner, because it sounded good and i was feeling ambitious, i decided to make homemade fettucine. this was also because laura somehow convinced my mother to buy five dozen eggs when they were at costco and hey, pasta uses eggs, let's try that. so i did! with a little help from my friend anne willan.

fettucine from scratch
2 1/2 c. flour (i want to try homeground whole wheat flour for the next batch)
1 tsp salt
3 eggs
1 tbsp vegetable oil

i had originally intended to mix the pasta in the food processor, but no one told me our cuisinart was broken! so only after i had filled it with ingredients, did i realize it wouldn't turn on. boo! i confess, i was a bit disgruntled as i scraped the contents of the processor bowl into the kitchen aid stand mixer, thinking this was so not going to work.

into the mixer went the flour, salt, oil and one of the eggs. i turned that puppy on and watched it bumble around with the flour, incorporating the one egg as best it could, adding another egg every 30 seconds. the dough was actually quite dry by the time the last egg was in, and i ended up adding 2 tbsp of water just to get the stuff to actually stick together.

but it all worked out great in the end (oh, me of little faith!) and somehow came together into a nice giant lump of dough which i turned out onto the floured counter and promptly cut in half. i kneaded each half for 7 minutes - pasta dough is tough! they say you know your pasta dough is ready when it looks like a baby's bottom. when the gluten is all developed and it's smooth and firm and doesn't stick to the counter any more.

after each half was kneaded and baby-bum smooth and round, they sat under a bowl to rest for 30 minutes. anne insists that it needs to rest for a full hour, but dang it, we were hungry and mario batali's book only rested the pasta for half an hour! i figured since mario was an iron chef and i'd never seen ms. willan anywhere in kitchen stadium, i'd go with mario and save me some time.

so! after half an hour i pulled out the rolling pin and had at it with that dough. pasta dough is quite resistant to stretching! you kind of have to beat it out flat before you start rolling it. and although anne said to get it as thin as a postcard, i rolled the first ball out as thin as i dared on the tiny counter space i was using, more like 2 postcards thick, and then threw it over the french rolling pin to dry while i rolled out the other one. you're supposed to let it dry 10-15 minutes until it's got a kind of leathery feel to it, but we were hungry and anxious and i didn't wait quite that long. more like 5-8 minutes (sometimes i am an impatient cook!)

after it was dry enough, i laid it out flat and rolled it up kinda loosely, to cut it with a knife the good ol' fashioned way. (we have a pasta rolling machine, but i didn't want to clean that contraption, so i just eyeballed it with a paring knife. so daring, am i!)

after they were cut, there was much fun unrolling them into a giant pile of raw pasta (that my brother couldn't stop picking in!)

after it was all done, and i had a pot of boiling, salted water on the stove ready to go, they were tossed in. i admit, i used a pot that was too small for as much pasta as we made, and it was a trick trying to get it to not boil over. next time, i'm cooking it in our official pasta pot.

however, one of the things i love about homemade pasta is that it cooks super fast. 2-3 minutes is all it needs, before it's perfectly done. then you pop it off the stove, strain it, put it in a big, warm bowl, toss it with butter, fresh-grated parmesan and also some fresh ground pepper. oh man, so delicious.

just try and tell me you don't want to reach through your monitor and devour this! here's a bite just for you...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

chels moves the trifle recipe to a more pertinent place

chelicious strawberry amaretto trifle!

1 pkg Archer Farms white chocolate amaretto wafer cookies (found them at Target)
1 angel food cake (store bought, unless you want to bake it yourself)
1 lb fresh strawberries, sliced (about 15 good-sized berries)
1 small package slivered almonds (about 2/3 c.)
1 jar of Smucker's Simply Fruit seedless strawberry jam
1 c. Italian strawberry pomegranate soda
1 tsp. almond extract
2 pkgs Jell-o instant french vanilla pudding mix (or make real custard - better!)
1 container whipped topping
1/2 block cream cheese, at room temperature

1. Cube angel food cake into 1" cubes (carefully, with a sharp serrated knife.)
2. Prep pudding/custard and let set in fridge.
3. Whisk together jam, extract, and Italian soda, toss in strawberries and almonds.
4. Crush cookies into crumbles (I used a meat tenderizer and a ziplock baggie.)
5. Using a hand mixer, (or a whisk if you want a good workout) beat together the cream cheese and the whipped topping.
6. In a large clear glass bowl, layer as follows: berries, cake & cookie crumbles, custard, cream cheese whip. Repeat until bowl is full, using berries as your top layer, spoon a small dollop of custard in the middle and sprinkle with the remaining cookie crumbles, top with a pretty sliced strawberry, if desired.
7. Let set in fridge for at least half an hour before serving, you might need to use a skewer or a chopstick to let out air pockets as the trifle settles.
8. Enjoy!

Monday, June 13, 2011

chels has been wrestling with a muffin recipe

so the first batch started like this:

pistachio-topped strawberry rhubarb muffins
2 3/4 c. flour
1 1/3 c. packed brown sugar, plus 2 tbsp.
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cardamom
1 tbsp. candied ginger
pinch of nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 c. chopped pistachios
1 egg
1 c. buttermilk
1/2 c. canola oil
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. chopped strawberries
3/4 c. diced rhubarb (as small as dice as you can manage, 1/4" is great.)
Juice and zest from 2 key limes
for pistachio streusel topping
1/2 c. chopped pistachios
1/3 c. packed brown sugar
1/4 c. flour
1/2 tsp. cardamom
dash of cinnamon
dash of nutmeg
1/4 tsp. candied ginger
1 tbsp cold butter
remaining lime zest

- in a medium-sized bowl combine rhubarb and strawberries with lime juice, zest from 1 lime, and 2 tbsp of brown sugar to macerate while you mix the batter.
- in a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cardamom, and nutmeg. add brown sugar and stir it in well with fork or large whisk.
- in smaller mixing bowl, beat together buttermilk, egg, oil and vanilla extract. add to dry ingredients in the larger bowl, stirring only until the mixture is just moistened. (all muffin batters should be extremely lumpy!)
- fold in the macerated berries and rhubarb.
- fill paper-lined muffin pan cups 2/3 full.
- combine streusel topping ingredients in a small bowl (just mix it with your fingers till it's all coarse & crumbly.) sprinkle over batter.
- bake at 400 F for 20-25 minutes.

anyway, this was how they turned out...

at that point, it was taste-test and family critique time! the texture was great. the second batch (taken out after 16 minutes in the oven) was pretty, smelled delicious, moist, fluffy, muffiny, fantastic.

and then we bit into them. right off the bat, too much spice not enough fruit. the pistachios in the topping... not yummy. they got a little too toasted or something and were kind of bitter. after everyone weighed in, recipe #2, now tweaked, is the next in line to be tested. i think i shall omit the pistachios entirely. i was hesitant (because i love pistachios so much) to take them out of the batter, but for the sake of testing, this next batch will be nutless. also, toppingless! i want to get the plain ol' batter down poifectly before i mess with topping.


round two! nutless, un-topped strawberry rhubarb muffins
2 3/4 c. flour
1 1/3 c. packed brown sugar, plus 2 tbsp.
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. cardamom
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
zest from 3 key limes
1 egg
1 c. buttermilk
1/2 c. canola oil
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. chopped strawberries
3/4 c. diced rhubarb (1/4" dice)
Juice from 4 key limes

- in a medium-sized bowl combine rhubarb and strawberries with lime juice, zest from 1 lime, and 2 tbsp of brown sugar to macerate while you mix the batter.
- in a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices. add brown sugar and stir it in well with fork or large whisk. 
- in smaller mixing bowl, beat together buttermilk, egg, oil and vanilla extract. add to dry ingredients in the larger bowl, stirring only until the mixture is just moistened.
- fold in the macerated berries and rhubarb.
- fill paper-lined muffin pan cups 2/3 full. 
- bake at 400 F for 20-25 minutes. (Start testing with toothpick after 15 minutes.)

pictures and results of round 2 sometime this week. stay tuned!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

chels is a fan of alice waters

when you have 
the best and tastiest 
you can cook 
very simply 
and the food will be 
because it tastes 
like what it is. 

alice waters