Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Gluten-Free Fudgy Pecan Brownies

Well folks, tomorrow is Thanksgiving!  Have you been cooking and baking up a storm today?  I have.  Literally.  There is a snow storm going on like crazy today.  We had about 7 inches last I checked.  This has meant I am basically home-bound by myself (Mark is working); I did make one attempt to buy a few last-minute ingredients and got stuck in the parking lot for a few minutes, so that wasn't the best idea.  What else is there to do but bake?!  I have made 3 new recipes for tomorrow (stay tuned!), which will be my first Thanksgiving as married woman and also my first without my family.  It's a little weird to think of it.  I am excited to go to my in-laws' Thanksgiving, but I will definitely miss my mom and sisters.  Of course, it meant that I had to spend hours researching recipes to make sure that I would impress everyone with what I brought to dinner :)

What are you bringing to your Thanksgiving?  I am always assigned desserts, and this year is the same.  I made so many lists of possibilities, crossing things out and adding in new recipes and swapping others... and finally I think I have settled on my final 3 (maybe 4... we'll see how I feel tomorrow morning!) sweets.

If you happen to still be panicking about what you're going to bring, and, like many families in this day and age, someone at your dinner is gluten-free, then consider this your gentle push to make these brownies.  I made them a few weeks ago for a dinner at Mark's parents'.  His sister and Kaz were going to be there, and so I knew I wanted to make a gluten-free dessert for Kaz to try.  I searched around the internet for a recipe with no super bizarre ingredients; I didn't feel like running to the store for xantham gum or almond meal.  Voila: the weirdest thing in this recipe is cornstarch.  I had everything I needed in the cabinets, so I got started on them right away.  And I was finished right away too.  These guys are quick and easy to throw together.

I don't know why we haven't seen more gluten-free recipes where flour is replaced by cornstarch.  It's genius.  I need to try this strategy out some more.  Obviously, the end results were awesome, fudgy, chocolatey brownies studded with pecans (which you could always leave out for nut allergies!).  I made Mark taste test them before we left and he was surprised they were gluten-free.  Everyone at the  Ajemians agreed that they were pretty delicious and tasted just regular old wonderful brownies!  Score!

Do yourselves (and your gluten-free relatives) a favor, and try these out for tomorrow.  Dani? Maggie? Kaz? Susie and Andrea by default? I'm talking to you :)

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  I am thankful for you.

Recipe:

gluten-free fudge pecan brownies
from Martha Stewart
makes 16 brownies

Ingredients:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus more for pan
1/3 cup cornstarch, spooned and leveled
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 cup toasted pecans

Instructions:

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly butter an 8-inch square baking pan and line wit parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on all sides.  Whisk together cornstarch, cocoa, cinnamon, and salt.

2)  In a large microwave-safe bowl, microwave butter and chocolate in 30-second increments, stirring each time, until melted and smooth, about 2 minutes.  Stir in sugar and vanilla.  Stir in eggs, one at a time, until combined.

3) Add cornstarch mixture and stir vigorously until mixture is smooth and begins to pull away from side of bowl, about 2 minutes.  Stir in pecans.  Pour batter into pan and smooth top.  Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, about 35 minutes, rotating pan halfway through.  Let cool completely in pan on a wire rack.  Using paper overhang, lift cake out of pan and cut into 16 squares.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Crock Pot Applesauce

Yes, again with the Crockpot, and no, I'm not sorry about it.  Plus this is basically one of the few things that I have made in it that I have actually enjoyed!

Let's talk about this applesauce.  First of all, you don't even have to be an applesauce person to love it.  It's tart and sweet with a hint of lemon and cinnamon.  It makes your house smell glorious.  And the best part?  It's ridiculously simple to make.  The hardest part is peeling and coring the apples.  Oh by the way: apple corers!?  How have I never had one until my wedding shower?  What an amazing little tool.

Oh and how did I leave out the coolest part?  The recipe calls for a mix of 8 apples.  I had a few left from the store, and ended up using some from my very own tree in the backyard.  I was super excited about that.  That apple tree was the source of much discussion all summer: what kind was it?  Crab apple?  Something else?  The size of the apples, along with the sweetness, make me realize now that this is a legit apple tree, and the apples just happen to be heavenly when turned into sauce!

There was nothing so exquisite as eating this applesauce warm, straight out of the slow cooker.  But a very close second was when I packed it up and took it with me to school.  It could be any temperature, really, and I would still be in love with it.  I foresee many batches applesauce in my near future with this recipe in hand.  My mouth is literally watering as I sit here typing.

Recipe:

crock pot applesauce
from SkinnyTaste

Servings: 12 • Size: 1/4 cup • Old Points: 1 pts • Points+: 1 pts
Calories: 65.9 • Fat: 0.2 g • Protein: 0.2 g • Carb: 17.5 g • Fiber: 2.8 g • Sugar: 12
Sodium: 0.6 mg

Ingredients:
8 medium apples (use a combination of types)
1 strip of lemon peel - use a vegetable peeler
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
3 inch cinnamon stick
5 tablespoons light brown sugar

Instructions:

1) Peel, core, and slice the apples.  Place them in the slow cooker.

2)  Add the cinnamon stick, lemon peel, lemon juice and brown sugar.  Set crock pot to low and cook for 6 hours.  Stir apples occasionally; they will slowly become a delicious applesauce.

3) Remove cinnamon stick and use an immersion blender to blend until smooth.  If you prefer a chunky sauce, leave sauce intact.  I just used a fork to mash it up a bit more.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Slow Cooker Italian Pot Roast with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and KalamataOlives

Have I mentioned lately that I love my slow cooker?  Because I do.  It was about a month or so ago that I really discovered this, and lately my slow cooker (which lives in a cabinet with other appliances) has appeared on my counter more often than my food processor, blender, and espresso machine... combined.  I just love that you throw stuff in there and forget about it, and soon your house smells like food and it's time to eat.

Unfortunately for me, recently I am all about making meat in there, which makes everyone very happy but leaves me kind of hungry.  And can I be honest?  Sometimes having my house smell like meat cooking makes me want to vomit.  But hey, I do it because I love my carnivores.  And usually, slow cooking meat involves minimal meat-touching but has very successful results.  Therefore: slow cooker Italian pot roast with sun-dried tomatoes and kalamata olives.

One thing I struggled with for this recipe was the timing.  It needs to cook on low for 9 - 11 hours.  When on earth was I supposed to put it in the slow cooker?!  If I put it in before work, that would work, but the last thing I want to do is brown a roast in a skillet at 7 AM.  I could have done it the night before, I suppose, and put the meat in the fridge overnight to start cooking in the morning, but that would be dirtying a container with raw meat for no reason.  After work wouldn't suffice unless we felt like eating pot roast for breakfast (ew).  I finally decided to do all my prep work for it late one Friday night, and I cooked it overnight to have it ready for lunch the next day.  This meant waking up to a house that smelled like pot roast, which was absolutely repulsive.  You want to smell breakfast foods if anything on a Saturday morning, not beef and onions, but maybe that's just me.

Back to the pot roast.  You have to brown it, as I mentioned, which is not enjoyable, and then put it in the slow cooker along with wine, beef broth, and garlic, and dried spices like oregano, thyme, rosemary and basil.  Then you "nestle" (direct quote from the recipe... I love recipes with fun words like that) sun-dried tomatoes, pearl onions and kalamata olives around the roast, and go hang out for 11 hours.  Now, I am not a huge fan of sun-dried tomatoes, but they become more than bearable in this dish.  I know this because my mother absolutely hates them and I'm not sure she noticed they were in there.  They become super soft and lend some of their tomato flavor to the pot roast so that they aren't so overwhelming on their own.

This was basically a very easy and still impressive lunch, and my family loved it.  It was moist, flavorful with hints of saltiness and sweetness, and very tender.  In fact, it went over far better than the tiny brussels sprouts I had bought at the farmer's market the day before.  I made the mistake of admitting that most of them were full of tiny bugs and it took me an hour to clean the ones I was using.  Probably not the best way to get your family excited to eat their veggies.... oh well.  At least they had their meat.
My tablescape... ignore the tiny sprouts :)

Recipe:

slow cooker Italian pot roast with sun-dried tomatoes and kalamata olives
from Elly Says Opa

Ingredients:
1 beef chuck roast (about 3 pounds)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup red wine (optional)
1 cup beef broth
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed rosemary
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, sliced
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
1 10-ounce bag frozen pearl onions

Instructions:

1) Season the roast liberally with salt and pepper.  Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high, and once hot, brown the roast on all sides.  Move to slow cooker.

2) Add the garlic to the skillet and stir until fragrant.  Add in the wine and broth, scraping up the browned bits.  Stir in the sugar, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste.  Pour the mixture over the roast.

3) Nestle the sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and pearl onions around the roast.  Cook on low for 9 - 11 hours.  Skim off the fat and heat on high, uncovered, to thicken slightly if desired.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Vegetarian Butternut Squash and Beer Chili with Optional Ground Turkey

I realize that I love chili perhaps more than your average vegetarian.  No, I don't put meat in mine, but seriously there is just something about a big, hot bowl of chili, maybe with some rice and sour cream and cheese.  I've made vegan chili and crockpot black bean and quinoa chili, and one more recipe coming up to still share, and frankly never met a meatless chili I didn't love.  I was pretty excited when I found this recipe, which was a little different from the others due to the addition of butternut squash and beer.  Um, yes please.

This chili has a lot of flavor going on - more than your average chili.  I have now made two chilis from this same blog, and both of them have more than your average chili powder.  It gives it a super rich chili flavor, if that makes sense.  Then of course, there's the slightly sweet squash tossed into the mix.  Plus there's carrot, bell pepper, and pinto beans, and as for the spices?  Get ready: garlic, chili powder, cumin, oregano, and my secret obsession, smoked paprika.  Plus beer.  Are you drooling yet?

Mark and I both loved this chili and devoured it for dinner.  Then we both ate it for lunch until it was gone!  We loved sprinkling some cheddar cheese on top, and I stirred some sour cream into mine.  Mmmmm.

Oh, and here is the coolest part.  This is from my new favorite blog, Kitchen Treaty.  I've told you about her before.  She is a vegetarian who married a carnivore, so she has a section on her blog called One Meal, Two Ways.  She tells you at what point in your dish's cooking you should split the food in half, add meat to one half, and keep the other vegetarian.  Genius!  The funny thing is, even though I have made a few of her recipes, every time I get ready to toss meat into Mark's half, he tells me not to bother!  I think he is secretly a vegetarian too :)  So this chili has the option of adding ground turkey to all or half of the dish.  Use that information as you wish; I'm telling you it doesn't need meat, but the carnivores of the world may disagree.  The beauty of this recipe is that it's up to you to meat it up or not!

Recipe:

vegetarian butternut squash and beer chili
from Kitchen Treaty
serves 6

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup diced yellow onion (about 1 small onion)
1 tablespoon diced garlic (about 2 large cloves)
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups diced butternut squash
1 cup diced red bell pepper (about 1/2 large pepper)
1 cup grated carrot (about 2 medium carrots)
4 cups (or 2 15-ounce cans) cooked pinto beans, drained
1 (14.5-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
1 cup American lager, blonde, or IPA beer
more kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
if adding ground turkey to half (optional):
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 pound ground turkey
pinch kosher salt
if adding ground turkey to all (optional):
1 pound ground turkey
2 - 3 teaspoons olive oil
pinch kosher salt

Instructions:

1) In a large saucepan over medium heat, add the olive oil and sauté the onion until translucent and soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and spices (chili powder cumin, oregano, and smoked paprika) and stir for another minute.  Add the remaining ingredients - butternut squash, red pepper, carrots, beans, tomatoes, and beer- and, keeping the pan on medium heat, bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, partially covered, until squash is fork-tender, about 30 minutes.

2) If adding turkey, brown in a medium saucepan over medium heat with olive oil and pinch of salt until cooked through, about 10 minutes.  If only including turkey in half, remove about 2 1/2 cups of the chili from the vegetarian batch and add it to the turkey.  Stir and simmer for about 10 minutes.  If including turkey n all, you can just pour the browned turkey in with the chili and the end of the process, or you can add it when you add the squash and other ingredients.

3) Taste and add additional salt and pepper if desired.  Serve with shredded monterey jack cheese, sour cream, and diced avocado for topping.  You can also serve it over rice.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Oatmeal Creme Pies

These oatmeal creme pies were Kenzie's idea, and they were a great one.  I made them the day that Tuck and Linda came to visit as a dessert for the non-diabetics.  I was having trouble coming up with something, as I often do, so Kenz narrowed it down for me and begged for oatmeal creme pies.  I was intrigued by the thought of them so I gave them a shot.  And good thing I did, because people went wild for them.

The cookies are soft, buttery oatmeal cookies that frankly were pretty great on their own: spiced with cinnamon, cloves and molasses, they hardly need to be turned into pies.  And yet, they do.  The creme filling is nothing like I've ever made before.  I expected marshmallow or something, but it's butter-based, with powdered sugar (much like frosting, but then it's rich-ed up by heavy cream).

And then of course, you sandwich two cookies together with plenty of the filling. These oatmeal creme pies are pretty amazing.  They're over-the-top rich and filling - I could only eat half, but then again everyone else was devouring them.  Sam dubbed them among the best dessert I ever made.  There were no leftovers.  I'd say that's a successful dessert!

Even Walter wanted a bite!
For those of you interested in perhaps trying these out for a non-traditional Thanksgiving dessert, the good news is that you can bake the cookies early.  I baked them the night before, and then made the filling and sandwiched them that morning.  They were perfect, so it is possible to get these started early!

Recipe:

oatmeal creme pies
from Sally's Baking Addiction
yields 14 - 15 sandwiches

Ingredients:
for cookies:
1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon dark molasses
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3 cups uncooked quick cooking oats (not whole-rolled oats)
for creme filling:
3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
pinch of salt, as needed

Instructions:
1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat.  Set aside.

2) With a stand or handheld mixer, cream the butter and sugars together at medium speed until light and creamy.  Add egg, vanilla, and molasses, scraping down the sides as needed.  Set aside.

3) In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cloves.  Whisk it all around.  Add the quick oats and combine.

4) With the mixer running on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to wet ingredients.  The dough will be quite thick and you may have to mix it all by hand after a few seconds in the mixer.  Drop dough with a large cookie scoop or make sure that each ball of dough is 2 tablespoons in measurement.  Cookies will spread in the oven, so drop each ball of dough 2 inches apart.

5) Bake for 10 minutes, until cookies are lightly golden around the edges.  Allow cookies to cool on cookie sheet for 3 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

6) Make filling: with a stand or handheld mixer, beat butter for about 1 minute until creamy.  Add the powdered sugar and mix on medium speed for 1 - 2 minutes.  Pour in heavy cream and vanilla extract.  Mix on high for 3 - 4 minutes until fluffy.  Taste and add a pinch or two of salt, as needed.  If filling is way too thick, add a couple more teaspoons of heavy cream.  Spread 1.5 tablespoons of cream filling on the bottom side of half of the cookies; top with remaining cookies, right side up.

7) Cookies stay fresh and soft with creme filling at room temperature for 2 days in an airtight container.  After that, store in the refrigerator to keep the creme center fresh.  These are best eaten within 2 days.



Thursday, November 20, 2014

Spaghetti and Meatballs

I was pretty depressed when this was Rachael's request for dinner when Tuck and Linda were coming to visit last month: spaghetti and meatballs.  Made from real meat.  I suggested lentil balls or beet balls, but no one was having it.  I was going to be touching meat and there was nothing I could do to sway them.  Rach claimed that she deserved the spaghetti and meatballs - her favorite meal - because she had just started her new job and was (and still is) feeling overwhelmed.  So hey, if I can don a pair of gloves and roll some meat into balls to cheer her up, I'll do it.

Now this is what I learned that morning.  It is seriously hard to get your house and a meal ready for a get-together by yourself.  Mark was at work, and I am not used to living in a house with less than 4 able-bodied women all bustling around the house!  I was running around like a crazy person and by the time Tuck and Linda arrived, my hair was wet and my floor was dirty.  Oh well.  I guess the food had better be good!

And, good it was.  Everyone told me that my meatballs were good.  Obviously I just ate spaghetti and eggplant parm, but Nick even whispered that my meatballs are better than Kenzie's.  Shhhhh, don't tell her that.  She's kind of known as the meatball queen.  And frankly, I'd like to let her keep that title.  While I am glad that people liked them, I was less than thrilled when I was making them.  Even the sauce kind of freaked me out, because you cook the meatballs in it.  Let's face it: I've seen Kenzie bake meatballs.  I know what comes out of them.  And so I know that's in the sauce.  Of course, my family claimed that's probably what made it taste so great, but hey, I'll stick with my eggplant.

With that said, if you want a good recipe for meatballs - or frankly anything meat-related - go to the Pioneer Woman.  She has never led me astray in the meat department.  Plus she has basset hounds.

Recipe:

spaghetti and meatballs
from The Pioneer Woman 
serves 8

Ingredients:
for meatballs:
3/4 pound ground beef
3/4 pound ground pork
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup fine bread crumbs
2 whole eggs
3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
splash of milk
1/2 cup olive oil

for sauce:
1 whole yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes
1 can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup red or white wine (optional; I left it out)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
freshly ground black pepper
8 whole fresh basil leaves, chiffonade

2 pounds spaghetti, cooked al dente

Instructions:

1) To make the meatballs, combine the meat, garlic, breadcrumbs, Parmesan, eggs, salt, pepper, parsley, and a splash of milk in a mixing bowl.  Mix together well with hands.  Roll into 25 1 1/2-inch balls and place on a  cookie sheet.  Place cookie sheet into the freezer for 5 - 10 minutes to firm up.

2) To brown the meatballs, heat olive oil in a heavy pot or large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add meatballs 8 at a time, turning to brown.  Remove and drain on a paper towel after each batch.  Set meatballs aside.

3) In the same pot, add onions and garlic and cook for a few minutes, or until translucent.  Pour in whole tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, and wine if using.  Add salt, pepper, sugar, and parsley.  Stir to combine and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes.

4) Add meatballs to pot and stir in gently.  Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, stirring very gently a couple of times during the simmer.

5) Just before serving, stir in basil if using.  Serve over cooked spaghetti.  Sprinkle with extra Parmesan.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Chocolate Marshmallow Cookies

I was really torn on whether or not to share this recipe.  At first I was adamant that it should be considered a failure and not blogged about.  But then when people started surprising me with compliments and asking for the recipe, I figured I had to get over my anger and just share the recipe, sob story and all.

The idea is simple but great: chocolate cookies, stuffed with pieces of marshmallow!  Genius.  The cookies themselves are chocolatey with a touch of salt (is that not the best combination?).  They are soft and chewy but have a crunch from a roll in sugar before baking.  Then you bite into one and you get surprised by a soft, gooey bite of marshmallow!

Except... there were no surprises in my cookies.  Because every single one split open and the marshmallow exploded out of it.  I will be honest, I had a total hissy fit about it.  I may or may not have thrown my spatula.  But calm, level-headed Mark came to my rescue, scraped up my exploded cookies, and put them in my Tupperware.  You see, my plan was to bake these for the paint night that was being held at my mom's.  Everyone was bringing something, and I confidently assumed I'd be bringing wonderful cookies.  And then my cookies exploded and I threw my spatula.  but, with nothing else to bring, I brought them anyway.

I wasn't going to paint... I announced I would stick with culinary arts - but I went to hang out with everyone. I sadly threw my box of cookies on the counter and the pretended not to have known who brought them.  But then something amazing happened.  Betsy said they were the best thing at the party and asked for the recipe.  People started eating them and not caring that they were ugly and surprise-less.  The craziest part happened when I came home, and the hunks that had been too misshapen to eat had been eaten by Mark, Nick and Ross, who were here having a guy's night.

So here's the deal.  These cookies did not work out for me and I don't know why.  Did I made the dough balls to small?  Too thin?  That's my best guess.  If you try these out, make the dough around the marshmallow really thick so it would have to really work to explode out!  And don't overcook them; pull them out right before you think they are done.  That's what I did, and the consistency was perfect (albeit exploded).  Regardless of how they looked, I can't deny that they were tasty.  If you try these out, please let me know!  I'm dying to hear if it's possible to keep the marshmallow hidden in there!

Recipe:

chocolate marshmallow cookies
from NoBiggie

Ingredients:
5 marshmallows cut into thirds
2/3 cup cocoa powder
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar (plus 1/2 cup for rolling)
1 cup Crisco
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
2 unbeaten eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Instructions:

1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Cut marshmallows in thirds using scissors and place in freezer while preparing cookie dough.

2) Measure and sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.

3) In a separate bowl, cream together the sugar, brown sugar and Crisco.

4) Blend into the sugar bowl the 2 unbeaten eggs and vanilla.  Beat together well.  Stir in the dry ingredients.

5) Roll dough around each marshmallow third, sealing it in a small ball.  Roll each ball in sugar and place on a cookie sheet about 1 1/2 inches apart.

6) Bake for 4 1/2 to 5 minutes - it is better to undercook them than to overcook them.  Set out on racks to cool.  These cookies freeze very well.