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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Magic Cookie Bars

Well, my little guy is taking his sweet time getting here, but my maternity leave from work has started and I haven't had anything planned because we're so close to the due date. And having irregular contractions for days on end calls for some comfort food! So I'll sneak in another recipe or two.

Recently we had some graham crackers leftover from making s'mores up the canyon. On a whim I tried the magic cookie bar recipe on the back; I have always loved these seven layer bars, with coconut and chocolate and nuts, but haven't tried to make them myself.

I found the result of the recipe on the back of the graham cracker box to be way too sweet for me, with butterscotch chips, sweetened coconut, and sweetened, condensed milk, and I even substituted dark chocolate. Also the graham cracker and butter crust just crumbled and wouldn't hold a shape. So, as I started looking for other options, I found this one from the New York Times that set out to solve these two problems: the cloying sweetness and the flimsy crust! And it succeeds pretty well, Eli and I agree. "Tookie, pease, Mama!"





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Magic Cookie Bars


Source: New York Times
Yields a 9x13 pan of deliciousness

For the crust:

6 T unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled; more for greasing the pan
20 graham crackers
1/4 c brown sugar
1 1/2 teas baking powder
1/2 teas kosher salt
1 large egg

For the topping:

1 14-oz can sweetened, condensed milk
8 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped (1 1/2 c)
1 c pecans, chopped
2 c unsweetened, flaked coconut

Heat oven to 350F. Butter (or spray) a 9x13 pan, then line with parchment paper.

Process the graham crackers in a food processor until finely ground. Then add the sugar, baking powder, and salt and pulse until the mixture is combined. With the machine running, add the egg and melted butter and process until the crumbs are moistened and clumps form.

Place the crumbs in the prepared pan. Use your fingers to separate the clumps and then press the mixture into an even layer. Bake for about 15 minutes, until crust is set and dry.

Pour the milk over the crust and use a spatula to spread it out into an even layer. Sprinkle half the chocolate and half the pecans over the surface, then sprinkle all of the coconut on top. Finally add the remaining chocolate and nuts.

Bake for about 25 minutes, until the toppings are golden brown. Let the bars cool in the pan, on a wire rack. To cut, pull the bars out of the pan using the parchment paper and place on a cutting board. Though less sweet than the first recipe I tried, these are still quite rich so cut them small!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Chicken and Chard Gratin

Hooray for lazy gardening! A small chard patch that I planted last year in the front of my house came up by itself this spring and provided enough for this meal. Chard is often served in soups or as a side dish; try this for a main dish option.

I will probably be a bit inactive on Pie Crust Cookies for the next few months, as I prepare for and care for another type of harvest, due at the end of May. I'll post a picture or two once he's arrived!



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Chicken and Chard Gratin


Source: How to Cook Everything Fast by Mark Bittman

3 T olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts
salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves
1 1/2 lbs chard
4-8 ounces Gruyere cheese, 1-2 c grated
2 thick slices rustic bread

A couple of notes on ingredients: Bittman offers several flavor variations with cheddar, mozzarella, or Jack cheese, so try these if you don't find Gruyere or if you'd prefer cheaper cheese. Also the bread slices are for bread crumbs; feel free to use 1 c bread crumbs if you already have them on hand.

I'm modifying Bittman's "prep as you go" instructions because prepping chard takes me longer than it does Bittman. Either I'm slow, garden chard is dirtier, or my little person interruptions make it take much longer (probably all three!). I made this recipe last time with young chard and didn't worry about removing the stems, and it turned out great. So I might be more lax about leaving in chopped chard stems in the future.

Begin by prepping the chard, removing thick stems and slicing them thinly. Chop the leaves. Then cut the chicken into chunks.

Heat the olive oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Turn the broiler to high, and move the rack so it's 6 inches from the heat.

Once the oil is hot, add the chicken to the skillet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until it loses its pink color, stirring occasionally, 3-4 minutes. In the meantime, mince the two garlic cloves and grate the cheese.

When the chicken is no longer pink, add the garlic, chard, and another sprinkle of salt and pepper. Cook until the chard leaves are just wilted, stirring occasionally, another 3-4 minutes. In the meantime, tear up the bread slices and pulse in a food processor until they are bread crumbs.

When the chard is just wilted, sprinkle the cheese and bread crumbs over the top and drizzle with a little more olive oil. Broil until the cheese is bubbly and bread crumbs are browned and crisp, 2-5 minutes.

Serve with buttered egg noodles for a fast meal.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Bee-Bim Bop

I don't get to eat Korean food often and am familiar only with two to three dishes. But I have loved Bee-bim Bop for some time. Several years ago, Betsy discovered the children's book Bee-bim Bop by Linda Sue Park, a delightful rhyming and rhythmic story about a family cooking together. Park explains that the name means mixed up rice in Korean. Because I am referencing the book I am using her spelling; it is also often spelled bibimbap or bibimbop. Let me encourage you to read this book if you haven't already.



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Bee-bim Bop (Rice Topped with Vegetables and Meat)


Source: Bee-bim Bop! by Linda Sue Park
Serves 4

These are the instructions found in the book. However, personal experience and online research has lead me to believe there are other ingredients that are great, too. See below.

In one recipe, after each ingredient (except the meat) was cooked, it was mixed with a tablespoon of sesame oil and 1/2 teaspoon roasted sesame seeds (1/2 teas for these amounts). This suggestion adds flavor but it isn't required.

Restaurants sometimes serve this in heated stone bowls which make the rice crispy. To mimic this effect (and avoid buying some stone bowls) I heated some oil in a skillet and placed the cooked rice in and allowed some of the bottom rice to brown and become crispy. This is also not required.

Keep each component in a warm oven after cooking.

2 c white rice
4 c water
1 pound tender lean beef (such as sirloin tip although I have used chuck steak)
2 carrots, peeled and cut into julienne strips (matchstick size), or shredded on large holes of grater
1 pd fresh spinach, washed, or 2 pkg. frozen spinach, defrosted or use Swiss chard
1 pd mung bean sprouts
4 eggs
salt and pepper to taste
vegetable oil for frying

For the marinade:

  2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  2 scallions, sliced
  5 T soy sauce
  2 T sugar
  2 T vegetable oil
  1 teas sesame seeds, roasted (optional)
  1 T sesame oil
  1/8 teas black pepper

Cook the rice using your favorite method.

Mix the marinade ingredients in a large zip-lock bag or a plastic container. Slice the beef across the grain into very thin slices. This will be easier if you freeze the beef for 30-60 minutes before slicing. Place the beef into the bag, close the top and carefully squish the beef in the marinade (this will increase the tenderness of the beef). You can also stir it all together in the plastic container.  Set the bag with the beef and marinade aside or in the refrigerator if you think it will take you more than an hour to prep other ingredients.

[Optional egg treatment--egg pancakes: Break the eggs into a large measuring cup. Beat with a fork until fully mixed. Heat 1 teas oil over medium heat in non-stick pan. Pour about 1/4 of the egg into the pan. Rotate the pan quickly so the egg spreads out in a thin layer on the bottom. Cook the egg for 1 minute. Using a wide spatula, flip the egg over and cook the other side for 1 minute. This may be easier to grab carefully with your fingertips. You now have an egg pancake. Flip the pancake out onto a cutting board and leave to cool. Repeat until you have used up all the egg, adding a little more oil if needed. You should be able to make at least 4 pancakes. Leave them on the cutting board until cool enough to handle. When cool, place them in a neat stack. Roll up the stack tightly and cut the roll into 1/4-in slices. Place the slices into a medium-sized bowl, unroll them and lightly toss. They will look like yellow ribbons. Set aside.]

Heat 1 T oil in a large frying pan over high heat and stir-fry the carrots until tender. Empty the carrots into a bowl and set aside.

If you are using frozen spinach, squeeze some of the water out of it. If you are using fresh spinach, cook it for 2 minutes in a pot of boiling water, drain and let cool for a few minutes, then squeeze some of the water out. Put 1 T oil into the frying pan and stir-fry the thawed or precooked spinach for 2-3 minutes until tender. If you use fresh Swiss chard, chop it coarsely and stir fry it.  Empty the spinach into a bowl, season it with salt and pepper and set in oven.

Pour one c water into a large saucepan. Add 1/4 teas salt. Put the pan over high heat. When the water boils, place the bean sprouts into the pan. Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes. Drain the bean sprouts and empty them into a bowl.

Wipe out the frying pan and heat again over high heat for about 30 seconds. Take the beef and marinade and dump them into the frying pan--all at once. When the beef hits the pan, it will sizzle loudly. Using a spatula or a wooden spoon, spread the beef out in the pan. Stir for 2-3 minutes until all the red meat is cooked. Turn off the heat. You'll be left with a bit of flavorful gravy with the beef.

To serve:

Put the rice, the bowls of egg strips and vegetables, and the pan of meat where everyone can reach them. Each person puts a pile of rice in the middle of a soup bowl or plate and some meat and vegetables on top. Be sure to pour a couple of spoonfuls of gravy your rice.) Top with egg ribbons. If you like spicy food, add some hot-pepper paste or some gochujang which you may find in an Asian grocery store. Apparently you can make your own, a fairly complicated process.

Now "bee-bim" (mix everything together in your bowl). It is ready to eat. If you like it, kimchee is a good accompaniment.

Betsy and I like fried eggs instead instead of the egg pancake. If you leave the yolk quite runny and stir it into the hot vegetables, it cooks the rest of the way and flavors the whole dish.

Here are other ingredients you might like to use; stir fry if appropriate.

zucchini
snow peas or sugar snaps
green beans
mushrooms
crumbled nori
julienned cucumber or cucumber slices that you've salted and rested for an hour (rinse them, pat them dry and add some sesame oil and roasted seeds)
See this site for ingredients more traditional in Korea.

Note:

The heat for stir-frying vegetables will depend on your stove top. Closely attend the first time you cook this recipe and modify the heat if you need to.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Asparagus, Leek, and Fennel Soup

I had to try this as soon as I saw it since it is asparagus season in the garden. I am going to post it quickly, too, for the same reason. Although the soup has other vegetables, asparagus is the star. This soup can be vegan if you use vegetable stock and skip the creme fraiche. It is quick, creamy, and beautiful but might need the accompaniment of some bread and a salad to make it a full meal.

Let me encourage people to grow French tarragon (make sure you don't buy a Russian tarragon seeding which is completely different in flavor). This plant is a perennial down to zone 5 and can be wintered in a garage for lower zones. It is easy to grown in pots as well as in the garden. I love having one right next to my back door and often grab a bite as I pass by. Yum.


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Asparagus, Leek, and Fennel Soup


Adapted from:  Serious Eats
Serves: 4 if it is the main dish or 6 if it is a side

2 T oil
1 large leek, white and pale green portions, finely chopped
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced (save some of the fronds for garnishing)
salt
2 T all-purpose flour
4 c chicken or vegetable stock
2 pds asparagus, trimmed and cut in 1 1/2-in pieces
1 small handful minced fresh French tarragon leaves (plus a little more for garnishing)
2 T fresh lemon juice
creme fraiche thinned with some cream or milk, optional
pepper

Heat the oil in a 4- qt saute pan over medium-low heat until shimmering. Scoop the leek and fennel into the pot and stir in a big pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often until the vegetables are softened but not browned. Add the flour and stir while cooking until it is incorporated, about half a minute. Pour in the stock and bring to a simmer. 

Add the tarragon and asparagus, reserving a about 8 spears. Return to a simmer and cook 6-8 minutes until the asparagus is tender. Add the lemon juice. Place the spears in a small bowl with a tablespoon or two of water and microwave for 1 minute. Remove from the bowl, drain, and cut each spear in half.

Blend the soup with an immersion blender or in batches in a countertop blender. You can blend it very smooth or a bit chunky if you like. Taste the soup and season with pepper and more salt if needed. Serve, garnishing with creme fraiche (if you are using), tarragon leaves, and fennel fronds. You may also drizzle a bit of olive oil over all.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Skillet Chicken with Spring Vegetables

Here is another fast recipe from Cook's Country that will help you take advantage of asparagus season.




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Skillet Chicken with Spring Vegetables


Source: Cook's Country

3 lbs bone-in chicken pieces, of your choice, trimmed
1 T vegetable oil
1/2 c chicken broth
1/2 c dry white wine (I used vermouth)
1 T minced fresh tarragon, divided (or 1 teas dried tarragon)
1 lb asparagus, trimmed and cut on bias into 2-inch lengths
1 c frozen peas
2 T unsalted butter
2 T minced fresh chives

Heat oven to 475F. Heat oil in 12-inch oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Season the chicken with salt and pepper while the oil is heating, then cook the chicken skin side down until well browned, 6-10 minutes. Flip and cook on other side until lightly browned, approximately 2 minutes.

Add broth, wine, and half of the tarragon. Then move the pan to the oven and cook for 12-15 minutes, until the breasts reach 160F and drumsticks/thighs reach 175F. Transfer chicken to a platter (or a casserole baking dish) and tent with foil.

While the chicken is in the oven, microwave the asparagus in a covered bowl until just tender, about 3 minutes. After the chicken is on the platter, place the skillet back on medium-high heat (be sure to use a hot pad to handle the skillet!) and bring the sauce to a boil. Cook until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Add peas and asparagus and cook until warmed through, about 1 minute. Off heat whisk in butter, chives, and remaining tarragon. Season with salt and pepper. Pour vegetables and sauce over chicken, then serve.

Quick Beef and Vegetable Soup

Is it too late for soup? Maybe. But this would work well on a coldish spring day, as well as a really cold day in the winter. I love it because I usually have all of the ingredients on hand, and because it reminds of my grandmother's beef, vegetable, and barley soup I ate frequently as a child and teenager.



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Quick Beef and Vegetable Soup


Source: Cook's Country

1 lb 90% lean ground beef (I have used 80% lean and it is greasier, but not inedible)
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 teas dried oregano
salt and pepper
4 c beef broth (or chicken broth, if you don't have any beef)
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
8 oz Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (red potatoes would also work)
6 oz green beans, trimmed and cut on bias into 1-inch lengths
2 T chopped fresh parsley, optional

In a Dutch oven, cook beef, onion, carrots, oregano, 1 teas salt, and 1/2 teas pepper over medium-high heat. Use a spoon or spatula to break up the beef until no longer pink. Add broth, tomatoes and their juice, and potatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover the pot and simmer until potatoes are almost tender, 10-12 minutes.

Add green beans and cook, uncovered, until vegetables are tender and soup has thickened slightly, 12-14 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, sprinkled with parsley.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Savory Sour Cherry Sauce

Last summer my friend, Diane, had a pie cherry tree loaded with fruit. She kindly let me pick some and I ended up with enough for jam and a couple of quart bags of cherries in the freezer. I've made the sauce with fresh and frozen cherries and they performed equally well. This can be used on pork (as in the recipe below), sliced ham, or baked or sauteed chicken. It is rather hardy so it seems more like a winter dish, but if you eat "seasonally" it can be a summer meal, too.



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Savory Sour Cherry Sauce


Adapted from: Epicurious.com
Serves: 6-8

3 T balsamic vinegar
3 T sugar
3/4 c dry red wine
1/4 c minced shallot
1 3-in cinnamon stick
1 c chicken broth
1 pound sour cherries (about 3 cups), pitted (frozen sour cherries are fine, too)
1 T cornstarch dissolved in 1 T cold water
2 teas fresh lime juice, or to taste
salt and pepper
6-8 thick pork chops (country style ribs, pork roast or tenderloin would be good, too)

Boil the vinegar and sugar over moderate heat in a heavy saucepan until the mixture has thickened into a glaze. Add the shallot, wine, and cinnamon stick; bring to a boil and cook until the mixture is reduced to about 1/4 cup. Stir in the cherries and the broth and allow the sauce to simmer for 5 minutes. Stir the cornstarch mixture and add it to the sauce. Stir as the sauce thickens and simmer for 2 minutes. If you want it to be thinner, add water by tablespoon until you achieve desired thickness. Remove the cinnamon stick and add the lime juice and salt and pepper to taste. Cover the sauce and keep it warm.

Here's how to prepare pork chops to eat with cherry sauce:

Brine pork chops for an hour in a mixture of 1 1/2 quarts water and 3 T table salt. With paper towels, pat the chops dry and season with pepper. Grill the chops over heated coals or a preheated gas grill for about 6-8 minutes on each side or until they are cooked to your preference. Let sit for 5-10 minutes to allow juices to be reabsorbed. 

Serve the chops passing the cherry sauce at the table.