Thursday, June 28, 2012

Thirsty Thursday: Strawberry Lemonade

 I think one of the BEST parts about living in Southern California is the strawberry season.  You can start getting (semi) local strawberries by the end of January, and you can milk that season through when everyone else in the country eats them.

It seems as though the local stands sell them for about 8 straight months.

Consequently, I can't always make the same strawberry shortcakes, strawberry jams, and strawberries with cream every day.  Even though I would love to eat strawberries every day of my life, my husband doesn't quite align with my sentiment.

So?  I found a recipe for a lemonade concentrate.  So "easy," and simple, plus you don't have to worry about any added preservatives or gross-ness.

6 cups of strawberry puree (about 2-3lbs whole fruit)
4 cups of fresh lemon juice (about 3-4lbs whole fruit)
1/4 cup of sugar - 6 cups of sugar depending on the sweetness.  Original recipe called for 6, I used 1/4 cup.  You're call, obviously.
5+ freezable containers.
Liquid to un-concentrate later (Sprite, Ginger Ale, Water, Seltzer Water, or whatever you'd like).

1. Stem and hull strawberries.  Throw into your food processor and blend until smooth.
2. Juice a lot of lemons.  Add to strawberry puree.
3. Add sugar to taste.
4.  Place into freezable containers.  After the concentrate freezes, you can pop the cubes out and place them in a zip-lock bag.
5. When you're ready to enjoy the beverage, thaw your concentrate and use an equal proportion (or more) of the liquid (I used about 3/4 C Diet Sprite to 1/2 C concentrate, and loved it).

* You can also process the concentrate through a water boil method for canning, but I didn't want to waste the jars on something so easily frozen.
** These would also make a good smoothie base.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Potato Chip Cookies

A's favorite method to crush the chips 
I know I've mentioned the potato chip cookies before.  However, some people have asked me for the recipe, and I realized I never really wrote about them.

They're my favorite recipe from my grandma, and I will always remember stealing them from her re-purposed Danish Cookie tin every time she made them.  I'm sure she knew it was me, but it was nice of her to let me get away with it just the same!
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus 1/2 cup more for coating (I have also used the Splenda blend)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup potato chips, crushed
1/4 cup pecans, chopped (optional)
For my assistant A's birthday, I found a great sifter on Amazon.
She fell in love almost immediately.

We're weird that way...

1. Heat oven to 375°F. 
2. Cream the butter and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer on high speed. 
3. Lower to medium speed and add the vanilla. Add the flour and cinnamon to the butter mixture. Beat on low speed until incorporated. Fold in the potato chips and pecans.
4. Form into approximately 1 1/2-inch balls. 
5. Dredge in the remaining sugar.
6. Place on parchment or foil-lined baking sheets,
1-2 inches apart.
7. Bake until golden brown around the edges, about 11 to 13 minutes. 
8. Let cool on sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks 
These cookies have a great shelf life, and the also last well in the freezer.

As far as taste goes, they're fairly comparable to Sandies.

I always go for a kettle crisp chip or a sturdier chip, that way they're more likely to maintain their crispness throughout the baking process.

Definitely one of my favorite (non-chocolate) cookies, and people always do a double take when you call them potato chip cookies.  They really don't believe that they're in there.  They're more likely to call them a toffee cookie than admit there might be a potato chip cookie.

I guess we're all weird that way.  :)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

PB Pretzels Dipped in Chocolate

Have you ever just found a recipe and knew (from the very instant you spotted it) that you need it?


That's how I felt about this one.

It has all the ingredients to fulfill my every snacking desire, and the recipe is so simple that you could do it every day.

But we won't.  We're stronger than that, right?

Well, okay, maybe not, but this is definitely a great treat to try out.  It makes a lot (50?  100??  Depends on how big you want them to be), and as long as there are no peanut allergies, everyone really loves them.

I made them as an airplane snack for my husband, and left a ton in the work fridge for my assistants.  They all ferreted one out for themselves and then asked permission to try one.
Every single one looked guilty when I immediately asked them how the first one tasted.  No one is that slick, but these are that good.

1 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons softened butter
3/4 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
Pretzels (any shape, just relatively small) or Wheat Thins (more crunch, less salt)
1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Cream the butters.  Add the sugars.  Blend well.
2. Make a small ball of the PB mixture, place on one pretzel/WT.  Sandwich it with another pretzel/WT.
(I actually just scooped the mix onto one pretzel and adjusted it as necessary while sandwiching them together.  Whatever works).
3. Melt one bag of chocolate chips in the microwave (about 2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds).
4. Dip PB sandwiches into the chocolate and set on parchment paper to solidify.  I suggest placing a full tray into the freezer for 5 minutes to get to snacking sooner.
5. These keep well in the fridge, but I also sent some in a bag on a plane and they made it out just fine!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Cheesecake in a Jar!

There have been a ton of posts on Pinterest lately that have included cooking in Mason jars.  Obviously, I loved creating a cocktail in one, why not cook??

I'm not a huge cheesecake person, but I love chocolate and peanut butter, so when I found this recipe for a peanut butter cheesecake on an Oreo crust with a Nutella topping, I was sold!

So, first of all, start with 12 (4oz) mason jars.  (And, yes, they are oven safe.  My mother pestered me, worried, several times over about this.)
Oreo Crust Ingredients: 
16 Oreo Cookies, ground in a food processor
3 Tblsp Butter, melted
Pam Baking Spray (spray all jars with it)

Peanut Butter Cheesecake Ingredients:
12 oz Cream Cheese, at room temperature
7.5 oz container Creme Fraiche (or sour cream)
3/4 Cup Sugar
2 Eggs
1/4 Cup Heavy Whipping Cream
1/3 Cup Peanut Butter
1 tsp Vanilla Extract

Nutella Topping:
1/2 Cup Nutella
1/4 Cup Heavy Whipping Cream   
Crust Directions:
1. Decimate the Oreos in a food processor, and place in a separate bowl.
2. Melt butter and then drizzle over the Oreo crumbs.
3. Mix well.
4. Divide the Oreos among your Pam-ed jars, then press the crumbs down firmly.
5. Place the jars in a lipped pan, and then place them in the fridge to chill out (literally) while you make the cheesecake.

*For those gluten free-ers, just omit the crust.  Still amazing!
 Cheesecake Directions:
1. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
2. Using your mixer, blend the cream cheese, creme fraiche/sour cream, and sugar until smooth.
3. Add the vanilla, cream, and peanut butter, and beat until smooth.
4. Beat in the eggs one at a time until just blended.
5. Add your cheesecake filling to your prepared crusts.  I filled mine up to the threads (where the lid screws on).
6. Fill the pan that your jars are sitting in with water.  The jars should have between 1/4" and 1/2" of water surrounding them (basically enough to cover where the crust is).
7. Bake your cheesecakes for about 30 minutes.
8. Remove from the oven and onto a cooling rack or safe surface to help them cool.
9. Once the jars have completely cooled, you can put the lids on and transfer them to your fridge.

From there, they can sit for a night or more.  There's something about time in the fridge that generally helps cheesecakes
The cheesecakes rose nicely in the oven, but they did settle back down as they cooled, leaving enough space for the topping.

I made my cheesecakes on a Friday morning and didn't take them out of the fridge until Sunday morning.  They were perfect.

When you're ready, put the Nutella (1/2C) and heavy whipping cream (1/4) in a microwave safe bowl/measuring cup.  Zap it for a minute or two, stopping twice to stir it.
Once the Nutella and cream have combined for a tasty topping, add it to your cheesecakes, filling the jar the rest of the way.  Then, return to the fridge to set until you're ready to serve up these delicious bad boys.

I left a slight gap at the top so I could place a cupcake cover over the top as a lid before closing the ring around the jar.

These are the perfect size for a picnic, or an individual portion for yourself for days to come!

Literally.  I ate one a day for about 5 days.  AMAZING.
Post-lunch snack at my desk!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Avocado Chicken Puffs

 Another accidental dinner?  Sure thing!  Wasn't sure that there was another kind...

It started off with this inspiration for puff pastries.

I really hate working with puff pastries, and I'm not a fan of how they taste, so I took the same general principal and added it to some Pillsbury Rustic French Loaf.
1 roll of french bread dough
2 pre-cooked chicken breasts
avocado or guacamole
chopped bell peppers
Mexican cheese shreds (or your own fav flavor)

1. Preheat oven to temperature on bread package (350?), and grease a cookie sheet.
2. Cut the dough into 6 even pieces.
3. Take one piece of dough and form it into a bowl.

4. Spread avocado/guac on the bottom of your bread bowl.
 5. Add chicken and desired toppings.  For me, this was chopped bell peppers and then salsa.
6. Repeat this process for all bread bowls, and then place each bowl on your prepared cookie sheet.
7. Top with shredded cheese
8. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until your bread is puffed and lightly brown.
9. Gently remove with a spatula from pan and onto your place.  Enjoy!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

S'mores Rice Krispies Treats!

 I don't know what's been up with me lately.  I think it's because summer is FINALLY here.  However, I have been craving s'mores.

Straight off the campfire s'mores.  The problem is that I'm not a fan of camping alone, and my hubs has been traveling a lot for work.  S'mores are few and far between.  So my Pinterest boards have been swelling with alternative recipes for s'mores.  Same great ingredients, just in slightly different formats.
 One recipe that I really wanted to try was from Glorious Treats.  It looked amazing, and I couldn't wait to give it a go.

S'mores Rice Krispies Treats
(bottom layer)
3 Tablespoons butter
4 cups mini marshmallows (or about 40 regular/large marshmallows - 1 Jef Puffed bag)
5 cups Rice Krispies cereal
1 cup Golden Grahams cereal
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
(top layers)
12 oz semi-sweet chocolate
10 full sized graham crackers, broken in half (slightly more or less, depending on the pan you use)
40 large marshmallows (1 more bag)
Lightly cover a  9"x13" pan with cooking spray.
In a large microwave safe bowl, place 3 tablespoons of butter (cut into a few pieces), and 1 bag of marshmallows. Microwave about 3 minutes (stirring after 2 minutes) watch the microwave, cooking times may vary. Cook in microwave until butter and marshmallows are melted. Stir gently.
Add rice krispies and golden grahams cereal and stir to combine. (try using a plastic or silicone spatula sprayed with a bit of cooking spray).
Add mini chocolate chips, stir quickly, and immediately pour mixture into prepared 9"x13" pan. Press into pan (with spatula).

Next, melt 12 oz of chocolate chips in the microwave, stirring every 20 seconds until fully melted.  Then, pour the chocolate on top of your rice krispies layer.  Taking a spatula, spread the chocolate out like frosting in an even layer, covering the entire bottom layer of krispies.  This chocolate layer will help hold the graham crackers in place, so work quickly to get into the next step.
While the chocolate is still warm, lay graham cracker squares on top, leaving a tiny bit of space between each cracker.  This space will help you as guidelines as to where to cut, so it only needs to be a knife blade's width.

Now, to help the warm chocolate to cool, helping to set the graham crackers into place, place the entire pan into the refrigerator.  Leave the pan there at least 10 minutes.

For the next step, you'll need a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper, or wax paper (whatever you have on hand).

While killing time, you can also cut your second bag of marshmallows in half.  You'll need four per graham cracker, so make sure to plan accordingly.

When the krispies have cooled, remove them from the fridge and cut between the graham crackers with a sharp knife.  Place the newly cut treats onto your prepared cookie sheet.

Now you'll place your cut marshmallows sticky (or cut) side down onto each graham cracker.

 Place the marshmallows close together, but if you buy the "regular" size of marshmallows, you won't have much of a choice.  They'll pretty much fill the entire graham cracker.

Next you have a choice: if you have a kitchen torch, you can use that to lightly crisp your marshmallows. I wanted more of an "even" crisp, and wasn't so patient, so I kicked my oven broiler on high and placed the pan of treats in there.
 It doesn't take long for your marshmallows to brown.  If you'd like them lighter, take them out sooner, or darker - leave them in longer.  It's your call.  I left them in for about five minutes, but I put the rack halfway down the oven so I could closely monitor them and get them at just a lightly golden color.

Your call, and your timing.

Finally, I didn't think they were really finished, so I melted another 2/3 cup of chocolate chips (more or less, your preference) to drizzle on top.

Fresh out of the oven, and oh so gooey!!

From there, I also cut the treats into fours, so each treat had one marshmallow.  I found them extremely rich, and more fun to pop in a smaller size, but it's your call.  Hopefully this will help your hankering for some s'mores.  I know it certainly helped me!  You can just put these in a zip lock bag, or other air tight container, and they'll still be good for at least two days.  If they had lasted longer, I would let you know, but I'm sure they'd be good for at least three or four days (if they last that long!!).

Monday, June 11, 2012

S'mores Cookie Bars

"More s'mores!"  You seemingly exclaim at me as I sit to write this post.

"Of course," I reply, calmly.  "It's summer, is it not?!"

There really is an entire conversation that I'm participating in that goes along these lines.

Unfortunately, I'm the only one talking.

On both sides of the conversation.

sometimes you run out of chocolate bars and make due with the chips from the cupboard...

 I can't help it.  I just love s'mores.  I have about 5 more recipes that are vaguely s'morish that I want to still try.  Maybe I'll space them out.  Maybe tomorrow I'll make another one.  There's no way to know for sure what I'm capable of.

Here's my original recipe from Crepes of Wrath, who, of course gets bonus credits for the reference.

The nice thing about this recipe is that there's really not much to it, other than the assembly.

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (about 8 graham crackers - I just crushed mine in a zip lock bag)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 king-sized milk chocolate bars +
2 (7 oz) jars of marshmallow Fluff (not melted marshmallows because they harden when cooled)
1. Preheat your oven to 350, and grease your container.  I used a disposable half pan (11.75"x9.5").

2. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light. Beat in egg and vanilla.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder and salt. Add to butter mixture and mix at a low speed until combined. Divide dough in half and press half of dough into an even layer on the bottom of the prepared pan. (Don’t worry if it seems thin; the baking powder will allow it to rise.)

4. Place chocolate bars in a single layer over dough, then spread the marshmallow Fluff over the chocolate bars. Finally, top the Fluff with the remaining dough by forming the dough into sheets with the palm of your hands and laying it down. When you get tired of just palming the dough into flat sheets, just spread the rest of the dough sprinkles over your gaps and press it down.  It doesn't have to be perfect, it'll rise and do it's own thing once you start baking it.

5. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until lightly browned.  Let it cool before cutting.  Or don't, it'll just be crumbly/flaky if it's still warm.
so melt in your mouth, buttery, and gooey...AMAZING!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Thirsty Thursday: Strawberry Mint Julep

 Today's drink actually takes some planning.

I apologize for that, but I do promise that your outcome will be amazing.  I picked up the original recipe from Cookie and Kate, but I thought it was a little vague.

As I made it, it turns out that mine will be a bit vague as well.

I made 8 (16oz) drinks, plus 2 non-alcoholic drinks.  My measurements will reflect as such.
 First off, the strawberry infused bourbon.

I had Jack Daniels in the house, so it was whiskey instead.

Rough estimate of ingredient ratio:
1 cup of whiskey
1/2 pound of strawberries

I started with about 2 cups (JD) and around 1 pound of strawberries.  I basically quartered my strawberries (cut off the stems), and kept throwing them into the bottle until the liquor was completely filled with strawberries.

From there, you put the bottle in a dark space (I chose my pantry) for 3-7 days.  Every day, give the bottle a bottom over top rotation to readjust the strawberries and mix up the liquor.  You don't have to shake it, just one spin will help the infusion process.

Mint Julep Ingredients for one 16oz jar:
7 mint leaves
1-2 tables spoons of honey
1/4 c of strawberry infused whiskey/bourbon (more if you don't want to add Sprite)
ice (to fill the entire glass)
about 1/2 c of Sprite (or not if you're more of a straight up person)

* For my jars, I used both wide mouth and regular jars.  I just used everything I had in stock.
 Directions (*skip to the very bottom for a non-alcoholic idea):
1. Add mint leaves to your glasses.  For my glasses, I had a variety of mint leaf sizes, so I added the biggest leaves first, then the mediums, then the small leaves last.  Not because I'm weird, but I wanted to make sure that the quality and quantity of the mint was the same across all the glasses.
2. Cover mint with honey.  I just poured it in, but I basically aimed to cover the entire bottom of the jar and all the leaves with honey.
3. Muddle the mint in the honey.  If you have fancy contraptions, go ahead and use them.  I had a hand held mixer's beater.  I just used that, muddling the mint until it was slightly broken down in the honey.
4. Strain the strawberries from the liquor.  I used a cheese cloth, but you can use any strainer that will keep out the strawberry particles.
5. Measure out the appropriate level of liquor and add to your glasses.
6. Stir the liquor, mint, and honey together.  This will sweeten the beverage and also insure you don't have a huge clump of honey at the bottom of your glass.
7. Now, fill up your glass with ice.  I wanted a nice cold beverage, so I filled it as high as possible.  Use your own discretion.
8. Top off glass with Sprite, and give it a final stir.

Since I was using mason jars, I then covered the glass with a cupcake liner and screwed on the lid.  This keeps the bugs out, and also will hold your straw in place. I pre-poke a little hole in the cupcake liner with a pen tip (skewer, ice pick, whatever is handy) and then place the straw in.

To re-mix the drink, my brother in law recommends blowing a light bubble in through your straw.  That will help in the process.

Finally, clink in cheers and good health, and enjoy!
Non-alcoholic Idea:
For the tween at the party, I made this version of the drink:
1. Follow steps 1-3 above, muddling the mint in the honey.
2. Quarter (or more) 4 fresh strawberries, and add them to the glass.
3. Mix together the honey, mint, and strawberries.
4. Fill up glass with ice.
5. Top with Sprite, cover and enjoy.

While this is not nearly as fun as the alcoholic version (in my opinion), it is still a fun mocktail that anyone can enjoy.  I though it might turn out too sweet, but I had one after the rest had run out and I was excited about how good it was.