Thursday, October 30, 2014

Halloween Pumpkin Oreos

I will take any excuse to celebrate and make themed holiday food. Why not? Let's have a little fun in this life. I live with a holiday scrooge but I just refuse to accept that. I bought him a halloween tie covered in spider webs with 3D eyeballs in the middle. I love it. He's not sold. He thinks the dog should wear it and I just frown at him and charge ahead.

What he didn't protest was the bright orange cheddar pesto popcorn I made to honor halloween. He also ate about 75% of these pumpkin oreos. He also probably won't turn down a pumpkin beer tomorrow. So secretly I think he really likes halloween and can't wait to wear his new tie.

These oreos are really fun. They require some waiting time but not a lot of hands on time. The dough needs to be refrigerated for an hour and the filling takes 2-3 hours to set but if you are patient, it will pay off. The cookies are super chocolatey and crispy. Way better than their store bought counterparts. The filling is pretty much like stuffing a pumpkin pie between two cookies that taste like brownie batter. Who could protest that? I sure can't. Blake can't either. They may have the power to turn a holiday scrooge into an enthusiast. I will let you know the results. Until then, we all can agree that a little fun in the shape of an oreo is a pretty good thing.

Halloween Pumpkin Oreos 
Adapted from Half Baked Harvest, makes 20-25 oreos

Pumpkin filling
1 package gelatin (found in the baking aisle)
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 can sweetened condensed milk (14oz)
2 eggs, beaten
1 can pumpkin puree (15oz)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chocolate wafer
12 tablespoons butter
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

In a medium sauce pan whisk together gelatin, pumpkin pie spice, salt, condensed milk, and eggs. Place on a burner over low heat and stir constantly for 10-15 minutes until the mixture thickens. Stir in pumpkin and vanilla extract until combined. Remove from heat. Place filling in a sealed container and refrigerate for 2-3 hours until thick and spreadable like jam.

In a medium microwave safe bowl, place butter and chocolate chips. Microwave for 30 seconds, stir, and repeat until the butter and the chocolate have melted. Whisk in sugar and vanilla extract until combined. Whisk in the egg.

In another medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda. Add flour mixture to the melted chocolate and butter and beat with an electric mixer or stir with a wooden spoon until dough comes together.

On parchment or wax paper, roll dough into a rough log about 2" across. Roll up dough in wax paper. Refrigerate for an hour. You can rotate your dough periodically, if you want the perfect circle. They taste the same no matter what the shape though so this step is definitely not necessary

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Slice cookie dough into 1/4" thick slices, place on parchment (can be placed right next to each other), and bake for 11-14 minutes. Cookies should be fairly firm when you take them out of the oven. Let the cookies cool.

Once your filling has set, spread generously over your cookies and make your sandwich.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Chocolate Chip, Coconut, Candied Pecan Cookie

Sometimes a girl gets home from a particularly trying day of work, finds a pipe spraying water all over her laundry room, and some cracks in her ceiling that may be the foundation of her house settling. Darn and other choice words we will keep off this PG blog are uttered. On these kinds of days, when the odds seem stacked against us, we need cookies. Cookies are the simplest solution to many of life's large challenges. I really believe this.

Baking and running are my self prescriptions for quieting an ornery day. Most often the simple act of stirring or putting one foot in front of the other allows me to take a big breath and strategize solutions to the stressors in my life. Also, no matter how stressed warm cookies bring a little happiness to this world. As does wine. The two in tandem are pretty wonderful.

So if you need a cookie, I highly recommend these. It's a chocolate chip cookie on steroids. Each bite has a different textural intrigue. Yes, you heard that right, intrigue in the form of a cookie. How exciting. I used candy coated pecans, which was a big win but regular pecans will make you happy too. I'm a girl who doesn't even like nuts in her cookie but the coconut, pecan, chocolate combo is really spectacular. Refrigerate your dough for at least one hour. I know nobody in their right mind wants to make cookie dough and wait to bake it, but refrigerating the dough improves the flavor and makes your cookies stand up when baked. No flat cookies for us. We are all about dense, chewy cookies. The kind that make you think, "what a nice day."

Chocolate chip, coconut, and candied pecan cookies 
Makes between 14-18 cookies, adapted from Flour by Joanne Chang

11 tablespoons butter at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 all-purpose flour
2/3 cups rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup candied pecans (can be found in the bulk aisle of many stores) or salted pecans, chopped
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or using a handheld electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy (around 3-4 minutes). Beat in the egg, yolk, and vanilla extract until combined.

In another medium bowl, whisk together flour, oats, baking soda, and salt. Add the chocolate, pecans, and coconut and toss to combine. On low speed, add flour mixture to the wet ingredients until combined.

Put dough in a airtight container for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours. Trust me refrigerating your dough here will lead to cookie greatness.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment or grease the sheets with nonstick spray or butter. Place about 2 tablespoons of dough on the baking sheets. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until edges turn golden brown.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Grilled Skirt Steak with Sriracha Crema

Around Colorado we are enjoying a bonus summer. We have seen 70s and 80s all through the fall. I'm a pretty big fan of bonus summer. I have been running in shorts. We hiked up to 11,000 feet on Sunday on a snowless trail. It was beautiful up in the mountains. Until the weather turns, I intend to embrace bonus summer for all its worth. If you need me, I will be on the porch margarita in hand.

During bonus summer we will shun soup and food that requires a long time cooking in a hot oven. We may still drink apple cider because it's comfort in a cup. We may still cook with pumpkin and apples because they are in season and delicious. But what we most definitely will do is fire up the grill and enjoy some steak. 

In particular, we will enjoy this steak. This steak is slightly adapted from my favorite cookbook, Seriously Delish. It marinades in garlicky soy brown sugar sauce, which really compliments the sriracha crema. A little addition of feta and tomatoes adds brightness and acidity. Blake and I really loved this dish. We ate it alongside oven baked fries and some seared greens. Let's all pretend it's still summer and grill up something delicious. Winter will come soon enough. 

Grilled Skirt Steak with Sriracha Cream
Serves 4, adapted from Seriously Delish 

1 1/2 pounds skirt or flank steak
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 dry sherry
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Sriracha cream
1/2 cup plain full-fat or 2% greek yogurt
3 tablespoons  low-fat buttermilk
4 teaspoons sriracha 

For serving
Feta for sprinkling on top
1 pint grape tomatoes
4 scallions, sliced

In a 9x13" baking dish, whisk together soy sauce, sherry, olive oil, brown sugar, and garlic cloves. Add the steak to the dish coating both sides with the marinade. Refrigerate for 2 to 24 hours to marinade.

Preheat your grill to high heat. Remove steak from the marinade and sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides. Grill for 3 to 4 minutes per side.

Slice steak, drizzle with cream, feta, tomatoes, and scallions. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Maple Glazed Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Apples, Brussel Sprouts, and Turnips

I think this fall and winter I may roast everything. How easy and delicious. This dish required about 20 minutes of hands on time before throwing it in the oven and forgetting about it for 35 minutes. When the oven timer went off, it was like kitchen magic. An entire comforting meal came out of the oven and I didn't have to stir a thing. Not once.

This meal hits all the fall favorites: maple, apples, brussel sprouts, and turnips. Now if only I could have snuck some pumpkin in, we would really be in business. I know you are probably thinking turnips and brussel sprouts? How are those fall favorites? While I know you have been avoiding brussel sprouts like the plague for as long as you can remember, I beg you to reconsider. I for one think they are the tastiest and so versatile. And healthy! Unless you throw them in with bacon, blue cheese, and maple syrup, which is another preparation I highly recommend. 

As for the turnips, they roast well and absorb the flavor of everything around them, which in this case is apple and maple. If you find yourself really set against them, throw in potatoes. No one can protest a potato. Regardless of your turnip decision, you too will find yourself singing the praises of the roast. I do hereby declare this the fall of roasting everything!

Maple Glazed Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Apples, Brussel Sprouts, and Turnips
Serves 2 

1 pound of pork tenderloin 
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil 
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 apples, sliced
3/4 pound turnips, peeled chopped into roughly 1/2" cubes
1 pound brussel sprouts, halved 
1/2 cup white wine
2/3 cup apple cider

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 

Sprinkle both sides of the pork with salt and pepper. Heat oil on high heat in an oven safe skillet (cast iron is good). Brown pork on all sides in the skillet, 2-3 minutes a side. Turn off burner. 

Brush pork with the maple syrup in the skillet. Add the apples, turnips, brussel sprouts, wine, and cider to the skillet. Put the skillet in the oven and roast for 35-40 minutes. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Paprika and Lime Chicken Tacos with Goat Cheese Queso

Before we talk about these deliciously smoky chicken tacos with creamy goat cheese queso, I want to talk a little about my food philosophy. If I boil it down and this will come as a shock to you, my philosophy is this: I love food. Really, truly love food. Love growing it, cooking it, and eating it.

Once upon a time, I ate a lot of processed food. Junk. Then I started to read about food. Many of us have either read or heard of the books that altered my perspective on food namely, The Omnivores Dilemma and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Then I dove deeper and read everything about food I could get my hands on. Where my food came from, how it was grown, and cooking became enormously important to me. I shifted to eating and cooking with whole foods. I began to try to cook and bake everything. I made tortillas, cheese, loaf bread, muffins, pretzels, and crackers all from scratch. I began to develop a real understanding of what went into the food I ate.

I now make almost everything consumed in our house because it allows me to control the ingredients. I'm not saying this is for everyone. It is a ton of work but I do think as a culture overall we have developed an unhealthy relationship with food. We obsess about what we eat in all the wrong ways. Fad diets have taken over our lives. We shouldn't be limiting what we eat, rather spending more time in the kitchen cooking. Cooking allows you to deepen your relationship with food. Yes, that's right, your relationship with food. It's an important one as it sustains you everyday.

 How do the Italians and French manage to stay slim, while eating all the cheese and baguettes they want? Because they cook everything. They make the pasta and cheese. The food they consume is made with real whole food ingredients as opposed to the crap that goes into a box of cheerios. Wheat, dairy, and red meat are not evil but the way we consume them can be. So am I saying pull out the pasta maker and get rolling? Yes and no. Try it once. It's a pain and also makes the best pasta you will ever have. Once you understand that pasta is made from flour, eggs, salt, and olive oil, you can understand what to look for when you buy it in a package. What I am saying is cook often. Do as the French do and embrace cheese. Do as the Italians do and enjoy multi-course meals that last an evening. Embrace cooking and you will really be able to embrace and enjoy eating. And who doesn't love to eat?

Now onto these tacos. It's really all about the goat cheese queso here. Spicy jalapeno and garlic queso that comes together in a few minutes. The base of the goat cheese sauce is a roux, which is the fancy term for fat and flour combined. This adds richness and thickens your sauce. The chicken is rubbed with some smoky spices and roasted in a bed of limes and onions. Top it off with a little avocado and tomato and you are onto something.

Paprika and Lime Chicken Tacos with Goat Cheese Queso
Adapted from How Sweet It Is, serves 4

1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 sweet onion, sliced
2 limes, sliced into 8 wedges

Spicy goat cheese queso
1/2 tablespoon butter
1 jalapeno, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup milk
4 ounces goat cheese

To serve
Corn tortillas
2 tomatoes, chopped

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spray a baking dish with nonstick spray.

In a small bowl, mix together the paprika, salt, pepper, chili powder, and garlic powder. Rub both sides of the chicken breast with the rub.

Spread sliced onion over the bottom of the baking dish. Place the chicken breast on top. Place lime wedges around the chicken breasts. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 40-45 minutes until the chicken is cooked all the way through. Using two forks shred the chicken breasts.

About 10 minute before the chicken is done cooking, make your queso. Heat the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat and add the jalapeno and garlic. Cook for 1-2 minutes. Add your flour and stir constantly until it turns golden brown. Reduce heat to low and pour in milk. Stir until the mixture thickens,  2-3 minutes. Add the goat cheese and stir until it melts.

Pile chicken, avocado, tomatoes, and lettuce on your tortilla and drizzle the queso over the top.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Baked Spiced Pumpkin Donuts Holes

How have we made it so far into the month and I have hardly uttered the word pumpkin? I expect full mutiny on my hands. Don't you worry though. I have made pumpkin curry, pumpkin chocolate hazelnut muffins, pumpkin chocolate chip bread, and these delightful spiced pumpkin donuts.

Let's talk a minute about pumpkin. Who doesn't love pumpkins? We all love running out to the pumpkin patch to find the perfect one for our doorstep in October. Finding the perfect pumpkin used to be a painstaking process for me. I like funky pumpkins. Ones that come in unique shapes and have character. I love character. Now I grow cinderella pumpkins in my backyard, which takes care of all my character needs. Cinderella pumpkins come in bright redish orange hues and squat shapes. They are anything but boring and taste great too.

This brings me to my second point about pumpkin. What most of us love about pumpkin, me included, is that we have come to associate it with fall spices and sweets. A little secret between you and me...pumpkin does not come from the ground tasting like nutmeg, cinnamon, and brown sugar. In fact, it tastes a lot like squash because that's what it is. Don't let that stop you from throwing it in every baked good. Pumpkin adds great moisture to baked goods and it's well complimented by all those fall spices and sugars.

Pumpkin also makes great donuts. The term donut may be a stretch here as these are not fried but they sure taste a heck of lot like donuts. Donuts without all the fuss of frying. Quick and easy and oh so fluffy. After baking you dunk them in butter and roll them in cinnamon sugar. That's where all the happiness comes from, a nice donut butter and sugar bath.

Baked Spiced Pumpkin Donuts
Makes 12 donuts, slightly adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted or other neutral oil
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup milk

For dunking
4 tablespoons butter, melted
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a muffin tin with nonstick spray.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice in a medium bowl.

In another medium bowl, whisk together oil, brown sugar, egg, vanilla extract, pumpkin puree, and milk. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and use a spatula to stir until combined.

Divide the batter among muffin cups and bake for 14-18 minutes, until toothpick or knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

While the muffins bake, melt the butter for the coating. Mix together cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl.

Take each baked donut and coat completely in the melted butter shaking off the excess and then coat in cinnamon sugar.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

All Time Favorite Penne with Meat Sauce

Originally this recipe was my grandma's, then passed down to my mom and aunt, and then to me. We all make different variations of grandma's recipe. Without a doubt this is my favorite dish to eat in the whole world. Really. We all already know my love for pasta runs deep. Give me all the pasta! Put cheese on it. Smother it in alfredo. Above all else cover it in this deeply flavorful meat sauce.

Each generation has altered this recipe slightly to their preference. My alterations include red wine and a chunkier vegetable meat sauce. Red wine increases the richness of any good tomato sauce. The additions of carrot and celery provide excellent texture.

 Did I mention how much I love this pasta? If you were to invite me to a dinner at a nice restaurant, I may very well turn you down if this pasta was on the table. Don't take offense. This pasta just really satisfies my soul. The dish is nothing fancy but it is so comforting. Perfect for cooler weather with a rather large glass of red wine. 

All Time Favorite Penne with Meat Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil
16 ounces of penne, cooked
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2  medium carrots, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 onion, chopped
3/4 ground beef (buffalo is good here too)
1 cup red wine
1 large can diced tomatoes (28 ounces)
3 tablespoons tomato paste 
1 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoons pepper
1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes (we do 1 teaspoon but we like the heat)
1 teaspoon italian seasoning 
Parmesan for serving

Bring your pasta water to a boil. Salt it. Cook the according to the package directions.

Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add garlic, carrots, celery, and the onion. Cook stirring occasionally until the vegetables have softened, 6-7 minutes. Add your beef and saute until cooked through stirring occasionally, 5-7 minutes. 

Pour in wine and let simmer until reduced by half. Once the wine has reduced, add in your diced tomatoes and tomato paste. Add your salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and italian seasoning. Stir to combine. At this point turn heat to low and let simmer for at least 20 minutes. You can simmer it for up to an hour. A longer simmer improves the flavor even more. 

Serve over the penne with a healthy pinch of parmesan.