Saturday, January 28, 2012

Mint Brownies

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Mint is one of those flavors that goes perfect with chocolate. It. Just. Does. I made these Mint Brownies for a friend who wanted to order treats for my 9-year-old's fundraiser for a local animal rescue (The Utah Animal Adoption Center), but didn't want the cupcakes or jumbo cookies we were selling. Guess she thought she could sweet-talk me into something special. She was right, or course, since she's one of my besties ;)

She ordered 12 brownies, so I adjusted my Fudgy Brownie recipe to work in a 9x13 pan and loaded them up with mint frosting. She was a very happy customer.

I used gel food coloring for the frosting; don't use liquid food coloring if you can help it, because it can change the consistency of the frosting. If you can't find gel (though more and more cake aisles are now stocking it) use paste food coloring. One drop of the gel made the frosting a gorgeous light green.

All packed up and ready to be delivered.
Mint Brownies
printable recipe

For the brownies:
1/2 cup butter, cut into 4 pieces
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 eggs
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1. Heat your oven to 325. Line a 9x13-inch baking pan with parchment paper so that two sides extend up and over the edge. Spray the 2 exposed sides with non-stick spray.

2. Combine the baking powder, salt, cocoa, and flour in a medium bowl; stir to combine well and set aside.

3. Combine the butter and chocolate chips in a medium microwave-safe bowl (I used glass). Heat on high for 1 minute and stir. Heat for an additional 30 seconds if necessary, and stir until melted. Add the sugar and mix well. Add the vanilla and eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

4. Add the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture and stir until completely combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for 26-28 minutes or until the top is flat and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out almost clean (I baked mine for 26 minutes). Cool completely before frosting.

5. Spread the mint frosting evenly over the brownies. Using the parchment paper, lift the brownie slab out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Use a plastic knife (I know, weird. You can read about the plastic knife HERE.) or other sharp knife of your choice to cut the brownies into bars or squares.

For the mint frosting:
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons mint or peppermint extract
1 pound powdered sugar, sifted if from a box
3 tablespoons cream or milk, divided
leaf green gel food coloring

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter on medium for 30 seconds. Add the vanilla and mint extracts and mix well. Add the powdered sugar and mix on low until the sugar is mixed in (it will look dry and crumbly). Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of the cream and mix well on medium. Scrape the sides of the bowl. Add the remaining tablespoon of cream, 1 teaspoon at a time, until the frosting is creamy and spreadable. Add 1 drop of the food coloring and mix well.

Friday, January 27, 2012

This week's 5 Recipes I would love to make

I have finally had to admit to myself that I will never--even if I cooked something new every day for the next 10 years--be able to possibly try all the recipes I have bookmarked. It was a rather sad moment. So I've decided, in order to at least be able share the amazing recipes I find around the internet with you, each Friday (and maybe more often) I'm going to post links to 5 recipes I would love to make. If you happen to make something I mention, I would love to hear about it so I can live vicariously through you.

Here are today's 5 Recipes I would love to make:

Apple Sharlotka from Ciao Chow Linda

Doesn't this look so light and divine? We love apple desserts at my house and I really hope this is something I can make sometimes soon. My husband's birthday is coming up.....

Spumoni Cookies from Betty Crocker

Growing up we went to The Old Spaghetti Factory often, and that is where I first had Spumoni ice cream. I was absolutely in love with the flavors, and thought people in my family who didn't like it were crazy! When I saw these cookies on Pinterest I literally (actually) froze in my chair. "Whoa...I. Want. Those. Cookes!" Pistachio, cherry, and chocolate. I don't see how it could go wrong.

Grilled Halibut with Chermoula from The Crabby Cook

I've had this one bookmarked forever. I love fish and I think the chermoula sounds so good and flavorful! Mmmm!

Kevin at Closet Cooking really makes so awesome food. I've made several of his recipes and have many others bookmarked. He uses quinoa often and this salad is something that really uses the protein-packed grain well.

Butternut Squash Ziti by Macheesmo

I love winter squash. It is delicious, super good for you, and you really can do almost anything with it. This recipe caught my eye because I'd never thought to put it with pasta. And the picture is gorgeous--look at that color!

Next week I'll post 5 more recipes I would love to make! 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Pressure-Cooker Shredded Beef

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I am beginning to learn that a pressure cooker is a beautiful thing. Up until this shredded beef, I'd only used my pressure cooker for making dry beans. Then yesterday I remembered something a friend had posted on Facebook: that she loved her pressure cooker because she could make a frozen roast in 1 1/2 hours. The day was going to be a little crazy, and I didn't want to eat out (again), so I decided to try her frozen roast idea. Believe me, I had some serious reservations. Could it possibly work? And be tasty? If not, there was always cereal. But if so....oh the possibilities!

Well, it did work. The beef was so good it almost felt wrong because it took zero effort. We had it over mashed potatoes, but I'm positive it would be equally as delicious on a bun with a nice slaw on the side. 

Note: My friend swore by the 1 1/2 hours, but I cooked mine for 3 hours. Just to make sure. And that's how long it took me to pick up my daughter from school, take her to the orthodontist, dash into the grocery store, and get home. (And before anyone freaks out, No, I didn't leave the house with my stove on and unattended; my teenager was home, being very attentive. I'm sure. ;)

Pressure-Cooker Shredded Beef
printable recipe

1 2-2 1/2 pound beef roast (mine was a rump roast, and it was frozen)
1 8-oz can tomato sauce
1 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
several shakes liquid smoke
1 1/2 teaspoons dried rosemary, crushed
several grinds fresh black pepper
thinly sliced green onion, if desired
prepared mashed potatoes

1. Combine all ingredients in a pressure cooker. Bring up to pressure following the manufacturers directions for your pressure cooker, reduce the heat to low or medium-low (just enough to maintain the pressure) and cook for 3 hours. Remove from the heat and allow the pressure to come down on it's own.

2. Remove the roast to a rectangular baking dish (so none of the delicious juices run away) and shred, discarding and undesirable bits. Pour the saucy stuff from the pressure cooker over the shredded beef and stir/toss to coat evenly (my roast was pretty well trimmed with not much fat, so I didn't need to remove any fat from the sauce.)

3. Serve over mashed potatoes and top with green onion.

Makes about 6 servings

Monday, January 23, 2012

How to rescue crystalized honey

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Has this happened to you? You want to make something wonderful and delicious with some equally wonderful and delicious honey, only to pull it from your pantry to find it looks like this:

Yikes! Crystalization-city! Honey never goes bad, but it can form crystals, and once one crystal forms a chain-reaction begins that eventually turns it all into an unusable mess. What to do? Throw it away? That is a sad thought. Happily there is a way to rescue honey that's become a semi-solid mass of yuck.

Fill a pot large enough to contain most of the jug or container (this was actually the first time I had to rescue a jug this full--my sister found it in the back of her pantry. Heehee.). Turn the burner onto medium-low and let the water gently heat the honey to melt it. Occasionally take the container out of the pot and shake it. (Please be careful, the honey inside will be hot, as will the jug itself. And hopefully it goes without saying that you need to leave the lid on, but just in case: Please leave the lid on.)

Shaking the container does a few things: 1. shaking breaks up the bigger chunks of crystalized honey to help speed up the melting process. 2. shaking helps you gauge the progress. 3. (maybe most important) shaking coats the entire inside of the container with the melted honey, so any crystals that are lurking up at the top won't be able to sabotage your efforts by starting the chair reaction over again once back in your pantry.

How long this process takes depends on how much honey you're rescuing. This particular jug took several hours, but my patience was rewarded with a jug of honey that was perfectly crystal-free and ready to use.

A couple notes: Wait for the honey to cool before unscrewing the lid. Pressure builds in the container as the honey heats up, and if you take the lid off right away--and you're not ready for it--the lid will pop off and will maybe hit you in the face. Which may or may not have happened to me. Once. Of course, if you want to show your kids something cool, don't wait for the honey to cool, unscrew the lid, and watch it fly!

Also, I know that another way to melt honey that's crystalized is to put it in the microwave for a few seconds at a time. I don't like this quick-and-dirty method (unless you are super desperate and need the honey right this minute) because microwaves heat unevenly, it's hard on the plastic container, especially the corners, you have to stand there and babysit it, and it's harder to make sure you're getting every crystal. And, well, my jugs are usually too big to fit standing up in the microwave.


Friday, January 20, 2012

Cranberry-Almond Granola Bars

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Food inspiration can come from anywhere. In the case of these Fruit and Nut Granola Bars, I was inspired by 5 Second Rule's post about her Larabar copycats, her Goji Nibby Nuggets. Chances are you've already heard of and read the work of the witty and wonderful Cheryl Sternman, but in case you haven't, you are missing out big time, and should go to her blog right away. After you finish this post.

I like to make food from scratch whenever possible, and have wanted to try granola bars for a long time. After reading about 5 Second Rule's Goji Nibby Nuggets, I took the plunge and went after the Clif bars my husband used to buy. To get a starting point, first thing I did was look at the ingredient list, then after a few fails I eventually had a great recipe. These bars are packed with all kinds of goodness, and make a perfect grab-and-go breakfast or snack that keeps you satisfied for a surprisingly long time. We go through them pretty fast so I keep them in my pantry, but for longer storage you can keep them in the fridge or freezer (just don't try to eat them straight from the fridge, it's like trying to bite into a rock).

Something different about these granola bars is they are dairy free (which, now that I think about it, might also make them vegan). Many (many) commercial granola bars have whey in them for added protein. Extra protein is great, but if you need a dairy-free diet, you are left with few options in the granola bar aisle. I didn't realize I had created a dairy-free granola bar (or the significance of this) until I was talking about them with a very good friend who has a daughter on a dairy-free diet. She couldn't wait to make them for her daughter, and I was super excited when her daughter gave them a big thumbs-up. Awesome!

The fruit, seeds, and nuts for this recipe come from a great trail mix I get at my local grocery store. It's a Kroger brand trail mix called Cranberry Delight, a mix of dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, almonds, golden raisins, and pepitas. If you can't find a similar mix or don't like what's in this one, you can use any trail mix you want, the bars will still be awesome.

One of my goals with these granola bars was to not use corn syrup as a sweetener. My first couple of batches I used all honey but the finished bars tasted too much of honey. A friend suggested I try brown rice syrup. I'd never heard of brown rice syrup and when I looked it up, sure enough, it's often used to sweeten organic and higher-end granola bars. It was a little tricky to find in my area, but I finally found it at a grocery store called Harmon's. If your grocery store has an organic section, you'll probably find it there (Or you can order it from Amazon). As far as cost goes, at about $5 a jar, it is more expensive than corn syrup, but since I can get 5 batches out of a jar, it's worth it to me to not be using corn syrup.

Cranberry-Almond Granola Bars

2 cups fruit and nut trail mix of your choice
1 cup crispy rice cereal
3 cups old fashioned oats
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup brown rice syrup
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
2 teaspoons vanilla

1. Heat your oven to 325. Line a 9x13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, having two sides extend up and over the edges of the pan. I've found that using clothes pins to hold the parchment paper to the pan keeps it from slipping all over when you're spreading the granola bar mixture around. 

2. Combine the trail mix, crispy rice cereal, and oats in a medium bowl.

3. In a 2-cup glass measuring cup, combine the honey, brown rice syrup, and peanut butter. Heat it in the microwave for 1 minute on high and stir until smooth. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Add the honey mixture to the dry ingredients and mix until everything is evenly coated (be patient, this can take a fair amount of stirring).

 4. Transfer the granola bar mixture to the prepared pan and spread it evenly. Tear a sheet of plastic wrap, place it directly on the mixture, and press down with only hand pressure (hand pressure = just the pressure you can get with your hands, not leaning in with your body; the plastic wrap keeps it from sticking to your hands). 

5. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the edges just start to brown. Cool completely before cutting into bars. To cut, use the parchment paper to lift the slab out of the pan, place on a cutting board, and cut using a sharp knife. They will be very soft, even after they cool. They will firm up (but won't get crunchy) after they cure for several hours, so resist any urge to press down on them again.

Makes 16 bars. Weight Watchers PointPlus: 5 points

Thursday, January 19, 2012

5-Minute Salsa

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I watched my husband pull tortillas, cheddar cheese, and black beans from the fridge. Then he started searching for something else. "We're out of salsa," I told him. Man, was he disappointed. I wasn't feeling so hot, but he was looking pretty sad. "I could make some real quick," I offered (I just happened to have cilantro and jalapenos in the fridge). He tried to not look too hopeful, "You could?" He knew I wasn't feeling great. "Sure, 'cause I'm so awesome." He wasn't going to argue, and while he made his quesadilla I made this salsa. I'm not kidding, it's that fast to put together. The only caveat is you need a food processor.

I came up with this recipe one desperate Sunday afternoon years ago when we were out of salsa and wouldn't survive the rest of the day without it. It uses canned, diced tomatoes which makes it really easy to pull together with a few other ingredients. The great thing about this salsa (besides that it uses canned tomatoes so you can make it all year long) is that you can vary the ingredient amounts to your tastes: if you like less onion, don't use the whole onion, if you like it more spicy, use 2 (or more) jalapenos, ditto for the cilantro--you get the idea.

5-minute Salsa
printable recipe

2 15-oz cans diced tomatoes, drained well, juice from one can reserved
1 small onion, cut into 1/2-in pieces
1-2 jalapenos, seeds and ribs removed, cut into 1/2-in pieces
1/3 cup lightly packed cilantro leaves and tender stems, very roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1-2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

1. Put the tomatoes, onion, and jalapeno in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse 2-3 times (3 seconds each pulse), scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the cilantro and pulse 1-2 more times, or until the salsa is the consistency you want. Transfer the salsa to a bowl and stir in the salt and lime juice.

2. Store covered in the fridge for up to 4 days (though it never lasts that long at my house).

Makes about 2 1/2 cups salsa.

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