Sunday, August 31, 2008

Honolulu Bob Burgers

I received a little free product-goodie in the mail recently from a company in Illinois- Country Bob's.

Here's a little snippet from their company's site:

How does anything really good get its start? Where do great products come from? Usually they are the result of much time being exerted and a tremendous amount of love being invested. At that point you can say, "That's mine! I made that." That's the way Country Bob Edson created his All Purpose Sauce.

In 1968 Country Bob perfected the sauce of his dreams. After years of giving the sauce to friends and family he began to sell it in 1977. The reaction was overwhelming just as it is today. Almost everyone who tries Country Bob's All Purpose Sauce becomes a lifelong user. And why not, it is the perfect complement to practically any meal set on your table.

I don't usually buy these sorts of condiments/marinades, but I'm a sucker for a good story about a homegrown business, so I decided to give it a shot. I had been wanting to try some slow-roasted ribs, but a quick-taste of the sauce told me that it might be a tad too sweet to use entirely as the main flavor for ribs. So I chose Hawaaian Bob Burgers instead for my test run.

The pineapple was the draw for me. There isn't anything better than fresh & juicy pineapple in the summertime. I had never had it on a burger before, so here was the chance...

I carved up zillions of pineapples while working catering in college...

I needed these to be in "rings" for my burgers. Lacking a "pineapple corer," I carved out the core with a long, skinny sharp knife.

Just like the stuff you find in the can, eh?

These were simple, simple burgers to make. Nothing special was done to the beef patties... just a little added salt and pepper. After the first flip, the patties were topped with a little bit of Bob's Sauce and then a slice of that fresh pineapple. Cheddar was melted on top and they were good to go.

I have to say that we were a bit apprehensive about melting cheddar cheese on top of pineapple. No worries... it was a great combo.

I drizzled a bunch more of Bob's Sauce on mine. The verdict: we were really impressed with the flavor... especially with such a simplistic recipe. The sauce added a welcome flavor to the burger. Kind of like a sweet worcestershire sauce. No additional condiments were needed. I have additional sauce to use up, so I'll be checking out their site to see how else it might be utilized... I'm thinkin' a Baked Beans recipe might be good with this stuff because of its sweet nature.

Happy Labor Day weekend... I hope you're all grilling up some great recipes. If you don't have any Country Bob's Sauce lying around, these burgers would be equally good with bbq sauce or perhaps Heinz 57.

I have lots of great grilling recipes HERE.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Snickerdoodle Ice Cream

There's just no fighting those superhero-strength new germs at the beginning of a school year. 4 days into the start of school, and my little one has already come down with strep throat. The doctor sent us home with medicine and ordered two days at home resting, as well as cold, soothing things to eat. While waiting for the prescription to be filled, my little one picked out blue jello, chocolate pudding and Shrek Push-Pops. He wanted the forever evil and addicting PopTarts, but I explained that PopTarts didn't exactly fall into the "cold and soothing" category. Ice cream, however, did fall into that Dr.-Prescribed category, and so I set out to prepare some of the homemade stuff for my sick little guy. (As if that other junk I bought him wasn't enough, right?)

Luckily I had stored my ice cream maker tub in the freezer, so it was ready to go. I frantically browsed recipes that weren't custard-based as I didn't want my little darling to have to wait. He needed a healing dose of homemade ice cream, and he needed it today. Darn those lower-end ice cream makers... they work great but you do have to plan ahead to chill the ingredients and freeze the bowl!

Snickerdoodle Ice Cream was my choice. I was able to throw together a few ingredients that are already chilled, and 30 short minutes later we were in super rich and excessively indulgent Ice Cream Heaven.

Did it really taste like Snickerdoodles? Not really. But it did have similar flavors... a cinnamony, nutmeggy sort of ice cream. I had a couple of ideas for how to make it even better. How about chunks of Snickerdoodle Cookies mixed within (a la Cookies and Cream)? Or how about slapping some of this stuff in between two Snickerdoodle cookies and then edging it in cinnamon chips. Oh yeah. That would be a little over the top, but that's what a good dessert is all about, right?

Little guy is already on the mend... and I have to think that this Snickerdoodle Ice Cream helped. (As well as snuggling with Mommy watching endless cartoons).

This recipe can be found HERE.

HERE'S my favorite Snickerdoodles recipe.
And you might also enjoy THIS RECIPE for Superdoodles.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Roasted Green Beans with Lemon, Pine Nuts & Parmigiano

Even in the dead heat of summer, I'm still fond of roasting vegetables. Turn on the air and turn on the oven. My favorite veggies take on a new flavor when roasted, and I'm addicted.

Green beans tossed with garlic, lemon zest, olive oil and a little S&P are roasted to perfection. But when you add a few other goodies... toasted pine nuts, Parmigiano, lemon juice and more zest... the dish becomes rather addicting: Roasted Green Beans with Lemon, Pine Nuts and Parmigiano.

Too often I steam up green beans or broccoli, or do a simple saute of zucchini to serve as a side to our main dishes. Blah, blah, blah. Boring. This little side dish has a little pizzazz in it, and it's terrific to serve with simply grilled meat.

This delicious recipe can be found HERE.

Like I said before, I'm addicted to roasting veggies... so you might also enjoy these successful roasted vegetable recipes that I've tried and enjoyed...
Roasted Asparagus w/ Balsamic- Browned Butter
Roasted Glazed Brussel Sprouts
Roasted Cauliflower w/ Tomato & Green Olives
Slow- Roasted Plum Tomatoes
Roasted Autumn Vegetables
Roasted Winter Squash w/ Brown Butter & Sage

Saturday, August 23, 2008

"Secret Ingredient" Restaurant Quality Chocolate Chip Cookies

Baking different varieties of chocolate chip cookies seems to be all-the-rage these days. If someone claims to have the most superior recipe, I'll give it a go. I've tried many recipes but I always come back to this one. To me, this one (with its two secret ingredients) is the ultimate chocolate chip cookie.

I'm personally happy nibbling away on the raw stuff. My husband freaks out about that. I try to explain to him that I grew up eating cookie dough and cake batter and all that stuff and I don't seem to harbor any ill-effects. The best part about baking is licking the beaters and rubber spatulas. Yum.

I haven't found any value in refrigerating cookie dough before baking... but I do like to plop it on my cookie sheets (lined with parchment) in a semi-round manner. I figure if it starts out round, it's less likely that you'll get the funky shapes. For these cookies, I use a regular-sized ice cream scoop (about 1/4 cup).

The result: Big. Round. Perfect.

Warm is best.

With milk, of course.

These Secret Recipe Chocolate Chip Cookies produce a big, round, chip-filled chewy cookie. And what are those secret ingredients I mentioned??

Vanilla and lemon. Lots of vanilla... 2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract plus a scraped vanilla bean. Lemon juice too... just a teaspoon. You don't taste it at all, but it helps produce a chewier cookie. I suppose there is a third secret ingredient to share too... oatmeal. Except that you put the oatmeal in the food processor and pulverize it into an almost-powder. That adds a little twist to the dry ingredients.

So go ahead and continue your search for the ultimate chocolate chip cookie recipe... refrigerate the dough for 24 hours, use parchment, use silpat, use insulated sheets, use jelly roll pans, bake them upside down or whatever... but if you try these, you might just wish to put an end to your search.

This recipe can be found HERE.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Mango Guacamole

Here in Southern California, avocados are plentiful all year long (and they're usually available at a great price.) Our kids are raised eating this creamy soft-textured green fruit, and we put it in our salads regularly without much thought. Green guacamole might be a frightening sight to children who aren't familiar with it, but our So-Cal kids happily gobble up scoop after scoop with tortilla chips. We sure love our guacamole. Rick Bayless' version adds a bit of juicy, ripe mango to create a Mango Guacamole.

A ripe avocado should give just slightly when you gently squeeze it. If it's hard, the avocado will need a couple of days on your counter to ripen. Open it up by slicing a knife all the way around and down to the pit. Twist halves in opposite directions to open it up.

To remove the pit, gently tap a sharp knife onto the pit. Twist it and it should pop out easily.

Scoop out the flesh with a large spoon and the avocado is ready to use.

Mango Guacamole was the second appetizer that I made for our Yucatan-themed Gourmet Club's dinner party. (The first one was that Ceviche that I blogged about last post.) If I have any advice for prepping avocado for guacamole it would be to not pulverize the heck out of the avocado. It's much better if you mash it roughly with a large fork and leave chunks within than if you turn it into the texture of mashed potatoes.

There really isn't any special magic involved in the making of this guacamole. It pretty much just tastes like any great guacamole with the addition of mango. If you've got a perfectly ripe mango that slices nicely and isn't overly squishy, then you'll end up with a good guac. The mango contributes a sweetness to the classic guacamole just as mango salsa is a sweet change from classic salsa. Everyone enjoyed the change and it was devoured quickly with blue corn tortilla chips, sliced jicama and cucumber.

Here was the rest of our menu for our Yucatan-themed dinner... all from Rick Bayless (and can be found on his site). And ALL were delicious.

Sangria Mexicana
Salt and Pepper Ceviche
Mango Guacamole
(steak appetizer)
Authentic Tortilla Soup (Recipe from one of our guests who is from Mexico)
Heirloom Tomato "Carpaccio" with Tomatillo Salad, Avocado & Fresh Herbs
Rice & Black Beans
Achiote Seared Shrimp with Quick Habanero Pickled Onions
Tangy Yucatecan Grilled Pork with Roasted Onions and Fresh Garnishes
Caramelized Mango Tart with Chocolate and Pepitos

Everything was fabulous, but my faves were the authentic Tortilla Soup as well as the Mango Tart. Our dinners are this amazing every month. Don't you wish you were in our Gourmet group? And more importantly, were you raised to love avocados?

I've placed the Mango Guacamole recipe HERE.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Salt and Pepper Ceviche

Last night was our Gourmet Club's monthly dinner party with a Yucatan theme. The hostess selected recipes that were all from Rick Bayless.

My assigned task was to prepare two of the appetizers. One I'll share today: Salt and Pepper Ceviche.

I didn't want to take any chances, so I went all-out and bought a nice, fresh, very expensive piece of halibut from a quality seafood market. Rick Bayless gives you a few options of fish choices, so you're not stuck with halibut if it isn't your thing (or if it's too outrageously expensive!!)

I was a little nervous in making this one. I'm not all that big on raw fish, and I had never tried ceviche before. It's basically a nice, firm fish cut into small chunks that marinates in lime juice. I was reassured by friends that the lime juice actually chemically *cooks* the fish, and therefore it's not anything like raw.

The friends were right... it's nothing like eating raw fish. The halibut soaks up the lime juice and rids it of that fishy flavor. The texture becomes that of a cooked piece of fish albeit a little more firm. Add a sprinkle of red onion, chopped avocado, cilantro, salt & pepper, and then eat it up with a fork or tortilla chip scoopers.

This uber-expensive ceviche was a big hit at the dinner party. Everyone gobbled it up and sang its praises. Thankfully, I can definitely say that it was worth the expense to see my friends eating it with pleasure!

I've never watched Bayless' show but all of the recipes that we had last night were excellent. I'll share the menu and the other appetizer that I prepared in my next post.

This recipe for ceviche can be found HERE.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Paula Deen's Orange Brownies

Let me just preface this by saying that I'm not typically a Paula Deen fan. I'm sure she's a nice lady and all, but I just don't usually cook much like she cooks. I don't think I could ever make fried chicken, fried onion rings or anything really fried for that matter. Eating that stuff at a restaurant is a little easier than watching it sizzle in gluttony in front of me. And the use of excessive butter just plain grosses me out.

Baking, however, is another story. Bring on the butter! If I'm gonna bake up something really decadent, butter is my friend (especially since I usually bake for others). And in the arena of baking, Paula has some recipes worth a peek.

This Orange Brownies recipe had been recommended to me. I was thinking... 'ok, must be a nice chocolate brownie with a hint of orange.' Then I got my hands on the recipe and discovered that it's more of a cakey orange bar. It's brownie-like, but just not chocolate. (Kind of like those deceptively titled Butterfinger Brownies that I blogged about a while back).

The base is baked up and then poked with a fork or a skewer or anything of the pointy sort.

An orange-infused glaze is drizzled over the top... it soaks into all of those holes that you created.
Let them set up a bit, and them cut them into delicious bites.

Orange zest and even orange extract are included within. If you like a dessert with a fresh orange flavor, these are excellent. In true Paula Deen fashion, they contain 2 sticks of butter. But hey, it's dessert. I served these at a party recently and they were a bit hit. To serve a small crowd, I would suggest making a platter with a few of these on it and a few of those Butterfinger Brownies too. You might just have people following you home.

The Orange Brownies recipe can be found HERE.

The Butterfinger Brownies recipe can be found HERE.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Overcoming Fig Phobia... Thanks to Tyler Florence

I've had a lifelong fear of figs. I blame it on my Swedish grandmother who lovingly baked sweets that she wanted her precious only young grandaughter to try. Among these treats were cookies with fresh fig filling. Though I loved grandma and appreciated her spoiling me endlessly, I couldn't stand the texture of the fig cookies. Grandma was hurt. Whenever I didn't eat what she made, she was hurt. So I ate them anyways and pretended that I liked them. Yuck. And I haven't touched figs since... until yesterday.

We have the good fortune of having a Farmer's Market near our house that is open every day (Chino Farms). It's one of those good ones too... where they grow all of their own food right there and put out whatever is ripe that day. I was there to pick up some of their famous Chino Corn when I spied a small basket of fresh figs. Hmmmm, I thought. Perhaps I'll give them a try. Mind you, it's been a good 30 years since I've had figs.

So I carted home my basket of freshly picked figs and browsed cookbooks. Tyler's Ultimate had a recipe that looked like a must-try: Chicken Paillard with Fresh Fig Salad and Blue Cheese.

If you don't have this cookbook, it's really worth looking at. Tyler Florence is one of those chefs that I do enjoy watching on Food Network. He's a cutie, and he has some good looking recipes that are along the line of things-I'd-try. Tyler's Ultimate cookbook has loads of pictures (love that) and I think I'd make just about all of them.

The recipe involved pounding out the breasts into paillards (thin slices), which I'm a big fan of. This allows the breasts cook quickly and stay moist. Pancetta is sauteed, then the chicken, and the dressing gets a quick warm-up in the pan. That's it! Assemble with chicken, blue cheese, arugula, figs and pancetta. The sweet vinaigrette is drizzled on top, and dinner is ready!

And guess what? I loved it. I especially enjoyed the bites that involved figs. It's hard to believe that I've shunned them for so long. I would make this recipe again in a heartbeat. Though it sounds fancy, it's so simple and completely delicious.

This RecipeGirl has turned fig phobia into fig obsession. Bring on the fig recipes! Just no fig cookies, please.

This recipe can be found HERE.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Blueberry- Raspberry Galette (But It's Really a Tart!)

One more week.... until school begins, that is. I'm ready. More than ready! It's time for the kiddo to go back to school. It's been a great summer, and we've had loads of invaluable family-together time, but I look forward to having some days to myself again.

We have a brand-spankin' new school opening up this year in our neighborhood. I've found myself on the board of their first PTA (which means I'll have people to bake for)! The office staff will either love me or hate me. Little do they know that they'll be my guinea pigs for newly tried recipes. My PTA board was already on the receiving end of my latest one: Blueberry- Raspberry Galette from Sara Leah Chase's The Nantucket Open House Cookbook.

I'm horrible at crust. You can see from the picture that I managed to get it into the pan, but I really need to take some sort of "Pie Making for Idiots" class. It's not usually my thing and it tends to cause me enormous amounts of stress.

Now you can also see from this first picture that this "galette" is really a tart. In fact, in Chase's recipe, the title indicates that it's a galette but in the instructions it is referred to as a tart. Are there any galette/tart experts out there that can clarify the difference?

I might possibly have baked it slightly too long. I was concerned with undercooking the crust, but in the process of extending the baking time the blueberries may have become too jam-like. Don't get me wrong- the tart was fabulous- but If I were to try it again I may eyeball it a little closer.

The raspberries are placed after the tart has completely cooled. The combination of the baked blueberries with the fresh raspberries was nice. Blueberries alone would have been boring. I plopped some freshly whipped cream on top of individual slices.

When I walked out the door, tart in hand, this conversation took place.

husband: "Where are you going with that?"
me: "PTA meeting... next door."
husband: "But what if there isn't any left?"
me: "But honey, I didn't make it for you. I made it for the PTA board."
husband: "Make sure some comes back with you."
me: (rolled eyes)

I took extra care to cut smaller slices for the ladies on the PTA board so that my husband could experience the tart that he was forced to watch walk out the door. The gals gushed about this summery dessert, and the husband was most appreciative of my efforts to save some for him. He enjoyed it too.

This recipe can be found HERE.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Grilled Chicken with Lemon and Oregano

Here's a great chicken recipe... moist and flavorful and all that good stuff: Grilled Chicken with Lemon and Oregano. This recipe comes from Martha Stewart's EveryDay Food magazine. If you're not familiar with this publication, it's really a pretty good one... filled with simple recipes that have few ingredients. I've tried a bunch and I'm usually quite pleased with the outcome (this coming from someone who usually picks more difficult recipes that have a list of ingredients a mile long)!

We grilled it up at our beach house on the 'ol charcoal grill. Use boneless breasts or those with bones and skin... whatever you prefer to marinate. Just make sure the grill is heated up pretty well before you put the chicken on. If it has to grill too long, you'll end up with burnt, dry chicken.

One little trick that I usually do when I'm grilling chicken is to transform the breasts into even thickness by pounding the heck out of them with my meat mallet. That eliminates problems with uneven cooking, and the chicken usually has a better shot at remaining moist and tender.

A nice, little addition to this one is grilled lemons. They become soft and juicy, and the lemon flavor mellows a bit to add a good drizzle to the grilled chicken.

The chicken is good on its own or sliced up and placed on top of greens.

Vacation recipes are over :( Now it's time to start sharing my at-home cooking again. Guess I better get cookin'!

This recipe can be found HERE.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Happy, Happy Hour on the Beach

Happy Hour originated in the US Navy in the 1920's. "Happy" was given the meaning of "slightly drunk." Today, many bars and restaurants give drink discounts and run appetizer specials for Happy Hour between the hours of 4pm and 7pm during the work week. Workers use it as an excuse to have a drink and 'unwind 'after work.

Apparently Massachussetts doesn't recognize my favorite time of day. In conversations with residents on our vacation, they confirmed that the bars in MA do not celebrate Happy Hour. Could this be true?? Yes, it is. Wikipedia confirms that Massachussetts was one of the first US States to ban Happy Hour in 1984. Hmmmm. Strange. So we were forced to create our own Happy Hour on the Beach with a few fun appetizers (and drinks, of course).

Our Happy Hour beverage of choice: Electric Lemonade. Have one too many of these (there's vodka involved) and you'll be sleeping on the beach the following day. It's good stuff... but it'll knock you on your butt if you're not careful.

This was the hit of Happy Hour: Layered Greek Dip. Sooooooooo simple to put together, this prize-winning recipe from Better Homes and Gardens has layers of cream cheese, hummus, cucumbers, tomatoes, feta, Kalamata olives, etc. We dunked baked pita chips into this fab dip.

This Party Bean Dip was also really good. It's a Cooking Light recipe so it was nice to have a lower fat option. The original recipe calls for making your own baked tortilla chips (which we didn't do). We just used regular old tortilla chips for dipping.

Grilled Quahogs (KO-hogs) were also on the menu. Quahogs are simply 'hard- clams.' To grill them, you toss them on a preheated grill, close the lid and wait until they pop open. We ate ours with a bit of hot sauce, a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of cilantro. Yum!!

We had a few little friends trying to join in on the fun.

The evening concluded with a little bit of bocce ball on the beach at low tide.

Anyone else have HH banned in their part of the world? I find that so odd. But then again... I can see how some people might get a little too 'happy' and cause quite the ruckus. We simply enjoyed our drinks and appetizers and were happy to be with friends and relatives at the beach. Not terribly rowdy. Though there were a few cousins who turned up the Irish music and performed some Irish dance for us in the sand. That's about as crazy as we got at our little Happy Hour.

All of the recipes above can be found by clicking on recipe titles.