Thursday, February 28, 2008

Coming Soon . . .

I've neglected my blog and my cooking this week (it's been a little stressful), but this weekend - lookout - I'm planning all kinds of great things to make up for it. Here's a little preview:

Pork Chops with Apple & Sage Cream Sauce
Secret Trick 1860 Baking Powder Biscuits
Classic Lemon Bars
. . . and (hopefully) a beautiful looking thing I saw in the March issue of Gourmet (hint: it's in the "Alsatian Sensation" feature)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A Beef Lesson + Bistro Beef Kabobs

Did you know there are five basic tastes? Sweet, sour, salty, bitter . . . and . . . umami. Yes, that's right, umami. A Japanese word, Umami (oo-MOM-ee) is a savory/meaty taste . Since we're on the subject of beef, you would be correct to assume the umami taste is found in beef. Additional umami-rich foods include red wine, tomatoes, mushrooms, cheese, soy sauce, truffles (not the chocolate kind), potatoes, seafood, and more.
When umami-rich foods are paired together, a magnification of flavors occurs, which explains why beef is commonly paired with many of the foods listed above.

My daily dose of umami came in the form of Bistro Beef Kabobs, another recipe from the Healthy Beef Cookbook. While this recipe may not be at the very top of my all-time favorites list, it is good - and extremely easy to prepare (unless you have an irrational fear of using the broiler, as I do . . . more on that later).

Bistro Beef Kabobs
1 1/4 lb. boneless beef sirloin steak, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tsp. vegetable oil
2 tsp. coarse-grain Dijon-style mustard
2 tsp. red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Combine oil, mustard, vinegar, garlic, and pepper in a medium bowl; add beef and toss to coat.
Thread equal amounts of beef onto four 12-inch metal skewers, leaving a small space between each piece. Place kabobs on rack in broiler pan; broil 8-10 minutes (for medium-rare to medium beef), turning occasionally. Let stand a few moments before serving. Enjoy with a glass of red wine, which will enhance the umami . . . okay, that wasn't really in the instructions. But it should have been!

The recipe calls for serving the kabobs with broccoli pilaf . . . but Ken would probably be scared off by the name alone, so I didn't make the broccoli pilaf. Consequently, I'm not sure about the nutrition facts for the kabobs on their own. I also substituted tri-tip steak for the sirloin, and regular Dijon mustard instead of coarse-grain Dijon mustard, because that's what I had in stock.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

mocha sweetheart pictures, part one

Chocolate Mocha Sweethearts - before tops are dipped in chocolate

Chocolate mocha sweethearts - still unglazed, but with a red neon glow filter applied

Pictures of the finished product (without cheesy red glow) coming tomorrow!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Chocolate Mocha Sweethearts

I'm planning to make Chocolate Mocha Sweethearts tomorrow night to take to the office on Valentine's Day (so if you know my co-workers . . . shhhh . . . don't ruin their surprise!). I've had this recipe for a few years (long enough to forget where it originated), and seem to make it only on Valentine's Day each year. I'm not sure why . . . they could easily become "Chocolate Mocha Stars" or "Chocolate Mocha Leaves" or even just "Chocolate Mocha Squares."

I'm also going to make some for my friend Amanda, because I messed up our plan to go to Chocolate Night at the Busy Bistro tonight. We went last year, with our friend Amy, and it was absolutely incredible. Every part of the meal included chocolate - the salad, the entree, and the seemingly endless desserts . . . it was heaven . . . but I haven't been feeling well so I stayed home and made homemade chicken noodle soup instead. Maybe I'll host my own chocolate night sometime this spring since we didn't get to go. It would be a daunting task to try to make it as good as Busy Bistro's, but if I don't try, even though I'm sure I'll be feeling better . . . I'm still going to feel bad about causing us to miss the big event.

I'll post pictures in a few days, but thought I'd post the recipe in case you'd like to make them for your sweetheart this Valentine's Day.

Chocolate Mocha Sweethearts
4 squares unsweetened chocolate (such as Baker's) (4 oz. total, if substituting another brand)
3/4 cup butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs (room temperature)*
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup flour
1/4 cup instant coffee granules
6 squares semi-sweet chocolate, melted (such as Baker's) (6 oz. total)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 if using a glass baking dish). Line 9x13 pan with foil; grease foil.
2. Melt unsweetened chocolate and butter together in double boiler (or microwave . . . about 2 minutes on medium power in a large bowl . . . stir until chocolate is completely melted).
3. Stir in sugar. Add eggs and vanilla; mix well. Add coffee and flour; stir until well blended.
4. Spread mixture into prepared pan. Bake 30-35 minutes or until toothpick comes out with fudgy crumbs. Do not overbake. Cool in pan.
5. Remove foil & brownies from pan. Cut into heart shape (with a cookie cutter**); dip top of each heart into melted chocolate. You might need to refrigerate the hearts until the chocolate has set.

* Tip: to bring eggs to room temperature, immerse them in a bowl of warm - not hot - water for 5-10 minutes.

I rely on this tip often - I can never remember to get the eggs out in advance . . . and the one time I did remember, the eggs rolled off the counter and busted on the floor . . .

** Another tip: freeze the brownie scraps leftover from cutting out hearts in a freezer-type storage bag. Use later for snacking or stir into ice cream.

Post script: I found the original recipe on - complete with nutritional information . . . and guess what? They're really not as bad for you as you might think (plus chocolate has heart-healthy antioxidants)! Based on the recipe making 17 total servings (two 1.5 inch hearts are one serving), a serving yields 160 calories, 9 g fat, 1 g fiber, and 4 points. The original recipe also calls for 1/2 cup suisse mocha mix (instead of 1/4 cup instant coffee), which would probably result in a milder, slightly sweeter brownie. If you don't like coffee, you could reduce the coffee flavor by using the mocha mix instead, or by further reducing the amount of instant coffee granules (down to 1 tbsp.). Whatever you do, don't substitute 1/2 cup instant coffee granules for 1/2 cup mocha mix - that will result in brownies with a strong (slightly bitter) coffee taste.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Seven steps to s'more cookie bars

I found this recipe on another blog (Baking Bites, maybe, I can't remember) and have been waiting for an opportunity to try it. Specifically, an opportunity in which other people would eat the majority of these bars, thus not tempting me to eat too many. Turns out, the Super Bowl gathering was a perfect opportunity. If you love s'mores (as I do), I think you'll really like these bars. I thought of a few modifications I'd try next time, so I included those in the recipe below to make preparation a little easier.

S'More cookie bars

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, at room temperature
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. graham cracker crumbs
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 king-size milk chocolate bars
1 1/2 cups marshmallow creme

1. Process graham crackers to uniformly fine crumbs in a food processor. If you do not have a food processor, place graham crackers in a ziplock bag and crush them - a rolling pin or other heavy object will help.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees; grease 8-inch square baking pan (9-inch square will work fine too).
3. In a small bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs, flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
4. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugars. Beat in egg and vanilla. Add graham/flour mixture, beating at low speed until combined.
5. Divide dough in half. Press half of dough into an even layer on the bottom of prepared pan.
6. Remove lid and seal from marshmallow creme, heat jar in microwave for about 15 seconds (this will help make it spreadable). Spread marshmallow creme evenly over dough. Break chocolate bars into pieces, arrange in a single layer on top of marshmallow creme. Place remaining dough in even, single layer on top of chocolate (tip: press or roll dough out on a silpat, piece of parchment paper, or piece of wax paper, then invert onto chocolate/marshmallow).
7. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until lightly golden brown; cool before cutting.

Life is just a bowl of cherries . . .

(Or in this case, a martini glass of cherries - because it looked cooler than any of the bowls I have)

On Saturday, I had to travel for work. I wasn't particularly excited about it, mostly because it involved 5:00 a.m. - which is not my favorite time on a Saturday (or any other day, for that matter!). Good thing I went though, because on my way home I got to stop at Schnuck's (home of groceries I can't find locally) . . . and I bought these beautiful cherries. I took some to the Super Bowl party we attended, and I've been snacking on the rest.

Because they're starting to turn my fingers red, I decided to search for some cherry recipes. In the process, I came across a recipe for a salad that sounds very similar to the Orchard Harvest salad at Panera (which is hands-down one of my favorite foods). I'll post the recipe as soon as I test it to find out just how similar it is!