Saturday, December 29, 2012

Pecan Pie Bars

Tis the season....of baked goods, chocolate, and sugar.  The options as endless--traditional sugar cookies to decorate for Santa, eggnog snickerdoodles, chocolate mint creme yule log, fudge, peppermint bark, peanut brittle, toffee, and so much more!  Let's not forget about these pecan pie bars. 

They can't be beat; a whole pie in one bite!  Let's be serious, who wants a whole piece of pie after already consuming nearly one million calories of junk?  Although these little gems certainly aren't healthy, because they are so small, one can feel less guilty about consumption.  Also, they truly are the perfect bite--I wouldn't want more than one.  Any more, and it would be too sweet for anyone (aside from Buddy the Elf).  

The pecans are perfectly toasted; the filling is perfectly gooey, but not leaky or hard; and the crust ties the filling components together and provides a slightly salty balance to the otherwise sugar-laden treat.  I don't care much for pecan pie because it is oftentimes too messy/sticky/gooey and is far too sweet for me.  These delicious little squares, however, mitigate all of those concerns and are truly scrumptious.

Buddy the Elf would be proud.

Pecan Pie Bars:
Adopted from this recipe.

For the Crust...
  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1/3 cup of sugar
  • 3/4 cup of butter, softened
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
For the Filling....
  • 4 eggs lightly beaten
  • 1 cup of light corn syrup
  • 1 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • 3 cups of chopped pecans (I leave some as pecan halves, and then chop the majority)
  1. Line a 15 x 10 baking pan with nonstick tinfoil.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, blend together the flour, sugar, butter, and salt until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
  3. Press the crumbs firmly and evenly into the prepared pan.
  4. Bake for 20ish minutes until the crust just begins to golden.
  5. In another bowl, combine the filling ingredients and mix well.
  6. Spread evenly over the hot crust.
  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the center of the filling is set.
  8. Cool to room temperature on a wire rack, then move to the refrigerator before attempting to cut.  (I have found that they cut cleanly when they are refrigerated after having cooled to room temperature on the rack.)
  9. ENJOY!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Rosemary and Thyme Biscuits

There is something to be said about a good biscuit.  Perfectly fluffy but dense, buttery but light, and flaky but moist.  So why does everyone smother them with fat-laden gravy or hollandaise sauce, or serve them with a massive hunk of greasy, leathery, and cholesterol-packed red meat?  Sorry about my soapbox moment, but it is one of life's greatest mysteries.

In my opinion, biscuits should be a highlighted component of a dish and not smothered.  These rosemary and thyme biscuits certainly do their job well.  Because they are delicious (and small) we found it easy to eat about six without even batting an eye, and then to come back a few minutes later and eat some more.

These biscuits are perfect--and incredibly easy to make.  However, if you plan to make them, you have to promise to make them a highlight of you meal and not bathe them in a heavy and unhealthy sauce.  You can, of course, dip them in high quality olive oil infused with a homemade blend of Tuscan spices...

 Rosemary and Thyme Biscuits:
Adopted from this recipe.
  • 1-2ish tablespoons of fresh thyme leaves
  • 1-2ish tablespoons of fresh rosemary leaves 
  • 3 cups of self-rising flour (if you don't have self-rising flour, you can google the proportion of baking powder and salt to add)
  • 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper
  • a few shakes of crushed red pepper (optional) 
  • 3/4 cup lemon-lime soda (I used diet 7Up for one batch, and sparkling water for another and both turned out fine)
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, pepper, thyme and rosemary.  
  3. Make a well in the center. Using a fork, gently stir in the soda and heavy cream, mixing just until incorporated.
  4. Do not over mix!
  5. Drop heaping tablespoons (about the size of a golf ball) onto the prepared baking sheet. 
  6. Bake until puffed and golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. 
  7. Try to not eat them all at once.
  8. ENJOY!  

Sprouts and Beans Salad with Dijon Vinaigrette

What to do with Brussels?  What to do with green beans?  Steam them?  Bake them?  Braise them?  Saute them?  Blanch them?  Boooooorrrrriiiiiiiiing.  Although tasty, these options have all been exhausted.  So I started looking for something new, creative, interesting, and bound to be tasty and was inspired by this seemingly fancy haricots verts and white beans recipe.  With the addition of the salad, more dijon, and a bunch of brussels sprouts, my resulting salad was delicious.

The brussels and green beans were perfectly al dente, while the white beans were slightly soft--ultimately creating perfectly complementing textures.  Additionally, the freshness of each veggie was highlighted by the dijon vinaigrette and spices.  Overall, this salad is sophisticated and elegant, but also incredibly quick and easy to make.  You can easily serve it on a weeknight when schedules are tight, or bring it to share at a fancy holiday meal.  We did both!

Finally, a new solution for what to do with brussels sprouts and green beans.  This salad is an instant hit!

Sprouts and Beans Salad with Dijon Vinaigrette:
Based on this recipe.
  • 2 cans of white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 or 3 large thyme sprigs
  • 2 or 3 large rosemary sprigs
  • 2 large shallots, diced
  • between 1 and 2 pounds of brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and wilted leaves peeled off
  • about a pound (a very healthy handful) of green beans, trimmed
  • between 1/2 cup and 1 cup of chicken broth
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • about 2 tablespoons of dijon mustard
  • 2ish tablespoons of sherry vinegar
  • 2ish tablespoons of red wine vinegar
  • fresh ground pepper
  1. In a medium-sized pot, add the beans, bay leaves, thyme, and rosemary.  Cook for about 10 minutes or so until the beans are tender (but not mushy) and the herbs have had enough time to integrate.  When done cooking, discard the liquid and the sprigs.
  2. In a large skillet, heat a glug or two of olive oil over medium heat.  Add the shallots and garlic and cook until tender.   
  3. Add the brussels sprouts, and the chicken broth.  You need enough liquid for the sprouts to braise, but not so much that they are floating/swimming.  Cook until they can be pierced with a fork, but are not mushy.
  4. When the brussels are almost al dente, in a medium pot of boiling water, cook the green beans until crisp/tender, about 3 minutes.  Drain the beans into a colander and rinse with very cold water.  
  5. In a small bowl, combine the mustard and vinegars.  Taste and adjust.   
  6. Combine all the veggies into your serving bowl.  Add the vinaigrette and toss well.  
  7. Refrigerate until ready to serve.  
  8. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Sweet Potato Mashers

Yukon gold potatoes are incredible mashed.  Sweet potatoes are incredible mashed.  What is out of this world, however, is a combination of mashed sweet and Yukon gold potatoes.  These mashers are the perfect amount of sweet and hearty, smooth and lumpy, creamy and healthy.  Additionally, the natural flavors of both kinds of potatoes are enhances with rosemary, thyme, and sage.

While these mashers are designed as a side, they are certainly a show-stopper.  They are delicious on their own, as an accompaniment to a protein, and also incredible as a "binder" in a veggie pie.  Because of their fresh taste, these guys are great throughout the year with a wide variety of dishes.  Trust me, you'll love them.

Sweet Potato Mashers:
  • 4 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 4-6 Yukon gold potatoes, unpeeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 8 ounces of reduced fat cream cheese
  • a little bit of skim milk
  • rosemary, thyme, and sage to taste (about a tablespoon of each)
  1. In a very large pot, add both kinds of potatoes and cover with water. 
  2. Cook on (almost) high until both kinds of potatoes are tender and can easily be pierced with a fork.
  3. Drain the potatoes.  Add the cream cheese and a little bit of milk.  Add the first round of spices.
  4. Mash until lumpy.  Add more milk if necessary.  Taste and adjust spices if necessary.
  5. Mash until desired consistency.  
  6. Enjoy!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Artichoke, Mushroom, and Parmesan Sourdough Stuffing

Yes, Thanksgiving is over and it probably would have been helpful to post this blog before my favorite food holiday, but I got so consumed with cooking, cleaning, and being thankful for my friends and family that it never happened.  Therefore, you'll just have to make this stuffing for Christmas.

Trust me, this is the best stuffing ever in the entire universe.  It meets all of the requirements for being traditional--slighly crusty on top but soft in the middle, herby flavors marrying together perfectly with onions and celery--but travels to a whole new level of awesome with the addition of mushrooms, parmesan, sourdough bread, and marinated artichokes.

This is the stuffing that has now become tradition in our house and will continue to grace our holiday tables for years to come.  For this, I am thankful.

Artichoke, Mushroom, and Parmesan Sourdough Stuffing:
Adapted from this recipe.
  • 1 pound of portabella mushrooms, rinsed, trimmed, and sliced
  • a little bit of olive oil
  • 2 small/medium sweet onions, diced
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 4 or 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • about 2 cups of reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 loaf of sourdough bread, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • about 12 ounces of marinated artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped
  • a heaping 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
  • about 1 teaspoon each of crushed rosemary, sage, and thyme
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 large egg
  1.  In a large skillet, heat a glug or two of olive oil.  Add the onions, celery, and garlic.  Cook until soft.  Add the mushrooms and cook them until they are soft too.
  2. Pour the softened veggies into a large bowl.
  3. Pour two cups of chicken broth into the bowl, add the bread, chopped artichokes, parmesan, and all spices.  Mix well.  
  4. Taste.  Adjust spices if needed.
  5. Make a well in the stuffing.  Add the egg and lightly beat with a fork to blend.
  6. Mix the egg into the stuffing until fully incorporated.
  7. The oven should already be cooking your lovely turkey at 325 or 350 degrees. 
  8. Place nonstick tinfoil in the largest casserole dish you have.  Add the stuffing.  Sprinkle the top with a little more parmesan.
  9. Cover the stuffing with regular tinfoil.  
  10. Bake until hot, about 45 minutes.
  11. Remove the tinfoil and cook for another 5 or 10 minutes until the top is lightly browned and crusted.
  12. ENJOY!
Note:  You can soften the veggies a few days before an store in the fridge.  You can also chop the bread ahead of time too.  Putting it all together should be done the day of.