Tuesday, September 27, 2011

S'more s'mores please


Growing up in New Hampshire, my family was no stranger to camping in the summer time. We'd pack up the car, head to Pawtuckaway State Park, and unload our tents, screen house, and a week's worth of chocolate, graham crackers, and marshmallows. Each night we would carefully toast our marshmallows, trying our best not to set them on fire. Then my mom would help us transfer them from our wooden skewers onto a chocolate top graham cracker sandwich. Such a simple, but perfect, ending to a day reading in a hammock, swimming, and playing cards.

Alex and I have never been camping together, but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy s'mores at home with this delicious and super easy recipe for S'mores Cookie Bars.


Hershey's S'mores Cookie Bars (from Hershey's Kitchens)
  • 1 stick butter, softened 
  • 3/4 cup sugar 
  • 1 egg 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
  • 1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs 
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder 
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt 
  • 5 Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bars (1.55 oz. each)
  • 3 cups miniature marshmallows
Directions

Heat oven to 350 degrees and grease an 8-inch square baking pan. Beat butter and sugar until well blended in large bowl. Add egg and vanilla and beat well. Stir together flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder and salt. Add to butter mixture, beating until blended. Press half of dough in prepared pan and bake 15 minutes.

Arrange unwrapped chocolate bars over baked layer, breaking as needed to fit. Sprinkle with marshmallows, then scatter bits of remaining dough over marshmallows, forming top layer. Bake 10 to 15 minutes or just until lightly browned. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I've made a huge mistake


I would have to say that my biggest complaint about living in Washington, DC is the high price of substandard produce. Seriously, do other people have this problem? Is it just me? I feel like I have to go over my fruits and veggies with a magnifying glass before picking them up at the grocery store. Then, if I don't use everything the moment I get it home from the store, it's rotten the next day.

Not to mention, it's so hard to find anything above and beyond the usual. In the spring, I had to search stores high and low to find rhubarb. This summer, figs were just no where to be found, until I happened upon one, single carton of them at Trader Joes in Old Town Alexandria on my lunch break.

Now figs have a notoriously short shelf life, but by the time I got these home at the end of the day, half of them were bad and went straight in the garbage. I knew the remaining figs wouldn't last long, so I immediately got them into the fridge, zipped up tight in a plastic bag, and began searching the internet for a good fig jam recipe. I decided to combine them with some golden raspberries I had also purchased that day. The jam turned out slightly sweet, slightly tart, and totally delicious.


Raspberry and Fig Jam
  • 1 pint ripe black mission figs (about 15 figs)
  • 1 pint golden raspberries
  • 1 orange, supremed and finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest (about 1 lemon)
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Directions

Remove any stems on figs, then cut them into quarters, and place in a medium non-reactive saucepan.

Add the berries, orange, brown sugar, lemon zest, and salt. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally for about 40 minutes, or until the figs have softened and lost their shape and the filling jam-like.

Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and let cool for 1-2 hours, or to room temperature (if the jam is too watery, drain a little excess liquid before using as filling).


The fig jam turned out delicious and made the perfect condiment for this ham and goat cheese sandwich on crusty sour dough bread.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Not For All You Meatarians Out There


It's the end of the week, and the fridge is almost empty. I have some chicken in the freezer. There are a few random vegetables left over from week night dinners and week day salads in the fridge. I have a box of pasta and a carton of chicken stock in my pantry. It's rainy and 60 degrees out. My throat is sore, and my head is tired. It's officially a good night for soup.

Vegetable Lovers Chicken Noodle Soup (inspired by Eating Well)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, poached and shredded
  • 1 zucchini, finely diced
  • 1 summer squash, finely diced
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning blend
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 32-ounce box chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup wheat beer, such as Blue Moon
  • 1/4-lb pasta, such as farfalle
  • 1 1/2 cups packed baby spinach



Directions

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add zucchini, squash, shallot, Italian seasoning and salt and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are slightly softened, 2 to 3 minutes.

Add tomatoes, broth, beer, and pasta. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the pasta is tender, about 8 minutes, or according to package directions.

Stir in spinach and the cooked chicken. Cook, stirring, until the chicken is heated through and the spinach is wilted, about 2 minutes. I topped mine with fresh grated Parmesan cheese and garnished with sour dough bread.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Make It Work


Sometimes, no matter how good a dish comes out, I just can't get a good photo of it. Either I have trouble with the plating process, or the frosting doesn't go as planned, but try as I might, the food just looks bad. It's particularly annoying when the dish comes out super tasty. Do I blog about it sans photo? Do I just own it like a bad ensemble on Project Runway? I'm never really sure what would be best.

Today, I'm going to own it. These brownies were delicious. They were super fudgy, coated with sweet caramel, and topped with a little bit of crunchy sea salt. They were good. 

I tried, for days, to get even one out of the pan that didn't look like a train wreck. It didn't happen. So this morning, before the last one was eaten, I took a bad photo. I know it's bad, but that's what you get.

Salted Caramel Brownies (from Cooking Light)
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Cooking spray

Topping
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons evaporated fat-free milk, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/8 teaspoon coarse sea salt


Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, sugars, cocoa, and baking powder in a large bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Combine 6 tablespoons butter, eggs, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Add butter mixture to flour mixture. Stir to combine. Scrape batter into a 9-inch square metal baking pan lightly coated with cooking spray. Bake for 19 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs clinging. Cool in pan on a wire rack.

Once the brownies are cool, melt 1/4 cup butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1 1/2 tablespoons evaporated milk. Cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add vanilla and powdered sugar. Stir with a whisk until smooth. Spread mixture evenly over cooled brownies. Let stand 20 minutes or until set.

Combine 2 tablespoons evaporated milk and chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at high for 45 seconds or until melted, stirring after 20 seconds. Stir just until smooth. Drizzle over caramel. Sprinkle with sea salt and let stand until set. Cut into squares and enjoy, even if they look like mine did.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

They're guaranteed to raise a smile

As summer comes to an end, and I'm back from vacation and back to cooking, I'm determined to make the most of the last of the summer produce. From tomatoes and plums, to nectarines and zucchini, in my kitchen, it's all about fruits and vegetables.

Sweet bell peppers are especially hot right now. That's why I flipped when I saw this recipe for a sweet pepper caprese salad in this month's Cooking Light. Lightly roasting the peppers brings out the juicy sweetness usually served up by tomatoes. The cool, creamy mozzarella and spicy basil keep classic dish fresh and delicious. Served with a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic, and a few pinches of salt and pepper, this salad is quick, easy, and totally tasty.


Sweet Pepper Caprese Salad (inspired by Cooking Light)
  • 8 baby sweet peppers
  • 1 cup baby heirloom tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar, divided
  • 4 cloves roasted garlic, mashed, divided
  • 3 oz fresh baby mozzarella balls, divided
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chiffonade, divided
  • 1 large pinch crushed red pepper, divided
  • 1 large pinch black pepper, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon pinch kosher salt, divided


Directions

Preheat broiler to high. Arrange baby sweet peppers in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet. Broil peppers 4 minutes on each side. or until slightly blackened and tender. Cool.

Slice baby tomatoes in half, divide, and arrange on two salad plates. Remove stems from peppers, divide, and add to each plate. Drizzle each plate with 1 teaspoon on olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar. Add 2 smashed garlic cloves and 4-5 baby mozzarella balls to each plate.

Sprinkle each dish with basil, crushed red pepper, black pepper, and salt.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

West Coast Road Trip - Day 9: San Diego to Washington, DC

The next morning we awoke in San Diego to beautiful sunshine, blue skies, and warm weather. It was like California had transformed over night into an Annette Funicello movie. Since the weather was so beautiful, we decided to spend the day outside walking around before we had to check in for our red eye flight.


We started the day on Pacific Beach, my favorite neighborhood in San Diego. Long ago, it is where I got my nosed pierced and spent many a night in the PB Pub, a great alternative to San Diego's upscale nightlife in the Gaslamp Quarter. We spent some time in the sand, did some people watching on the boardwalk, and then decided it was time for lunch.


Before we left for our trip, our friends, Chris and Karen, that used to live in San Diego gave us a list of places to eat and drink while visiting. Since we wanted to check out Balboa Park after lunch, we decided to stop at Mamma Testa an authentic Mexican kitchen tucked away small store front in University Heights.


When we stepped inside, were greeted by bright colors, friendly staff, a basket of warm tortilla chips, and a salsa bar featuring about twenty different varieties. Yum.


We perused our menus and decided to start with some home made guacamole.


Next, we both got an order of the del muñeco, crunchy shredded beef tacos with salsa fresca, queso fresco, and sour cream, served with rice and refried beans.


The tacos were incredibly delicious. So savory, with a little hint of spice from the salsa, topped with cool, creamy cheese. They were melt in your mouth fantastic.


After lunch, we headed to Balboa Park.


Since it was a gorgeous Saturday, there was practically no place to park. We ended up driving around for awhile, but then spotted a lot on the very edge of the park. Thankfully, once out of the car, we found a map. The map had a few hiking trails that would take us to all of the sights. Our first stop, the Balboa Park Rose Garden.


Then headed over the Cascades Fountain toward the visitors center, Alcazar Garden, and Spreckles Organ Pavilion where we got to see an enormous, three-quarter scale replica of Paris's Palais de la Légion d'Honneur.


Next we stopped at the Balboa Park Botanical Gardens. We didn't step inside, too determined to enjoy the nice weather, but we did spend some time at the Lily Pond.


The ponds were teaming with colorful fish and adorable turtles.


We paused to take a few pictures with some of the slightly depressing looking fountains, and then headed on our way to the California Bell Tower.


Last but not least, we checked out the California Bell Tower and the view of San Diego from the Cabrillo Bridge. The 200 foot tower is one of the cities most notable landmarks and houses the San Diego Museum of Man. We skipped going inside this building also, especially when the clerk in the gift shop told us the tower was not accessible.


On our way out, we stopped to check out the views of downtown San Diego from the top of Cabrillo Bridge.


Since we ended up having more time to kill than planned, we decided to take a trip over to Coronado to see the hotel.


The Hotel Del Coronado is one of my favorite spots in southern California. Though we could never afford to stay in this luxury, beach front hotel, it is fun to see the sights and poke around the halls.


When it opened in 1888, it was the largest resort hotel in the world and the first to use electrical lighting. It has hosted presidents, royalty, and celebrities throughout the years, as well as being featured in many films like Some Like It Hot.


After stopping for a drink and some light dinner at The Tavern just down the street, we knew it was time to say goodbye to the West Coast and head back East to Washington, DC. Such a fun trip, it's going to be hard to top it next year.

Monday, September 12, 2011

West Coast Road Trip - Day 8: LA to San Diego

Though we did a lot of sightseeing on Friday, the one thing that we had yet to see was the Hollywood sign. The tour books said that you could see the sign from just about anywhere in the city. They pretty much lied. Driving around LA all day on Friday, we had yet to spy the sign from anywhere in the city. So we looked up the best vantage points, and we made our way over to Beachwood Drive above Hollywood Boulevard and there it was.


When we stopped to take pictures, a very nice man on the street told us that we could get a better photo from much closer up. However, when we headed toward the Hills, our view got more an more obstructed. So we gave up, turned around, and headed out of the city on to our next stop: Santa Monica.


We parked and took a walk on the pier. Though it was cloudy and gray, Santa Monica Pier was super pretty and full of vibrant colors and energetic people out for their morning jogs. We checked out Pacific Park, but did not ride any of the rides. We also got to see a scary police helicopter. Sarah had told us that they were rampant in LA. Since it was daylight, we didn't get to see it beam blinding light down on any suspected criminals, but it sure was noisy and intimidating.


After checking out the pier it was time to get back on the car and head to San Diego, our last stop on the trip, but we had a lot of places to see before we got there.


The first was Rancho Palos Verdes and the Wayfarers Chapel.


The Wayfarers Chapel has been on my list of places to see for a long time.


The Swedenborgian Church is on the edge of a cliff and boasts some of the most beautiful Pacific views in southern California.


Conceived as a respite for all wayfarers on the journey of life, the Wayfarers Chapel is noted for its unique modern architecture that incorporates the natural landscape into the design. It's one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.


Our visit was a quick one since there was a wedding scheduled at The Chapel that day, and we didn't want to get in the way. For those of you out there who were fans of The OC, this is where Julie Cooper Nichol Cooper Roberts got married for the second time in season 1. It was also where Caleb was memorialized in season 2. I loved The O.C.


Speaking of The OC, next we were on to Newport Beach, California.


We visited Corona del Mar State Beach and checked out the pier. Both were beautiful and busy with crowds of late summer vacationers.


We only spent a few minutes on the beach before heading down the boardwalk to get some lunch.


Before we spotted a place to stop and get lunch, we found a snack stand selling Newport Beach's famous Balboa Bars. Though I had no idea what a Balboa Bar was, I knew I wanted one.


Ice cream, dipped in chocolate, dipped in your choice of topping. Nothing could be better. Alex chose crushed oreos, and I chose sprinkles. Though they were pretty mess, they were totally perfect and delicious.


After hitting the beach, we decided to stop on Balboa Island.


Balboa Island is famous for many things. First, it has one of the highest population densities in the United States: 17,621 people per square mile. It also has one of the most expensive real estate markets, second to only Lower Manhattan. A two bedroom home goes for about 2 million dollars in Balboa Island. We won't be moving there anytime soon. Lastly, Balboa Island is home to the world famous chocolate covered frozen banana.


Being a huge Arrested Development fan, Alex had to have one. Turns out, they were kinda gross.


After our visit to Balboa Island, we headed off in the sunset toward San Diego. As it started to get dark, we decided to stop at Moonlight State Beach in Encintas.


Though the west coast is famous for its sunsets, with all the fog, we had yet to see one. Today was no exception though. Fog and clouds got in the way, and the sun faded into the background and out of view. 


Before reaching San Diego, we decided to stop for some dinner at the Barracuda Grill in Encintas.


We shared a bread basket and a red tomato, fresh mozzarella tower with aged balsamic and olive oil. Then I had to try the grilled pork tenderloin, parsnip purée, in brandy mustard sauce. It was phenomenal.


Even better was Alex's goat cheese and sun dried tomato ravioli, in vegetable broth. Both meals were so flavorful and seemingly fairly healthy. We finished the night off with some some not quite as healthy vanilla crème brûlée for dessert and got back and in the car and headed to San Diego.