Thursday, February 23, 2012

Blue and Gold Banquet Dessert - Campfire Brownies with Chocolate Ganache

This week was the Cub Scout blue and gold banquet and our church youth group offered to make the dessert. I looked online for ideas and I didn’t find much. Take a cake. Frost it with blue and gold frosting. That’s no fun. So I modified this campfire cake idea I found on Pinterest.


We made pans of brownies and cut them into 2.5”X2.5” squares (simple recipe below).


Then we smashed Werther’s candies and cinnamon Jolly Ranchers in a food processer, spread their dust in a shallow foil-lined, Pam-sprayed pan, and baked them at 350F for 8 minutes until they were melted. We let them cool and then broke them into little jagged flames. One bag of Jolly Ranchers and and one bag of Werther’s should easily be enough to make flames for two big batches of brownies. I’d bake them in a 9x13 pan or medium cookie sheet.


We topped the brownies with ganache and then broke Pirouline cookies into little log-sized pieces. We used one Pirouline cookie for each brownie. Cutting it in half and then breaking one half in half again for the smaller logs on the sides.


Arrange you Pirouline cookies on top of the ganache-covered brownies to look like a little campfire. Insert flames and enjoy!


For Valentine’s Day, I used this same brownie and ganache recipe (adapted from, but used a heart-shaped cookie cutter to shape the brownies after baking. I topped the brownies with ganache, sliced strawberries and whipped cream. Perfection!


Big Batch Brownies
Cut-and-Paste Recipe

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
5 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate (chips are fine)
1 C + 6 Tbs real butter, cut into pieces
1 ¾ C sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract

Melt chocolate and butter in a glass dish in the microwave until melted enough to combine into a smooth liquid, stirring every 30 seconds. Let the mixture cool for 10-15 minutes. Preheat your oven to 350F. In a large bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Never use an electric mixer for brownies. You’ll want to stir the sugar into the chocolate mixture to combine and then add the eggs two at a time, beating them in with a wooden spoon until they’re well incorporated. Beat in vanilla and then gently stir in the dry ingredients until there are no visible white spots. You want everything combined but not over-mixed.

Spray the bottom of a 12X17” jelly roll pan with cooking spray or line it with a silicone mat. Pour your brownie batter into the pan and spread it out evenly. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick or stick of spaghetti inserted into the center comes out almost clean. A few crumbs are good but you don’t want it to come out wet with batter.

Chocolate Ganache
Cut-and-Paste Recipe

1 C heavy cream
1 heaping cup (8 oz) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla

Heat the cream in the microwave in a glass dish until small bubbles form around the edges, about 2 minutes. Add the chocolate chips to the bowl and immediately cover with plastic wrap. Let sit five minutes. Whisk chocolate and cream with a fork until dark, creamy and smooth. Whisk in vanilla. This can be used immediately as a warm thin chocolate sauce or cooled to thicken. If placed in refrigerator, this will become thick and spreadable. This makes a perfect cake filling.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

White Chicken Chili / Tortilla Soup

One of my favorite recipes that Kathryn has ever made for me. She first introduced me and this chili when I was just a couple of days home from the hospital with my first baby almost eight years ago. It has been a staple in our home ever since. We love it. It is easy, delicious, and has won chili cookoff contests.

Start by cooking your chicken. The recipe suggests sauteing cubed chicken breasts in 1 tsp olive oil until just cooked through or starting to turn golden brown. I prefer to cook my chicken breasts in my pressure cooker with some green salsa over them. The chicken shreds and has a wonderful flavor this way. Either way, cook your chicken, and set it aside.

The next job is preparing the tomatillos. An excellent task for tiny hands. My 22 month old loves peeling tomatillos. I always make a triple batch, so it takes awhile. Give those kiddos a job, I say. They need to be husked, washed, and chopped.

I prefer to chop the tomatillos finely, because there is less of a final texture issue for my kids. I use the magical food chopper that I got from Emergency Essentials. Best $16.95 I ever spent. Takes a couple of minutes to dice these all beautifully.

Next finely dice your onions. I used purple this time, because it's what I had on hand. It tasted wonderful in the finished chili.

Cook onion, tomatillos, jalapenos and garlic in 1 T olive oil. Cook on high for about 5 minutes, until they release their juices. Then add spices, and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for thirty minutes.

Add beans, corn, cilantro, lime juice, remaining spices, and chicken. Mix cornstarch with water and pour into simmering chili to thicken.

Serve with sour cream and shredded cheese and tortilla strips or chips.

Cut-and-Paste Recipe
Chicken Tortilla Soup
(Adapted from the Low-fat Living Cookbook by Leslie L. Cooper)
1 teaspoon + 1 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb boneless skinless chicken breast, cubed
1 onion, chopped
10 tomatillos, husked and chopped
1-2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsps chili powder
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp sugar
3 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
2 cans (15oz each) pinto beans, rinsed and drained =3 C (Sometimes I use a mixture of pinto, black, and great northern beans.
1 1/2 cup corn kernels (1 can)
1/3 large bunch chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbsp lime juice
Ground black pepper
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp water
1 tsp ground cumin

Start by cooking the chicken. Either sauté until just cooked through and starting to brown in 1 tsp olive oil, or cook in pressure cooker or slow cooker with green salsa over top. I prefer the second method. Set chicken aside.

Cook onion, tomatillos, jalapenos and garlic in 1 T olive oil. Cook on high for about 5 minutes, until they release their juices. Then add spices, and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for thirty minutes.

Add beans, corn, cilantro, lime juice, remaining spices, and chicken. Mix cornstarch with water and pour into simmering chili to thicken.

Serve with sour cream and shredded cheese and tortilla strips or chips.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Kim Pop: Korean Sushi Magic

My Korean sister-in-law has introduced so much magic into our lives. But nothing more divine than Kim Pop. You can experiment with the fillings for these sushi rolls. Depending on my mood, I've added avocado, shrimp, imitation crab, salmon, and many other fillings. Below is exactly the way Hyun Joo first made the kim pop when I decided I must know how to make it for myself... oh... with avocado added.

If only I could avoid messing with recipes...

Start by getting some Japanese style roasted seaweed sheets and your bamboo roller. If you don't have a roller, you can technically just use a tea towel, but it's easier to get a nice tight roll if you use the roller, available from any Asian market, and probably from any world market or kitchen specialty store.

Next, you need to prepare the fillings. I start with the sticky rice, since it takes the longest to prepare. The perfect method for making sticky rice, according to Hyun Joo's directions, is as follows.

Put some rice (Calrose is what I use, or you can try a sushi rice) in a rice cooker. I usually add around 3-4 Cups. Soak the rice for about an hour. After you're done soaking the rice, drain off the water, and rinse three or four times until the water runs clear. Then add water to the pan of the rice cooker until it's about 1-2 inches above the rice. I know, this sounds crazy. Place your hand into the bowl of the rice cooker, and put your hand flat on the rice. The water should come up to your knuckles. Inexact? Maybe... but it works.

I've never failed with the hand-measuring technique. You could also make your sticky rice with some more exact directions from a package or research online... But try the Korean method sometime. I love it.

When the rice is finished, drizzle about 1-2 T of sesame oil over the top, and sprinkle lightly with salt, and mix the rice up. This will lightly season the rice.

Next, prepare the other fillings.

Marinated cucumbers:
Slice a cucumber into halves lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds, and discard.

Then slice the cucumbers lengthwise into strips. About six strips per half cucumber. Mix marinade out of 1/2 C soy sauce, 1/2 C white vinegar, 2 T sugar, and marinate them in this sauce until you're ready to roll your kim pop.

Sautéed spinach with garlic:

Sauté 2-3 C fresh spinach— preferably, or frozen if that's what you have, with 2 T olive oil and 1 heaping T minced garlic. Frozen spinach is what I had on hand, as you can see from my photo, and it turned out just wonderfully. If you use frozen, you should still use the whole leaf kind, not chopped. It's better for laying out in your sushi roll.

Sauté until spinach leaves are soft and bubbling. Set aside to cool.

Egg strips. You can use the egg, or replace with another protein. I've seen my sister in law use hot dogs. Honest, I swear. I am not a fan of this substitution. I have used shrimp, crab, imitation crab, salmon, and ham. The egg is the original thing I learned to do, so that's what I used this time.

Mix two eggs up in a bowl, and pour into a hot skillet. Cook like an omelet, flipping to cook both sides, and then remove from the pan, and cut into thin strips with a pizza cutter or kitchen shears.

Next shred carrots: approximately 1-2 cups. Sauté the carrots in a frying pan with a little salt, pepper, and olive oil. Drizzle just a little sesame oil over the carrots for flavor, and set aside.

Avocado: Slice into thin strips.

When you're ready to make your sushi rolls, set up a workstation with all the ingredients, and place your bamboo roller over top of a tea towel.

Lay a sheet of seaweed on the bamboo roller, and cover the entire surface with a thin layer of sushi rice.

Then lay your fillings at the near end as pictured below.

Roll up the sushi roll as tightly as you can.

Then roll it up in the bamboo roller, as tightly as you can.

roll the tube back and forth, compressing as much as possible.

Slice the roll with a good knife. I always eat the ends as I'm making my sushi rolls, because they are not very pretty, and don't hold together well. By dinner time, unfortunately, I'm usually full.

Arrange beautifully on a plate. Serve with the leftover cucumber marinade as dipping sauce. Add wasabi as desired. DELICIOUS.

Ingredients List

Sushi rice, or Calrose rice
fresh spinach
minced garlic
olive oil
sesame oil
salt and pepper
eggs or other protein (ham, shrimp, salmon, crab)
soy sauce
white vinegar
roasted seaweed sheets

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Balsamic Bruschetta with a Valentine's Day Twist

I’m always looking for good ways to serve vegetables and fruits. My kids and, frankly, I get tired of eating carrot sticks or steamed broccoli, apple slices or oranges. One of my favorites recently is bruschetta. It’s packed with tomatoes and fresh herbs and it’s a lot more appealing than handing your kids a tomato and telling them to chow down.
I like to think of bruschetta as pico de gallo’s long lost Italian cousin. Get rid of the onions and peppers and exchange basil for cilantro and you’re set. My current favorite bruschetta recipe is below. It’s made with balsamic vinegar and tastes great on a sliced baguette or with pita chips.

My kids eat it willingly, if not enthusiastically, and it was a big hit when I made it for book club a while back.

Dice your Roma tomatoes finely. This tastes best if they’re deep red, fully ripe. These were not quite ready.
Remove the basil leaves from the stems and chop your fresh basil to about this consistency, maybe a little finer.
Please never use dried basil for bruschetta. If you don't have fresh basil and you’re in a pinch, make something else. The taste of fresh basil is really the heart of this recipe.
A thought on basil - If you can, buy living basil. During the summer months you can get really great healthy plants at Trader Joe's, Whole Foods or your local farmers' market that will grow and give you more than your money's worth of basil, fresh whenever you want it. Just be sure to snip off the ends at the first sign of flower growth. Once basil goes to seed, it becomes bitter. This month I found a sort of weak-sauce plant at Safeway that's been doing okay on my window sill. The next best thing is one of those big tubs available at most grocery stores near the packaged spinach. It may seem like a lot, but you can always use any extra basil chopped up in a salad to give it a boost and the price you pay for those tiny little fresh herb packs is ridiculous.

Grate your parmesan. Buying a brick and grating it is best. Buying real parmesan pre-shredded is okay. If you were to use Kraft parmesan in the green tube with no fillers, it would probably be edible. Add the parmesan to the bowl.
Next add your 2 cloves of diced garlic. I’m lazy when it comes to garlic and, although I know fresh is best, I usually settle for a teaspoon of the jarred pre-diced garlic from Costco.

Mix those up and then drizzle the liquids over top and sprinkle on some salt and pepper. Stir.

For some Valentine’s Day fun, I seeded and sliced red bell peppers and put them around the platter in the shape of a heart and then filled the heart with bruschetta.
It’s a cute idea but in order to make it work without leaking all over the place, you need to completely drain any of the bruschetta that’s not on the plate in the middle or face the consequences of a leaky heart.

Cut-and-Paste Recipe

Balsamic Bruschetta
8 Roma tomatoes
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
¼ cup shredded parmesan cheese
2 cloves minced garlic
1 T balsamic vinegar
1 tsp olive oil
¼ tsp salt
dash or two of ground black pepper
French bread, baguette, or pita chips

Place the diced tomatoes, fresh basil, parmesan cheese and garlic in a bowl. Stir gently to combine. Drizzle with vinegar and olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir once more to combine. Spoon generously onto sliced French bread or scoop up salsa-style with pita chips.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Steel-Cut Oats - Crockpot Instructions

I first discovered steel-cut oats a few years ago when Dan and I spent a weekend away at the Salish Lodge in Snoqualmie, Washington. Our breakfast there was amazing, full of flakey pastries, fresh fruit, perfect fried potatoes, and eggs, but when we were done eating, I couldn’t stop thinking about the oatmeal. The texture. The deliciousness.

Steel-cut oats are whole oat groats that have been cut into pieces. Because they are minimally processed, they retain more of their nutritive value than rolled oats and when cooked into oatmeal, they are amazing.

You can get the best price on them when you buy them in bulk. Most grocery stores that sell bulk grains will have them and if all else fails, you can buy a bag of Bob’s Red Mill steel-cut oats at an inflated price. Here is what they look like:
Cooking them is simple but it does take quite a while on the stovetop so I’ve recently started cooking mine overnight in the crockpot. Waking up to a hot breakfast, already prepared, is one of my favorite things, right under getting a great foot massage and sunshine.
Start by measuring two cups of steel-cut oats into your crockpot.

Next, add a teaspoon each of cinnamon and salt and stir to combine. I like to add the dry ingredients before adding the water because then you have less chance of the cinnamon clumping up and over-flavoring one area of the oatmeal.
Then, you pour in your six cups of water and add a pat of butter, about two Tablespoons. A little of the cinnamon will float to the top but that’s okay. It should look something like this:
Turn your slow cooker to low, cover and let it cook overnight. Eight hours is plenty but it can go longer if you need it to. In the morning, give the whole thing a good stir and serve with your favorite toppings. Personally I feel better when I load up on fruits and vegetables and limit my grains so I like to start with a cup of peaches, berries or other fruit and then stir in about half a cup of the oats.
It also tastes great with a little fruit jam mixed in or topped with a sprinkling of brown sugar and raisons. This morning, Magoo made a smiley face out of dried blueberries on his and Laylee brutally drowned hers with milk. Whatever floats your boat.

If you have leftover oats, consider using them to make Heather’s recycled grain bread. It’s a winner. In the cut-and-paste recipe below, I’ve also listed alternate instructions for cooking the oats on the stovetop.

Cut-and-Paste Recipe

Steel-Cut Oats
(Makes 6-8 Servings)

2 C steel-cut oats
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
6 C water
2 T butter
Fresh or dried fruit, brown sugar, or milk to taste

Combine oats, cinnamon, and salt in your crock pot. Pour in water and stir. Drop in butter. Cover. Turn crockpot to low and cook for 8-10 hours. Stir before serving. Oats can be served with your choice of fresh or dried fruit, brown sugar, fruit jam, or milk.

Alternately – you can combine the ingredients on the stove top and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Then turn the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes or more, stirring the bottom frequently until the oats reach the desired consistency. You can also soak the oats in the water over night and then add the other ingredients and cook them on the stovetop as listed above but the cooking time should go down to between five and ten minutes.