Sunday, March 6, 2016

Chewy Sugar Cookies

You know those cake mix cookies that everyone makes and everyone loves because the texture is so amazing.  Well, behold their replacement.  These cookies have the same texture, but they don't have that funky cake mix medicinal aftertaste.  They are so good.  I may or may not have eaten three of them within an hour.

Chewy Sugar Cookies
source: America's Test Kitchen The New Family Cookbook, pg. 614

2 1/4 c flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 c sugar plus 1/3 c for rolling
2 oz cream cheese, cut into 8 chunks
6 T unsalted butter, melted and still warm
1/3 c vegetable oil
1 lg egg
1 T whole milk
2 t vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In your mixing bowl, add 1 1/2 c sugar and cream cheese.  Add the melted butter and use you paddle attachment on low speed until it is mixed.  Add in the oil.  Mix.  Finally, whisk in the egg, milk, and vanilla until smooth.  Fold in the flour mixture with a rubber spatula until a soft dough forms.

Put the remaining 1/3 c sugar in s small bowl.  Roll about 2 tablespoons of dough into a ball.  Roll it in the sugar.  Place 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet. Using the bottom of a measuring cup, gently press the cookies down and flatten until about 3 inches wide.

Bake for 11-13 minutes.  The edges will be set and start to brown.

Remove and cool.

Coconut Shrimp with Sweet Chili Dipping Sauce

As we were driving around last night, my son, out of the middle of nowhere says, "You know what the fourth item on my bucket list is?  Sitting on a copy machine and making a copy."  I questioned him a little more to ensure that it is with his pants on, and it is.  Phew.  My son's little butt does not need to be xeroxed.

These coconut shrimp are delicious.  These that are pictures were kept in the deep fryer a little too long.  They should be a bit more golden.  Don't let the over doneness scare you away.  They were so good.  The Sweet Chili dipping sauce was amazing as well.  Every time I've made these for company, they always go fast.  I'm always disappointed that I didn't make more, but shrimp is just so darn expensive.  
Coconut Shrimp with Sweet Chili Dipping Sauce


1/3 c flour
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
2 lg eggs, beaten
3/4 c Panko (no- you can't use regular bread crumbs *slap on the wrist*)
1 c sweetened shredded coconut
1 pound raw large shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 T Thai sweet Chili sauce
1/4 c orange marmalade

oil for frying

Get 3 bowls.  In the first, combine the flour, salt, and pepper.  In the second, the beaten eggs.  In the third, combine the Panko and coconut.

Dip the shrimp in the flour mixture, then the eggs, then the coconut-Panko mixture, pressing gently to adhere.  The more coconut, the better!

Place the coconut shrimp on a plate while preparing the rest of them.

Add enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan and preheat the oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Fry about 6 or 7 at a time until the are golden brown, about 3 minutes.  Flip and fry the second side.  If you're not too health conscious like me and have a deep fat fryer, set the temperature to 325 and fry until golden brown.  I had the temp a bit too high for the shrimp pictured.  Lesson learned!

Place the fried shrimp on a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

While they are cooling, combine the Thai sweet chili sauce and the orange marmalade.  Serve on the side.

Easy Fully Loaded Potato Skins

What is it about watching a big football game that makes me want to eat like crap?!  I'm pretty good about eating kind of healthy, but once the Super Bowl comes around, all bets are off!!  I cook for hours, eat everything in sight, and don't regret a single bite.  These potato skins graced our table on Super Bowl Sunday, and they were delicious.  They are a little labor intensive, but I like that the flavor of the potato skins was not like, "Hey!  Here I am!  Can you taste my earthy dirt flavor" as it smacks ya in the face.  Regular potato skins tend to have a stronger flavor of the skins, and I'm not much of a fan.

These were cheesy and fabulous.  Next time you want to indulge yourself in something lacking in all nutritional value and full of fat- this is your ticket to happiness.  :)

Easy Fully Loaded Potato Skins

4 large baking potatoes
3 T butter, melted
2 t kosher salt
1 1/2 c shredded cheddar cheese
7 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
Sour cream
green onions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Prepare your baking sheet.  Line a cookie sheet with foil and spray with non-stick cooking spray.

Wash the potatoes well.  Cut off the ends of the potatoes and toss them.  Slice the rest of the potato into 1/2 inch slices.  Don'd do them too much thinner since you want them to hold up for the cooking and toppings.

Brush both sides with butter and sprinkle with the salt.

Lay them on the prepared cookie sheet in a single layer.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Take them out and flip them.  Bake for another 15-20 minutes.

When the potatoes are done, sprinkle the cheese and bacon on top.  Return to the oven for another 3-5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.  Remove from the oven.

Transfer the potato slices to your serving platter.  Place a small dollop of sour cream on top and sprinkle with green onions.

The Best Homemade French Bread

One of my dear friends recently was flying solo with three kids since her husband was out of town for ten days.  I invited her and her kids over for dinner, assuming that she'd like a little adult interaction to break up the chaos, monotony, and overwhelming job of being alone with three kids for such a stretch.  She gladly came over.  I made this bread for them, and it was gobbled up in about three second flat.  There was pretty much a showdown for the last piece.  The kids had their knives out and were ready to defend their right to get the last slice of the greatly-desired bread.  Luckily, no blood or tears were shed.  It was a great dinner.

The next day, one of the kids that came over went up to my daughter and said, "You know, I learned two things about you last night.  First, you get a little crazy when playing Mario Party.  Second, you're mom crazy good at cooking."  Knuckles for that, Sam!

I've tried many recipes for French bread, but this one takes the cake!  It was so soft, and the texture was perfect.

When I make this, my son basically does a happy dance in the kitchen that looks more like a giraffe convulsing while on ice skates.  How's that for mental imagery!

The Best Homemade French Bread

Yield: 2 loaves

2 1/4 c warm water
2 T sugar
1 T yeast
1 T salt
2 T oil
5 1/2 - 6 flour


Get the water temperature to about 100-110 degrees.  Dissolve the yeast in the warm water.  Let it sit for about 5-10 minutes to allow the yeast to proof (get all puffy).

Once the yeast is all puffy, pour it into your mixing bowl.  Add the salt, oil, and 3 c flour.  Use your hook attachment to mix well.  Add in the remaining 2 1/2- 3 c of flour.  Start with just 2 1/2 cups.  The dough should pull together and come off the sides but not be too sticky.  Add a little more flour at a time, as needed.

Do not remove the bowl or the hook attachment.  Leave it there for 10 minutes.  Turn on the mixer for 10 seconds to knock the dough back down.  Do that for the total of five times.  It'll take about an hour.

Divide the dough into two sections Roll each into a 9 x 13 rectangle.  Roll them up like you would with cinnamon rolls.  Pinch each edge to seal.

Sprinkle some cornmeal onto a cookie sheet.  Place each roll of dough onto the cookie sheet, seam side down.

Cut three gashes into the tops of the loaves.

Let these rise for 30 minutes.  Then, brush the top of each loaf with an egg wash (1 egg and 1 T water mixed well).

Bake in a 375 oven for 30 minutes.

Let it cool for a few minutes, slice, and slather some butter on that bad boy.  It'll blow your mind!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Key Lime Pie

The other night, we were eating this pie, and the kids asked me to tell them a funny story.  I told them about a story when I was a senior in high school.  My friend Jessi and I were quite the trouble-makers in government class.  Our teacher learned this quickly but never got mad at us.  He would just look at us and say, "Jeesssssiii, Caaaalllllie" and give us a disgruntled expression and a raised eyebrow.  Before the bell rang, he always stood in the hallway and talked to the other teachers.  One day, we had a quiz over the counties of Nevada.  Jessi and I made about 20 copies of the answers and stapled them all over the walls, unbeknownst to him since he was yapping in the hallway.  He came in the classroom, looked around, smirked, and looked right at Jessi and I and said, "Jeessssssiiiii, Caaaaallllliie."  He made us take them down, but we sure thought it was hilarious.

We were having some people over for dinner a few weeks ago, and I asked what they wanted for dessert.  One of them quickly asked if I could make key lime pie.  I had never made or eaten key lime pie, but I was bound and determined to do it.  When I got home, I researched key lime pie recipes for a good hour trying to find one that looked amazing.  I saw one that had a coconut macaroon crust, but I thought that it might be a bit too sweet.  I finally settled on the America's Test Kitchen key lime pie recipe, but I toasted some coconut to sprinkle on top.  Sweet mother of all that is holy.  This is one good pie.

A couple weeks after making this the first time, I made it for another friend.  He said that it was the best key lime pie that he'd ever had and told me that I should work in a bakery.  That made my whole day!

Key Lime Pie
source: America's Test Kitchen: The New Family Cookbook

Graham Cracker Crust:
8 whole graham crackers, broken into 1-inch chunks 
3 T sugar
5 T butter, melted and cooled

Preheat over to 325.  

Place the graham cracker crumbs and sugar in a food processor.  Process until fine.  Add the melted butter and pulse about 5 more times.  

Press into a 9-inch pie plate.  You can use the bottom of a measuring cup to pack the crumbs in.  Bake until beginning to brown, 12-18 minutes.  Remove to cool, but keep the oven on.

Key Lime Pie:
4 large egg yolks
4 t grated lime zest and 1/2 c lime juice (about five limes)
1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk

1 c heavy cream
1/4 c powdered sugar

Set oven to 325.

For the pie, whisk the egg yolks and lime zest for two minutes until mixture has a light green tint.  Whisk in the sweetened condensed milk.  Add the lime juice, and whisk to combine.  Let the mixture sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to thicken.

After the 30 minutes is up, pour the mixture into the graham cracker crust.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the center is firm but jiggles slightly.  Cool on a wire rack for one hour.  Cover and cool in the fridge for at least three hours or overnight.  

Before serving, make the whipped cream.  Beat the heavy cream and sugar with a whisk attachment on medium-high speed until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes.  Spread over the chilled pie.

If you want to add toasted coconut, heat a small skillet over medium-low heat.  Add about 1/2 c toasted coconut.  Watch it closely and stir often to prevent over-browning.  Once it's nice and golden brown, sprinkle it over the whipped cream.  

Chipotle Salsa

My best friend Sara and her husband always tease me and how I cook.  If I bring them cookies or something, they go on and say things like, "Oh, I just made these with some fresh eggs from my chicken hatchery in the backyard, I ground the wheat that I grew in my garden, and I used the butter I churned by hand after milking my prize-winning cow Betsy Sue."

I recently made this chipotle salsa and gave half of it to them.  When the husband texting me to see how I made it, I wrote him back saying, "I used my hand-picked, perfectly ripened tomatoes from my garden, fresh chili peppers imported directly from Mexico, and fresh limes straight from a tree in my citrus grove." 'Cause I live in Las Vegas and have room for a cow, a hatchery, and a citrus grove.  Heck, I'm lucky that my rosebushes survive year to year.

This salsa though... It is so good.  It can't be easier to make, and it is amazing.  It tastes a lot like the salsa from Chevy's, which I can eat by the bucketful.  Next time you have a get together, whip up a batch of this and brace yourself for recipe requests.

Chipotle Salsa
source: The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays pg. 138

Yield: 5 cups!

Two 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes
One 10 oz. can diced tomatoes with green chilies (like Ro-Tel)
1 medium onion, diced
1-3 chipotle peppers in adobo (I used 1 to keep the heat down.  If you like more heat, add more)
1 t cumin
1 t salt
1/2 t ground pepper
1 t sugar
1 bunch cilantro, stems removed
1/4 c lime juice

This directions are pretty tricky... brace yourself.  Add all ingredients in a blender and turn it on.  Blend until it's a nice consistency like the picture above.  Done and done.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Soft Mall Pretzels and Cheese Dip

Back in the days of my youth, I used to work at the mall.  I worked at a few different kiosks and in the stores.  Being that I would usually go right from school to work, I rarely had time to eat at home.  I was stuck eating mall food most days, hence the reason I wasn't the skinniest kid you've ever seen.  One day, I was sitting at my kiosk waiting for people to come by while I was snacking on some mall pretzels for dinner.  All of the sudden, I heard this faint music playing.  Quizzically, I looked around.  I couldn't find the source of the music at first, but then I spotted it.  Oh, boy.  Did I ever.  I saw an older, heavier guy with long, brown flowing hair pressed down under his mesh trucker hat sitting on a rascal driving full speed ahead.  He had an American flag duct taped to the back of his chair and a boombox from the 80s jimmy-rigged to the back of his chair with bungee cords.  As if this wasn't hilarious enough, the song... oh, man.  He was blaring "Mmm-bop" by Hansen, flying through the mall at full speed (and when I say full speed, I mean like 2 miles an hour), with his American flag flapping behind.  The sweet sound of Hansen filled the mall.  God Bless America and Hansen.  And mall pretzels.

These stupid pretzels were the most amazing pretzel I have ever tasted.  Aunt Annie and Wetzel, wherever you are... your pretzels are dead to me!  I was sure that they wouldn't turn out or taste very good, but sweet mercy, they were delicious.  I think my oldest daughter inhaled hers in a matter of seconds saying something like, "Mom, thesefsee  preiahkjanscalsatzels  arejrrerer aiaufyhasfamaziashring."  I couldn't understand it much since her mouth was completely full, but I'm pretty sure she said that the pretzels were amazing.  You could make pretzel bites for a great appetizer for "the big game."  Heaven forbid me mention the S word in February.  I don't need to be sued.  If I was, I'd want a batch of these pretzels as my comfort food.  Ridiculously delicious.

Soft Mall Pretzels

cheese sauce recipe:

1 c milk
1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 t)
3 T light brown sugar
2 1/4 c flour
5 T unsalted butter, divided
1 t salt
1/3 c baking soda
coarse salt

Warm the milk in a large glass bowl in the microwave for 40 seconds.  Add the yeast.  Stir to dissolve.  Let the yeast soften for two minutes.  Stir in the brown sugar and 1 c of flour.   Mix well with a wooden spoon.  Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter and mix it in.  Add the remaining 1 1/4 c flour and salt.  Mix until your have a sticky dough.  If needed, add more flour.  (I added about 2-3 more tablespoons to cut down on the stickiness.) 

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth but still slightly tacky. 

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let rise for an hour, or until doubled in size. 

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment and spray with cooking spray. 

Punch the dough down and divide into six equal-sized balls. Roll each ball in a rope about 24-30 inches long.  It can be tricky to get the dough into ropes that long without breaking.  If you can only get them 18-24 long, that's fine.  Mine came out to be about 20 inches long.

Combine 3 c of warm water and 1/3 c baking soda.  Stir to dissolve.

Shape the ropes into a pretzel shape, dip it in the water, reshape if necessary, and place on the cookie sheet.  Sprinkle with coarse salt.

Bake until golden, 10-12 minutes.  When they come out, brush the tops with the remaining melted butter.

Serve with cheese sauce.

Ingredients for cheese sauce:
1 c whole milk
2 T unsalted butter
2 T flour
1 c sharp cheddar cheese
1 T hot sauce (reduce if you don't like heat!)
1/2 t cayenne (reduce if you don't like heat!)
salt and pepper to taste.

Melt the butter in a saucepan.  Add the flour and whisk to combine.  Cook over medium heat for 2 minutes.  Slowly add the milk, whisking as you add it.  Whisk constantly for five minutes.  The mixture will thicken.  Add the cheese and whisk until melted.  Add the hot sauce and cayenne (you can omit this entirely if you don't want any heat).  Add salt and pepper to taste.