Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Daring Bakers: Nanaimo Bars

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and www.nanaimo.ca.

Lauren stated the following: "Nanaimo Bars are a classic Canadian dessert created in none other than Nanaimo, British Colombia. In case you were wondering, it’s pronounced Nah-nye-Moh. These bars have 3 layers: a base containing graham crackers, cocoa, coconut and nuts, a middle custard layer, and a topping of chocolate. They are extremely rich and available almost everywhere across the country. I used to buy them at the grocery store before going gluten-free."Due to budgetary reasons and personal preferences, I opted to not make my graham wafers gluten-free. I did make them with regular flour, though, along with the Nanaimo Bars.
It took me three or four days to finish making the graham crackers because I prolonged the process (procrastinator am I). Nevertheless, they were pretty easy to do; there were just a lot of steps. With the exception of my last batch, which I burned due to my hot oven, the crackers came out beautifully. I was pretty proud of myself for making these crackers.
Homemade graham cracker crumbs. The burnt pieces made the crumbs look even prettier!

Nanaimo Bars: After making the graham crackers, everything moved along smoothly...until I reached the middle layer! I thought I had vanilla pudding mix, but I didn't. So, as I always do when I don't feel like going to the store, especially when the sunlight I need for my photos starts to go down, I searched for viable substitutions. I saw that cornstarch, sugar, and vanilla extract were deemed good enough depending on the recipe, so I used that, and it worked out perfectly.
The bottom layer is beautiful. Since I don't like nuts, I used extra graham cracker crumbs instead. I'm not crazy about coconut, but I used it anyway. I'm glad I did.

REFLECTION ON CHALLENGE: This is the first DB challenge dessert I've actually enjoyed eating. Sure, some of the other desserts we had to make were pretty good, but they weren't so good that I've wanted to make them again in the future. These bars made me moan with joy. I shared some with my friend, and I was later reluctant about giving them away haha. After eating them, he sent me a text message in Portuguese stating basically that they were "finger-licking good".

I'm surprised I liked them since I'm not a fan of coconut, but my favorite layers were the bottom and middle layers. I will be definitely making these again.
Thanks, Lauren!! Make sure you check out what the other DBers did for this month's challenge.
Since I made a few changes to the recipe, I have posted the recipe with my modifications below. For the graham cracker recipe, visit my previous post.

Nanaimo Bars

adapted from the City of Nanaimo, BC


Bottom Layer

1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter

1/4 cup (50 g) (1.8 ounces) Granulated Sugar

5 tablespoons (75 mL) Unsweetened Cocoa

1 Large Egg, Beaten

1 3/4 cups (300 mL) (160 g) (5.6 ounces) Graham Wafer Crumbs (recipe here; half that recipe)

1/2 cup (55 g) (1.9 ounces) Almonds (Any type, Finely chopped) (I used more graham cracker crumbs instead)

1 cup (130 g) (4.5 ounces) Coconut (Shredded, sweetened or unsweetened)


Melt unsalted butter, sugar and cocoa in top of a double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, nuts and coconut. Press firmly into an ungreased 8 by 8 inch pan.


Middle Layer

1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter

2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons (40 mL) Heavy Cream

2 tablespoons (30 mL) Vanilla pudding mix (I didn't have so subbed cornstarch, sugar, and vanilla extract)

2 cups (254 g) (8.9 ounces) Icing Sugar


Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light in colour. Spread over bottom layer.


Top Layer

4 ounces (115 g) Semi-sweet chocolate (I doubled the amount of chocolate)

2 tablespoons (28 g) (1 ounce) Unsalted Butter


Melt chocolate and unsalted butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, pour over middle layer and chill.

A side view of my very lame attempt at making Canadian-Olympic-themed-Nanaimo "Bars"! haha I told you that I'm not very creative. The overhead shots were too ugly to post.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Graham Crackers

I made these graham crackers the other day to accompany another dessert I'll be blogging about in fewer than 24 hours. (Post is now up!)

To make things simpler, I'll just post the recipe and process photos. These crackers came out great and tasted great! I love that they don't require graham flour or wheat flour. Enjoy!

Graham Cracker Recipe
adapted from 101 Cookbooks who got it from Nancy Silverton's Pastries from La Brea Bakery

2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
7 tablespoons (3 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen
1/3 cup mild-flavored honey, such as clover
5 tablespoons whole milk
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract

Topping:
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Pulse or mix on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off on and off, or mix on low, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal.
In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, milk, and vanilla extract. Add to the flour mixture and pulse on and off a few times or mix on low until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours or overnight.
To prepare the topping: In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon, and set aside.

Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be sticky, so flour as necessary. Trim the edges of the rectangle to 4 inches wide. Working with the shorter side of the rectangle parallel to the work surface, cut the strip every 4 1/2 inches to make 4 crackers. Gather the scraps together and set aside. Place the crackers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets and sprinkle with the topping. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat with the second batch of dough.

Adjust the oven rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Gather the scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and reroll. Dust the surface with more flour and roll out the dough to get about two or three more crackers. Mark a vertical line down the middle of each cracker, being careful not to cut through the dough. Using a toothpick or skewer, prick the dough to form two dotted rows about 1/2 inch for each side of the dividing line.
Bake for 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the tough, rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream Revisited

One of the benefits of having a blog is seeing how much you've changed over time. For instance, the first time I ever made ice cream, I ranted on and on about how much I had to do just to produce a decent vat of ice cream custard. I chuckle at my complaints now.

My first ice cream attempt was vanilla bean from David Lebovitz. Since then, I have made many other flavors of ice cream (9 to be exact), and I now consider the process very easy to do.
Now, I'm going to back to my favorite flavor - vanilla bean. This time I'm using a different recipe that I feel is richer and tastier than the first one I made. I made it one other time before, and my colleagues devoured it gleefully. One of them did not even want to share the rest of it with the others, so she found a way to hoard it for herself haha.

In order to make this ice cream even better, I added a teaspoon of vanilla extract to the custard even after infusing a vanilla bean and its seeds. It is so creamy and has a yellow hue to it. Please make this cold, smooth, "vanilla-ful" concoction muy pronto.
Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
adapted from Ice Cream! (thanks, mom!)

1 1/4 (300ml) whole milk
1 vanilla bean (if none, add 1 more tsp of vanilla extract to below amount when you add the cream)
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup (100g) vanilla sugar (or plain sugar)
1 1/4 (300ml) heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)

Put the milk, vanilla seeds, and vanilla bean in a medium saucepan, and heat gently to near-boiling point. Remove the saucepan from the heat, and allow the vanilla to infuse for 15 minutes.

In a separate, heatproof bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar, using a whisk or electric beater, until thick and pale. Gradually beat the milk into the egg mixture.

Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, and continue stirring until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. (book's instructions)
OR
Pour the milk/egg mixture back into the saucepan, and stir the mixture until it coats the back of a wooden spoon. (this is what I did). This took about 5-10 minutes.

Remove the bowl from the heat, and cover the surface directly with plastic wrap or waxed paper to prevent a skin from forming. Allow the custard to cool completely by refrigerating mixture for 4 hours to overnight.

Once cool, stir in the cream and vanilla extract (if using), and churn in an ice cream maker, according to the manufacturer's instructions. Serve immediately, or transfer to a freezer container; cover the surface directly with waxed paper or foil, and put in the freezer.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Baked Chicken and Dumplings

Yesterday evening, I really didn't want to cook, and I've been trying to save money, so eating out wasn't an option. I searched through my bookmarks again for a pretty quick chicken dish and found this recipe for a baked version of Chicken and Dumplings.
The recipe looked pretty simple, and I had almost all of the ingredients, so I made it in only a few minutes after boiling the chicken. It didn't even require chopping veggies! I made my dish a bit differently by boiling chicken breasts for about 20 minutes and then cutting them into bite-sized pieces. Because I prefer dumplings more than the chicken, I made sure to put a lot of dumplings in my bowl.

While the dish was good the night I made it, it tasted much better the next day. So, for optimal flavor, you may want to assemble the dish, cover it, and allow it to refrigerate overnight before baking it.
I now have yummy leftovers for the rest of this weekend. I still prefer the pot version of chicken and dumplings, because the dumplings are more moist; nevertheless, I loved how simple this dish was to put together. I hope you get to try it soon!

Baked Chicken and Dumplings
adapted from Sisters' Café (I love this blog!)
Chicken:
3 c. cooked chicken, cut into large pieces (I used 4 boneless chicken breasts, chopped)
½ c. butter
1/3 c. flour
½ tsp salt (I used Lawry's Seasoning Salt)
1/8 tsp pepper
3 c. chicken broth (I used the broth from boiling the chicken and added a bouillon cube)
1 can cream of chicken soup (I used the 98% fat-free variety)

Dumplings:
2 c. flour
3 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 tsp poultry seasoning (I subbed 3/4 tsp sage, 1/4 rosemary, and 1/4 black pepper)
1 tsp celery seed (I didn't have)
¼ c. oil (I used canola/vegetable oil blend)
1 c. milk

Blend butter, flour, salt and pepper in saucepan. Add chicken broth and cook until thick. Stir in cream of chicken soup and add cooked chicken. Put in a 9x13 pan. To prepare dumplings, mix all ingredients together and stir until moistened. Drop rounded spoonfuls onto chicken and gravy. Bake at 425° for 20-25 minutes.

Enjoy!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Mozzarella Sticks w/Marinara Sauce

I don't need to say much about this dish because, well, you know it was too good to describe. I had thought about making fried mozzarella over a week ago and had happened to find fresh mozzarella cheese on sale (50% off!) at the grocery store. I promptly picked it up and made these sticks the very next day.
This recipe is based on three different recipes. Because the cheese melts quickly, you have to freeze them for at least 2 hours. I suggest freezing the mozzarella and preparing the sauce the day before you need them to save time.
In order to reheat the mozzarella sticks, I placed the cold, coated sticks back in the same hot skillet with the oil removed. Then, I heated up the sticks for a few minutes in the skillet; it didn't take long for them to get hot and "melty" again.

Marinara Sauce

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 small onions, finely chopped (I used one medium onion)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped (I didn't have this)
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1 (32 ounce) cans of crushed tomatoes (I used a box of Pomì)
2 dried bay leaves

In a large casserole pot, heat the oil over a medium-high flame. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onions for about 5 minutes. Add the celery, carrots, and 1/2 teaspoon of each salt and pepper. Sauté until all the vegetables are soft for about 5-10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and bay leaves, and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens for about 1 hour. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Season the sauce with more salt and pepper to taste.

STORE: This sauce can be made 1 day ahead. Cool, then cover, and refrigerate. Rewarm over medium heat before using.

Fried Mozzarella
adapted from various sources mentioned above, primarily from Giada de Laurentis

14-16 ounce block of mozzarella (I cut this block in flat, 1/4-1/2-inch thick strips)
1 cup oil for frying (I used vegetable oil)
1 cup of Italian Breadcrumbs
1/2 cup of shredded Parmesan
1/2-1 cup of flour
2 eggs, beaten

CAN DO THIS STEP THE DAY BEFORE: Cut the mozzarella into strips, if not separated already. Flash freeze the cheese sticks by laying them flat on a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan and placing them in the freezer for 1 to 2 hours. If not making the fried mozzarella until the next day, place the frozen mozzarella in a freezer bag after flash freezing them, and leave them in the freezer.

On the day of preparation, heat up the oil in a cast-iron skillet or dutch oven to 365 degrees.

While the oil is heating up, mix the the breadcrumbs with the Parmesan cheese. Then, coat the mozzarella with flour first, then egg, and then breadcrumb mixture (you can double-coat the cheese if you like; I didn't). Once a few have been coated, place them in the hot oil carefully, but don't crowd the skillet. Fry them for about 2-3 minutes each side. The cheese melts fairly quickly, so be careful.

Enjoy these sticks with marinara sauce!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Chicken Fried Rice

A few months ago, I made a post about a healthy shrimp fried rice I had a made a long time ago. While that dish was fantastic, especially for being a healthier version, I had been wanting to try the "regular" version for awhile.

I had quite a bit of leftover rice from the Chinese Lemon Chicken dish I made last week, so I reheated that rice for about 30 seconds to prep it for the fried rice. I found this recipe on allrecipes.com and followed the highest rated comment rather than the recipe, and it was so good.

If you have leftover, cooked rice, you should use it for this dish. Just make sure it's not too cold when added to the wok or skillet because it may turn out too gummy. I used low-sodium soy sauce, and it tasted just fine.
Lastly, the recipe called for oyster sauce, which I didn't have. Consequently, I made my own quick version based on some advice I found online that didn't require oysters. The recipe for the sauce may be found below. Oyster sauce is more of a sweet/salty thickener, so the adapted recipe is based on that premise.
Enjoy!
Chicken Fried Rice
adapted from a comment (MaryTee) on allrecipes.com

3 cubed chicken breast pieces
salt
pepper
garlic powder
onion powder
1 Tbsp oyster sauce (recipe below, if you don't have store-bought)
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp sesame oil
3 cloves of minced garlic
2 eggs (or egg whites)
8 oz bag of frozen carrots/pea medley
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons soy sauce (I used low sodium)
3-4 cups cooked white rice (I used Jasmine rice; you could also use brown rice)
2-3 green onions

Cube 3 uncooked chicken breast into little pieces and seasoned it with salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and a tablespoon of oyster sauce. Heat up butter with sesame oil, then add minced garlic with the chicken. In a wok or cast-iron skillet, cook the meat until it is no longer pink (about 5-8 minutes).

Add scrambled eggs to the meat. Cook for 3-4 minutes, then add a 16oz bag of frozen peas/carrots mixture. I mix in about 3.5 cups of cooked Jasmine rice (must be cold but not fresh out of the refrigerator. Microwave the rice for 20 sec.). Add soy sauce and stir fry until light golden brown. Stir in chopped green onions and sprinkle in black pepper to taste.

Homemade "Oyster" Sauce (w/o oysters)
adapted from various sources

1/2-1 slice of fresh, grated ginger
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar (or substitute sweetner or 1/4 tsp agave nectar????)
1 tsp cornstarch
1 1/2 Tbsp water

Grate the ginger in a 1 or 2-cup measuring cup. Add in all the other ingredients, and stir them well. Microwave the mixture for 30 seconds.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Oatmeal Pie Muffins

I first saw these muffins on Southern Plate under the name of Pecan Pie Muffins, and I was planning on making them since they only required 5 ingredients (4 if you subtract the nuts). Then, the other day, I spotted more pecan pie muffins on Bake at 350 and knew that that was a sign to finally make these.

Well, as many of the regulars of my blog know, I abhor nuts of any kind, so I usually solve the problem by making nut desserts without nuts, as I've done with my Pecanless Pie Tarts or Cinnamon Swirl Bread.

I thought over and over about making these muffins without nuts, and it seemed like it wouldn't taste right. So, in order to retain some of that "meatiness" in the muffin, I added oats in place of pecans, and they came out perfectly!
These are so quick to make that I had halved the recipe and then decided to make another half portion, since I wanted a full dozen. You need only one bowl, and you don't need to use a mixer.
Make these promptly; they will take only a few minutes!

Oatmeal Pie Muffins
(sounds better than Oat Pie Muffins or Oat Muffins)

adapted from Southern Plate and
Bake at 350 (the latter got the recipe from Make Ahead Meals)

2/3 cups melted butter (Southern Plate's recipe calls for 1/2 cup of butter)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup oats
1/2 cup flour
2 eggs, room temperature

Preheat the oven at 350 degrees F. Spray the muffin pan with Baker's Joy (I love this stuff), cooking spray, or butter.

Melt the butter, and set aside. In a medium-sized bowl, put in the rest of the ingredients. Add the melted butter. Do not overmix. Spoon the mixture in the muffin pans. Bake for 18-20 minutes.

Store: When the muffins are completely cool, place them in a freezer bag, and freeze them for up to 2 months!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Cinnamon Swirl Bread

I made this bread late at night and poured a glaze on top to intensify it even more. I knew there was a problem before cutting into it because it was sunken in the middle. I found out that the innards of the bread were not fully cooked. I went back to the website to see what others had said about the cake, and they mentioned that the gooey center was the best part, but my cake was a bit too gooey. I heated the cake up more, which caused the sides of the bread to burn even more and the top of the bread to form an extra layer of crust from the glaze I had put on before.
Even through all of these problems, this bread tasted fantastic. I hope you have better luck than I had on baking it right the first time around. Just make sure it doesn't sink down in the middle, which is a clear indication that it is not fully done. Nevertheless, you also want a semi-gooey center, which I lost from all the reheating. It was still softer, moister in the center, though. I put more glaze on top, which made the burnt sides softer. Don't let my mistakes deter you from trying this bread; it is beyond fantastic.
Cinnamon Swirl Bread
adapted from Bake or Break

1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans, toasted (I didn't use)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup milk (I used buttermilk for extra moistness. YUM!)
1/3 cup cooking oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease/flour/spray the bottom and sides of a 9″x5″x3″ loaf pan.Combine 1/3 cup of sugar, pecans (if using), and cinnamon. Set aside.

Combine 1 cup of sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl or mixer bowl. In a separate bowl, beat egg. Then, stir in milk (or buttermilk) and oil (I put these two together in a measuring cup). Make a well in the flour mixture (I didn't do this), and add the egg mixture. Stir just until mixed. Do not overmix.

Pour half of the batter into loaf pan. Sprinkle with half of the cinnamon mixture. Repeat. With a wide rubber scraper or spatula, swirl mixtures together with a down and up circular motion (I couldn't do that for some reason).

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until done. Cool in pan for about 10 minutes. Then, cool completely on a wire rack.

Glaze

1 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (optional)

Enjoy!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Twix Bars

I'm sure you've seen these around the blogosphere lately under the name of "Millionaire Bars" or the like. I was intrigued by the fact that bloggers had claimed that they tasted like a better version of Twix Bars, so I decided to make them even more like those candy bars by dipping the shortbread and dulce de leche/caramel filling in tempered chocolate.
Before making these, I had never tempered chocolate, which explains why my chocolate bars look so "rugged" and rough around the edges (literally!). They tasted pretty good, and I was excited about how the chocolate looked after chilling them in the freezer.

There are many tutorials online about tempering chocolate, but tempering is basically the process of heating up chocolate to about 115-120 degrees Farenheit (depends on the type of chocolate), "seeding" the mixture with unmelted chocolate to reduce it to 80 degrees, and then heating the mixture back up to about 85-88 degrees, and keeping it there while dipping the filling into the chocolate.
This process is supposed to yield a chocolate coating that is shiny and produces a crack. It is a tricky process, I found out. The temperature can go up quite quickly, and you want to make sure you don't add any liquid to the chocolate, or it will seize (that includes any wet utensils you use to stir or dip the chocolate!). For my first attempt, I hope I did pretty well. I would like to practice a bit more with a better chocolate then Ghiradelli chocolate, but I think these were just fine for my purposes (i.e., for basic, quotidian consumption).

The recipe for the filling is below; the chocolate portion of the recipe is different from the one I used for these bars. You can take a glance at this video to learn more about tempering chocolate. Use milk or dark chocolate for these bars. Enjoy!
Millionaire Bars
adapted from kristindmiller.com who got it from Joy of Cooking

Shortbread Crust:
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temp
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350* and lightly grease a 9 x 9 baking pan. Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add vanilla and salt. Stir in the flour just until the dough begins to come together in walnut-sized chunks. Press the dough into the prepared pan and bake 20 minutes or until golden brown around the edges. Cool completely. Begin the filling as soon as the crust goes into the oven.

Caramel Filling:
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk (I used my leftover, crockpot dulce de leche)

Pour the milk into a heavy saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring often, 60-90 minutes, until golden brown. Alternately, cook the caramel in a double boiler, covered, stirring occasionally (every 15 minutes or so). The only difference in the methods is the amount of attention given the caramel and the tools needed. When thick and deep golden, spread caramel evenly over cooled crust and refrigerate until caramel is cool and set.

Chocolate Topping (THIS RECIPE IS NOT FOR TEMPERING CHOCOLATE!):
6 ounces good-quality dark or semi-sweet chocolate (I used Ghiradelli)
1 Tablespoon butter
Coarse sea salt (optional)

Melt the chocolate and butter slowly over low heat and spread over the cooled caramel layer. Sprinkle sea salt over the chocolate. Refrigerate until set. Slice and enjoy. Store the bars, covered, in the fridge.

If you decide to temper the chocolate, all you need is the type of chocolate you prefer, such as milk or dark chocolate. Avoid using chocolate chips.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Chili Macaroni

I have a paper due on the 10th of February, and it is an important paper that will determine if I will be a PhD candidate or not. Therefore, I will not be as active on the blog for a few weeks, but I will still post regularly. I will just be a bit more terse. (PLEASE PRAY FOR ME, OR SEND GOOD KARMA MY WAY!)
Nevertheless, I'm glad I have been taking advantage of the winter break by making a lot of dishes that I had always wanted to make like tamales, a rosca de reyes, and bagels. I now want to make churros, pretzels, and perfect my puff pastry-making skills. I will worry about all of that later, though.

Anyway, I made this chili macaroni yesterday, and it is beyond delicious. That little puny bowl of macaroni you see just teased and prodded my tastebuds haha.
I've been trying to use my cookbook more lately, so I got this recipe from my Betty Crocker cookbook. The feminist in me doesn't like the title of the cookbook, but it does have a lot of good recipes and tips in it. Below the recipe, I have also included a Southwestern variation of this dish. I also added some optional additions in italics that were not mentioned in the cookbook. You can make this a vegetarian meal easily by adding more beans or tofu. Enjoy!
Want some?

Chili Macaroni


1 cup (3.5 oz) uncooked elbow macaroni (I would add 1/2 - 1 cup if you like a more even ratio of pasta)
1 lb lean ground beef (or ground turkey, ground chicken, tofu, or nothing at all)
1 med onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 can (15-16 ounces) kidney beans, drained (use another can if not using meat)
1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained (or whole tomatoes, cut up)
1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1-2 tsp cayenne pepper (optional; my addition)
2 slices of Velveeta (optional; my addition)
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Cheddar cheese (I shredded it myself from block cheese. YUM!)

Cook macaroni as directed on package. While macaroni is cooking, cook beef, onion, and garlic in 4-quart saucepan or Dutch oven over med-high heat, stirring occasionally, until beef is brown. Drain (I didn't).

Drain macaroni, and add it to the meat. Add in the remaining ingredients with the exception of the cheese (I actually added two slices of Velveeta to the sauce itself). heat to boiling, stirring occasionally. Then, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Sprinkle mixture with cheese, or add cheese to individual bowls.
Southwestern Chili Macaroni: Use black beans instead of kidney beans, rinsed and drained. Add shredded Monterey Jack cheese instead of cheddar. Add 1 can of chopped green chiles. You could also add cilantro on top of individual servings.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Chinese Lemon Chicken

My colleague and friend admitted that she visits my blog from time to time (along with others who never comment *glares their way* haha j/k) and that she even visits it in search of dinner ideas. She complained gently that I had a dearth of chicken and other savory recipes but I was not without many desserts. Well, I'm not surprised that this is true because I do prefer to bake rather than cook.

So, last night, I took out one of my few cookbooks to look for a good chicken recipe. I was going to make a chicken pot pie, but I decided against that idea because so many other bloggers have made that dish. The next morning, I was still unsure as to what I wanted to make and turned to my bookmarks. I spotted lemon chicken and jumped up immediately from my chair in preparation to make this dish.
I thought that this dish would taste similar to the orange chicken I had made before just with a lemony flavor, but it didn't turn out even as sweet as the ones I've tasted in the restaurants. So, I added a bit more sugar, and it tasted much better. Lastly, the recipe for the sauce only gives you enough to coat the chicken. If you want extra sauce (I know I did), I suggest doubling the recipe. I have posted the revised version below with a link to the original recipe. Enjoy, Lydia! This one is for you!
Lemon Chicken
adapted from CookAsian
Yields enough for 2-3 people

400g boneless chicken breasts, skin removed (I used 8-10 chicken tenders)
1 Tbsp Chinese rice wine (I used rice wine vinegar)
1 Tbsp honey
2 Tsp fresh (or ground) ginger, grated
4 Tbsp cornstarch, mixed with a little water to make a paste
1 egg, lightly beaten
salt and pepper to season (I used Lawry's Seasoning Salt and pepper)
Oil for deep frying (I used canola/vegetable oil blend)

In pan for sauce:
1 Tbsp Vegetable Oil

In a liquid, 2-cup measuring cup (I suggest doubling the sauce if you want extra):
1/2 Cup Chinese stock or chicken stock (I used chicken broth)
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/6 cup (or 2 Tbsp + 1tsp) caster (or granulated) sugar
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 Tsp grated lemon peel
2-3 Drops yellow food coloring (optional; I didn't add this)

-Slices of Lemon to garnish

Wash and dry the chicken breasts, and cut into chunks. Place the chicken in a shallow dish (I used a pie plate), and add the Chinese rice wine (or rice wine vinegar), honey, and grated ginger. Leave to marinate for 30 minutes. (I suggest preparing the rice at this point.)

Place the beaten egg and 4Tbsp cornstarch paste into a bowl, and mix well. Remove the chicken from the marinade, and add to the bowl. Stir to ensure all the chicken pieces are coated with the batter. (I added the paste to the marinade instead, and it worked out fine.)

Heat the oil for deep frying in a wok or large pan and add the chicken pieces (Make sure you move the chicken around when first introduced to the oil because they tend to stick!). Fry until golden brown. Remove the chicken from the wok and drain on paper towels. (You could also bake the chicken!)

Heat the vegetable oil in a saucepan or wok until hot (I drained out the oil from frying, leaving 1 Tbsp of oil and used the skillet to make the sauce). Reduce the heat slightly. Add the cornstarch, lemon juice, caster (or granulated) sugar, soy sauce, stock and lemon rind. Stir well. Bring to the boil and stir until the sauce is smooth. Add the yellow food coloring (optional)

Place the chicken pieces on a plate, and pour a little of the sauce over the chicken. Garnish with thin slices of lemon and serve. (I placed the chicken back in the skillet with the sauce instead.)

Crockpot Dulce de Leche *UPDATED* with extra tips

I'm sure you've seen many people in the blogosphere making dulce de leche (pronounced [DUEL-say deh LEH-chay] based on U.S. English pronunciation) by boiling or baking condensed milk. I'm sure you've also heard the warnings they've made about the chance of the can exploding when boiling condensed milk. In order to simplify things, I decided to try making dulce de leche via a crock pot or slow cooker. I searched online to see if this was feasible, and it was.

So, the night before I needed the dulce de leche, I placed the can in the crockpot (place a can on top of a saucer to avoid getting a ring at the bottom), filled it with water until it covered the can, turned the crockpot on low (high if you have an older crockpot, or if it tends to run a true low), set the timer for 8 hours, and went to sleep. I woke up, turned off the crockpot, and allowed the water and can to cool. Then, I poured out the water and opened the can. After getting over my amazement, I started taking photos of my newly-acquired dulce de leche to share with you all.

So, if you don't feel like paying a few extra cents for already-made dulce de leche, try making it in a crockpot. The process is a lot less dangerous and worry-free. I didn't get any decent photos of the apple pie I made with this dulce de leche, but you can see beautiful photos of it here. *UPDATE* Also, you can see additional photos of the dulce de leche apple pie and the source of my new go-to pie crust here and here.
Here is a small snapshot of my pie at night. This was my first attempt at making a classic, lattice top apple pie!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Chocolate Cupcakes with Coffee Buttercream

You see the cupcake in the back and on the left? The ugly, blurred-out ones? Yeah...awful.

These cupcakes revived my craving for chocolate. Seriously. I've written about this chocolate cake recipe before; it is my go-to recipe. I used the leftover coffee buttercream from the macarons I made in October and also used it to practice my piping skills. I'm still not good at it, as you can see. One day I'll get it.

These two are the best ones I frosted. These two give me hope haha.

Since this buttercream is prepared differently than the others I've made, it has a soft, silkier texture with a bolt of a coffee flavor. In a word, it is FANTASTIC.

Look how moist the cake is...

Look how silky the frosting is...

Please at least think about making this buttercream. Also, bump up the chocolate flavor in your cake by adding a bit of espresso and/or chocolate bits to the batter. I didn't do that, but I thought about doing it after the fact.

I call this "The Life of a Moist, Chocolate Cupcake with Delicious Buttercream". ;)

Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Cake
adapted by Hershey's
(this recipe is also on the back of the Hershey's cocoa canister)
Yields: 24 cupcakes when filled 3/4ths full. Can be halved easily.

2 cups sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 tsp instant coffee granules or 1 tsp espresso powder dissolved in 1 Tbsp water (my addition)
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk or milk (or whole milk + 1Tbsp lemon juice after it sits for 3-5 minutes)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water (I microwaved the water for 5 minutes, and it worked fine. Could substitute hot coffee or espresso? I haven't tried this, though.)

Optional add-in:
1/2 - 1 cup crushed chocolate bars or chocolate chips

1. Heat oven to 350°F. Line muffin cups (2-1/2 inches in diameter) with paper bake cups (I didn't use bake cups because they stayed in the house and in my mouth haha).

2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin).

3. Fill cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake 22 to 25 minutes. Cool completely. Frost. About 30 cupcakes.

Coffee Buttercream
adapted from Tartelette
(I suggest halving the recipe because it yields a lot, or you could freeze theleftovers for up to 3 months)

1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
2 large eggs
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons instant espresso powder dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water

In a small heavy saucepan set over medium heat, dissolve the sugar in the water. While stirring bring the mixture to a boil, and continue to cook until it registers 240°F. on a candy thermometer.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment or with a hand-held beater, beat the eggs until they are frothy. Add the sugar syrup in a thin stream, beating, and beat the mixture until it is cool. Change to the paddle attachment and add in the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, the espresso mixture, and beat the buttercream until it is combined well.

Leave at room temperature so it will be easier to spread.
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