Friday, August 9, 2019

Chili-Lime Melon Salad. (Wait... Chili?) Yes. Chili.

This week was National Night Out - as many of you probably already know. Our neighborhood goes pretty all out for it. The past few years we've gathered around a few grills and some potluck-covered tables while the kids enjoyed a bounce house (and the parents of those kids got progressively more and more nervous as the kids got more and more adventurous).

This year, there was a fiesta theme, complete with face painting and piƱata, so I decided to make a summer salad that has some south-of-the-border flavors: chili powder, lime, and Cotija cheese.

It's a recipe that I've made once before when we had some friends over for brunch, and people really seemed to like it, so I thought I'd go for it again. (Plus, it's quick, easy, and fairly cheap - things I definitely enjoy when making food for a crowd.)

Allow me to explain:
I have NO idea what I was doing during what became the freezeframe image for this video. But... HOORAY!

So, yeah... This is, once again, a recipe from The Smitten Kitchen. You can find it on her website, here. (Because it's a pretty simple recipe, I'm not going to type it all out, here.)

Here are the basics that you need:

  • 4 cups of assorted melon (I went for watermelon and cantaloupe)
  • Some lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon of cilantro
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon of chili powder
  • Some Cotija cheese
  • Some course salt
  • Toasted/salted pepitas (which are what's "inside" a pumpkin seed)

The hardest part of this whole process is getting the melon into bite-size pieces. Well, that and - depending where you live - finding the Cotija cheese and the pepitas. But, around here in Minneapolis you can get Cotija cheese either as a chunk or as crumbles. (As you probably saw in the first video, I went for the crumbles.)

The pepitas can be ordered online, if you need to go that way, but I got mine from the bulk section of my local grocery store. The last time I made this salad, I used raw ones and toasted them myself. This time, I picked some up right across the produce section from the melons and the cilantro.

So, here we have photos of balling melons, which is really the main piece of work:

Here's how exciting it looks to use a cookie scoop as a melon baller.
Yeah... not much activity in this recipe when you come right down to it.
Recommendation: If you have a cutting board that is grooved for meat, it's also good for cutting juicy fruit. (Not the gum.)
Bonus to using a melon baller: I really kind of love the designs you get in the melon rinds. 

Feel free to ooohh and ahhh, at any point.

And, since this is a really easy recipe, this all goes directly into the bowl you'll be serving it in.

Then you add in all of the other stuff. Which, honestly, is just a whole lot of dumping things together. 

So, instead of just showing you the final photo, here's the wrap-up video, first: 

Now, with not quite a month of summer left - and watermelon at its freshest of the year - why not try a new way of eating it? (The Smitten Kitchen and I would never steer you wrong!)

Oh - And if you're wondering what to do with all that juice that builds up in the watermelon rind while you're making melon balls, here's one recommendation:
After all, it's basically a giant bowl/cup, right? 
How've you been? Any cooking questions come up while I've been gone? Let me know if there's anything I can try to answer!

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Sound of Comfort Food

Hey, there.

I know I've been gone for a while. And, honestly, I don't have a really good reason. But here are some honest thoughts on the matter (in no particular order):

1) Work has been strangely busy, which has been keeping me from wanting to open my laptop when I get home at night, but that's not really a great reason.

2) I had a couple of side projects come up and felt like I needed to focus on those instead of focusing on my own work.

3) We went to New York City for a week to visit family and friends (and friends who are more like family) at the end of May.

4) We've each had some family things going on that have been at least a little distracting.

5) The world has gotten weird - and I don't always feel like writing a frivolous blog about food and day-to-day life is really right. And I wonder whether I should be writing pithy pieces about the world, instead of frothy pieces about my kitchen.

A couple of days ago, however, I had a good experience in the grocery store (as we all know - grocery stores are my happy place), and I wanted to share.

No. It's not a recipe. And, no, there's not even a tasting at the end.

But I hope you enjoy this quick video, even so.

And - believe it or not - I'm also working up a post that should be coming up on Friday of this week, as well.

Hopefully we'll see each other then!

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The Scotcheroo/Frosted Chew Debate

The people I work with are a fairly varied group. Different ages, different backgrounds. But for the most part we do have strong opinions about food. (Thus we have the occasional bake-off as discussed last week.)

We also have discussions that come up such as "What do you call that peanut butter and chocolate bar that has cereal in it?"

You know, these bars:

Are they Scotcheroos or Frosted Chews*? (spoiler alert: that photo is both)

Let me explain...

For starters as we discuss how great these are - whichever cereal you use - we should discuss how few ingredients they have:

The recipes are the same (and are both on the Kellogg's website), but here they are. (Get the feeling that one of the sites is expected to bring in more money than the other?)

**REMINDER: This post is focused on two half batches, each one using a different type of cereal. If you're working with full batches... well... you'll have twice as much.

In case you're wondering what a pan full of sugar products looks like, here you go (it's a half cup of white sugar and a half cup of light corn syrup):

While that is on the stove over medium heat, it's a great time to grease your pan. Yes, I use old wrappers from margarine or butter for this (instead of sprays) when working with flat pans. And - yes - Christopher gets frustrated with all of the wrappers stored in the fridge. It's a give and take.

But - the actual point, here - you have to grease the pan (one way or another) or these bars will seriously stick.
So often my photos get weird because of the outside light. I love how in this one the light actually accents the margarine on the pan.
Checking back in on the stove, we have now melted the sugar, and are to an all-syrup stage.

Somewhere around the point when it's finally beginning to bubble around the edges, I tend to start getting impatient. But you need to just keep stirring and waiting. 
It's bubbling - but only around the edges. This is not good enough.
Luckily, it doesn't take too long for it to go from there to where it needs to be:
See? Bubbling all over the pan. That's what we were waiting for. 
I have a few different recipes that I tend to make at about the same time of year that involve this same type of process, but with one major difference: This only needs to be brought to a boil - and then it's done. The other recipe needs to be boiled for multiple minutes. 

I mention this because if you boil THIS for multiple minutes you'll end up with something more akin to a brittle - which is not what you're going for. 

With the heat turned off, you can stir in the peanut butter.
I prefer creamy, but I'm sure chunky would work for this, too. 
It's a bit odd watching the peanut butter melt. The middle stage is weirdest.
It's still a little like peanut butter, but it's also kind of liquid. But not really either one.
Eventually, though, it's... well... let's just say that this next photo makes my mouth water.

For our first half-batch of these, the next step included adding in FOUR cups of Special K.

You've got options on this. You could put the cereal in a bowl and then pour the liquid over the top and stir. Or - as I do - I just plan to use a large enough pan so that I can pour the cereal directly into the liquid and mix there. One less thing to clean up - and, frankly, I think I'm able to incorporate more of the liquid without losing it to the sides of the containers during the various transfers.
Yes, I know it looks like you'll never get it all coated. You just have to keep stirring. 
Tipping it out into the pan, it looks a bit odd and lumpy. And that's okay, because you need to press it down into the pan.

CAUTION: This stuff is hot as lava at this point - or at least as hot as boiled sugar - so you're better off using a spatula for this step.
I've also been known to put my hand into a baggie and then use that - because that way you can just pat the mixture down without worrying about it all sticking to you. But the spatula is probably wiser. 
The recipes talk about making these pretty thick, but we like them somewhere in between. A good gauge is to make them about level with the sides of the pan. (This also makes it easy to get more bars out of one pan.)

Yes, I know that this is precariously close to the edge of the cabinet. Do you know who else thought it had a chance that it might fall?
Ever hopeful in the kitchen...
As we discussed earlier, the recipes are identical until you get to the cereal. For a half batch, of Scotcheroos, the peanut butter mixture gets just THREE cups of Crispy Rice.
Though I mention in the video at the end that I think Rice Krispies might be gluten free - and I still think they might be - I've seen some things online saying that they're not. So please do your research if you're trying to make these gluten free. 
Again, they look a bit odd when they first land in the pan...

...but with a good spatula-ing...

...they turn out pretty respectably.

Though, they do look a bit naked, don't they? So it's time for some topping.

By the way: The recipe calls for Chocolate and Butterscotch chips - not Chocolate and Peanut Butter. In part, I'm sure this is because there weren't any Peanut Butter chips when the recipes were created. But - I have to admit - I've tried it both ways, and the Butterscotch chips give this a much better flavor. Using Peanut Butter chips left these really kind of flat and boring, in comparison.
Consider this to be a Double Boiler - it's a metal pan on top of a saucepan of boiling water. My favorite way to melt chocolate.
As with the melting of the peanut butter, there's a point in this process here it really seems like the chips are never going to melt.

But, eventually, they do.

Once it's smooth, it's time to spread this onto the now-cooled bars.

With the topping on them, it's kind of hard to tell which is which, isn't it?
Please ignore the chocolate chip cookies on the side of the photo. It was a busy night in the kitchen. (Though, if you're wondering, those are the Betty Crocker 1950 Chocolate Chip Cookies we've talked about in the past.)
Now the hard part: Letting them cool so that the top hardens.

Once they're cool, I like to use my "Bash 'n' Chop" (that's the brand name of the old counter scraper that I have) to cut them, because you get good straight lines and have a lot of control, even with something fairly thick.

Since I was taking these to work, I needed to figure out a way to keep them separate. I went with some waxed paper - and flipped half of them upside down.
If you look closely, this gives you a chance to tell which side is which bar.
So, what's the difference between the two? Let's discuss:

Do I think one is necessarily better than the other? I'm not sure. I really enjoy the crunchier, more "substantial" dessert-bar texture of the Special K Frosted Chews. But the more candy-like texture of the Scotcheroos is nice, too. I think this may need more testing as time goes on...

Oh. And if you've read this far along, you may be interested to know that I did not win the cupcake bake-off at work. I actually came in 3rd (out of 4) - with the tiramisu cupcakes coming in first. Basically, the two cupcakes that came in first and second had almost equal amounts of frosting and cake. Mine - and the one that came in fourth - had much smaller amounts of frosting in comparison. I'd like to think that - and, well, the fact that mine had turned blue - had something to do with my placing.

As for the Scotcheroo/Frosted Chew debate, at work the Frosted Chews got about 2/3 of the votes.

*I feel I should mention that, in our family, these are always referred to as "Joy's Frosted Chews" (not "Special K Frosted Chews") because a family friend made these every fall and so they've always been connected to her. Sentiment aside, though, they're really good no matter what you call them.


Is there something you've always wanted to try in your kitchen, but you wish someone else would do it, first? Let me know and I'll be your guinea pig!

Friday, March 29, 2019

Lemon Lavender Cupcakes (the color change is optional)

Some of you may remember that about a year and a half ago I went through a Bundt-baking phase. (If you want to revisit it, you can start by searching for the label "Cake" in the posts.)

Well, last week at work my company decided to have a cupcake bake-off (because everyone wants to make everything a competition), and I was stumped about what kind of cupcakes to make. Most of the cupcakes I've made in my life have been from a box. With frosting from a tub. Honestly. The whole from-scratch cake baking thing happened much more recently.

So I was thinking of what kind of cupcake to make that wasn't out of a box and I decided to just miniaturize a cake that I like to make. Let me explain:

Two things about this video: 
1) The small Bundt pan doesn't play that big a role, but I like the screen capture, so I went with it. 
2) The word that doesn't seem to make sense in the middle of the video is "sake" - though I seem to have pronounced it as "sike" for no apparent reason.

As I mentioned in the video, I'm not giving you the full step-by-step instructions, here. The recipe and the how-to can both be found at the original post: Baking Weather.

Even so, I did get out all of my mise en place-type stuff:
Of all of that, only about 4 things will actually be getting used in a "show and tell" kind of way in this post.
Have I mentioned, yet, that Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour now comes in a resealable bag? (I buy it at our local co-op, but that link goes to their website in case you can't find it near you.)
I've been keeping it in Ziploc bags for ages, so this was a bit of a thrill for me.
Not Velcro. But a really cool textured seal that is much easier to use than the usual "zipper bag" when you're hands are covered in baking stuff. 
But, anyway, let's assume that you've gone through all of the creaming and mixing and liquid and dry ingredient rounds, and you've got your batter ready to go. And - instead of using a Bundt cake - you're putting it into mini cupcake wrappers. Your smaller cookie scoop (the one that says "100" or "00" on the side) is a great size for this.

But you'll want to use it at its fullest so that you get the cups at least 2/3 full.

That way, when they rise, you'll get a nice shallow dome, without too much of the "muffin top" thing going on.
Because they're so small, I did go in with a toothpick to check them for doneness. That's how I figured out that they were good to go at between 10 and 11 minutes. 
When you're making a Bundt cake, the recipe often says to "smooth the top" before baking. This is because it's not going to "poof up" as much as a lighter cake. I probably should have done that with these, too, to avoid the bumpy tops on some of them.

With a little cooling time (I waited about 5 minutes), they were ready to take out of the pan.

And - maybe another 5 minutes later - I was ready to try them out.

Not gonna lie: I was very happy with how they turned out.

I follow a pretty basic recipe when I do frosting: powdered sugar and liquid and maybe some flavoring - and a little margarine to help it stand up. How much? I have no idea. Basically I use enough sugar and liquid to make it the consistency I need at any given time.

Because this has a lot of flavor going on, I started with that. About equal parts lemon zest and crushed lavender.
Yeah... I learned the hard way that this should have all been much more finely crushed and/or zested.
A certain amount of lemon juice and some soft margarine.

And enough powdered sugar to cause a serious mess when you first start stirring.

I also started adding food coloring pretty early, to make sure that it would get evenly stirred in. As usual, somewhere along the way pale purple became cement-looking.
I swear to you that I followed the instructions on the box.
I had a few issues with the decorating tips, because the lavender and lemon zest kept getting stuck in them. I started with a star tip (on the left), then moved to a ribbon tip (middle), and finally ended up with a leaf tip (on the right).
For the record, in the kitchen these did look a bit more purple than they do in the photo.
After I got done frosting all of those, I thinned the frosting out a bit and drizzled the small Bundt.

Let's recap. (I was going to say "Do a quick recap" - but you know that's not how these work.)
Full disclosure: I did not serve the Bundt at Book Club. We dined on mini-cupcakes, instead.

And... well... I thought that's where this would end. One more pretty shot of the final set-up, and we'd be on our way:

So I put my lavender-gray cupcakes into my Tupperware container and went to bed.

But... well... I forgot one important thing: I used lemon juice as a main ingredient in the frosting. And lemon juice can do some funky chemical reaction things. Like... well... it might be better if you see it for yourself.

This is what I saw when I opened the Tupperware at work before the bake-off:

And, yes, the same thing happened to everything I'd left at home, too, so this is what was on the table for Book Club. (Don't believe that this color change was real? Some of the cupcakes below are the same ones that were in the "three different tips" photo, above.)
This photo is totally an excuse for me to show off our orchid.
Oh... and this is why I didn't serve the small Bundt. Because it looked even more space alien-y than I thought it looked in the video.

I don't know, yet, how the judging went at work. I do know that I was up against a tiramisu cupcake with a mascarpone frosting, and two different cupcakes with fresh berries. And... yeah... my lavender cupcakes were bright blue.

Hopefully I'll find out before my next post so I can let you know.

What's one of the weirdest things that you've had happen in the kitchen? Did you eat whatever it was, anyway?