Thursday, March 19, 2009

Smurtles is a Silly Name

But, please, please, please don't turn your nose up at these because of their silly name. SMURTLES simply means HEAVENLY. You heard it here first.

Don't let the funky orange tinge of these pictures turn you away, either. There's no way that piece was going to last until the sun provided natural light the next morning.

My niece Cassie made these last week, and because my sister wants me to remain happy and chubby, she brought one over for me to sample. Oh. My. Galoshes.

They are marvelous, to die for (hypothetically), delectable, and all the other flattering adjectives, too. Christine Boren of Provo, Utah, created this recipe. (I'm sorry that I think "Smurtles" is a funny name, Christine. Thank you for giving these to the world.)

1 and 1/2 cups quick oats
1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter (no substitutes), melted
1 package (14 oz.) vanilla caramels
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 and 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips (but who's gonna care if you use 2 cups, eh?)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 13" X 9" pan. ('Cause those two sticks of butter won't be enough...)

Combine oats, flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Add melted butter; stir until well combined. Press half of the mixture onto bottom of prepared pan. Bake for 10 minutes.

Combine caramels and whipping cream in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until caramels are melted and mixture is smooth. Sprinkle morsels over baked crust. Drizzle caramel mixture evenly over the chocolate morsels. Sprinkle remaining crumb mixture over caramel layer.

Bake 18-20 minutes or until top is light brown. Cool in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars.

*Since I didn't actually make these, I can offer no tips or suggestions but one: EAT THEM HOT. EAT THEM WARM. EAT THEM COLD.
(Eat them with your trousers rolled.)

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chip Cookies-- To make gluten-free: see note**

These are outrageously good. If you like your cookies to punch you in the face with peanut butter, then these are for you. I made them for the first time for a church meal last week and have been on the lookout for an excuse to make them ever since. Since they contain only peanut butter, as opposed to butter and peanut butter, the flavor is undiluted. (Well, it's undiluted by anything but the chocolate, but who's complaining?)

Still warm, these cookies are soft and yummy. Cooled, they're crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, and still yummy. If I hadn't been bound to bring them to church, I would have eaten a dozen myself. (Okay. Maybe two dozen.)

1 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 egg
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup semisweet chocolate pieces

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a mixing bowl, beat peanut butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and baking soda until combined. Beat in egg and vanilla until combined. Stir in flour and chocolate pieces with a wooden spoon.

Shape the dough into 1 and 1/4 inch balls. Place balls on an ungreased cookie sheet (don't use an insulated cookie sheet). If desired, flatten slightly.

Bake in preheated oven for 8-10 minutes or until cookies are puffed and lightly browned around edges. (Centers will be soft.) Do not overbake. Cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Makes about 24.

*Recipe credit goes to an unknown magazine from which I ripped this several years ago.

**I've since made a gluten-free version of these substituting 1/4 cup cornmeal for the flour. I actually prefer it this way because it adds a likable twist to the texture.

Savory Top Round Roast

I know-- all these meat posts are piling up in the middle of Lent. Go here for someone who can meet your Lenten needs.

My parents gave us a big hunk of beef they picked up on sale, and I finally cooked it last week. With limited experience, I'll say that I think it's very hard to make a slow-cooked hunk of beef that's not savory. This meal was flavorful and delicious.

Here's what I did.

3- lb. top round roast
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp. salt
generous amount of fresh-ground black pepper
a few tablespoons of canola oil

2 onions, sliced into rings
4-6 carrots, sliced into chunky coins
6-8 freshly pressed cloves garlic (I used half of a head of puny Aldi garlic)
4-5 potatoes, cubed, if desired (I put a few in and then made mashed potatoes, too. We like potatoes.)
1 cup beef broth (I cheated and used beef bouillon)
2 and 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (I accidentally used apple cider. I'd meant to use red wine vinegar. Next time...)
salt and freshly ground pepper
dried oregano, shaken freely
additional garlic powder, if desired

On a shallow plate, mix 1/4 cup flour with 1 tsp. salt and freshly ground pepper. Pat the mixture onto all sides of the roast, coating it completely. In a heavy-bottomed pot or pan, heat a few tablespoons of canola oil. Sear the roast on all sides until nicely browned. This will seal in the flavor and moisture of the meat while it's cooking, as well as making it easier to make a thick gravy from the juices, if you desire.

Now, the cooking method is up to you. I've successfully used a cast iron Dutch oven before (Cook in a 275-300 degree oven for I-can't-remember-how-long-just-ask-Google), but this time I used my trusty slow-cooker, a.k.a. crockpot. I layered the onions on the bottom of the pot, topped by the carrots. Top with the roast. If using potatoes, spoon them around the meat. Mix the beef broth, apple cider vinegar, garlic, and spices together, and pour over the roast. Shake on more spices if you feel inclined. Cook on low for 8-12 hours or on high for 5-6 hours.

When meat is cooked to your preference (I like it falling apart), remove to a serving platter, cover with tin foil, and let rest for about 15 minutes. This allows the moisture to remain inside the meat when you cut it into slices.

Either use the juices to spoon over the meat after serving or make a gravy.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

White Bean and Sausage Soup

I had a carnivorous fit while walking through the grocery store. I hadn't eaten meat in 2 weeks or so and was craving IT ALL! So, I bought Italian sausage. I buy sausage literally 2 times a year, and it's only to make my mom's lasagna. This sausage, though, was special. I wanted it in a soup, so into a soup it went.

This is a full, flavorful, hearty soup, perfect for fall and winter. I can't imagine eating it in summertime, but it felt so right to spoon it steaming from a bowl while the snow fell thickly outside the window. I don't think I could eat it more than a few times a year just because of what seemed to be a LOT of sausage, but it definitely hit the spot when I wanted it, and I'll make it again when I'm overtaken by meat-loving urges.

2 cups dried white beans, soaked overnight.
1 large onion, chopped
1 and 1/4 pound hot Italian sausage
6 cloves garlic
1 quart canned tomatoes, broken up into small pieces (My home-canned tomatoes are quite soft, so this is easy. You may wish to use diced tomatoes instead.)
chicken broth
1 tbsp. basil
1 tsp. oregano
salt and pepper, to taste
a pinch of red pepper flakes
@ 8-10 oz. frozen spinach (I used frozen flat leaf spinach and then chopped it on the cutting board while it was still frozen)

Like most soups, this is an easy, throw-together soup, but here are some simple directions. Soak the dry beans in water overnight. The next day, drain them and put them in a pot with as much chicken broth/water as you'd like. Bring to a boil and simmer until beans are soft. Meanwhile, brown the hot sausage with the chopped onions in a touch of olive oil until meat is cooked and onions are translucent. Add garlic, tomatoes, and spices and cook for a few more minutes. Chop the frozen spinach (if you were smart enough to buy the spinach already chopped, don't bother). Add the sausage mixture to the bean/broth mixture and bring to a boil. Add the chopped spinach and cook for a few minutes until spinach begins to wilt.


Er. Pardon me.
I meant, "Eat!"

Eat. Eat! EAT!!!!

Butternut Squash and Black Bean Soup

I loved this soup. Loved it! The stupid picture of the squash above, though, is the last picture I took with an uninjured camera. After taking it, I put the camera on the counter, and now...well, now the camera has no zoom capabilities. Let's just end the story there so I don't have to accept responsibility.

I'd never made a squash soup before, so I wanted to stick to flavors that I already knew our family liked. Since then, I've made a butternut and apple soup (which I didn't like as well), and I've tasted a divine squash soup with garlic, onion, and chicken that my mom made. (Tasted? I suppose eating two bowls right in a row is more than a taste...) I'll get that recipe and post it here sometime, because it showcased the bright flavor of the squash instead of relegating it to the sidelines like the one below does.

Suffice it to say, squash tastes really good on the sidelines, too.

This soup has a rich and comforting flavor, and the butternut squash hidden in the background lends a delicate sweetness to the rest. If only I hadn't used up all the butternut squash left from my mom's garden, I'd make it again tomorrow. *Pumpkin can be used interchangeably with butternut squash in this recipe and in just about any other, too.


1 large onion
8 cloves garlic, freshly pressed
one large butternut squash (about 2 cups squash puree is needed), cooked and pureed
4 cups cooked black beans, separated
1 cup canned tomatoes
2 and 1/2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. coarse sea salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
chicken broth
4 tsp. apple cider vinegar
a pinch of cayenne, to taste

Halve butternut squash and remove seeds. Bake cut side down in oven until tender. Meanwhile, saute onions in some olive oil until translucent. Add garlic and cook for about one minutes more. Puree 2 cups cooked black beans with 1 cup tomatoes until smooth. (Use a hand-cranked food mill or an electric food processor.) Scoop out cooked squash and puree until smooth. In a large soup pot, stir the 2 cups pureed squash together with the pureed black bean mixture. Add the remaining 2 cups cooked black beans, the spices, and the vinegar. Stir and heat. Add chicken broth, as needed, to reach desired consistency.

Rajma (Red Kidney Bean Curry)

Thanks to Deb of Smitten Kitchen for making me crave this. I used her recipe and also this one as a guide. If you're a purist, I guess you don't add all the extras, but I found this meal absolutely lovely. John devoured it, too, so it's definitely on the permanent rotation in this house now.

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves, freshly chopped or pressed
one inch fresh ginger, chopped or grated (about 1 tbsp.)
about 5 cups cooked red kidney beans (or two 16 oz. cans, beans rinsed and drained)
1/2 of a quart jar canned tomatoes (about 2 cups)
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2- 1 tsp. garam masala
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. coarse sea salt
*Garnish with dried cilantro. If you're lucky enough to have fresh, go for it!

Cook onions in some olive oil until translucent. Add garlic and ginger and cook for a few minutes more. Add tomatoes and spices and cook until tomatoes have broken down into small pieces. Add kidney beans and cook until the curry is thick. Garnish with cilantro, and serve over basmati rice with fresh naan.

Hoecakes: George Washington's Breakfast

If you don't normally visit shotsnaps, the full story can be found here, Chef Millie presiding.

Millie made these last week and then again this week. They must be good! She, unlike George Washington's mother, used more than cornmeal, salt, and water in them, but they still count as hoecakes. We thank Paula Deen for this recipe that Millie used as a base.

If a fine young Johnnycake married a blushing young pancake, they'd have hoecake babies. They're a cross between cornbread and a pancake and are really quite good, a nice alternative to the usual buttermilk pancake, though their texture is more dense due to the cornmeal.

Without further ado, may I introduce George Washington (or, at least, his breakfast):

  • 1 cup self-rising flour (we used all-purpose with a bit of additional baking powder)
  • 1 cup self-rising cornmeal (recommended: Aunt Jemima's)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • (***She also put in three Millie pinches of salt)
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk (we used sham buttermilk; add one tablespoon of white vinegar to milk to make one cup of milk. Let sit for about five minutes until milk begins to curdle)
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil or bacon grease
  • Oil, butter, or clarified margarine, for frying

Mix all ingredients well, except for the frying oil. Heat the frying oil or butter in a medium or large skillet over medium heat. Drop the batter, by full tablespoons, into the hot skillet. Use about 2 tablespoons of batter per hoecake (Millie used a 1/8 cup measure). Fry each hoecake until brown and crisp; turn each hoecake with a spatula, and then brown the other side. With a slotted spoon, remove each hoecake to drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Leftover batter will keep in refrigerator for up to 2 days. Makes about 18 hoecakes.

Millie used the cast-iron pan for frying these. If you have one, I'd recommend it, because it browned them nicely without burning.

Black Bean and Tortilla Bake

A "Bake." I love that vague title. ANYTHING could be baked, and it lends a shady mystery to any meal, don't you think? I found this recipe with a totally unappealing picture one night and made it for the girls and I. We didn't have much in the house, but since black beans and tomatoes are a staple for most of our meals lately, I thought it looked good. Just look at the starred reviews!

Anyway, it was super easy and really good, and here's our slightly adapted version below. Actually, that's not true. I cooked it in a 9" x 12" pan because I had changed things. I think I added more beans and more tortillas, as well as more tomatoes and spices, while keeping the amount of cheese the same, but since I didn't write it down, I'll only add the changes I clearly remember. ) *The next time I make it, I'll probably substitute salsa for some of the tomatoes to punch up the flavor.

1 garlic clove, minced (Use more! 4-5 should work.)
1/2 cup chopped onion (We used one cup chopped onion)
1 cup chopped tomato (We used more-- probably at least 2 cups of home-canned tomatoes)
1/2 cup chopped green onion (We didn't have this, so I added the extra onion above)
1/2 teaspoon chili powder (to taste)
2 teaspoons cumin powder (to taste)
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (16 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro(We used dried cilantro, probably about 1 tsp.)
salt and pepper, to taste
12 soft corn tortillas
8 ounces low-fat cheddar cheese, shredded, reserve 2 tablespoons (We used full-fat cheese. I shredded some monterey jack and sharp cheddar for the layers, and I dumped some shredded mozzerella on top. I'm certain it was more than 2 tablespoons mozzerella.)

sour cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

  1. , Cook the onions over medium heat in a tablespoon of oil until tender. Add tomato, green onion, cumin, chili powder, and garlic. Cook until heated through.
  2. Add tomato sauce and cook 5 minutes more.
  3. Stir in beans, cilantro, salt, and pepper.
  4. Spray a 9 inch square baking dish with cooking spray.
  5. Layer 4 tortillas, 1/3 cheese, and 1/3 of the bean mixture; repeat 2 more times.
  6. Top with reserved cheese.
  7. Bake 20 minutes, covered, then 10 minutes uncovered or until bubbly.
Serve as is, or for cream-loving girls, with a dollop of sour cream on top.

Arroz Con Pollo (Cuban Chicken with Rice)

A year and a half ago, I ripped this recipe out of the Gourmet magazine. It took a reminder from Smitten Kitchen for me to unearth it from the magazine rack and actually make it. (Here's a bonus link to the picture and recipe from that issue of Gourmet because their picture of the meal looks so much more inviting than mine does.)

This was the other dish that came out of my sudden, fierce craving for meat of all kinds. This meal contains not just chicken but also pork! Yeah! I felt guilty for buying fancy chorizo (who even knew it existed?), but it was definitely worth it, especially considering I made so much that John and I are still eating Arroz Con Pollo a week later... Good thing we like it!

For marinating chicken

  • 3 large garlic cloves (I used six)
  • 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled
  • 4 chicken breast halves with bone, halved crosswise
  • 4 chicken drumsticks
  • 4 chicken thighs
  • ***I used one roasting chicken (about a 4-pounder) that
    I cut into pieces instead of the amounts stated above, and there was still plenty of meat in the meal. I boiled the carcass to make chicken noodle soup later in the week, and I'd recommend anyone else to do the same!

For rice

  • 3 oz hot Spanish chorizo (cured sausage), skin discarded and sausage cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (I used about 4 oz. because I used less chicken)
  • 1 tablespoon annatto oil or olive oil (I used olive)
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped (I omitted these because fresh peppers are rare in winter)
  • 3 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 Turkish bay leaves or 1 California
  • 1 lb tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1 (12-oz) bottle beer (not dark)
  • 1 1/2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups long-grain white rice (14 oz)
  • 1/4 cup drained rinsed bottled pimiento or roasted red-pepper strips (I used a bunch of pepper strips I'd roasted and frozen last summer, much more than 1/4 cup.)

Marinate chicken:

  • Mince and mash garlic to a paste with 2 teaspoons salt, then transfer to a large bowl. Stir in vinegar and oregano.
  • Remove skin and excess fat from chicken, then toss chicken with marinade until coated and marinate, covered and chilled, at least 1 hour. (I marinated it for about 2 and 1/2 because I was busy.)

Cook chicken and rice:

  • Cook chorizo in oil in a 6- to 7-quart heavy pot (12 inches wide) over medium-high heat, stirring, until some fat is rendered, 2 to 3 minutes. Add onions, bell pepper, and garlic and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes.
  • Add cumin, oregano, paprika, 1 1/4 teaspoons salt, and bay leaves and cook, stirring, 1 minute.
  • Add chicken with marinade to chorizo mixture and cook, uncovered, over medium heat, stirring frequently, 10 minutes. Temporarily remove chicken with tongs, and then stir in tomatoes, beer, broth, and rice. Place chicken on top and bring to a boil, making sure rice is submerged.
  • Reduce heat to medium-low, then cover mixture directly with a round of parchment or wax paper and cover pot with a tight-fitting lid. Cook, stirring once or twice, until rice is tender, 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Discard parchment paper and bay leaves, then scatter pimiento strips over rice.