Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Scotch Oat Bars

These aren't much to look at. Kind of plain. A bit boring. Kind of hard to photograph with my iPhone that I'm using since my regular camera is being funky today and I don't feel like trying to figure it out because I'm tired and seriously this is one long run-on sentence. Whew. This recipe fits perfectly with my mood this week. Which is "just get it done". It ain't fancy, it ain't complicated but the result is one tasty treat. 
All you need is just 5 ingredients, I'm betting you already have them in the pantry, an 8x8 pan, a spoon and a sauce pan. My mom used to make these all the time. I think the fact that they are mostly oatmeal made her feel like they weren't so bad. Let's just ignore the butter and sugar, shall we? I shall. So if you are short on time but in the mood for something sweet, stir up a pan of these and enjoy!

This is it, all you need: Quick Oats (DO NOT use "Old Fashioned" oats, you really really need the quick, "cooks in 1 minute" kind for this recipe, trust me!), butter, brown sugar, salt and baking powder. You can also add vanilla, I do, but it's not in the original recipe so I didn't show it.

Start by putting the butter and brown sugar in a medium sized saucepan. Heat on medium low heat just until butter melts.

You aren't looking to cook or boil this mixture, just get the butter liquid and the sugar all stirred in. Turn off the heat.

Add the remaining ingredients: oats, salt and baking powder. If you want to add vanilla, 1 teaspoon, do it here.

Get it all mixed together and dump it out into a well greased 8"x8" pan.

Press firmly into an even layer. Bake in a 350°F oven for 20-25 minutes.

This is how it should look. This was 20 minutes in my oven. So when it gets close check on it. You don't want the edges to burn or be any darker than this picture.

Using a very sharp, thin knife, cut them while still warm. It is REALLY hard to cut them after they are cooled so don't skip this step.

Now I dare you not to eat the whole pan. I ate three while writing this post. Granted, they aren't much to look at, not really fancy at all, but boy do they taste good. And so, so, so easy to make.

Scotch Oat Bars
1/2 C. (one stick) unsalted butter (skip the salt if you use salted butter)
1 C. brown sugar
2 C. quick cooking oats
1/4 t. salt
1 t. baking powder
1 t. vanilla (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Combine butter and sugar in a medium saucepan. Heat and stir just until butter melts.
Stir in remaining ingredients.
Pour into a well greased 8"x8" square pan and press into an even layer.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until edges are dark caramel brown but not burned.
Cut into 2-inch squares while still warm, then let cool completely before serving.
Makes 16 squares.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Pork Chops

Pork Chop Night. Sounds kinda old school and for some reason makes me think of Homer Simpson. Memories of Peter Brady are also conjured, you know "Pork Schops and Appleshash". Whatever comes to mind the bottom line is pork is yummy and pork chops are yummier. As we head into the winter months these end up in a pretty heavy rotation around our place. Everyone loves them, it's one of a handful of dinners that don't require a negotiation with one or both my kids. Ahhh, dinner table harmony. Can you feel it?

There isn't a formal recipe here because most nights I'm pretty much winging it. You know, a dash of this, handful of that, cook it 'till done. Pork chops just kind of happen. But for you, because I love you all, because I struggled for years with dry pork chops and because I figured out how to make them right, I've laid out all the steps here. Adjust the quantities and cooking time as needed to accommodate your tastes and quantities but please, if you like pork, seriously who doesn't, give 'em a try.

Start by heating 2-3 tablespoons olive oil and 2-3 tablespoons butter in a large saute pan. You want equal parts olive oil and butter and enough to coat the bottom of your saute pan. Allow the butter to melt completely but not burn.

While the butter is melting and the pan is heating up, add 1-2 teaspoons of your favorite season salt to 1/4 cup flour. Give it a quick stir with a fork to get it mixed together.

Dredge the pork chops (about 1-inch thick chops, bone-in or boneless. I prefer bone-in.) in the seasoned flour, both sides, and shake off the excess flour.

With the pan over medium heat, add the dredged pork chops in a single layer and saute for about 7 minutes, longer if your chops are thicker. Don't fiddle around with them too much just let them be so they get a nice caramelization on them.

After about 7 minutes you'll see the juices (those red parts) start to surface.
That means is time to turn them over.

Flip them over and give them another 5-7 minutes saute time. I grew up with a hunter father and ate a lot of wild boar as a kid. So, I like my pork well done. I'm really not sure what the current safety guidelines are for pork but I generally go until it's well done. NO PINK! Don't worry about them being dry, by dredging in flour and getting a crispy caramelization on the outside your chops will still be juicy.

While the chops are finishing up peel core and thinly slice about 3 medium firm pears. (You could also use apples here).

When the chops are done, remove them too a plate and cover with foil to keep them warm. Do not clean or scrape out the pan. Adjust your heat to medium-low and add the pear slices. Stir them around and get a bit of color on them. The pears will start to release their juices and deglaze the pan. As you are stirring scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

When the pears start to soften add in about 1/4 cup of dry white wine (more if you want more sauce) and again scrape up any browned bits off the bottom of the pan.

Simmer until the wine is reduced and thickened. Scrape the spoon along the bottom of the pan. If it leaves a clean line and the liquid doesn't immediately run back to the center then it's ready. Turn off the heat and add a pat of butter (about 1 tablespoon.) Stir it in to melt and thicken the sauce.

Spoon the pears over the pork chops and voila! Pork Chop Night.

Here are the perportions, adjust as necessary for the number of servings and amount of sauce you'd like:
4-6 pork chops
2 T olive oil
2T butter plus 1T to finish the sauce
1/4 C. flour
2 t. season salt
3 medium sized pears
1/4 cup dry white wine

Note: 1-inch chops take about 5-7 minutes per side. Adjust cooking time as needed if you thicker or thinner chops.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Candy Corn Cookies

Is it really October already? Really? Gee whiz, where did this year go? October is one of my favorite months. I got married in October. My parents got married in October. My Mom and Dad were both born in October. And of course, Halloween is in October. I wanted to put a Halloween treat on the blog and cookies immediately came to mind. What I really wanted to do was some super creative sugar cookie with perfect icing, and really tight detail. But, honestly, I just didn't have the time to pull it together. The rolling, the cutting, the icing, bla bla bla. Heck, I was feeling lazy. 

I had seen, at the supermarket, a "Candy Corn" cookie. Basically a yellow colored triangle-shaped cookie with one end dipped in white chocolate and the other in orange. Super cute. I figured there had to be a simple way to get the same effect so once again, I headed to Google. These cookies came up on a bunch of different blogs. They are pretty simple so I though I'd give 'em a try. I found a video tutorial by Land O'Lakes on YouTube. But when you make them like the video, half the cookies have the colors "backwards". True candy corn has a white tip, an orange middle and a yellow end. With the technique on the video only half turn out that way. The other half have a yellow tip and a white end. Hmmmmm, there must be a solution for my OCD brain. With a little more internet sleuthing I discovered Sweet Sugar Belle was having the same dilemma. Here is how she solved it. Not bad, but I wanted to avoid the whole dipping in chocolate thing. There must be a way? And then it came to me. Eureka! I figured it out. Now let's see if it will work. . . 

Here's what you need: butter, powdered sugar (odd for a cookie recipe, but I went with it.), eggs, vanilla, almond extract, an orange (the recipe calls for orange juice), salt, flour and baking soda.

Start by creaming the butter and sugar. Get it good and creamy and very light colored.

Taking a small departure from the recipe, I not only juiced but also zested the orange. (I love my microplane grater!)

Add the egg, vanilla, almond extract, orange juice and orange zest. Beat until very creamy, light and fluffy. This may take a while as there is a lot of liquid for the amount of butter. Just keep going until it is a cohesive mass. (Oh, like that vocab? Kind of makes me sound smart. Ha!)

Next, sift together the flour, salt and baking soda. Add it to the mixer and mix just until incorporated.

Mmmm, this is pretty yummy cookie dough!

OK, here is where I take a big departure from the recipe and video. Divide the dough so that you can color it. The most accurate way to do this is with a kitchen scale. First divide the dough into equal thirds. Then divide one of the thirds in half. You then have two dough portions that are 1/3 of the recipe and 2 that are 1/6 of the recipe. Add one of the 1/6 portions to one of the 1/3 portions.

If your math was right you'll end up with 3 portions of dough. The smallest is 1/6 of the recipe, the middle is 1/3 (2/6) of the recipe and the largest is 1/2 (3/6) of the recipe. Whew, kinda complicated. Seriously, I'm a baker, not a mathematician.

Leave the smallest portion as is. Color the middle portion yellow and the largest portion orange.

Here is the yellow and orange. Wrap each color separately and chill for a couple of hours.

Working with one color at a time, keeping the others chilled, form your "log". Take the smallest (white) portion and form it into a cylinder about 1 inch in diameter and 5 inches long. Wrap tightly and return to the refrigerator.

Take the middle-sized (yellow) portion and roll it into a rectangle approximately 5 inches by 6 inches. I didn't want to add any extra flour to the cookies so I rolled it out between two sheets of waxed paper.

Lay the white dough onto the yellow dough and wrap the yellow around the white completely. Press firmly so that there are no gaps between the layers.

Here's what it will look like. Wrap tightly and return it to the refrigerator.

Repeat the same process with the largest (orange) portion. Rolling it out to a 5 inch by 10 inch-ish rectangle.

Wrap it around the yellow, pressing tightly so again, no gaps.

Wrap tightly and chill for a couple of hours. Overnight would be great.

To form the cookies, first slice off the very end of the log to make a clean even end. Then slice off 1/4-inch thick slices.

You'll have several of these "bullseye" slices.

Next, divide each "bullseye" into 6 wedges.

Lay them out on your cookie sheet and chill for 10-15 minutes.

Just before baking. Press each wedge into clear sanding sugar. This gives them a nice sparkle. You can skip it, but I like sparkle.

Pop 'em into a 375°F oven for 7-10 minutes.

Wahoo, it worked, Candy Corn Cookies. First of all I LOVED the taste (vanilla, almond, orange combo) and texture (very soft and tender) and will definitely experiment more with this recipe. For some reason they didn't hold their shape really well. I may have overworked the dough and then not let it rest long enough. And well, although I like that the colors are all in the right order (not really, see my note below)*, it was A LOT of work to get them that way. Next time I'll probably just layer the dough in a pan like the Land O'Lakes video and just live with the fact that half the cookies will be "backwards". I mean, seriously, who cares because they are delicious.

*Oh. . . and. . . well. . . um. . . I figured out after my cookies were baked that I mixed up the yellow and orange. So much for being OCD. To really look like candy corn you would color the middle-sized portion ORANGE and the largest portion YELLOW.  Then start with a white core, then wrap with orange, then wrap with yellow. Have I really confused you now?

Here is the recipe I used from Sweet Sugar Belle:

And Here is the Land O'Lakes video tutorial:

Monday, October 10, 2011

Please Be Patient

Dear Faithful Followers,
Please be patient. I've had a crazy couple of days and just now have my head above water.  I have not abandoned the blog. Far from it, I have many photos and recipes just waiting to be written about. Just no time. Time, time, time. It's always ticking away and I never have enough of it. I will post Candy Corn Cookies later this week and a great pork chop recipe next week. They are there, in the camera, just waiting for me. I hope you'll wait as well.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Ya Win Some, Ya Loose Some. . .

Doesn't this look delicious. I though it did, then I tasted it and it wasn't so delicious. How bummed was I? Very! Seriously, Praline Topped Baked French Toast Casserole? Do you blame me for trying this recipe? But it's inevitable, when you try lots and lots of different and new recipes, some just aren't good. But it goes with the territory, I accept it, I'm OK with a few disasters now and then.

Let me back things up a bit. A week or two ago I saw and episode of Paula Dean's show and she was making Baked French Toast. Looked delicious. But as with most of her recipes, and don't get me wrong, I LOVE Paula Dean, it was way over the top. Tons of butter, sugar, pecans, more butter, more sugar, etcetera. I loved the idea of baked french toast. Something to make the night before and then just bake off in the morning. It would be perfect for Christmas morning or anytime you're hosting breakfast. And, well, I've made breakfast casseroles before. The more savory kind with eggs, cheese, sausage and bread. They turned out great. The idea of a sweet french toasty version sounded awesome. So I though I'd give it a go. I Googled it and read a bunch of different recipes and finally settled on this one. A little less over the top than Paula's version but still with all the flavors and similar ingredients.

It was a flop. I followed the recipe exactly as written. I don't think I did anything wrong, I think it's just not a great recipe. It came out of the oven all puffy and crispy on top, but was totally undercooked inside, soggy and eggy. So I put it back in the oven for 20 more minutes. It came out more cooked but still soggy inside and a little too crispy on top. Then it sunk down quite a bit as it cooled. As I was making the egg/milk mixture it seemed like a lot for the amount of bread but I wasn't going to second guess the recipe. In the end it was edible but just not much flavor. Not sweet enough for French Toast, not un-sweet enough for a savory dish. It was just kind of blah. Ho hum. Not anything that I would want to serve guests. I am thankful that I didn't wait until Thanksgiving or Christmas morning to try this recipe.

So there are a couple of lessons to learn here.  Lesson 1: Always try a new recipe out before serving it for a special occasion. Lesson 2: Anyone can start up a blog and post recipes. Doesn't mean they're great and don't assume the blogger is an expert. (Heck, people may not like mine, I'm no expert.) Lesson 3: Go for the totally over the top Paula Dean recipe. It's probably the best and she is an expert.

So take it from me, if you try a lot of new recipes you're going to have a flop or two along the way. Don't let it discourage you, just learn from it and continue on your culinary adventure.