Friday, March 30, 2012

Oreo Cookie Pops

Did you know that the Oreo Cookie turned 100 years old on March 6, 2012. Seriously, why wasn't it a national holiday? I'm scratching my head. I mean come on, we're talking about Oreos here. One of the most beloved cookies of all time. And, seeing as I've had an ongoing love affair with Oreos since as long as I can remember, I can't let this milestone pass us by without some "to do". 

These Oreo Pops fall into the category of "So Easy Anyone Can Make Them, But So Impressive That Everyone Will Think You're A Culinary Genius".  They are so simple to make, but show up to a Little League game, a class party or any event with these little gems and you're sure to be the hero. 

But just a warning: shoving food on sticks and dipping into chocolate is addictive. 
You won't be able to stop at Oreos, you'll be reaching for Nutter Butters, Marshmallows, fruit, leftover cake, rice crispy treats. . .whatever you can find. 
So pace yourself. Proceed with caution. . .

Friday, March 23, 2012

Beef Stew

I love beef stew.
I love meals that cook in one pot.
I love slow cooked meats.
I love meals of slow cooked meat that cook in one pot so you can clean up the kitchen while it's cooking and then eat way too much because it's just so good and then fall asleep on the couch watching a zombie movie because the kitchen is already cleaned up and then wake up sweaty from your totally scary zombie dream and go have more ste. . . . TMI?

I love this recipe. . .

It's kind of hard to wax poetic about beef stew because, as I write, it is totes sunny out today. Birds are chirping, breeze is blowing and it's Spring. Or is it? Forecast says were due for a rainy weekend and what's better on a rainy weekend that a hearty pot of beef stew. And this dear readers is one of the best darn beef (or pork, or elk, or venison) stew recipes around. The ingredients are simple and inexpensive and the steps uncomplicated. It's all about the cooking order, developing the individual flavors and then gently melding them all together. Seriously, don't skip any steps, no shortcuts. This is serious stew fixin'!

And no potatoes. "What?" you say. "Beef stew without potatoes?", "Sacrilege!" OK, now hear me out. I love potatoes, oh mama, how I love potatoes. But not in stew. They get all mushy, mealy and fall apart. The "stewing" robs all their flavor and they end up gritty globs of bland tasteless starch, completely ruining the silky texture of the stew. 

But. . . you can always serve it over mashed potatoes. Mmmmm, good!

But. . . as much as I love mashed potatoes, oh mama, how I love mashed potatoes, my preference is to serve the stew over creamy cheddar polenta (recipe below). 
Seriously, you've got to try it.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Potato Gnocchi

I need to preface this post by telling you that I've not got a drop of Italian blood in me. Zero, nada, zilch. No Uncle Ginos or Aunt Ginas hanging out on the family tree. No Grandma from the Old World. Nope, there's no mediterranean blood flowing through these veins. Heck the closest thing I had to pasta growing up was Stouffer's. Occasionally my mom would pour a jar of Ragu over noodles but that's about as Italian as it got. And to this day, brace yourselves, I've never made homemade sauce. I've always made do with the jar. 

Shhh. . .did you hear that? 
That sound? 
The sound of a thousand Italian Grandmothers suddenly crying out in agony?

OK, seriously, not that I couldn't probably make a decent tomato sauce, I just never have. I guess that'll be one for the cooking Bucket List. And I'm not totally inept when it comes to making pasta dishes. I can throw together a decent Fettuccini with Alfredo. My point is, when I venture into Italian Cuisine, I do it with complete naivete.

So for my first, from scratch, Italian specialty I decided to try my hand a Gnocchi. I may not know Italian but my more northern ancestors certainly know potatoes. Gnocchi just sound so inviting. Soft, tender potato dumplings. Mmmmmm! To be honest, I made a few mistakes, but, all in all, they turned out pretty good. I am certainly going to keep making them and keep trying to improve. Once I've got it mastered, the variations will be endless. See how I did. . .

Monday, March 12, 2012

Homemade Soft Pretzels

This little gem of a recipe has lay dormant in my recipe book for a couple of years now. I hadn't made these in so long. I really don't know why. They are great. Simple and basic but great. Homemade Soft Pretzels. Dark, chewy and salty on the outside, soft and warm on the inside. The perfect snack on a rainy day. I rediscovered these last week in trying to come up with a hearty snack for my daughter. 

At fourteen, a high school freshman, my daughter joined the school swim team. She's never swam competitively before and I admire her courage in trying something totally new. Seriously, you go girl! I'm happy to report that she's doing great. And might I add, what a great group of kids these swimmers are. Full of fun, encouragement and positive energy. A credit to their generation. Anywho . . . about the pretzels. . . For the first home swim meet I wanted to bring S a special treat for her and her swim buddies. But, not cookies, or a sugary treat. Something not quite so unhealthy but something that was special, out of the ordinary and duh, delicious. I went flipping through my recipe binder and happened upon the Pretzel recipe. PERFECT! Special, I don't make these everyday, but not sugary and sweet. The girls loved them and I'm sure you will too. Give 'em a try. . .

(This recipe is Alton Brown's and can be found on the Food Network web site. It's always turned out so well that I've never fiddled with the recipe. Some things are best left as is. The recipe link is at the end.)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Rocky Road Cookies

Just after Christmas I stumbled upon these at Target and couldn't pass them up. They aren't quite like regular marshmallows, tender and soft. They are more like the little crunchy marshmallows that you find in Lucky Charms or Hot Chocolate mix. But the taste is all marshmallow, and how I do love marshmallows and things made with marshmallows. So simple, so vanilla, oh the possibilities! I bought them and waited to be inspired. I did a bit of poking around on other cooking blogs and saw that other bloggers had discovered these as well. I found lots of recipes for S'mores inspired treats and lots for Hot Chocolate inspired treats but none that really grabbed me. Then it came to me, how about a Rocky Road inspired treat. Chocolate, marshmallows, nuts. . .all good stuff.

I decided to create a recipe for Rocky Road Cookies. I started with my trusty old Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe and tweaked it a bit to make a chocolate cookie dough. Then reduced ever so slightly the chocolate chip quantity and added in the marshmallow bits. Now for the nuts. Traditionally Rocky Road is made with walnuts, but I'm not a big fan. However, I love the Rocky Road Candy Bar and I was pretty sure it didn't have walnuts. A little internet research answered my question: cashews. The Rocky Road candy bar uses cashews. So, I used cashews. Here's how it went. . .

Note: I made this recipe twice, once with the marshmallow bits and once with regular mini marshmallows. I was concerned that the bits could be a seasonal product and that not everyone would be able to find them. I'm happy to report that both worked great with some subtile differences. I'll give you more details at the end of the post.