Archive | June, 2011

The $5 Miracle Toy

29 Jun

The plan, my loves, was to share with you a recipe for linguine with garlic bread crumbs that we tried Monday night.

The problem is that we didn’t like it. At all. Hugely disappointing. Dry and relatively tasteless; DH described it as “noodles with sawdust.” There were leftovers, and I tried stirring some summer-ripe grape tomatoes in, but even that couldn’t save this dish. Thumbs down, and I don’t recommend it.

So instead, we’re going to talk about one of my favorite toys today, and it’s something I picked up at Target on a total whim, for less than $5. It’s my handy-dandy batter bowl.

My mom had one of these when I was a kid, only hers was Jadeite and lovely (of course, I was younger and stupid when she sold her house years back and didn’t want it, and now that I have an appreciation for such beautiful things, have no idea where it wound up. Lesson learned). I came to my senses about such things a year or so ago, but by then had kids and budgets and a very tightwad way of living, and picked up a cheap, clear plastic model for myself. It has served me well and is one of the most useful gadgets in my kitchen.

I bought my batter bowl for pancakes, but it is an absolute miracle for cupcakes. I’ve used it for waffles, funnel cakes, and all sorts of sauces. Anything you’d pour, this is your tool. It’s simple and easy and pretty mess-free, and gets tossed right in the dishwasher. One bowl for mixing and pouring. I like that.

Such is my wisdom for today. If you don’t have one of these, get thee to the store and pick one up–you’ll love it. And if your mom has a gorgeous old one, don’t let it go.

Shameless Plug: Have you become a fan of Playing With My Dinner on Facebook? We have a fun wall where we chat about lots of kitchen-esque topics, and I’d love to see you there. Click here and then click “like,” and tell your friends! Thanks!

Big Honkin’ Soft Pretzels

24 Jun

DH drives a lot and frequently stops at Wawa for afternoon pick-me-ups. (Side note: the man has an uncanny amount of radar  for locating Wawa stores wherever he goes, despite the fact that there are none anywhere close to where we live. It’s creepy, if you ask me.) And he frequently brings home plastic-wrapped soft pretzels for the kids, who go nuts for them.

I tried one the other week. Yeah, they’re good. But I figured I could do that and for less than a buck or two a pretzel.

The first try was a pretty big failure. The dough–which was my regular pizza dough–didn’t want to twist into pretzel shapes, and then it didn’t want to bake all the way through, and then its egg wash did something bizarre that we won’t discuss, just in case you figure out I’m a tremendous fraud and stop reading the blog. Everybody tried a pretzel and nodded politely, and then I threw them away.

It happens, gang. You are going to throw food in the trash from time to time, just because a recipe didn’t turn out. Accept it as an offering to the kitchen gods, and try again!

Yesterday, I tried again, using a copycat recipe I found online that’s supposed to turn out just like those mall pretzels. Only I screwed it up, because I was trying to do real work in between tossing ingredients together, and added in some topping ingredients right in with the dough mixture. I flipped the bread machine to the dough setting, hit the start button, realized what happened, stared through the little glass window and cussed a bit, and then decided to let it go and see what happened.

The dough did its thing, I struggled through twisting and dipping and rising again (I am not a pretzel twister, just so you know), they baked up and cooled, and then the kids tried them.

“Mom,” said the 7-year-old, “These are better than the ones at the ballpark.”

Mistakes rule sometimes. Just keep going. Taste and adjust as necessary, but keep moving forward–you never know when a family favorite will be born.

I made this dough in my bread machine, using its pizza dough setting. Use the regular dough setting on your machine if it has one, or you can do this by stirring the dough ingredients together with a mixer, kneading it for 5 minutes or so on a flour-sprinkled counter, and letting it rise in a covered bowl for an hour.

This recipe made about 8 pretzels for us. We devoured a few (*blush*) and I wrapped the leftovers up in plastic wrap, just like Wawa. They’re still yummy this morning. I’m betting these would freeze really well, too, and then defrost and warm up really nicely in the microwave. We’ll find out soon–the short people already want to know when we’re making more. Next time, I’m skipping the twisting bit and either cutting the dough into chunks for pretzel bites (adjusting the baking time accordingly), or making simple twisted pretzel sticks.

Give it a shot. You need:

1 1/2 cup warm water

1 1/4 tsp active dry yeast

2 tbsp brown sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup bread flour (this gives that crispy crunch on the outside. You can use AP flour if you don’t keep bread flour around, but you’ll lose a bit of texture)

2 cups all-purpose flour

4 tbsp butter, melted

2 cups warm water

2 tbsp baking soda

Sprinkle the yeast over the 1 1/12 cup of warm water and let it sit a few minutes.

In your bread machine or the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the flours, brown sugar, salt, and butter. Add in the yeast mixture, and either run a dough cycle or mix and knead as described above, and then let rise for an hour.

When the dough is ready, heat your oven to 450 degrees, cover a baking sheet with foil, and spray that with butter or nonstick spray. In a large bowl, stir together the 2 cups of warm water and the baking soda.

Punch your dough down and divide it into 8 chunks. Roll each chunk into a long rope (it should be about 1/2 inch thick), rolling in more flour if you need to. Carefully dunk each raw pretzel in the water/baking soda mix (stir that up between pretzels), and lay them on the foil-covered baking sheet. When they’re all done, lay a clean dishtowel over them and let them rise a half-hour or so. Then, bake them about 10 minutes or until golden brown on the outside.

Enjoy warm or at room temperature, either plain or brushed with melted butter and cinnamon sugar or Kosher salt.


Pad See Ew

21 Jun

I almost fell into the cereal trap last night. You know the one–kids out, husband held up by unforeseen work event, tons to do while the house is blissfully quiet, and the chicken in the fridge will keep for another day. Cereal would have been quick and easy, with no cleanup other than chucking a bowl and spoon into the dishwasher. And I almost did it. I had the bowl in my hand when my inner mom spoke.

“You,” she said, “are worth a good meal.”

She was right. The bowl went on the counter, the chicken came out of the meat drawer, and I enjoyed a delicious, comforting meal of chicken, broccoli, and noodles in a sweet and salty Thai dish, all by myself. It was wonderful.

I’d been looking for a recipe for pad see ew since shortly after Christmas, when I had my first serving at a local Thai restaurant. The problem with most recipes for the dish is that they call for black or sweet soy sauce, and no store near me carries such a thing–even the fancy-schmancy gourmet market (I checked). The substitutes I found online varied wildly, calling for everything from molasses to star anise, and rather than re-invent the wheel, I kept looking for a recipe that didn’t call for anything I couldn’t buy in my local market.

The one ingredient caveat I’ll give you is this: the recipe calls for oyster sauce. Do not fall into the same trap I did and buy Oyster brand fish sauce. It’s not the same. The oyster sauce you want has the consistency of ketchup, and is sweet and dark. You do need fish sauce for this (I had some that feeds my pad thai addiction), so go ahead and grab some of that Oyster brand if you want, but you do need real oyster sauce too.

The original recipe for this dish called for rice noodles. I used Dutch style egg noodles instead. I know. Not authentic. But egg noodles scream comfort and happy to me, which is what I was going for, and they don’t clump up and get hard like rice noodles can. Make sure you drain whatever noodles you use very well before you add them to the wok. You don’t want any extra water getting in there. This would also be delicious with a punch of red pepper flakes, if you like your Thai food on the spicy side, or the addition of some sliced mushrooms.

And with that, I’m done babbling away. I’m having leftovers of this tonight, and I’m secretly hoping my family will all prove more popular than I again. More noodles for me. To have your own, you need:

8 oz noodles, either wide rice style or broad egg noodles, cooked and drained

1 cup broccoli crowns (I totally cheated and used a bag of nuked SteamFresh broccoli. It worked great.)

1 tbsp vegetable or canola oil

1 clove crushed garlic

1 bunch green onions, chopped (greens only)

1 pound chicken breast, sliced thin

1/2 cup water

1 tbsp cornstarch

3 tbsp oyster sauce

3 tbsp soy sauce (I recommend Tamari if you can find it–it’s not so salty)

1 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp sugar

1 egg

If you’re not cheating on the broccoli, cook it (boiling or steaming) until crisp-tender. Drain.

Heat the oil in a large wok or skillet over medium heat. Stir in the garlic and let it cook for just a minute, moving it constantly so it doesn’t burn. Stir in the green onion. Add the chicken in a single layer, cover, and cook about 3 minutes, or until done on one side. Flip it and cook until it’s edible.

While the chicken is cooking, whisk the cornstarch into the water (not the other way around or it’ll clump up on you), and stir together the other sauces and sugar in a bowl.

Once the chicken is cooked, nudge it towards the sides of the pan, so there’s a bare spot in the center. Scramble your egg in that bare spot. When it’s firm, stir it into the chicken, and then stir in your cornstarch mixture and bowl o’ sauces.

Now, stir in your drained noodles and broccoli. Let it cook perfectly still for about 3 minutes, and then stir it up and do that again. You want some of the noodles to start caramelizing on the bottom of the pan. Let them brown a bit.

Chase your family out of the house, and enjoy.


Not Your Grandmother’s Banana Blueberry Bread

20 Jun

It was not a weekend for the record books. That’s a nice way of saying it, I think. It started with a farewell party for someone I very much like who’s moving far away (fun party, but made me super sad), then went to another event where my feelings got smashed, mid-pointed with the death of a good friend of DH’s, and snuck out of town with a visit to urgent care, which never ends well. I had a good cry, hibernated with my Kindle for several hours, visited with my friends Ben and Jerry, got a decent night’s sleep, and this morning, decided that the blueberries in my refrigerator were not going to cook themselves, and mucked around with a recipe.

We all have banana blueberry bread recipes in our collections–it’s a staple, both because it’s good and because it uses up fruit that threatens ickiness in a way that everybody will eat. I’ve had this one for awhile, but finally got around to messing with it this morning. And it, my sweets, it good.

I can’t remember where the original recipe came from, but I swapped out brown sugar for half the white, added some vanilla extract, and used more blueberries than it called for. The result is a very quick and simple sweet bread that could easily pass as a coffee cake, perfect for breakfast, tea, or dessert. The brown sugar caramelizes around the crust (it’s begging to be a muffin, I think) and gives a yummy hint of that flavor throughout. It made me happy, and we could all use a shot of happy from time to time. I hope you’ll try it.

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1/3 cup butter, softened (not melted)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup light brown sugar

1/3 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1 ripe banana, smooshed

1/2 pint blueberries

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and spray a loaf pan with nonstick spray (I swear by Baker’s Joy if you can find it).

With an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugars until they’re light and fluffy. Add vanilla. Beat in eggs, one at a time.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With your mixer on low, stir in half of that mixture. Then stir in your mooshy banana, then the rest of the dry goods, and finally and very gently stir in your blueberries.

Taste the batter. Right??

Spread the batter into your loaf pan and bake about 50 minutes.

Parmesan Chicken and Rice

15 Jun

So the thing about this recipe is: you’re going to have to look past the brown.

It’s very brown, this dish. It has varying shades of brown, from tan to chocolate, but this is not a colorful entree. But if you can look past that, it is delicious and healthy, and super easy to make in the morning on these hot summer days and re-heat later in the afternoon, before chow time. It’s also light-tasting, which makes it a great seasonal dish in my book. (And it’s gluten-free, which is a nice bonus for a lot of you.)

The original recipe came from Cooking Light. They called for instant rice and different liquid values. I don’t really get instant rice, to be honest, since regular rice is so super simple to make and feels so much more substantial in the mouth, and so I adjusted out of necessity: there is no instant rice in my pantry. They also used jarred chopped garlic, which, as we’ve discussed, is bitter and nasty, and has no business in your kitchen. Frozen garlic cubes are a much better option if you don’t want to chop up the fresh stuff.

They also wanted parsley in this. Parsley is another “ick” in my house–it tastes like feet and brings nothing to food, as far as I’m concerned. I used a little fresh basil, which played off the garlic and Parmesan beautifully.

We all liked this. The kids picked out the mushrooms (more for me!), and devoured the rest, and DH and I both enjoyed it (he sprinkled a little hot sauce on his), especially the next day, when the flavors had some time to play together and develop a bit. It takes one pan, which is a plus, and was comforting and delightful.

To make it, you’ll need:

1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 cup finely diced onion (I used about 1/3 of a large Vidalia)

1 clove garlic, diced, or 1 frozen garlic cube

1/2 tsp dried thyme

8 oz button or baby bella mushrooms, sliced

About a pound of skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces (starting with tenderloins makes this step much easier–just stack them up and slice once)

3/4 cup white wine

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

1 cup uncooked rice

1 cup low-sodium chicken broth (omit the salt if you can’t find low-sodium broth)

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

A few leaves of basil, diced

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, thyme, and mushrooms and saute about 5 minutes, until the onion softens and the mushrooms darken and release some of their juice. Add the chicken and saute a few minutes until it’s browned on the outside. Stir in the wine, salt, and pepper, and cook about 3-5 minutes, until the liquid reduces a bit.

Stir in the rice and broth. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer about 20 minutes or until rice is cooked. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese and basil. Enjoy!




Chocolaty Pina Colada Bread

13 Jun

I didn’t like this much when I made it.

Singing endorsement of a recipe, eh? But my first reaction was one of weirdness. Banana bread with crunch. I shrugged, wrapped it up in plastic, and forgot about it until the next morning, when my daughter asked for a slice and started mmmmmmming in volumes that were completely inappropriate for that time of day.

I tried it again. It got better! The coconut flavor developed overnight, and this was pretty darned good!

It was also ridiculously simple–I chucked a handful of sweetened shredded coconut into my regular banana bread recipe, along with a half-cup of mini-chocolate chips. Once it rested for a day, it was very good, and different than banana bread altogether–in fact, the same kid asked me this morning, “Is there a little banana in this?”

I recommend this, but I also warn you to not expect much if you can’t resist it right out of the oven. You’ll like it more the next day. Trust me. You need:

1/3 cup shortening (do not use butter–it mucks up the texture)

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp baking powder

2 overripe bananas

1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut

1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Heat your oven to 350 degrees and spray a loaf pan with nonstick spray or butter.

Cream together sugar and shortening in your mixer. Add eggs and beat well. Stir in a cup of the flour, the baking powder and soda, and salt. Then stir in a banana. Add the rest of the flour, stir to combine, and then the other banana. Then, with your mixer on very low, stir in the coconut and chips (keeping the mixer on low will stop the gluten from developing and keep your bread nice and soft).

Spread into the greased loaf pan and bake about 1 hour, until done. Cool on a wire rack, wrap it up tight in plastic, and try it the next day.

I Think I’d Rather Be Hungry

12 Jun

I had a rare half-hour of nothing yesterday afternoon, and flopped on the couch to channel-surf on networks other than the Cartoon one. I flipped past The Cooking Channel right as the top of the hour hit, and decided to check out the show–Hungry Girl.

You all know Hungry Girl. Her website has become something of a cult for Weight Watchers followers (I love Weight Watchers, for the record), and her email newsletters, cookbook, and this new TV show have developed quite a large audience following.

The first recipe she demonstrated was this omelet in a cup: you scramble eggs in a coffee mug and nuke them with other ingredients. Fine–I’ve done that before right here. Only, the first thing Hungry Girl does is extol the virtues of egg substitute, which, she says, are “pretty much just egg whites.”

So…why not just use egg whites?

Leaving that where it fell, have you ever read a container of egg substitute? More than 20 ingredients, some of which I can’t pronounce, including a sweetener that’s used mostly in mass-produced candy, and a ton of sodium, at least compared to a real egg.

Science has pretty much proven that contrary to what we learned in the 1980s, eating eggs does not raise your cholesterol. So that argument is out, assuming you’re not downing a half-dozen eggs every day. She’s saving maybe 40 calories an egg, I’ll give her that. But she’s also ingesting all sorts of manufactured things that eggs don’t contain.

This was the first time I caught Hungry Girl, and I have to say, I think I’d rather eat less of food made with real ingredients than follow her odd eating habits. That show is a testament to processed foods–foods that are full of chemicals, artificial sweeteners, and oh my God, the salt. It was nothing but fat-free this and plastic-wrapped that and artificial ingredient substitutes, which, I’m sure, help you stay rail-thin, but at what price?

I’ll stick with eggs, thank you very much. Real cheese. Vegetables that came out of the ground and not out of a factory somewhere. I’ll hang on to my extra bits of skin and pudge if that’s what it means, but I am not into downing vials of lab chemicals with every meal.

I won’t be watching Hungry Girl again. And tomorrow, I’ll share a real recipe, made with real ingredients, that you can enjoy without worrying about what the heck just went into your family’s mouths.

Thumbs down, Hungry Girl. Thumbs down, Cooking Channel. Very disappointing.


Santa Came!

9 Jun

With a little help, anyway.

Remember my much-hated side-by-side refrigerator/freezer?

It’s GONE!!

Santa and my clients (whom I love very much) brought me a bee-yoo-tiful French door, bottom-freezer refrigerator, and I might have to marry it, I love it so much. Want to know why? Because my daughter came home from school, opened it up, said, “Where’s all the food from the other fridge?” and it was ALL IN THERE!!

I can fit a lasagna pan.

I can fit a pizza box.

I can fit an ice cream cake. Hell, I can fit ice cream!

Excited is not the word, my friends. I had a terrible, awful, no-good, very bad day the other day, and told a friend that I was going to go hug my new appliance so I’d feel better. And I was not kidding.

My only issue is organizing the freezer, which is a drawer-style. How do I keep things from being buried down there? Do any of you have a system? Please let me know in the comments.

Kitchen toys are the best toys in the world!


ps–The old fridge did not go to the landfill. It went to Habitat for Humanity, and they even drove out here to pick it up. I’m happy to be rid of it, and happy someone else will love it as it deserves. 🙂

Chocolate Chip Coconut Muffins

1 Jun

Sunday was the first full day our family had together in a pretty darned long time. It’s been a few of those months, you know? So we made a point to stay commitment-free (at least until my daughter’s 3:30 ballet recital) and work some needed errands into some down time.

We got up early and headed to one of our favorite places for breakfast and a quiet morning walk around the water. The weather was beautiful, so we popped into a coffee shop to choose some morning treats before heading to a bench on the State House lawn to eat.

I love this coffee shop, and I love the idea of supporting a local business over the nearby Bucks of Star whenever possible. But to be totally honest, their muffins have underwhelmed me. Dense and a bit on the salty side, they were more like misshapen scones, and I’m just not a scone kind of girl. So when DD picked out a chocolate chip coconut muffin, I didn’t have very high hopes that it would be eaten.

It was devoured.  She wolfed it down so fast that I risked a fingertip to tear myself off a bite, and got the most wonderful surprise I’ve had in awhile. Something about the coconut and the chocolate chips made for a divine combination that wasn’t terribly coconuty, but was moist and light and had just a tinge of crunch that made my mouth very happy (and put my cinnamon coffee cake to absolute shame). This is not a pina colada muffin. In fact, my guess is that if you just handed one to an unsuspecting person, he or she wouldn’t readily identify the coconut, but they’d love the muffin.

Yesterday, I mucked around with my own chocolate chip muffin recipe and came up with a really good clone of that coffee shop pastry. Mine are miniature, which makes them great for lunchboxes and breakfast in the car (fewer crumbs), but you could certainly make them full-sized by increasing the baking time (and using full-sized chips, I’d think). If you want something more dessert-like, sprinkle sugar (sanding sugar would be fantastic if you have it) over the tops before you bake these up.

One word of warning: Don’t substitute butter for the shortening in these. You’ll end up with greasy muffins, and those are icky.

I bagged these up in threes and froze them, just as I did for the DIY Little Bites last year. They’re also absolutely delicious fresh and should last a few days at room temp. Give them a try and let me know what you think. You’ll need:

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup shortening

1 egg

1/2 cup milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut

1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips

Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees and grease a mini-muffin pan.

Cream together the shortening and sugar in a mixer. Blend in egg, milk, and vanilla and mix well.

Gradually, at low speed, mix in flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until just mixed together. Then stir in coconut and chocolate chips.

Spoon about a tablespoon of batter into each mini-muffin cup. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until the sides brown (the tops will not brown). Cool in pan about 5 minutes, and then remove the muffins from the tin to cool the rest of the way.

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