Thursday, July 21, 2011

bachelorette night: rocky road squares

Monday nights mean two things at my house this summer:  New Music Monday on WTTS (that's year-round) and Bachelorette.  Sara watches with her girlfriends and I usually fast forward to the good parts on the DVR.  This season is fabulous for teachable moments for my own girls.  I am quite sure they have more self-confidence and self-awareness than this season's Bachelorette who is clearly not a good role model.  Anyway, Sara thought this week we should host so I could bake and blog about it.  I like the way my girl thinks.  Keeping with my previous post's theme of "working girl" food, this recipe is super easy and fast.  Remember it's a treat, so it's not under my usual healthy real food guidelines.  Who doesn't secretly love marshmallow fluff?  When the girls were little we'd dip pretzel sticks in fluff for a treat.  Try it if you've never enjoyed that sweet v salty combination.  Addicting.

The rocky road squares were a big hit at Bachelorette night.  I also baked banana cupcakes with browned butter cream cheese icing (another post because they were amazing), so there were leftovers of both.  Had a little help from Quinn on the cupcakes, but still needed to share some rocky road squares (i.e., get them away from me because they are too tempting) so my lululemon co-workers made quick work of them today at lunch.  Today was my first 9-5 workday in 21 years (I am lucky, I know).  Unpacking all the fabulous product for our shiny new store made for a pretty energetic day.  Pretty fun.  And pretty exhausting.  So, without further ado I will share the recipe and get to bed for another fun day at work tomorrow!

I know it, they look delicious!

Rocky Road Squares

8 graham crackers
1 1/2 C raw almonds 
1 1/2 C marshmallow fluff
1 (12-ounce) bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

Line a 9×13 pan with parchment paper (if you don't have parchment paper, foil will do).  Lay the graham crackers in a single layer to cover the bottom of the pan (break them in squares if they fit better that way).  Toast them lightly in a preheated 375-degree oven for about 6-8 minutes.  Coarsely chop the almonds and toast them in the same hot oven for 5-10 minutes, stirring once or twice and checking them so they do not burn (very bitter, keep an eye on them).  

Scatter the almonds over the graham crackers.  Drop the marshmallow fluff by big heaping spoonfuls over the crackers and almonds (do not try to spread yet).

While the graham crackers and almonds are toasting, pour the can of sweetened condensed milk over the chocolate chips.  I melted the chips and stirred in the condensed milk in a small pan set over a larger pan with simmering water (I don't have a double boiler, that may be one of the only kitchen tools I do not own).  You could probably melt them together at 50% power in a microwave starting with one minute, stirring and continuing 30 seconds at a time so the chocolate does not scorch.  Stir until smooth however you melt them.  Working quickly (the melted mixture will set-up quickly) pour the chocolate mixture over the crackers, almonds and fluff.  Spread with your spoon or spatula and swirl the fluff through the chocolate mixture with the side of your utensil or a knife blade.  

Refrigerate for about one hour or until firm.  Cut into bars or squares and serve.  Since it's so hot here, I just kept the leftovers chilled.  Besides, I think they are best cold.  

wholesome goodness, right there

lined up and ready

chocolate and sweetened condensed milk for melting

stirring action shot

heaping spoonfuls of fluff

spreading the chocolate mixture

swirled and ready for the refrigerator

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

working girl food: grilled tofu and vegetables red curry

Summers go this way regardless of my employment status.  When they are on this continent, my girls work and whatever that looks like meal times are whenever they are home or whenever I can run things up to their pool (Sara guards at one of our neighborhood pools, very convenient).  Throw in my part-time hours and even I might use a shortcut or two.  Isn't that why Trader Joe's exists?  Seriously, when Greg took a job in Overland Park, KS years ago and we were contemplating a move I immediately wanted to know if there was a TJ's in the neighborhood.  At the time there wasn't one in that state.  Not saying that's the only reason he ended up commuting for seven years.......

So today's post came about after a lovely issue of Fine Cooking magazine taught me how to make curries and we really enjoyed the ones I tried this spring.  Then on a trip to Trader Joe's with Sara we grabbed a bottle of Thai Red Curry sauce.  Looked good.  Nutritionally was an even trade with my scratch version.  And obviously it would be an excellent trade for getting dinner on the table fast.  First try we pan sauteed tofu and stir-fried vegetables.  Kelly was actually home and the three of us destroyed the entire pan.  Bingo.  I'll make curry from scratch again and maybe even blog about it, but not red curry.  The TJ's bottle is amazing!

A few weeks later when I had mastered the art of pressing tofu we tried the tofu on the grill and the vegetables in a grill pan.  Yep, still a winner.  Sure I'm kind of cheating for a food blogger.  I give you my complete approval to cheat with me.  I won't tell if you don't!  

p.s. Trader Joe's and Whole Foods usually have fresh vegetables all cut up and put together for stir-frying if you are really in a hurry.  And we've tried the TJ's curry marinated chicken tenders from the fresh case and grilled them to top a salad with lettuce, red peppers, red onion, edamame and mango.  Also delicious!

grilled tofu and vegetables red curry

Grilled Tofu and Vegetable Red Curry

extra firm tofu
vegetables you like or 
red onion
broccoli or broccolini
red, yellow or orange pepper
Trader Joe's Thai Red Curry Sauce
optional:  lemongrass, limes, Thai basil or Italian basil
noodles, rice or brown rice

Drain the tofu.  Cut it into equal-sized planks cutting the block in half and then into smaller pieces.  Lay the planks on layers of paper towels or a tea towel for the greener among us.  Cover the planks with additional paper or tea towels.  Place something heavy on top (big pan, stoneware dish or whatever).  Press for at least half an hour to remove most of the liquid from the tofu.  Brush a little olive oil or canola oil on a baking sheet and sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper.  Lay the planks on the sheet and brush with a bit more oil (I usually still have enough on my brush and the pan to get this done).  

Cut up your vegetables to fairly uniform thickness and size.  Toss with olive oil or canola oil and just a little kosher salt.  

Grill the tofu over medium low heat about 4-5 minutes per side.  Grill the vegetables on a grill tray or in a grill pan (no worries about them falling through the grates and you can more or less stir instead of painstakingly flip) for 10- 15 minutes until softened and browned to your liking.  

Heat the red curry sauce in a pan on your cooktop or grill or even in a container in the microwave.  Whatever works best for you.  Toss the tofu, vegetables and hot sauce together and serve.  If you can find lemongrass (Meijer always has it).  Sliver a little over the curry for serving.  Or serve with limes.  Or use some of your fresh basil from your garden (grow some Thai basil too next year).  You can serve the curry over rice, brown rice or noodles too.  

vegetables on my grill pan

vegetables and tofu on the grill

don't knock it!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

let's just call that my summer vacation: southwest grilled salad

Wow.  Loving the new lululemon job, but apparently it's kicking my butt and I'm just a little out of balance with my schedule at home.  The store isn't even open yet!  Ha!  I'll get in the swing of things, but in the mean-time please accept my apologies for not posting for so long.  There.  Now let's get posting!

Apparently it's crazy hot and dry (as in no rain dry, but plenty of  humidity to go with the heat) everywhere.  I keep reminding myself that January and February are long, dark and cold months and we pay big bucks (or cash in beaucoup rewards points) in the midwinter to enjoy this kind of weather on an island somewhere.  And another delightful surprise benefit of all that hot yoga is my tolerance for heat and humidity is way up from the usual.  Yesterday one of my adorable co-workers (who is all of 19 years-old) if that meant I sweat less.  No.  Sorry, still have an amazingly efficient cooling system throwing off water like an overworked a/c unit.

Summer dinners pretty much always include something being grilled at our house.  We enjoyed the neighborhood pool this afternoon and then the World Cup soccer match was just too close to run to the store and miss it, which is a long way of saying I never got to the store.  With two refrigerators and a big chest freezer there's always something to whip together for a meal.  I looked for tofu and only had silken tofu.  I thought of turkey burgers but somehow had no ground turkey in the freezer.  But thanks to the Whole Foods boneless skinless chicken breast sale (there was another one a couple of weeks ago) there was chicken.

The fastest and the favorite way for grilling chicken this summer?  Take those boneless, skinless breasts and cut off the tenders.  Then cut the remaining meat into strips about that same size.  Toss all the chicken with a little olive oil.  Toss in generous amounts of one of two amazingly good spice rubs from Costco:  Sweet Mesquite or Rustic Tuscan.  When I say generous I really do mean it.  My chicken pieces are coated in the stuff.  There's already sea salt in the rubs, so truly that's all you need to do.  If you are really in a hurry, bust out a jaccard tenderizer and press the pieces of chicken to flatten and to get the seasoning throughout the meat.  You probably don't own a 48-blade jaccard tenderizer so just be fine with whatever chicken thickness you have.  It's always best to have all the chicken about the same thickness so the cooking time is the same.  Grill the chicken over medium heat until done.  This is usually around 7 minutes per side (just turn once).  

Tonight I also grilled sweet corn.  Husk the corn and clean off the silks (truly the only hard part, but really not that tricky and hungry people like to help).  Rub with a little olive oil and kosher salt.  Grill about 10-15 minutes over medium heat, rotating every few minutes for all-over browning.

We always grill sliced red/yellow/orange peppers and sliced red or sweet onion tossed in a little olive oil and kosher salt.  I have a nice grill basket or a grill pan (both have holes) to make tossing and turning super easy.  Grill them about 15 minutes.

Here's tonight's key component:  grilled tomatillo salsa verde (yep, that's a link to my post with the recipe, click on it).  Instead of boiling the tomatillos, just rub them with a little olive oil and grill them for about 15 minutes until slightly charred and nicely softened.  Toss them whole in the food processor with the onion, serrano or jalapeno pepper, cilantro, garlic and kosher salt and pulse to blend.  It's really yummy with the grilled accent taste.

So here's where we are going with all of this grilling:

close-up of my salad

more of a portrait of my salad :)

Southwest Grilled Salad

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts sliced in tender size pieces
Costco's Sweet Mesquite rub
4 ears sweet corn, husked and silks removed
2 red/yellow/orange peppers, cored and sliced
1 red onion, sliced thin
olive oil
kosher salt
salsa verde
avocado, optional
sour cream, optional
lime, optional
barbecue sauce, optional

Toss the chicken with olive oil and the sweet mesquite rub.  Grill 7 minutes and turn once to grill 5-10 minutes more until firm and cooked through.  Rub the corn with a little olive oil and kosher salt.  Grill 10-15 minutes rotating to cook evenly.  Toss the peppers and onions with olive oil and salt and grill in a grill basket or pan 15 minutes or until softened and slightly charred.  Grilled the tomatillos for the salsa you can use store-bought salsa, I won't tell!

Stand the corn in a shallow bowl and run a sharp chef's knife down the cobs to remove the kernels.  Serve all of the ingredients in individual bowls and let everyone make their own salad.  I used everything on my salad.  I love a little sour cream and lime on just about anything.  I love how avocado makes a salad so much heartier and smoother.  I love just a little barbecue sauce tossed in the salad for a bit of sweetness and more smokiness.  The salsa verde is your dressing.  If you're a vegetarian, grill some drained and pressed tofu with the rub or just enjoy the salad with all vegetables and add some black beans.

Well, that feels better.  I missed writing.  I have a lot to say, just not enough time to put it all together.  But I'll sketch some things out and hope to catch up with you all over the next couple of weeks.  It's either going to be radio silence in about a month when my nest empties or I'll be posting frequently as therapy.  Let's hope for lots of yoga and posting along with the job to keep me going.  It's going to be hard, but it's going to be okay.  Namaste.

Monday, July 11, 2011

miss me?

Hey there, just back from our annual visit to the White House (our friends Mike and Tina White have a crazy wonderful home on Wheeler Lake in Northern Alabama, the White House).  Too hot for anything but floating!  I will post soon.  Have a few in the works.  Go pour yourself a tall glass of lemonade and crank up the fan and the air conditioning.  I'm off to yoga!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Birthday, America! : patriotic berry cake

Happy Fourth of July!  It's appropriately sunny and blazing hot here in Indiana so the logical thing to do is turn on the oven and bake a cake, well maybe not but that's just what I did this holiday afternoon.  My refrigerator is overflowing with fruit and there was buttermilk that needed to be used so a pretty little red, white and blue snack cake is cooling on my cooktop.  This is an adapted recipe from a foodgawker find courtesy of Sara.  I used whole wheat pastry flour and blueberries to up the nutrition a bit.  Use any fruit you like and serve it cold or warm for breakfast, snack or dessert.

It's America's 235th birthday.  I clearly remember wearing a red top and my denim bellbottoms with the vertical stars and stripes especially for the bicentennial.  That was apparently 35 years ago.  Not possible. Doesn't seem like yesterday, but 35 years ago?  So many burgers, hot dogs, beans and watermelons ago......

Have a great holiday!

Berry Cake

6 T unsalted butter at room temperature
1 C sugar
1 1/2 C all-purpose flour (or 1 C whole wheat pastry flour and 1/2 C all-purpose flour)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 C buttermilk
1 pound strawberries, cleaned and sliced
1 C blueberries, rinsed and dried
(raspberries, blackberries, plums, apricots or peaches would be good too)
2 T turbinado/demerara/raw sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray 9 or 10-inch springform or cake pan with cooking spray and set aside.

In bowl of stand mixer cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  While the mixer does the work whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in another bowl.  Go back to the stand mixer and beat in the egg and vanilla, using spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl.  Alternately add a bit of the buttermilk and flour mixture until all of it is incorporated.  Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.  Top the cake batter with the fruit.  Sprinkle generously with the coarse sugar of your choice.

Bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees and then lower heat to 275 degrees and continue baking an additional 50-60 minutes until the top is golden brown and firm to the touch and a tester in the center comes out clean.  Cool in pan for 5 minutes.  Run a sharp knife around the edges to loosen the cake.  Remove sides of springform pan or invert regular cake pan to finish cooling the cake.

here's what you need

ready to mix it all together


sprinkle the berries with sugar

just out of the oven

springform sides released

Friday, July 1, 2011

Birthday Banana Rum Cake

As mentioned in my previous post, Sara's 19th birthday was this week.  I've been cruising along pretty well busy with my new job, tennis, yoga, gardening, cooking, cleaning and all that I do basically trying my hardest not to think about the day when Greg and I drive home from North Carolina to a house that's too quiet.  Telling myself and anyone that I make listen; there's nothing to be done about it and that no, it will not be good for me, but it will just "be" and I will get through it.  Then please tell me why, when I drove past a group of kids with their backpacks on in front of the Jordan Y on Sara's birthday morning I just burst into tears?  Uh-oh.  

Her birthday day was spectacularly beautiful.  We had a fun lunch with Quinn at 3Sisters Cafe, which really is more of a "chick" thing but he played along nicely.  The two of them have the same birthday (really, what are the odds?) which means the party is always at Quinn's because they have a pool and a hot tub and that combination always wins at the end of June.  Since it was only Sara and I at home this week the cake I had to bake (I have to bake a cake for your birthday, it's just a rule and maybe just because I really love cake) went to the party.  So I went too.  Many thanks to Christine and Joe for hosting at least 5 birthday parties for my daughter!  

birthday boy and girl sporting their presents to each other
(jersey and Vibrams)

friends singing "Happy Birthday" at the pool party

Sara's favorite cake is rum cake.  Only really lucky children, like my own, who have made trips to St. Thomas, St. John, St. Kitts and St. Croix (think that's all the Saints we've visited so far) truly appreciate the deliciousness of a good rum cake.  This year in St. Croix I had the most amazing banana cake at our favorite pizza/calzone restaurant in Cane Bay.  Had to be soaked in some run of some kind.  So yesterday I got behind the bar and pulled out the Captain Morgan.  It's going to be a good day when you pull out the rum around 4:00.   Feeding cake to hungry kids is a win-win.  They love it and there are never any leftovers.  

In case you are wondering, dinner was grilled romaine, baked kabocha squash, roasted cauliflower and chicken with Tuscan seasoning on the grill.  Sara and I are keeping the new grill working hard this summer.  Banking up all the meals she loves at home.  My favorite job.  

It's going to be okay.  :)

Banana Rum Cake

1 1/2 C mashed ripe bananas (2 large, 3 medium)
2 tsp lemon juice
3 C flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 C unsalted butter, softened
2 C sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
(1/4 C King Arthur Flour cake enhancer, very optional)
1 1/2 C lowfat buttermilk

Rum Syrup
2 T unsalted butter
1/2 C dark rum
3/4 C sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9 x 13 x 2 pan with cooking spray and dust with flour, shaking off the excess.  In a small bowl, mix the mashed banana together with the lemon juice and set aside.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.  In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time.  Beat in the vanilla.  Turn the mixer down to very low speed and alternately add the 1/3 of the flour mixture and 1/3 of the buttermilk until everything is well-incorporated.  Stir in the banana mixture.  Pour batter into prepared pan.  Smooth top.  Bake 50-60 minutes until a tester in the center comes out clean.  
While cake is baking, make the rum syrup.  Melt butter in a small saucepan.  Stir in rum and sugar and raise heat to medium high.  Bring mixture to a boil and stir frequently until slightly reduced and thickened (8-10 minutes).

Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack.  Using a bamboo skewer or toothpick, poke holes throughout the entire cake.  Pour rum syrup evenly over the hot cake.  Cool completely or serve a bit warm (really delicious warm).  

mashing banana with lemon juice

the entirely optional, but ingredient that does exactly what it says,
King Arthur Flour cake enhancer

creaming butter and sugar (there is a lot of sampling right about now)
I've told you before that my babysitter made me
butter and sugar sandwiches when I was really little 

buttermilk alternating with the flour mixture

pouring of the batter into the prepared pan (see the flour dusting?)

syrup before it boils

boiling rum syrup

batter ready for the oven

poking the holes for the syrup to soak into the cake

here we go (sideways picture, oops)