Chocolate Cobbler

Chocolate Cobbler was a revelation when we tried it recently. It calls for pantry staples that we always have on hand anyway, and is reminiscent of lava cake without the difficulty and guess work. Since it is a dessert served family-style, it would be great for large gatherings, but keeps well in the refrigerator if you’re just making it for a small group. It calls for self-rising flour, but you can make your own if, like us, you don’t keep self-rising flour on-hand. The recipe does call for between 3/4 C and 1 C of water, and given our experiences and some of the reviews, I would stick to the lower end of 3/4.

Where was this recipe when I was pulling all-nighters in college?

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Khao Man Gai

Khao Man Gai is something that I was first exposed to eating at a food cart downtown. The dish is a simple poached chicken with rice but it’s the sauce that makes it. Typical of Thai food, the sauce is a little bit sweet, a little bit salty, with a zing from fresh ginger and bird’s eye chilies. With this recipe, my ability to eat this dish is not limited to my ability to get downtown for lunch during the week, a rare occurence. Even so, this is a weekend dish, but the fact that the sauce really does freeze well makes things a bit easier to accomplish. In addition, after poaching the chicken, a light chicken broth is left behind. We always save this in the freezer as well. While it doesn’t have as much body as our regular homemade chicken stock, it can be used in many recipes in place of water and in turn add much more flavor.

Stovetop Popped Popcorn

I can clearly remember the years before we got our first air-pop popcorn machine. Mom would heat oil in a pot, add the kernels, and then as it popped she would shake the hell out of it over the burner. Sometimes it burned. To this day, I’m not sure why. Over the years, I have managed to perfect my system for stovetop popped popcorn, and I rarely if ever burn it. My best guess is that Mom wasn’t using enough oil. My discovery is that if you use enough oil, then you don’t need butter at all.

Unfortunately, my stovetop popped popcorn recipe isn’t really a recipe. I think maybe that’s ok. Amounts are going to depend on the size of your pot. In my experience, you want a pot that has higher sides, but a smaller bottom area, basically, taller than it is wide. This is because if you have a really wide-bottomed pot, your popcorn will pop out and over the sides before it is fully done popping. So, a pot that is taller than it is wide is optimum, preferably with a glass lid so you can see what is going on, although this isn’t absolutely necessary.

Once you have found your pan, coat the bottom LIBERALLY with vegetable oil. Give it what you think it needs, and then give it an extra glug. Yes, this amounts to an extra hundred calories or so, but it will taste so good that you don’t need butter. Put 3 kernels in the pot with the oil, lid on, and turn heat up to HIGH. Wait until the kernels start to sizzle, and then coat the bottom of the pot with kernels. Put the lid back on. Turn the heat down a few notches; you want the kernels to fry a bit. Give the pot a few shakes. Once it starts to pop, crank the heat back to high, tilt the lid slightly to let out some steam and then shake the pot back and forth over the burner, keeping the kernels moving on the bottom. When the popping slows down, 1 or 2 seconds between pops, turn the heat off, turn popcorn out into a large bowl, and sprinkle liberally with salt, stirring as you go.

In my experience, not all popcorns are created equal. My favorite is Amish Country Popcorn, medium white hulless, but Ovrille Redenbacher’s is a close second, and perhaps more widely available.

I recently used this method, using the Amish Country Popcorn, for a close friend and she came just shy of saying it was the best popcorn she had ever had.

Beef Stroganoff over Buttered Noodles

Beef Stroganoff over Buttered Noodles first existed in our house as a list of ingredients handwritten on a sticky note that my husband had jotted down while watching Tyler Florence make it on television. After a quick trip to the grocery store, my husband used that sticky note to reproduce the same recipe in our kitchen. This sticks in my mind as a long-term memory because it prompted one of the first and most significant friendly arguments we have ever had about food and cooking. Simply put, the recipe calls for cognac, and since we didn’t have cognac, (we still don’t) he decided to use beer instead. I thought he was crazy and told him so. I figured there was no way he could substitute beer for cognac given their different attributes. Beer is darker, I reasoned, and bubbly while cognac is not etc. He insisted it would work. Of course, it was delicious made with beer. After this experience, I learned to trust his cooking instincts. He’s usually right.

If you want to make this and use beer instead, just use half the bottle. The other half, of course, goes to the chef. We try to avoid cooking with IPAs, chocolate stouts and Guinness, but pretty much anything else will work and be great. The original recipe only calls for a couple of tablespoons of cognac, so you would want to use a bit less beef stock as well to avoid the sauce being too watery.

Christmas Cut-out Cookies

While searching in vain for the original source for this recipe, I came to realize that there are almost as many sugar cookie recipes as there are bakers in this world. Does this world really need yet another sugar cookie recipe? Yet, before I found this recipe I thought sugar cookies were bland and oddly reminiscent of cardboard. I never really liked them before I found these. Soft, sweet and slightly chewy, these cookies are not just fun to make — they are delicious to eat! I was first introduced to this recipe when my now 12-year-old was a young toddler involved in a playgroup. The host of the playgroup Christmas party that year served these cookies. I liked them so much that I asked her for the recipe, and I have made them almost every year, since.

Christmas Cut-out Cookies

Ingredients

3/4 C butter or shortening (or a combination of both)
1 C sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2 1/2 C all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder

Directions

Cream butter and sugar. Add vanilla and eggs. Sift dry ingredients and add to mixture.

Chill dough for at least an hour.

Roll out, thick, onto a floured counter top and cut out using cookie cutters dusted with flour. If you roll the dough too thin, you won’t get the right texture.

Bake on parchment paper-covered cookie sheets at 400 degrees for 6 – 8 minutes. Take the cookies out of the oven before they turn light brown. You want them chewy and moist!

Frosting

3 C powdered sugar
1/3 C butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 Tbs milk
Food coloring, optional

Directions

Sift powdered sugar and mix with butter. Stir in vanilla and milk. Beat until smooth & fluffy. Add food coloring if desired.

Sweet Cornbread

Sweet Cornbread is printed right on the box of Alber’s Cornmeal. It’s printed on the box as a corn muffin recipe, but as everyone in my family has a sweet tooth, this is our favorite cornbread. It feels a little silly to be linking to a recipe that is printed right on the box of cornmeal that you can buy in the grocery store, and yet, cornbread mix is still sold, so my little secret must not be fully out there, yet. We always cook our cornbread in a 10″ cast iron skillet. We throw the skillet in the oven and turn on the oven to the required temperature of 350 degrees, and by the time the batter is ready to go in the skillet, the skillet is nice and hot and ready to go. A hot cast iron skillet creates a slightly crispy outer crust on the outside of the cornbread that is just delicious.

Leftover cornbread can be kept covered on the kitchen counter for a couple of days. It will last longer wrapped in plastic wrap or aluminum foil and stored in the refrigerator. Sweet Cornbread goes wonderfully with Crawfish Etouffee or Real Texas Chile Con Carne

Pad Thai with Shrimp

Pad Thai with Shrimp is an Alton Brown recipe from Food Network. I have re-written his recipe for a couple of reasons. First, his original recipe only makes two servings. I try to have all of my tried-and-true recipes sized appropriately for my family. We like leftovers for weekday lunches, so I quadrupled his recipe. Second, there is a lot going on in his original recipe, perhaps too much definitely more than we are able to manage for a week night dinner. And honestly, more than it needs. For this reason, I have left a few things out, like marinated tofu, salted cabbage and dried shrimp. The remaining ingredients can be purchased in any decent mom-and-pop Asian grocery store. The rice noodles I like to put in a bowl in hot tap water a couple of hours before I want to use them. My 12-year-old gets home at 4:30pm and this is an easy job for her to do.

Pad Thai with Shrimp
adapted from Alton Brown of Food Network

Ingredients:

12 – 16 oz thin rice stick noodles
1/2 C fish sauce
1 block palm sugar
1/4 C rice wine vinegar
4 oz tamarind paste
Canola oil
1 bunch scallions, chopped
8 tsp minced garlic (1/8 C + 2 tsp)
3 whole eggs, beaten slightly
12 oz shrimp, shells removed and deveined
Bean sprouts
Roasted salted peanuts, chopped

Directions

One to two hours ahead of time, place the rice stick noodles in a mixing bowl and cover with hot tap water. Let sit until ready to start cooking. Drain.

Combine the fish sauce, palm sugar, rice wine vinegar and tamarind paste in a small bowl and set aside.

Place wok over high heat. Once hot, add enough oil to coat. Heat until the oil shimmers. Add about 2/3 of the scallions and then the garlic, and cook for 10 to 15 seconds. Add the eggs to the pan; once the eggs begin to set up, about 15 to 20 seconds, stir to scramble. Add the remaining ingredients in the following order and toss after each addition: noodles, sauce, shrimp, a couple of handfuls of bean sprouts, and a handful of peanuts. Toss until shrimp are pink and everything is heated through.

Garnish with remaining scallions, and more bean sprouts and peanuts.