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Apricots for Andy

As soon as I saw these cookies, I knew I had to make them for Andy. After all, he is a self-proclaimed fruit junkie. If you give him a choice between a piece of fruit or cookies/cake/other snack food, he will choose the fruit, nine times out of ten. Of course, he’ll probably go back for the cookie once the fruit is gone, but still. I can’t buy the stuff fast enough. So when I saw a cookie studded with chunks of dried apricots (one of Andy’s favorite snacks), I was pretty sure that I’d stumbled upon his cookie utopia.

I didn’t get around to trying these cookies right away, and they kind of fell off my radar until a couple weeks ago. Andy was spending some quality time in the garage with his truck, fixing something with the leaf spring bracket. (I think, anyway. I tried to pay attention to what exactly was going on, but a lot of it went over my head. He fixed it though! Yay for handy husbands!) I felt bad for him (especially since our garage isn’t heated) and decided to make a “you’re-the-best-for-fixing-the-truck” treat. What better way to show my appreciation than with cookies, right? Especially cookies with one of his favorite fruits!

Well… they weren’t chocolate chip cookies. And when you’re expecting a chewy, melty chocolate chip cookie, shortbread is a little bit of a disappointment, apparently. Even if it is stuffed with apricots. That’s fine. Nothing said he had to be wowed by them (even though these were the best shortbread cookies I’d ever tried). I’d just eat them myself.

A funny thing happened though. Andy kept going back for “just one more cookie.” I don’t know if it was the butter, the apricots, or the appetite he worked up out in the garage, but these things had some sort of magnetic pull. We could not quit eating them. In fact, they disappeared in record time, which is pretty amazing when you consider that they weren’t chocolate chip cookies.

apricot shortbread cookies

This was my first time making a shortbread cookie, and while I knew they were going to be crumbly, I was a little surprised at how hard it was for the dough to come together. The recipe said to mix it by hand, and I think that was part of my problem. Next time, I’ll try it with my mixer and see if that works better. I was also unsure about a cookie recipe without any baking powder or soda, but since these worked out just fine, it must not be necessary for shortbread! I ended up adding some extra vanilla, and I think that almond extract would be great in them as well. I’m not including those changes in the recipe below, because I didn’t have a chance to try most of them out. Next time. :)

Apricot Shortbread Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup finely chopped dried apricots

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.

Combine all of the ingredients except the apricots together in a large bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together. (I ended up using my hands to work it together.) Gently stir in the chopped apricots.

Cut a large piece of plastic wrap and turn the dough out onto the plastic. Shape the dough into a 2″ wide log. Roll the log in the plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour. (Or, 20 minutes in the freezer if you’re impatient like me.) 

Remove the dough from the freezer and slice into rounds that are about 1/4″ thick. Place cookies about 1/2″ apart on the prepared sheet and bake until they are barely golden brown, about 13-15 minutes. Let cookies cool on the cookie sheet for a minute before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

As seen on Branny Boils Over, originally adapted from Martha Stewart

Click here for a printable version.

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2014 in Cookies, Dessert

 

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Sunshine in a Bowl

I’m almost afraid to say it, but I think spring may finally be making its way to Wisconsin! Just this morning, I discovered our daffodils poking up out of the ground, and it even looks like our garlic experiment is working out! (I will be thrilled if the garlic cloves we tucked into the garden last fall actually grow into full heads of their own!) I even went barefoot (in the driveway) today – something that hasn’t happened since, oh, probably September.

After months of snow and polar-vortex temperatures, any sign of spring is more than welcome. Even if that sign is just a bowl full of bright, happy mango chunks. I made this salsa a few weeks ago, when we were still covered in snow and feeling insanely jealous of everyone who was planning trips for spring break. It’s ridiculously easy – chop, mix, eat. We enjoyed it on our favorite pork chops, and it took our rice from average to “I’ll have some more of that.” And now that I think about it, I’m sure this would be equally tasty with grilled fish, shrimp or chicken as well. Things to keep in mind now that our grill isn’t covered by several feet of snow. :)

MangoSalsa2

 

Editor’s Note: I’m guessing on the measurements here, since I made this up on the fly and didn’t bother getting out the measuring cups. Feel free to add more (or less) or something as it suits you! 

Simple Mango Salsa

1 mango, diced small
1/3 cup diced green pepper
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons finely minced jalapeno pepper, seeds removed if you don’t like too much heat
juice of one lime
small handful of cilantro, chopped
coarse salt

In a small bowl, combine the mango, green pepper, jalapeno and onions. Add the lime juice and stir until the ingredients are fully coated. Add the cilantro and season to taste with salt.

Serve over pork chops, chicken, fish or rice. Store leftover salsa in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

A Beth’s Blue Plate Original

Click here for a printable version.

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2014 in Appetizer

 

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Putting the Fun in Fondue Night

I’ve mentioned our girls “cooking club” nights before. They’re the brainchild of my friend Emily, and they’re an excellent excuse for me to try something new. (Although, at the rate I read blogs and magazines, I’d need a cooking club night every night to get through my recipe list…) The theme for our most recent night was fondue, and we each brought something to go with a cheese fondue and something for a chocolate fondue. I brought broccoli for the cheese fondue and decided on pound cake for the chocolate. Which meant, of course, that I had to find a pound cake recipe first!

Do you know how many pound cake recipes there are on the internet? More than 13 million, according to Google. And I’m guessing that most of them are probably mediocre and not worth wasting ingredients on. Especially since most recipes call for a LOT of butter. I decided to find a recipe from a trusted source instead and ended up going with one from The Way the Cookie Crumbles. I figured it was a safe bet – after all, Bridget often does comparison posts, and has several pound cake recipes on the blog, so clearly this wasn’t her first rodeo. Plus, she used a Smitten Kitchen recipe, so I figured that the odds were in my favor. :)

I halved the recipe and made it in a loaf pan, rather than a bundt pan. I figured we probably didn’t need an entire bundt cake for our fondue, especially when we had lots of other dippers. (Turns out, the cake was good enough where I wished I would have had a little more left over… what was I thinking again?) I was a little concerned about whether or not the cake would rise, since the recipe doesn’t have any leaveners, but it worked out all right. I noticed that Bridget mentioned possibly using cake flour for some of the AP flour (although she didn’t), and so I figured I’d try that. I loved the almond extract and the white chocolate in this cake, especially because I feel like it’s really easy for pound cakes to be rather, well, blah. It was the perfect consistency for cubing and dunking in chocolate, and the few leftover cubes were a wonderful mid-morning snack at work. :)

PoundCake

White Chocolate Cream Cheese Pound Cake

1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) of unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for the pan
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cups (7.2 ounces) of flour (I used a combination of AP and cake flour.) 
1/2 cup chopped white chocolate

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Generously butter a 9″ loaf pan and dust in the inside with flour.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the butter, cream cheese and salt until the mixture is smooth. Gradually add the sugar to the butter mixture while the mixer is running. Increase the mixer speed to high and beat until light and airy, at least five minutes.

Add the eggs to the bowl one at a time, beating well and scraping down the sides of the bowl between each addition. Add the vanilla and almond extracts to the bowl and mix in. Pour the flour into the bowl and mix on low until just incorporated. Stir in the chopped chocolate.

Spread the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 60-75 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown and tests done with a toothpick. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, invert the pan and turn the cake out onto the wire rack. Allow to cool completely. If serving with fondue, cut into 1″ cubes for optimal skewering. :)

from The Way the Cookie Crumbles, who adapted it from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from Staff Meals from Chanterelle

Click here for a printable version.

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2014 in Cakes & Frostings, Dessert

 

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What We’re Eating – 3/23 – 3/28

Happy Saturday! After a week of disorganization and chaos in our home (all self-induced – we decided to paint the dining room and hallway this past week!), I finally had a few minutes to sit down and put together a meal plan for the next week. Maybe we’ll even sit down and eat in the “new” dining room this week, instead of the kitchen. :)

Sunday 3/23 – Pork chops and Annie’s spring risotto. I have been wanting to make this risotto for ages, and I finally broke down and bought the ingredients.
Monday 3/24 – Cabbage and noodles with bacon
Tuesday 3/25 – Steak fajitas – not sure what recipe I’ll use for them, but this post from Smitten Kitchen got me thinking about fajitas. And spring. But that’s another story… especially since the weatherman just said our low tonight is 6. SIX DEGREES. Where do I live, the tundra? Oh yeah…
Wednesday 3/26 – Lemon orzo soup with chickpeas. I’m going to try to make this soup meatless by swapping the chicken for chickpeas. Worth a shot, right?
Thursday 3/27 – Chicken Parmesan and roasted broccoli – my friend Bethany sent me a picture of the chicken parm she made the other day, and I was inspired. Looking forward to this one!
Friday 3/28 – Burgers on the grill, roasted sweet potatoes and cauliflower.

In other food news, has anyone been paying attention to the kitchen challenges that Lindsay is sharing over at Love and Olive Oil? I haven’t done any of them, but I am intrigued by the April challenge – eclairs!! I might try to squeeze this one in to my schedule.

Enjoy the rest of the weekend!

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Pizza Win!

I’ll admit, I’ve been slacking off the last few weeks. First Andy was out of town, and then we had out-of-town guests, then we took a mini-vacation, and then things got busy for me at work. All of that translates to almost no time to blog (although, thankfully, there has still been time to make dinner).

In the middle of that whirlwind, I was able to finally take a road trip with some girlfriends to the nearest Trader Joe’s. I figured it was time to see what all of the fuss was about. (It’s about a two-hour drive to get there from my house, and I know people who make the pilgrimage trek trip regularly. I needed to know why.) I have to say, I wasn’t blown away. I did pick up some orecchiette (since I have a hard time finding it for a reasonable price at my standard grocery store) and a couple other items (dried apricots and roasted red peppers), but overall, I was underwhelmed.

The real “win” of the Trader Joe’s trip (aside from the quality time with some of my all-time favorite people) was the asparagus. It was decently priced, and since I am SO ready for spring, I bought a bunch. And thanks to a fantastic pizza that we had in Bayfield (Brie, caramelized onions, roasted red peppers and chicken, anyone?), I couldn’t stop thinking about a pizza with caramelized onions. How about a shaved asparagus pizza with caramelized onions? With bacon too, because, well, it’s bacon. Who’s with me? :)

I’d made an asparagus pizza once before, with my usual hand-tossed style crust, and I felt like it was too much crust. So, this time around, I decided to try a thinner crust, and while I’m typically a more-bread-is-better girl, I felt like the thin crust was just what this pizza needed. (Does this mean there’s room in my life for more than one kind of pizza crust? What’s next? More than one chocolate chip cookie?)

I don’t know if it was the onions, the crust, the bacon or some magical quality in the Trader Joe’s asparagus, but the pizza was an all-out success. As in, the best thing we ate all week. Maybe I need another road trip. ;)

asparagus pizza

Shaved Asparagus Pizza with Bacon and Caramelized Onions

For the crust: 
1/2 cup warm water
1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups/190 grams all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
olive oil for the bowl and pizza pan
cornmeal for the pizza pan

For the toppings:
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar
1/2 lb. fresh asparagus spears
4 slices of bacon, cooked until crisp and crumbled
4 ounces of mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 ounce shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 200 degrees, and then turn the oven off, keeping the door closed to retain the oven temperature.

Pour the warm water into the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top of the water. Let the mixture stand until the yeast is dissolved and foamy, about 10 minutes. Add the flour and the salt to the bowl and attach the bowl to the mixer. Using the dough hook, mix the dough on medium speed until it comes together in a large mass. Increase the speed to medium-low and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Take the dough out of the bowl and wipe out the mixing bowl. Brush some olive oil in the mixing bowl and return the dough to the bowl.

Cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and place in the warmed oven. Allow dough to rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.

While the crust is rising, prepare the toppings. Melt the butter and one teaspoon of olive oil in a large, heavy skillet. When the butter has melted, add the onion slices, salt and sugar.  Cook the onions over medium low until the onions are soft, golden brown and caramelized, only stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, “shave” the asparagus. Hold the large end of the asparagus and run a vegetable peeler down the length of the stalk, creating thin ribbons. (Some of mine were thinner than others, and it all worked out OK.) Discard the tough, woody ends of the asparagus stalk.

When the dough has risen, remove it from the oven and preheat the oven to 425. Lightly oil a pizza pan with olive oil and sprinkle with cornmeal. Stretch the dough out into a 12″ round and brush the crust with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Spread the caramelized onions all over the crust. Pile the asparagus ribbons on top of the onions. Sprinkle with the crumbled bacon, and then cover the pizza with the mozzarella cheese. Top with the Parmesan cheese.

Bake until crust is golden and cheese is melted, bubbly and browned, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven, slice into wedges and serve immediately.

Crust from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, toppings inspired by the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook and Maggie’s in Bayfield, Wis.

Click here for a printable version.

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2014 in Main Dishes

 

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Twice Baked Awesomeness

Did you have big plans for Valentine’s Day? A fancy dinner somewhere, or a romantic weekend away? Not us. Andy firmly believes that it’s a holiday engineered by Hallmark and FTD, and he’s lucky he married a girl who doesn’t get hung up on stuff like that. :) 

Instead of an overpriced dinner out, we had a great dinner in with some of our favorite friends. Karen picked out the wine, made salad and baked an awesome chocolate cheesecake. I volunteered to bring steak and sweet potatoes. The steak was easy – I turned it over to the guys and let them work their magic on the grill. (Yes, the grill. It warmed up to about 20 degrees last weekend… hello grilling weather!) 

I went with the twice-baked sweet potatoes from Cook’s Illustrated. I’d made them once before, and they earned five stars on the Andy scale. I mean, there’s a crispy, buttery breadcrumb topping and a filling spiked with Parmesan cheese. But as I was making them again, I started to worry that they weren’t going to be quite good enough for our Friday night feast. What if the first time was just a fluke? 

My concerns were completely unfounded. They were just as good the second time, and the four of us devoured every crumb. In fact, I *might* like them a little more than regular twice-baked potatoes, and that’s saying something. 

Amazingly enough (especially for a CI recipe), this one is easy enough for a weeknight. I made these after I got home from work on Friday, and we were ready to leave for dinner in less than an hour. The microwave gives you a head-start with the potatoes, and once they’re stuffed and topped, they only bake for 20 minutes. So while they look (and taste) like a special occasion dinner, there’s no reason not to make them tonight. :) 

Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes

4 8-ounce sweet potatoes, unpeeled and scrubbed (nicely shaped, if you can find them)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 shallots, thinly sliced
4-6 slices of French bread, cut into 1/8″ – 1/4″ cubes*
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (one ounce), divided
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 large egg, lightly beaten
salt

Lightly prick the sweet potatoes with a fork, then place in the microwave. Cook potatoes until they’re easily pierced by a toothpick and the sides of the potato yield to a gentle squeeze. This takes about 9-12 minutes, depending on your microwave and sweet potatoes. Flip the potatoes about every 3-4 minutes while they are cooking. Set them aside to cool slightly. 

While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the bread crumb topping. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a skillet. (I love my cast iron one for this.) Add the shallots to the melted butter and cook for about 5 minutes, until they are lightly browned and tender.

Mix the breadcrumbs, thyme and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese together in a small bowl. Pour the butter and shallot mixture over the breadcrumbs and gently mix until the breadcrumbs are all coated in butter. 

Preheat oven to 425. Slice the potatoes in half lengthwise, and scoop the sweet potato flesh out and place in a large mixing bowl, leaving about a 1/4″ margin around the edge of the sweet potato skin. Place the empty potato skins on a large baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, or until shells are slightly dry and crispy. Remove from oven and reduce temperature to 375. 

Mash the sweet potato with a potato masher until smooth. (I used both my hand masher and my hand mixer.) Stir the beaten egg, remaining Parmesan cheese and a 1/2 teaspoon of salt into the potato. 

Choose six potato skins to fill. (That’s probably all of the filling you’ll have, but I wait to choose my shells until after they bake. That way, I don’t end up short if one gets a little too crispy in the oven.) Divide the sweet potato mixture between the skins, and top them with the breadcrumb mixture. 

Bake for 20 minutes, or until filling is puffed and the breadcrumbs are golden. Remove from oven and enjoy. 

From Cook’s Illustrated, November/December 2013

*CI calls for two slices of “hearty white sandwich bread,” something that I don’t have on hand and didn’t buy. I used several slices of French bread instead, since they were smaller than a standard piece of sandwich bread. It worked just fine.

Click here for printable version. 

 
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Posted by on February 16, 2014 in Side Dishes

 

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Brussels. Bacon. Cheese.

I don’t remember eating Brussels sprouts as a kid. Maybe my mom didn’t make them, or perhaps I’ve just repressed that memory. :D So, when we received a stalk of Brussels sprouts in our CSA last fall, I was at a loss for how to prepare them. My M.O. for “strange” or “possibly unlikable” vegetables is to roast them. I’m pretty sure you could toss just about anything with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, roast it for 20 minutes and have it taste good. Especially if you hit the final product with some lemon juice and Parmesan cheese before you dig in.

That’s what I did with those first sprouts. Then I saw this recipe for roasted Brussels sprouts with blue cheese. Roasted sprouts with melty, creamy, tangy cheese? Sign me up. But then, I started thinking about how much better those sprouts would be with some bacon. Smoky, salty bacon. (Bacon is Andy’s suggestion for nearly every savory dish. “It’s good, but it’d be better with bacon.”)

And better it was. The outer leaves of the sprouts crisped in the oven, and the cheese melted into delicious strings puddles pockets studded with bacon crumbles. Most of the sprouts didn’t even make it to our plates – we gobbled them straight from the serving dish. I’d even go so far as to say it’s the best side dish I’ve made in a long time. In fact, it gets 10 stars on our dinner scale – a scale that only goes up to 5.

BaconBlueCheeseSprouts

Bacon Blue Cheese Brussels Sprouts

3 strips of bacon, cooked until crisp and crumbled
1/2 lb. Brussels sprouts
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for the pan
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 ounce blue cheese crumbles

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil.

Wash the Brussels sprouts and trim the stems off the base of the sprouts. Halve the Brussels sprouts and place in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle olive oil over sprouts and toss with with oil, salt and pepper. Spread Brussels sprouts on the baking sheet.

Roast until sprouts are golden brown and centers are tender, about 20 minutes. Remove tray from oven and sprinkle with blue cheese and bacon crumbles. Stir the sprouts with a spatula to evenly distribute the cheese and bacon among the sprouts. Return the tray to the oven and bake for an additional 2-3 minutes, or until cheese is fully melted.

Serve immediately.

Adapted from An Apple a Day, originally from Nicole Morrissey’s “Prevention RD’s Everyday Healthy Cooking”

Click here for a printable version.

 

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2014 in Side Dishes

 

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