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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Jalapeno Poppers

One of the things we love about our neighborhood is that there are a lot of people who care deeply about food. Bob especially loves this feature because many of the people who love food are men. This makes for fun sharing and comparing.

A couple of years ago, one of our neighbors stopped by on a summer evening with this particular snack, made from jalapenos from his own garden. Bob tried for a moment to figure out a polite way to let him know that he doesn't care for jalapenos, but then decided it would be a lot easier to simply try one. It changed him forever. He still doesn't like jalapenos in general, but he does love these poppers. I made them a couple of weeks ago when jalapenos were on sale. They are always a hit at our house.

Jalapeno Poppers
1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
6 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. garlic powder
¼ tsp. chili powder
1 pound fresh jalapenos (about 12), halved lengthwise, and seeded—wear plastic gloves and cut on glass surface (I have never cut on a glass surface because I have no glass surface. So far, they seem to turn out okay cut on a regular cutting board. Be aware, though, that you're going to feel like you're being gassed by the fumes from the peppers. And if you don't like spicy food, be sure to completely remove the seeds and membranes).
½ cup dry bread crumbs

Sour cream, onion dip, or ranch dressing for dip (we prefer ranch dressing; some kind of southwestern ranch would probably be really good).

In a large mixing bowl, combine the cheese, bacon and seasonings; mix well. Spoon about 2 tablespoonsful into each pepper half. Roll in bread crumbs. (Note: I’ve found that if you cut the peppers in half as evenly and perfectly symmetrically as possible, they tend not to fall over in the pan and leak cheese all over everywhere).

Place in a baking pan. Bake, uncovered, at 300 degrees for 20 minutes for spicy flavor, 30 minutes for medium, and 40 minutes for mild. Serve while warm with dip.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Parker House Rolls

This recipe has great sentimental value for Bob. A few years ago he worked as a volunteer at a local church-owned food warehouse. Each Monday he and another fellow cooked lunch for the forty or so volunteers who worked there. He got this recipe from the partner he worked with, and it's been a family favorite ever since.

I've halved the original recipe here. I made the full recipe yesterday because we were invited to have dinner with some friends of ours who have five children--the original batch size is about right for two large families. This batch will make enough for the average family with some left over to share.

Parker House Rolls
4 cups flour
3 teaspoons yeast
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups water
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted

Add yeast to 1 cup of hot tap water and a pinch of the sugar; set aside for about five minutes, add the eggs, the additional 1/2 cup of water and the remaining sugar. Blend together.

Add salt and flour to the wet ingredients. Work together until a soft dough is formed. Cover the mixture with a damp towel and let it rest it rise for about one hour or until doubled.

Add another cup of flour to the mix and then work the dough again with an open hand, patting on new flour until the dough does not stick to the sides of the bowl. Divide the dough in half and place on a flat surface that has been dusted with flour.

Roll the dough with a rolling pin until it is about 1/8th of and inch to 1/4 of an inch thick. Cut out rolls with a large drinking glass. You should get about 15 rolls from each portion.

Dip 1/2 of each roll into melted butter and fold it in half. Place it on a baking sheet. Cover with a damp towel and let rise until double. Repeat the process with the other half of the dough.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes or until brown on top and on the bottom. Brush with remaining melted butter after removing from the oven.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Soft Bread Sticks

Before we move completely away from the Lion House Recipes Lite cookbook, I thought I would share this recipe from the same book, which I made as an accompaniament to the super hamburger soup. These breadsticks were a huge hit, and will no doubt be appearing regularly on our menu in the future.

These are fairly easy to prepare, although they require a little planning ahead (as with any yeast bread).

Soft Bread Sticks
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 cups flour
Yellow or white corn meal
1 egg white
1 tablespoon water

Dissolve yeast in warm water in a large mixing bowl. Stir in sugar, salt, and oil. Add 2 cups of the flour and beat until smooth. Add enough remaining flour to make a soft dough. Knead on a floured surface for 6 to 8 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Spray bowl with nonstick cooking spray; place dough in bowl, turning to coat all surfaces with spray. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double in size, about 1 hour. Punch dough down and divide into 12 pieces. Roll each piece into a rope about 10 inches long. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray and sprinkle with cornmeal. Place bread sticks one inch apart on prepared sheet. Let rise, uncovered, until double in size, about 45 minutes. Beat egg white with 1 tablespoon water; brush over bread sticks. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a large shallow pan filled with boiling water on the lowest rack of the oven, and put the baking sheet with the bread sticks on the middle rack. Bake bread sticks for 10 minutes, brush again with egg white, and bake 5 more minutes or until golden brown. Makes 12 bread sticks.

Note: I doubled the recipe because I knew everyone at our table would want at least two breadsticks. One egg white was sufficient for both batches. As an experiment, I basted the breadsticks with butter mixed with Johnny's garlic seasoning just as they came out of the oven. It made them taste like Olive Garden breadsticks. They are also good with just butter or not basted at all (this is a "lite" cook book, after all).

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Cook Book Challenge/Super Hamburger Soup

We have a problem at our house. We are addicted to cook books. We have a special place in our kitchen for our cook book library, but it is overflowing. We have already weeded out the duplicates--cookbooks that Bob and I both had copies of when we married. But we've slowly acquired enough that there's no more room in the cook book cupboard.
You see what I mean. Some of these cookbooks have never actually been used; others have not been used for a very long time. Our challenge for the next year (or two): weed out the collection by trying recipes from each and every one of them. Those that have at least one worthwhile recipe will be kept; others will be tossed (or more likely, given away).

The first candidate is Lion House Recipes Lite by Melba Davis, published in 1996. The Lion House is a cafeteria-style comfort food restaurant in Salt Lake City. It has nostalgic value for a lot of locals, and also is known for the quality of its homestyle food. I think my sister gave me this cook book several years ago as a gift--it's a copy signed by the author, even. But it's been severely underutilized in our house.

This book may be out of print, but there are a number of copies available on Amazon for as little as $2.98 plus shipping. I tried the Super Hamburger Soup because it sounded hearty but healthy, and also because it used ingredients that we had on hand. There are a number of other recipes that I marked to try in upcoming weeks, though. So I think this book is already a keeper.

We all agreed that the soup was good, but not destined to become a family favorite. The hamburger made it a little boring. But it was delicious on a cold night and filled everyone up--not always easy to do on soup night.

Super Hamburger Soup
1 1/2 pounds extra-lean ground beef
2 onions, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 cans (14.5 ounces) chopeed stewed tomatoes, undrained
1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
4 cups water (I substituted beef broth because I was afraid the soup wouldn't be flavorful enough)
4 medium carrots, sliced
2 large potatoes, diced
1 can (16 ounces) corn, undrained (I substituted two cups of frozen corn)
1 can (15 ounces) red kidney beans, undrained
1 can (15 ounces) baby lima beans or garbanzos, undrained
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 zucchini, sliced

Cook ground beef, onions, celery, and green pepper in a large pot until meat is brown and crumbly and onion is translucent. Drain. Add tomatoes with liquid, tomato paste, water, carrots, potatoes, corn, kidney beans, lima beans or garbanzos, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, about 20 minutes. Add zucchini and cook another 10 to 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Makes 12 servings.

The recipe encouraged experimentation with herbs such as basil, marjoram, thyme and bay leaves in order to add more flavor; I added a little bit of each of them (well, actually quite a lot of basil), and it made for a richer soup.

Now on to the cook book challenge!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sydney Sinful Sunday/Amy's Chocolate Sauce

At least this started out to be a Sydney Sinful Sunday, Bob's favorite dessert from Outback restaurant, which they no longer offer on their menu.

Bob and I decided a few years ago that dining out on Valentine's Day was an act of insanity. I have an unhappy memory of being in Detroit on February 14th a couple of years before we were married. I was on expenses, so price wasn't too much of an issue. I tried a number of nice restaurants only to be told that the wait was ridiculously long or that they just plain didn't have tables. I tried a number of cheap but tasty restaurants that I figured would be unpopular on that day. I was wrong. I finally ended up eating some really bad Thai food, and quickly realized why that particular restaurant had plenty of space.

As an alternative, we take turns cooking a nice dinner for each other. We feed the kids something simple and then send them to the basement (it's carpeted and heated and has a big-screen TV, so it's not as cruel as it sounds). Then we prepare a nice meal and eat it by candle light, just the two of us.

This year was my turn. We celebrated on Friday, since Saturday and Sunday were looking ridiculously busy. I made a menu of knock off dishes, including this one. I made ice cream balls using premium vanilla ice cream (Dreyer's double vanilla, to be precise). I rolled the balls in toasted coconut (put it under the broiler for a couple of minutes and stir it whenever it starts to look brown on top) and then refroze it. Then we assembled the dessert with the requisite strawberries, whipped cream and the chocolate sauce. The chocolate sauce is a recipe I got from my friend Amy. She gave me a batch of this together with some ice cream a couple of years ago for my birthday, and we've been making it ever since. If you were a fan of the SSS (Sydney Sinful Sundae), this is the closest thing we've found to their sauce. If you never tried the dessert, you'll love this anyway.

Amy's Chocolate Sauce
2 1-ounce squares unsweetened chocolate
1/4 cup butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup evaporated milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Melt chocolate and butter in a 2-quart saucepan. Stir in remaining ingredients, except vanilla. Cook over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves and sauce is smooth. Stir in vanilla. Makes about 2 cups.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Oatmeal Coconut Cookies

I've been thinking lately about a kind of cookie I made when I was a kid. I remembered that it had both oatmeal and coconut in it, and that I loved it. Recently our friends Steve and Laura gave us a HUGE bag of white chocolate chips. This cookie seemed like the perfect opportunity to use them.

I found this recipe on It called for raisins, which didn't sound that great for my raisin-boycotting family. So I substituted the white chocolate chips, which were dreamy with this particular combination of flavors. Also, after the first time I made it, I realized that the recipe didn't call for salt, and it really seemed to need it. So you'll see my modified version of the recipe below.

The comments on the recipezaar version noted that the recipe made huge quantities of cookies. I didn't find it to be all that outlandishly volumnious, but then again, there are nine people in our household and we like to make our cookies a little on the large side. The recipe probably made between 2-3 dozen of generous-sized cookies.

Also, watch the cooking time. These aren't good if they're over done.

Oatmeal Coconut Cookies
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup white sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon of vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup flaked coconut
1 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In mixing bowl, cream shortening, butter and sugars. Add eggs and vanilla and mix until blended. 

In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients except coconut and chocolate chips. When all other dry ingredients are blended, add the coconut and the chocolate chips. Combine wet and dry ingredients until moist.

Drop on a greased cookie sheet about 1-2 inches apart (I make them the size of a generous teaspoon). Bake for ten minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven immediately.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Tortilla Land Uncooked Flour Tortillas

Here's another product favorite - Tortilla Land uncooked flour tortillas, available at Costco and other fine stores. We use these so much that we almost always have them on hand. They are, of course, uncooked tortillas that you can brown yourself on a frying pan. This gives you perfect fresh made tortillas without any special equipment, and without the time and effort it would take to make them yourself.

We use these at least weekly for burritos, Mexican salads, breakfast burritos, and other delicacies. They're easy to prepare. So easy, in fact, that the kids compete over who gets to cook them. Here's what they look like in progress:

The tortilla pan is actually another of my favorite products, but I think we found it in a bin in one of the local Mexican markets, so I can't really tell you where to buy it.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Stuffed Mushrooms

I've noticed that most people tend to have strong feelings one way or another about mushrooms. They either love them or they really don't. These stuffed mushrooms are hard to beat, and are really quite easy to make.

There are endless variations for the stuffing. We like seafood because it's a little lighter than sausage or bacon. But if your going for all out richness, substitute your favorite processed pork product and enjoy!

Seafood Stuffed Mushrooms
About 12 large mushrooms
1 small can broken shrimp and/or
1 small can crab meat
4 ounces or so of softened cream cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1-2 teaspoons worchestershire sauce
1/3 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
3 Tablespoon. butter
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash mushrooms thoroughly and remove stems. Slice off the woody ends of the stems and discard. Chop the stems very finely and place in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add the shrimp and/or crab, the cream cheese, parmesan cheese, worchestershire sauce and breadcrumbs. Melt the butter and sautee the garlic in it for about ten seconds. Place the mushroom caps hollow-side up in a baking dish. Put a heaping tablespoon of filling in each mushroom. When all mushrooms are filled, drizzle garlic butter over the top of them. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.