Bright and bold boxes of baked bliss

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It’s THAT time of year. That time of year you put behind all New Year’s resolutions to eat better and work out more for the inevitable arrival of the GIRL SCOUT COOKIE. These cookies arrive at the just the right and wrong time. It’s so right because the bright and bold boxes of baked bliss come in the middle of the long and cold winter. The sight of these boxes can cause one to clap and jump up and down with giddy joy. This cold February day is looking up! It’s so wrong because you’ve just made a promise to yourself to ingest only healthy and good things for your body. You may have started to see results from the time spent working out. But all of that is put aside when just one box of gooey Samoas or crunchy Do-Si-Dos are opened. It’s impossible to stay away.

Once upon a time, I was a Girl Scout. I was a cookie crack dealer. They had me hooked early on and I’ve never been able to get over my addiction. These days I get my fix from my best-friend’s little girl. I bought one of every box this year because I was dedicated to helping the little one sell as many as possible (wink, wink). I can’t open a box unless I’m prepared to consume it in record time. Why is it I can buy a package of Oreos and it will last me days on end but a single box of Girl Scout cookies will disappear in a matter of hours? And I know I’m not the only one who can eat an entire box in a single afternoon. There should be a GS cookie eater’s anonymous support group. It’s astonishing how a rather sensible eater can turn into a cookie junkie so quickly and without remorse. As I type this I’m pausing to dip my Trefoils in milk and eat them up like a happy little girl…and I just finished working out.

My favorites are Samoas, Tagalongs, and Thin Mints. There is nothing else on earth quite like the Samoas. It took a few years for me to develop a taste for them because of that heavenly coating of coconut. I used to hate coconut. Oh, what I was missing out on! That buttery cookie layered with dark chocolate, creamy caramel, and sweet coconut is the perfect cookie combination. Needless to say, that’s always the first box to go. The marriage between chocolate and peanut butter is one of the greatest unions of all time. Even better than the famous peanut butter cups, Tagalongs are the perfect example of how those flavors work well together. If they sold a jar of Tagalongs peanut butter I’d be lining up to buy it. I’m sure it tastes so amazing because it contains triple the amount of sugar found in ordinary peanut butter but I wouldn’t care. People are all about Nutella, yes? Why not Tagalongs Peanut Butter? Pretty much the same thing. And then there are the Thin Mints. Chocolatey, minty, waxy, crispy Thin Mints. Whether fresh out of the box or pulled from the frozen confines of the freezer, they are the quintessential Girl Scout cookie. This box is always saved for last. I have been known to buy two boxes of these, one for now and the other for safe keeping in the freezer. My preferred choice for Thin Mint consumption? Take a scoop or two of vanilla bean ice cream, drizzle the ice cream with chocolate sauce and then crumble 2-3 frozen Thin Mint cookies over it. When I get to heaven I hope this is the dessert of choice. I could eat this stuff into eternity.

Everybody has a favorite Girl Scout cookie variety. Which one is your favorite? I hope you’re somewhere with a box or two in your pantry or freezer ready to be enjoyed at a moments notice.

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Quick, quality quinoa

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Sometimes food moments come out of nowhere when you least expect them. I most certainly didn’t expect to taste an amazing quinoa dish while at work at 6 o’clock in the morning but that’s exactly what happened. My co-worker, Whitney, had made herself quinoa for dinner the night before and brought it into work for lunch the next day. She was so proud of her creation that she couldn’t wait to share it with everyone. I friggin’ loved her enthusiasm so of course I tried it. She had every right to be proud of her quick, quality quinoa dish because it tasted so good! She didn’t follow or reference any recipe. She came up with this beauty based on what she had and went with it. I can’t tell you how impressed I was with her. We were all scrambling for one more fork full of the stuff. I couldn’t wait to get home and recreate the recipe for Kevin.

With Whitney’s blessing I am posting the ingredients she used and adding my own techniques and directions I used to cook it up. The most genius idea she had was to cook the quinoa in a mixture of half water and half BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP! The quinoa absorbs the sweet squash which gives it a really great deep flavor. Brilliant. I did a few things differently than her to get to the final product only because it’s what I would have done if I had written the recipe myself. For example, I browned the sausage first and added some apple cider vinegar. I thought maybe adding a little bit of acidity would give the red onion a hint of that pickling taste which would contrast nicely with the fiery andouille sausage. And it did! However, it also changed the flavor profile from Whitney’s. Hers had a warm, spicy quality to it while my dish ended up having a bright bite behind the heat. Depending on which suits you best you can either add the vinegar or not. Either way, I encourage you to whip this up because it’s easy, tasty, and Whitney would be proud to know her creation is inspiring others.

Quinoa with Andouille Sausage, Spinach, and Feta

Serves 4
1 c quinoa, rinsed
1 c low sodium butternut squash soup
1 c water
1-2 T extra virgin olive oil
12-13oz chicken andouille sausage, sliced
1 small red onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 T apple cider vinegar
3/4 c cherry tomatoes, halved
3 c baby spinach
2.5-3 oz crumbled feta cheese
salt and black pepper to taste
Combine the quinoa, water and butternut squash soup in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer until all the liquid is gone, 10-15 minutes. You might need to stir it a couple of times while it simmers to make sure the soup doesn’t sit on top of the quinoa. Once the liquid is absorbed, turn off the heat, place a paper towel over the pan and cover with the lid for 5 minutes. This will allow any excess moisture to be sucked up into the paper towel. Fluff with a fork.
Meanwhile, place a large sauté pan over medium heat and add 1 T evoo. Add the sausage and brown on both sides. Remove the sausage to a plate and add 1 T evoo to the same pan. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and stir for 30 seconds. If you wish to, add 1 T apple cider vinegar and deglaze pan by scrapping up the browned bits with a wooden spoon. Add the cherry tomatoes and sauté until they begin to release their juices. Finally, add in the spinach and cook until wilted. Remove the pan from the heat, add in the quinoa, feta, and andouille sausage and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Visually perplexing pie

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Happy Valentine’s Day! Now, I know a bunch of blogs are posting adorable and delectable pics of Valentine’s Day themed treats and I’m incredibly excited to try out some of the recipes I’ve seen. As for me, I’m posting my own version of a holiday treat. You might be looking at the picture above and think it looks more like a Mardi Gras-themed treat (or don’t know what to think!) but let me explain.

Even as an adult I associate Valentine’s Day with grade school. I’m always reminded of buying boxes of Valentine’s Day cards, bags of wrapped chocolates, writing my classmate’s names on the cards, and taping a piece of the chocolate to each card. I’m not sure how much the boys fretted over which cards to buy but as a girl, it was always a difficult choice. Do you go with the girly, My Little Pony cards or something more gender neutral? Because you know that if you give a pink, sparkly card to your class crush he’s gonna think it’s stupid. But if you get the male friendly Transformer cards the boys are going to think you’re awesome and the girls in the class will think you’re dumb. It was always a tough choice. It was exciting to walk into class and see the row of paper lunch bags lined up with everyone’s name on them. You went down the line dropping the corresponding card in the appropriate bag. The true moment of bliss was when the teacher gave everyone their bag and you got to see what treats were in store for you. Did the boy you were crushing on write something special on your card? Some cryptic sign that he totally wanted to hold your hand at recess, too? These are the memories I have of Valentine’s Day and they’ll probably be with me for many years to come.

So how does this tie into the pie above? Valentine’s Day reminds me of childhood. When I was little I also started stuffing Nacho Cheese Doritos into my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I can’t remember the exact “Ah ha!” moment but somewhere along the line this became the norm. It most likely started when I was trying to quickly finish my lunch and had a mouthful of sandwich when I crammed a bunch of Doritos in there with it. The taste is unique and it’s awesome. I’ve continued the tradition well into adulthood. I got to thinking how cool it would be to try and make a pie out of my weird lunch combination. That is how the PB&J Doritos pie happened. I wasn’t quite sure how the end product would turn out but I wasn’t disappointed! Because I’m biased to the flavor combo I took the pie to work and handed out many samples to unsuspecting tasters. Besides the single, “Uh, it’s not my cup of tea” the overwhelming consensus was that this pie was unique and, more importantly, DELICIOUS! I was given the two thumbs up to continue making the pie and serving it to those fortunate enough to eat it. Because let me assure you, if you haven’t yet eaten a PB&J Doritos pie you are missing out on one of the culinary world’s 8th Wonder. How could these flavors ever make a good pie? Will my tastebuds thank me? Bake up this visually perplexing pie and see for yourself!

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PB&J Doritos Pie

8 oz Nacho Cheese Doritos
4.5 oz unsalted butter
1 c smooth peanut butter
1/2 c powdered sugar
1 t vanilla extract
1/4 c jelly (I used cherry but use any flavor you want)
1/2 c plus 2 T heavy cream
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place Doritos in a food processor and grind the chips as fine as you can get them. Melt 3 T of the butter and drizzle in. Process until the crumbs are moist. Add the crust mixture into a 9″ pie dish and press into an even layer, working it up the sides of the pie dish. Bake for 10 min or until lightly browned. Let cool on a rack. Wash out food processor.
Add the peanut butter and 1.5 oz of room temperature butter to the processor, 1 minute. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla, 2 minutes. Spread the peanut butter mixture over the crust and bake for 10 minutes. Cool completely on a rack.
Add the jam to the heavy cream and mix thoroughly until smooth. If there are seeds or chunks of fruit in the mix, pass it through a strainer to remove seeds and/or fruit. Spread over the peanut butter layer and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Fragrant and fiery sauce

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I have to admit that I never before made Indian or Indian-inspired food. It wasn’t really a fear of attacking the cuisine so much as buying all of the spices needed to flavor it. I’m always on a tight budget. I couldn’t stomach spending X amount of money on jars of spices which would then sit in my spice drawer losing their potency because I never used them again. I also have to admit, sadly, that I rarely eat Indian food at a restaurant…or takeout. There is no good reason why I shouldn’t! Every time I have eaten Indian food I’ve loved it. So when I came across this recipe I was all in. PLUS, there is a little place called Whole Foods where you can get tiny little bits of practically any spice you want without having to buy an entire jar. And if you’re lucky enough to live in Chicago there is a wonderful shop called The Spice House in Old Town that is one of my favorite places. Any spice you can imagine, very helpful and informative employees, great recipes on index cards throughout the store and you’re supporting a local business. Find a local spice store near you, you won’t be sorry.

I’m kind of going through a chicken thighs phase. I’m obsessed with using them in chicken recipes. The dark meat is so tasty and tender and I keep wondering why it took me so long to fall in love with it. The slow braising in this recipe causes the meat to literally fall off the bone. It’s absolutely delicious. The broth is so full of flavor and the aroma is nearly intoxicating. I could have stuck my head over the pot and stayed there while getting a steamy, Indian-spiked facial. There is a touch of heat to the dish and you can always make it hotter by adding a bit more cayenne pepper. I threw on a dollop of Greek yogurt to my bowl which helped to cool off the heat just a tad. If you’re wanting to add some greens to your meal you could always add a veggie of some sort to the pot. Try some broccoli, green beans or peas. Why not? Whatever you decide to throw into the pot, you’re going to end up with a fragrant and fiery sauce you will be scooping up with a fluffy piece of naan or flatbread until the bowl has been wiped clean.

INDIAN-SPICED CHICKEN with TOMATO and CREAM

6 servings

3 T vegetable oil

6 chicken legs (drumsticks with thighs; about 3 lb.)

1 medium onion

4  garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 T finely grated peeled ginger

2 T tomato paste

2 t garam masala

2 t ground cumin

2 t  ground turmeric

1 ½ t ground coriander

¾ t cayenne pepper

¾ t ground cardamom

8 c low-sodium chicken broth

¾ c canned tomato puree

½ c heavy cream

1 lb small Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced 1/4” thick

Plain yogurt, torn fresh mint, and naan, flatbread, or cooked rice (for serving)

Heat vegetable oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Working in batches, cook chicken, skin side down, until golden brown (do not turn), 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

Add onion, garlic, and ginger to pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is very soft and golden brown, 8-10 minutes. Add tomato paste, garam masala, cumin, turmeric, coriander, cayenne, and cardamom and cook, stirring often, until tomato paste is beginning to darken, about 4 minutes.

Add chicken, broth, tomato puree, and cream to pot; season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, partially covered, skimming occasionally, until chicken is almost falling off the bone and liquid is slightly thickened, 1 ½ – 2 hours.

Add potatoes to pot and cook, partially covered, until potatoes are fork tender, chicken is falling off the bone, and liquid is thick enough to coat a spoon, 30-45 minutes. Remove skin and bones from chicken and return meat to pot, season stew with salt and pepper.

Mitten for your mouth

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I have had a same-sex non-sexual crush on Gwyneth Paltrow for many years now. When she started making her way onto the food scene I became even more smitten. I’m aware that most people either love her or hate her. I happen to love her. She is beautiful, talented and not just a one trick pony. I own both of her cookbooks and have cooked MANY a meal from her recipes. If you haven’t purchased either My Father’s Daughter or It’s All Good you’re missing out. And no, they aren’t all recipes based on eating teeny crumbs of gluten free bread and drinking liquified parsley. Yes, there are some incredibly healthy, good for you recipes but she isn’t a complete foodie puritan. She does have children, after all, and she doesn’t insist they keep a strict macrobiotic diet. Her recipes are fun! They’re delicious! They’re mouthwatering! I highly recommend her books.

On top of her published cookbooks, she also runs the website goop.com. I’ve picked up some great workout moves from the website along with many more tantalizing recipes. After gorging ourselves on Super Bowl Sunday and then eating leftovers from the game on Monday I definitely wanted us to eat something a bit healthier on Tuesday. This is when I turned to goop.com to find a new and exciting recipe I had never tried before. Looking out the window and the two feet of snow out there I was reminded that’s it’s still winter. With that in mind, I found a recipe that featured winter squash and hearty winter greens. Not only was this recipe incredibly easy to make, it was something different, it was healthy, and it was tasty.

I will admit I found the texture of the kabocha squash to be somewhat unpleasant at first. I was questioning whether this had been a good choice. BUT, I cook a couple of more bites and the flavor that came forth was so comforting, almost like a mitten for your mouth. It was creamy and sweet next to the flavors of the quinoa. I definitely made the right choice. The tangy punch of the artichoke hearts was a perfect companion to the sweet squash. Also, if you’re questioning the addition of anchovy to the dressing…don’t! You really might not think so, but the dressing is delicious. It adds a simultaneous hint of acid and warmth. I happened to have some anchovy paste in the fridge so I used that instead of the actual anchovies. Enjoy!

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Quinoa Stuffed Kabocha

ingredients

makes 2

for the quinoa stuffed kabocha

  • 1 kabocha squash, sliced in half horizontally and de-seeded (you could probably use acorn squash if you can’t find kabocha)
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 3/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup packed winter greens (I used swiss chard)
  • 1/2 or small jar of artichoke hearts
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • olive oil
  • sea salt + pepper

for the anchoïade

  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1/2 garlic clove
  • 3-4 anchovy fillets
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

preparation

1. Pre-heat oven to 400°F. Drizzle a baking sheet with olive oil. Place kabocha halves flesh side down onto the baking sheets and roast for about 25 minutes until fork tender and slightly brown at the edges.

2. Add a healthy drizzle of olive oil to a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium high heat. Add onions and garlic and let cook for a minute until soft and translucent. Add the greens and the artichokes and mix to combine, cooking for another minute until they begin to wilt. Add the stock, the quinoa, and a hearty pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes until all of the liquid is absorbed (but the quinoa is still wet) and the germs have begun to spiral. Turn off the heat, place a dry paper towel between the pot and the lid, and let sit for at least 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and season with salt and pepper before serving.

3. Meanwhile, make the anchoïade. Place the shallot, garlic and anchovies in a large mortar and pestle. Grind together until they form a paste. Transfer to a mixing bowl and add vinegar. While whisking, add the olive oil slowly to combine.

4. To serve, scoop quinoa pilaf into the kabocha halves and drizzle over the anchoïade to your liking.