A mom's journal of the sweet things in her life...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sweet 'n Crunchy Mix

I'm not sure if the following treat could be classified as 'baking'. No offense to the contestant who submitted it to the Taste of Homes cooking contest. It's just that it's soooo simple. I can't believe that I didn't think of it myself. Again, no offense intended. Really. 

These are highly addictive. I made them "for the kids". And the kids loved them - and so did I. So simple, and nut free for my little kiddo with the nut allergy. 

You can tweak this to include any of your favorite cereal or munchie-type snack. I'm thinking plain goldfish crackers would be good in there...some more salt to counter-balance the sweet. The options are endless. I started with a mixture of mini pretzels, multi-grain Cheerios, Crispex, Teddy Grahams and Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
The original recipes says to simply add the sugar to melted butter but I thought it would be grainy if I didn't cook it into a syrup first. So that's what I did.
The original recipe also calls for 4 1/2 tsp. of cinnamon but I thought that was overkill. Plus I only had 2 teaspoons left, which incidentally was a good thing. Pour the syrup over the cereal.
Then bake it for 20 minutes at 275 degrees F. Give it a good mix half way through.
When you first take it out, the Teddy Grahams seem soggy, but once they cool off they become crispy again. It's not rocket science for sure (no offense), but it's yummy. 

Recipe for Sweet 'n Crunchy Mix
(Source: Taste of Home- Special 2011 Collectors Edition)
2 1/2 cups Crispex (or Chex)
2 cups Mulit-grain Cheerios
1 package of honey bear shaped cookies
1 1/2 cups mini pretzels
1 cup Cinnamon Toast Crunch
1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
Melt butter, sugar and cinnamon in a medium sized pot. Bring to boil and let cook for about 2 minutes, or until the sugar is dissolved. Pour over your mixed dry ingredients and incorporate thoroughly. Spread onto a rimmed cookie sheet and bake at 275 degrees F. for 20 minutes, stirring it thoroughly halfway through cooking time. Allow to cool before digging in. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Easy Chicken Tacos

One of my...ahem...New Year's Resolutions was to start blogging about simple weeknight dinners. I know, procrastinate much? Yeah.

I'm not particularly inspired in the kitchen when it comes to regular dinners and, more often than not, I'm at a loss as to what to make. So this resolution of mine was nothing more than an attempt to start recording some of the dinners that I make that were successful so that I can remember to make them again. And by 'successful' I mean merely having fed at least 3 of the 4 members of my family. Not exactly shooting for the stars here.There's always someone who's going to turn their nose up at it in my house, which probably accounts for the reason why I'm feeling less than inspired. 

So bear with me. I'm posting these dinners because I just need a point of reference for the days when I can't come up with something new or I can't remember how I made that one meal last month that was a 'success'. 

If someone else happens to find something here that inspires them in their daily struggle to feed their family, then that's a major bonus.  

This recipe for Easy Chicken Tacos was in the America's Test Kitchen magazine. I'd have to say that it was very well received, all things considered. My husband always turns his nose up when I make anything with chicken breast but even he loved this. He opted to make his into a chicken salad because he's out with carbs. Sigh. My daughter ate the shredded chicken quite happily, but I gave it to her before I added the reduced poaching liquid because it would have been too spicy otherwise. Just a note for those of you feeding children who don't have a love for anything spicy.

Recipe for Easy Chicken Tacos
(Source: The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2011)
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. minced canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce (use sparingly unless you like spice!)
3/4 cup fresh cilantro
1/2 cup orange juice
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce 
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast (roughly 3 large breasts)
1 tsp. yellow mustard
salt and pepper
12 (6 inch) flour tortillas, warmed
Melt butter in a 12 inch skillet over medium-high heat until foaming. Add garlic and chipotles and cook till fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in 1/2 cup of cilantro, the orange juice and Worcestershire and bring to a boil. Add the chicken and simmer, covered until the chicken registers 160 to 165 degrees, 10 to 15 minutes, flipping the chicken halfway through. 
Transfer to a plate and tent with foil.
Increase the heat to medium-high and cook until liquid is reduced to 
1/4 cup, about 5 minutes. 
Off the heat, whisk in the mustard. 
Shred the chicken into bite size pieces and return it to the skillet. 
Add remaining cilantro and toss till combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with warm tortillas and toppings. 
*For toppings, I used a diced avocado mixed with fresh lime juice and seasoned with salt, diced tomatoes, grated cheese and sour cream.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Modern Bakers: Chocolate Caramel 'Hazelnut' Tartlets

When the Modern Bakers Challenge got to the Sweet Tarts and Pies chapter, I knew exactly which recipe I wanted. Chocolate Caramel Pecan Tartlets please and thank you! For me, nothing gets me more excited about dessert than when  chocolate and caramel are paired together. Add nuts to the mix and I can't even talk about it. 

By way of background, we were invited to our friends' house for dinner. This particular friend is a lot like me, when he plans a dinner party, we're talking about a project that entails at least a week's worth of 'research'. Finding the perfect menu, reviewing numerous cookbooks for inspiration, and pulling a number of recipes, editing, combining and tweaking until you have the perfect multi-course meal that takes hours/days to prepare.  

And so it wasn't without a great deal of conflict that I asked him if he would mind if I brought the dessert. I knew that it came at the risk of appearing as though I was hijacking his menu planning, but I also knew that he would be the perfect taster for these tartlets and I couldn't let the opportunity pass without at least asking. He agreed, albeit somewhat reluctantly, and being a fellow Type-A dinner-party-planner, I understood his hesitation. As it turned out, he ended up making his own dessert in addition to my offering, and so there was the added element of 'friendly competition'. 

For the crust, I followed Nick's recipe to a T, however, I opted to use hazelnuts in lieu of almonds, as he noted that hazelnuts are a good substitute and they happen to be my favorite chocolate-nut-pairing. I toasted my hazelnuts in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes, to enhance their flavor before processing them in the food processor.
This tart dough came together perfectly, with absolutely no mishaps to report. Now, you'll just have to trust me when I say that this speaks volumes about the user-friendly-techniques in this book. Particularly since this was my first experience with tart dough and I have an annoying tendency, when trying something new, to learn the hard way. 
I made eight 3 1/2 inch tartlets, baked them for 13 minutes, let them cool slightly, and then removed them from their tart pans while still slightly warm as per the instructions. They slid out easily. 
The baked shells appeared perfect, slightly puffed, yet maintaining their shape. I baked these the night before assembling, despite the book saying to bake them on the same day as they were being filled. If you're like me and prefer to accomplish steps ahead of time, I assure you that their freshness was not compromised in the least by doing this.

Next up, the filling. I did take one liberty with Nick's recipe, I used milk chocolate instead of bittersweet. I'm the person who takes a bite out of a chocolate from a mixed box and puts it back if its insides are dark. There, I admit it. Barring that one deviation from the filling recipe, I followed the rest of the recipe 'almost' exactly as written, except I used hazelnuts once again in place of the pecans. This was noted as a good alternative by Nick so I didn't feel like I was  compromising the integrity of the recipe, despite its title. Do I sound defensive? I don't mean to. Really.

So, I've had some experience with making caramel. Actually, I've had more experience with "burning" it than actually "making" it. I wasn't lying about learning things the hard way. But, given my track record, I felt confident that I would exercise good judgment when it came to knowing when to pull the melted sugar from the heat. Nick says to pull it prior to achieving the deep amber color, as the sugar's color continues to deepen from the residual heat in the pot. In keeping with tradition, my first attempt was about 20 seconds too late. It looked like this when I pulled it:
Cluelessly optimistic, I proceeded to add the cream and cooked it a further minute, resulting in this hot mess:
After I poured it into a heatproof bowl and added the milk I tasted it. It was awful. And bitter. Very much like my prior caramel-making experiences. Disgusted and disappointed, I began Round II. This time, I pulled the sugar when it looked just slightly darker than apple juice:
It most definitely continued to darken off the heat. This is what it looked like once I added the cream and cooked it a further minute:
It wasn't cool enough to taste until the milk was added, but I am happy to report that Round II was a success. I would encourage you to have extra cream and milk in case you follow in my footsteps and decide to learn the hard way. Taste it before you add your chocolate...throwing it away is much less painful when it's simply sugar, cream and milk going down the drain. Just a suggestion. I whisked in my melted milk chocolate,
 and then folded in my hazelnuts. Magical.
Once I filled the baked tart shells with the chocolate caramel ganache, I sprinkled a few toasted hazelnuts on top and then kept them at room temperature. I would note, however, that I actually preferred mine served chilled. It just made the filling ever-so-slightly chewy. In a very good way.
To call these decadent would be an understatement. But they are sooo worth it.
The recipe calls for making them into much smaller tartlets, but I used the only tartlet pans I had, making them slightly larger than perhaps intended. A little goes a long way. Notwithstanding this fact, I have to tell you that my friend, the host of above-noted dinner party, the Type A planner who insisted on making an additional dessert, he ate two of them. By himself. He loved them. Then he shocked me and I almost fell out of my chair when he voluntarily admitted defeat in our friendly dessert war. Unprecedented. Never to be repeated, I'm sure. But this tart really did 'take the cake'. Ha. Pun intended.
So, if you don't have the book and feel the compulsion to try this recipe before buying it, ask me and I'll email it to you. From one friend to another. But out of respect to the author, Nick Malgieri, I can't publish it. Sorry. I will say that of the dozens and dozens of great books I own, The Modern Baker would easily be in my top 5 for recommendations. 
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