Sunday, February 27, 2011
What a week this last one was for The Foodie. I was so exhausted when I got home from work on Friday that I fell asleep reading the mail. No wonder, then, that I spent precious little time in the kitchen. I plan to make up for that this week, though, and I’m starting off with a celebratory treat in honor of my colleagues who found out yesterday that they were awarded tenure. And what more appropriate celebratory treat than a Whoopie Pie?
By the strictest definition, a Whoopie Pie consists of two small, round chocolate cakes sandwiched together around a creamy filling. If you look up recipes online, you’ll discover there is an ongoing debate about whether real Whoopie Pies should have a marshmallowy filling or a creamy filling, whether they can properly be made in various flavors or chocolate only, whether they can be made from a cake mix, etc. etc.. Personally, I think if you spend all your time arguing about what something should be, you miss out on all the fun of eating what you have right in front of you. And what I have in front of me right now are some very tasty treats that my colleagues will be enjoying (or so I hope) tomorrow.
If you’re a purist who believes cake mixes have no place in your kitchen, you’ll want to move along to another recipe. This is a doctored-up cake mix version of the Whoopie Pie accompanied by a fluffy marshmallow filling. I actually prefer the texture of cakes made from a boxed mix to that of cakes made from scratch, and while I know this is anathema to professional bakers, I can only say that I was a girl raised on cake from a box. I know what I like, and her name is Betty Crocker.
I made both chocolate and strawberry, just in case someone is allergic (or averse) to chocolate, and for some reason the strawberry cakes flattened out a little more–which means the strawberry Whoopie Pies ended up being larger than their chocolate counterparts. This did not, needless to say, elicit complaints from either Mr. Picky or The Girl.
For the cakes:
1 Devil's Food cake mix*
2 T. cocoa powder
2 T. flour
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup oil
For the filling:
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 7-oz. tub marshmallow creme
1 tsp. vanilla
2 T. milk
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, stir together the cake mix, cocoa powder and flour. Add the milk and oil, stirring just to combine. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring until the eggs have been incorporated. You should have a very stiff batter that holds its shape when stirred. Let the batter rest for about 10 minutes, to give it time to thicken further.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Use a cookie scoop to measure out about 2 T. of the batter. Do your best to mound the batter and create a rounded shape. Bake the cakes for 10 minutes, until the tops are rounded and puffy. Let the cakes cool completely on a wire rack before frosting them. (If you have time, you might want to chill them in the refrigerator; the cold temperature gives them a little extra stability.)
When you're ready to assemble the Whoopie Pies, make the filling: use a mixer to beat the shortening, powdered sugar and marshmallow fluff. Add the vanilla and milk, then continue beating. Add more powdered sugar, if necessary, until you have a filling that's fluffy but holds it shape when mounded on a spoon.
Now comes the fun part: find two cakes of approximately the same size. Turn one upside down and plop about a tablespoon of the filling on the bottom of the cookie. Gently press the second cookie, right side up, on top of the filling, until it squeezes out toward the edges. Repeat this process until you run out of frosting, then eat any remaining cakes. (Come on, you've earned a reward.)
* For the strawberry Whoopie Pies, use a strawberry cake mix; omit the cocoa powder and add 4 tablespoons of flour. Watch the cakes carefully as they're baking and make sure they don't brown on top.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
A few days ago, I noticed that my Hawthorn Bush is loaded with little buds–soon enough, it’s going to explode into the snowballs of white blossoms that mark the beginning of a new growing season. Spring arrives early here, and I can’t say I’m sad about that. I’ve had my fill of cold, gray days. And, having said goodbye to soup season earlier this week, I’m starting to think ahead to the brighter flavors and color of spring.
When I did the grocery shopping on Friday afternoon, I saw some gorgeous mangoes on sale in the produce department. I love their rainbow skins and funky shapes. I never ate mangoes before I moved to Texas; I’m not sure if that’s because there were no mangoes in the grocery stores I’d shopped before (entirely possible, given their northern locales), or because I’d never eaten them and wouldn’t have known what they were even if I had seen them. And I couldn’t tell you when I first tried a mango, either. What I can say for sure is that mangoes are in the running for the title of my favorite fruit. They’re a little tricky to slice, but they’re completely worth the effort.
My recipe for Orange Mango Bars is adapted from this recipe I found on the Land O’Lakes website. I added some orange zest to the filling, which brightens the flavor of the mangoes; I also substituted orange zest for lemon zest in the glaze, and added some orange extract in addition to the vanilla. I substituted almond milk for the half-and-half, partly because I had it on hand and partly because I thought it would bring out the flavor of the almonds in the crumb topping. Next time I make these, I think I’ll add some almonds to the base layer as well as the topping, just for a little extra crunch.
Before you get started baking, toast your almonds in a skillet over low heat, just until the almonds are fragrant and lightly browned. Turn them out of the skillet and onto a cutting board right away, so they don’t burn, and coarsely chop them once they’ve had a chance to cool. Cut your mangoes into smallish pieces, but don’t worry about making them uniform–ultimately, the mango will be covered in luscious layers of crunchy topping and gooey glaze.
Orange Mango Bars
2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks)
2 fresh mangoes, cut into small pieces
1 cup peach or peach-mango fruit spread
2 tsp. orange zest, divided use
1/2 cup slivered almonds, chopped fine
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. orange extract
2 T. almond milk (or regular milk, half-and-half, or cream)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar and butter. Use a pastry blender to cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the butter is distributed throughout in pea-sized pieces. Set aside 1/2 cup of this mixture in a small bowl.
Lightly spray a 9" x 13" pan with cooking spray. Press the crumb mixture evenly into the bottom of the pan; bake for 16 to 18 minutes, until the base layer begins to brown around the edges.
While the base layer is baking, warm the fruit spread in the microwave or a small saucepan. Combine the fruit spread, mango pieces and 1 teaspoon of the orange zest. Set aside. Add the chopped almonds to the reserved crumb mixture and stir to combine. Set aside.
When the base layer is done, remove it from the oven and spread the fruit mixture evenly over the top while it's still hot. Sprinkle the almond-crumb mixture over the fruit. Return the pan to the oven and bake the bars for 20 to 25 minutes, until the crumb topping is nicely browned. Remove and cool completely before topping with the glaze.
After the baked bars have cooled, stir together the powdered sugar, the remaining orange zest, vanilla and orange extracts, and almond milk. Drizzle over the cooled bars. Cut into squares to serve.
Friday, February 18, 2011
Driving home from work this afternoon, I went through my usual repertoire of dinnertime questions: What do I have on hand? What could I do with that? What do I feel like eating? Unhappily, the answer to my third question doesn’t always match up with the answers to the first two. Today, though, I knew there were some things I really needed to use up: some chicken breast, a sweet potato that would soon be relocating to the compost bin if I didn’t get to it fast, and the remaining broken tortilla chips at the bottom of a Costco-size bag. If you’re confused as to how these things might come together in something resembling dinner for four–well, welcome to my world.
Somewhere along the way, though, it occurred to me that tortilla chips are only one step away from being cornbread. And sweet potatoes are a starchy vegetable, not unlike corn. And chicken is a protein source, as is beef. All of a sudden, it sounded like I had the makings for an alternative version of Tamale Pie. Hence the name of this recipe, which The Girl suggested as a combination of the nacho-like topping and the enchilada-like filling.
If you don’t have cooked chicken in the refrigerator, bake chicken breasts at 350 for about 30 minutes before you get started with the skillet. (For this recipe, I sprayed the chicken with a little canola oil, then sprinkled on chili powder and garlic salt.) After the chicken has cooled, just tear it into bite-sized pieces with your fingers. I used a can of the Red Gold tomatoes and green chilies I received last week and found them to be a little more spicy than the store brand I usually use, but not as spicy as the Ro-tel version of that same combination. If you gravitate toward the middle of the spice-o-meter, Red Gold might be for you.
I didn’t even try to sell Mr. Picky on this one, since he’s a no-spice-at-all kind of guy; I just let him eat a slice of Spaghetti Pie left over from last night’s dinner and called it good. The Girl pronounced this one quite yummy, but she picked out the sweet potatoes–even covered with chili powder, they’re just not her thing. The Hubs went wild for this combination of flavors, though he said “I can’t believe you made something like that. The nachos on top look like something I’d come up with.”
I confess, even I was a little impressed with my ingenuity.
Chicken Nacholada Skillet
1 T. olive oil
1 medium sweet potato, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can diced tomatoes and green chilies, undrained
1 cup cooked, shredded chicken
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
2 cups tortilla chips, coarsely crushed
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (or more, if you like)
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large oven-safe skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sweet potatoes to the pan; spread them in a single layer, but don't stir. Allow the sweet potatoes to brown lightly on one side before moving them around the pan and letting them sit again. Repeat this process until they're lightly browned on all sides. Lower the heat to medium, then add the onion and red pepper to the skillet. Stir to combine. Let this mixture cook, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes, until the onions and peppers are soft.
Add the black beans, tomatoes and chilies, and chicken to the skillet. Stir to combine. Add the chili powder and cumin; stir again. Turn the heat to low and allow this mixture to simmer while the flavors combine, about five minutes.
Sprinkle the crushed tortilla chips over the mixture in the skillet. Sprinkle the grated cheese over the chips. Put the skillet in the pre-heated oven and allow the grated cheese to melt over the chips (five minutes or so, but keep an eye on it so the cheese doesn't burn.)
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
|Topped with cheese and parsley.
I recently told someone who’s thinking about moving to Texas that the food is what keeps me here–that, and the weather (75% of the time, at least. Summers are brutal.) This week is definitely part of that 75% of the time. And although I’m enjoying the sun, I’m still a little sad to think winter is coming to an end already. A week of afternoon temperatures in the 70′s is a clear indication of the turn toward spring in this part of the world.
And, knowing how quickly the weather gets downright hot, I also know that means the end to a whole category of foods that I love: soups and stews. I’ve tried many recipes for cold soups and never found one I like very much; soup, for me, is a cold-weather thing. So, rummaging through the refrigerator this evening in search of dinner inspiration, I happened on three leftover baked potatoes and decided a big pot of potato soup would be a lovely way to say goodbye to another Texas winter.
|Just cheese, please.
Like all soups, this one is infinitely malleable. I used what I had in the refrigerator or pantry; you can use different vegetables (green and red pepper in place of the celery and corn, for instance) or spices. Also, you can easily make this a vegetarian recipe by substituting vegetable broth or additional milk for the chicken stock. For toppings, use anything you like to put on top of a baked potato: snipped chives, chopped parsely, sour cream, shredded cheese, crumbled bacon. Anything goes.
Mr. Picky, of course, will not mourn the passing of soup season. The rest of us will be anxiously waiting for a day or two of unseasonably cool weather.
Baked Potato Chowder
3 medium Russet potatoes, baked until soft and cooled
2 T. butter
1 T. olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
4 celery stalks, sliced (about 1 cup)
1 can low-fat evaporated milk
1 cup chicken stock (or more, to reach the desired consistency)
1 tsp. marjoram
1 tsp. oregano
1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
Cut cooled potatoes in half and scoop the potato flesh into a bowl. If you want a smooth chowder, use a potato masher to break up any large chunks. If, like me, you like the occasional chunk of potato in your chowder, leave the potato as is.
In a large soup pot, melt the butter into the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and stir to coat all pieces with the oil and butter mixture; allow the onion to cook for two or three minutes before adding the chopped celery. Stir everything together, reduce the heat to medium-low, and allow the onions and celery to cook together for five minutes.
Add the cooked potato and stir to distribute the onions and celery throughout. Slowly stir in the evaporated milk, then the chicken broth. Add more broth, if necessary, until your chowder has the desired consistency. Add the marjoram and oregano. Heat through, but don't let the chowder come to a boil.
Add the corn kernels and let them warm up for two or three minutes. Ladle the soup into bowls and add your choice of toppings.
Saturday, February 12, 2011
It’s a beautiful afternoon in San Antonio (finally!), so I wanted to celebrate by trying someplace new for lunch–someplace I could sit outside with the fam and enjoy the sunshine while filling my belly. My children are not outdoor people, but I managed to entice them into trying Boardwalk on Bulverde. It sounded unlike anything we’d tried before.
Boardwalk on Bulverde is a “mobile vending park” where various food trucks that serve the San Antonio area can congregate and sell their wares. Though the trucks still operate from other locations as well, Boardwalk gives them a stable location and consistent hours so interested customers can find them easily. (I love Saweet Cupcakes, for instance, but I never knew where their truck was going to be–except at the Legacy Market on Sunday afternoons, which isn’t always the most convenient time for me to be buying cupcakes.) If you head out for Boardwalk, be aware that it’s right next to the Rob Cary Pet Resort and easy to drive past, since they have only a small sign marking their Bulverde location.
When we first pulled in, the family was dubious. Boardwalk was built on a vacant lot, and the parking area is, shall we say, primitive. I told The Girl to be on the lookout for snakes when we stepped out of the car into some long, dry grass, and she shook her head. “What is this place?” she asked. The Hubs was equally dubious about having to park in spots marked off with large rocks placed among the weeds, but he mostly kept his doubts to himself. Once we stepped into the vending area, though, most of their fears were quickly allayed. A ring of food trucks borders an eating area covered with cedar mulch and studded with a mishmash of picnic tables, patio tables, even the occasional card table. It’s not fancy, but people were obviously having fun. Kids were playing on the outdoor play structure. One little girl was dancing up a storm on the outdoor stage, where local bands sometimes provide music.
Today we had the choice of food from Bistro Six, Tin Can Tacos, Wheelie Gourmet, or Toastie Buns. There was no question that The Boy was going to have a burger from Toastie Buns; The Hubs told me he was up for anything and designated himself the official picnic table snagger while The Girl and I surveyed our options. The panini sandwiches at Bistro Six looked enticing, and The Girl thought she might like to try their chicken and spinach panini, but their truck had closed up before we made the rounds and got back to them. I’m sure we’ll give them a shot another day. Neither of us was in the mood for tacos, so we moved on to Wheelie Gourmet. Their menu looked a little fussy for mid-day eating, though. Finally we surveyed the menu at Toastie Buns and discovered their build-your-own-burger option. The smell of Angus burgers on the grill was too much to resist, so we ordered and waited none too patiently for lunch to arrive.
Each build-your-own burger comes with a soda and a side dish–fries, chips, or corn salad–for $7. I ordered the boy his standard burger (white bun, American cheese, ketchup), then ordered a burger with onions, mustard and Swiss cheese for The Hubs and I to share. The Girl ordered hers with cheddar cheese, onions, baby lettuce and mayo. The chef accidentally added mustard to her burger, too, but she decided she liked it that way. (Otherwise, I wouldn’t have hesitated to return it–when he handed our order to us, the chef said “If there’s any problem at all, you just bring those right back over here and we’ll fix you up.”) All three were grilled to perfection. The Boy was not a fan of the seasoned home fries, but the rest of us were impressed.
We couldn’t resist ending our lunch with Saweet Cupcakes. They’re a little pricey ($2.75 each), but I like supporting locally-owned businesses–so, once in awhile, it’s worth the expense. I had a vanilla cupcake with strawberry-mango frosting, which was every bit as fabulous as it sounds; The Girl had chocolate squared, The Boy vanilla squared, and The Hubs tried a chocolate cupcake with salted caramel filling. There was a fair amount of swooning going on all around the table.
Boardwalk on Bulverde won’t impress everyone–it isn’t fancy or stylish. It’s pretty much a campground with food trucks instead of campers. I liked it, though, and The Girl said she thought her burger from Toastie Buns rivaled her former favorite, Chris Madrid’s. If you’re in the mood for something fun and different, give it a shot.