Sunday, March 10, 2013

Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

I didn't think it was possible, but chocolate chip cookie bars just got even more amazing!! These are very similar to the chocolate chip brownie bars I have been making for years, but a layer of salted caramel in the middle makes this new version absolutely ingenious. This recipe was recommended to me by my co-op manager Linda, who I worked closely with when I lived in New Jersey last year. She is an excellent baker and chef so we frequently talked about food and swapped recipes. I have been dying to try these bars and finally made them this weekend on my trip home. I can't take all the credit because my sister and I baked them together, so she did half the work. Thankfully we made plenty to go around so everyone was rewarded!

See that caramel? Yeah. Exactly. These cookie bars are nothing short of heaven, and so irresistible that I literally just ran upstairs and ate the last one because I couldn't stand to look at the pictures anymore. Do yourself a favor and make yourself a batch of these ASAP. They're easy and perfect for sharing! Or not.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars (Adapted from Two Peas & Their Pod)
Makes: 24 bars  Prep: 15 minutes  Total: 50 minutes

2 1/8 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups chocolate chips
10 ounce caramel candies
3 tbs heavy cream
Sea salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Mix the flour, salt and baking soda in a medium bowl. Set aside.
Melt butter and place in a large bowl. Add sugars, egg, egg yolk and vanilla. Mix thoroughly. Add the dry ingredients into the sugar mixture and combine. Mix in chocolate chips.
Place the unwrapped caramel candies and heavy cream in a small microwaveable bowl and melt in 30 second increments, stirring in between, until the candy and cream make a smooth caramel.
Press half of the cookie dough into a greased baking dish. Pour the caramel mixture on top of the dough and spread evenly. Sprinkle with sea salt. Press the remaining dough on top of the caramel and cover caramel completely. Top with sea salt.
Bake for 35 minutes or until the brownies are slightly golden.

Broccoli Cheddar Ale Sausage Soup

Sometimes life gets in the way of doing the things you love; case in point – this blog. It’s been a busy past few months and I have been kicking myself to update but time got the better of me. Since I last posted I celebrated the holidays at home with family, did a week of training in New Jersey and started my new job in Rhode Island. I’ve also taken trips to DC, Montreal and upstate NY in between! I am still living in Boston while working my second co-op for Johnson & Johnson. I love where I work and what I do, but long days and a two-hour daily commute kill my free time and my cooking has definitely taken a toll. Recently however, I have developed a habit of cooking all day Sunday to prepare food for the week. I’ve still done a lot of cooking in the past few months but haven’t taken the time to showcase them here, so today I am grabbing life by the whisk! I’m hoping this post will give me some motivation to keep up my creativity in the kitchen and continue doing what I love. :)

All right, so this soup has a funny name but I don’t know what else to call it. Sometimes I get these weird food ideas in my head that I have to see through. Almost every time the results are surprisingly good, but this one…. This one was fantastic! I had a craving for three different types of soup and decided to make a three-in-one, mouthwatering masterpiece. A hybrid of classic broccoli cheddar soup with cheddar ale, PLUS Italian sausage, is sure to cure all your comfort food cravings. Good for the soul, not so good for the body…

Broccoli Cheddar Ale Sausage Soup
Makes: 6-8 servings  Prep: 40 minutes  Total: 1 hour

1 lb sweet Italian sausage meat
6 cups broccoli, chopped
3 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
½ cup Parmesan
1 ½ cups chicken broth
2 cups milk
1 cup ale
1 onion, diced
2 cups baby carrots, sliced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 ½ tbs Worcestershire sauce
3 tbs butter
3 tbs flour
Salt and pepper to taste

Fry sausage meat in a large skillet for 6-8 minutes, breaking it up and stirring occasionally until the meat is completely cooked through. Drain grease and set aside. (I bought the meat uncased, but you can also buy the sausage links and remove meat from the casing by hand.)
Heat 3 tablespoons of butter in a large pot on medium heat. Add flour and whisk, stirring constantly for several minutes until the mixture creates a thick roux. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 3-5 minutes until the onion is translucent. Add broth, milk and ale and bring to a simmer for 15 minutes.
Next, add the broccoli and carrots and simmer for 15 minutes or until vegetables are softened. Remove from heat, let cool slightly and transfer the soup to a food processor. Blend for 3 seconds at a time two or three times, just enough to break up the vegetables but do not over-blend.
Place the soup back into the pot and add sausage and cheeses. Mix well and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the cheese is melted and completely incorporated. Cool and serve.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Traditional New Orleans Gumbo

My winter break has officially started, which means plenty of relaxing, gift shopping and of course, cooking! My parent's kitchen pantry is a godsend for college students like myself. No need to run to Whole Foods and spend $10 on that obscure seasoning, or cross my fingers that there's still enough flour to make a batch of birthday cupcakes. My mom is an excellent cook and uses our kitchen often, so rest assured it is well-stocked when I return home. I just finished my last semester of classes until September and will be returning to work at Johnson & Johnson for my third internship (called co-op) this January. I had an amazing experience last round and am looking forward to my new office, position and coworkers. It's strange how much I prefer working full-time to classes... I will probably kick myself for this later when I don't have a choice.

On my drive home from school, I listened to an APM podcast, The Splendid Table. You can download them for free on iTunes, and I would say it's a must for any foodie. I got really into podcasts on my last co-op when my coworker and roommate introduced me to Radiolab, and ever since I search the web for interesting listens to accompany me on long drives. I'll be living in Boston next semester to stay close to friends, but in return I'm facing over an hour commute every day. (Yikes.) I plan to become an expert in podcasts by the end of my six months at J&J, and will definitely revisit Splendid Table. The episode I discovered on my drive was all about New Orleans cuisine, hence the desire to create my own version of traditional Creole-style gumbo!

I did a lot of research for this recipe. I wanted to create a truly authentic rendition of New Orleans gumbo, and learned a thing or two about southern cooking in the process. Every traditional gumbo recipe begins with roux, a French concoction and thickening agent made of flour and fat or oil. I chose to use vegetable oil because it is used in most New Orleans restaurants and is more difficult to burn than butter. The roux can be cooked shorter or longer to achieve a "city" taste, popular in New Orleans, or a Creole-inspired country flavor. I chose an in between consistency which created a smoky but not overpowering taste. I also mixed a typical chicken and sausage gumbo with seafood by adding a little shrimp, because given the option, one should always add shrimp. Naturally.

And finally, the pièce de résistance, filé powder! I had never heard of it, but it's simply dried ground sassafras that is traditionally sprinkled over gumbo before eating. It was difficult to find at the major grocery store near me, but this one-time buy will last for years of homemade gumbo creations. Another note: many recipes I saw required cayenne pepper or pepper sauce, but simmering the andouille sausage in the broth gave my gumbo almost too much spice, and this is coming from a girl who loves spicy things. If you plan to recreate this recipe feel free to give it an extra kick, but you've been warned...

Traditional New Orleans Gumbo
Serves: 6  Prep: 1 hour, 30 minutes  Total: 3 hours

1 cup flour
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, diced
5 garlic cloves, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 cup okra, sliced
14 oz canned diced tomatoes
3 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 lb andouille sausage
3/4 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined, cooked or uncooked
2 tbs parsley
2 tbs tyhme
2 tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 tbs paprika
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Filé powder to taste
3 cups white rice

Prior to making the roux, dice the onion, garlic, celery and green pepper and slice the okra. Set aside.
Making the roux: Combine the vegetable oil and flour in a large pot and mix well. Cook on low to medium-low heat for 30 minutes, stirring every minute or so until the color resembles melted milk chocolate and develops a nutty smell. (Roux can be cooked for less or more time to achieve desired flavor.)
Add the chopped vegetables to the roux, cover and cook on medium-low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
While the vegetables are cooking, lightly salt and pepper the chicken thighs and bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until cooked through. If shrimp are uncooked, lightly oil a frying pan and cook on medium heat for 4 minutes on each side until pink and cooked through. Chop the andouille sausage, cooked shrimp and cooked chicken into large chunks.
When vegetables are softened, add the diced tomatoes and chicken broth and let simmer uncovered on medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally.
Cook rice as directed and serve a heaping pile of gumbo on top of one serving of rice. Sprinkle with filé seasoning and enjoy!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

In the post-Thanksgiving haze, what a better way to gear up for the holiday season than by continuing to stuff ourselves? The fall season is on its way out, so I'm sneaking in one last autumn dish before transitioning to Christmas mode. All my girlfriends from high school went out to celebrate our best friend Kara's birthday this Wednesday, so I made these cupcakes as a birthday gift (not that we needed more food). The only thing better than great cupcakes is sharing them with great people. And I'm thankful to have so many great people to come home to each holiday season. :)

I found this cupcake recipe on Martha Stewart which has never failed me, especially when it comes to baking. These were super moist and perfectly spiced - I think I found a new go-to recipe for the fall! Autumn cooking has always been my favorite, so don't be surprised if you see a few fall-inspired dishes in the off season. (E.g. these pumpkin blueberry scones I squeaked in early fall of last year.) However, I am looking forward to making some great comfort foods this winter. Happy start to the holiday season, everyone!

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting (adapted from Martha Stewart)
Makes: 18 cupcakes  Prep: 20 minutes  Total: 45 minutes

2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 cup butter, melted and cooled
4 eggs
1 15-ounce can organic pumpkin
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese
1/2 cup butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
Extra cinnamon for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice in a large bowl. In a separate bowl mix sugars, butter and eggs until smooth. Pour the dry ingredients into the sugar mixture, then add pumpkin. Pour into cupcake tins and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
In the meantime, make the frosting by beating cream cheese and butter in an electric mixer on high. Turn off the mixer, add powdered sugar, vanilla and pumpkin pie spice, then beat on medium speed. Put in a piping bag and ice cupcakes when cooled. Garnish with additional cinnamon.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Easy and Decadent Homemade Tomato Soup

I have had a lot of recipes flop recently, which has attributed to a month of no blog posts. There's nothing more disappointing than investing several hours of development and execution on a recipe that doesn't quite make the cut. Specifically, 4 1/2 hours (of cooking alone) on a butternut squash lasagna that was "good" but way below my expectations. Siiiigh. On the bright side, this recipe is definitely worth the share. Last month's Bon Appetit featured an amazing spread on this dinner party idea - homemade tomato soup and grilled cheese! They took something so basic and made it upscale and delicious. And who doesn't love this combination?

It's perfect soup weather here in Boston (cue sniffles) so I made a huge batch of soup and had some girlfriends over. Like the article recommended I gathered several different types of cheese, then fried slices of bread on each side and let my friends arrange their own toppings before popping them in the oven. This was much faster than frying each sandwich and allowed for some creativity. If you want to get really fancy throw some meat, veggies or fruits into the mix and discover other unique grilled cheese combos. For tons of awesome, cheesy ideas (or if you simply want to drool some more) check out one of my favorite food porn blogs: Grilled Cheese Social!

Creamy Tomato Soup (from Bon Appetit)
Serves: 8  Prep: 30 minutes  Total: 1 hour, 30 mintues

1/4 cup butter
10 thyme sprigs
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes
2 tsp sugar, divided
1/2 cup heavy cream*
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in a large pot and add thyme, onion and garlic. Cook for 10 minutes on medium heat or until onion is cooked through. Add tomato paste and cook for another 5 minutes. Next, add whole tomatoes with juice, 1 tsp sugar and 8 cups water to the pot and turn heat on high. When the pot reaches a simmer, lower to medium heat and cook for 50-60 minutes or until about one cup or liquid evaporates.
Remove from heat and get rid of thyme sprigs. Puree soup in a food processor in parts and return to pot. Stir in heavy cream and season with salt, pepper and remaining 1 tsp sugar. Simmer for another 15 minutes before serving.

*The original recipe calls for only 1/4 cup heavy cream, but I strongly recommend 1/2 cup to achieve a thicker consistency and richer flavor.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mom's Apple Pie

It's officially fall here in Boston. Over the weekend temperatures dropped from high 70's into the low 50's. Thankfully I was able to enjoy the warmth while it lasted over the holiday weekend. On Friday, Dylan and I went apple picking at an orchard one hour outside the city. The leaves were beautiful driving through the countryside and it made me feel a little closer to home. When we arrived the orchard workers directed us to a line of disappointing green apples, but we found a secret field wayyy in the back and picked ourselves a bag of pretty, miscellaneous red apples! It involved some piggy-backing and tree climbing, but all the effort made it more rewarding.

And on Columbus Day, we took a day trip to Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire and went on a fantastic 4-mile hike. Ever since my trip to Alaska I have been itching for the outdoors, and it was a great day to escape the city. Not to mention my awesome treat at the top of the summit! PB&J has never tasted so good.

Of course, what else does one do with a bag of freshly picked apples besides bake them in something delicious? I decided to finally tackle my mom's famous apple pie. Every year for Thanksgiving she makes two apple pies and the morning after, we all wake up and have a slice of pie for breakfast. One year she tried a different recipe from Ina Garten and the whole family complained it didn't compare. Now this pie is on the list of family traditions that we don't mess with. For another great family recipe, take a look at my Grandma's Apple Cake.

Mom's Apple Pie
Makes: 1 pie  Prep: 30 minutes  Total: 1 hour, 20 minutes

2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup and 2 tbs Crisco (preferably the yellow, butter-flavored variety)
1/4 cup water
6-7 cups sliced apples
1 cup sugar
3 tbs cinnamon
2 tbs butter

Mix flour and salt. Cut in shortening with two knives until fine particles. Add water and mix well, but don't overwork it or else the dough will be tough. Form into a ball, cut in half and roll out each crust.
In a large bowl, toss sliced apples with sugar and cinnamon. Lay down the bottom crust in a greased pie tin and cover with sugared apples. Cut butter into 1/4" cubes and sprinkle on top of apples. Cover with top pie crust and pinch edges together. Cut four large slits in the top of the pie and bake at 450 for 50 minutes. Remove, sprinkle with sugar and let cool.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Spiced Apple Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Frosting

Not to wish summer away, but I love that fall is in the air here in Boston! Autumn is absolutely my favorite season and it makes me miss my home in Upstate NY terribly. I am currently alternating between three fall scented Yankee candles and digging out my fall decorations. (See my new Current Obsessions for more fall things.) So since two of my best friends' birthday were this month, I made them both a batch of these autumn-inspired cupcakes.

As you can see, I had trouble resisting them during the photo shoot. I knew I wanted something apple-y, but I was afraid apple cupcakes would fall too quickly into the muffin category. That's why this recipe is so great - it has texture and consistency of cake, but with all the warm flavors of fall. The caramel frosting is delicious and fun to make, but don't add the cream too soon (like I did the first time) or you'll end up with a hard piece of caramel candy... Whoops. For cupcakes this recipe is a little time-consuming, but well worth the effort. Enjoy!

Spiced Apple Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Frosting (Adapted from Chow)
Makes: 24 cupcakes  Prep: 25 minutes  Total: 1 hour, 20 minutes

3 Gala apples, grated
2 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
3/4 cup low fat buttermilk

1/4 cup sugar
2 tbs water
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup butter
1 tsp sea salt
1 cup powdered sugar

Peel, slice and grate apples with a food processor or by hand. Place grated apples in a colander, sprinkle with salt and let sit while you prepare the rest of the batter. (This will help dry out unwanted moisture.)
In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and ginger. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and add sugar, brown sugar, vanilla, eggs and buttermilk. When the wet ingredients are fully incorporated, add dry ingredients into the mixture and combine until smooth. Lastly, squeeze out the grated apples to rid of excess moisture and add to the batter.
Pour into greased or papered cupcake tins and bake for 25-30 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let cool completely before icing and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Combine 1/4 cup with water in a small pot and bring to a boil. Cook at medium-high heat for about 5-8 minutes until the mixture turns and dark caramel color. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes, then slowly mix in the heavy cream in small increments. Add the vanilla, mix well and let sit until the mixture is cool to the touch.
In a separate bowl, cream the butter with the sea salt and then add powdered sugar. Add the caramel and mix well. Store in the fridge for 30 minutes before icing.
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