Friday, March 30, 2012

Notebook nostalgia and a classic appetizer: Bruschetta

The weirdest things make me sad…

Like I’m sure many of you do, I keep all of my recipes and notes in a spiral notebook (which must have been from my high school years, based on the ridiculous things written on the first few pages).  It’s a pretty thick book and when I started my blog, I thought it would take eons to fill up all those pages. Apparently eons equates to a year and a half, because I am now searching for tiny blank spaces to write a new recipe. There are a few blank pages left, which I’m saving for lengthy recipes, but other than that, it’s about done. And that makes me all sad and nostalgic. Sniff, sniff…

Part of what I love so much about this notebook is that it is absolutely trashed. It has the requisite red wine spill that makes any cookbook look well loved, along with plenty of food stains and oil spatter. For some reason, our very tenacious cat has taken to gnawing the METAL spiral binding, so it is completely squashed together, making it a bit difficult to turn the pages. Andy and I used the very last page as a makeshift Pictionary game at some point, and every time I see it I wonder what in the world we were trying to draw. So you see…with so much character, how could I not be sad to retire it?

Okay, okay…enough with the ode to my notebook. The reason I bring it up is because this bruschetta was one of the first recipes I ever wrote in it. I made it a few times and it was always a big hit, but then the pages started to fill up with new recipes and it got pushed further back in my mind. This happens to be one of Andy’s biggest gripes: I make a dish that he loves, then never make it again because I’m onto the next thing. But the other day, as I was flipping through the beginning of the book looking for some inspiration, I saw this recipe and Andy’s eyes lit up at the mention of it.

Obviously, there are bruschetta recipes galore and I haven’t reinvented the wheel here. But it’s a great recipe and one that I was very proud of when I first started cooking without a guide. A few tweaks to a typical bruschetta make this version stand out. For starters, the bread is basically fried in butter and olive oil…it’s hard not to like that. The tomatoes cook for just a minute, which when tossed in warm with the garlic and onion makes for a heavenly aroma. Pinenuts offer a little crunch and Gruyere cheese tops the hot fried bread. Did I mention the bread fried in butter???


Makes about 12

10 ounces tomatoes, deseeded and chopped (I use grape or cherry tomatoes)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 tablespoon finely chopped red onion
2 tablespoons toasted pinenuts
2 tablespoons chopped basil
2-4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1-2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for tomatoes
12 slices Filone bread (at least 1/2" thick)*
Gruyere cheese, grated

*Note: If you can’t find Filone bread, substitute with very fresh sweet baguette. (Bread that is a bit past its prime gets too hard when fried.)

In a bowl, combine garlic and onions.

Heat a small drizzle of oil in a pan over medium heat. Add tomatoes to pan and season with salt and pepper. Sauté for for 1-2 minutes, until tomatoes are just starting to soften. Immediately add tomato mixture to garlic and onions. Stir lightly and reserve.

Heat 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. When very hot, add bread slices and fry each side until golden brown and crisp. (If pan is not large enough to fry all the bread at once, fry in two batches. You may have to wipe out the pan and add more butter and oil if butter gets too brown.)

Remove bread and drain on paper towels. Top immediately with grated cheese.

Stir pinenuts and basil into tomato mixture. Check seasonings and adjust as needed.

Top bread with a spoonful of tomato mixture.

This appetizer is about good, simple flavors that combine into a perfect bite. I had forgotten how fantastic this bread is, especially when it’s still warm. But I will warm you: this is not first date food…there is no way around the garlic breath with this one, but it’s totally worth it.

Monday, March 26, 2012

So I lied: More cocktails today…Easter candy martinis to be exact

I know, I know. I just said in my last post that I wasn't turning this into a cocktails-only blog. And here I am with the third cocktail post in a row. Contrary to what it may look like, I swear I don’t just sit around in a drunken stupor...I truly do cook (and eat) real food.

Actually, I made these martinis weeks ago for an article, and now that the article is live, I just had to share. These are too fun not to share…I mean, it’s candy in drink form. What’s not to love about that?

Originally, my thought was to make all of these cocktails with candy-infused vodka. I knew jelly beans would work, but I wasn’t sure about other candy. Since nothing says Easter like disgusting marshmallow Peeps, I threw a few bunnies into a jar of vodka and crossed my fingers. A few days later after the vodka had turned neon yellow, I removed the grossly gelatinous Peeps and took a tiny sip, which I immediately spit into the sink. Horrendous doesn’t even begin to describe it…it tasted nothing like marshmallow and more like window cleaner mixed with gasoline. Also worth noting: the Peep's eyes and noses stayed completely intact through the infusion process, which I find incredibly disturbing. What is this stuff made of that vodka doesn't dissolve it?? In conclusion, if forced to, I’d rather eat a Peep than drink Peep vodka, which says a lot. My infusing stopped there and I decided to just mimic the flavors of the other candy instead.

So I called on my dad and his bartending skills, and in a crazy test kitchen session, we came up with these Easter martinis…click here to jump to the recipes.

Now this is the way to get your Easter candy fix!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Happy Hour again?? Blueberry-Pineapple Champagne Sparklers

No, this isn’t turning into a cocktails-only blog (although that wouldn’t be the worst idea ever from a test-kitchen standpoint). At the moment, it’s turned into an “I have an incredibly high-maintenance dog who I can’t be more than three feet from because he just had surgery and keeps trying to rip his sutures out even with a cone on” blog.  (Just a friendly warning to those of you considering ever owning a dachshund: they’re very long and very persistent. Our little Houdini can reach his backside even ensconced in his cone.)

Having to be practically attached at the hip to a dog sort of takes cooking out of the equation. And by the time I’m “relieved” from my dog-watching shift, I just want to lie down (and maybe cry a little). According to our vet, because of our dog’s very high-strung and anxious nature, it makes this sort of ordeal about three billion times worse than with a “normal” dog.  (That number may have been my approximation, but I swear it’s not an exaggeration.)

Since no cooking means no new material, I’m pulling this cocktail from my archives and taking the easy way out.

Blueberry-Pineapple Champagne Sparklers

1 cup blueberries
1 cup pineapple juice
2 teaspoons chopped mint leaves
superfine sugar, as needed
1 bottle champagne

Puree blueberries, pineapple juice and mint in a blender. Taste for tartness. If needed, blend in sugar to taste. Strain.

Pour 2-3 tablespoons juice into flutes and slowly top with champagne.

As you’ve probably figured by now, I adore champagne in most any form. And this sparkling cocktail doesn’t disappoint. It’s got a bright, refreshing tropical flavor and amazing couldn’t ask for more out of a champagne cocktail.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A much-needed cocktail: Spiked Basil Lemonade

Ever have one of those days where things are going along swimmingly, not a care in the world, and then suddenly you’re picking up your dog from emergency surgery at 10 o’clock at night? Yeah, me too…

That was our Saturday night. I’m beyond thankful that we were home and not out drinking green beer while our sweet little pup was suffering, unbeknownst to us. I’ve never been so glad to be a couple of boring homebodies.

So I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say it involved his behind. And we now have a very uncomfortable miniature dachshund on our hands. If you know me, you know I’m a bit of a nervous wreck with things like doctors, procedures, open wounds, sutures, etc. As a result, I’m a bit on edge now, as I sit with this helpless little creature who wakes up every so often and thrashes around in his cone trying to get to what’s hurting him at the other end. It’s incredibly hard to watch and I instantly break into a sweat as I try to comfort him.

The next few days are not looking too good at this moment. Andy, who is one of the calmest people I’ve ever met, keeps giving me reachable goals in regard to time. Things like: “Okay, let's just get to noon, and it will be that much better,” and “By the end of tonight, he’ll have that much more healing time behind him.” He knows that I can only handle several hour increments, apparently. I’m sure I speak for all of us, including our furry little boy, when I say that I can’t wait to be on the other side of this.

In the meantime, who needs a cocktail?? I know somebody...I’ll give you a hint: it’s me.

My sister and I replicated this cocktail many years ago after having it at a restaurant. I remember something comical happening as we tried to make homemade lemonade, but I don’t know exactly what. I think it had to do with several very sour attempts before getting it right, but once we did, there was much rejoicing. And drinking, of course.

Spiked Basil Lemonade

Makes 6-8 drinks, depending on how they’re served

1 batch simple syrup (see recipe below)
2 cups fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 cups citron vodka
20 large basil leaves, roughly torn
1/2 a lemon, cut into 4 pieces
sugar and a lemon wedge, if serving as martinis

In a pitcher, muddle basil and lemon pieces. Pour in simple syrup, lemon juice and vodka. (Let sit for about 20 minutes to allow basil flavor to infuse the lemonade.)

Serve over ice or in a martini glass.

For martinis, run a lemon wedge around the rim of a glass and dip rim in sugar. Shake with ice and strain.

Note: Don’t prepare too far in advance as basil will start to discolor and turn black after a few hours.

Simple syrup
1 cup water
1 cup sugar

Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan on high heat. Bring to a boil, then simmer for a few minutes until sugar is completely dissolved and mixture is slightly thickened. Let cool. Yield should be about 1 1/4 cups.

Watch out for these…I put them in the “dangerous” category for going down so easily. They’ve got just the right combination of sweetness, tartness and goodness and would make a perfect beverage choice for a brunch, a day on the patio, or when you’re trying to calm your nerves because your dog just had butt* surgery. 

(*That fine descriptor was added by Andy when he proofread for me. I knew something was up when I heard snickering...and since it made me laugh out loud, it stayed.)

Friday, March 16, 2012

I’m more festive than I thought: Minty Green Granola Bars

Just popping in with a quick post for an even quicker snack…

After writing just a few days ago about how un-festive I am when it comes to St. Patrick’s Day, I show up with another St. Patty’s Day-related food post. Guess that makes me a liar…but I do have a good reason for all this newfound festivity: I found a bag of mint and dark chocolate chips that have been in my cupboard since Christmas. Since I missed that boat, St. Patrick’s Day seemed like the next logical choice. And I wanted granola bars. Win, win.

No-Bake Mint Chocolate Granola Bars

3 cups granola (I used honey and oats with almond flavor)
1/2 cup cashews, roughly chopped
1/2 cup plain M&Ms (green if you’re feeling festive)
1/2 cup mint and dark chocolate chips*
1/4 cup yogurt chips
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 stick unsalted butter
2 tablespoons lite corn syrup

Combine granola and cashews in a large bowl.

Heat sugar, butter and corn syrup in a small saucepan until melted. Simmer for a few minutes until sugar is completely dissolved. Pour immediately over granola and stir until completely coated. Stir in M&Ms and all chips.

Pour granola into an ungreased 9x13 baking pan. Using your fingers, press mixture firmly into pan.

Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour. When ready to serve, run a knife along all sides and turn pan over onto a cutting board. Cut into bars.

Store in refrigerator.

*Any kind of chips can be substituted, especially since the mint and dark chocolate chips are apparently seasonal. Andes makes mint chocolate baking chips that would work well.

These are ridiculously fast to make, you can throw anything you want in them, and they make a hearty snack. I can’t say they’re super healthy since they’re heavy on the chocolate and sugar, but they sure taste good.

And if you’re still looking for a festive meal for tomorrow, check out my Corned Beef Tacos with Creamy Guinness Dipping Sauce.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Things that keep you going and Thin Mint Tart

I have been busy lately. Really, really busy. The kind of busy that makes your head feel like it might pop. And it seems, as usual, that the first thing to get put on the back burner is the blog. But then, at the end of an insanely busy day, you can get an email that makes you want to try harder, do more, no matter how tired you are.

Said email, sent by a relatively new friend, was one of those emails that came at a moment when I needed a little buoying. She simply took the time to let me know that she enjoyed reading my blog, and for that, I’m beyond grateful. Because, as much as it thrills me to know that perfect strangers are out there reading this (and hopefully enjoying it), there’s just something about knowing that you have support from those you personally hold in high regard.

I’m sure we can all relate to this feeling, whether it be a student thanking you at the end of the school year, a compliment on a job well done at work, or the happy sighs of those eating a meal you prepared. No matter the reason, things like this keep us going, keep us from quitting, and keep us reaching higher.

So with that, and because of that, even though I really just want to curl up on the couch and fall asleep watching Hawaii Five-O (the old one…hello Jack Lord!), I bring you this heavenly dessert made with the best Girl Scout cookie of them all: Thin Mints. And don’t give me any of that nonsense that Samoas are the best. Good? Yes. The best? Not even a little.

Check out my recipe here: Thin Mint Cookie Tart

I don’t really know how much I need to say about a dessert like this. It’s got almost an entire box of Thin Mints in it, PLUS extra chocolate. Done deal, right?

And as always, thank you for reading. Whether you’re a stranger, a friend, or a family member…I truly appreciate it.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Corned Beef Tacos for St. Patty’s Day

Ah, St. Patrick's Day…green beer, drunken crowds and being pinched. Sounds fun, huh?

I can’t say that I really “do” St. Patrick’s Day. Given the reasons listed above, it has been many, many years since I have ventured out on this evening of debauchery.  I don’t seek out a green article of clothing to wear and I dare someone to pinch me. Green beer does not appeal to me in the least. Beer? Yes. Green beer? No. So maybe I’m a little bit of a Grinch when it comes to St. Paddy’s Day. Hey…he’s green. Maybe I’m more festive than I thought.

But, just like with Valentine’s Day, not making a St. Patrick’s Day dish for the blog is blasphemy. So, when Smart & Final needed a corned beef recipe for their weekly newsletter, I had the perfect excuse.

When I told Andy my plans for this recipe, he was very obviously skeptical. In fact, he was making noises about not being hungry for dinner after he heard what I was making. And I have to admit, when I was stirring together the Guinness sauce, I did have a moment (or two) of uncertainty. But it all worked out in the end. And miraculously, come dinnertime (after a tentative taste), Andy had suddenly found his appetite. If you like corned beef sandwiches, you’ll love these tacos.

In making this dish, I had a few revelations:
  • After cooking corned beef, the resulting water is absolutely disgusting. If you’ve never done it, you’re in for a treat.
  • Also after cooking corned beef, the fat that needs to be scraped off the meat is equally disgusting. (Don’t get me wrong…I like corned beef, but the getting there is a little dicey.)
  • I used to drink Guinness (quite a bit, actually), but it has been a long time since I’ve had one. When I took a sip of the can I opened for this recipe, I understood why my dad always said it was like drinking motor oil. I still like the taste, but I really don’t think I could drink a whole pint. That is some seriously thick beer. (Does that mean I’m getting old?)

Corned Beef Tacos with Creamy Guinness Dipping Sauce

2-2 1/2 pound First Street corned beef brisket
flour tortillas

Guinness dipping sauce:
1 cup Guinness (or other stout beer)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste

1 1/2 cup thinly sliced purple cabbage
1 1/2 cup thinly sliced green cabbage
1 tablespoon finely chopped red onion
1 tablespoon finely chopped jalapeno
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
1 1/2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard
1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste

For corned beef:
Place corned beef, fatty side up, in a slow cooker and cover with water. Set on low and cook for 10 hours.
Remove corned beef from water and let sit at about 10 minutes, until cool enough to handle. Scrape off fat and discard. Shred remaining meat.

For Guinness dipping sauce:
Heat Guinness in a small saucepan over high heat. Let reduce to 1/3 cup.  Remove from heat and stir in brown sugar. Let cool.
In a small bowl, combine sour cream, yogurt, vinegar, salt and pepper. Whisk Guinness reduction into mixture until smooth.

For coleslaw:
Mix together cabbage, red onion and jalapeno in a large bowl.
In another bowl, combine mayonnaise, yogurt, mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper.
Pour over cabbage mixture and toss until combined.

To assemble:
Warm tortillas. Spread a spoonful of Guinness dipping sauce down the middle, add shredded corned beef, then top with coleslaw.
Serve with extra dipping sauce on the side.

These flavors all come together perfectly. Salty corned beef, spicy and tangy coleslaw, and slightly bitter but creamy Guinness sauce…it just works. It’s a nice change from a standard corned beef sandwich and would be a fun St. Paddy’s Day party food.

This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias #CBias. All opinions are my own. Recipe created for Smart & Final #sfsmarties.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Celebrating a new look with an Amaretto Coffee Chiller

Notice anything different? I’ll give you a hint…it used to look like this around here:

That’s right…I’m very excited to reveal the new and improved Tasty Trials website. Welcome to my new digs!

Heather at Farmgirl Gourmet is responsible for my beautiful new space here. She worked oh-so-patiently with me as I flip-flopped from teal to white to brown, from patterns to no patterns, then from this brown to that brown and back again as my indecisiveness reared its ugly head. She was the creative force behind all of it, and I couldn’t be more thrilled with the result. Every time I open my page I do a little happy dance in my head. Thank you, Heather!

There is a teeny tiny part of me that feels a little sad and sentimental at the loss of my “old” blog. It was my not-so-knowledgeable attempt at creating a site and it’s become so comfortable and familiar that I hate to see it go. I suppose this is the same part of my personality that, when asked about my impending fifth birthday, very sadly wailed, “I’M GOING TO MISS BEING FOUR!” (Because five is apparently a very rough year.) But I got over turning five and I will get over missing my old space. This, after all, is so much better…

So (although there are still a few things left to tweak) grab a cocktail and help me celebrate the unveiling of the brand spankin’ new Tasty Trials . If you’re reading this before noon, the coffee liqueur makes this an acceptable morning drink, don’t you think?

Amaretto Coffee Chiller

Makes 1

1 1/2 ounces Amaretto
1/2 ounce Starbucks Coffee liqueur
1/2 ounce crème de cacao
1 1/2 ounces heavy cream

Put all ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a martini glass or serve on the rocks.

The name of this cocktail pretty much says it all…its got almond and coffee, with just a hint of chocolate. Not a bad way to celebrate anything, really.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Late to the party with Onion and Gruyere Tartlets

By entertainment-world standards, the Grammys are already old news. In the couple weeks since, the Oscars have come and gone, and unfortunately apparently Snooki got pregnant. But since I, in all my hipness, hardly knew a single artist that was up for a Grammy anyway, I may as well blog about them weeks late, right?

I have to admit that I was a bit horrified when I looked at the list of nominees this year. Aside from Adele, who you’d have to be living in a cave with no internet not to know, there were only a handful of others I recognized. I had a moment of, “Oh my gosh, what’s happened to the music world?” followed by a panicked, “Oh my gosh, how old am I?” Truth is, I don’t listen to the radio, so I rarely hear new stuff. The satellite in the car is usually set to “Deep Tracks” or “The Bridge” and you don’t get a lot of Nicki Minaj going on there. And I’m perfectly happy in my Deep Tracks world, thank you very much…

Anyway, a big digression to get to these:

All I really wanted to do was share this dish that I made for a Grammy cocktail party menu, because even though I’m way late to the Grammy party, these tartlets are too perfect not to shout about from the rooftops.

Do you ever have those moments when you bite into something you’ve made and “Hallelujah” starts playing in your head because it’s that good? Well, this was one of those moments. It’s hard to go wrong with balsamic caramelized onions and two kinds of cheese, and I love everything else about these, from the hint of thyme, to the texture of the filling.

So click here and then just ignore all the Grammy-babble at  the top and scroll down to the recipe. It’s worth it, I promise. (There’s also a grilled shrimp cocktail recipe that isn’t too shabby either.)