Thursday, August 30, 2012

Peanut Butter Cup Rice Krispie Treats and memories of “baking”

When people recall memories from their childhood, they often involve baking in the kitchen with Mom. When I recall memories from my childhood, I have to say that baking with Mom is not one of the first things I think of. 

But here are some of the things I can remember so clearly that it feels like it was yesterday:
  • Dropping a huge canister of Kool-Aid on my bare toe, back when they used to have metal bottoms.
  • Being stung on the palm by a bee that had affixed itself to my stuffed Garfield toy.
  • Running my bike into a tree and ending up in the ER. 
  • Putting my sister’s pajamas down next to my bedside in case I threw up that night. I did and the pajama’s served their purpose, although my sister was not so pleased. 
  • Taking the “Daddy Train” to bed every night, which consisted of him carrying me and my sister on his back at the same time. 
  • Sneakily getting up early on Christmas morning and going through my stocking, only to tear my stocking as I shoved everything back in. Busted.

So, you’ll notice that only one of those memories happened in the kitchen and involved a canister of dyed sugar. What can I say? Mom just isn’t a baker. However, as I made these rice krispie treats, a memory came back to me and suddenly I was 5 years old again:

I’m standing at the stove on my stool, still barefoot. (Apparently the Kool-Aid incident taught me nothing.) The wooden stool is etched with the phrase, “This little stool is mine, I use it all the time, to reach the things I couldn’t, and lots of things I shouldn’t.” I’m stirring a pot of rice krispie treats with all my might. Even at 5, I’m regretting this decision to help Mom, thinking my arm might fall off as the marshmallow sets up.  

Baking? Maybe not. But a kitchen memory with Mom all the same. 

It has been a long time since I made rice krispie treats and I forgot how perfect they are, especially when they’re peanut butter laden. 

Peanut Butter Cup Rice Krispie Treats

6 cups crisp rice cereal
5 ounces peanut butter cups, chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
10 ounces marshmallows

1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon melted unsalted butter
2 ounces peanut butter cups, chopped

Line a 13x9 inch pan with parchment paper.
In a large pot, melt the butter and add peanut butter. Stir together until smooth. Add marshmallows and stir constantly until completely melted. 
Add cereal and peanut butter cups and immediately stir to coat with marshmallow mixture. When completely coated, pour mixture into prepared pan. Spread out into corners and press evenly into pan. Let cool.
When cool, prepare topping by mixing peanut butter, powdered sugar and melted butter together until smooth. 
Remove rice krispie treats from pan and spread topping evenly over the top. Sprinkle chopped peanut butter cups over the topping and press down lightly to adhere. Cut into squares.

If you’re a peanut butter lover, do yourself a favor and make these soon. They are ridiculously easy (except for the stirring), and ridiculously good. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Coconut curry mussels and two years gone by

It’s my anniversary! Well, not mine

This weekend marked the two-year anniversary of Tasty Trials and although I’ve only managed to get a handful of posts up this month, I have to say that I’m shocked to have gone two years at all with any kind of regular frequency. See, I tend to be a project-starter but not so much a project-finisher, as evidenced by the countless boxes of crap crafts taking up space in the garage.

Thoughts like “I will be a scrapbook queen and document each and every moment of our lives with little bits of cutesy paper!” or “I can totally make handmade jewelry…think of how stylish and trendy I’ll be, at a fraction of the cost!” or “Abstract painting on canvas? Yes, I can definitely make some art worth hanging on our walls,” propel me to the nearest craft store to buy all the necessary fixings to accomplish these tasks. My grand plans quickly turn into dust collectors and my thoughts are replaced with things like, “I hate little bits of cutesy paper…stupid paper,” and “Why make homemade jewelry when there are perfectly good diamonds needing to be worn?” and “Huh, so there’s a lot more to this abstract painting business than I thought…maybe another glass of wine would help.”

Needless to say, I didn’t think this blog stood much of a chance when I hit that first publish button, but I seem to have finally found a project I can commit to. I don’t think there can ever be a defined “finish,” since there is always food to cook and words to write, and maybe that’s what I was always lacking in a project. It’s here when I want it to be, tucked away in its little corner of the internet instead of mocking me each time I squeeze past it in the garage.

Last August, I recapped my first twelve months with observations and lessons learned. This year, I just want to say thank you. Thank you to all of you who read my blog and tell me you enjoy it. Thank you to all of you who have made a dish from these pages and written to tell me so. Thank you to all of you for sticking around when I’m in a rut and only posting once a week. These are the things that keep me coming back here, even when I’d really rather just take a break and let a little internet dust collect.

To celebrate this two-year milestone, I made myself a big bowl of wonderfully spicy mussels. You were probably expecting a cocktail, huh? I’ve got to say, these mussels might be better than cocktails. Gasp! Crazy, I know.

Spicy Coconut Curry Mussels

Serves 1-2

1 pound fresh mussels, cleaned and debearded
1 lemongrass stalk
1 1/2 tablespoons red Fresno chili pepper, chopped
3 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 1/2 teaspoon red curry paste
3/4 cup light coconut milk
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1 tablespoon chopped basil
1/2 a lime

Remove the tough outer layer from the lemongrass stalk and bruise with the back of a knife. Cut into 4 pieces and put in a medium saucepan.
Add chili pepper, shallot, garlic, ginger, curry paste, coconut milk and wine to saucepan. Whisk to combine.
Bring mixture to a boil and boil for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, remove lemongrass stalk and add mussels and tomatoes. Cover and steam for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove from heat and place mussels in a bowl, topping with cooking liquid. Top with chopped basil and a squeeze of fresh lime juice. (Discard any mussels that have not opened.)
Serve with sliced baguette to sop up juices.

I could eat these every night. The flavors are incredible…chili, lemongrass, garlic, ginger and coconut, all combined to form a broth you want to drink. And the mussels themselves? Oh so tender. The best part about this dish is how easy it is to make. Chop, boil, steam, done. And then you can settle into this delicious bowl, fit for a celebration.  

Because a new set of copper pots cannot go unmentioned or unphotographed! Squeal!

Monday, August 20, 2012

S’mores martinis and indoor camping

Summer is almost over and another year has gone by without us taking a camping trip. Every year we talk about it wistfully, remembering the campfires, the quiet and clear nights under the stars, the bacon and eggs breakfast that always tastes so much better from a camp stove, and of course, the s’mores. But as great as all of those things are, my favorite camping trip ever took place in our own living room.

For my birthday week (yes, week) a few years ago, Andy surprised me with an indoor camping extravaganza. He is notoriously bad at waiting to give gifts, and several days before my birthday, he just couldn’t wait any longer. I was sent upstairs with a glass of wine and instructions to close the door behind me. Soon after, I heard odd noises coming from downstairs.

Turns out, putting up a ridiculously large tent indoors by yourself can be a bit difficult. The noises I heard were the mile-long tent poles scraping against the walls and Andy described a scene that I would have paid to witness. After his wrestling match was over and the entire living room was turned into a tent (complete with equally large air mattress and fluffy sleeping bags), we did indeed have our indoor camping extravaganza. And the tent may or may not have stayed up for at least a week, and I may or may not have passed out in it after overindulging on my actual birthday. Best camping trip ever.

For your next indoor camping trip, make a batch of s’mores martinis in place of the real deal, no campfire necessary.

S’mores Martini

Makes 1 or 2, depending on size of glass

4 ounces fluffed marshmallow vodka
1 ounce crème de cacao
1 teaspoon chocolate syrup, plus extra for rim
2 tablespoons Cool Whip
graham cracker crumbs

Pour some chocolate syrup onto one saucer and graham cracker crumbs onto another. Dip the rim of the martini glass into the chocolate syrup and then into the crumbs to coat.
Put vodka, crème de cacao, 1 teaspoon chocolate syrup and Cool Whip into a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled. Strain into prepared glass.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Gazpacho and a mushy post

When Andy and I first started dating, I made him a lot of lists. No, not honey do lists…lists of mushy stuff like things he did that I thought were cute, things he said I thought were cute, reasons why I liked him, etc. Is anyone gagging yet?

Well, there are still plenty of lists and reasons floating around in my head, but I haven’t actually written one out in some time. So here we go…things are about to get very mushy over here.

A random collection of ten things I adore about my husband:
  • That he toasts to true love for no special reason on a regular day.
  • That when he puts his arm around me after the alarm goes off, we instantly fall back into the best, deepest sleep ever.
  • That Christmas turns him into a little boy again.
  • That he believes in me with unwavering conviction.
  • That he loves rainy days.
  • That he has a curiosity about life and is constantly learning new things.
  • That he makes me feel like the luckiest girl in the world every day.
  • The uninhibited way he laughs when something really strikes him as funny: wheezy, red-faced, teary-eyed. 
  • That he can gossip like the best girlfriend ever. 
  • That although he claims not to like a certain ingredient or dish, he’ll try it with an open mind if I make it (and usually ends up liking it). 
Which leads me to this gazpacho. I’d been talking about making gazpacho for a while, but Andy was less than thrilled about the idea. He’s not a huge fan of cold soup and when I told him I wanted to load it with radish to use up an excess, that was another strike against the gazpacho.  But he will always try things when I put a spoon in front of him, and much to my surprise, he loved it. Not only did we eat it for dinner that night, but he also requested it several more times over the next few nights. Winner.

Spicy Gazpacho with Radish

Serves 4-6

12 ounces tomatoes
1 1/2 cup peeled, chopped cucumber*
1 cup chopped radish
3/4 cup chopped bell pepper (red, orange or yellow)
1 spicy pepper, chopped**
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup tomato juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

chopped radish, cucumber and tomatoes, for serving

*If using English cucumber, peeling is not necessary.
** I get these incredible yellow spicy peppers at the farmers market this time of year and have no idea what they are. Use jalapeno as a substitute.

Place first 6 ingredients into a food processor and puree to desired consistency. Add tomato juice, olive oil and vinegar. Pulse to combine (or run food processor for a thinner, smoother soup). Season with salt and pepper.
Chill in refrigerator for a few hours before serving.
Divide into bowls and top with garnish of chopped vegetables.

This dish couldn’t be easier to pull together. With no cooking required, it makes an ideal fresh and spicy summer dinner and is the perfect way to use any excess produce laying around. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Summery comfort food: Grilled chicken pasta with homemade tomato sauce

Sometimes, smack in the middle of summer, a craving for a hearty wintertime comfort food dish hits and your only recourse is to listen to your stomach.  Hot and sticky days, however, aren’t always the best time to turn on the oven, heat up the house and consume big, heavy meals. But you can have the best of both worlds…

To me, pasta always equals comfort food, even if it’s mac and cheese out of a blue box (which yes, I do happen to enjoy, especially made with real butter and heavy cream, thank you very much). As you’ll recall, a bowl of pasta recently made me cry.

Even though this pasta dish is hearty and comforting, it’s doesn’t seem heavy. And by grilling the chicken, you get great flavor without turning the oven on. It’s the best of both worlds: comfort food with fresh and light summery flavors.

Summery Grilled Chicken Pasta with Homemade Tomato Sauce

Yield: 8 servings
Time: 45 minutes

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
8 ounces dried fusilli pasta
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped shallots or yellow onions
1 can diced tomatoes (14.5 ounces)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 zucchini, sliced
2 cups fresh cherry tomatoes, cut in half
4 ounces diced fresh mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup toasted pinenuts
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for chicken
chopped fresh basil
shaved parmesan cheese

Heat the grill to about 400 degrees F. Lightly oil the chicken breasts and season with salt and pepper. Grill over direct heat for about 5-6 minutes per side, until cooked through. Chop or shred into bite-sized pieces. Reserve.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and reserve.

In a saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add shallots, bell pepper and red pepper flakes and sauté for about 5 minutes until softened. Add garlic and canned tomatoes with juices. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let mixture simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. When there are about 3 minutes left for the sauce, add the zucchini. Cook until just tender. Remove from heat and stir in cherry tomatoes.
In a large bowl, combine pasta, chicken and tomato sauce. Stir in mozzarella cheese and pine nuts. Divide into bowls and top with chopped basil and shaved parmesan cheese.

This dish is full of fresh, simple flavors that combine to create a delicious one-bowl meal with a hint of spice and cherry tomatoes that pop in your mouth, perfect for any season, really.

Disclosure: I am a member of the Collective Bias™ Social Fabric® Community.  This content has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias™ and Smart & Final. All opinions are my own. #SFSmarties #CBias #SocialFabric