Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Asparagus, Bacon & Gruyere Frittata

I had an amazing revelation this past week.

There is an egg pie sort of thingy that is fantastically delicious that you don't have to make a crust for and comes together in a matter of minutes!

Maybe to you this is old news, but I just made my first frittata and am basking in the enjoyment of it!

I absolutely love quiche, but I rarely make them because not only are they fattening (hello, pie crust!) but they are somewhat labor intensive (hello again, pie crust!) and they take a long time to bake! Beautiful and delicious for special occasions, but not really an every day or even every week kind of thing, you know?

I trust you do.

So, all that to say- frittata is quiche's low maintenance cousin!

On a side note, my spell check is at it again. This time it wants to change "frittata" to "irritation". Oh, yes, let's serve up a little irritation for breakfast! Sounds delightful, doesn't it?

"What's on the menu, honey?"

"Oh, just a little asparagus, bacon and Gruyere irritation, dear!"

Way to get my man to the table, spell check.

But...back to the FRITTATA...

Not only is it pleasing to your nostrils as you saute the asparagus, bacon and shallots, but also to your eyes- vibrant yellow eggs dotted with spring green asparagus and crisp bacon. Oh! and don't forget your taste buds! One of the most delightful things about this bright dish is the way the Gruyere stays in little gooey pockets, spilling forth melty goodness in each bite!

Whether you choose to serve your frittata for a holiday, a weekend brunch or a quick weeknight dinner, let's just say that it will get your man, or your family, or your company, or the president of the United States to your table much quicker than any "irritation" would.

Asparagus, Bacon & Gruyere Frittata
adapted from Tracy's Culinary Adventures
serves about 6

12 lg. eggs
3 TB half and half
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut on the bias into 1/4 in. pieces
6 slices bacon, chopped
1 shallot, minced
3 oz. Gruyere cheese, cut into 1/4 in. cubes

Preheat your oven to 400.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, half and half, salt and pepper until completely combined.

Set a 12 in. nonstick, oven safe skillet over medium heat. Add the oil and when hot, throw in the asparagus and bacon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the asparagus has lightly browned and is nearly tender, about 3 minutes. Add the shallot and cook just until slightly softened, about 2 minutes.

Add the cubes of cheese to the egg mixture and stir. Pour egg mixture into the skillet with the asparagus, bacon and shallot and cook, using a rubber spatula to stir and scrape the bottom. Large curds will begin to form after about 2 minutes, but the eggs should still be quite wet. Shake the skillet to distribute the eggs evenly and allow to cook for 30 sec. without stirring- this will set the bottom.

Transfer the skillet to the oven and cook until the frittata puffs and the surface browns slightly, 10-12 min. Check for done-ness by cutting into the frittata with a paring knife. If the eggs are firm, but just slightly wet, it's ready. Pull the skillet from the oven and let stand for 5 min. Loosen edges with the rubber spatula, then slide the frittata out of the pan and onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars {Baking with Sisters, Part 6}

When planning our "baking together" menu, the girls and I knew we needed one special treat that would be over the top. As we scrolled through the yummies on our Pinterest boards, the one recipe that kept calling "pick me!" (okay to be honest there were about 20 calling that, but we only had so much time you know!) was the one for Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars.

Do you see why? With such a promising name, along with a scrumptious, caramel-drizzled photo from The Girl Who Ate Everything, how could we resist?

We decided not to.

It may sound like a fall dessert, but you can typically get Granny Smith apples and Hershey's caramel sauce anytime of year in America.

And Starbucks Iced Coffee, apparently...

We've provided chilly weather, dismal outdoor scenes, a cozy indoor environment and four (no make that five with Hubby...or maybe he counts as two...) healthy appetites...who really needs leaves floating down from trees?

Anyway, we decided it sounded perfect, fall or no.

The recipe was perfectly divided into four parts for us- Crust, Cheesecake Filling, Apples, and Streusel Topping. Oh and for the record, my computer is trying to tell me that streusel is not a word. How about substituting "stressful"? Thanks for the help, but no. No Stressful Topping for me, thank you. The thought of the calories is stressful enough. A little more stress sprinkled on top? No. Streusel will be just fine.

See? Streusel. Not Stressful.

But I'm getting off topic.

Working beautifully as a team, of course, we assigned ourselves each a role.

I made the crust...

Jessica manned the KitchenAid (a new experience for her!) to make the cheesecake filling...

Jewelissa chopped the apples and added spices (the girls had a blast with my "amazing" apple peeler!!)...

Armed and dangerous...to apples, of course.

...and Janell ground out a beautiful streusel topping!

Four hands (oh wait, that's eight hands) sure made the load lighter and the time in the kitchen immensely more fun and the bars were assembled in no time! We played cards while it was baking and lovely smells were wafting out of the kitchen before long.

A game of "Nerds", anyone?

Now the recipe advises chilling the bars and serving them cold, and surely you should store them cold, but don't pass up an opportunity to sneak few bites while they are warm! We certainly couldn't wait and practically before the lid was on the caramel jar little (okay, large) warm forkfuls were disappearing.

Conclusion? The layers of buttery crust, creamy, sweet cheesecake, bursts of tart apple and cinnamon and crumbly topping, all finished off with a drizzle of delectable caramel are simply irresistible. Add the fun of goofing off in the kitchen with your three sweet, adorable and silly sisters, and you're in heaven!

Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars
makes about 16 bars

2 cups flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup butter, softened

Cheesecake Filling:
2 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 lg. eggs
1 tsp vanilla

3 Granny Smith Apples, peeled, cored, and finely chopped
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 TB sugar

Streusel Topping:
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup flour
1/2 cup quick cooking oats
1/2 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup caramel topping

Preheat oven to 350.
Crust: In a medium bowl, combine flour and brown sugar. Cut in butter with a pastry blender until mixture is crumbly. Press evenly into a 9x13 pan lined with foil and lightly greased. Bake 15 minutes or until lightly browned.
Cheesecake Filling: In a large bowl, beat cream cheese with sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed until smooth. Then add eggs, 1 at a time, and vanilla. Stir to combine. Pour over warm crust, spreading evenly.
Apples: In a small bowl, stir together chopped apples, sugar and spices. Spoon evenly over cream cheese mixture.
Streusel Topping: In a small bowl, combine all ingredients, using a pastry blender or your hands to get everything very well incorporated. Sprinkle over top of apples.
Bake bars 40-45 min. or until filling is set. Drizzle with caramel topping and let cool. Serve room temperature or cold. Store in refrigerator.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Soft Pretzel Bites {Baking with Sisters, Part 5}

One of the things my sisters and I love to do together is shop. We all have different shopping styles. Jewel and Janell tend to be zippy shoppers, casing the store in a matter of minutes and assessing the merchandise instantly, spending the rest of the time waiting on a bench outside sipping lattes. I take a little more time, not wanting to miss any item on a sale rack, touching all the pretty fabric I know I can't afford, and stockpiling "maybes"- leery of having to take more than one trip to the fitting room. Jessica is a champion browser, circling the store numerous times to be sure nothing has escaped her notice and deliberating over the question of "to buy or not to buy." Although our styles of shopping differ greatly, there is one thing we always agree on when we make trips to the mall.

Pretzels. There's nothing quite like the aroma of a soft, buttery pretzel after the "hard work" of shopping. Or sometimes it's just the fuel you need to get you in "the zone." Whether enjoyed before, after or during the shopping trip, a mall pretzel is a necessary addition to any girl's day out!

However, this time around, we didn't end up having the time to make the hour-long trek to Spokane for our shopping day, so we decided the pretzels would come to us- in the form of homemade soft pretzel bites!

Teamwork made the task easy and fun and the end result was a delicious pile of warm, chewy, buttery, salty bites of pretzely goodness!

Once the dough was made, Jewel scooped spoonfuls of the bites into boiling baking soda water.

Janell slathered melted butter on the bathed bites and Jessica sprinkled them with Kosher salt.

Then into the oven they went! When they came out we slathered on a little more melted butter for good measure and popped them into our waiting mouths- so delicious! They were the perfect snack to go with an afternoon of Downton Abbey and a hair curling party!!

*Note: we tried dipping our bites in melted Velveeta, but it didn't work so well, so please follow the link to "Smells Like Home" to find a recipe for a homemade cheese dipping sauce!

Soft Pretzel Bites
(printable version)
makes a lot!

1 1/2 cups warm water (110-115 degrees)
1 TB sugar
2 tsp Kosher salt
2 1/4 tsp instant yeast
approx. 4 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup butter, melted
10 cups water (plus more)
2/3 cup baking soda (plus more)
2 TB butter, melted
more salt (for sprinkling)

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix water, sugar, salt and yeast on low speed for 10 seconds. Switch to the dough hook and add the butter and flour. Mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, 4 to 5 minutes. If necessary to prevent sticking, add more flour 1 TB at a time. Remove the dough from the mixer bowl and transfer to a well-oiled bowl. Turn dough to coat. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and set in a warm place for 50-55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 425. Grease 2 large baking sheets or line with parchment paper. Set aside.
Bring the 10 cups of water and baking soda to a rolling boil in a wide saucepan.
In the meantime, turn the dough onto a lightly oiled surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a 24 in. rope. Slice each rope into 1 in. pieces. Place a slightly damp towel over pretzel pieces to prevent them from drying out while you cut the other pieces.
Using a slotted spoon, lower a handful of the pretzel pieces into the water and boil them for about 30 sec., flipping them around in the water with the spoon a couple of times. Remove the pieces from the water with the spoon and drain them on towels as best you can. Place them on the baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough, adding more water and a pinch or so more of baking soda as needed (some of the water will boil away as you work).
Brush the top of each pretzel with melted butter and sprinkle with salt. Bake until dark golden brown, approx. 10-12 min. Brush with remaining butter before serving. Serve warm.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Nutty Irishman Cookies

Cookies with cute names are just more fun, don't you think? I sure do! This little cookies not only lay claim to an adorable name- they pack a lot of flavor!

If you've ever had a "Nutty Irishman" coffee drink from your local coffee shop you know that it is the sweet combination of Irish Cream and Hazelnut (I'm familiar with the non-alcoholic version using flavored syrups, but apparently you can use real Irish Cream and hazelnut liqueur). Well, I've taken that idea, along with an inspiration from Hershey's Kitchens, and twisted it into a delicious cookie form!

The base cookie itself is a fudgy chocolate variation on a sugar cookie infused with coffee and Irish cream and hazelnut syrups. The frosting itself gets a boost from the Irish cream and then the cookies are finished off with a sprinkling of chopped nuts. The result is a decadent delight in which all the principal flavors shine through!

And here's an added bonus: if you don't have any Irish cream syrup on hand (which I didn't), I found a great DIY recipe that tastes fantastic! Plus, you'll have a lot left over to add to your coffee come Sunday morning!

So, Irish or not, add a little nuttiness to your life with these pretty, scrumptiously festive cookies!

Nutty Irishman Cookies
inspired by Hershey's Kitchens
makes about 40 cookies


3 3/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1 cup butter flavored Crisco (or margarine)
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 TB Irish cream flavored coffee syrup
1 TB hazelnut flavored coffee syrup
1 tsp instant coffee
1 tsp hot water

2 cups powdered sugar
3 TB butter, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 TB Irish cream flavored coffee syrup
1-2 TB milk

1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts)

Preheat oven to 400.
Dissolve instant coffee in hot water; set aside.
Sift flour, baking powder, salt, and cocoa powder together; set aside.
In a large bowl, cream together Crisco and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in vanilla, coffee syrups and dissolved coffee.
Gradually blend in the dry ingredients until fully absorbed.
Using cookie scoop or teaspoon, form 1 in. balls of dough and place about 2 in. apart on a cookie sheet. Flatten slightly with the bottom of a glass. Bake 6 min. Cool on sheet 2 min., then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make frosting: Combine all frosting ingredients and beat with electric mixer until smooth and spreadable, adding more milk if necessary to reach desired consistency.

When cookies are cooled (about 20 min.), frost and sprinkle with chopped nuts. Frosting will set up, then cookies can be stacked for storing.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Irish Soda Bread

Top o' the morning to you! Though I can really only lay claim to a wee drop of Irish blood on my mother's side, there's still a part of me that enjoys taking part in the St. Patty's Day celebration of all things Irish. I don't typically do much in the way of traditional Irish cooking, but I am intrigued by it.One recipe I knew I wanted to try was soda bread, which derives its name from the baking soda used as leavening.

I had never tried soda bread, but it is wonderful! A sturdy quick bread, slightly sweet with a hearty whole wheat flavor and studded with juicy raisins, it only took me a few minutes to pop it into the oven. I love the rustic looking craggy crust, the crunchy exterior and the soft and chewy inside. It is delicious warm with butter, and I'm sure it would be great toasted, cold, or as a fantastic accompaniment to some good ol' Irish stew!

Suggested Pairings:
Slow Cooker Sausage and Lentil Soup
Slow Cooker Chicken and Barley Soup
Crock-Pot Beefy Cabbage Soup
Hearty Beef and Cabbage Soup

Irish Soda Bread
makes one round loaf

2 cups white flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 TB sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
4 TB butter
1 cup raisins (or dried cranberries, golden raisins, currants, etc)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425. Lightly grease cast iron skillet or baking pan.
In a large bowl, mix flours, sugar, salt and baking soda. Cut in butter with a pastry cutter or criss-crossed knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in raisins.
Make a well in the center of flour mixture. Pour in egg and buttermilk and mix with a wooden spoon until dough becomes too stiff to mix.
Coat hands with flour and knead dough in bowl just until it forms a rough ball.
Transfer dough to pan or skillet and shape into a round loaf. Using a serrated knife, make a deep "X" in the top of the loaf.
Bake 35-40 min. or until loaf is deeply browned and bottom sounds hollow when tapped with a knife.
Serve bread warm, at room temp., or toasted with butter or cream cheese.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Muddy Buddies {Baking with Sisters, Part 4}

Some of you may remember a 3-part series I did last year called "Baking with Sisters"- well, I'm adding to it! It has become a tradition for my four sisters and I to have a get-together every year (I think this was our fourth year) and no sister time is complete without getting into the kitchen and trying out some new recipes.

In this instance, however, it isn't a new recipe, but rather an old one, and one you likely know well. We call it "Muddy Buddies" but some may know it as "Puppy Chow". This is the original Chex version that we grew up with and it is a classic that holds its own! How can you go wrong mixing creamy peanut butter, smooth chocolate, crunchy cereal and a dusting of powdered sugar? It's the ultimate sweet snack that's perfect paired with a chic flick or a Downton Abbey marathon!

Two of my sisters, of course, fought over who got to "shake the bag" (the fun part!!) so we divided it in half.

If you've never given this classic favorite a try, there's no time like the present to make some culinary memories with your kids (or sisters)! It comes together in a matter of minutes and will certainly satisfy your sweet-tooth snack craving!

Chex Muddy Buddies
makes a lot

9 cups Chex cereal (feel free to mix varieties)
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Measure cereal into a large bowl.
Combine chocolate chips, peanut butter and butter in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave 1 min. Stir. Microwave about 30 sec. longer or until smooth. Stir in vanilla.
Pour mixture over cereal and stir until evenly coated.
Pour into resealable 2 gal. plastic bag (or two 1 gal. bags). Pour in powdered sugar, seal bag, and shake until all pieces are coated. When cool, store in an airtight container.
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