Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

~If at first it's not tasty, try, try again.~
"I really want to love you, you adorable little baby cabbages!"  How many times does one try to love Brussels sprouts?  Usually once, I'm guessing, with the sprouts never to be tried again.  I remember my first attempt long ago at some random buffet.  Full of mush they were, and not the lovey-dovey kind.  Years passed, and I got the notion I could do a sprout some justice in my own kitchen.  A little salt, a little pepper, an adequate slathering of butter on those frozen-in-the-bag-then-cooked-up-real-good orbs.  Oh my!  They were not great:  still the same not-in-the-good-way mushy, but also bitter like a sprout scorned.  A saucepan full of little Maria Shriver, Sandra Bullock, and Jennifer Aniston sprouts, if you will.  My disdain lived on.

Fast forward to just a couple weeks ago when I met my friend, Amy, for drinks and appetizers.  As great conversation tends to do when chicks get together, the talk zigged and zagged all over the place.  It inevitably landed on Food:  gumbo, spatzle, arugula, kale, collard greens (yes, we ran the gamut on greens), holiday dinners, then - KAPOW! - Brussels sprouts.  Amy insisted fresh is the only way.  I had my doubts but was conflicted, because I trust Amy's judgement.  I resolved to give them the ol' Third Time's The Charm if the opportunity ever presented itself, but I most certainly would not go out of my way to make it so.  I mean c'mon... we're talking about Brussels sprouts here, folks.

Then Saturday happened.  Knowing the brand new Trader Joe's store opened just minutes from my house, and knowing full well how I avoid crowded stores like.. like Brussels sprouts, I cruised their website instead.  There on the home page were the most amazing-looking Brussels sprouts you can imagine. The most festive, delectable, gorgeous little gems ever!  I immediately posted the link to Amy's Facebook wall, then I charged full steam ahead to Trader Joe's.

Let's just pause here to give a big shout out to Atari games of the '80s!  Like riding a bike, you apparently don't lose those skills.  I was able to deftly maneuver my cart around more moving obstacles than the highest level of Frogger.  Maintaining my focus amongst the madness, I spied those sprouts.  I had never seen how they grow on the plant, and I eyed the stalks in amazement.  A stranger struck up a conversation.  After my sales pitch about the web site recipe, he grabbed a stalk and said I should work there.  I said, "Nah, I'm just a recipe hound," and walked away sproutless.  I wasn't ready.

Then Sunday happened.  Amy replied online that the recipe looked interesting, and she'd have to try it.  Welp, that sent me over the edge.  Trader Joe's IS only a few minutes away.  How bad can it be on Sunday?  UGH.  Frogger all over again!  This time I grabbed a hand basket (because if you're going anywhere torturous, there's got to be a hand basket, right?), made a beeline for those stalks, then the crans, then the syrup, then olive oil.  I had olive oil at home, but the little shelf tag said really fabulous things... sucker!

Then guess what happened.  I came home, roasted them up with minor adjustments to the online version, and we found a Keeper. As I told Dear Husband (aka HotDog) about this post, I recited the tagline:  "If at first it's not tast-EEE, try, try again," and he immediately followed it with, "and add syrup."

Roasted Brussels Sprouts slightly adapted from Trader Joe's
1 stalk (or two-ish pounds - just guessing here) fresh Brussels sprouts
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
3/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup dried cranberries

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
If you buy the sprouts on the stalk, eyeball it with the inside of your microwave and cut the stalk in two parts so you can make sure it fits for what I will call the pre-steam.  Leave the part with the most sprouts alone and cut the sprouts off the other part.  For harmonious veggie Zen, I also snipped off those crazy, porcupiney, leafless ribs with my poultry shears.
Put the loose sprouts in a bowl and rinse them very well.  Drain and cover the bowl with plastic wrap; microwave for 3-4 minutes.  Rinse the stalk really well, too, and wrap it in plastic wrap.  Microwave this for about 4-5 minutes.
Whisk together the olive oil, maple syrup, salt, and pepper.
Put all the sprouts on a baking pan and brush with the olive oil/syrup mixture.  Sprinkle with the dried cranberries.
Roast in the oven for a total of 45-50 minutes or until the sprouts are fork-tender and the outer leaves start to carmelize.  Be careful not to overcook, lest they lose flavor.  And in this case, losing flavor means love lost.  When mine had 15 minutes left, I stirred them around and brushed them again with the syrup mixture in the bottom of the pan.
My bread tray made an unconventional but perfect serving dish.


UPDATE:  These were SO good, I even had them for leftovers the next night.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011


~Procrastination, Relaxation, Socialization~
The big game plan was to clean the house before we left for vacation last Saturday.  Truly, in my mind, nothing is better than coming home from a relaxing week at the beach to a spic-and-span abode.  As we counted down the days, my mind simultaneously went into vacation and procrastination mode.  I did not clean Monday or Tuesday, and it seems I found another non-memorable reason for not cleaning on Wednesday.  I’m gonna guess I got distracted watching the Buccos game on TV, which I’m pretty sure I inherited this habit from my Gram.  On Thursday, we decided it would be much more fun to relax with a glass of wine.  “We’ll come home from work tomorrow (Friday) and give the house a concentrated effort,” we told ourselves.  We talked a good game, which was so convincing that we may have actually believed us.  Friday came, and the unanimous decision was made:  “We are on vacation NOW.  Heck with cleaning!  Let’s go to the mall and buy new shorts, eat ice cream.”  And so we did.

Vacation, of course, was wonderful.  We did all the usual things: went directly to Target to buy the 55-gallon drum of 187 SPF sunscreen that won’t fit in a quart-size ziploc baggie, had incredibly lazy mornings that would make any three-toed coffee-drinking sloth envious, spent endless hours communing with the rented beach chairs and umbrellas while we caught up on our reading, did our kibble-loving Beagle proud by shamelessly chowing down at all the fave restaurants (some of them twice), raced around the Gulf of Mexico on jet skis, scouted a glorious beachfront condo for next year, and incessantly daydreamed out loud about owning one for ourselves.  Routine…?  I guess so, but we like it!

Nutty as it was, I silently looked forward to the next weekend at home when I could get to that cleaning.  The day after our return, HotDog (The Husband) and D2 (his son) took an overnight trip to visit HotDog’s dad.  And there I was, home alone with the dust and paw prints.

Fast-forward to Sunday.  Laundry all done and a nice sparkling kitchen.  Mind you, I didn’t go all Pull-Everything-Out-of-the-Cupboards-and-Wipe-Down-Every-Shelf-Like-My-Mom-Does kind of cleaning crazy, but it was a very clean kitchen nonetheless.  And it sparked a need to bake.  Yes, I can bake something to take to the new neighbors and introduce ourselves!  Nothing but a Keeper would do, so I went straight for the Gobs recipe.

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup Crisco
2 eggs
1 cup sour whole milk
3/4 cup boiling water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup Crisco
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

The fastest way to reap the rewards of this recipe is to make part of the filling, then make the cookies, finish the filling, then assemble.  After years of making the cookies first and waiting impatiently for the first part of the filling to cool, I finally wised up!  Sometimes the idea light bulb takes its time illuminating.

Start by placing the flour in a medium saucepan. Over medium heat, slowly whisk in the milk.  I like to use my saucier because the rounded corners make for easy whisking.  Continue whisking until the flour mixture becomes thick.  Transfer it to a glass bowl and cover with plastic wrap so it doesn’t form a film.  Set aside and let cool.
Start the cookies by preheating your oven to 400 degrees F.  Cream together the sugar, Crisco, and eggs with the mixer on low speed.
Add the sour milk, boiling water, and vanilla.  The trick to make a cup of sour milk is this: place 1 Tablespoon of cider vinegar in a measuring cup, then fill with milk to make 1 cup.  Let it sit for a couple minutes so it curdles nicely, if that makes any sense.

Next mix your remaining dry ingredients in a separate bowl, then slowly add to the wet ingredients and let the mixer do its thing.
Drop by teaspoonful onto a greased cookie sheet.  I do a dozen cookies on a sheet, baking one sheet at a time for 10 minutes each.  As the cookies come out of the oven, transfer them to cooling racks or your countertop to cool.
When the cookies are done, go back to that filling.  Unless you have the luxury of owning two mixers, wash that mixing bowl of the cookie batter remnants and replace the batter blade with the whisk.  With the mixer on low, cream together the butter, Crisco, powdered sugar, salt, and vanilla.  Carefully remove the plastic wrap from the cooled flour/milk glob to avoid getting condensation in it; drain any excess water from around that pasty glob, and add it to the mixing bowl.  Beat on medium-high until fluffy (up to 10 minutes or so).  Refrigerate until it firms up.
Turn half the cookies over so they are ready to receive their dollop of filling.  Distribute spoonfuls of filling to half the cookies until each has its fair share.
Top with remaining cookie halves.

Place on baking sheets and refrigerate until the filling is firm.  Then place in sealable containers and keep refrigerated.  Keeping your Gobs refrigerated serves at least two purposes: it makes the buttercream filling taste better and it keeps it from all squishing out at first bite!

Gosh, I hope the neighbors love ‘em!


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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Pinkie Sours


~ None of the Calories… All of the Guilt ~
Let’s see… on what shall we blame my hiatus from Kimmers?  The post-Super Bowl doldrums?  Warm sun, spring rains, and the coinciding lure of gardening?  A preoccupation with landing and now working the new job?  An unshakable addiction to Burn Notice?  Allergies?  House projects?  Ringing phones?  Barking dogs?  Facebook?  <gasp!>  Not Facebook...!

The truth is that it’s all of these things and more all rolled up under the big heading we call Life.  And the truth is I have had an overwhelming sense of guilt, because I get these online reports that show folks are still visiting Kimmers in the Kitchen.  It’s a guilt worse than eating an entire row of Double Stufs.  I mean, worse than the look on Colby’s face after he stole (and wolfed down!) almost an entire pizza off the counter.   Worse, I say, WORSE than any mother can hand down to her child in one flippant comment.  The guilt was paralyzing.

I agonized over which recipe to post and accumulated a sizeable backlog in the process.  No recipe seemed suitable to accompany my return.  Summer, however, can cure a lot of what ails ya.  So with temps hitting 90 already, a summer tradition resurfaced.  That's when I had my recipe epiphany.

The heart and soul of said tradition is a Keeper that was borne of a Christmas gift that needed a purpose.  Several years ago, HotDog was generously given a very, very fine whiskey in a lovely purple velvet bag cinched with a silky gold cord.  You know the kind, don’t you now?  I KNOW you know.  As we are were not ones who have had an affinity for whiskey, this bottle sat in the cupboard for quite a long time.  Then summer came!  I had a craving and went to work concocting a whiskey sour that was worthy of the title Keeper.

We are now into our third summer enjoying this drink on our patio.  We’ve relaxed with them after challenging and stressful days at work.  We’ve clinked our double old-fashioneds and raised them in toasts with friends.  We’ve bragged shamelessly about having the best whiskey sour recipe ever.  We’ve even shared it with a few.  I figure it’s time to share it here, too.  We lovingly call them Pinkie Sours.  The recipe will tell you why.

Pinkie Sours

6 ounces of fresh-squeezed lemon juice (takes about 4-5 lemons)
6 Tablespoons sugar
15 ounces of water
9 ounces of top-shelf whiskey
maraschino cherries and juice

The first step is to make your homemade sours mix.  Do this by combining the lemon juice and water.  Add sugar and stir until completely dissolved.

Add that mighty fine whiskey to the sours mixture.

** Note:  Once HotDog and I finished that first gifted bottle, a well-intended acquaintance implored me to save some money and use a more economical brand of whiskey for future sours.  The reasoning was that any difference would be undetectable since it will be masked by the other ingredients.  I fell for the practicality.  Let me tell you, “IT IS NOT SO, FRIENDS!”  Learn from my error and get the really good stuff.  It makes all the difference.  Really.  Truly. **

Pour about 6 or 7 ounces into a double old fashioned glass.  You can add your preference of cubed or crushed ice at this point and be quite pleased with your creation.  However, if you want to send this drink over the moon and bestow upon it the title of Pinkie Sour, add a couple maraschino cherries and a splash or two (aka a generous teaspoon) of cherry juice.

Stir it up.  Drink it up.  Don’t drive.

Makes about 6 cocktails.


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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Filled Cupcakes

~ Black and Yellow, Black and Yellow ~
Through some unseemly behavior, all the fines, a kicker transplant, and a notoriously bad season of referee calls... our Steelers are in the Super Bowl tonight!  As a friend recently surmised, "Ben Roethlisberger is one win away from being a good person."  HotDog and I got a big chuckle out of that one!

To celebrate, I wanted to make a Black and Gold food.  This kinda stumped me, and then I had what I'll call a creative stroke of genius.  Here's the irresistible happy ending:

Filled Cupcakes
1 box chocolate cake mix and ingredients to prepare as directed
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips (~ 1 cup)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Prepare cake mix according to directions on the box.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the cream cheese, salt, sugar, and egg.  This is where the creativity went wild, and I added a few drops of yellow food coloring (Destination: Steeler Super Bowl Party).  I know.  Somebody stop me.
Stir in the chocolate chips.

Using cupcake liners in your muffin pan, drop 2 Tablespoons of the cake mix into each or until about 1/2 full.  Then drop 1 Tablespoon of the cream cheese mixture on top of each, making each almost 3/4 full.
Bake 25-30 minutes.

No frosting required!  The only things I would change are possibly doubling the cream cheese mixture next time and investing in enough cupcake liners so I can use all yellow ones.

Makes about 30 cupcakes.


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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Chicken Tortilla Soup

~ Feelin' Nervy: Playoff Style ~
Normally, I might blame all this nervous energy on too much coffee.  But I did not have too much coffee this morning.  It's the looming AFC Championship game later this evening, and my Steelers are playing for an all-expense paid trip to Dallas in two weeks.  I haven't been able to focus on a thing, despite waking with grandiose ideas of cleaning the entire house, painting the bedroom, and filing my entire never-ending pile of papers - all before the game.  The only thing I managed to do was compose this Steeler Haiku at 11:30am:

No concentration
Full of nervous energy
Too early for wine?

I posted these heartfelt thoughts on Facebook and rowed (a slower means of navigating than surfing) around the Internet for Steeler fight songs.  The rowing did not calm me, however, so I went for a run on the treadmill.  Forty-five minutes later, I emerged from the basement feeling better but the ants in my pants soon returned.  I ate a black and gold cupcake.

Snooping around the cupboards and in the refrigerator, I embarked on making soup with ingredients we already had.  (This is a novel idea in our house.)  I casually glanced around for non-staple items like enchilada sauce that would cause a last-minute trip to the grocery store.  Prep schmep - I dived in.  Half way into the soup, would you believe we were out of chicken broth?  I thought a new one just popped up in the cupboard when I took one out.  Huh.  Bless HotDog's little heart for running out in 15-degree weather.

For luck, we feasted on the soup before D2 went back to his mom's house.  I suspected the soup would be a Keeper since I adapted it from a slow-cooker recipe I've made in the past.  As I sat to begin this blog post, I could feel the nerves creeping back up.  I took a break to take a hot shower and pour that aforementioned glass of wine.  Now it's time to cuddle on the sofa with HotDog and the dogs (lovingly nicknamed the PuppaRooneys) and cheer with all my might for the Steelers to play as good as this soup!

Chicken Tortilla Soup
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped fine
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 fully-cooked rotisserie chicken
28-oz can of diced tomatoes
28-oz can of enchilada sauce
4-oz can of chopped green chilies
2 generous Tablespoons of tomato paste
1 Tablespoon dried cilantro
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne (ground red pepper)
2 Tablespoons cornmeal
2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups monterey jack cheese with jalapeno, shredded
1 avocado, diced

Remove meat from chicken and place in bowl.  Cut into fine pieces with kitchen shears.
In a large soup pot, saute onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat.  When onions are translucent, stir in tomatoes.  Before I added my diced tomatoes, I cut them into much smaller pieces with my kitchen shears. Then I had to snip at them some more after I added them to the pot. It seems the vegetable canning factory models their tomato dicing after the large dice you find in Vegas souvenier shops, instead of the small regulation-size dice they use on the craps tables.
Then add chicken, enchilada sauce, chilies, tomato paste, cilantro, cumin, cayenne, and cornmeal.   
Heat to a near boil and add chicken broth.  Then stir in the cheese until melted.  Right before serving, stir in the avocado unless you want to save it as garnish.  Ladle into bowls and top with tortilla strips or crumbled tortilla chips, some extra cheese and avocado.

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