Friday, November 30, 2012

Foodie Pen Pals: November

This month, I started participating in a fun exchange program called Foodie Pen Pals (run by Lindsay over at The Lean Green Bean)! My friend Kristina told me about it awhile back, and I finally got around to signing up. Receiving fun foodie surprises in the mail once a month? How did it take me this long to get in on this???

I came home a couple of weeks ago to a package on the front steps from a lovely lady named Kelli! I brought it in and opened it up...

A mystery package! (Project 365: 244/365)

... looked under the hood... 

Fun treats

Oooh! Look at all the fun and tasty treats!!!

Contents of my Foodie Penpal package - November

Kelli follows a Paleo lifestyle, so she shared some of her favorite treats with me. I had also told her that I enjoy trying regional specialties, so she sent a few Michigan-specific treats along as well!

The complete list: 
  • Homemade Paleo pumpkin spice muffins
  • Snack mix: walnuts, almonds, pecans and raisins 
  • Dark chocolate covered cherries
  • Vernors ginger soda
  • Kzoo Crunch: buttery caramel and cheddar cheese popcorn
  • Bodycology cherry blossom lotion
The Vernors ginger soda was opened immediately after the package was unpacked - both my husband and I had mildly upset stomachs, so it seemed like the thing to do! It didn't taste anything like typical ginger ales. The bottle said "barrel-aged" and I believe it - it had that same kind of vanilla-y, smooth undertone that a good barrel-aged bourbon has. It was tasty - very glad we had the opportunity to try it! 

I've never had a completely Paleo sweet treat before, and the pumpkin spice muffins were pretty darn good! Quite impressive, given the ingredient limitations. 

The nut and rasin mix has been great for grabbing little handfuls as a pick-me-up whenever I need a little snack. I *heart* nuts!

The dark chocolate cherries were DANGEROUSLY good - I had to put them out of the way to pace myself, otherwise I would have consumed all of them the first day. 

I haven't opened up the popcorn yet, but I love sweet and salty combos, so I'm really looking forward to it!

The lotion arrived at just the right time - my skin has been so parched, with the dropping temperatures and increased winds. And it smells great too!

I would call my first month of Foodie Pen Pals a complete success - thank you Kelli! :) 

The Lean Green Bean
Curious about Foodie Pen Pals? In a nutshell, there are monthly sign ups (so you're not locked in if life gets in the way in any particular month). On the 5th of every month, you're assigned a FPP, and you have until the 15th of that month to contact them, get their mailing address and food preferences, fill up a package, and send it their way! The spending limit is $15 before shipping, and the package must include something hand-written (a card, a recipe, etc.). If you're a blogger - on the last day of the month, you'll post a "reveal" (which you can add to the reveal round up on The Lean Green Bean - here's this month's!).

Due to Hurricane Sandy, next month's FPP is a little different than usual. Instead of getting matched up with someone to send a package to, Lindsay is encouraging everyone who signs up for FPP in December to donate the money you would have spend on filling and mailing a box of goodies ($15 - $25) to New York Cares. Go to her Foodie Pen Pals for Charity page for more details, and to sign up for your virtual commitment to donate between December 3rd and 7th!

The normal Foodie Pen Pals exchange will resume for January, with sign ups beginning December 18th. If you're interested in learning more, visit the Foodie Pen Pals page for all of the details!
Thursday, November 15, 2012

Baking: Turning Quick Bread Mix into Chewy Cookies

Baking experiment

As the holidays approach, all sorts of festively flavored quick bread mixes have started gracing the supermarket shelves. Pumpkin, gingerbread spice, cranberry-walnut, chocolate peppermint... the list goes on and on. The problem is, I don't want a loaf of bread, I want fresh-out-of-the-oven cookies. 

As I've mentioned before, baking is not this Slacker Gourmet's forte. I love some homemade sweet treats as much as the next person, but I have very little patience for measuring out and sifting dry ingredients. Boxed cookie mixes don't come in the most exciting flavors, however, all of the yummy seasonal varieties of quick breads sound like they'd make excellent cookies. But how can we convert the quick bread mix into a successful cookie recipe? 

I took a look at homemade quick bread recipes, and made a mental note of the proportions of the major dry ingredients (flour, leavener(s), salt, sugar*) for one loaf. Then I looked up a few recipes for chewy cookies (since that was the texture I was hoping for), and checked out the proportions of dry ingredients for those. 

It turned out that the dry ingredient ratios were very similar between the 2 different types of recipes (quick breads seem to have a little bit less sugar, though). The amount of dry ingredients called for in a quick bread recipe yielding one loaf was the same amount called for in cookie recipes that yielded approximately 2 dozen good-sized cookies. The question was, could I add the dry ingredients from the quick bread mix to the same amount of wet ingredients from the cookie recipe (in this case, 2 eggs and 2 sticks of butter), and get cookie dough?

Cookies are typically made by the creaming method, in which you cream (mix) together butter and sugar until it's light and fluffy, then slowly incorporate the eggs. Once the eggs are in the mix, the dry ingredients get added slowly, just until the dough comes together. However, the quick bread mix already had sugar in it, but since quick breads are not quite as sweet, I added a couple of tablespoons of sugar to the butter to help it get even lighter and fluffier. Is it necessary? I'm not 100% sure, but it didn't hurt matters here. 

Once the dough came together, it seemed like it was indeed a cookie dough - maybe a little softer than I'd thought it would be. Chilling in the fridge for an hour or two could improve the texture. I was impatient, though, so I forged ahead and dished out 1 1/2 tablespoon portions with my handy-dandy cookie scoop onto my prepared cookie sheets, slightly doubtful that this would actually work.

20 minutes later, after baking and cooling, I ended up with...

Experimental cookies (Project 365: 241/365)

It worked beautifully! Chewy, chocolate-y and minty, these were some darn tasty cookies! 3 days later, we're still eating them, and they're still chewy and delicious.

Experimental cookies

Chewy Cookies (made from a quick bread mix)
Approximate yield: 2 dozen 2 3/4 inch cookies

  • One box of quick bread mix (meant to yield one loaf)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened (cut up and microwaved on high for 20 seconds does the trick)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup nuts, chocolate chips, or other mix-ins (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Cream together butter and sugar in a stand mixer or with an electric hand mixer, until light and fluffy (about 2-3 minutes). Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each egg.

Slowly add the quick bread mix in batches, until the dough just comes together (scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary). If using mix-ins, gently stir them in after the dough is fully mixed.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls (although really, the cookie scoop will make your life easier) on the prepared cookie sheets, leaving a couple of inches in between each cookie.  Bake for approximately 10-12 minutes (begin checking them around 8 minutes). Remove from oven and let cool on cookie sheets for 10 minutes, then move them to wire racks to cool completely... or move them to your mouth. 

I'd originally planned to experiment with 2 different types of quick bread mix. Sadly, the bag of pumpkin mix met an untimely end on the kitchen floor, so that experiment will have to wait until I return to Trader Joe's. I have a good feeling about further experimentation, though!

*Yes, I know sugar is typically considered a wet ingredient in baking, but since it is already incorporated in the quick bread mix, I needed to consider it as a dry ingredient for this experiment. Back to where I left off...
Saturday, November 10, 2012

Leftovers: Easy Nachos

Hurricane nachos

I have a big problem with eating leftovers. If something was really delicious the first time around, I'll eat it a second time. No matter how yummy it was (again), by the 3rd time, I'm usually sick of it. Most of the time I'll try to only make enough for 2 rounds, but not all recipes scale down so well. Therefore, I need to find creative ways to reuse leftovers to avoid wasting food!

The Pumpkin, Turkey, White Beans, and Greens Chili from a couple of weeks ago was one such recipe. I made it on a Thursday, and we ate it for dinner Thursday and Friday nights. Then, Hurricane Sandy arrived with a bang the following Monday, and I figured, "well, the rest of the chili will make a decent meal if we lose power, since we can heat it up on the gas stove." Can't be too picky about leftovers when there's a natural disaster in progress!

By dinnertime, though, we still hadn't lost power (we were lucky and never lost it), and my excitement about chili for the 3rd time was waning. What I really wanted was appetizers - mozzarella sticks, potato skins, nachos - that sort of thing. Hey, wait a minute... nachos?

I looked around the kitchen. We still had shredded cheese and Greek yogurt. We were running low on the Tostitos Scoops, but we had some leftover homemade habenero-lime tortilla chips that friends had brought over for dinner the night before. I found a can of sliced olives in a cabinet. And of course, the leftover chili was waiting to be heated up. Operation Nachos was on!

Hurricane nachos

Easy Nachos
Servings vary depending on whether snack or dinner servings

  • Tortilla chips
  • Shredded cheese
  • Sour cream or Greek yogurt
  • Chili 
  • Other toppings (sliced olives, chopped onions, scallions, salsa, jalapenos, etc.) 
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil for easy cleanup. Spread the tortilla chips evenly across the pan and sprinkle liberally with shredded cheese. Bake for about 10 minutes or so, until the cheese is melted (the chips should smell toasty when they're ready to come out).

While nachos are baking, reheat your chili in the microwave or on the stove. When the chips come out of the oven, top with chili and your desired additional toppings. Dollop sour cream or Greek yogurt on top. Serve and enjoy!

Print this recipe!