Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Best of Both Worlds

Two of my favorite sweets are chocolate chip cookies and brownies. Well, imagine the raptures of bliss that waved over me when I stumbled upon a recipe over at eggs on sunday that combines them both into one delicious-looking double decker bar. Heaven.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Brownie Bars

While it has occurred to me before to combine a chocolate chip cookie bar with a brownie, I've never gotten around to trying it out, but the food porn photos on Amy's blog were just the push I needed. Drool.

The recipe is pretty straight forward - you start off with the brownie layer and spread that out into the pan. Next you mix up the chocolate chip cookie dough and gently spread that on top. I found that a little difficult to do because the cookie dough is a bit stiffer than the brownie dough, but I managed.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Brownie Bars
I actually baked these back in July so it's hard for me to remember all the details. That will teach me to get so behind on my blogging! These were quite good but I do remember being struck by a couple of things. In my opinion, the cookie layer - being the stiffer dough - should go in the pan first - it would make for easier spreading. However, as the cookie layer is thinner, for this recipe it makes more sense to put it on top. Which leads me to my next point. As much as I love chocolate, I found myself wanting to taste more of the cookie layer. The subtle but lovely butterscotchy flavors of the cookie dough were overshadowed by the intense chocolate flavor from the brownie. Not necessarily a bad thing, but then you probably might as well just make a plain old brownie. To fix this "problem", I would make the cookie dough thicker and make it the bottom layer, topping it off with a thinner brownie layer.

So, it sounds like I have some research to do! Sometime this winter I'll try out my own twist on this recipe and get back to you. I'm sure the family will absolutely HATE having to sample my experiments, but we all do what we have to do.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Fresh Corn

Enough with the tomatoes for a moment, let's talk about corn.

We have been getting some excellent local corn this summer from Tebbs Farms. The corn was so sweet, it was almost like candy! I don't remember it being this good last year. Either this year's crop actually IS better or we just did a better job of eating it the same day. I've read that if you let corn sit around, the sugars turn to starch and it's just not as good. Maybe that has made all the difference.

We've been mostly eating it straight off the cob since summer is pretty much the only time you can do that, but I could not resist taking some off the cob for this recipe that Bob on the CLBB recently, and kindly, shared with us. Corn, bacon and chipotle - what's not to like?

Spicy Fried Corn
Spicy Fried Corn with Bacon and Chipotle

It's a very simple dish to prepare and it's as good as it sounds. Although I have now come to appreciate cilantro, I still sub in parsley for my son, but I'll bet the cilantro makes this dish even better. Although great as is, a little voice in my head kept telling me that it would be really good with some onion too, so I'll add that next time.

Thanks to Tebbs, I have put some corn - off the cob - in the freezer for winter - 2 dozen ears worth. Next year I'll probably take it a little further and purchase their cheaper 5 dozen bag.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Random Notes

The boys are off at the high school football game tonight so it's just me and the dog. I had all kinds of plans to get a lot of things done today but I ended up in a bit of a mood and got very little done instead. Hmph.

What to do when you're in a bad mood? Bake cookies! I find that when I'm cranky, it's best to stick with something easy and/or tried and true so I chose the Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies that I've posted about before. Yum.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
Mood Boosters!

I did manage to chop up some tomatoes so that I can crank out some more tomato soup tomorrow. I've come up with a decent system for using up the abundance of tomatoes. Anything that is cracked or too soft gets tossed in the fridge right away. Normally refrigerating tomatoes is a big no-no but if they are going to be cooked down for a soup or a marinara sauce, texture is not going to be an issue anyway and refrigerating them helps to keep them from rotting too fast and keeps the fruit flies from swarming them. I then chop them when I get time - sometimes making the soup right after chopping or else storing them for a few days longer until I have time. It's nice to be able to take a leisurely approach to using them up.

My last random note for the night is about basil. During one of my turns at manning the concession stand, I was talking with the other mom on duty and we started talking about gardening and cooking. She mentioned that she grows basil. Well, at a soccer game the other night she called me over and handed me a clump of basil she had cut out of her garden. It is called Pesto Perpetuo Basil and she said she got it from Burpee (check the Burpee link for a more detailed photo). It didn't even look like basil! With the variegated leaves, it looked like a shrub!

Pesto Perpetuo Basil

When I got home, I looked it up and found some interesting info. Turns out this type of basil does not flower and therefore will not bolt like the popular and widely available sweet basil that I normally grow. That could certainly be a big plus - a basil plant that you don't have to fuss over! I plan to purchase two plants next spring and give this variety a try (along with 2 of the regular sweet basil).

I turned her thoughtful offering into pesto yesterday. I did notice that the leaves were perhaps a bit tougher - not tough, just not as delicate as regular sweet basil and so I had a harder time getting them to puree in the food processor. The taste also seemed a bit sharper or more intense than regular basil but it was hard to tell because I had to augment what she gave me with a bit of basil from the garden in order to get a decent-sized batch of pesto. The leaves on the Pesto basil are much smaller and so even though the bunch she gave me looked quite sizable, it didn't amount to much once I sent it through the food processor.

In any case, I'm intrigued to try growing the Pesto basil next year. It's actually pretty enough to grow as an accent plant anywhere in your yard!

I'd better head off to bed if I plan to get up early for football practice and the farmer's market tomorrow.........

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Tomatoes Continued.......

We've been on a quest since just before the 1st of September to keep on top of our tomatoes from the garden so we've been eating tomatoes in some form pretty much every single day, sometimes twice a day. So, my blog may be seeing red for a while longer. Here are two soups we've made with our tomato harvest - one cold and one hot.

I've already blogged about one tomato soup - it's a standby favorite, but I'm always up for trying something new. This soup, a Tyler Florence recipe, came to me via a recommendation on the CLBB. It was just enough different from the Jack Bishop recipe that I adore that I thought it was worth a try. I also like the way Tyler encourages the use of just about any kind of tomato.

Roasting tomatoes
The tomatoes, onion and garlic are ready to be roasted.

One thing I'd like to point out on this recipe is that it does not call for peeling the tomatoes. I tried it without peeling them and then I simply pureed the soup in a blender to see if I could get the skins to blend in. While the skins did blend in for the most part, there were enough left that I felt the need to strain the soup - something I am pretty loathe to do. I do not aspire to perfectly smooth soups - rustic is just fine with me - but I really don't care for things like tomato skins which tend to be hard to chew and are just generally not pleasing. Next time I would remove the skins before (or even after) roasting.

Roasted Tomato Soup
Roasted Tomato Soup

While the soup was very good, I still like the Jack Bishop recipe better. I wasn't thrilled with the addition of chicken stock - if I'm going to serve tomato soup, I'd prefer it to be vegetarian and there's just something not quite right about the thought of chicken flavor permeating a nice tomato soup - it's simply unnecessary. Of course it would be simple enough to sub in some vegetable stock, but I wanted to try the recipe as written to see if anything was gained by using chicken stock. I'll stick with Jack for now.

I've talked about this next recipe before. It's basically a run of the mill gazpacho but I like the added kick of a bit of hot sauce and sometimes even a dash of Worcestershire sauce. I think I made it for the wrong crowd though - I had to keep the onions and the peppers separate! Gazpacho is always a refreshing - and healthful - no-cook summer treat.


The forecast is calling for patch frost tonight so I am off to pick as many tomatoes as are ready and to cover the rest. It looks like only one night of frosty temps, so I'm going to try to help my garden limp a long a little while longer..........

Monday, September 15, 2008

Treats for the Concession Stand

In addition to providing taxi service for my sons' various sports and band activities, there is also the dreaded concession stand duty - taking orders, preparing food and manning the cash register. I joked that working retail on Black Friday was less hectic than the concession stand at the high school football games! Oh, it's not really SO bad, but there are other ways I'd rather spend my time. One thing I did not mind volunteering for though is baking for the concession stand - now that's right up my alley.

Triple Decker Krispie Treats

While trying to make up my mind about what to make, I came upon this recipe over at Cookie Madness. The recipe is for Triple Decker Rice Krispie treats. These thick, chewy bars take the traditional marshmallow treats and bump them up a few notches with a chocolate layer, a peanut butter layer and the more traditional plain old marshmallow layer.

It does take some time to put these together but it's not at all hard and it doesn't require any baking. I used the same bowl over and over again to melt the marshmallows in the microwave - just rinsing and drying between uses. As I pressed the second layer into the pan, I was quite sure that these were not going to fit but I pressed each layer down as firmly as possible and I managed to squeeze them all in.

While I loved the plain and peanut butter layers, I thought the chocolate layer had an off taste to it and I think it was the Coco Kripsies. If I made these again, I'd skip the Coco Krispies and use the chocolate chips with maybe a little cocoa powder or I'd just skip it altogether. Oooooh - I just had a rush of inspiration - how about some Nutella??? Now we're talking! Surely it's been done before...I'll have to search around.

Funky-tasting Coco Krispies aside, these are a fun and whimsical treat - great for wrapping up for a bake sale. Good thing I didn't keep any at home - I tend to not be able to keep my hands off of Krispie Treats..........

Thursday, September 11, 2008

It's not over 'til it's over. And an excellent dip recipe.

A few weeks ago I was cleaning up the garden a bit. I started by pulling up my very sad looking zucchini plant (no tears were shed when this stopped producing) and a few of the cucumber plants. I started to pull out the beans, but then I noticed a bit of new growth and a few new beans and decided to let them be. Since then I've gotten about 2-3 more meals worth of beans and there are still a few more coming in. Not much, but definitely worth keeping around a while longer. What a nice surprise.

green beans and basil

My basil flowered long ago (I thought it was done for and let it go) but I'm still pulling off a few tender leaves and it's still trying to put out a bit of new growth. Next year I'll try to be more vigilant about pinching back the flowers, even if it looks sad.

My pepper plants are looking quite pitiful but even they are still trying. One plant has a few blossoms on it and the other has a few small green peppers. I won't get much more out of them - I'm mostly just waiting to see if the peppers will get any bigger - but it's amazing to see them all fallen over and wasted-looking and yet still trying to produce. As you can see from the photo below, we did finally get a few red peppers. I have to admit that I had gotten tired of waiting for them to turn red and picked a few while they were still green, but even the green peppers tasted great - much tastier than the green peppers at the grocery store.


If nothing else, I've learned to be patient with gardening and just sit back and see what happens because apparently it ain't over 'til it's over!

But on to that dip.

Today I pulled up another 7 pounds of tomatoes so I'll be scrambling tonight to use up those that are overly ripe, cracked or otherwise not ready for prime time (ie. slicing and eating fresh) by making more soup. The cherry tomatoes in particular are quite prolific and here's a recipe we made with some of the first we picked back in early August.

Layered Greek Dip
This recipe was posted by The Recipe Girl over on Cooking Light. As soon as I saw it, I knew I would make it and I knew it would be good. It's a Greek twist on the ever popular Mexican layer dip. The bottom layer consists of an herbed cream cheese. On top of that, a layer of hummus. That's what really sold me - I love hummus. Those two creamy layers are topped with a mixture of chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, olives and feta cheese. The recipe calls for scallions but I was making this for a crowd that included an onion-hater so for added flavor and color interest, I added some chopped pepperoncini. Oh, and you may notice that my dip has no cucumbers. After hauling out 11 cucumbers in one day and giving away 9, I found myself with no garden cucumbers when it came time to make this dip. Feast or famine!

This dip was met with lots of oohs and aahs and was gone in minutes. A BIG hit. I can see this becoming my go-to dish for pot lucks and parties. It's easy to put together, delicious and something just a little different. A winner all around.

Before I sign off and head to bed, let me just share that tonight I used up a bunch of cherry tomatoes by making a chickpea and spinach curry that I posted here a while back. All I did was substitute cherry tomatoes for canned, let it simmer for a bit longer than the recipe calls for and it turned out great.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Now that's an ice cream sandwich!

Not an ice cream sandwich as in two thin, soft, chocolate wafers with ice cream in the middle, but ice cream sandwich as in two homemade cookies with ice cream in the middle. But what to call it? It's not really an ice cream sandwich in the classic sense, but Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich is kind of clunky and Cookiewich, well, that just makes me think of the not-so-great storebought variety.

Whatever you want to call them, this is one treat that I don't make nearly often enough. We love them and they are really quite easy - no harder than baking up a basic batch of cookies, really - but I still never think to make them. Fortunately I did think to make them a few weeks ago and boy were they delicious.

I started off with a chocolate cookie dough from Martha Stewart that I made a while back. I thought the cookies would be the right consistency for a ice cream sandwiches and I was not disappointed - they are sturdy, slightly soft with just the right touch of chewy. Though this cookie recipe calls for dried cherries, once again I made them with a combination of chocolate chips and peanut butter chips. One of these days I'll actually get around to the sounds delicious that way too!

Ice Cream Sandwich

Once you have the cookie batter made, you scoop it out by the scant 1/4 cup. The recipe actually calls for making the cookies this large, but I usually use my standard cookie scoop as I tend to like to make smaller cookies - better for snacking. Going by the 1/4 cup, there is just enough dough to make 24 largish cookies or 12 ice cream sandwiches. I baked them for about 12 minutes at 325ยบ.

Once the cookies were baked, I allowed them to cool completely and then I froze them overnight. Freezing the cookies first makes them sturdier for assembling the sandwiches. Once the cookies were frozen, it was just a matter of scooping out some ice cream, placing it on one cookie, placing another cookie on top and pressing gently but firmly. I've done a better job at getting the ice cream to come a bit more evenly to the sides of the cookie for a nicer presentation but one, I was in a rush as these were a surprise for DH and I didn't have much time and, two, I didn't really care all that much. So there. I chose a simple vanilla ice cream in this case, but be creative and choose whatever you like - even better, make your own!

It does pay to keep things moving - the ice cream tends to soften up pretty quickly. As each sandwich was assembled, I quickly wrapped it in plastic wrap and put it in the freezer before moving on to the next one. Allow the cookies to freeze for several hours or overnight before serving. The cookies taste better and are easier to eat if they sit out a few minutes before eating them.

Hopefully I'll remember how easy these are to make and make them more often. I think it would be fun to make them with regular-sized cookies - these larger cookies make for quite a large ice cream sandwich and I had a hard time finishing a whole one - a smaller one would still be a nice treat without feeling like you were over indulging.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Finally! Tomatoes!

So instead of commenting on how long it's been since I last posted and how I hope to get back to it soon, blah, blah, blah, I'm just going to post like I've been doing it regularly, okay?


Good news from the garden! After all the angst and drama, we're finally getting tomatoes!

First there was the heartbreak about the tomatoes contracting some sort of fungus. But I removed the diseased leaves and hoped for the best. Then the blossoms were dropping without setting fruit. Too hot and dry too fast? I'm not sure.

After that, the plants got quite large and things started looking up again. After that they finally started to set some fruit but then all of them proceeded to fall over on top of each other and sprawl out all over the ground. Not pretty, but they were basically intact, so I just let them be.

Then the green fruit just sat and sat and sat, showing no signs whatsoever of ripening. It was a bit maddening. I then began to worry that we'd start getting chilly fall air blowing in and be stuck with tons of green tomatoes sitting on the vines. Fried green tomatoes are quite tasty, but I wasn't much interested in eating pounds and pounds of them, especially thinking about all of that unrealized potential.

If the weather was not our tomato-ripening friend during other parts of this summer, it definitely came through for us the past week or two - it's been dry and in the high 80s. While it certainly didn't feel like we were nearing the end of summer, it sure was terrific for spurring along those reluctant tomatoes. So, finally, after much eager and not-so-optimistic anticipation, against all odds, we have started getting tomatoes. Tomatoes generally start coming in in late July or early August, but this year I didn't see much red until closer to the first of September.

From the garden this past Friday (9/5):
peppers, green beans, basil and tomatoes.

After talking to other gardeners in the area, it seems that we were not the only ones to experience a late tomato harvest. This leads me to think that it was not anything we did or our location, it was just the weather, the luck of the draw. Thinking back to July, we did have a number of unusually cool, foggy, cloudy mornings where we didn't see the sun until mid to late morning. I have a feeling these cool wet mornings are at least partly to blame. That and the late frost around Memorial Day seem to have made for slow going for tomatoes this year. But that's just a beginner's theory.

Even with all the problems, I would consider it a pretty successful tomato season. The tomato plants still look like they are going quite strong - normally by now my tomato plants look quite pathetic - all yellow, brown and shriveled. While some of the plants look like they are finally starting to wither a bit, many of them are STILL putting out new growth. Quite amazing, really - I think the lasagna method of gardening really agreed with them. Had a few other things gone our way, I think we'd be drowning in a sea of red by now.

As it is, we have dispatched upwards of about 20 pounds of tomatoes with probably close to 10 still sitting on my windowsill/countertops and hopefully more waiting to be plucked from the garden. Temps are supposed to be in the 70s this week with some 40s at night, so the late season ripening will likely slow down quite a bit. Even so, I plan to leave them on the vine until the first threat of frost. Only THEN will I be ready to think about fried green tomatoes.

We were getting a bit tired of cucumbers and zucchini and green beans and were definitely ready for a different color! Now it's all about red. We've been eating tomatoes for lunch and/or dinner every day. But whereas I found it hard to find clever ways to use up our plethora of cucumbers, I have no problem finding ways to use up tomatoes. So far we've made a tart, a pasta dish, a couple of salads, salsa and two tomato soups.

Tomato-Basil Soup
This first recipe I'm going to share is an old favorite that I've not made in a while. I've posted it here before, but apparently didn't have much to say (and no photo either). It's a nice, basic tomato soup with the added flavor dimension and splash of color from fresh basil. Adding a bit of creaminess as well as a nice calcium boost is a bit of milk and reduced-fat cream cheese. I made a double batch to put away in the freezer for later this fall/winter when tomato soup and grilled cheese becomes a favorite weeknight staple around here.

I won't pretend to make promises about when I'll be back to post more, but hopefully it won't be too long...........I've got quite a backlog of recipes to share..............