Hoisin Meatballs

I don’t know what it is about them as a dish that prompts this response, but I’ve just always thought of meatballs as a celebration/special occasion food. They’re like the little black dress of party foods; they go with everything. It’s never a bad time to bring them out.

Cocktail hour at a wedding? You serve meatballs.

Graduation open house? You serve meatballs.

Wedding or baby shower? You serve meatballs.

Summer barbecue for a crowd? You serve meatballs.

Typically the above scenarios will have precooked frozen meatballs in order to serve them en masse, which is perfectly fine. But I tend to prefer to make my own from scratch. I’ve shared several recipes before on the blog with different variations of meatballs. The possibilities are pretty wide for what you can come up with.

One of the more underrated ingredients that I keep in my pantry/fridge is hoisin sauce. If I had to describe the taste, I’d say it’s like…an Asian ketchup. A lot of times it’s used for stir-fries, but I actually use it for non-Asian dishes as well.

Here’s a pro-tip for you: a tablespoon or two of hoisin sauce in your beef stew broth will give it INCREDIBLE richness of flavor. I keep it on hand for that reason alone.

This recipe is pretty straight forward and easy, and the real only ‘labor’ involved in it is rolling meatballs, which I personally find somewhat therapeutic once I get into a groove. I tend to bake mine to give them a more even cook all the way around, and it’s also healthier than frying. I use ground turkey as a base, but I do add a little bit of ground pork roll sausage just to make sure they don’t dry out, as turkey can sometimes do.

The meatballs are wonderful all by themselves, but the hoisin sauce is the hero of this dish, no question. Hoisin all on it Its own is pretty thick and strong, so this one gets thinned out with some orange juice and chicken broth, then flavored with fresh ginger and sesame oil. I

Whatever the occasion you’re cooking for, I recommend trying these. They’re delicious.

Hoisin Meatballs

Recipe Adapted from Food Network Magazine and Cooks Illustrated

For Meatballs

  • 3 lbs ground turkey
  • 1 lb. ground sausage
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced ginger root
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic clove
  • 3 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 6 sliced scallions
  • 1 1/2-2 cups panko breadcrumbs*
  • 4 eggs

For Sauce:

  • 3 teaspoons vegetable/canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 3/4 cup hoisin sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups orange juice
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 3 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 3 scallions, white and green parts sliced 1/8 inch thick on bias
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Sesame seeds, optional

Directions

For Meatballs

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two sheet pans with aluminum foil and place two wire racks on top of each pan. Lightly spray the rack with cooking spray and set aside

In a large bowl, combine the ground turkey and sausage with the ginger, garlic, sugar, pepper, and scallions.

Add the soy sauce, then the eggs. Pour in 1 1/2 cups of the panko breadcrumbs and mix together with your hand; don’t knead it too much though, or the meatballs may be tough. If the mixture seems too wet, you can always add the extra 1/2 cup more of the panko breadcrumbs to tighten it up.

Shape into meatballs (about 2 heaping tablespoons each. Place 1 1/2 inches apart on a lightly greased (with cooking spray) rack in an aluminum foil-lined jelly-roll pan.  Bake 15 to 20 minutes on the middle rack, or until browned.

For Sauce

Melt about 3 teaspoons of vegetable oil in a medium sized saucepan and heat until shimmering. Add the grated ginger and cook, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 15 seconds.

Add the hoisin sauce, orange juice, and broth and bring to a simmer, scraping the bottom of the saucepan with a wooden spoon to loosen any browned bits. Simmer until liquid reduces and thickens to desired consistency.

Stir in the sesame oil and the scallions. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve the sauce over the meatballs and sprinkle with sesame seeds if desired.

Linking to Fiesta Friday #384.

Strawberry – Raspberry Lemonade Cookie Bars

Have you ever eaten something that was so delicious, you almost didn’t have the right words to describe it?

It’s not frequent that this happens to me, but when it does….you can pretty much guarantee that I’m going to share it here.

As this week, and some of the coming weeks’ recipes will indicate, fruit-y bars have become a real favorite of mine lately. There are so many different flavor combinations and possibilities you can try out, and I haven’t had a failed experiment yet–especially not today.

You guys. These, are, SOOOOOO GOOD.

It combines two of my favorite sweet treats (a sugar cookie and strawberry lemonade) into one dessert that was just made for summer baking.

One of the best things that I appreciate most about this recipe is the ratio of the fruit to the cookie. As much as I like fruit bar recipes, a lot of times, the proportion of fruit to crust is often unbalanced, with the cookie taking up most of the ‘space’ just to ensure the curd has a sturdy foundation. Not so here; the strawberry lemonade curd is the shining star of this dessert and it is FABULOUS. The flavors are so bright, sweet and yet tart that is really does taste like strawberry lemonade that’s been thickened into a smooth, slightly textured curd.

Please make these. They really are one of the best desserts I’ve ever had or made.

*************************************

Strawberry-Raspberry Lemonade Cookie Bars

Recipe Adapted from The Improv Kitchen

Ingredients

For Crust

  • 18 Tablespoons (2 sticks and 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup white granulated sugar
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt

For Filling

  • 12 oz (2 heaping cups) frozen raspberries, thawed and drained
  • 12 oz (2 heaping cups) frozen strawberries, thawed and drained
  • 1 1/2 cups white granulated sugar
  • 1 1/3 cups lemon juice
  • 4 tablespoons lemon zest (6 lemons worth)
  • 6 egg whites
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/3 cup all purpose flour

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahreneit. Line a 13 x 9 square baking dish with parchment paper, spray with cooking spray and set aside.

For the Crust: In a medium size bowl, cream the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.

Add in vanilla. Add flour until just incorporated. If it is still too dry/crumbly to hold together, you can add 1 teaspoon of water at a time just until it is moist enough to form one dough ball.

Dump dough into baking pan and press with your hands until it evenly covers the bottom of the dish. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes until slightly golden brown. Allow to cool for about 10-15 minutes. 

For the filling: If you prefer for your bars to be seedless, you can press the raspberries through a sieve, or give them a blitz in the blender first. (I don’t mind seeds, so I skipped this step.)

In a medium bowl, combine the thawed and drained fruit, the sugar, egg whites, eggs, lemon juice and zest, flour, and salt to the bowl and stir with a wire whisk or a fork to combine.

Pour the mixture onto the crust (don’t worry, it’s supposed to be a very loose mixture, it will thicken) and bake for 45-50 minutes. (A pretty good way to tell if its done is if it’s firm towards the outside, but still has a tiny bit of ‘wobble’ in the middle)

Let the bars cool to room temperature and then place in the refrigerator overnight to set up fully. (You can place them in the freezer for a few hours to expedite this process, but overnight is better if you’ve got the time.)

Cut into squares and serve.

Linking up to Fiesta Friday #382.

Browned Butter Cornbread

I’m not (nor will I likely ever be) a vegetarian, but if the time ever did come to where I was making that lifestyle choice, there are a few foods/dishes that would make that transition much easier for me to adjust to.

Greens and cornbread are one of them.

Greens and cornbread are a classic Southern staple in the US; a cornerstone of the cuisine that is aptly titled Soul Food. Although they’ve always been served as a side dish at the dinners I grew up on and the ones that I make, they’re delicious enough to me to where I really would be content to do without the meat altogether and just eat a big bowl of greens (collards, cabbage or turnip, I don’t care) and cornbread all to myself. There’s just something so comforting about a pan of warm, golden-crusted cornbread that I will never get enough of.

My go-to cornbread is my grandmother’s recipe, but recently I decided to give it a little bit of a twist with another ingredient that it just seems like I can never get enough of: browned butter. I’ve already got quite the collection of browned butter recipes going on the blog and I’m really pleased to announce that it’s now time for yet another one.

There’s really nothing in this world that browned butter cannot improve, cornbread included. My only concern going into this little experiment was that the nutty, caramel-y flavor of the browned butter would make it too sweet for me, as I tend to prefer saltier cornbread. But it really didn’t. The browned butter does give the cornbread a different buttery richness, but it’s not particularly sweet.

What it IS however, is delicious.

It’s kind of impossible to mess up a straightforward cornbread recipe like this one, so I hope that you’ll give this one a go.

*******************************************

Browned Butter Cornbread

Recipe Adapted from Southern Living

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (8 tablespoons)
  • 2 cups plain yellow cornmeal
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups whole buttermilk
  • 2 tbsp. liquid bacon grease/drippings
  • 2 large eggs

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a 9 inch cake pan (or square pan) with cooking spray and set aside.

Melt the butter over medium heat in a 2 quart saucepan. Let it cook and watch it closely until 3-5 minutes until the butter begins to foam, forms a golden brown color and browned bits form on the bottom. (It will have a sweet, nutty smell). Immediately remove it from the heat. 

In a medium bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.

In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk, eggs, and the melted browned butter. Make a well in center of cornmeal mixture, and add buttermilk mixture, stirring until just combined.

Pour batter into cake pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and toothpick inserted in the center of the pan comes out clean.

Let cool slightly; cut cornbread into slices, and serve warm.

 Sharing this post at Fiesta Friday #381, cohosted this week by Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook.

Rock Cakes

If you’ve been following the blog for a while, then you’ll know that biscuits and scones are some of my favorite things to bake. However, if you’ve paid attention to my personal techniques for making both of them, you’ll also know that it’s a process. Not a difficult one, but one that does involve a little more time, effort and tools than some may be able to spend.

No judgment; sometimes I’m the “some” that I’m talking about.

There’s nothing wrong with taking short cuts in the kitchen so long as the finished product still tastes good. Even though it’s still my preference to go with my tried and true way of doing things, there are times during the week when I don’t have time to ‘go the longer way’ in making biscuits or scones, and I too choose to ‘take a shortcut.’

The quickest shortcut for making biscuits that will still turn out tasting great are Drop Biscuits, where you make a biscuit dough, but rather than going to the trouble of rolling out the dough, you just scoop it out and plop it onto a pan and bake it off. The result is a biscuit that has a craggy outer texture, but (so long as you haven’t overworked the dough) is still tender on the inside. The scone counterpart to a Drop Biscuit, is the Rock Cake.

Don’t be thrown off by the name. Rock Cakes are far from the tough hockey pucks you may be imagining they taste like. In my opinion, the name likely comes from their appearance. Because the dough hasn’t been rolled, smoothed out, or given time to rest, it bakes with an uneven and craggy exterior. But that exterior is where the rough inconsistency ends.

If you break open a rock cake, you’ll find that the texture is much closer to a traditionally made scone than you might expect. It was close enough to where I was genuinely surprised at the result. They’re not as fluffy or light as normal scones, but they are tender enough to where you’re not disappointed that you took the shortcut in the first place to make them.

I had just bought a muffin top pan that I wanted to try out, and this seemed like the perfect recipe to break it in. I had really great results with it, but if you don’t have one that’s no problem. The cakes will probably just spread a little more on a regular sheet pan–and as a remedy to that, you can always place the batter/dough in the fridge for about 30 minutes to make a bit more stiff before baking.

These are really great smeared with butter and jam alongside a cup of your favorite morning beverage– or just by themselves at any time of day.

************************************

Rock Cakes

Recipe Adapted from BBC Food

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (225 grams) self-raising flour
  • 1/3 cup (75 grams) white sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon (about 125 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut in to cubes*
  • 1 cup (150 grams) dried fruit (I used Trader Joe’s Orange Dried Cranberries)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon milk or heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. spray the cavities of a muffin top pan (Mine makes 12 at a time) with cooking spray, or line a sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside.

Combine the flour, sugar and baking powder in a bowl and cut in the cubed butter until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. (You can cut the butter into the dry ingredients using a fork, a pastry blender, or as I always prefer, grate the butter in with a box grater). Mix in the dried fruit.

In a small clean bowl, beat the egg and milk or heavy cream together with the vanilla extract.

Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients and stir with a spoon until the mixture just comes together as a thick, lumpy dough. Add a teaspoon more milk/heavy cream if you need it to make the mixture stick together.

Place heaping tablespoons of the mixture onto the prepared baking tray. If you’re not using a muffin top pan, leave space between them as they will flatten and spread out to double their size during baking.* (As a way to lessen the spread, you can always place the dough in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes before baking to make it ‘stiffer’)

Sprinkle the tops with white sugar.

Bake for 15–20 minutes, until golden-brown. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes, then turn them out onto a wire rack to cool.

Linking to Fiesta Friday #380, cohosted by Liz @ Spades, Spatulas & Spoons.

Pecan Toffee Snickerdoodles

Hey y’all. It’s been two weeks since my last post rather than the typical one. It wasn’t intentional, I’m just super preoccupied with the goings-on of RL and apart of RL for me right now is getting ready to finish out one stage of my life and transition into a completely different one. I’m a bit on the frazzled side most of the time, but in a good way. Just send me lots and lots of good vibes over the next few weeks.

I’m pretty picky when it comes to my preferences for cookies. It’s a texture thing for me. I do prefer to make them for myself at home just because my texture preferences for cookies are very particular, and I know that I have a better chance at getting the texture that I want in the cookie if I do it myself.

Snickerdoodles are one of those cookies where the texture is key and for that reason, if I want one, I’m more than likely just going to bake it rather than buy. I’d had my eye on this recipe to try out for a while and it really only needed sone modifications in the technique to get it to where it needed to be.

Most snickerdoodles are just flavored with cinnamon, but these have added flavor and texture with the addition of both toasted pecans and chopped Heath chocolate bars. I do recommend giving them the overnight chill in the fridge. There are very few cookie recipes where I don’t do this, as I find that chilled dough just results in a better textured cookie that won’t spread like a pancake when you bake it.

This is truly a next level snickerdoodle. The combination of cinnamon, chocolate and pecans just really works and I’m not sure if I’m ever going to be go back to making them the plain way every again.

Wear a mask. Social distance. If you haven’t already, get the vaccine when you can. Be kind.

**********************************

Pecan-Toffee Snickerdoodles

Recipe Adapted from Food Network Kitchen

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt 
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature  
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar 
  • 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar 
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extraxt
  • Five 1.4-ounce chocolate toffee bars, chopped 
  • 3/4 cup toasted pecans, finely chopped

Directions

Whisk together the flour, cinnamon, salt and baking soda in a medium bowl.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, or using a handheld one, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until just combined.

With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the dry ingredients. Beat on low until just combined. Add the chopped chocolate toffee bars and pecans and stir to combine.

Use a 1/3 cup measuring cup or a cookie scoop to scoop leveled mounds of cookie dough. Roll each mound into a ball. Transfer cookie dough balls to a plastic container (place a layer of wax paper, foil or parchment paper in between the top and bottom layer of dough balls so they don’t stick together). Cover the plastic container and refrigerate overnight.

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 375 degrees F. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Arrange the cookie dough balls evenly spaced out on the baking sheets. Use the heel of your hands to gently press them down about 1 1/2-2 inches.

Bake the cookies on the middle rack of the oven for about 10-12 minutes, until the edges are rippled and golden brown and the center is soft. Lift the baking sheet up a few inches, then let it tap down once against the flat surface of a countertop.

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat baking process with the remaining baking sheets.

Also linking this up to Fiesta Friday #379.

Raspberry Hamantaschen

This post is late. In more ways than one.

I typically try to have my weekly blog post up by Saturday, but I was up against a deadline for work and had to push the blog post back a day. Then, this particular post is one I intended to have up several months ago, when it would have made more sense and aligned more with its cultural significance.

But in any case, here we are.

I’m not Jewish, but I was raised in a Christian church where we read from the Book of Esther at least once a year. Long story short, Esther was an ancient Hebrew queen who married a Persian King called Xerxes. The villain in the Book of Esther is one of the King’s advisors, a man named Haman who conspires to kill all of the Hebrew people in Persia without realizing that the Queen herself is Jewish.

In the end, Esther and her cousin Mordecai manage to outsmart Haman and save the Jewish people of Persia from extermination, which from what I understand, is what the Jewish celebration of Purim commemorates. At Purim, Hamantaschen cookies get made. For what ever reason, the cookies are named after Haman, with their triangular shape signifying the shape of his hat.

(At least, that’s my understanding of it, but anyone can feel free to correct any part of the above that’s not accurate if you celebrate Purim.)

Anyway, Purim 2021 was several months ago, but I’ve been intending to try to make Hamantaschen for several years now. I had some raspberry preserves on hand and the process seemed relatively easy, so I decided to give it a try.

Don’t be intimidated by all the steps. The directions are thorough but that’s just to make the process as clear and easy to follow as possible, and if you’d like visuals, just check out the link to the blog I adapted the recipe from.

These were delicious. As you can see, they bake up very pretty and although there was a little bit of seepage of the raspberry preserves, it wasn’t anything that ruined the look or the taste.

Wear a mask. Social distance. Get the vaccine if you can. Be kind.

*************************************

Raspberry Hamantaschen

Recipe Adapted from Tori Avey

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into chunks
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp grated orange zest
  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1-5 tsp water (if needed)
  • 1 10 oz jar of raspberry preserves (I liked mine with the seeds, but you can go with seedless if you prefer)

Directions

Sift flour together in a small bowl with the salt. Stir with a fork and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a medium sized mixing bowl until light and fluffy.

Add the egg, orange zest and the vanilla, beating together just until combined.

Add the flour in two batches, mixing just until combined. Begin to knead dough with hands till a smooth dough ball forms. Try not to overwork the dough, only knead till the dough is the right consistency. If the dough is still too dry to hold together, add a few teaspoons of the water at a time, just until it comes together.

Form the dough into a flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator to chill for 3 hours to overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly flour a smooth, clean surface. Have the raspberry preserves and 1 teaspoon scoop ready.

Unwrap the dough disk and place it on the floured surface. The dough will be very firm after chilling.

Divide the dough into quarters. Roll one quarter at a time out to 1/4 inch thick. At the beginning, it will be tough to roll out– you may need to pound it a bit. A heavy rolling pin works best. As you roll, cracks may form on the edges of the dough. Repair any large cracks with your fingers and continue rolling.

When the dough reaches 1/4 inch thickness, scrape the dough up with a pastry scraper, lightly reflour the surface, and flip the dough over. Continue rolling the dough out very thin (less than 1/8 of an inch thick). The thinner you roll the dough, the more delicate and crisp the cookies will turn out– just make sure that the dough is still thick enough to hold the filling and its shape! If you prefer a thicker, more doughy texture to your cookies (less delicate), keep the dough closer to 1/4 inch thick. Lightly flour the rolling pin occasionally to prevent sticking.

Use a 3-inch cookie cutter (not smaller) or the 3-inch rim of a glass to cut circles out of the dough, cutting as many as you can from the dough.Gather the scraps and roll them out again. Cut circles. Repeat process again if needed until you’ve cut as many circles as you can from the dough. 

Place a teaspoon of the preserves into the center of each circle. Do not use more than a teaspoon of preserves, or you run the risk of your hamantaschen opening and the preserves spilling out during baking. Cover unused circles with a lightly damp towel to prevent them from drying out while you are filling.

Assemble the hamantaschen in three steps. First, grasp the left side of the circle and fold it towards the center to make a flap that covers the left third of the circle.Grasp the right side of the circle and fold it towards the center, overlapping the upper part of the left side flap to create a triangular tip at the top of the circle. A small triangle of filling should still be visible in the center.

Grasp the bottom part of the circle and fold it upward to create a third flap and complete the triangle. When you fold this flap up, be sure to tuck the left side of this new flap underneath the left side of the triangle, while letting the right side of this new flap overlap the right side of the triangle. This way, each side of your triangle has a corner that folds over and a corner that folds under– it creates a “pinwheel” effect.

Pinch each corner of the triangle gently but firmly to secure the shape. If any cracks have formed at the places where the dough is creased, use the warmth of your fingers to smooth them out.Repeat this process for the remaining circles.

When all of your hamantaschen have been filled, place them on a parchment lined baking sheet, evenly spaced.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10-25 minutes, until the cookies are cooked through and lightly golden. Start checking them at 10 minutes; because the dough thickness tends to vary on these cookies they can cook quite fast if rolled thin. In most ovens it will take around 15-20 minutes, but best to keep a close watch over them as they cook to avoid overcooking or burning.

Cool the cookies on a wire rack. Store them in a tightly sealed plastic bag or Tupperware.

Linking to Fiesta Friday #377, cohosted this week by Liz @ Spades, Spatulas & Spoons.

Browned Butter Chicken Salad

I can just hear what some of you may be thinking:

Good grief, she’s at it agaiiiiiin!

Yeah. I know. More browned butter. I still just can’t quit using it.

But in my defense, today I finally found a way to put it to a rather healthy use.

I mean, as healthy as things can be considering the fact that we’re talking about butter here.

But in all seriousness, I am still excited about this recipe; first because it’s not only another tasty use of one of my favorite ingredients, but also because it’s a savory application of it, which I’ve mentioned before was something that I’ve really really wanted to experiment with.

About once every month or so, my taste buds experience a strange phase where they don’t want anything that’s ‘cooked.’ I mean, nothing. The only foods that I’ll be in the mood for during those particular phases is cold cut sandwiches and salads.

Weird, I know.

But when those times come around, I do honor my cravings and stick to the cold cuts and salads for dinner for several days. This past time, I decided to deviate from my norm of turkey sandwiches and/or using shredded rotisserie chicken that I just chop up and toss in salad, try to test out a recipe I’d had my eye on for several months or so.

Vinaigrettes are my favorite, and actually the only type of dressing that I’ll eat. They have that perfect balance of acidity, sweetness and savory that amplifies the flavors of salad veggies without making them ‘eat heavy’ if you know what I mean. The ingredients for today’s recipe are inspired by a similar chicken salad dish I did a few years ago where I made a roasted garlic vinaigrette to dress the salad in. The primary difference between then and now is that rather than roasted garlic, browned butter is now the star of this show.

You may be skeptical of this at first, especially because I’ve only ever shared browned butter as an ingredient for desserts. But let me tell you, this really works. Browned butter has a golden, nutty flavor to it and I was surprised at just how well that nuttiness played against the sharp acidity of the vinegar and lemon juice in the salad dressing.

This was light, refreshing and delicious. I recommend eating it as a sandwich on a sturdy, crusty bun…like these from last week.

Wear a mask. Social distance. Get the vaccine when it’s your turn. Be kind.

**************************************

Browned Butter Chicken Salad

Dressing Recipe Adapted from MyRecipes.com

Ingredients

For Dressing

  • ½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
  • 1 sprig of sage (about 4 leaves), finely chopped
  • ½ shallot, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (about 1/2 a lemon)

For Salad

  • 2 rotisserie chickens, deboned (It should yield about 4-5 cups of shredded, and/or chopped chicken)
  • 1 red onion
  • .75 oz (21 grams) fresh mint, chopped
  • 2 oz fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 4 roasted red peppers, chopped

Directions

For Dressing: Melt the butter over medium heat in a 2 quart saucepan. Let it cook and watch it closely until 3-5 minutes until the butter begins to foam, forms a golden brown color and browned bits form on the bottom. (It will have a sweet, nutty smell).

The moment you see the right color, remove the pan from heat and add your chopped sage and shallot. Sizzle and swirl in the hot pan for about a minute, then transfer to a heatproof bowl.  Add salt, pepper, red wine vinegar, balsamic and lemon juice, and whisk together until vinaigrette looks glossy and smooth. Taste and add salt to your preferences, then allow to cool.

Meanwhile, combine the chicken, onion, red peppers, onion, mint and parsley together in a large bowl. Slowly drizzle in about half of the dressing and stir thoroughly to combine. Taste it—if it’s to your satisfaction, you can leave off the rest of the dressing and save it for later, or you can add and stir it into the rest of the salad mixture.

Cover the chicken salad and refrigerate for at least a few hours, but preferably overnight to allow flavors to meld.

Serve salad on crusty, sturdy sandwich rolls, like these 🙂

Linking to Fiesta Friday #376, co-hosted this week by Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook.

Challah Sandwich Buns

I don’t really buy store-bought sandwich buns anymore.

In the first place, if you’re looking at the popular batch-bake hamburger buns from the popular name brands, you’ll notice that the bread itself is oftentimes soft, without much or any sturdiness to it. This may be fine for others, but I personally hate it when the moisture from my proteins seeps down into the bun and makes it soggy, making the whole thing not only hard to handle, but also less than pleasant to eat.

My preference for sandwiches are enriched bread doughs; the ones made with a sturdy, somewhat dense crumb that have a crusty exterior. They’re perfect for holding up to moisture and holding plenty of fixing. Plus, rather than just being the vessel for the filling, they can often be just as delicious all on their own.

A standard bread dough needs nothing more than flour, yeast, salt and water. Enriched bread doughs add things like eggs, butter and milk to ‘enrich’ the dough, often giving it more body, flavor and texture. Challah has become my go-to enriched bread to make. It has a relatively easy process in comparison to other enriched doughs, and the ingredients are often always on hand in my house. While it’s often shaped into loaves, as an enriched dough with a sturdy, somewhat dense crumb, I also figured that it would work well as a sandwich bun.

I’ve had the same go-to Challah recipe for several years now, so when it came time for me to put these together, I didn’t bother sampling out a new one. The only changes that I made to the recipe was in the actual shaping. I divided the dough up into individual sandwich buns, keeping things simple when it came to both the flavors and the appearance.

I have to say, these are everything I want in a sandwich bun. Challah has a sturdy, somewhat dense crumb structure to it that is perfect for absorbing moisture from sandwich proteins and condiments, but still holding together perfectly; even more so when you toast it, as is my standard practice. The egg wash on the top gives it that much more body. Plus, as a I said, it’s a pretty delicious bread in and of itself, so I find myself appreciating both the inside and the outside of the sandwich rather than just looking at the bread as the vessel for the filling.

Wear a mask. Socially distance. Get the vaccine when it’s your turn. Be kind.

Challah Sandwich Buns

Recipe Adapted from Allrecipes.com

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 8 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • Coarse salt, for sprinkling

Directions

In a large bowl, sprinkle yeast over barely warm water. Sprinkle the tablespoon of white sugar over that. Allow to sit for 10 minutes, until frothy.

Beat in honey, oil, 2 eggs, and salt. Add the flour one cup at a time, beating after each addition, graduating to kneading with hands as dough thickens. (You may not need all of it, this depends on location and time of year) Knead until smooth and elastic and no longer sticky, adding flour as needed.

Place dough inside a large and greased mixing bowl. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap, then a damp clean cloth and let rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 hours or until dough has doubled in bulk.


Punch down the risen dough and turn out onto floured board or a pastry mat. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap and allow to sit for 5 minutes.

Roll/stretch out dough to a square that is about 1 1/2 inch thick. Use a cookie cutter, a glass cup or a small bowl with a sharpish edge that is about 3 inches wide in diameter to cut out circles of buns from the dough and place them on two sheet pans you’ve lined with parchment paper. Repeat until you’ve used it all up. (The scraps can be rerolled and/or shaped into extras)

Cover the buns with plastic wrap and a damp cloth and allow to rise until puffy and grown in size, about 30-45 minutes.


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).


Beat the remaining egg and brush a generous amount over each bun. Sprinkle the tops with coarse sea salt, if desired. Using a very sharp knife dipped in water, quickly make diagonal slashes into the tops of the buns, to make an X shape.


Bake for about 20-30 minutes. After the first ten minutes, Keep an eye out on the tops to make sure they aren’t browning too quickly; cover with a sheet of foil if so.

Challah is done at an inner temp of 195 degrees fahrenheit. Bread should have a nice hollow sound when thumped on the bottom. Cool the buns on a wire rack for at least one hour.

Sharing at Fiesta Friday #375

How To Make: Biscuits

So, right off rip, I’m letting you guys know there’s no new recipes being posted today.

Instead, I’m going try something a little bit different. A few weeks back, I made a remark about my propensity for posting biscuit recipes on the blog, and that one of these days I really should get around to making a “How to” themed post solely dedicated to my personal process of making biscuits.

Consider this One of These Days.

Biscuits are a recipe that around roughly 7-8 years ago, I had little to no idea what I was doing with. All I knew was that they were one of my favorite foods, and I wanted to learn how to bake them and bake them well.

7-8 years later, and while I’m no master baker, what I can say in all honesty is that biscuits are something I’m extremely good at making. I’ve been to a lot of restaurants and tried a lot of other biscuits made by other people; I prefer my own, 100% of the time. This came about through a LOT of research, recipe reading/comparisons, and even more trial & error. It’s taken me a while but I do finally feel as though I’ve worked out a personal, tried-and true technique for biscuit-making, and I thought that I would the opportunity to share it here with all of you.

Essential Ingredients:

  1. Flour: You can’t make biscuits without flour, and the best tasting biscuits do largely depend upon the flour being used. The better the flour, the better the biscuit. I have had the best results in texture when using 2 flours in particular: King Arthur Unbleached All-purpose Flour and White Lily All-Purpose Flour. White Lily All Purpose Flour is only available in certain parts of the USA, and so I typically default to the King Arthur and don’t really notice a difference between the two. But a perfect substitute for either one of those is to either use is self-rising flour (flour with baking powder already pre-sifted in it) or cake flour (flour that’s been sifted repeatedly and mixed with a bit of cornstarch). Now, in full transparency, in time when I don’t feel like paying for I also make biscuits that taste delicious using generic, non-name brand flour as well.
  2. Baking powder: This one is important. Look at the bottom of the tin and make sure that the baking powder you’re using is still fresh. The biscuits won’t rise and they’ll have a metallic aftertaste if your BP is stale.
  3. Butter: Another essential that makes all the difference in the final product. I tend to stick to unsalted just because I like to control the salt level in my foods. When it comes to butter, the better quality you can use, the richer the biscuits will taste. Again, in full transparency I’ve made a lot of delicious biscuits with generic brand butter but if you can afford it, Land O’Lakes is a good middle ground. The European butters (like Kerrygold) are the highest quality and also on the pricier side, but ohhh the things they do to your baked goods. Finally, this is critical: FREEZE THE BUTTER. I’m talking, it should be rock solid. The colder the butter is, the more flaky and rich the biscuit will taste. I flat out will not even make biscuits anymore if the butter is not frozen, and I don’t recommend that you do either. Trust me: it makes all the difference.
  4. Milk: I highly recommend always using buttermilk for biscuits, but in a pinch, I’ve used regular milk with decent results too. As a pro-tip, you can always ‘make’ your own buttermilk by adding 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to 1 cup of regular milk and allowing it to sit for 30 minutes, until the top looks curdled.

Optional Ingredients

  1. Sour Cream: I put this in the optional category, but to be honest lately it’s become more and more of an essential to me. Adding 1 cup of sour cream to my doughs took my biscuits (that were already pretty delicious) and elevated them to a place of perfection I didn’t even think they were capable of being at. They come out SO tender and melt-in-your-mouth on the inside.
  2. Spices/Herbs: A little extra flavor never hurt anything, and depending on the dish I’m making, I will typically always add about 1 teaspoon of black pepper and/or some herb to the dough. Biscuit dough is a very flexible blank canvas in terms of seasoning, so don’t be afraid to add your favorites to it.

Must Have Tools:

  1. Box Grater: Listen. This little contraption was a game changer for my biscuits. Cutting frozen butter is difficult, even more so if you’re trying to get it into evenly sized pieces. The large holes on the box grater take care of alllll that for you; the butter ends up looking like tiny wood shavings, and disperses perfectly even throughout the dough,
  2. Bench Scraper: A crucial process of making biscuits my way is cutting and layering the dough so that the biscuits rise high and flakey. Theoretically speaking, you could use a knife to do this, but most butter knives aren’t sharp, and using a butcher knife to cut biscuit dough just isn’t very practical to me. The bench scraper is sharp enough so that you’re not scraping a dull blade against the dough (which can deflate the biscuits), and it’s also not going to be as awkward and dangerous as using a sharp kitchen knife. You can make sharp, clean and straight cuts across the dough that make for quick, even and easy layering.
  3. Rolling Pin (Preferably a handle-less wooden French dowel style): Speaking of layering…unless you’re making drop biscuits, I just don’t see how you get around the fact that you need a rolling pin; one that you’re comfortable using. I hate rolling pins with handles on them. For whatever reason, I have a better grip without the handles, so a French wooden dowel is ideal for me.

Optional Tools

  1. Pastry Mat: If you make biscuits, cookies, pie crust or bread on a regular basis, I would say that a pastry mat is a necessary tool. But even if you don’t, they’re still pretty handy to have around just to keep your kitchen countertop from getting messy, which biscuit making can sometimes be.
  2. Square Cookie Cutter: If you’ve been following for a while, you’ve probably noticed that the majority of my biscuits are square rather than round. I do this on purpose, as I’ve found that square cookie cutters provide an overall cleaner cut, and don’t compress the dough down as much during cutting (which can hinder the final rise). Plus, square shaped biscuits are easier to make breakfast sandwiches out of, which I do pretty often.

Essential Techniques

  1. Freezing the Butter: I said it before and I’m saying it again: if you want the flakiest, best textured biscuits, freezing the butter is a MUST. To give you an idea of how serious, I will admit that I have gone to make biscuits, discovered I didn’t have any frozen butter on hand, and abandoned the entire mission, It’s that serious.
  2. Layering: The flakiness in biscuits comes from layering and re-layering the dough. This can be a tricky process, as biscuit dough cannot be kneaded the same way yeast bread doughs are, or the biscuits will be tough and dense. You have to work as quickly as possible, letting your hands touch the dough as little as possible. This is where the bench scraper comes in such handy. It helps you slide and move the dough around without touching it, then cut it into even rectangles that will layer together easily, and also keep the dough from sticking to the mat. I do the layering process about 5-6 times, just until I can see the frozen butter specks ’embedded’ in the dough and the dough edges look like a cohesive kind of ‘sponge.’
  3. Overnight Rest: This was something I just started doing a couple of years ago. Biscuit dough doesn’t respond well to kneading, but you have to work it to some extent just to get the layering in. After I’ve completed my layering process, I wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it have an overnight rest in the fridge. This allows the gluten in the dough to relax so that the resulting crumb won’t be close = dense. It’s another step that will give you a more tender biscuit.
  4. Trimming the edges: Basically, this means that I take the one big rectangle mass of dough, and cut off about 1/2 inch from all of the edges. The biscuits rise higher when I do. I don’t have a scientific reason for why this works so well; it just does. I don’t throw away the edges though; I gently press them into a mass on their own, and get a ‘scrap’ biscuit out of them.
  5. Pan of Water: Fill a shallow pan of water and place it in the bottom of the oven. This creates extra steam in the oven, which helps the biscuits rise higher. It also gives them a golden brown crust on the outside.
  6. Close placement: Once I cut the biscuits out, I place them very close together on the sheet pan; nearly touching. I’ve found that this creates steam pockets in between the biscuits.Once the steam gets into the dough, it forces the dough to push upwards so that the moisture can escape. This = higher biscuits.

Alright, y’all. That’s about all I’ve got. If there are any more questions about my process, the tools, the tips, or biscuits, feel free to drop me a line in the comment section. For now, I’m gonna go ahead and also include the links to all of the biscuit recipes here on the blog, for which I’ve used all of the above tools/techniques/ingredients to make. Happy Biscuit Baking!

Baking Powder Biscuits

Banana Bread Biscuits

Black Pepper Biscuits

Browned Butter Vanilla Biscuits

Cornmeal Biscuits and Honey Butter

Cornmeal Sage Biscuits

Sour Cream Biscuits

My Grandma’s Angel Biscuits

Mile High Biscuits

Sweet Potato Biscuits

Linking to Fiesta Friday #374.

Cappuccino M&M Cookie Bars

When it comes to candy, I really only still rock with chocolate. Snicker bars are the perfect candy bar. Peanut M&Ms also remain a favorite of mine.

About two years ago, I discovered a flavor of Peanut M&Ms called Coffee Nut. If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you know that coffee and I are bound at the hip. I love to drink with it, and I’ve also loved finding ways to incorporate it into my cooking and baking.

But y’all, let me tell you: Coffee Nut M&Ms are unparalleled when it comes to coffee flavored anything, let alone coffee flavored candy. They are SOOOOO good.

And apparently I’m not the only one that feels that way, because whether I’m on the West or East coast, Coffee Nut M&Ms are always a hot commodity in grocery stores. It’s a toss up whether or not they have any in stock, and if they do, I always buy 2-3 bags just to stock up in case there aren’t any later. While they’re perfectly delicious on they’re own, the baker in me is always thinking about a way to repurpose my favorite ingredients into a recipe, and this was no exception.

Cookie bars are an easy and pretty foolproof way of baking cookies when you don’t have the time or energy to let the dough chill or roll out individual portions. They taste the same, they just have a tendency to be a bit more chewy and fudgy in texture–which I prefer with my cookies anyway.

When it came to these, I adapted a chocolate chip cookie bar recipe and made some modifications; first, I obviously swapped out the chocolate chips for the Coffee Peanut M&Ms, and then I added some instant espresso powder to the dough. After they were finished, I topped them off with a cappuccino flavored glaze.

If you’re a coffee lover, these are a must try.

*******************************************

Cappuccino M&M Bars

Recipe Adapted from Food Network Magazine

Ingredients

For Cookie Bars

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed (light or dark, doesn’t matter)
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 Cup Coffee Nut Peanut M&Ms

For Glaze

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1-2 tablespoons hot cappuccino
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with foil or parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on two sides; coat the foil or parchment paper with cooking spray.

Beat the 2 sticks softened butter, 1 cup each granulated and light brown sugar and espresso powder with a mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy.

Add the 3 eggs, one at a time and the vanilla. Reduce the speed to low. Add 3 cups flour and 3/4 teaspoon each baking soda and salt; beat until combined. Stir in the M&Ms.

 Spread the cookie dough in the prepared pan or press in using damp or oiled fingers. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes.

Allow to cool completely. To make the glaze, combine all of the ingredients together in a small bowl until it has reached desired consistency. Use a fork to drizzle over the cooled bars.  Allow glaze to set, then cut into squares.

Fiesta Friday #373, co-hosted this week by Diann @ Of Goats & Greens.