Honey Cornbread Crackers

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Sometimes in life, the timing is just off. Sometimes in the kitchen, the timing is just off.  If I had to give this post a theme, I think it would be timing. Timing that was…off.  Why?

Well, you guys remember when I first started making and sharing recipes for DIY crackers, right? I began with the Curry and Ginger crackers, kept it going with the Pumpkin Cinnamon and a little while after that did Cinnamon Sugar ones. For a while, I went on a cracker making spree. It was a tasty little expedition.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that this post has just been sitting in my drafts folder since mid-January. I had actually tested out one additional recipe with all of the other ones, but I never got around to posting it. I really don’t have a good excuse; it always just seemed like the timing to post it was off. I would have another recipe that I thought needed to come first, then it seemed like it was the wrong season/time of year, at one point I hated the pictures, then I didn’t hate the pictures anymore but I still thought the timing was off, then I hated the pictures again, then I didn’t think anyone would care to read about yet ANOTHER cracker recipe. Yada yada yada.

Excuses. Y’all get it.

Today is a rare day where I DO think the timing/time of year for this recipe is right, I don’t hate the pictures, and I do think this recipe should generate some interest. So while that perfect harmony still exists, I’m finally booting this post out of my drafts folder and onto the blog for all to see. My fourth cracker recipe, though probably not the last. It’s eight months late, but eh… better late than never.

What do you guys like to eat alongside your chili? For most people, it’s a hunk of cornbread. For others, maybe it’s crackers; y’know, those oyster shaped ones that come in the sealed packages. I’m good with both, although I’m a bit more partial to the cornbread. Fortunately with this recipe, you really wouldn’t need to pick as it’s a combination of the two.

A while ago Townhouse had a line of crackers that they put on what they called a ‘Bistro’ line. They came in flavors of Multi-grain and Cornbread. The multi-grain was tasty but the Cornbread ones? Guys. They were SOOOO good. I could go through an embarrassing amount of them in one sitting, so perhaps it was for the best that they were discontinued, but I still feel a way about it. Although now, I don’t suppose it matters because I’m pleased to announce that these really do taste almost identical.

The texture of these is different and, I think, better than a standard oyster/saltine cracker. They’re a bit thicker. The cornmeal gives them a gritty, sturdy coarser texture. The honey makes them slightly sweet. I really do have to say, they taste like cornbread would if it were put into a crisp cracker. They were yummy enough for me to just eat them completely solo as snacks, but I can think of several other uses for them.

Cheese lovers should know that these are perfect for eating with cheese. They would be delicious crumbled or dipped into guacamole or bean dip. Tomato soup would complement them very nicely. And  yes, of COURSE, you should eat them alongside or dipped in your chili.

Aren’t y’all glad I decided to finally share? Be easy.

Sharing at this week’s Fiesta Friday #191, co-hosted this week by Judi @ cookingwithauntjuju.com and Antonia @ Zoale.com.

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Honey Cornbread Crackers

Recipe Adapted from Bob’s Red Mill Baking Book

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Ingredients

  • 6 oz all-purpose flour (a little over 1 cup)
  • 4 oz yellow cornmeal (about 1 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dry powdered milk
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 tablespoons cold butter (cut into 8 pieces)
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 1/3 cup whole milk

 

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a medium size bowl combine the flour, cornmeal, sugr, dry milk, kosher salt, baking powder, and baking soda until well blended.

Cut the butter into the dry mixture with a pastry blender, a fork or two knives. The mixture should look like fine crumbs.

In a small bowl combine the honey with the milk, then pour this mixture into the butter/dry ingredients. Stir until you have a smooth dough that doesn’t stick to the bowl. (Drizzle in additional milk if too dry/crumbly).

Divide the dough in half. Sprinkle some flour on a clean, flat surface. Using a well floured rolling pin, Roll out the dough half to about 1/16th inch. From here, cut the dough into whatever desired shapes you want using cookie cutters, pizza wheel, bench scraper or a knife.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the cut cracker dough onto the sheets and freeze for about 20 minutes.

Using a fork, prick the surface of the cracker dough evenly. Spray the tops with cooking spray, then sprinkle with salt.

Bake for 12-16 minutes until golden brown at the edges. Allow to cool for about 60 seconds on the baking sheet before removing to wire racks to cool completely.

Browned Butter Spice Cake

So…Amazon.

Amazon is a bookmarked tab on my web browser. I have the mobile app. I look on the website at least once a day. I can admit it: I’m slightly addicted. This addiction may be made even worse by the Wishlist feature. I feel like the Amazon Wishlist is a like the grown-up version of a kid’s Christmas List for Santa Claus.

The downside to that comparison is that when you’re an adult you’re (presumably) not going to believe in a rotund, elderly magical elf who visits your house on the night of December 24th to give you presents. You know that he doesn’t exist and that unless your loved ones decide to be gracious, you’re gonna have to shell out the money to buy yourself the things you want.

I don’t know about you guys but with the number of items that are currently saved on my wishlist (also taking into consideration the condition of moi’s funds), let’s just say that ‘WISH’ is the operative word of the term. Most of the time my visits to Amazon are spent browsing or just looking at all the items on my wishlist for the umpteenth time, as if by some miracle the necessary funds will appear in my bank account to afford them all.

It still hasn’t happened yet.

But occasionally, at times when it isn’t Christmas or your birthday where you may be gifted with something you want from someone else, you just want to play Santa and spoil yourself with a gift that you really want. I don’t do this often, but if I’m feeling like ‘loving on myself’ and the timing and price is right (meaning low enough) on a particular item on the Wish List…I’ll spoil myself.

That’s kinda what happened here.

When we moved out here to the West coast, I had to leave behind all of the lovely bundt pans in my mom’s collection that I would borrow to bake in.  That was harder than I thought it would be. I had two loaf pans and three round cake pans of my own to bring with me, but I still found myself missing baking with the bundt pans. They help cakes to bake so much more evenly, and some of the more intricate ones give them such a pretty shape when they come out.  I have several saved to my Amazon Wishlist. When I got a notification that two of them had their prices lowered, it so happened to come on a day when I felt like ‘spoiling myself’ so I went ahead and got them. One was a simple round bundt pan, the other had the beautiful swirled fan design that you see in this cake.

This cake. Let’s talk about that now.

I’ve already let you guys in on the best kept secret of browned butter in chocolate chip cookies and banana bread. Now you get to find out how awesome it can be in cake. As I’ve said before, browned butter has a very rich, nutty and toasted smell/flavor that comes through in whatever you put it in. That toasty caramelized flavor gets combined with a combination of warm spices that complement the approach of autumn: cinnamon, coriander, cloves, nutmeg. All that good stuff.

All of THAT good stuff combines together to form the VERY good stuff that is this cake. If your eyes aren’t doing enough of a job to convince you, get them checked. This cake is every bit as delicious as it looks. It’s moist. It’s sweet. It’s slightly spicy. It came from a bundt pan that was worth every penny. However, if you don’t have the one I do, don’t let that dissuade you from making this: any standard 10 cup cake pan will do, OR two loaf pans with the batter divided between them. Try this. Kinda not asking or suggesting.

Linking this up to Fiesta Friday #190, co-hosted  this week by Shinta @ Caramel Tinted Life and Diann @ Of Goats and Greens.

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Browned Butter Spice Cake

Recipe Adapted from Lauren Chattman

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Ingredients

For Cake

  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 (2 sticks) cup unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 3/4 cup cake flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/3 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup whole milk

For Glaze

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1-3 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • Pinch of salt

 

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease or spray with cooking spray, a 10-cup Bundt or tube pan (you can also use two loaf pans). Sprinkle with flour & tap out excess. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the cinnamon, coriander, cloves and nutmeg. Set aside 1/2 teaspoon of this mixture for the glaze.

Heat the 1 cup of butter in a saucepan over medium heat, about 5-7 minutes, or until the milk solids on the bottom are dark brown and the mixture smells nutty& caramelized. Stir the rest of the spice mixture into the butter and let cook for about 10 more seconds. Immediately pour into a shallow dish and place in the freezer. Leave in there until the mixture is firm, like the texture of regular butter, about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

When the browned butter has become firm enough, place it in bowl of a standing mixer or a large bowl. Add the light brown sugar, then use the paddle attachment (or a handheld mixer) to beat at medium speed until creamed, light & fluffy. At medium low speed, add the eggs and egg yolks (one at a time EACH and beating well after each addition). Use a spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl down regularly to make sure the ingredients are well combined. Beat in the vanilla extract.

Alternate between adding the flour mixture & the whole milk to the batter, starting and ending with the flour mixture. After last addition, turn up to medium speed and beat for about 30 final seconds. Spread the batter in the pan, using the spatula to smooth the top out. Lift the pan up and tap it onto the countertop 2-3 times to prevent air bubbles while baking. Place the pan on a sheet pan and bake for 45-50 minutes, until golden brown, toothpick inserted in center comes out clean & inner temp reaches 195-200 degrees Fahrenheit. Cool in the pan for 20 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

For Glaze: heat 1/4 cup butter in small saucepan over medium heat until milk solids on the bottom are dark brown and the mixture smells nutty& caramelized. Remove from heat & slight cool. Use a fork or a whisk to mix in the powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon of milk, lemon juice, salt and reserved 1/2 teaspoon of spice mixture. Adjust the thickness and thinness of glaze to your desired consistency. Use the tines of a fork to drizzle over the cake. Allow to set for about 40 minutes before serving.

Corn and Scallion Tart

In our house, brinner is something we’ve made a part of our weekly routine. I’m sure most of you are familiar with it, but for those that aren’t, “brinner” is a meal where food that is normally eaten at breakfast time is eaten instead at dinner time. I don’t know why or how, but breakfast food just tastes better to me later in the day. Not only that, regardless of what you want, just about everything is extremely easy and quick to put together. If you haven’t ever tried it before, I really do think you should.

Sausage, bacon and eggs are always on our brinner menu, with some kind of carb to eat with them. The carb varies. Sometimes we just have toast from store bought bread. Sometimes I’ll make a batch of biscuits. Sometimes I make a loaf of bread. We might grab some bagels from Panera. My favorite will always be my one true love (pancakes).

And other times, I like to try something a little bit…different.

Today’s recipe was something different not just for our brinner menu but for my baking repertoire in general, so I thought it would be nice to share with you guys.

I don’t make a lot of tarts. Not really sure why. I love tarts of just about any kind. I bought two tart pans–one circle and one rectangle. I have no excuse to not make them. And still, I just…don’t.

Except for now. I made one. It turned out pretty good.

One of the plus sides of the summer winding down (outside of cooler temperatures) is that fresh corn becomes in season in grocery stores and farmer’s markets. And yes. You can taste the different between corn from a cob and corn from a can. If there isn’t any fresh in your area, I’d try to shoot for frozen corn instead. Now to get into the tart itself.

I’ve told you guys several times before that I love to find ways to sneak cornmeal into anything. There’s 1/4 cup of it in the crust, which gives it a grainy, but pleasant contrast of texture. I added a half teaspoon of black pepper as well to give it an extra bite. The filling is very much like a quiche. Corn and scallions make up most of the solids, while eggs and milk make up the custard that bakes up very fluffy and light on the inside. The fresh taste of of the vegetables and the seasoning inside make this a side dish that I was very satisfied with. It’s filling and still somehow manages to taste light.

Corn and Scallion Tart3

This made an excellent addition to our brinner, but I think it would be a great dish to make for breakfast or lunch as well. On its own I think it’s a side dish but if you wanted to mix in a bit of protein like sausage or bacon to make it a main dish I think it would be great as well.

Linking this up to Fiesta Friday #189. Everyone have a great weekend.

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Corn and Scallion Tart

Recipe Adapted from Bon Appetit

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Ingredients

For Crust

  • 1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 3/4 teaspoon seasoned salt (Like Lawry’s)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, preferably frozen or very cold

For Filling

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 2 cups fresh corn (cut from cob or frozen and thawed)
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups diced scallions
  • 1 heaping teaspoon onion powder
  • Seasoned salt and pepper
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 cup milk

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a 9 inch springform pan with cooking spray and set aside.

For Crust: combine all the dry ingredients together in a bowl with a fork. Either use a box grate to grate frozen butter directly into dry ingredients, or cut butter into very small cubes and toss/press into the dry ingredients with a fork until mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Drizzle in enough ice water and stir together until dough just holds together. Shape into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour or up to overnight.

Using a rolling pin, flour a surface like a pastry mat cutting board, or wax paper, then roll the dough out to an 11 inch round. Transfer the round to the springform pan and press the dough into the bottom and sides. Place in the fridge while you prepare the filling.

Melt the butter in a skillet, then add the corn and shallot. Saute until the corn has just started to brown and the shallot is translucent, about 7-10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook a minute more before removing from the heat. Stir in the scallions, then set aside. In a small bowl combine the eggs, milk, seasoned salt and pepper and onion powder.

Spread the veggies into the tart shell and use a spatula to press down evenly. Pour the milk mixture over the veggies. Fold the edges of the dough down over the filling, letting some overlap. Place springform pan on a sheet pan, then bake tart in the oven until filling is set and crust is golden brown 60-70 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for about 10-15 minutes before unmolding and serving.

Cinnamon Crumb Coffee Cake

First, let me just wish prayers, well wishes and safety to everyone in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, the Caribbean and everywhere else that are being affected by these terrible hurricanes.

Second, today’s post is about doing things that I haven’t done for a while.

I haven’t traveled very far for a long time. The last time I was on a plane was when we made the cross-country move to California, almost exactly a year ago. Since then I’ve pretty much stayed on the west side. But that’s about to change.

By the time you guys read this post, I’ll have already hopped a Red Eye flight and arrived back in the Mitten for a visit, for the first time in a full year.

Apart from the fact that I cannot believe a full year has passed so quickly since the move, it’s going to be good to get back in my hometown to see my family again. We’re fortunate to live in a time where technology like Hangouts, Facetime and Messenger exists and I can video chat with them, but it’s not the same as in-person contact. The huge distance factor creates this feeling where you it’s like you’re out there in a kind of ‘bubble’ where you’re apart from other things that are going on.

I’m looking forward to taking a brief pause in the everyday routine and get back to something that I’ve been away from for a while. Sometimes it takes actually revisiting a memory, place or person to make you realize how much you missed them. That’s certainly the case with my going back to the hometown, and it’s also the case with today’s recipe.

Cause y’know, I can find a way to make just about anything link back to my food. It’s kinda what I ‘do’.

Before I baked the recipe and wrote this post I really can’t remember the last time I ate coffee cake. And I did try to remember. It’s not likely that I can forget food that I ate and really enjoyed so the chances are, I either haven’t had coffee cake in close to a decade, or if I did, it was so Godawful that I’ve subconsciously blocked it out of my memory.

(And if it was awful, I’m choosing to just not count it as something I actually ate. Therefore, the calories I wasted by eating it don’t exist. Cause, I do what I want,)

One thing I can promise is that I’m not going to be able to forget eating this cake. Nor do I want to.

The sour cream inside the batter makes the cake soft, with a moist crumb that (unlike a lot of run-the-mill coffee cakes) isn’t overly dry and crumbly. A ribbon of brown sugary goodness runs through the middle. Then on top is my personal favorite: the buttery cinnamon sugar streusel topping that when baked, forms an almost crunchy texture contrast to the softness of the cake. And because I just don’t ever know when to quit, I topped all of it off with a smooth powdered sugar icing drizzle.

If you’re like me and it’s been a long time since you had coffee cake, do yourself a favor and let this be the recipe that makes you go back to it and remember why you love it so much in the first place.

Linking this up to this week’s Fiesta Friday #188, co-hosted this week by Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook and Nimmi @ Adorable Life.

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Cinnamon Crumb Coffee Cake

Recipe Adapted from King Arthur Flour

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Ingredients

For Cake

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick)
  • 1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

 

For Filling

  • 1 cup light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

For Streusel Topping

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For Icing

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons milk

 

 

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour a 9 or 10 inch tube pan and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the ingredients for the filling. Set aside. In another small bowl, set aside the ingredients for the streusel topping. Set aside.

In a large bowl of a standing mixer (or using a handheld one) cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time. Add the sour cream and vanilla extract.

In a medium size bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and baking powder with a fork. Slowly fold in the dry ingredients into the wet. Place half of the batter into the bottom of the tube pan, using a spatula to spread it out.

Sprinkle the filling over the batter, then pour the rest of the batter on top of it. Use a butter knife to gently swirl the filling throughout the batter. Sprinkle the topping over the batter until completely covered.

Bake for 40-45 minutes in the oven, until a toothpick/tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove cake from oven, allow to cool in pan for about 20 minutes, then turn out and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

Caramelized Chicken

One of my very worst peeves is when I make kitchen plans and for whatever reason, they fall through.

When I get an idea in my head to cook something, I am determined to be able to follow through with it. If I can’t, it just makes me straight grumpy. As Tim Gunn would say, I just try to “Make it work.”

I mean, there was that one time that the pretzel dough I made dissipated into gelatinous goo in the boiling solution and was beyond all repair. Sometimes I still stop and have a moment of silence for that loaf of banana bread that was raw and for whatever reason, stayed raw even after I nuked it in the oven for hours And, who could ever forget that time I set my oven on fire the first time I made naan?)

But we’re not gonna focus on those tiny missteps, guys. The main takeaway here is that usually, I can fix it. Usually I can think quick on my feet, adapt and still get what I want out of a dish. Case in point would be today’s recipe.

Alright so, boom. It’s summer time, and I really wanted to make chicken skewers. I didn’t have any wooden skewers in the house and I still haven’t gotten around to buying the metal set I have bookmarked on my Amazon wishlist. But I didn’t figure that was too big of a deal. Since it is summer, and people tend to enjoy grilling kebabs during the summer, I thought that I’d most likely be able to find a pack of wooden skewers just about anywhere, right?

Right?

Heh.

Yeah, no store I went to had wooden skewers. I mean, none. How rude.

The real gag was, I had already started the prep work for this recipe. I was so confident I was going to find the skewers, that my marinade was already done and put together, AND the chicken was already cut into the cubes for the skewers and soaking in it, ready to be skewed.

And I had…no skewers.

Were my initial plans foiled? Yeah. Was I annoyed? Most definitely. Did I give up?

Tuh. You guys know who this is.

I wanted chicken skewers. True, I wasn’t going to get the skewers part of that equation…but there was no way I wasn’t still going to have chicken. This was one of those times where I knew that I could make it work.

So right off rip, I’ll let you guys know that this is a dish with primarily Asian flavors. The marinade itself has that pungent, salty flavor from the fish & soy sauce, but ti’s well balanced out with the OJ and brown sugar that lend sweetness, and the ginger that gives it a bite. Once that flavor is given time to develop in the protein, you can move onto the really good part, which is the sauce. The sauce is where the ‘caramelization’ in the recipe title comes in; it’s tangy, sweet, and slightly thick. When it’s brushed onto the chicken in the final stages of cooking at a high temp, the sugars in it form a thin crisp, slightly blackened layer on top of the chicken that deepens the flavor and makes the sauce sticky.

I didn’t have my wooden skewers. My plans were thrown off. And I still walked away with this dish, which by the time all was said and done made me forget that I was upset about it in the first place. It was easy to ‘make it work’. In the recipe below I do give instructions for how to cook the chicken with and without skewers just in case the grocery stores in your area want to be rude like mine were and act like this isn’t prime grilling season. Whether you choose to make it over a grill, under a broiler or in a skillet or wok, I think you should try this dish. It’s quite good and has become another addition to my collection of Happy Accidents.

Linking this up to Fiesta Friday #187, co-hosted this week by Judi @ cookingwithauntjuju.com and Sadhna @ Herbs, Spices and Tradition.

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Caramelized Chicken

Recipe Adapted from Serious Eats

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For Marinade

  • 2 1/2 to 3 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into large cubes (as close to the same size as possible)
  • 1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • A few dashes of Worcestershire sauce

For Sauce

  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
  • 1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh ginger root
  • Sesame seeds and scallions, for garnish, optional
  • Wooden skewers, soaked overnight if broiling

 

Directions

Place the cubed chicken in a resealable gallon size bag. Combine all the remaining ingredients In a small bowl, then pour over the chicken. Seal the bag and turn over a few times to make chicken evenly coated.

Refrigerate for at least one hour or up to overnight.

Combine all 8 ingredients for the sauce together in a saucepan. Bring to boil, then lower heat and allow to simmer until thickened, about 10-15. minutes. Remove from heat. Divide the sauce in half in two separate containers.

For Cooking: If you’re using a broiler/skewers, place the marinated chicken onto the skewers. Heat the broiler, then spray your pan well with cooking spray. Broil the chicken until just nearly done. Towards the end (when the outside is no longer raw) brush one half of the sauce on top of the chicken. Allow to broil further until the outer coating becomes caramelized.

You can also cook the chicken in a skillet or wok; heat canola/peanut oil in skillet, cook the chicken over medium high-high heat then towards the end, pour the sauce in and toss to combine.

Serve the chicken sprinkled with sesame seeds and scallions and the other half of the sauce.

Checkerboard Cookies

I’d be lying to you guys if I said I wasn’t kinda ready for the summer to end. In the first place, I don’t much care for extreme heat and as I’ve said in a couple of recent posts, the heat here has been unnecessarily extreme to the point where I’ve retreated to whole different cities for the day because this desert valley we’re in feels too much like a…desert valley. In the second place, the sooner the summer ends, the sooner we can get to the autumn which is my favorite season. The sooner autumn comes around, the sooner we can get to December and my favorite holiday of Christmas.

Because yes, my thoughts are definitely already drifting towards Christmas.

To be honest, I usually start getting the ‘itch’ for Christmas in July. It’s like a Christmas in July effect takes over and suddenly I’m listening to my holiday playlist again and planning what new stuff I’m gonna try to cook and bake for my family and the blog. As some of my followers know, I do a yearly Christmas series of recipes and although it’s a heavy undertaking, it is one that I still look forward to doing. I’ve already got a few pegged in my mind for the series, but one of them in particular was one that I thought would be a good idea to practice with first, as it is one I’ve never done before and would require a little bit more effort.

When I was little, I loved checkerboard cookies. I thought they just had to be some kind of food wizardry that could only be done in a huge Keebler-Elf style factory with a fancy machine.How else could they arrange those two different colors/flavors in such perfect patterns? I also may as well as admit that until only recently I had no idea how it was done or that it COULD be done by a home cook/baker in their own kitchen.

But I learned. And then after studying the technique a bit, thought “Well, might as well try it out. What’s the worst that can happen?”

(Waste of dough and ingredients was the answer, but that’s kind of obvious.)

I knew going into it that it wouldn’t be necessarily easy and I will keep it one hundred with you guys: I wouldn’t recommend trying this recipe if you don’t genuinely like to bake, have some experience with working with cookie dough and are willing to be patient with yourself and the process. I’m a decent baker with quite a bit of experience working with cookie dough, I love doing it and (as you can see) my first try at checkerboard cookies still wasn’t exactly perfect.  Nevertheless, I’m still pleased with how these turned out and that I decided to do a test run before trying to make a ‘Christmas-themed’ version for the 12 Days of Christmas series.

I tried to make the directions for these as clear and detailed as possible. So, should you want to make these for yourself (and I do think you should), a few pointers: a ruler is a must here. You’re making two different cookies doughs and when you cut them, you want the portions to be as straight as possible so that when you arrange the strips, they actually look like squares. It doesn’t have to be fancy invested in a regular old blue plastic ruler that measures inches/centimeters that I bought from Target and use strictly for baking; it does the job just fine. Also, when you’re putting the doughs together to create the pattern, don’t beat yourself up if your squares don’t line up perfectly in a row. Mine don’t and I still think the integrity of the ‘checkerboard’ is preserved in the overall aesthetic of the cookie. I plan to get better the more I practice this and I’m sure you will too.

You don’t have to make the two outer ‘wrappings’ for the cookies. I just thought it looked prettier so I decided to go ahead and make some. All you’ll need to do after making the cookie recipe is halve the base recipe and use the two different doughs from the halved recipe to wrap the cookies. It sounds complicated, but it’s not. Just read the recipe closely ahead of time and you’ll do fine.

Finally, don’t you dare throw out those scraps after you trim your dough logs! Cut them into mini pieces like I did and bake them off so that you get ‘bite sized checkerboards’ like the ones you see in the picture above. Aren’t they just as cute?

The labor alone involved in making these cookies make the finished product worth it–but I gotta say, the taste wasn’t a letdown either. Checkerboards have a close texture that’s slightly crisp on the outside, then buttery melt-in-the-mouth tender on the inside. The real dilemma here is going to be deciding which flavor you like better: the one where the vanilla dough is dominant or the one where the chocolate one is. I think I’m partial to vanilla, but that could very well change by Christmas time. We’ll have to see.

Linking this post up to Fiesta Friday #186, co-hosted this week by Colleen @ Faith, Hope, Love & Luck and Alex @ Turks Who Eat.

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Checkerboard Cookies

Recipe Adapted from “Classic German Baking” by Luisa Weiss

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Ingredients

  • 20 plus 1 tablespoons (300g) unsalted butter, softened to room temp
  • 18 tablespoons (150g) powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 1/3 cups, minus 2 tablespoons (400g) all purpose flour
  • 5 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons milk

Directions

In the bowl of a standing mixer or a large bowl using a handheld mixer, beat butter until it is light and creamy. Add the powdered sugar and salt and continue to beat about 1 minute more until creamy again. Add the vanilla extract and beat until just combined. Add the flour in 1/2 cup increments, until just combined. (Use a rubber spatula throughout mixing, scraping down the sides of the bowl to ensure even mixing)
Scrape out half of the dough, form into a flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Add the cocoa powder to the remaining dough in the bowl and mix until combined. Form the dough into another flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Place both in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Remove dough from the fridge. Unwrap one of the discs, then place in between two sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap. Use a rolling pin to roll out into a rectangle, about 8 x 5 inches long. Repeat with the second dough. In a small bowl, beat together the egg yolk and milk. Using a pastry brush, brush the egg wash over the bottom rectangle of dough. Place one rectangle on top of the other. Press to adhere them to each other. Trim the edges with a sharp knife and save the striped strips in the fridge. Divide the rectangle lengthwise in half. Refrigerate the halves for about 15-30 minutes to allow to get firm.
Divide each of the halves into fourths, lengthwise. (A ruler or bench scraper works GREAT for ensuring straight lines) Use the four layers to make TWO checkerboard logs: Brush the tops of two of the layers with the egg wash, then place the other two on top of them. Make sure that you flip the top layers upside down before adhering so as to create the checkerboard pattern. Use your fingers or a spatula to press the logs together and smooth out the edges/corners, try to make them as square as possible. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 350°.

(If you would like to create the ‘outer wrapping’ for the cookies: halve the original cookie recipe and follow the same instructions, dividing the two colors, wrapping them in plastic wrap and placing in the refrigerator. After you’ve finished creating the two checkerboard logs, roll one of the reserved dough discs out between two pieces of plastic wrap or wax paper into a long rectangle. Place one of the chilled logs on the rectangle, on the edge closest to you. Wrap the dough around the log, press lightly on the bottom to seal and trim any excess. Repeat with the other color and log. Refrigerate both for about another 30 minutes to allow to firm up.)

Use a sharp knife or bench scraper to cut the log cross-wise into slices. Place sliced cookies on prepared baking sheets lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Bake in the preheated oven on the middle rack for 12-15 minutes, until just light golden brown. Allow to sit on baking sheet for about 60 seconds removing to wire racks to cool completely. Cut the reserved trimmings into bite sized nuggets and bake for about 13 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

(No one oven is the same, & different baking sheets bake cookies differently. Keeping this in mind, I will ALWAYS test bake one cookie before baking entire sheets of the whole batch, just to get a good idea of how long they should be in the oven and if I need to adjust the way I’ve cut, rolled them out, etc. I highly recommend that you do the same.)

Spiced Meatballs with Smoky Red Pepper Sauce

I know I can’t be the only person out there with an ingredient or condiment that they put on everything, right? You guys know what I’m talking about. You love it SO much, its flavors are SO awesome that you just always have to have it (sometimes huge quantities of it) in the house. You search for excuses to somehow incorporate it into every meal. The love you have for it is just that strong.

I mean, I’m a foodie so it should probably go without saying that I’ve got more than one contender.

There must, at all times, be a bottle of Frank’s Original Red Hot Sauce in my house. Preferably, the big one. You know why? Cause I really do put that stuff on everything:

Pizza, eggs, chips, salsa, salad, vegetables, french fries, chicken wings. I’ll shake some of it into stews or braises to give it an extra ‘zip’. Heck, I even mix it in with strawberry jelly to smear on my biscuits or toast because I love the contrast of the sweet with the spicy (Look, don’t knock it til you try it!).

Caramelized onions are another one for me. I could eat them completely on their own as a side dish to be honest, but I can put them in just about anything. For that reason, I’ll usually always pick up at least one or two yellow or red onions from the grocery every week so I can always have some in the kitchen to caramelize for anything I might be in the mood for. If you guys haven’t hopped on the caramelized onions bandwagon, please do. Like Frank’s Red Hot, they can and will elevate just about any dish. This is also where having a recipe that is impossible to screw up, like these Foolproof  Slow Cooker Caramelized Onions, will really come in handy.  Just saying.

Right up there with caramelized onions for me are roasted red peppers. God, I love roasted red peppers so much. Any slow roasted pepper is delicious, but there’s just always been something about the red ones that had me hooked from that very first taste. Like Frank’s Red Hot and caramelized onions, I will look for excuses to put roasted red peppers in anything. I am convinced there is no savory dish that they would not taste good in and enhance. None.

I really don’t care how good your favorite pizza is. That pizza game is weak until you start eating pizza with roasted red peppers on top.

You’re really outchea trying to eat tacos with no roasted red peppers? Fix your life.

Trying to eat healthy by eating a salad? Fantastic. Slice a roasted red pepper in there and give it a pop of color and a pop of deliciousness.

Psst. Come here. Closer. Closer.  *whisper voice* Hummus tastes 1000x better with roasted red peppers blended in it. Believe me. Roasted Red Pepper Hummus. Try it sometime.

This dish ended up happening for two reasons: first, I wanted to try to make a roasted red pepper romesco sauce to go with some meatballs. Second, I didn’t have an almonds. Romesco sauce is one that is primarily made of red peppers and almonds, so not having almonds on hand was…kinda putting a damper on my plans. But I improvised and came up with something else that I’m actually very pleased with.

So check this sauce y’all. It’s not a tomato sauce. It not only has quite a few roasted red peppers in it, it also has roasted sweet onions AND a whole head of roasted garlic. I know. That seems like a lot, but trust me. It all works. Roasting the veggies gives them a richer, sweeter flavor that melds well with the spices that pack a punch of their own.

I decided to try and up the ante of the roasted flavor in the veggies by pairing them with smoked paprika and ras el hanout. Both are intensely smoky and slightly spicy with woodsy undertones that leave a sweet aftertaste on the tongue. Combining them together with all those veggies and garlic that were roasted is going to result in a sauce that you’re probably going to be tempted to slurp up on a spoon all on its own. But don’t do it! Cause, meatballs.

I used a lot of the same spices in the ground meat that I did the sauce. I prefer to bake mine rather than saute them in a skillet as I’ve found that they hold together better that way. Another suggestion-kinda-not-suggestion I have is to finish cooking your meatballs IN the sauce itself, as that meaty flavor can literally cook inside the sauce and give it even more flavor.

Oh, and just in case you’re wondering: yes. I DID sprinkle some Frank’s Red Hot on top of these when I sat down to eat. Not because they ‘needed it; I just really do put that stuff one everything. Linking this up to Fiesta Friday #185, co-hosted by Suzanne @ apuginthekitchen and Monika @ Everyday Healthy Recipes.

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Spiced Meatballs with Smoky Red Pepper Sauce

Recipe by Jess@CookingisMySport

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Ingredients

For Meatballs

  • 4 lbs ground beef (or turkey, if you prefer)
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2-3 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2- dashes Soy Sauce
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups bread crumbs (up to 1 cup more, if needed)

For Sauce

  • 6-7 red bell peppers, de-stemmed, seeded and cut into halves or quarters
  • 3 sweet yellow onions, cut in halves
  • 1 whole head of garlic, outer loose skin removed, but still whole
  • 4 cups low sodium beef broth
  • 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 2 tablespoons ras el hanout spice mix (optional, if you can’t find it you can always use cumin)
  • 2-3 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2- dashes Soy Sauce
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • salt and pepper, to taste

 

Directions

For Meatballs: combine the ground beef in a large bowl with all of the dry spices. Add the soy and Worcestershire sauce, then the eggs. Pour in the 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 more breadcrumbs to tighten it up.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Shape into meatballs (about 2 tablespoonfuls each). Place 1 1/2 inches apart on a lightly greased (with cooking spray) rack in an aluminum foil-lined jelly-roll pan.  Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until browned.

For Sauce: Lower heat down to 350°. Rub about 1 teaspoon of vegetable or canola oil on top of garlic head. Sprinkle the top with salt & pepper and place in the middle of a piece of aluminum foil. Wrap the foil around the garlic, like a package. Place on a half sheet pan and bake in the oven for about 50-55 minutes. Remove and allow to cool until warm enough to handle.

Meanwhile, crank oven up to 450°. Line two sheet pans with aluminum foil and lightly spray with cooking spray.  Drizzle the peppers with oil, salt & pepper, then arrange with the cut sides down on the pans. Roast in the oven until the skins have started to char & separate from the inner flesh and the peppers have started to collapse, about 25-30 minutes (you may need to rotate pans halfway to ensure even roasting).

Remove the peppers and onions to a bowl and cover with foil to allow to cool down, about 30 minutes. Once cool, use your fingers to rub away the outer skins of the red peppers (they should come away easily).

Discard skins and place roasted veggies into a blender or food processor. Take the roasted garlic head and break off individual cloves. Use your fingers to press/squeeze out the pulp into the container of the blender/processor with the veggies. (It should come out very easily). Place the lid on, and puree the mixture together on high speed until very smooth.

Pour the mixture into a large Dutch oven or stockpot. Pour in the beef broth and add the spices, Soy and Worcestershire sauces, sugar and salt & pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and allow sauce to cook for about 20 minutes. You may add a few of the meatballs inside to give additional beefy flavor.

Spoon sauce on top of the meatballs or dip meatballs in sauce, eating with rice, quinoa or couscous.