Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have a love affair with bacon.  Schmambs has a love affair with mint.  Schmambs and I discovered Wegman's a few weeks ago.  And Wegmans has mint chocolate chips, which Schmambs can't seem to find at any other grocery stores.  Excited, Schmambs threw a couple bags in the cart and declared that we were going to make Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies.  Having tasted these cookies the last time she made them, I hopped on board and made a cookie date with her.

The recipe claims that the recipe makes 3½ dozen cookies.  When Schmambs suggested we double the recipe, I thought it was because she was worried she wouldn't have any for herself after her hubby and kido devoured them.  It wasn't until later that I realized it was because Schmambs makes BIG cookies.  The first step was to mix the butter, sugar, fresh mint leaves, and eggs.  However, Schmambs got distracted in helping me figure out how to use my "new" camera (a hand me down from my dad), and we mixed the butter and the sugar before realizing we forgot to also add the mint and eggs.  Oops.

Sheepishly, I put my camera down and went back to the original task that Schmambs had assigned to me before I started having camera difficulty.  Chopping up the mint.  The kido, also on hand to help, got assigned the task of cracking the eggs.  For a six year old, she did great.  No shells! 

Next came the flour.  After pouring most of it in and watching it mix in the bowl, Schmambs expressed concern that the cookie dough might be a little too dry.  This was the first time that she had tried doubling the recipe and the dough wasn't coming out in the consistency that she was accustomed to.  We took our chances and forged ahead with crossed fingers that everything would come together.

Let's take a minute and talk about mint chocolate chips.  Most people who know me know that I am not a big chocolate person.  I think it's because it tends to be too sweet for my tastes.  I usually prefer the chocolates that incorporate mint, which brings down the sweetness level.  So mint chocolate chips are perfect for my tastebuds and are super delicious.  As these were mint chocolate chip cookies, we used a little over a bag and a half so you had a chip in every bite.

Everyone has their own way of scooping dough onto the cookie sheet.  Schmambs globs the dough out with a tablespoon and uses another spoon to plop it on the cookie sheet.  It comes out looking a little something like this.

I, on the other hand, have always rolled my cookies into little balls.  I think I almost gasped in horror when I saw that Schmambs was just plopping the dough down.  While hers was a more efficient method, I am proud to say that mine came out almost symmetrical.

When Schmambs makes these cookies, she usually puts them in for about 7-8 minutes.  The recipe told us that they would end up a "golden brown".  Fail.  The cookies came out as pale as they were when they went in.  I'll admit, it was slightly disappointing, but it didn't take away from the flavor at all.  The cookies were still delicious and they are going like hotcakes at la casa de Schmambs.  Even my Ziplock baggie of cookies at home has mysteriously sprouted holes the size of kitty teeth!  Thankfully all cookies were accounted for before they ended up in my belly.

Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 1/3 Cups sugar
¾ Cup margarine or butter, softened
1 Tablespoon finely chopped mint leaves
2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 package (10 oz) mint chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix sugar, butter, mint leaves, and egg in a large bowl.  Stir in flour, baking soda and salt.  Stir in chocolate chips.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls about 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake 11-13 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool slightly; remove from cookie sheet.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Nachos Individuales

It's a Sunday.  During the fall.  Do you know what that means?  Football, of course!  Being Bostonians, we are Patriots fans and each week, we gather at la casa de Schmambs for some Football!  And what does Schmambs feed the masses that gather at her house?  Buffalo wings and nachos, of course.  Although, typically, Will makes the nachos since Schmambs slaves away all afternoon making the wings.  This particular Sunday though, Will decided to let the women make the nachos since there were two of us and only one of him.  Twice the work in half the time.  In reality, the Pats were probably playing really well and he didn't want to get pulled away.

What are nachos without fresh guacamole?  Bland.  That's what.  So we made guacamole.

When you order nachos at a restaurant, it's usually a pile of tortilla chips with the toppings thrown on top.  That's great and all, but when you get to the bottom pile, there isn't anything left to eat with your chip.  No gracias.  Will devised the best of all worlds.  Individual Nachos.  He uses Tostitos Scoops so that each chip is filled with all the yummu goodness that you would typically find on nachos.  No chip is left unloved.  

In a saucepan, mix a can of refried beans with one packet of taco seasoning.  I believe Schmambs usually uses Ortega or Old El Paso brands.  Once the seasoning and beans are mixed and heated, scoop the beans into each Tostitos Scoop.


Schmambs usually uses a shredded Mexican blend of cheese from the grocery store.  Sprinkle a satisfying amount of the cheese blend on each nacho and once complete, throw it in the oven for a few minutes to allow the cheese to melt and to slightly toast the tortilla chips.

The guacamole that we made earlier was scooped into each chip as well as a generous dollop of sour cream too.  While the chips were in the oven, Schmambs had cut up the jalapeno peppers that were going to top our nachos to give it a nice kick as well as some crunchy texture.  The last time I tried to cut jalapeno peppers at la casa de Schmambs, she failed to tell me that soap would not get the spicy out of my fingers.  I learned the hard way when I tried to take my contacts out later that night.  Needless to say, Schmambs is now forever on jalapeno duty.  

We realized in hindsight, the nachos probably would've been more aesthetically pleasing if we had put the guacamole under the sour cream to break up the greens, but they still look delicious in their current state, don't they?

Individual Nachos
by Schmambs & Will

* 1 16oz can of Ortega Refried Beans
* 1 packet of Ortega or Old El Paso taco seasoning
* 1 package shredded Mexican blend cheese
* jalapeno peppers cut diced (optional)
* sour cream (optional)
* guacamole (optional)
* salsa (optional)

Pick through bag of chips and place all non-broken chips on cookie sheet.  Combine beans and taco seasoning and heat on stove.  When done heating, scoop beans into each individual chip until all chips are filled.  Sprinkle cheese on top of the beans and place cookie sheet in 300 degree oven for 3-5 minutes or until cheese is melted.  Remove cookie sheet from oven and place desired toppings on nachos.  Serve while hot.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Chicken with Provencal Sauce

I lived in New Jersey for six years.  While I was living there, when I wasn't ordering take-out, I was attempting to improve my cooking skills to make me more desirable to a future mate.  I even joined an online recipe swap and thru that, a dinner group.  While the dinner group didn't exactly work out (the other ladies in the group were on a far more advanced level than I), I continued to try and master dishes in the privacy of my own home.  My then-boyfriend happily played the part of guinea pig as a home-cooked meal was very rare in our house.  There was one recipe that I continually tried to perfect.  I'm not sure if it was because I knew I could cook it successfully, even if it didn't turn out exactly the way the recipe described it, or because Herbes de Provence ain't cheap and I was determined to finish the bottle, but when I made chicken, this is what I made.

Fast forward a few years.  I've watched a lot more Food Network cooking shows.  I know more things now.  I also have my own personal chef, Schmambs, who has also taught me a thing or two.  The other day, while in the grocery store, Schmambs asks me what she should make for dinner that week.  I suggested tacos.  She vetoed.  I suggested key lime pie.  She told me that wasn't a dinner food.  I got distracted and started talking about carrots.  Distraction is a good thing.  Next thing I knew, I blurted out that I would cook something.  "You??  What are you going to cook??", Schmambs scoffed.  "Chicken with Provencal sauce!"  After a bit more teasing, it was decided that I would give Schmambs a break from dinner and I would cook for us.  Pretty much one of the only things I know how to cook.  And not even that well.  This was our adventure.

The first step would be to trim the chicken breasts to make sure you get rid of the extra flab & fat.  Since these were regular sized breasts, the recipe required the meat be pounded to a ½ inch thickness.  I used to bypass that step by buying the thin sliced chicken breasts.  Having experienced the meat mallet and the awesomeness of being able to whack meat with no boundaries, I don't think I'll ever bypass this step again.

After your chicken breasts have been smooshed enough, season them evenly with salt and pepper.  As you can see, some of the chicken breasts ended up much bigger than others.  Looks like that's a skill I still have to work on perfecting.  

Once the chicken breasts are seasoned, toss them in a non-stick skillet with some olive oil.  Our skillet could only fit three pieces at a time.  And because I was unsuccessful at getting them thin enough, we had to throw the cover over the skillet to ensure that each breast would be cooked thoroughly and safe for consumption.  After we finished cooking the chicken, we threw them in the oven to keep them warm while we made the sauce.

Now, the sauce has always given me problems.  No matter how many times I followed the recipe, the sauce always came out very runny and very broth-like.  As mentioned before, I have watched a lot more Food Network shows since I lived in New Jersey.  And I now know what a roux is and how it can help with whatever dish you might be making.  Schmambs and I have used it for Baked Mac & Cheese in the past.  As an idea on how to make the sauce thicker, we decided to try a roux and make the sauce a little differently than I had previously.  

The recipe says to cook a clove of minced garlic in the skillet before adding the chicken broth and Herbes de Provence.  We cheated and used pre-minced garlic from a jar.  After the garlic cooked for a minute, we added the butter (typically added into the sauce as the last step), and flour to make a garlic roux.  While we didn't really know the ratios, Schmambs just kept sprinkling flour into the skillet until it became a paste-like consistency. When the roux was finished, we added chicken boullion cubes and 2 cups of water and the Herbes de Provence.  We doubled the sauce measurements because I always felt like there wasn't enough when I made it.  We wanted to make sure everyone had enough.  Better to be over than under, I always say!

The sauce turned out to be a huge success.  After bringing the sauce to a boil and making sure the roux was mixed in completely, the sauce seemed to thicken as we continued to let it cook.  It had the consistency of an alfredo sauce and twice the flavor.  I would highly recommend trying the thicker version as it makes it feel like you are enjoying an accompanying sauce rather than having chicken rice soup on a plate.  We decided to pair the chicken on top of rice with a side of boiled spinach.  Makes for a very delicious meal!

Chicken with Provencal Sauce
adapted from the recipe by Lyn Corsale

* 4  - 6 oz skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
* ¼ tsp salt
* ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
* 1 ½ tbsp olive oil
* 1 garlic clove minced
* 1 cup fat free, low sodium chicken broth
* 1 ½ tsp dried herbes de Provence
* 1 tsp butter
* 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
* 2 tsp flour
* fresh thyme sprigs (optional)

Place each chicken breast half between 2 sheets of heavy duty plastic wrap, pound to ½ inch thickness using a meat mallet.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add chicken, cook 6 minutes on each side or until done.  Remove chicken from pan; keep warm.  You can place heat your oven to 200 degrees, if desired.  Add garlic to pan; cook 1 minute stirring constantly.  Scrape pan to loosen browned bits.  Add butter to skillet and wait until butter has melted.  Sprinkle in flour until mixture is a paste consistency.  Add broth and herbes de Provence and bring to a boil.  Cook until broth mixture begins to thicken (about 3-5 minutes).  Remove from heat and add lemon juice.  Serve sauce over chicken.  Garnish with thyme sprigs in desired.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Shepherd's Pie Eggrolls

Every year for my birthday, Schmambs makes me dinner.  How is that different from every other night?  For starters, I get to choose the menu.  The best part about Schmambs is that she will cook anything my little Asian heart desires, even if she's never made it before.  Last year was easy.  We had a Thanksgiving Feast since she makes this amazing bacon turkey.  This year, I had Shepherd's Pie on the mind after stumbling across a recipe for a Sweet Potato Chipotle Sheperd's Pie from the Deen Brothers (you know, Paula's boys).  Not a fan of sweet potatoes, I thought it would be fun to have a traditional Shepherd's Pie.  Then, since Schmambs and I have been brainstorming eggroll recipes for the fast approaching football season, we thought we would try Shepherd's Pie Eggrolls.  And to make it that much better, we were going to add bacon to the mix.

Schmambs has this amazing ability to multi-task.  If it were left to me, I'd probably burn the house down.  This is probably why I leave all the more elaborate dishes to be made at Schmambs' rather than when I'm home alone.  She had the bacon cooking while she browned the ground beef.

After the beef was browned, she drained it and mixed in some whole kernel corn and fresh chopped celery.  A typical Shepherd's Pie calls for carrots, peas, and onions.  Schmambs cut up an onion and tossed it in the skillet to be cooked before adding it to the beef, corn, and celery mixture.  Schmambs isn't a fan of peas (I don't love 'em, but don't mind them) and I am not particularly fond of cooked carrots, so we decided to leave those out and substitute with the celery.


Once the onions were done cooking, she added them in as well.

Are you drooling yet?  Remember that bacon that Schmambs had been frying?  It was now time to add that crispy bacon.  To ensure a piece of bacon in every bite, Schmambs chopped all the strips up before throwing it in the beef mixture.  In a traditional Shepherd's Pie, the beef mixture is covered with mashed potatoes.  We couldn't leave those out.  Instead of slaving away at mashed potatoes from scratch, we took the shortcut and made instant mashed potatoes.  We're not proud of it, but the project was already labor intense and hungry stomachs needed to be fed.  And to be quite honest, they weren't all that terrible when combined with all the other ingredients and fried.


Then comes the fun part of putting the eggrolls together.  Despite all the eggrolls we have made in the past, we are still trying to perfect the rolling process.  Some come out too fat.  Some resemble blobs more than eggrolls.  The insides of the Shepherd's Pie eggrolls look a little something like this.  Oh yeah, did I mention that we threw some cheese into the mix too?  This cheese happened to be a Mexican blend from Jalapeno Nachos we made the other night.  I would probably recommend a Cheddar cheese if you were going to try making these at home.

We used a package of eggroll wrappers and decided that we probably had enough eggrolls to feed an army and we would save the remaining mixture to make more eggrolls another night.  Schmambs heat the oil up and in went the eggrolls.  Pop pop pop went the oil.  Sizzle sizzle sizzle went the eggrolls.  Before long we had a pile of piping hot Shepherd's Pie eggrolls ready to be consumed.

A traditional Shepherd's Pie has the beef in a gravy.  Since we were making it in eggroll form, we didn't want too much liquid in the filler since that gives the eggrolls more opportunities to leak when we're frying them, so we decided to dip them in gravy.  Nothing hard.  A package of Brown Gravy from McCormick's and call it a day.  We were famished by the time we finished that I wanted to get a picture of the final product and dig in, so regretfully, I do not have a picture of the eggroll with all it's gravy goodness, but it was delicious.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


So, I know this blog is supposed to be about foods 'Beyond Bacon' but every now and then, it's good to get back to your roots.  Also, Schmambs & Company were about to embark on a 10 day vacation and had bacon that needed to be used before they left.  So we had good ol' fashioned B.L.T.'s.

To get things started, one needs bacon.  What's a B.L.T. without any B?  So Schmambs cooked the bacon while her hubby sliced the tomatoes.  Me, being the mooch that I am...well...I just sat at the kitchen table waiting for everything to be ready.  At least I contributed my good company!

I will be the first to admit that a plate full of cooked bacon usually does not last very long in my house.  Thankfully, we were not eating at my house and therefore, the bacon stayed on the preparation plate until the sandwiches were ready to be put together.  We used a pretty basic make-it-yourself method since it was about 90 degrees inside and outside and it wasn't fair to make one person sweat to feed everyone else.  Thanks to Will, we had a nice neat stack of tomatoes ready to be piled high.  I'm not a fan of juicy tomatoes (I like mine firm) so I just scooped off the seeds and the ooey gooey in the middle.  And the lettuce was basically a 'you tear it, you eat it' type situation.

I found that each person likes to eat their B.L.T. a little differently.  Myself, I like it simple.  Just the B, the L, and then the T.  No mayo since I am not much of a fan.  Schmambs & hubby enjoy tossing a little salt & pepper on their B.L.T.'s.  The pepper to bring some flavor out in the bacon and the salt to bring a little extra out on the tomatoes. Schmambs also seems to like loading on the L because her sandwich looked about twice the size of mine - and with a lot more green!  I'm not a big fan of whole wheat bread since I find that it is drier than white bread, so I thought I would dab a little bit of mayo on to see if it helped give a bit of moisture.  It did.  I then got intrigued and tried the salt & pepper too.  One of the best B.L.T.'s I've had in a while.  Some people would say you don't need the salt since you already have enough from the bacon, but I think that the salt isn't for the bacon aspect, but definitely gives the tomato a little more umph.  

Moral of the story?  B.L.T.'s are the perfect dinner when you need to get rid of some bacon on a really really really hot day.