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.