Monday, December 26, 2011

Baked Chicken Fingers with Avocado Dipping Sauce

Anyone else in some sort of major post-Christmas exhaustion haze? I'm so tired, I don't even have the brainpower to say much more than that this recipe is great. (I feel like I write that every time I post a recipe, but that doesn't make it untrue. That just makes me unable to think of more interesting things to say. Largely because motherhood and sleep-deprivation have liquefied my brain cells.)

If you want something easy because you're pooped (as I am), give this a try. And if you want something healthy because you've eaten so much rich holiday food, give this a try. And if you want something quick, give this a try -- because everyone wants something quick, let's face it. As an added bonus, it's a picky-kid/husband pleaser, too!

The chicken fingers are simple -- pretty basic, but ever so satisfying. The dipping sauce may look and sound a bit like guacamole, but it's not at all the same. I know because I don't really like guacamole and I like this sauce. A lot. A salad would probably round this out to make it a real meal, but I'm too lazy to rip open a bag of salad and drizzle on some bottled dressing. It's just too much effort today. :)

And you could easily cut the chicken into smaller pieces to make chicken nuggets, just check them after 12-15 minutes or so to be sure the chicken doesn't overcook.


Baked Chicken Fingers

1 1/4 lb. chicken tenders (or regular old chicken breast sliced into 1/2" strips)
2/3 c. plain bread crumbs
2 tsp. Lawry's season salt (if you don't have Lawry's around the house, you can substitute 3/4 tsp. garlic powder, 3/4 tsp. onion powder, and 1/2 tsp. kosher salt)
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. black pepper
cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400º. Coat baking sheet with cooking spray and set aside. In a large ziplock bag, combine bread crumbs and spices. Toss in chicken tenders a few at a time and shake to coat. Space the chicken out evenly on the baking sheet and spray liberally with cooking spray. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.

Avocado Dipping Sauce

2 medium, ripe avocados
2 Tbsp. sour cream (we use reduced fat/light, but any kind will do)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. lemon juice (I just use the stuff in the bottle)
salt and pepper to taste

Mash all ingredients together in a small bowl until smooth.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Key Lime Muddy Buddies

My parents are in town for Christmas! And I am in seventh heaven.
It's fabulous to have them here to share the daily joys of my little boy growing up SO FAST! It's fabulous to have someone to hand him off to when I have to go to the bathroom! And it's fabulous to have some extra time (and both hands at my disposal) to try some recipes I've been thinking up.

Inspired by this post at Smashed Peas and Carrots, and by virtue of the fact that I happened upon some marvelous key limes at my local market, and also by virtue of the fact that I loves me some key lime pie, I made...

Key Lime Muddy Buddies!

And they are every bit as awesome as I hoped they would be. My mom raved that they taste exactly like key lime pie, and I agree. And if you like coconut, it would be a fabulous addition here.

Key Lime Muddy Buddies

8 c. Rice Chex cereal
1 1/4 c. white chocolate chips
1/4 c. (1/2 stick) butter 
1 tsp. lime zest
2 Tbsp. lime juice
1/4 c. sweetened, shredded coconut (optional)
2 cups powdered sugar

Get a giant mixing bowl, and measure out cereal. Set aside. Combine white chocolate, butter, zest, and lime juice in a 1 qt. microwaveable bowl, and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Stir. Continue microwaving in 30 second intervals until chocolate is melted and mixture can be stirred smooth. (It will look scary. Just go with it.) Pour over cereal and toss to coat thoroughly. If you're going to add coconut, add it now -- it will stick to the chocolate mixture. Put one cup powdered sugar in each of two gallon-size ziplock bags. Divide the cereal mixture between the two bags, and shake, shake, shake! (An assistant comes in handy, if you can find one.) Let cool, and eat!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Easy, Soft Caramels

If you're still at a loss as to what to whip up to give to neighbors or coworkers, consider giving these a try. Even if you have no experience in making candy, be not afraid, because these are seriously easy. Seriously.

Every Christmas, my mother-in-law makes the most delicious caramels. They're so light and soft and perfect! I always eat too many and find extra reasons to hover around the bowl on top of the piano.

We're far away from my in-laws this year, so I'm missing them! And I'm missing those caramels. So I whipped some up.

I don't know how my mother-in-law makes hers so light -- mine weren't so light in color, but they were heavenly all the same. If you like your caramels firmer, you can omit the cream at the end.

Just don't eat them all by yourself. Don't ask me how I know...
er... yeah.

Easy, Soft Caramels

1 c. butter
1, 16 oz. (one pound) light brown sugar
1 c. light corn syrup
2 c. half & half
1 tsp.vanilla
1/4 c. heavy cream

Line 8x8" pan with parchment paper and set aside. In large saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Add brown sugar, corn syrup, and half & half and mix well. Cook and stir over medium-high heat until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, and continue boiling, stirring mixture frequently until it reaches 240º when tested with a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and cream. Quickly (and carefully) pour into prepared pan and allow to cool. When cool, use a sharp knife to cut into uniform squares and wrap each in waxed paper or parchment paper.
Store at room temperature for up to one week, if they last that long. :)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Chubby Hubby Bars

**Update: I gave these to my neighbor as a thank you for his help in raking our leaves, and he approached me the other day to say that he would pay me to make them again! They have powers, I'm telling you!

I'll post these, but I'm going to do you the service of recommending that you not make them. They might be evil. I'm not sure what Pandora's box I've opened by making these in the first place... and I'm frightened.

Not really.

But kinda.

If you've never had Ben & Jerry's Chubby Hubby Ice Cream, let me break it down for you: vanilla malt ice cream with chocolate-covered, peanut-butter-filled pretzels, plus fudge and caramel swirls. Delish!

I saw a recipe for Chubby Hubby Bars at Cookies & Cups (via Pinterest, of course) and thought I'd put my own spin on it. I took a couple of shortcuts, but I'm really pleased with the results!

These are a delightful combination of crunchy, gooey, salty, and sweet -- a perfect addition to your holiday cookie plate. The neighbors will LOVE them!

Not pictured: prepared sugar cookie dough, cream

Chubby Hubby Bars

1, 16.5 oz. log prepared sugar cookie dough (I used Pillsbury)
1 Tbsp. malted milk powder
8 oz. mini peanut butter cups (or several regular ones broken up)
1/2 c. roughly-chopped pretzels (I found PB-filled ones at Trader Joes!)
1, 14 oz. bag of caramels
1 Tbsp. water or milk
1, 11 oz. bag milk chocolate chips
1/4 c. cream (optional)

Line an 8x8" pan with parchment paper and preheat oven to 350º. Gently mix malted milk powder, peanut butter cups, and pretzels into the cookie dough and press into pan. Bake for 20 minutes, or until edges begin to brown slightly.
In a microwave-safe bowl, combine (unwrapped) caramels with 1 Tbsp. water or milk and microwave in one-minute intervals until melted and smooth. Pour over cookie mixture.
Let this cool several hours or overnight. Once cooled, melt chocolate chips (and cream, if desired) in microwave, stirring every 30 seconds or so until shiny and smooth. Pour this over top of the caramel. Put in the fridge to cool, then cut into squares.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Tips & Tricks: Beurre Manié

This is, possibly, one of my favorite tricks ever. I'm not really sure why, but I love having it in my back pocket.

So, what exactly is "beurre manié"? Well, it's French; French for "kneaded butter". Traditionally, it's a thickener, much like a roux, but it's added near the end of the cooking process. I make it up and keep it on hand to make my roux (rouxs? Darn the French and their complicated plurals! -- complicated language in general, really...) in a jiffy with no measuring.

Want to make some?

Take a 1/2 c. softened butter (one stick) and mix it briefly but thoroughly l with 1/2 c. flour to make a loose dough or paste. Scrape this mixture onto some plastic wrap, roll into a uniform log, and place in the fridge to firm up. Once firm, cut into 8 equal pieces (easily achieved by cutting in half, cutting the halves in half, and then cutting those quarters in half). Each slice will give you 1 Tbsp. of flour and 1 Tbsp. of butter with which to start your white sauce or gravy.

I stick mine in a ziplock bag and store it in the freezer, then pull out as many as I'll need for a recipe. So, if my recipe asks for 3 Tbsp. butter and 3 Tbsp. flour to make a roux, I toss three pats of beurre manié in there and continue exactly as I would if I had measured out the ingredients individually -- cook until golden and no longer floury-smelling, add liquid, etc.

And if you find your sauce isn't thickening, as I sometimes do, throw in another pat and watch the magic happen -- no clumps, guaranteed! (Be forewarned, though, that this may result in a slightly floury taste, since the flour wasn't cooked.)

This also has great potential to help out a slow-cooker dish that didn't thicken up as much as desired.

Give it a try!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Chocolate Shots

I love traditions. I mean, I REALLY love traditions. I can get a little dogmatic about it sometimes -- just ask my mom.

For example, my family traditionally has cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate for breakfast on Christmas morning. One year, my mom decided to change it up. She spent, I don't even know how much time, procuring a special pan and making aebleskivers. I remember pitching an absolute fit. Looking back on it, I'm mortified to think I acted like such a spoiled brat! (Sorry, again, Mom!)

When I got married, I really should have come with a warning label about my dogged adherence to traditions. But so far, there have been very few fireworks between my husband and myself regarding holiday traditions. I've been eager to forge new ones with him, and I'm eager to see how they progress as our family grows.

One tradition my husband and I have around Christmas is Chocolate Shots. The day after Thanksgiving, we haul out the Christmas decorations, put up the tree, and end the day with Chocolate Shots.

You may not be familiar with this procedure, so let me walk you through it:

You start with hot chocolate. {We like to use the Cocomotion because it's awesome. :)}

Cocomotion in action!

HoCho, ready for business

Choose a wide-mouthed mug, if you have one available.

Next, you prep the cookies. We like to use Tim Tams, which are originally from Australia (but now widely available in the regular grocery store) -- in fact, this same technique is called a Tim Tam Slam, according to my husband's Australian buddy -- but any chocolate-covered cookie will do. Chocolate-covered Oreos (or Joe Joes, if you're lucky enough to have a Trader Joe's nearby) do nicely as well. (I think I was originally taught with Keebler Grasshopper cookies.) Pick a specimen without bare spots in the chocolate coating. You'll want complete coverage.

Take a two small bites out of the cookie, one on the top, and one on the bottom, or, in the case of the Tim Tam, one out of one corner on the top, and one out of the corner diagonal to it on the bottom. (See figure A.)

Figure A

Chocolate-covered Joe Joe! YUM!

Now, dip one bitten end of your cookie into the hot chocolate, so that the part with the bite out of it is completely submerged. Keep it in the hot cocoa, and put your mouth around the other bitten end. Treat it like a straw and suck the hot chocolate up through the cookie. When you feel the hot cocoa reach your tongue, quickly pop the whole cookie in your mouth.

What happens now is magic! The whole cookie literally disintegrates and melts in your mouth, because it's full of hot chocolate melty-ness. {Insert Hallelujah Chorus Here}

I really cannot describe the awesomeness, so you'll have to try it for yourself. Please say you will! You might just love it enough to make it one of your traditions as well!

I'd love to hear about your holiday traditions. Leave a comment!