June 30, 2015

Caramel Apple Hand Pies

Although I usually post red white and blue recipes for the 4th of July, today I decided to go with the most American thing I could think of: apple pie. Well, my picnic/barbecue/party-friendly version of it. I also added caramel, since frankly it's delicious and there's nothing more American than adding sugar to stuff. It just seemed appropriate.

Perhaps the most obvious deviation from your traditional apple pie is that these are hand pies, meaning they are perfect for crust lovers. You can easily make these larger, though I wouldn't go much bigger than the size of a pop tart. I happened to have scalloped cookie cutters, so that's the shape I went with. Just make or buy a basic pie crust dough, roll it out as thin as you can without it breaking, and cut into twice as many pieces as you want pies. I've found that I need to make enough pie for a double crust to handle all the apples. Usually the refrigerated pie crusts come in packs of two, which should be enough as well.

The filling is like a traditional apple pie filling except the apples are cut much smaller. You don't want to have just one apple chunk in your pie, and you also want the apples to cook through, which is why I cut mine about the size of peas. If you decide to make larger pies, you can cut the apples a little larger. I toss the diced apples with some cinnamon, sugar, cornstarch, and lemon juice (for taste, sweetness, non-liquidy-ness, and tartness) as well as some of the caramel.

To make this recipe a little easier, I decided to go with my mock caramel sauce. Honestly, I've been having some difficulties making real caramel (I know, I'm supposed to be researching the stuff but it just isn't working). This sauce involves boiling cream, brown sugar, and butter together until thick instead of burning sugar and then adding cream. Since caramel isn't the main thing going on in this recipe, I don't feel too bad about taking a shortcut. Besides, that means these pies are ready just a little bit sooner, which means they are ready for snacking and 4th of July festivities!

1 Recipe Double Crust Pie Crust Dough
1 Granny Smith Apple
1 tsp Lemon Juice
1/4 tsp Cinnamon
2 T Sugar
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
1 T Flour
1 T Cornstarch
1 Egg
1/2 Cup + 1 T Cream
2 T Butter
1/4 tsp Vanilla

Whisk 1/2 cup cream, dark brown sugar, and butter together in a small pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes or until thickened. Whisk in a pinch of salt and the vanilla. Set aside to cool.

Roll the pie dough out to 1/4" thick and cut into 2 1/2" rounds. Chill until firm.

Peel, core, and dice the apples into small cubes about the size of peas. Whisk the lemon juice, cinnamon, sugar, flour, cornstarch, a pinch of salt, and 2 T of the caramel sauce. Gently stir in the apples.

Whisk the egg and the  remaining cream together.

Scoop a spoonful of the apple filling onto the center of half the pie crust rounds, leaving a small border around the edges. Drizzle with some of the caramel sauce. Roll out the remaining rounds so they are slightly larger, then brush the edges with a bit of egg wash. Press onto the rounds with the apples to adhere, then brush the tops with more egg wash. Cut a small slit or hole on the tops and refrigerate until cold, about 20 minutes.

Heat oven to 375F and line cookie trays with parchment.

Transfer the pies to the prepared trays and bake until golden, about 12 minutes.

Makes 18
Recipe Adapted from Just a Taste

June 21, 2015

Strawberry Almond Coconut Bars

I'll admit I'm a little hesitant to publish this recipe right now. You're probably aware of the extreme drought in California, and reducing almond consumption definitely won't solve the whole problem but it can still make a huge impact. I read that it takes a full gallon of water to grow a single almond, and that already shocking statistic doesn't include the water necessary for almond products like almond milk (water soaked with ground almonds) and almond butter. The majority of the world's almonds are grown in California, and the crop is quickly using up what little water is left. Strawberries are also a common crop grown in California, but the water usage isn't quite as alarming and there are other places to get them. For example, one of the things that inspired this recipe was all of the fresh strawberries available at the Dane County Farmers' Market this week. I still think that this recipe is worth making since it's so fresh and delicious and seasonal, but in the future I'll probably try it with a different type of nut.

There are three layers to these bars: the coconut cookie base, the strawberry filling, and the coconut almond streusel. Since it's summer, I like to use fresh ingredients when possible, especially for the strawberry filling. However, using fresh coconut simply isn't practical; sweetened shredded coconut has the right texture and amount of sweetness. It's in both the base and the topping, but if you want more, you can make a coconut whipped cream using full-fat coconut milk and powdered sugar.

The coconut cookie base is essentially a sugar cookie dough with extra butter and a handful of coconut. I pulse flour, sugar, sweetened shredded coconut, baking powder, and salt in a food processor until the coconut is pretty finely ground. I then add chilled cubed butter until small lumps remain and finally an egg yolk and some water. The process is like a biscuit dough or pie crust in that you want to keep it cold and avoid overworking it. The dough is pressed into the pan and chilled before baking, and it's only partially baked so that it doesn't burn when the other ingredients are added and baked.

The next layer is the strawberry filling. Like I said earlier, you can't beat fresh strawberries in this recipe, but I also like to add a layer of strawberry jam. The jam adds more bulk to the filling and helps prevent all the strawberry juices from soaking into the cookie base. If you're having a Martha Stewart or Ina Garten day, you can make your own jam; just remember to use the *good* strawberries (actually no, don't do that since jam is a great way to use up any sub-par berries that are mushy or just plain ugly).

The top layer consists of a buttery streusel packed with more sweetened shredded coconut and almonds. I prefer sliced almonds because I think they look pretty; however, slivered or chopped would work well too. I would try to avoid whole almonds since they're just too big and it doesn't take too much effort to run a knife through them. If that's not enough almond flavor for you, you can add more almonds to the streusel, add a (small) splash of almond extract to your jam, or replace some of the flour in the base with some almond flour. I think I'm going to try this with walnuts or even pecans, and it would also be interesting with other kinds of berries, too.

2 1/2 Cups Flour
1/3 + 1/4 Cup Sugar
3/4 Cup Sweetened Shredded Coconut
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
Pinch Salt
1 Stick + 2 T Butter, Chilled & Cubed
6 T Butter, Softened
1 Egg Yolk
1 Cup Strawberry Jam
1 Pint Fresh Strawberries, Sliced
1/2 Cup Sliced Almonds

Pulse 1 3/4 cups flour, 1/3 cup sugar, 1/2 cup coconut, baking powder, and salt in a food processor until combined. Pulse in the chilled butter until small lumps remain. Whisk the egg yolk and 1 T water together, then pulse into the dough until just combined.

Heat oven to 350F and line a 9x13" pan with parchment.

Press the dough into the prepared pan and chill until cold, about 20 minutes. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until firm.

Combine the remaining flour, remaining sugar, remaining coconut, and softened butter. Stir in the almonds.

When the crust has cooled, spread the jam in an even layer and top with the strawberries. Sprinkle the coconut almond streusel on top and bake for 16-18 minutes or until golden and bubbly.

Makes 24
Recipe Adapted from Milk and Honey

June 17, 2015

Peanut Butter Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies

I realize most of you probably have your Fathers' Day menu all figured out by now, but it's not too late to add to it, especially if you most likely have all the ingredients already. This is probably the manliest cookie you'll ever eat (or it also makes a really really good snack when you're feeling extra indulgent). They're like my peanut butter chocolate chip cookies but better. You know, since they have bacon and all. I could probably pass this off as breakfast, too, thanks to all the peanut butter and bacon (yes, I consider those breakfast foods) and a touch of my manipulative brilliance. Whatever the occasion, trust this slightly odd combination just once and you'll be hooked.

This is by no means a traditional cookie recipe, but it does follow the basic structure of one. It starts by creaming the butter, though here I also add bacon fat, so I suppose the first step is really cooking off a giant skillet of bacon. I do chop up a fair amount of the bacon to add in at the end (spoiler alert), but I always add a few extra slices for me to nibble on while baking and so that I can use the extra fat with the butter. Once the bacon is nice and crispy, I remove it with a slotted spoon, pour the fat through a fine sieve, and chill until opaque and fairly firm. That solid bacon fat is beaten with the butter until fully combined.

Although the butter is usually creamed with the sugar, here I add the peanut butter first so that I know it's fully combined. I use creamy peanut butter even though I plan on adding chopped peanuts at the end so that I can control just how chunky the batter is. After the peanut butter is incorporated, I stir in sugar and brown sugar and beat the mixture until fluffy.

After that, I beat in an egg and some vanilla; just because there's bacon doesn't mean you shouldn't add vanilla. I wouldn't tell you to douse your morning bacon and eggs with it, but I think all good cookies could use a splash. Of course, the cookies need dry ingredients as well, so I stir in flour, baking soda, baking powder, and a dash of salt until combined.

Finally, I gently fold in the textural elements: peanuts, bacon, and chocolate chips. You can adjust the amounts however you want, but be warned that the dough will only hold so much before the cookies start to fall apart. I recommend about equal parts of all three, but if you want more salty, crunch, or melty chocolate, feel free to alter the proportions, keeping it around 1-2 cups total. You can always serve these on a platter of bacon (or chocolate or peanuts) for more flavor. Actually, now I kind of want to start serving everything on a platter of bacon. I'll keep you updated about that.

1 1/4 Cups Flour
1/4 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp Salt
6 Strips Bacon
1/2 Stick Butter, Softened
1/2 Cup Peanut Butter
1/2 Cup Sugar
1/2 Cup Light Brown Sugar
1 Egg
1 tsp Vanilla
1/2 Cup Chopped Peanuts
1/2 Cup Chocolate Chips

Heat oven to 350F and line cookie trays with parchment.

Cook the bacon until crispy. Remove from the pan and reserve the fat, straining to remove any solids and chilling until opaque. Crumble the bacon when cool

Whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together.

Beat the butter and  bacon fat together in a mixer until smooth. Beat in the peanut butter, then add the sugar and brown sugar. Stir in the egg and vanilla and beat until fluffy. Gradually add the flour mixture. Stir in the peanuts, chocolate chips, and crumbled bacon.

Scoop the dough into balls and bake for 12 minutes or until golden.

Makes 22
Recipe Adapted from Food Network

June 8, 2015

Grilled Ribeye with Rosemary Caramelized Onion Butter

You know that scene in the book/movie Holes where (spoiler alert) the boys survive on the mountain by eating a field's worth of raw onions? That's basically me right now with all these Vidalia onions, though I'm not quite at the point where I'm eating them raw. I've fried them up as onion rings, baked them in a velvety French onion tart, and turned them into a savory, spicy cheesy onion chorizo dip. However, my absolute favorite way to make them is to caramelize them and turn them into a compound butter to slather on tender, juicy steak. I pile all of that goodness onto a big plate of buttermilk mashed potatoes for the best possible summer barbecue (especially for Father's Day!).

Despite my love for Vidalia onions, I will admit that the steak is the star of the show. I prefer a nice ribeye, but this recipe works with just about any cut as long as it's one fit for grilling. This is not the time for a tougher cut of meat that needs to braise for hours. Filet, skirt, flank, T-bone, and flatiron are all good options. If you're set on burgers, you can also go that route and just slather the buns with this delicious butter.

I marinate the steak in a simple combination of olive oil, spices, brown sugar, and rosemary. I want the flavors in the butter to shine through, so I use spices in the marinade that will enhance but not overshadow it. My favorites are season salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika. I also add a spoonful of brown sugar for sweetness and some rosemary to complement the butter.

You're probably wondering why I've been ranting about butter, especially on steak. My mom and sister thought I was crazy for making this dish, but it was so so so so so so so good. Melting butter on steak makes it even richer and juicier and adds a velvety texture. I'm not so obsessed that I'll melt a big spoonful of plain butter on my steak now, but a compound butter makes the steak look prettier and taste infinitely better.

The flavors I went with for my compound butter were caramelized onions and rosemary, though you could use any herbs you want and swap out the caramelized onions for roasted garlic. However, Vidalias are special extra-sweet onions grown only in the tiny town of Vidalia, Georgia, and I just had to use them while I'm here and they are in season. They caramelize beautifully, and I will happily eat them on anything. I make sure to save some for the butter, though, which just involves mixing softened butter with the onions and some fresh rosemary. It's ready to be slathered on anything from steak to portobello sliders to biscuits (just try it and you'll be hooked).

Finally, all respectable steak dinners need a starch, and here I chose buttermilk mashed potatoes. They're like regular mashed potatoes in that you peel and dice potatoes, cook them in boiling salted water until fork tender, and mash until smooth (I use a ricer), but I then add buttermilk in addition to the milk, butter, and salt after. I only substitute some of the milk for the buttermilk so it's not overwhelmingly tangy, but I've found that the buttermilk adds creaminess and flavor without all the extra calories. Of course, any other potato would go well with this dish, as would vegetables like corn, asparagus, or green beans.

When you get a bite of steak, potatoes, and butter together, the flavors harmonize to create the perfect balance of salty, savory, and sweet. I'm so excited for summer barbecues just so I can make this recipe, and hopefully you will love it just as much. It's worth splurging on, especially for Father's Day.

2 lbs Steak
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
2 tsp Season Salt
2 tsp Garlic Powder
2 tsp Onion Powder
1 tsp Paprika
1/4 tsp Sea Salt
2 T Sugar
1 T Brown Sugar
5 Cloves Garlic, Minced
4 Sprigs Rosemary
6 T Butter, Softened
4 Sweet Onions, Sliced (Preferably Vidalias)
1/4 tsp Baking Soda

Whisk the olive oil, season salt, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, brown sugar, garlic, and leaves from 2 sprigs of rosemary together. Toss the steak in the marinade and let sit for at least two hours.

Heat some oil in a large skillet. Add the onions and cook over very low heat until caramelized, about 90 minutes. When they are almost done, add the sugar and baking soda and season with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool.

Mix the softened butter, cooled onions, remaining rosemary, and sea salt together.

Heat a grill or grill pan. Cook the steak until it reaches the desired doneness; timing varies based on cut and thickness. Serve with the compound butter.

Serves 6