June 27, 2016

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Shortbread

Given how much of a success my peanut butter chocolate chip cookies were a few years ago, I figured I should post another recipe that's even better for picnics, barbecues, and other 4th of July celebrations. Instead of a soft peanut-butter flavored chocolate chip cookie, this recipe is a buttery, crumbly peanut butter shortbread studded with mini chocolate chips. You can make the dough as far in advance as you want and bake off however many cookies you want, and the best part is that it's egg free, so you can eat whatever dough you don't bake.

The dough is insanely easy to make. All you have to do is beat some peanut butter, softened butter, and granulated sugar together, add a splash of vanilla, stir in some flour and salt, and fold in as many mini chocolate chips as you want. No eggs, no leavening, no liquid ingredients. You can make things more interesting texturally by using crunchy peanut butter or stirring in a handful of chopped roasted peanuts. A pinch of flaky sea salt on top of each sliced cookie would bring out the peanutty flavor as well.

Once the dough comes together, roll it into a log and chill it for at least an hour. This allows all the dry ingredients to hydrate and the moisture to redistribute. Cold dough is also much easier to slice neatly than soft room-temperature dough. It can be difficult sometimes to get a perfectly round log (and whatever shape log you have is how the cookies will bake unless you're some sort of wizard), but I like to wrap the dough in parchment or plastic wrap, shape it gently into a log, and place the log in a split paper towel tube. The cardboard tube helps keep a smooth, round shape, which results in pretty, circular cookies.

To dress these cookies up for a summer event, you can easily turn them into ice cream sandwiches instead of just eating them plain. I'm pretty much drooling right now picturing some salted caramel ice cream sandwiched between two of these addicting cookies. You can also crumble them up and use them as an ice cream topping if that's more your style. Even better, you can crumble up the dough and use that as a mix-in since no eggs = no salmonella. Food poisoning would be kind of a bummer, at least at my Independence Day cookout, so stick with these cookies and you'll have a great time. These cookies speak for themselves and their taste is a much better selling point than a lack of food poisoning, so just try them and maybe not mention that part.

2 Sticks Butter, Softened
1/2 Cup Peanut Butter
1/2 Cup Sugar
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla
3 1/3 Cups Flour
1/2 tsp Salt
3/4 Cup Mini Chocolate Chips
1/3 Cup Chopped Roasted Peanuts, Optional

Beat the butter, peanut butter, sugar, and brown sugar together until fluffy. Add the vanilla, then stir in the flour and salt. Fold in the mini chocolate chips.

Split the dough in half and roll each into a log. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

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

Cut the log into slices and bake for 8-12 minutes or until set.

Makes 30
Recipe Adapted from How Sweet Eats

June 18, 2016

Bourbon Cherry Pork Roast

In honor of Father's Day, my approaching 21st birthday, my family's love of all things bacon, and the gorgeous produce at the farmers' market, I have decided to make a bacon-wrapped pork loin with a sweet bourbon cherry glaze. It's one of those dishes made with just a handful of unpretentious ingredients that somehow manages to be incredibly impressive. This is probably about as fancy as wrapping things in bacon gets, people.

It starts with one big pork tenderloin. If you want to speed the cooking or just can't find one big enough for your family, it's fine to make a few smaller ones as long as you adjust the cooking times accordingly. One of my few qualms (ok, probably my only one) with wrapping things in bacon is that you have to find the balance between crispy bacon and properly cooked meat. Normally 375F just gets you soggy bacon, but here it's cooked long enough on the pork that any higher would burn it. And if it's not quite crisp enough for you, then you can always throw the whole hunk of pork in a big skillet to finish it off.

If you're worried about the bacon falling off, you can use kitchen twine to hold it all together. I've found that overlapping the bacon slightly (anything that overlaps won't get too crispy so I try to minimize it) and placing the pork loin seam-side down generally keeps it all in place. Given how much I love bacon, I tried to keep the other seasonings minimal. There's just a bit of salt, pepper, and thyme, but you can always add some cayenne pepper for a bit of a kick.

The sauce will mellow out any heat you add to the pork. It's a luscious, velvety combination of bourbon, sweet molasses, and tart cherries. They simmer together to form a thick glaze with juicy bites of fruit. Normally fruits and meats don't go too well together, but pork is such a nice canvas for summer fruits (like this bourbon peach barbecue recipe) that it's worth a try if you're feeling a bit skeptical.  You can also just wrap the pork in the bacon and serve the sauce on the side if some of your guests aren't feeling too adventurous. I personally say just go for it and drown the crispy piggy goodness in the sauce, and throw in an extra splash of bourbon while you're at it.

1 1/2 lbs Pork Tenderloin
8 Strips Bacon
1 tsp Fresh Thyme
1/2 Cup Bourbon
1/2 Cup Molasses
1/4 tsp Salt (plus extra for seasoning the pork)
2 Cups Cherries, Halved & Pitted

Heat oven to 375F.

Season the pork with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the thyme. Wrap in the bacon and roast in the oven until cooked through, about 20 minutes. If necessary, transfer to a skillet over medium-high heat to crisp the bacon.

Meanwhile, whisk the bourbon, molasses, and salt together with 1 cup of water. Simmer until thickened, about 8 minutes. Stir in the cherries and cook for another 4 minutes. Serve the sauce over the pork.

Serves 4

June 3, 2016

Flank Steak with Tomato Caper Relish

Despite being back in university housing (this time in Omaha for an internship), I still think summer is the time for grilling. Living in a studio apartment with arbitrary rules won't stop me and my co-interns from throwing Memorial Day barbecues and grilling burgers after work. Since I'm in Omaha, I thought it was only appropriate to post a recipe for steak, and I was inspired by the local farmers' market to throw some gorgeous fresh tomatoes on top in the form of a bright and colorful relish.

I chose a flank steak for this recipe because it's cheap, thin, and tender. The cheap part is good because I just got my first paycheck but a good chunk went straight to Uncle Sam and it made me a little sad. The thin part is good because it marinates faster and cooks faster so it goes from in my fridge to in my mouth much faster. The tender part is good because if I spent all this time making a fancy steak dinner it better not be chewy.

If flank steaks aren't your thing, you can use this marinade/rub and relish on any cut (or even any meat). Skirt steak is a similar cut in case you just can't find it, but if you feel like splurging my personal favorites are filet mignon, New York strip, and ribeye. However, this could also work on grilled chicken or pork. It's the exact same process regardless of the meat you use but the marinating and cooking times will likely need to be extended.

I'll be honest here: the best part of this dish is the relish. I do love a good steak, so I suppose I should have phrased it the most special part of the dish is the relish. The tart tomatoes are countered with some briny capers and spicy jalapeno, and together they cut the rich, savory flavors of the steak. Any kind of tomato will do, but I found a big container of rainbow cherry tomatoes at Costco that looked absolutely gorgeous in this recipe (they should pay me for saying that). The red, orange, gold, green, and purple hues popped against the other ingredients for a truly show-stopping entree.

The key to making the relish so flavorful is letting it marinate for a while. Yes, you have to marinate two things for this but I promise it will be worth it. The garlic and the jalapeno mellow out, and the tomatoes soak up all the flavors so each bite pops. My dad had me make a triple batch of just the relish so he could eat it on toast all week, so don't limit yourself to steaks. The tomato relish would be fantastic on sandwiches, burgers, grits, and rice. If you think of any other creative applications please comment below! I'm sure everyone would love to hear your ideas.

1 Cup Cherry Tomatoes, Halved
3 T Capers
1/2 Jalapeño, Minced
1 Clove Garlic, Minced
1/4 Cup + 3 T Olive Oil
2 T Lime Juice
2 tsp Chili Powder
1 1/4 tsp Cumin
3/4 tsp Cayenne
2 T Brown Sugar
1 1/2 lbs Flank Steak

Combine the tomatoes, capers, jalapeño, and garlic. Whisk 1/4 cup olive oil, lime juice, 1/4 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp chili powder, and some salt and pepper together. Toss the tomato mixture in the dressing and let sit for at least 2 hours.

Meanwhile, whisk the remaining olive oil, cumin, chili powder, cayenne, and brown sugar together. Season with salt and pepper. Marinate the steak in the spiced oil for at least 2 hours.

Heat a grill or grill pan. Cook the steak until it reaches the desired temperature, approximately 2 minutes per side. Top with the tomato caper relish.

Serves 4
Recipe Adapted from Bon Appetit