Sunday, January 29, 2012

Somebody stepped in the Unicorn Poop

My friend Robin challenged me to make Unicorn Poop for her birthday.  I at first thought it was a ridiculous wish and I would not be doing it.  But then I decided that it actually didn't seem that hard...and I could do it.

The recipe for unicorn poop is on Instructables. Haven't you read the book Everybody Poops and asked, but what about unicorns?

Well it turns out unicorns do poop after all! And their poop is unlike any other animal! It is rainbow colored, sparkly, shiny and filled with stars and bears and dinosaurs. It's true, I've seen it with my own eyes!

The problem with my unicorn poop is that sometime between putting the pointed swirls in the oven and taking them out someone snuck in and stepped in the poop! The resulting piles were flattened and only resembled piles--not piles fresh from the animal.  Flattened! The nerve of some people or elves or whomever stepped on these piles!

Making these cookies was actually rather easy--just lots and lots of hands on time and a lot of time in general. So leave time!

I used the sugar cookie recipe on the instructables page but I think any roll-out sugar cookie dough should work for you.  Also the recipe only makes 30 tiny and 5 gigantic cookies which isn't too many if you're going to go to all the trouble to make them in the first place. I recommend making a bigger cookie recipe.

After mixing the dough, you must put in the food coloring. I used the gel food coloring which I have used before but I bet it would be easier with the liquid variety although I don't know if you would have such vibrant colors!  To use the gel kind break your dough into 6 balls and dip a toothpick into the color and then rub the toothpick onto one dough ball. Next, massage the color in with your hands. Beware! The color will get all over your hands and under your nails so you may want to consider wearing gloves at this point. Although, if you have nothing important going on the week following you can embrace the rainbowy hands. Honestly it goes away if you wash your hands a thousand times like you have to do with this recipe.

Once each color is mixed into the ball of dough, break those balls up into several small balls--the size of the shooter marble in marbles and then put each group of marbles into ziploc bags.

In order to not have the snakes dry out or get too soft it was best to roll one snake in it's entirety and get it into spiral poo pile at once and then throw it on a baking sheet in the fridge.

1. Make sugar cookie dough according to directions
2. Split dough into six balls and rub with rainbow food coloring (I used red, lemon yellow, kelly green, teal, royal blue and purple. On afterthought I wish I used pink or another yellow instead of teal & blue but maybe they are perfect anyway).
3. Split your new color balls into 12 or so marble shooters and chill in ziplocs by rainbow if possible but one color at a time is fine. I actually stored mine in bowls since I already had them out but if your fridge isn't totally empty that could prove impossible. Chill dough for at least an hour
4. Lay a large silicon baking mat on your counter and dust very lightly with flour. Dust your hands a bit too but try to get all excess off
5. Take out 6 rainbow balls and roll them out into snakes carefully. Lie each snake next to another color and press together lightly. Once all snakes are rolled roll the snake pile into one large snake of spiral colors by twisting a little.  Note - Cookie dough is not as strong as playdough
6. Twist your spiral into a pile and pinch the ends. They will flatten in the oven so try all the methods you can think of to get them to stay in piles. At the very least make exaggerated spirals so you can see something when flattened. I put a few bears and dinosaurs (the sprinkled candy kind) on some of the cookies just for fun.
7. Place each pile on a cookie tray in the fridge until you have a full tray to bake. Preheat the oven according to the directions.
8. Bake and let cool on wire racks
9. Once cooled, spread the sparkly gel on top of the cookies with a silicon brush or spatula
10. Then sprinkle with sugar stars and make sure they stick
11. Next take the edible glitter and sprinkle across the cookie. If you get a clump of glitter, just knock it onto another cookie with a good shake. If you want to omit the glitter you totally can because the gel stuff is glittery by itself.

These cookies taste good too and if you just want to make rainbow sugar cookies you can follow the same steps but definitely add the stars!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Parker House Rolls - What Happened?

When we first got an iPad the most interesting app we downloaded was my subscription for Everyday Food iPad version. This magazine is seriously fantastic on the iPad. It does everything it does well in magazine form plus interactive features and videos! My only complaint is that you can't dog-ear or bookmark the pages to remember it for later.

All the way back in the Thanksgiving issue, Joey and I watched a video for Parker House Rolls. The video and the pictures pretty much put them on a pedestal of best looking dinner rolls you have ever had.  We were immediately disappointed we had offered to bring dessert instead of dinner rolls.  We put the recipe on the back burner to remember for later.

Later came, and at a weird too late hour to really be ready by dinner, we decided to make the Parker House rolls. Only issue? We didn't have any milk and weren't confident in the active-ness of our yeast. I rushed to the store and we started the process realizing that with this sidestep we may be having dinner after 8:30pm.

We followed the directions and got to the part of "using a dough hook mix bread for 10 minutes until in a ball." It took us maybe 2 minutes and that's a stretch to reach the ball stage and already by then the dough hook was determined to launch the dough across the kitchen.

We set the wet-towel covered bowl upstairs in the guest room to be in the warmest place and draft free (lucky guests!) to rise for the first hour.  After the first hour it seemed to have risen and we moved on to the roll stage and second rise.  After the second rise the rolls seemed slightly bigger so we baked 8 of them and threw the rest of the dough into the freezer for another day.

We baked our rolls starving as we waited for the pork tenderloin to finish cooking and dinner to be ready.  The result was a very dense roll much like a biscuit but more bready.  It was not a horrible thing.  All the rolls we baked were eaten but they weren't the fluffy examples we'd poured over from the video we'd been watching since November.  We decided that we could fix the bread with what we had left in the freezer on another occasion.

That other occasion came on the weekend.  We took the bread from the freezer and let it "rise" in the bag overnight while we let it defrost.  We then threw it in a bowl with a wet towel and gave it all day to do it's thing.  It didn't.

Then we turned to Google and I discussed our problem with my baking friends and we decided that what most likely happened was that the "room temperature milk" needed to activate the yeast was too cold.  The internet said that we could indeed fix our mistake by mixing 1t yeast + 1/4t sugar + 1/4 C warm water.  We let the yeast mixture sit ten minutes until it foamed and bubbled (the yeast is fine!) and then kneaded as much of it as we could into the slightly drier dough.  Then we set the dough in a bowl with a damp cloth over it and left it overnight.

The next morning we were both absolutely thrilled to see that the bread dough had risen!  Our problem was fixed!  Unfortunately, it was early morning and we had no time to bake bread.  We stuck the bowl covered in plastic wrap in the fridge and hoped for the best.

This evening I finally was able to make it. I pulled the dough out and did a little bit of kneading and then cut it into large chunks trying to make the equivelent of hamburger bun sized rolls.  We plan to have them with pulled pork when they come out of the oven...they smell fantastic although they didn't so much stick together in roll-shaped circles.  And the verdict?

The rolls were good but still not right.  They weren't fluffy inside and out, they had a bit of a crust on the outside and were still a little dense but rather fluffy inside too just not as light as a dinner roll. The rolls were actually perfect for pulled pork sandwiches! They are not perfect for Thanksgiving dinner though.

Next step - Make a new bread recipe because it sure does make the house smell delicious at the very least!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Chili-Rubbed Steak Tacos

Ellie Krieger is a Food Network Star who seems to be relatively unknown, which is too bad because she makes a lot of great healthy dishes! Recently, I was browsing Food Network's Healthy Weekday meals slideshow and I came across a recipe for Ellie's Chili-Rubbed Steak Tacos.  They sounded perfect and fast for a weekday!

I ended up making the tacos tonight after to a visit to the museum with my sister's family.  They really were quick. The entire meal was ready in 30 minutes!  I grilled the top sirloin steaks for about 7 minutes or so flipping only once. I ended up buying 4 individual sirloin steaks although in the video it looks like one single. This actually was a good idea because I didn't put the spicy spices on one of the steaks for my nephew.

I did not make anything but the steak from her recipe but it had a nice flavor in our tacos with all of my favorite toppings!  I will make this again!

Chili Rubbed Spiced Tacos Recipe

I served this steak with:
Corn tortillas
Raw white onion
mixed shredded cheese
queso fresca


Monday, January 9, 2012

Vegetable Barley Soup with Beef

A few days ago, I decided to slow-cook a roast beef.  I used a recipe from All Recipes that called for only 1/2 C of water. I thought that seemed to be not much liquid at all but decided that 40 people and 5 stars knew what they were talking about.

12 hours later, I arrived home to a dish hanging out in the slow cooker on warm that smelled amazing and was dryer than a pumice stone. We went out for pizza. Joey offered to douse the meat with A1 sauce and eat it for lunch but I was disappointed I couldn't think of what to do with it but slice it and throw it in the fridge.

The carrots, which were immersed in the liquid were fantastic and I ate those for lunch.  After Joey had some meat for lunch he decided that the meat tasted a lot like soup meat. He suggested we make some soup and add the meat.  I'm not much into making soup but I was game for trying to resurrect my dreadful roast.

I searched the web and spoke to my soup-making sister and came up with a game plan.  I followed two recipes tweaking them as the soup simmered.  I think the result is rather delicious but time will tell when we eat it for real tomorrow.

This recipe is adapted from Martha Stewart's Chunky Turkey Vegetable Soup and MyRecipes Beef & Barley.

1 C pearl barley
4 carrots, diced
3 celery spears, diced in crescents
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt & pepper
1 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1 14.5 ounce can stewed tomatoes in juice
1 box beef broth
1 C water
2 bay leaves
2 T tomato paste
1 tsp olive oil
2 C cooked beef, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped

1. Chop all the vegetables before you start cooking because once you start things go faster than expected.
2. In a large pot with a lid, heat olive oil over medium.  Add onion and garlic and cook until soft, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes.
3. When onion is soft, add tomato paste and stir
4. Add tomatoes and their juice, celery, broth, water, carrots, bay leaves, rosemary and salt and pepper to the pot. Bring to a boil.
5. Once the soup has started to boil, add the zucchini and barley and reduce heat. Cover and simmer 30 minutes or until barley is cooked
6. Remove bay leaves and add beef. Leave on the burner until the beef is warmed through and serve
7. If you eat the soup right away ignore this step. If you don't eat the soup immediately, the liquid may absorb completely into the barley. Keep extra beef broth on hand to revitalize the liquid for your next bowl. Just scoop out the soup you want and add enough broth for your tastes. You could probably add broth & water if you are so inclined.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Recipe Makeover: Blood Orange Chocolate Chunk Muffins

Last year, I became completely obsessed with this blood orange chocolate chunk muffin recipe after reading about a new blog in town White on Rice Couple in the Sunset magazine.  Throughout citrus season, I made their recipe and loved it.  The flavors were just so fresh, the texture so fluffy and spot on for my morning and because it had fruit in it, I felt it was a pretty good breakfast.

Well, I think it's pretty common knowledge now that I've lost over 20 lbs since July 2011.  I'm using Weight Watchers--a program I always admitted was not for me because I couldn't drink my milk or have any fruit.  But recently, they changed the program to allow many fruits and vegetables to have no point values at all so that people would still get the nutrients they needed on good foods instead of skipping them altogether.  On a trip to Las Vegas in July, I weighed myself and learned I was 10lbs greater than I had thought.  This had to change I decided and I followed in the footsteps of my friends Kate & Jon and stepped on over to WW and joined up.

Following the program has not been nearly as difficult as I expected.  I really found that I learned how to moderate my eating and limit my consumption of terrible foods that taste wonderful (pizza) to one time per week at the most and increase my consumption of free foods (blackberries/blueberries/raspberries) so that when everyone at the office was snacking, I could too--on little bursts of delicious sweetness to hold me over until dinner.

I also learned that some of my favorite recipes really aren't that healthy.  For instance, my favorite muffin of 2011 turned out to be 7 points! That's a lot of points for one muffin when it's not that filling in the first place (for your comparison, I get 28 points a day, although there are also flex points I can use each week).  The problem is, citrus season is upon us and I WANTED my favorite muffin.  So I decided that I would have my muffin but I would revise the recipe to make it a more reasonable breakfast points value (I aim for 3-5 points for breakfast because breakfast is NOT my favorite meal of the day).

This is the first time I've ever done a recipe makeover. I think the results taste just like the real thing except maybe I cooked them a dash too long.  I will revise the cooking time here so that when you make them you can bake them just right!

1 Muffin = 4 Points+

Blood Orange Chocolate Chunk Muffins
*These muffins can be made with any citrus fruit of your choice. This time I used regular oranges because blood oranges are apparently not yet in season. The flavors are still excellent, although a little more orangy than when using the scarlet beauties.

Yield 12 muffins
1 C whole wheat whole grain flour
3/4 C all purpose white flour
1/2 C sugar
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/4t sea salt
grated zest of 3 blood oranges (I used 3 small oranges for the zest)
3oz dark chocolate, cut into small chunks
1/2 C unsweetened applesauce (measure in a liquid measuring cup)
2/3 C fresh blood orange juice (I used the same 3 small oranges AFTER zesting and also juiced 1 large orange as I was short)
1 t vanilla extract
2 eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 400 and line a 12-cup regular muffin pan with muffin liners or if necessary grease with cooking spray
2. In a large bowl, mix together the first 7 ingredients. Stir in chocolate chunks and combine.
3. In a smaller bowl combine applesauce, orange juice, extract and eggs.  Make sure to beat the eggs to fully combine.
4. Pour liquid mixture into dry and mix with a spoon until just combined being sure to scrape the flour from the bottom and edges of the bowl.
5. Spoon batter into the prepared muffin tins into rounded scoops--these muffin cups will be very full and that will make them into rounded muffins in the oven.
6. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean
7. Cool slightly before serving.  When the muffins are completely cooled, store them in a ziploc bag or airtight container. These also freeze well.  If you freeze them you can defrost one the night before on the counter or in the microwave. I think they taste best when warmed because the chocolate gets all melty

What did I change?
1/2 C butter became 1/2 C unsweetened applesauce.  The butter added 24 points to the recipe, the applesauce is worth 0 points
1 C all purpose flour became 1 C whole grain whole wheat flour. This actually only shaved off 1 point from the recipe but I had this whole wheat flour I wanted to use so I did it
6 oz Chocolate became 3 oz chocolate.  I don't remember how this changed the points value but I do know that it was significant.  While dark chocolate is high in antioxidants it is still dessert.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Citrus Marinated Chicken

On Saturdays, I make a stop at Sprouts Farmer's Market part of my morning errands.  Sprouts is kind of like Whole Foods with their organic brands and bulk bins, but cheaper and not as fancy.  I love the produce there--it is so reasonably priced and on sales you sometimes get deals as wonderful as the Mexican markets.

Last Saturday, I went to Sprouts for oranges (well actually I wanted to see if blood oranges were available and the actual farmer's market hardly had any farmers hopefully due to the holiday) but I went by the meat section too.  The meat sales at Sprouts are always fantastic.  The best part is you don't have to buy enough to feed an army to get the sale.  I left the store with loads of fruits and vegetables, and two different cuts of meat plus a variety of other items for around $20.  I bought 4 chicken drumsticks for $2 and two miniature steaks for less.

Unfortunately, this new year my cooking skills seem to have plummeted to an all time low.  My first meal of the year was an incredibly overcooked and ridiculously dry roast beef in the slow cooker.  There are many reasons that beef could have failed and I won't go into them, let's just end with we had pizza that night and we might try to put it in soup.

The second day of the new year I cooked the miniature steaks and crispy roasted potatoes.  The potatoes were almost perfect but the steaks were a tad over cooked and had to be doused in A1 sauce for moisture. To be fair, I was distracted by trivia questions being thrown at me while I was cooking.

So this third day, I decided to fall back on an actual recipe because that way at least I would have more people to blame if it failed.  The good news is that this day, this third day, the recipe worked and was delicious.

And I didn't even follow directions.  Why not you say? Well that's because I decided to make the recipe at 11pm and thought "of course I have those ingredients" when in fact I had 3/5/.  But the good news is that it still worked out and was rather delicious--with a dash of salt on top.  AND I grilled these little drumsticks to perfection too with very little help.

Adapted from this completely different recipe by The Pioneer Woman

Serves 2
4 Chicken Drumsticks
1 small grapefruit
1 orange
1 1/2 t olive oil
salt - I never add enough so I trust you will make a good decision
pepper - I don't really like pepper, I added 2 turns of the mill
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

1. In the morning or at least a few hours before serving, prepare the marinade.
2. Juice the orange & grapefruit over a liquid measuring cup, reserve rinds. Add salt, pepper, olive oil and garlic.
3. Place drumsticks in a large ziploc bag and arrange fruit rinds inside.  Pour marinade over chicken and refrigerate until ready to grill
4. Heat the grill to 400. Turn off the middle burner and brown chicken on each side (there are 4) 3-4 minutes.
5. Once chicken is browned cook 10 minutes covered.  Check the chicken and turn it over and cook another 10 minutes OR possibly less.  The chicken should be about 160 degrees in the meatiest part.
6. Serve warm with vegetables