Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Toffee Shortbread Cookies

When my boys were growing up, it was quite important to me that they knew what a homemade cookie tasted like. It came as quite a revelation to me one day, when my oldest son had a friend over to play while I was making cookies. After they had a chance to cool a bit (the cookies, not the kids) I piled some up on a plate, and served milk and cookies for a snack. 

Wow, said the friend, these are warm! 

This young boy was probably about ten years old, but he had never tasted a homemade cookie before. As someone who has grown up on her mother's and grandmother's cookies (as my thighs will attest) I couldn't fathom anyone not having a similar experience. At that moment I vowed to share the love and made a batch of homemade cookies every week.

As a consequence, Mr. O-P, who came along about this time, blames his love for cookies on me. It seemed that homemade cookies proved even more irresistible than I did, and he headed straight for the cookie jar every time he came to pick me up for a date. That old adage about the way to a man's heart being through his stomach is well tested and proved by me.

Though it's hard to believe that life is more complicated these days than it was then, when I was raising two boys, involved in all of their school and extracurricular activities, and working, my weekly cooking and baking has fallen off. This has sent Mr. O-P, more than once, to the cookie aisle at the local market. For a guy who never ate cookies before he got involved with me, he has now become a bit of an expert.

The other day he came home with a bag of Keebler Toffee Shortbread cookies. Not a fan of any packaged cookie (Pepperidge Farm notwithstanding), I have to say these weren't bad. They also gave me the idea to create my own version using a favorite recipe for shortbread, adding in toffee chips, and decorating them up a bit with a drizzle or two of chocolate. This idea turned out to be nothing short of brilliant! These cookies are great (sorry, Keebler!). I was afraid of adding too many toffee bits and making them crumbly, so just used 1/2 cup, but the next time I'm going to go for broke and add 3/4 cup. I'll let you know what happens.
Toffee Shortbread Cookies
3/4 pound unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup Heath toffee bits (not the chocolate coated kind)
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350º F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until combined thoroughly. Add the vanilla and toffee bits and beat to combine. Sift together the flour and salt (I just place a sieve over the mixer bowl), and add to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Empty contents onto a surface covered with a large piece of plastic wrap, and shape into a flat disk. Wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

Remove dough from fridge, and roll 1/4-inch thick.  Cut with the cookie cutter of your choice. Place the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for 22 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Allow to cool to room temperature before removing to a wire rack.

Drizzle with melted chocolate, if desired.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Company Chicken

Sometimes, instead of searching through my recipe files and cookbooks (that tend to be, ahem, in disarray) for an old favorite recipe, I'll just do a search on my blog to find it.  When I decided to make this recipe, that harkens back to the seventies, I did just that, and was shocked that it wasn't there. This is a recipe that everyone seems to have in one form or other, and it's a good one to have on hand. It is easy, versatile, forgiving, and there isn't a soul who doesn't like it. I've made it with cream of mushroom soup, cream of celery soup, and cream of chicken soup, and it has worked out every time. I toss in mushrooms if I have them, pearl or Cipollini onions, celery, carrots, anything that's handy and will make this a one-dish meal. For me there is a tiny bit of advanced prep because, in the same way that I brine pork before cooking it, I soak chicken in buttermilk overnight before using it. Try this, and you will never again have dry or stringy chicken, even if you make the mistake of overlooking it.

This retro recipe goes by many names, but in my family it has always been known as...

Company Chicken

4 skinless/boneless chicken breasts
4 thin slices of smoked bacon
1 2-ounce package Buddig® dried beef, thinly sliced
1/2 cup sour cream
1 can Low Salt Cream of Mushroom soup
1/2 cup dry white wine

1 package of fresh mushrooms, quartered
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup carrots, julienne-sliced
1 Tablespoon freshly chopped parsley
1 cup pearl onions

Preheat oven to 275ºF.

Rinse and dry chicken breasts and wrap bacon around each breast.  Butter the bottom of a 9 x 9 glass baking dish and spread the sliced dried beef across the bottom. Place the bacon-wrapped chicken breasts on top of the beef.  In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the soup, sour cream, and wine. Stir in any of the extras that you care to use. Spread mixture over the top of the chicken. Bake uncovered at 275
ºF for 1-1/2 hours and then cover and cook at 350ºF for an additional 1 hour.

This dish can also be made in a crockpot. Layer ingredients in the manner above in the crockpot and cook on low for 6 hours.
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Monday, May 18, 2015

Sugarfire Pie's Signature Pie

Mr. O-P knows Latin and, like most men, he loves to regale me with his wisdom. So much so that if I hear the phrase De gustibus non est disputandum one more time, I'm going to whap him a good one. Directly translated it means about tastes, it must not be disputed/discussed, the implication being that everyone's personal preferences are merely subjective opinions that can be neither right nor wrong.  No better example do I have of this than with the making of this pie.

As mentioned yesterday, I am a bit leery when it comes tospecial request recipes.  You know the ones. They are for dishes at local restaurants that people enjoy, and so write in to magazines or newspapers to request the recipe in the hopes of having them published so that they can make this much-enjoyed item in their own homes.

A couple of weeks ago someone requested the recipe for Sugarfire Smokehouse's Pie Shop's Signature Pie (are you still with me?), and it was published in all its sweet glory. I am not a pie person per se, but I know a lot of people who are, one in particular who was coming to join us for dinner and baseball last week, so as treat I made this pie. A seasoned cook and baker, I was a bit leery of the 2-1/2 cups of sugar called for, but against my better judgment, made it exactly as written. If you have ever eaten brown sugar out of the box (and I actually have done, so I know whereof I speak), it wouldn't have been as sweet at this pie. Cloying seems too kind a word. People managed to get it down, followed by gallons of hot coffee, but I heard the words tooth achingly sweet, like eating pralines in pie form, and was like eating pure sugar. 

I bid my guests goodbye along with my profuse apologies and a coupon for 50 cents off a tube of Crest, and then set immediately to work writing a letter to the food editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to tell her that, clearly, a mistake had been made. Within 24 hours I received a reply and was told that, no, the recipe was 100% correct. So I took to social media to warn people against making this pie. Much to my surprise I was met by a lot of comments from Sugarfire defenders telling me that this delicious, Momofuko-type clone was their favorite pie and that they were addicted to it. Okay!

Now, I am a fan of Sugarfire. Their brisket sandwich is the stuff of which dreams are made; their coffee barbecue sauce so heavenly delicious that I was the one who wrote in to request that recipe, got it, and shared it with you here. So for those of you who have a sweet tooth that will not quit, I offer you this recipe for a pie that some deem so good as to become habit forming. This is the first time in my near five years of blogging that I have ever published a recipe for an item that I myself will not eat, but what can I say? De gustibus non est disputandem. Make it at your own risk, and don't say I didn't warn you.Sugarfire Pie's Signature Pie 
For the crust 
Vanilla wafers, enough to make 1 ½ cups crumbs
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the filling
1 cup granulated sugar
1½ cups dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
½ teaspoon salt
4 large egg yolks
¼ cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Make the crust. Grind vanilla wafers in a food processor to yield 1 ½ cups crumbs. In a bowl, stir together crumbs and 6 tablespoons butter until crumbly. With your hands, press into a 9-inch metal disposable pie pan. Do not bake.

Make the filling. With an electric mixer on low speed to avoid adding air, combine sugars, cornmeal and salt, then egg yolks, cream and vanilla. Add ½ cup butter and mix until fully incorporated.

Pour filling into crust. Bake for about 30 minutes until the top is round and puffy. To test for doneness, gently shake the pie: It should be a little jiggly in the center, not at the edges.

Let cool, then refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.
To serve Sugarfire Pie-style, sprinkle pie with powdered sugar and cut in 6 to-be-shared slices.
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