Friday, May 27, 2011

Honey-Nut Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars

 As a server working a 12 hour double, I usually get my satisfaction from a fat stack of cash.  Tips are supposed to balance out my measly wage, but tonight I left with a wimpy wallet.  Such situations encourage some to hit the bottle, but I would rather sneak into the kitchen cabinet for another substance: chocolate.  Salivating for the sweet cocoa taste, I reached for a bag of chocolate chips.  As I clutched my prize, I felt an unsettling squish.  Melted chocolate – of course.  Living in a un-air conditioned house had finally revealed its price.  
 Chocolate cravings were reaching urgent levels; I didn’t have much time.  I gripped and ripped the bag of liquefied chocolate, and squeezed it into a saucepot along with a few spoonfuls of creamy peanut butter.   Heating it at low, I stirred in several handfuls of the off-brand honey-nut cereal.  Once all the cereal was evenly coated, I plopped spoonfuls onto the top of a Tupperware lid covered in tinfoil.  Desperate times call for desperate measures, people.  Then I stuck the Tupperware tray into the freezer and let the bars chill for about 15-20 minutes (I recommend you let them go longer, but I don’t have that kind of self-control when I’m having a chocolate craving attack).  
So the next time the chocolate bug bites, know that you are only three ingredients and 20 minutes away from having a cold, crunchy, chocolaty, peanut butter bliss bar.  *Sigh of relief*, “That was easy”.

Honey-Nut Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars
1 (12 oz) bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
4 T peanut butter
About 2-3 cups honey-nut cereal
1.       Mix chocolate chips and peanut butter in saucepan over low heat until melted.
2.       Add in cereal – make sure that all can be covered by chocolate sauce.
3.       Place large spoonfuls on cookie sheet covered in tinfoil/parchment paper/etc., let chill in freezer for about 15-20 minutes. 
4.       Store in bags or Tupperware in fridge/freezer for as long as you can keep them.
Makes about a dozen decent sized bars.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Pickles and Peas

What is the weirdest thing you have ever eaten?  Tonight, I ate pickles and peas for dinner.  Yes, sliced kosher dill pickles and frozen peas.
Lately, the combination of working at the restaurant and moving into a new place for the summer has forced me to take a temporary cooking hiatus.  My vintage Revereware pots and pans have been allocated to large liquor cases I procured for free from the ABC store; and without new groceries for 2 weeks, my fridge has turned into a chilled, barren box.  I was left with the dregs of my food supplies and one accessible pot.  This disorienting situation pushed my creative limits, and is probably what propelled me to reach for the pickles and peas.  I should switch my degree to Thrifty Ingenuity instead of Government – seems more apt for me.  
I love pickles, but I regularly throw the juice down the sink once I am finished eating them.  Saving the juice never seemed worth it - what a waste.  Some people claim that it works miracles on muscle cramps and hangovers, while others believe that it is relegated only to the weird cravings of pregnant women and the drunken dares of peers.  There must be a way to incorporate pickle juice into cooking.  After all, it's just water, vinegar (acetic acid), calcium chloride, salt, and some flavorings like dill and garlic. That’s it? I could work with that.  
Frustrated with my lack of food, I finally settled for frozen peas.   For a pre-dinner snack (if you can call peas ‘dinner’), I retrieved the pickle jar from the fridge.  Crunching on a kosher dill pickle, I wondered how pickles would taste with peas.   Peas are pretty good, pickles are way good, and I already had dill weed in the peas.   Peas and pickle juice, why not.  I hesitantly added the briny liquid to the peas as they were simmering.  The combination created a very green, grassy, and salty taste.  The great thing about peas is that they will pleasantly absorb any flavor they come into contact with. 
Some might think that making a dish with pickles, peas, dill weed, pickle juice, garlic, and unsalted butter sounds desperate.  I found it an amusing and unique side dish.  I would pair it with fish or chicken – some sort of light meat – or perhaps incorporate some navy beans and make it a stew or soup.  I did not use a recipe, or measure anything out.  But here is a rough estimate:
Pickles and Peas
1 cup peas, frozen
1 T butter, unsalted
¼ cup pickle juice
1 tsp dried dill weed
½ clove garlic, finely diced
4-5 pickles, sliced  

1.       Place everything but the pickles into small saucepan.  Bring to boil, then reduce to a simmer.
2.       Continue to simmer about 5-7 minutes.  (Let most of the liquid simmer off)
3.       Add sliced pickles right before serving. 
Makes about 1 cup.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Jalapeno, Lime, and CilanTrio: 3 Different Dips Using the Same Three Ingredients

I love a bargain as much as the next guy, but some cheap things must be bought on principle.  Take, for example, an $8 deep fryer we found at a thrift store.  Sure, it’s not going to produce anything overtly healthy (so far we have fried tortillas, pickles, saltines, and beignets – no regrets so far); but at least by the end of exams, your brain won’t be the only thing breaded and fried.  

Our deep fryer was full of possibility, easily outdoing any dorm’s vending machine as the best junk food machine around.  Some were skeptical – “What are you going to do with it?” Better question, what were we NOT going to do with it.  Visions of sugarplum fairies have nothing on beer-battered shrimp, crispy fried chicken, or fried dough.  Soft corn tortillas, the precursor to a perfect dipping vessel, were on sale for about $3 a package of 30, so we picked one up.  When we returned home, and cut each individual tortilla into 4 slices, we realized we had way more than a lot of chips. 
A ritual was born: finish an exam or paper, and then start up the deep fryer.  The reserve brain power we had left was enough to absently plop soft tortillas into our cauldron of scalding oil and watch them emerge as hot, honey-golden crisps.  After a quick sprinkle of salt, they offered the perfect salty crunch to kick started our fading minds.  But we weren’t finished yet.  We wanted something to go with it… Chips + dips=bliss. (Unfortunately, I saw none of these equations on my finals)

The fridge revealed a Mexican powerhouse trio: jalapeno, lime and cilantro.  Initially, we had planned on having guacamole and salsa on separate nights.  But with the copious chip count, we wanted both.  We upped the ante, added hummus to the dip list, and made all three for dinner.  Each incorporated the three fresh ingredients, but had a uniquely defined character.  Arranged elegantly on a long plate, we treated ourselves to velvety guacamole, vibrant salsa, and creamy hummus.  Served cold, it was the kind of meal you could enjoy when it’s too hot for anything heavy.   Although we had it as a dinner, it would also be an excellent appetizer before a meal of grilled chicken or flank steak. 
2 avocados, mashed
1 lime, juiced
¾ cup cilantro, finely diced 
½ small onion, diced
1 tomato, seeded and diced
1 jalapeƱo, seeded and diced
1 tsp salt (to taste)
¼ tsp cumin
1.       Mash avocados into a paste. 
2.       Mix in the rest of the ingredients, and chill.  Place plastic wrap over the guacamole (even when in a sealed container) to preserve freshness and color.
Makes about 2 cups. 

Fresh Salsa
1 (14.5 oz) can organic tomatoes, diced
1 large tomato, seeded and diced
½ red onion, finely diced
½ cup corn, frozen but brought to room temperature
1 (14.5 oz) can black beans
½ cup cilantro, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
Salt and pepper to taste
1.       Mix together all ingredients.  Serve chilled. 
Makes about 4 cups.

Cilantro Jalapeno Hummus
1 (14.5 oz) can garbanzo beans, reserve drained liquid
1 T tahini
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely minced
½ cup cilantro, chopped
Lime juice
1.       Remove as many skins from beans as possible. 
2.       Place beans into food processor or blender.  Blend, adding reserve bean liquid when needed.   Should come out looking like a thick, beige paste. 

3.       Add tahini, garlic, jalapeno, and cilantro to blender. 

4.       Season with lime juice, cumin, and salt.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Raw vs. Roast: Oysters and Bone Marrow

They told me oysters were an aphrodisiac.  I would describe as more like a sloppy, seawater kiss.  My first oysters tasted like how I imagine slimy, frog tongues taste.  These grey, ghost-like forms floated on top of puddles of briny ‘oyster liquor’.  Once I slurped the nectar from the shell, I was instructed to gulp down the rest of it whole.  Slowly, it slithered down - that cold, fat, amorphous glob.  The second one was given a quick chew.  I found its texture to be like rubbery flesh and the aftertaste to be straight salt-water.  It’s not that I had a “bad oyster” (admittedly it was a pestering thought on my mind – I have heard the stories!), I just like being able to chew what I eat, and not feel repulsed by what goes down.  Why I still appreciate the oyster is because it stemmed from the challenge to prepare food that had not been tried before.  For me, the reward of these oysters was not the taste, but rather the excitement leading up to the completion of a dare. 
 Shucking oysters would seem to be a job reserved for only hardened seafarers, the Brawny Man, or Chuck Norris.   But a sharp finesse and a good angle can take you a long way.  I remained constantly haunted by the image of slicing through the web of my fingers.  I needed step-by-step instructions, and hands on, guided assistance. That is why I provide you with this link to hopefully help:  

I gingerly placed a teaspoon of mignonette into the oyster shells, open like bodies waiting for autopsy. The mignonette, made of diced shallots, red wine vinegar, fresh parsley, and black pepper, was my lifesaver while eating these.  I enjoyed that more than chasing with a shot of Belvedere vodka. 
So while the oysters were a bit too much to swallow, I am considering keeping meat-butter on hand.  What’s meat-butter, you say?  Sold in stores as bone marrow, we dubbed it meat-butter.  Spreadable, creamy, and extremely dense, it satisfies like an entree and only costs you $2 a pound.  Seldom have I felt a stronger urge from my inner carnivore.  The taste is unforgettable, perhaps because its consumption seems so sinfully taboo.  The marrow itself is chalk full of vitamins and minerals, so there is a reason it is treasured by your natural heart.  Roasting the bones is simple and takes less than a half hour.  In a 450˚F oven, roast the bones for 15-20 minutes.  Fat will leak out of the bottom, so make sure you have a pan that can capture the fatty goodness.  When the marrow starts to bubble slightly, it is ready to be eaten.  Larger bones will take longer.   
 The only negative is that bone marrow is not highly photogenic.  Granted, we did eat the marrow pretty rare.  The pasty-pink color in the photo doesn’t capture the true golden shimmering of the rose colored marrow.  It can have a globby texture but, I appreciated its delicacy.  Toasted slices of French bread served as the base, and the marrow was placed on top of a bed of crunchy, citrus parsley salad.  It was as light as an appetizer, but hefty enough to satisfy your protein craving.  It’s definitely not something you will see at the cafeteria, and I would be surprised to see it on even a high-class restaurant’s menu.  But making it is a) novel for the guest and b) cheap for the host.  Some groceries do carry it, just call ahead and ask.