The Joy of Licking the Bowl

Empty bowl and broken spoon

Have you ever made a dessert – brownie, cake, cookie – simply so you could lick the bowl? Every once in a while I get a craving for batter. Not the end product (although that certainly doesn’t get thrown away), but literally the brownie batter or the cookie dough.

It’s become pretty common to find a roll of cookie dough in a woman’s refrigerator or freezer. She doesn’t keep it there in case company suddenly comes by and she needs to make a quick treat, but rather for the simple pleasure of eating that cookie dough raw.

A little more unusual is what I did the other night: make brownies simply so I could lick the bowl. It took practically no time as I used a store-bought brownie mix that has been sitting in my pantry for well over a year (it was purchased on clearance after Christmas 2007 so one can only imagine the freshness…). Obviously, I don’t often use mixes or else it wouldn’t have lasted so long.

Brownies Day 1

Anyways, the mix was whipped together in about 1 1/2 minutes (I was mixing so vigorously that my plastic spoon broke during the process – no big loss, one less thing to wash), then less-then-generously poured into a large baking dish. This was intentional: the thinner the layer, the quicker they would be cooked and the sooner I could eat them! Remember, the batter only gets you so far, in the end the brownies are still appreciated.

By the time the dish was placed in the oven my self-control had disappeared: I grabbed the bowl, the broken mixing spoon and made a mad-dash to the couch. I didn’t even get a photo of the bowl before being wiped clean! The only thing missing from this spectacle were the beaters, because there’s no better joy than licking the beater – all kids know the beater trumps everything else.

The point: there’s something inherently comforting about licking the bowl and eating raw batter. I think this is because baking brownies, cakes or cookies is usually the first experience we have helping in the kitchen. One of my favorite pictures from my childhood is of me standing on a stool in the kitchen, wearing an apron that entirely covered my three-year-old frame, with beater in my hand and batter on my face. After a tough day, it can be comforting to return to that childish pleasure (I’m trying to find that photo, but as my mom said, it’s like finding a needle in a haystack).

Brownies Day 3

And when the batter is gone, I can return to the everyday pleasure of eating the resultng brownies. Note that I didn’t share them with anyone – I worked my way through almost the entire pan before becoming so disgusted with myself that I threw the last bit in the garbage.

Brownies in the trash

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BBQ Chicken Pizza

Pizza baking

By now you should all be pretty familiar with my cooking style and food philosophy: you know I believe in fresh, unprocessed ingredients, sourced locally when possible (something I’m working on getting better at), that are cooked and presented in a slightly rustic and approachable manner. I like to use as few pots and pans as possible, keep the recipes uncomplicated and make most of the components from scratch.

Sliced yogurt cheese Scallions

It’s these last two points that had me thinking this weekend. Is it okay to use some store-bought ingredients that are possible to make myself in order to simplify a recipe? I did that with the BBQ chicken pizza in which I used (gasp) bottled BBQ sauce and pre-made pizza dough. I have to admit, making the pizza this way went pretty quickly and was probably cheaper than if I’d had to make all the ingredients from scratch, although personally I felt a bit like a cheater.

Shallots Caramelized shallots

Guilt aside, the pizza was awesome! The idea came after I found sliced yogurt cheese at the grocery store last week. It’s lactose-free and is a little tangy, not quite like sheep’s milk – more like string cheese. And the texture is similar to string cheese as well. Anyways, I’ve been experimenting with the yogurt cheese all week, eating it on a salad, mixed with scrambled eggs, and even on its own as a snack. Now was the time to really test the cheese and see what it was made of! You know, besides milk.

Baking chicken Docked pizza dough

The pizza came together quickly. First, I marinated the chicken tenders in BBQ sauce and baked them in the oven (TIP: you could easily substitute any cut of leftover baked or grilled chicken, just toss it with a little BBQ sauce). I caramelized the shallots while the chicken was cooking and chopped the remaining ingredients. All that was left to do was dice the chicken, roll out the pizza dough, add the toppings and bake the whole thing.

Sliced pizza

My single complaint was that the dough was a bit soggy after it was cooked, something I blame simply on my using a disposable pizza pan rather than one of those oh-so-cool pizza stones (I would have bought one except I’d have no where to store it). And the yogurt cheese… yes, it was a success! Read more of this >>

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Grandma’s “Junk” with Barley is New Superfood

Grandma\'s Junk

The idea for this post came from my mom after she read an article online about the new superfoods, one of which was barley. Next thing you know, she’s reminiscing about something called junk that my grandmother often served around the time my parents were first married (this was my dad’s mom).

Drain Barley

After an extensive search through her recipe file – you know, the boxes filled with index cards – my mom finally found Grandma’s recipe for junk, which is basically pearled barley toasted and then baked with sweated sweet onions. The original recipe called for margarine, a popular ingredient in the late 70s, but my mom substituted heart-healthy extra-virgin olive oil in the revised recipe.

Sweat onions

According to the article from MSN Health, barley is “full of soluble beta-glucan fiber” which can lower bad cholesterol and decrease blood sugar and insulin levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Basically, it has lots of dietary fiber and protein.

Mix onions with barley

Looks like Grandma was way ahead of her time, although I can’t quite figure out why she called it junk. Here’s her recipe for the addictive, sweetly nutty, brilliantly textured junk:

Baked junk Read more of this >>

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What Did I Leave Out of the Beef & Vegetable Stir Fry?

Beef & Vegetable Stir Fry

You know that feeling when you know you’re forgetting something but can’t quite put your finger on it? That happened to me last night when I made a beef stir-fry and vegetable stir-fry that I’ve done many times before. The recipe, adapted over the years from the Cook’s Illustrated book “Steaks, Chops, Roasts, and Ribs,” is fairly simple to make and always imparts a lot of flavor.

I had already left out two ingredients – fresh ginger and red pepper – because I didn’t have them and wasn’t about to venture out in the bitter cold (we’re talking -20s before wind chill). But as I sat down to eat my dinner, I knew immediately something else was missing. What was it?

I’ll give you a clue: it’s a bulb… very aromatic… often induces tears… Any guesses? Bueller, Bueller?

Fine, here’s the answer: onion! It was right there, sitting on the counter just steps away from where I was working. I left out the onion? Who does that? It’s only the most common ingredient in just about all cuisines. No wonder my stir-fry was lacking. Seriously, bad Jackie (crap, now I’m yelling at myself in the third person – that really can’t be good).

Moral of the story: beef stir-fry without onion is edible but nothing special; beef stir-fry with onion makes the world go ’round.

Here’s the recipe WITH onion and the rest of the forgotten ingredients: Read more of this >>

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Rediscovering Cauliflower: Almond Cauliflower Soup

Almond Cauliflower Soup with Nutmeg

It seems as though suddenly cauliflower is everywhere – from Top Chef (Ariane won two challenges with it) to Cooking Light magazine, I just can’t escape it. Which had me thinking, what am I missing?

I’ve never been a fan of cauliflower, thinking it was mostly a bland and astringent frozen vegetable served alongside broccoli, a vegetable I truly do appreciate. But I began wondering if maybe I was missing out on something wonderful, so I decided to give it a try.

Blanch almonds Peel almonds

I knew cauliflower could make a silky-smooth puree, and being winter felt that a soup would be a good option. But by now you should all know my aversion to dairy in soups, so I wanted to come up with something besides milk or cream to add richness, which is what lead me to the almonds although they would need to be blanched to retain the soup’s light color.

Sweat garlic and leeks Add almonds and cauliflower

For an aromatic, I felt the subtlety of leeks would be ideal with just a bit of garlic to bring out the other flavors. The lemon would add enough acidity to brighten the soup and the nutmeg would add depth.

Puree soup Strain soup

So, I’m sure by now you’re wondering if it worked, and it I’d crossed over to the light side? Oh yeah, this soup is awesome! It was rich in flavor yet very healthy. Guess I’ll have to see what else cauliflower can do…

Here’s the recipe: Read more of this >>

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