Monday, September 26, 2011

Walnut Roca Squares

I was reading Michael Ann’s The Big Green Bowl and she posted a recipe for Almond Roca Squares and as I absolutely adore Almond Roca and I just happened to have all the ingredients in the house, I made her cookies that very night.  Though obviously not exactly like the candy, there was something similar in the taste of these squares to Almond Roca and just like the candy they were delicious and quite addictive.  Of course that first batch is long gone as it is now weeks later that I’m posting about them but these simple little treats were easy and delicious and will be made again and again.  IMG_0456eWalnut Roca Squares (adapted from here)

1 cup butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup chocolate chips (Mini ones work best, but regular ones are fine too.)
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 325F and line a 9-by-13-inch pan with foil.  In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars together for about one minute until creamy. Add the egg and beat until smooth.  Add the flour and salt and beat for another minute. Spread mixture into your foil lined, ungreased 13x9" pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and sprinkle the chocolate chips onto the dough. Return the pan to oven for just a minute to melt the chocolate and then remove again and spread the chocolate gently with an offset spatula.  Sprinkle the warm chocolate with the walnuts. Let cool completely and then lifting by the foil, remove the bars from the pan in one big piece.  Peel off the foil and place the big piece onto a cutting board and cut into squares. 


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Southwest Pasta Salad

IMG_0667eI was asked to prepared the meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner for all the home & visiting team Coaches as well as the Judges for today’s Metro Retro Meet at Maisie’s gym.  I decided that lunch would include my Fire Roasted Tomato and Chicken Tortilla Soup with homemade tortilla strips, a fresh garden salad with a copycat of Chili’s Honey Lime Dressing* and a pasta salad.  I am not a big pasta eater and I generally find pasta salads, well…just boring and blah.  So, I set out and searched the internet looking for something that I thought would complement the flavor profile of the soup and salad and also be kick @ss wonderful. 

I have to say, I found that absolutely kick @ss wonderful pasta salad recipe on Our Best Bites and it’s their Southwest Pasta Salad.  Both my test taster Lisa and I thought that the flavors were just wonderful and the salad was oh-so simple to make.  The Judges and Coaches all really liked the pasta salad as well as all the other lunch items too.  I stayed pretty true to the original recipe with just a couple of minor changes so now, no more boring and blah pasta salads in this house as this recipe is a keeper!   


Southwest Pasta Salad (Adapted from here)

1/2 lb pasta
1 14oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 each, medium yellow, red and orange bell peppers, diced
1/2 cup sliced green onions
1/2 cup frozen fresh corn
zest from 2 limes, minced
1/2 cup Queso Fresco, crumbled

6 TBS fresh lime juice (about 3 juicy limes)
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
5 large cloves garlic
1 1/2 tsp dark chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander 
1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt
3 tsp sugar (add a touch more if your limes are extra sour/bitter)
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro


Boil pasta in salted water according to package directions. 

While the past is cooking, prepare dressing. Zest the limes directly into a large salad bowl.  Juice the limes into a blender and add the vinegar, garlic, chili powder, cumin, coriander, salt and sugar.  Process until smooth.  With the motor running, slowly add the oil in a steady stream until incorporated.  Add the cilantro and pulse so it gets broken up, but some pieces still remain in tact.

When pasta is done cooking, drain and rinse immediately with cold water to cool.  Place the pasta in the large salad bowl with the lime zest.  Add black beans, tomatoes, diced pepper, green onions, corn (no need to thaw the corn).  Toss with dressing.  Taste and add additional salt and pepper to taste.  For best results, chill for 1 hour before serving.  Right before serving mix in the crumbled cheese.  Serve with extra lime wedges if desired.

*  Chili’s Honey Lime Dressing

1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1/2 cup honey
3 Teaspoon sugar
2 Teaspoon sesame oil
3 Teaspoon apple cider vinegar
3 Teaspoon lime juice

Place all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.  Cover and chill.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Lime Jewels

IMG_0626eI call these little delicious beauties Lime Jewels because they are covered with crunchy crystals of sugar that sparkle when they catch the light.  I love the tang in these cookies and they’re just light and delicious.  I have made these cookies before with lemons and oranges but these lime ones are my favorites.

IMG_0616e Maisie sort of helped in making the cookies…as she multi-tasked and ate some Veggie Stix.

IMG_0630eMaisie was much more interested in helping to eat the cookies.

IMG_0635e Getting silly and putting on the charm asking for the entire plateful of cookies.

IMG_0621eLime Jewels

1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 large egg
Zest of 1 lime
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup crystal sugar, for rolling the cookies before baking

In a medium bowl mix together the flour and baking powder.  In a mixer, blend the butter and sugar mix until light and creamy. Add the vanilla, egg, lime zest, and lime juice.  Mix to combine. Add the flour mixture and blend slowly until fully incorporated.  Cover the batter and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Using a small cookie scoop, make balls of the dough and drop them into the crystal sugar and roll to coat.  Place the sugared balls onto a Silpat  or parchment paper lined baking sheet.  Bake for 8-10 minutes until the edges just begin to turn brown.  Remove to a cooling rack.  Fresh out of the oven the cookies have a crunchy edge and exterior with a gooey center and once cooled they keep the crunchy edge but the inside is lovely and just a bit chewy.  These cookies freeze wonderfully and once defrosted to room temp they keep their crunchy edges and chewy center but if you like really crunchy, eat them straight from the freezer…delicious either way.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Tom Yam Ghoong (Spicy Shrimp Soup)

IMG_9879eA little ways back I took a Thai cooking class and this is my recreation of the recipe that we were shown.  The soup has great flavors from making a homemade shrimp stock and from the fresh ingredients.  Eammon and I really enjoyed this soup and the flavors were a great blend of savory, sour, rich, spicy and citrus.  Thankfully for me the ingredients are easy to come by as I will be making this soup again and again, just that delicious.

IMG_9839eMy beautiful and helpful Maisie with all the ingredients for the soup.  Pictured are only two cans of straw mushrooms but I used three and the white on the Thai red chili peppers is because I always have them in my freezer so it’s just some frost from coming into the warm air.

IMG_9844eShrimp shells and heads before getting them all toasty for the stock.

IMG_9847eShrimp shells and heads all toasty and perfect to make the stock.

IMG_9853eSimmer the shrimp shells to make a gorgeous red stock and don’t mind those little beady eyeballs staring at you.

IMG_9851eThe galangal, Thai red chili peppers, lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves ready to be added to the broth.

IMG_9868eAfter straining out all the shrimp shells and heads, return the stock to the pot and if you have a pasta insert it’s a great time to use it.  Add the galangal, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves & Thai red chili peppers to the pot.

IMG_9869eOnce the soup has simmered, strain the solids from the stock.  It’s so simple with the pasta insert.  Then add the final ingredients until cooked though.


Tom Yam Ghoong (Spicy Shrimp Soup)

3 lbs. large uncooked, unshelled, heads-on shrimp
1/3 cup sesame oil 
4 quarts water
12 stalks lemon grass, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
3 large knobs fresh galangal, sliced 1/8-inch thick pieces (or ginger if you can’t find galangal)
30 kaffir lime leaves, center stem/vein removed
12 Thai red chili peppers
6 TBS. fish sauce (Nam Pia)
9 heaping TBS. Roasted Chili Paste (Nam Prik Pao)
3 15 oz. cans straw mushrooms, drained and rinsed
5 limes, juiced
1 large bunch fresh cilantro, roughly chopped, more for garnish. 

Wash and drain the shrimp and then remove the head & shells and devein.  Retain the heads and shells for the stock.  Set the shrimp aside.

Heat up a large stock pot and when it’s hot add the sesame oil.  Once the oil is hot add the shrimp heads and shells and stirring occasionally cook on high until all the shells turn pink and get a little charred and crispy sounding when you stir.  Once the shells are all toasty add the water.  Bring the water to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  Allow the stock to simmer for 20-25 minutes.

Pour the shrimp stock though a chinois or a colander lined with cheesecloth to remove all the bits and pieces from the stock.  Quickly rinse the stock pot to remove any lingering bits and then pour the stock back into the pot and return the pot to the stove over medium heat.  If you have a pasta insert for your pot this is a great time to use it.  Either into the pasta insert or directly into the pot, add the lemon grass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, Thai red chilies, fish sauce and Roasted Chili Paste.  Mix well and bring to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  Strain the solids from the soup.  Discard the solids and return the stock to the pot. 

Add the straw mushrooms and return to a boil.  Once at a boil add the shrimp, lime juice and chopped cilantro.  Stir to mix and then remove from the heat, cover and allow the shrimp to cook for 5 minutes until they turn pink.

Check the balance of sweet, sour and spice and adjust as needed with more fish sauce, roasted chili paste or lime juice as needed.

To serve, pour into bowls and garnish with cilantro.


Monday, September 12, 2011

Welsh Cakes

IMG_0070e1This is quickly becoming my favorite time of the month, Secret Recipe Club reveal day.  I love the whole Secret Recipe Club process.  The excitement starts when I receive the email from Amanda listing my assigned blog.  Next it’s so interesting reading though all the potential recipes…even with my stress over which recipe to choose.  The cooking and tasting is always a big hit in the Cook Lisa Cook house as all the recipes have been wonderful.  I will say though, the best part is reveal day when all the participating food bloggers post their recreation or version of the recipe they made from their assigned blog.  I love seeing all the wonderful recipe choices and of course I’m always adding to my list of “need to make” recipes.  It’s all so much fun and easy to join in, just check out The Secret Recipe Club site for all the info.

This is my fourth month as part of the Secret Recipe Club and so far I have made Home Style Chicken Curry, Holy Guacamole, Cilantro Lime Chicken and Nutella Crêpes, all wonderful and delicious.  With four hits in a row I was looking for another winner this month and I found it on my assigned blog, Barb’s Mom’s Fridge.  As in months past, within minutes of receiving my assignment I was scrolling through recipes, noting ones that caught my eye and of course thinking all the time of what would work for my family.  I considered Barb’s Spicy Asian Chicken Wraps as those are always a favorite of mine.  Then I thought that Maisie and I would make her Oreo-Stuffed Chocolate-Chip Cookies because Maisie would have fun with that one but then I realized that we really just made something similar when she and I made Toll House Double Stuff Oreo Brownies so I nixed that one for now and added it to my list of “recipes to make with Maisie.”  Super Pizza Bites also made my short list but thought I’d save those and make them when we had people over because I knew that we’d all eat way too many if that was my choice of recipe.  Then I came upon Barb’s recipe for Welsh Cakes and I knew immediately what I would be making this month. 

About a year after Eammon and I were married we traveled over to England and Wales to visit with his family.  During that trip I met for the first time, Eammon’s eldest brother Michael, his wife Stephanie and their family when we stayed with them in their home in Cardiff.  Stephanie and I hit if off immediately and during our short couple of days visiting she and I enjoyed getting to know one another, we bonded over food spending time together in the kitchen.  One of the things that Stephanie made for us during our visit were Welsh Cakes and from my first bite I was in love.  I never did get her recipe nor did I ever get to see her again as she very unexpectedly passed away before we were able to get together again.  So when I saw Barb’s recipe for Welsh Cakes it reminded me of Stephanie, sharing her company, time in her kitchen and the wonderful food she made during our visit. It has been over a decade since my first and only time having Welsh Cakes but the ones I made brought back good memories.  I wish that Stephanie and I could have shared these Welsh Cakes and a cuppa.  I know that had we had more time together, she and I would have been good friends.

I did make a few changes to Barb’s recipe and I cut the recipe in half as there are only three of us in the house and I knew that if I made a full recipe, we would have eaten the full recipe.  Plus these are so easy to make, they come together in minutes that had we “needed” more right away I could had them made and on the table very quickly.   These Welsh Cakes have a gorgeous subtle taste and the texture is similar to a soft shortbread, moist but a little bit crumbly.  They’re just a bit sweet with the raisins really adding to that sweetness.   I cooked mine up in my old cast iron pan using real butter and they were delicious and perfect.  We really enjoyed them hot from the pan, as a snack later in the day and even as leftovers for breakfast the following morning.  Very delicious and I think Stephanie would have approved.

Before I get to the recipe I need to share something I found funny or coincidental.  Barb without knowing that I was working off of her blog, made and posted Citrus Cilantro Chicken Legs, her version of my August Secret Recipe Club entry, Cilantro Lime Chicken.  I love that this month we cooked off of each others blog.

 IMG_0016eI added all my dry ingredients to a bowl and cut in my butter.

 IMG_0022eI then mixed in my egg and added the raisins.

IMG_0023eMy dough came together beautifully but had I needed, I could have added some milk a little bit at a time.

IMG_0029ePat out the dough to about 1/4-inch thick and then find a moody, temperamental but always beautiful five year old to help cut the dough.  

IMG_0036eIn a large cast iron skillet over low heat cook the Welsh Cakes slowly until golden brown on both sides.

IMG_0049eA much happier little girl once it was time to give the Welsh Cakes a try.


Welsh Cakes (adapted from here)

  • 1 cup self-raising flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 4 oz. butter
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins 
  • milk if necessary

Makes approx. 10 cakes

Stir together flour, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon & salt. Add the butter and cut in like when making a pie dough. Add the egg and mix to combine.  Add the raisins and bring the dough together into one large ball.  If the mixture seems a little too dry, add just a little milk 

Roll or pat the dough to 1/4-inch thick and cut into rounds, reshaping the dough scraps until you completely run out.

Cook on a buttered griddle or in a heavy bottomed pan for about 3 minutes per side.  If they look as if they're browning too quickly, turn the heat down a bit because they need to cook through.  They will be fairly brown, crisp and delicious on the outside. Serve them warm or cold with butter and/or honey or jam.  We enjoyed them plain and they stayed gorgeous overnight sealed in a Ziplock on the counter. 


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Velvety Mac & Cheese

I think I may be becoming a cooking club junkie. 

Three months ago I joined The Secret Recipe Club and because of that group I discovered some new blogs and from them I have made and posted some wonderful new recipes, Home Style Chicken Curry in June, July brought Holy Guacamole and in August I posted Cilantro Lime Chicken(This coming Monday is reveal day and though I can’t give away any of my secrets as to which blog I was assigned and what I made, I’ll tell you that it’s good so be sure to come back for another wonderful Secret Recipe Club recipe.)  When I started with the Secret Recipe Club I figured that the commitment of once a month “assigned” cooking and posting would be just about right for me and really all the commitment that I could handle…but then I found that I wanted more.  So next I joined Cook Around the Globe and for its inaugural month with the theme being “Bermuda & the Caribbean,” I posted my recipe for Jamaican Jerk Meat Pies.  I’ll tell you, I’ve really enjoyed and have had so much fun checking out some new and great food blogs and finding new recipes that when I was invited by Tina to join her Crazy Cooking Challenge, a new but somewhat different cooking group, well I jumped on yet another bandwagon. 

The Crazy Cooking Challenge is where a group of bloggers all get together in “Blog World” to feature, on the same day and time, one food item each month.  The food item is assigned (this month it’s Mac & Cheese) and point of the challenge is for each participant to go out into "Blog World" and pick a recipe from any non-celebrity food blog which matches the assignment.  So this month all the participants will be making Mac & Cheese but since we all searched out which Mac & Cheese recipe we wanted to make, there’s going to be a huge array of recipes and blogs being featured.  It will be fun to see all the similarities and differences and also to vote on the “Ultimate” recipe each month.  

IMG_0111e I had fun searching out recipes and found dozens of Mac & Cheese recipes that “spoke” to me.  Most had fun and/or different ingredients, often with an interesting mix of spices but when thinking about who would like and eat what, I realized I don’t really eat much pasta and Eammon isn’t a cheese lover but Maisie, well she’s the big Mac & Cheese eater in our home.  So I went on a search again looking for that one perfect Mac & Cheese recipe that would especially appeal to my sweetie girl Maisie but also allow me to enjoy a bit of it too.

When I stumbled upon Jane’s blog, The Heritage Cook and her Aunt Jane’s Velvety Mac and Cheese Casserole, well I knew that I had found my recipe.  There was nothing in the recipe that Maisie wouldn’t enjoy and I thought that the blend of cheeses sounded interesting.  Jane wrote about using a combination of cheeses to get both an intense cheesy flavor as well as a creaminess, a combination that so many Mac & Cheese preparations lack. She also gave some great preparation tips.  For example, when you’re making the Bechamel you need to get it as thick as you want before adding the cheese because if you attempt to thicken it after adding the cheese the sauce will break and your Mac & Cheese will be grainy.  

IMG_0122eJane’s recipe was a huge hit with Maisie as she wanted it for meal-after-meal-after-meal, which isn’t something that she generally cares to do.  As promised the recipe produced a very creamy, cheesy, delicious and comforting bowl of Mac & Cheese, one that not only Maisie loved but that I really enjoyed too.  Besides the mix of cheeses, one thing that was different from the Baked Macaroni & Cheese which I generally make was the topping.  Both Maisie and I loved the crunchy, buttery & garlicky topping which managed to make its way onto every bite.  This recipe was a winner and I know that my little Mac & Cheese lover will be requesting it time and time again.


Velvety Mac & Cheese (Adapted from Aunt Jane’s Velvety Mac and Cheese Casserole)

4 TBS butter
1 tsp garlic powder
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese 
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 cup panko breadcrumbs

3 quarts of water
1 tsp salt
4 tsp chicken base or bouillon granules
1 lb Rotini or pasta of your choice

Mac and Cheese
12 oz. can evaporated milk
4 oz. half & half , or milk
2 small bay leaves
1 small Vidalia onion, grated
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1-1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
4 tbsp butter
5 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp turmeric, optional (adds the bright yellow color kids like to see)
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 cup grated Sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup grated Mozzarella cheese 
1/2 cup grated Muenster cheese

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9×13-inch or similarly sized baking dish.

Prepare Topping: In a small skillet, melt butter and using a fork, stir in remaining topping ingredients. Set aside.

Cook pasta: In a large stockpot, bring water to a boil, stir in salt and chicken base, return to a boil, and stir in pasta. Cook to just under al dente or according to package directions. Pasta should still be a little underdone – it will finish cooking in the oven. Reserve 1-2 cups of pasta cooking water. Drain cooked pasta in a colander and then pour into a large mixing bowl.

While the pasta is boiling, heat the condensed milk & half and half in a saucepan over medium heat, with bay leaves, grated onion, nutmeg and mustard, until steaming hot but not boiling. Remove from heat and set aside to steep. Alternately, you can place milk in a heatproof container, such as a Pyrex measuring cup, and heat in the microwave.

Make the Sauce: In a large skillet combine butter and flour and cook over medium-high heat, whisking continuously until smooth and there are no lumps and until the raw smell of flour is gone, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove the bay leaves from the milk and discard, then pour the milk slowly into roux, whisking constantly, making sure there are no lumps. If you prefer an even smoother sauce, strain out the onion solids from milk before adding. Continue to cook, whisking, until thick and bubbly, 3 to 5 minutes. Whisk in turmeric, salt, and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Remove from heat and add cheeses. Stir until everything is melted and sauce is smooth. Pour over pasta in mixing bowl, tossing until thoroughly coated. If sauce is too thick, add a little of the pasta cooking water to thin it.

Bake casserole: Pour into prepared baking dish, sprinkle top with breadcrumb mixture and bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes or until heated through and top is browned and crispy. You can put the pan under a broiler for a few minutes if needed. Serve hot.

This Mac & Cheese was very thick and creamy and after being in the refrigerator it thickened up even more.  When reheating, place a portion in a microwave bowl and add a bit of milk.  Heat through and stir in the milk to make everything creamy, velvety and loosened up again.



Sunday, September 4, 2011

Nutella No Bake Cookies

I know that we made something similar before, back when Maisie and I made Math Book No Bake Cookies but when Aimee over on Sugary Sweets posted her recipe for Nutella No Bake Cookies, well we just had to make them.  Nutella is just the bomb and it made what were already delicious sweet little treats just that much better. 

IMG_0355eMaisie with her mouth full, displaying her cookies.

IMG_0337eMaisie loves scooping out the cookies.

IMG_0339eShe’s also a good taste tester, even before her work is completed.

I did change Aimee’s recipe a bit in that I used Old Fashioned oats instead of quick oats, because that’s what I had in the house.  The difference in using Old Fashioned or rolled oats in place of quick oats is that the cookies are a bit chewier, which we all enjoyed.  I also made the cookies in the microwave instead of on the stove top because it works easier for Maisie.


Nutella No Bake Cookies (adapted from here)

2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa 
1/2 cup milk (I used skim) 
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1/4 cup Nutella
3 cup Old Fashioned oats

In a microwave safe bowl combine the sugar, cocoa, milk and butter.  Heat in one minute intervals stirring after each minute until the butter and is melted and all the ingredients are combined.  Once the ingredients are all melted and combined, microwave on high for two minutes.  Remove from the microwave and add the vanilla, salt, peanut butter & Nutella.  Stir to combine until smooth.  Stir in the oats until combined.  Drop by teaspoon or cookie scoop onto a Silpat or wax paper.  Refrigerate until they are set.


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