Can’t We All Just Get Along?

So I was wearing orange today to show support for my friend Vicky, who’s helping raise awareness for MS. And the color orange always reminds me of my time as a witness in Federal Court. (I was not wearing orange then.) I was a junior brand manager working on the “M&M’s”® Brand’s lesser-loved stepchildren – Baking Bits, Almond and Peanut Butter. Peanut Butter “M&M’s”® were – and still are – a fantastic product, but it’s hard living in the shadows of successful older siblings. Our ad agency account team used to call me Sue “What about Peanut Butter” because I was constantly advocating for more media support.  The next thing I knew I was in Federal Court, taking the stand to defend the brand’s recently redesigned packaging color. It seems our confectionery archrival (no need to name names) felt they owned the color orange. The case was settled, but the two companies still get ornery over orange to this day.

With St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow, I should be talking about green – not orange. So that got me thinking about the Irish flag, which sparked the idea for this recipe symbolizing peace and Pantone harmony.  (I owe my friend Jennifer D. for the idea of using Peanut Butter M&M’s® as a topper for these Hershey’s Kisses treats; truly inspired thinking!)

St. Patrick’s Day Treats

  • Mini pretzels (Snyder’s Snaps are ideal)
  • Hershey’s Kisses
  • M&M’s® Peanut Butter Chocolate Candies

Arrange pretzels on a microwaveable plate.  Unwrap Kisses and place on top of pretzels.

Microwave for about 90 seconds, in 30-second intervals, until Kisses are glossy and the tips collapse when pressed.

Use the Peanut Butter “M&M’s”® to smash down the melted Kisses. (Wait – let’s try that again: Gently press Peanut Butter “M&M’s”® onto the melted Kisses tips until a peaceful union is achieved.) Refrigerate until firm, or eat warm and melty.

 

 

Gelato Break

My first real job was in high school, at the University Place Baskin Robbins.  It came with a brown, pink and white polyester striped uniform shirt (we had to buy our own brown polyester pants) and a below-minimum wage. That was all fine with me – I would’ve worked there for free.  I learned how to decorate ice cream cakes (quickly!) and how to scoop ice cream correctly (in an “S” pattern across the tub). By the end of the summer I thought I knew all there was to know about frozen desserts. But I was cold wrong.

It was the summer after college graduation, and I was backpacking my way around Europe solo. (And these were the Dark Ages, before cell phones, digital cameras, email and Facebook.) Traveling alone really forced me out of my shell, and I met people I never would have spoken to if I had been traveling with friends. While sojourning for a few days at the Cap d’Ail youth hostel in Southern France (you can only take so many churches and museums before needing a beach break), some of my new friends and I decided to take an overnight train to Venice for the day. Unfortunately, most of that day is now a blur (canals, bridges, gondolas). But one memory still rings clear: my first gelato. Che buono! It was pistachio, and even though it was smooth and creamy, it completely confused my mouth because the nut flavor was so intense. (Mouth: “Do I lick this or chew it?”) How could I have missed out on gelato for all these years??

Ever since that enlightening experience, I have a hard time passing a gelateria without stopping in for a little cup.  Even if the gelateria happens to be in the middle of a parking lot next to a CVS pharmacy, as was the case yesterday.

Angelato is a little gem of a gelateria, though most people I talk to about it have never been inside. Now that I have a blog, I can spread the word much more efficiently.  As a special offer for Subee’s Kitchen readers, just print out the last page of this post and bring it in to Angelato for 20% off your gelato order.

I’m still partial to pistachio, though Angelato also makes a hot chile chocolate flavor that I’m now addicted to. (It goes really well with coconut as well as pistachio; you can get two flavors combined if you order a medium cup.) It’s a little pricey, but the portions are generous and I think the small-batch quality is worth it. Plus, did you know that gelato is made from whole milk, vs. heavy cream – which means it has less fat than ice cream?? (2-8% fat, vs. 16-20% with ice cream, according to Angelato’s brochure and a quick Wikipedia search – which is all the research I need to justify the medium size.)

I wonder if they’re hiring.

Florham Village, Columbia Turnpike, Florham Park, NJ

Angelatoheavenlyicecream.com

Offer valid through May 31, 2012; not to be combined with other offers.

Trefoil Chocolate Pudding Pie

While I believe in a well-stocked pantry (see my Pantry Staples page for details), one thing I try NOT to keep on hand is packaged cookies. It’s just too easy to get carried away with them during a moment of weakness. (Which is typically every day around 4 p.m.) Sure, I usually have all the ingredients to make homemade cookies, but that process allows more time for introspection and self-intervention. In the time it takes to get 2 sticks of butter soft enough for cookie-making, one could easily rip through an entire sleeve of Oreos.  So I avoid the cookie aisle, and generally keep afternoon cravings under control with some fruit or a few chocolate chips. And caffeine.

For the past week, however, there’s been a new foe in town: The Girl Scout Cookie. How could I resist the deftly-crafted sales pleas of sweet angelic Girl Scouts (who happen to be my daughters)? Even though we donated boxes to the troops’ chosen charities, I still ended up with a pantry full of Trefoils, Thin Mints, Samoas and Tagalongs.

Fortunately, abundance is the mother of invention when it comes to my cooking.  I love the challenge of using up leftovers or overstocked ingredients in a creative way. My sparse-pantried mother would say, “Just buy less food!” But then I might never have come up with Trefoil Chocolate Pudding Pie – and that would be a shame.

This is more of an ice box cake than a pie, but you get the idea. Shortbread cookies layered with chocolate pudding and refrigerated, so that the cookies turn soft and cake-like. Then topped with whipped cream before serving. (The Nilla wafer banana pudding and chocolate wafer whipped cream cake classics were the inspiration.) Retro-chic comfort food at its best! If it’s not Girl Scout cookie season, any kind of shortbread-style cookie could be used – Lorna Doone’s, Pepperidge Farms Chessmen, Nilla Wafers, etc. And while I’m all for shortcuts, the “semi-homemade”angle should end here. You really owe it to yourself (I mean, your family) to make homemade chocolate pudding.

This streamlined recipe for chocolate pudding maximizes “chocolatiness” while minimizing steps and other ingredients.  No eggs, no double boilers, no straining; just delicious, seriously chocolately pudding in about 5 minutes.  I make it with organic 1% milk, so it’s practically health food! Once you see how easy it is to make – and how much better it tastes, you may never buy boxed pudding again.

Trefoil Chocolate Pudding Pie

  • 1 box Girl Scout Trefoil cookies or other shortbread cookies (Lorna Doone, Chessmen, Nilla Wafers)
  • 1 recipe Real Chocolate Pudding (below)
  • Whipped cream for topping (1 cup heavy cream, 1-2 Tablespoons powdered sugar, ½ teaspoon vanilla extract)
  • Chocolate bar/shavings for garnish (optional)

In a 9×9 pan or small casserole dish, arrange cookies in a single layer.

Make pudding recipe (below); pour warm pudding over cookies. Add a few additional cookies on top.

Allow to cool; then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve. (If you cover it right away, you’ll get a lot of condensation on the plastic  wrap.)

For serving, top with fresh whipped cream. (In a cold bowl, beat heavy cream with powdered sugar and vanilla until stiff peaks form.) 

(Sorry for the blurry photo; I think the anticipation was getting to me.)

For chocolate shavings garnish, use a vegetable peeler and shave a chocolate bar directly over the whipped cream.

Serves 6-8

 

Real Chocolate Pudding

  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon salt [I use table salt (vs kosher) here and when baking]
  • 2 cups milk (any kind: nonfat, 1%, 2%, whole)
  • 1 generous cup bittersweet chocolate chips or chopped bittersweet chocolate (approx 6-7 oz) [You could use semisweet chips, but cut the sugar down to 1/2 cup]
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, add sugar, cornstarch, salt and milk. Whisk to combine.

Whisk/stir gently until mixture comes to a boil. Pudding will start to thicken just before boiling. (It will look like Elmer’s glue.)

Let bubble/boil for a minute or so, and then remove from heat. Stir in vanilla (which will bubble up) and chocolate chips. Whisk until smooth.

Pour into a serving dish or individual bowls, or proceed with Trefoil Pudding Pie assembly.

 

 

 

 

Cakewalk This Way

This is a busy week for me and many other mom-unteers, with major fundraising activities at both kids’ schools: a Read-a-Thon starting this Friday at one and a Fun Fair this Saturday at the other. (Add a comment to this post or email me for more information on either!)

Sure, the kids have fun and we earn important funds for the schools, blah blah. But what I’m most excited about is the return of the Fun Fair Cakewalk – the musical chairs-like game where you walk around in a circle (with numbers taped to the floor) while the music plays, and when the music stops you hope and pray that your number gets called. If it does, you get to pick a cake or treat from the cake table!  I still remember the heart-pounding thrill of winning five cakes at Sunset Elementary’s Fun Fair (many many years ago); I don’t think I left the Cakewalk room all evening.

Gumball Machine Cake

Making the cakes for the Cakewalk is almost as fun. I’ll be making mine this Friday (freshness is important!); I’m not sure what the design inspiration will be yet, but I have a big bag of JellyBelly jelly beans to use up so those might be incorporated somehow. I’m not going to go crazy, though; I’ve learned from past Cakewalks and Bake Sales that the most elaborate creations are not necessarily the ones that go first. (Kids tend to choose the treats that look homemade.) In full disclosure, I usually use boxed cake mixes – they’re quick, easy and reliable. (My friend Angela asserts that if you bake it it’s homemade – boxed mix or not.) I usually make my own buttercream frosting, however; the results are worth the minimal effort. You can find frosting recipes on boxes of confectioner’s (powdered) sugar, or here: http://www.dominosugar.com/baking-tips-how-tos/advanced-baking-tips/frosting-recipes

For anyone else with a Cakewalk or Bake Sale coming up this spring, here are some ideas based on things I’ve made in the past. Most are original concepts, but some (i.e., slider cupcakes) are blatant knock-offs. For more inspiration and detailed instructions on making Cake Pops and other really cute treats, check out http://www.bakerella.com/.

“M&M’s” ® Brand Cake

“M&M’s” ® Pretzel Cake Pops

Daffodil Cookie Bouquet (marshmallows cut in half form the 3-D effect)

Dessert is Served

Fruity Pebble Treats

Cake Pops with Sprinkles (the white ones went first, surprisingly)

Sliders (vanilla cupcake “buns”, brownie “burgers”)

Gingerbread Girl Scout Daisies

Holy Beano! Oven-baked Tortilla Chips & Black Bean Dip

As some of you have astutely pointed out in earlier comments (and I do read all comments!), it’s easy to make things taste good when you add enough bacon, cheese and cream.  It’s much more difficult to make things that are good for you taste like they’re not.

We used to say at Mars (home of brands such as M&M’s® Chocolate Candies, SNICKERS® Bar, DOVE® Ice Cream Bars and COMBOS® Snacks): “There are no bad foods, only bad diets; all foods are good foods in moderation.” Most non-Mars people roll their eyes when I spout that, but even Weight Watchers validates this philosophy! However, for the sake of a challenge, and to provide a healthful option for Big Game parties this weekend, I’m throwing down a recipe for 100% fat free tortilla chips and black bean dip that will give fully-loaded dips or nachos a run for their money. And of course, you could always top the dip with sour cream or cheddar cheese for extra vitamins and calcium!

Oven-baked Tortilla Chips

  • 8-16 (1 package) white corn tortillas

Heat oven to 350ºF. Arrange tortillas directly on oven racks. (One tortilla will make 4 large chips; toast as many as you like or will fit in your oven.)  Bake for 10 minutes; check and rotate tortillas if necessary.) Bake an additional 5 minutes or until tortillas are golden brown. Remove from oven to cool. Break each tortilla into 4 large chips. Store in airtight container if not using right away. Will keep for a long time; I’m not sure how long because the kids usually eat them all within a day.

 

Fat-Free Black Bean Dip

  • ¼ cup finely diced red onion (¼ cup is roughly ¼ of a medium onion)
  • 1½ Tablespoons sherry vinegar (you could use red wine or balsamic vinegar as well, but I recommend stocking up on sherry vinegar if you can find it)
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 can (15.5 oz.) black beans (I like Goya Brand), drained and rinsed
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • 1 Tablespoon pickled jalapeño slices
  • Small squeeze (approx. ¼ tsp) of agave nectar (or honey)

Add diced onion, vinegar and water to  medium microwaveable bowl or large Pyrex measuring cup. Microwave on high for 1 minute to soften onions.

Add remaining ingredients and microwave another minute.

Using a stick/immersion blender, blend until smooth (adding a little extra water if necessary). (You could also use a food processor.)

Serve warm with chips. Top with any desired toppings (chopped green onions & diced tomato are shown here – keeping with the Fat Free concept; grated cheese or avocado would be nice as well!)

Note: I also use this as a fat-free dressing for taco salads. Not the prettiest-looking salad once it’s all mixed together, but tasty and filling.

Will keep for several days in the refrigerator. Reheat in microwave; if still thick after heating, add a little water.

 

 

Family Granola

Like our family, this granola is basically an eclectic mix of nuts, bound together and elevated to a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. It’s also wholesome, packed with protein, lightly sweet, delicately crunchy and moderately addictive. If you – like me – are facing a pantry full of impulse-purchased holiday baking ingredients (nuts, coconut, corn syrup, brown sugar), now’s a great time to make granola. As a snack, it’s delicious straight out of a jar or sprinkled onto yogurt. Because I have a sweet tooth and love extra crunchy everything, I add it to salads and even butternut squash soup.  My husband thinks this is weird.  I say we’re all entitled to be a little nutty.

Family Granola

  •  2 cups Quick/1-minute oats
  • 1 cup shredded sweetened coconut (preferable, but unsweetened is OK too)
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • ½ cup raw pine/pignoli nuts
  • ½ cup unsalted pistachio nuts
  • ¼ cup sesame seeds
  • ½ cup pure maple syrup (amber or dark)
  • ¼ cup dark brown sugar
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup corn syrup (light or dark)

Important first step any time you cook with nuts or seeds: taste a few before proceeding. Nuts can go rancid fairly quickly, especially if they’re not stored in the freezer.  I’ve had a few dishes ruined by bad nuts; don’t let this happen to you!

Preheat oven to 350°F. In large bowl mix together oats, shredded coconut, nuts and sesame seeds.

In a small bowl or Pyrex measuring cup, whisk together maple syrup, brown sugar, vegetable oil and corn syrup. Pour over oat/nut mixture and stir to coat evenly.

Spread granola onto rimmed baking sheet. Bake 15 minutes; remove from oven and stir/scrape so mixture cooks evenly. Return to oven and bake another 10-15 minutes until golden brown.

Cool on baking sheet; granola will crisp up as it cools. Store in airtight containers; will keep at least a week. For longer-term storage, keep in freezer.

Makes about 5 cups.