Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Bacon and Cheese Grits

I've been craving comfort food lately.  First the waffles, and now these grits.  Plus I've been eating bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches for lunch for the past few days.  Last week was absolutely wild.  In 48 hours, I had 4 interviews, an offer at a tutoring center, and 2 callbacks (one for a second interview, the other for a demo lesson).  Over the past 4 months I had sent out over 60 applications and had heard nothing for those entire 4 months.  And then, by the end of last Monday, I had those four interviews lined up.  It's amazing how your life can be turned completely upside-down in a moment.  The interviews are for places all over North/Central Jersey, so within a few months I could be living somewhere new with a new job.  Or maybe I'll still be living at home, blogging.

Either way, it's a pretty difficult thing to wrap my head around.  I feel like I'm at a turning point here, as if I'm at the brink between young-adulthood and adulthood itself.  Many of my friends my age have had to make some pretty adult decisions over the past few weeks, and it looks like I may be doing the same this summer.  Even if these interviews don't work out for the best, I'm incredibly excited to have the experience and I'm looking forward to what ever lies ahead.

The moral of the story here is that when your whole world is up in the air, it's nice to have some thick, salty, cheesy, creamy, stick-to-your-ribs grits to bring you back down.

I love polenta.  It comes together in about 4 minutes and you can do anything with it.  It can be used for any meal of the day and you can boil it, grill it, or fry it.  The only thing you need to be careful of is you must be constantly whisking while you're pouring your grits (polenta) into the boiling water.  If you don't, it's going to clump up and won't be pleasant to bite into.  Once you have poured all of your grits into the pot, you can leave it alone and let it simmer so the grains soak up all of the water.  It doesn't get much easier than that.

The addition of milk makes the grits even creamier, and you could of course use whole milk or cream (I just didn't have any on hand).  And the more bacon you put into this recipe, the better it will be.  I mean, come on, everything tastes better with more bacon.  This is a simple recipe but incredibly delicious and the perfect thing to have heated up first thing in the morning.  I highly recommend making a batch right now, it will not disappoint :)

Bacon and Cheese Grits
Serves 2
Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 10 min

-     ½ c polenta
-     ½ c milk
-     2 tbsp unsalted butter
-     ½ c shredded cheddar cheese
-     5 – 6 strips bacon, cooked and chopped
-     Salt and pepper, to taste

Follow the directions on the polenta package to determine how much water should be used (I boiled about 2 cups).  Pour water into medium sized pot and bring to a boil.  Add the polenta to the boiling water and begin whisking immediately to avoid clumping.  Lower heat and bring polenta to a simmer and cover.  When all of the water has been absorbed (about 5 minutes), pour in the milk and stir, leaving to simmer until the milk has been absorbed as well.  Mix in butter and shredded cheese and stir until melted.  Remove from heat and add bacon.  Serve immediately.   

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

How-to Make the Perfect Waffles (recipe included!)

This is another one of those family recipes (like the banana bread) that I've been debating with myself whether or not to post it.  This is one of those super secret family recipes that I was thinking of keeping to myself for when I get famous from the blog and write a cookbook and open a restaurant and people will be trying to figure out the secret recipe to my amazing waffles.

Yeah.  That's not going to happen.  So I'd figured I'd share this recipe because these waffles are amazing.

I think waffles are incredibly underrated.  They're so warm and comforting; it's a really nice treat to be able to pull one out of the freezer and heat it up before work.  Or, you can throw some fruit and whipped cream on it and call it dessert!

Here are some tips on making the perfect waffles (pay special attention to number 2):
  • Sift your dry ingredients as if you're making any floured dessert. 
  • Separate the egg whites from the yolks.  Whip the whites until they become fluffy and fold them in at the end.  THIS will give you fluffy waffles. 
  • Don't let the waffle iron get too hot - and make sure you spray it!  With some irons, you can set the temperature.  Make sure it doesn't get too hot, you want your waffles  to cook evenly. 
  • Make the entire batch at once!  Waffles are easier to freeze when they're whole rather than keeping the batter in the refrigerator.  
  • Take care of your waffle iron.  I've even cleaned mine with an old, soft toothbrush.  You want to make sure all of those trenches in the waffle iron pan are kept clean, or else you're going to get a very unwelcome, burnt taste in your mouth next time you make waffles!
This is a recipe that belongs in your family's cookbook.  These waffles are wonderful on their own or with a little syrup or butter; I don't ever feel the need to mix anything in to make the recipe better.  How do you like your waffles? 

Yield: about 10 waffles, depending on size of waffle iron
Prep Time: 20 min
Bake Time: 5 min

-     2 ¼ c flour
-     ½ tsp salt
-     2 tsp baking powder
-     2 tbsp sugar
-     3 eggs
-     2/3 c vegetable oil
-     1 ½ c milk

Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar in a large bowl.  Set aside.

Separate your egg whites and egg yolks.  Add the vegetable oil and milk to the egg yolks.  Beat well and then add to the dry ingredients.  Beat to combine.

Whip your egg whites until fluffy and then fold in to your waffle batter.  Heat and grease your waffle iron according to manufacturer’s instructions.  Pour the waffle batter into the center of the waffle iron and cook for about 5 minutes each.  Serve immediately or freeze to serve later. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Getting the Garden Ready

This year, I decided to start my garden from seeds.  I planted some seeds I froze from last year, except those didn't grow.  The pepper seeds were brown when I pulled them out from the freezer, and the cucumber seeds were pretty wet after I let them thaw in the fridge.  So I didn't really have high hopes for them from the beginning, but I wanted to give it a shot.

The seeds that I bought at the store, however, have been doing very well.  I split the tomato seeds between two pots and put the basil seeds all in one.  I know I should have bought those little seedling containers that look like ice cube trays, but I wanted to use the pots I had in the backyard.

I also wanted to try something new - I recycled a salsa jar and used that as a pot!  It worked pretty well; the basil is growing nicely and the dirt stays wet for days.  Well, actually, It worked well until I had to transfer the basil plants to a bigger pot.  I should have probably used a spoon or something to get the seedlings out, but instead I went at it with a shovel and they all kind of fell out.  Some seedling stems snapped, the others I had to cram back into the dirt, so needless to say, they're not doing so well right now.

I then had to get the garden plot outside ready.  I pulled all of the weeds and turned over the dirt, so it's ready to go.  And some parsley is already growing in the garden plot!  I didn't realize it would come back every year.  My mint grew back nicely too, but it's doing something kinda funny.  When I bought my peppermint plant last year, it grew in a vine.  When it grew back this year, it grew straight up and it actually looks like a spearmint plant.  Any thoughts?

Anyway, the weather seems to be getting warmer, and I wanted to bring my plants outside now they're getting bigger.  However, when I went to weed my plot, I noticed my tiny basil plants, the ones that I mangled, now have holes in the leaves!  Stupid bugs.  So I might keep the tomato plants inside a little longer.

Right now I have parsley, basil, mint, chives, and tomatoes for my garden, and I'm going to get some cucumber seeds for the garden as well.  I am certainly not going back to zucchini because it was such a failure last year, but does anyone have any suggestions for what else I can plant?  I think I can fit one more thing...

Monday, May 14, 2012

Chocolate Coconut Truffles

Mother's Day is right around the corner, so I asked my mom what she would like for dessert.  All she told me was that she wanted something small, so I hit my Pinterest board to see what I could come up with.  I found the perfect recipe - chocolate coconut truffles.  Small pieces of dessert made with her favorite flavors.  Perfect!

Ever since I moved home after college, my mom and I have become quite close.  I think very few people can actually say that they are friends with their mom, but I believe I can.  I think it's something that comes with age; as you become older you begin to see things through your parents' eyes and have an easier time relating to them.  Over the past 2 1/2 years, my mom has always been there to help me through my quarter life crisis, so I was very happy to find the perfect dessert for her.

These truffles are incredibly easy to make - the hardest part is melting the chocolate!  I'm going to give you a way to make this whole process even easier: instead of opening up the can of condensed milk with a can opener, puncture two holes in the lid on opposite sides of each other.  Then, pour your condensed milk into your measuring cup!  It makes for a much easier and not so messy way to measure out your condensed milk.  Mix all of the contents together until you get this goopy filling.  Don't worry, we're going to put this in the freezer, so the filling won't fall apart.  But when you're balling the filling, make sure to rinse your hands off regularly.  Your hands will become sticky from the condensed milk and it's much easier to roll the filling if your hands are clean.  See?  This recipe is getting easier by the second.

When you're dipping the filling into the melted chocolate, I would suggest keeping the chocolate over very low heat (or putting it back into the microwave every once in a while).  You'll notice that as the chocolate cools, it doesn't become as smooth anymore, and you won't get that nice round shell on your truffle.  Also, if the coconut filling becomes sticky, stick it back in the freezer for about 5 minutes.

Even though the filling is made with sweetened coconut, sweetened condensed milk, and confectioner's sugar, the filling isn't too sweet at all.  I was extremely hesitant about eating straight sweetened condensed milk, but it acts as a creamy binder for those flakes of coconut.  To be honest, it tastes exactly like a Mounds bar.  This recipe is incredibly easy to make and I highly recommend it for that person in your life that loves coconut.  Happy (belated) Mother's Day Mom!

Also, this recipe was featured on Topsy Turvy Tuesdays!  Thanks so much Ashlee!

featured I'm topsy turvy tuesdays

Chocolate Coconut Truffles
Yield:  about 2 dozen
Prep Time: 10 min + 25 min freezing time

-     3 c sweetened, shredded coconut (about 7 oz)
-     ½ c confectioner’s sugar
-     1 c sweetened condensed milk
-     1 (12 oz) bag milk chocolate chips (about 2 c)

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the coconut, confectioner’s sugar, and condensed milk and mix until the contents stick together.  Roll small pieces of the filling between your palms and place on the baking sheet.  Freeze for 15 minutes, then remove from freezer and roll between your palms again to smooth out any rough edges.  Place in the freezer for an additional 10 – 15 min.

While the filling is in the freezer for a second time, melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler or a microwave safe bowl.  Once melted, remove the filling from freezer and dip the balls into the chocolate, using a fork.  Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

Adapted from How Sweet Eats

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Black Bean and Corn Salsa

I wish I had this post ready for Cinco de Mayo, but considering that I made this salsa the morning of Cinco de Mayo, right before the party I was about to bring it to, that wasn't going to happen.  But that's the exact thing I love about this recipe - it is so quick and easy to make.  The perfect thing to whip together before that backyard BBQ or impromptu night by the pool.

This is a welcome alternative to the tomato based salsa.  The corn kernels are sweet and the hot pepper adds a little bit of a bite.  The flavors are well-rounded and dynamic, making for a unique taste with each bite.  It even looks pretty!  Pair it with blue corn tortilla chips and you're all set.  Just make sure you leave the kernels enough time to thaw and drain or else your salsa will be rather watery.  This recipe makes a lot of salsa, so save the leftovers to sprinkle on tacos or salads.

I love to make my own salsa because the ingredients are incredibly fresh; it beats jarred salsa anytime.  Plus, where can you find a salsa like this in the store?  Another thing I love about making my own salsa is that I get to tweak the ingredients to fit my liking.  Don't like chunks of garlic?  Don't include them!  Want spicier salsa?  Use a stronger pepper!  Let me know if you make any additions or substitutions, I'd love to hear what you do with the salsa!

Black Bean and Corn Salsa
Serves: 6 – 8 people
Prep Time: 10 min

-     1 lb frozen sweet corn kernels
-     1 can (18 oz) black beans, drained and rinsed
-     2 large tomatoes, diced
-     1 avocado, diced
-     ½ red onion, diced
-     1 hot long pepper, diced
-     1 clove garlic, minced
-     1 tbsp cilantro
-     juice of 1 lime
-   salt, to taste

Let corn kernels thaw in a colander (rinse with warm water to expedite thawing), making sure to shake out all excess water.  Combine corn with the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.  Keep in refrigerator until ready to serve.  

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Strawberry Banana Cream Pie

I recently titled my "Recipe" board "To Make" because I love taking down pins of recipes I've already made.  Checking things off of your To-Do (or in this case, to make) list is so satisfying.

That being said, this recipe is one that has been on my "To Make" board for about 6 months now.  Banana cream pie became stuck in my head after hearing Mike and Tom talk about it on their podcast "MATES."  Since then, I had been dying to make one, and a Saturday night at home warranted the occasion.

Once you master making a custard filling, it opens up a door to a whole new world of desserts.  The key to the perfect custard is to go slow and whisk constantly!  If you boil the milk or add the warm milk to the eggs too quickly, you could risk scorching your milk or curdling your eggs (respectively).  Keep your milk over medium-low heat and add it to your eggs about 1/4 of a cup at a time.  It's incredibly trying on those of us who are not patient but believe me, you do not want to rush this.  Also, make sure you're whisking constantly, even if it is a pain.  This will keep your custard silky and smooth.  I mean, who would want to bite into a lumpy custard?  It makes my skin crawl just thinking about it...

Also, just a word of warning, when you have your milk/egg mixture over heat it's going to thicken up rather suddenly.  I was lackadaisically swirling the whisk around the pot when I noticed a clump was starting to form in the middle of the pot.  At that point, you want to make sure you're whisking consistently and somewhat rapidly.  You want it to thicken up smoothly without any lumps.

I have to admit, when I was spooning the custard into a bowl I was a little skeptical.  I had never made custard before, so I didn't know what to make of the smell and consistency of the goopy stuff I had just made.  So I decided to have a little taste.  At first, I didn't taste anything, but then this slightly sweet taste started to come, and before I knew it I was licking the pot clean.  The custard is not eggy at all, and using brown sugar instead of granulated sugar makes for a very rich custard.

The pie is just lovely.  For a cream pie, it's not heavy at all, and the custard is so silky and decadent.  Also, there's nothing quite like homemade whipped cream, and with this recipe, you'll have some left over for dipping fruit in and putting on your ice cream.  The strawberries are such a nice touch to the pie since they add a tiny bit of tartness.  This pie was wonderful and I know it will make an appearance again this summer.  Or maybe even as early as Mother's Day.

Strawberry Banana Cream Pie
Yield: 1 9-in. pie
Prep Time: 45 min + 1 hour (at least) in fridge

For the filling:
-     2 c whole milk
-     6 large egg yolks
-     ½ c brown sugar
-     1/3 c cornstarch
-     pinch of salt
-     1 tsp vanilla extract
-     3 tbsp unsalted butter
To assemble the pie:
-     1 graham cracker pie crust
-     2 bananas, sliced
-     ½ lb strawberries, sliced
For the topping*:
-     2 c (1 pint) whipping cream
-     4 tbsp powdered sugar
-     2 tsp vanilla extract

To make the filling, bring the milk to a slow boil in a small saucepan over medium heat.

In a separate, larger saucepan (not over heat), whisk the egg yolks together with the brown sugar, cornstarch, and salt until well blended and thick.  Drizzle about ¼ of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly to warm the eggs slowly.  Slowly add the rest of the milk in a steady stream, whisking constantly.  Be careful not to let the eggs curdle. 

Place the saucepan with the egg and milk mixture over medium heat and bring the mixture to a boil, whisking constantly.  Allow the mixture to boil, still whisking, for 1 minute and then remove from heat.  The mixture should be thick and creamy.

Whisk in the vanilla extract and then let stand for 5 minutes.  Whisk in the butter, stirring constantly until the butter is incorporated.  Transfer the custard to a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap, allowing the plastic wrap to touch the surface of the custard so a skin doesn’t form on the top.  Refrigerate until cold throughout (at least one hour but preferably overnight). 

To assemble the pie, layer the bananas and then the strawberries along the bottom of the graham cracker pie crust.  Mash the left over banana slices and stir into the custard.  Pour the custard into the pie shell and smooth.  Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator.

To make the whipped topping, beat the whipping cream until it starts to thicken.  Add powdered sugar and vanilla extract and continue to beat until stiff peaks form.  Store in the refrigerator if not serving immediately.

When ready to serve the pie, spread the whipped topping on the pie and top with any left over sliced strawberries.  Serve pie immediately or refrigerate.  Pie will last 2 – 3 days. 

*Note: this makes more whipped topping than you will need for the pie, but you can always use it as a topping for fruit, ice cream, pastries, etc. or store in the freezer for use later.

Adapted from Joy the Baker