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P.B. & J. Cinnamon Rolls

January 15, 2011 Leave a comment

How fun is experimental baking?  No test tubes, beakers, or hydrochloric acid needed.  A generous heaping of creativity, tempered by a dash of common sense can yield inventive family favorites.  The Fun Family loves them some cinnamon rolls!  The gooey classic is always a crowd pleaser, but we also like to mix it up with blueberries or chocolate (check out our recipe here).  At Christmas time, I tested out my Peanut Butter and Jelly creation on a sort of “focus group” of teens.  The feedback ranged from good to really good.  I think they’re pretty stinkin’ good, myself.

You be the judge.

The standard dough and cinnamon/brown sugar filling was used. A couple good handfuls of Reese's peanut butter chips were added to make up the "P.B." part.

The "J" is as simple as adding 1/2 cup of strawberry preserves to the cream cheese icing and using 1/4 cup less powdered sugar.

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Money Mac

October 2, 2010 6 comments

I got rave reviews at a recent “cooking gig” for the following baked mac ‘n cheese recipe.  My clientele literally came from four different continents, both children and adults.  I wanted to include mac ‘n cheese for the kids, but it turned out that the adults were the ones most impressed.  The kids liked it, but they probably would’ve been happy with the bland blue box.

1 pound elbow macaroni
1 stick butter
6 TBS flour
4 cups half and half
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp granulated garlic
8 oz sharp cheddar cheese (shredded)
8 oz colby jack cheese (shredded)
8 oz Velveeta (cubed)
Topping:
1/2 a bag Goldfish crackers (crumbled)
1/2 stick melted butter

Boil the pasta to “super al dente”. The box directions suggest to boil for 9-11 minutes. I found eight minutes to be perfect. The pasta will still have a bit of a bite, but will absorb the cheese sauce nicely.

Speaking of cheese sauce, the key is to think cream gravy. The half and half will make it rich and creamy, while the addition of a bit of chicken stock adds nice flavor. Make a roux with the butter and flour, add the half and half and stock and simmer over low heat until the mixture thickens (whisk frequently and use a heavy bottomed pot to prevent scorching). Off the heat, gradually stir in the cheese. Velveeta, while just about as fake as margarine, is a fabulous melter and will help stabilize everything. Colby Jack also melts nicely and has decent flavor. Sharp cheddar is all about flavor but isn’t a great melter. I think combining the three is the best way to rich, cheesey goodness. Mix the cheese sauce and pasta together and pour into a 9 x 13 baking dish. Top with buttered Goldfish crackers and bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

I suggest doubling the recipe to insure leftovers. Allow the mac ‘n cheese to sit in the fridge over night and it will set up like polenta. Slice into strips, bread with seasoned flour, and deep fry! Chicken fried mac ‘n cheese! That’s money, baby!

Categories: Recipes

Alaskan Fish Feast

September 6, 2010 2 comments

Last month, I had the rare opportunity to target some of the world’s most prized seafood in the legendary fishing waters of Alaska. There are few experiences in life more glorious than casting a lure into the pristine waters of America’s last frontier. When it was all said and done, I was getting over a thousand dollars worth of Copper River Sockeye Salmon professionally packed to bring back to SoCal. No joke.

Not dyed, not farmed, just further proof of intelligent design. Such tasty and succulent meat MUST come from a loving creator.

I felt like I needed a Secret Service escort to protect my stash.  Even without a security detail, we made it safe and sound to the lower 48.  With my “far north” experiences still fresh, I quickly formulated a plan to smoke my salmon “native style”.  I learned in the village of Unalakleet how a little sweetness can go a long way.  I rubbed one filet with brown sugar and salt before allowing my go-to wood, hickory, to work its magic.  Another filet got the “Penzey’s Spicy Seasoned Salt” treatment.  Both spent about 20 minutes in a 300+ degree smoker (until it just began to flake) and both were excellent.  Had to put The Fun Foodie spin on it and came up with the … wait for it … Smoked Salmon Slider!  I buttered up pandesal (traditional Filipino dinner roll), lightly toasted it and adorned it with the rich and flavorful salmon.  Folks, there’s a reason Copper River Salmon is so hyped.  It is incredible!  I could almost feel the Omega-3 fatty acids adding years to my life.  And the Smoked Salmon Slider might be one of the greatest culinary inventions of all time **pats self on back**.  If you’re not familiar with pandesal (or if it’s not readily available), try it with Hawaiian rolls.

Salt and brown sugar rubbed on the left, Penzey's Spicy Seasoned Salt on the right, Royal Oak lump charcoal beneath.

Smoked sockeye salmon and pandesal ... together at last.

Oh, and just a bit of clarification.  I didn’t catch any salmon in Alaska.  I would get an A+ for effort, but in reality, my fishing experience was an “epic fail”.  I skunked.  It was a kind and generous resident with a fish wheel who bestowed such riches upon me.

But the Smoked Salmon Slider really was my idea!

And a bonus: Panko-breaded halibut! Also wild-caught. Also by someone else.

Fancy French Toast

June 5, 2010 2 comments

Strawberry cream cheese stuffed french toast.

French toast is one of those fancy-named items that are really a cinch to prepare and quite the crowd pleaser.  Bad French toast is nothing more than stale grocery store bread enrobbed in scrambled eggs.  It’s simple to do it right.  Just make sure you have a generous amount of dairy (I prefer half and half) as part of the egg mixture, a scant bit of sugar, cinnamon, and maybe some vanilla extract for those wild days.  I never measure, but my guess is that my concoction would be something close to this: 3 eggs, 1/3 cup of half and half, 2 tsp sugar, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp vanilla.  Something like that.  

Don't pulverize the cereal to smitherines. Leaving some variety in the crumb sizes will add to the texture and crunch.

Today, The Fun Wife attended a Ladies’ Conference in San Diego, thus leaving The Fun Foodie with “Mr. Mom” duties.  First order of business: BREAKFAST.  I beheld the day old (okay, a couple days old) whole loaves of Panera bread on the counter and immediately began my battle plan for some fancy French toast.  I scoured  the pantry for more ammo and found the broken, crumbly remnants of the last of the Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal.  Waste not, want not!  I combined them with some Cheerios and crushed them even more to create the pièce de résistance of French toast:  Cheerio and Cinnamon Toast Crunch Enrusted French Toast!

If you want to be a true hero to your kids and try this out, be careful to maintain a medium low flame under your well buttered griddle and keep a close eye on your toast.  The cereal has a tendency to burn pretty quick and in no time it’ll be … toast.  Don’t be afraid of a nice deep brown caramelization, though.  That color is just bringing more flavor to the party!  Speaking of party, our French toast madness also included stuffing a couple super-sized slices of afore-mentioned Panera bread with cream cheese goodness (pictured above).  I jazzed up some cream cheese with strawberry jam and a bit of sugar and cut a pocket into the bread.  I used the standard egg batter and it brought raves from my budding food critics.  One problem, though.  I may have raised the bar too high with this morning’s effort.

They might not ever be satisfied with regular French toast again.

Categories: Recipes, Sweets Tags:

Cheaters Sometimes Prosper

May 31, 2010 2 comments

Hard core pit masters with the time and equipment will baby ribs for up to seven hours in their smokers.  Without the aid of gas or electricity, much effort is put into keeping the temperature and smoke just right.  As much as I revere this ever-so-pure form of authentic All-American BBQ, the reality of limited time and a cheap smoker brings out the cheatin’ heart in me!  I’ll clarify later.

If you want good ribs, you can’t cut corners in the preparation.  First off, I prefer spare ribs, as opposed to the yuppy choice, baby backs.  Spares come from the belly of the pig and are bigger and much meatier.  But they require some surgery.  There are two distinct sections in whole spare ribs: the tips and the actual ribs.  The tips have a whole bunch of cartilage and gristle and cook up differently.  We split the sections, BBQ the ribs, and use the tips to make some killer New Mexican-style Green Chile Stew (the tips make some crazy good broth).  Also, there’s a rubbery membrane on the back of the ribs that needs to be removed.

Removing the membrane is a cinch.  Use a knife to get under it right on top of a bone.  That's one slippery booger, so use a rag or paper towel to just pull it right off...

Removing the membrane is a cinch. Use a knife to get under it right on top of a bone. That's one slippery booger, so use a rag or paper towel to just pull it right off...

See, just like that!

With the ribs properly trimmed and peeled, they’re ready for a good rub.  My seasoning rub consists of (in order of prevalance): celery salt, sugar, onion powder, garlic powder, New Mexican red chile powder, chipotle chile powder, black pepper and cumin.  I like to let the rack and rub get to know each other for a couple hours.

I’ve come to prefer “grill smoking” ribs.  That means I put them directly over a thin layer of lump charcoal along with a chunk of hickory that smolders over to the side.  You’ve got to be careful with this method, as you can torch your ribs if you don’t keep the temperature low.  Let ’em brown on the meaty side for about five minutes (depending on how hot your coals are), then flip to the bone side.  I keep it in the smoker this way for about an hour.  The initial blast of heat makes for a tasty crust, then the coals slowly cool off enough to gently smoke.  The flavor is unbelievable this way.  But here’s where the cheatin’ comes in.  After the hour in the smoker, I wrap the ribs real tight in foil and finish them off in a 225-250 degree oven.  Total cooking time will be between 4-5 hours.  I like my ribs to be tender, but still have some integrity (not quite “fall off the bone”).  At the very end, slather generously with your favorite BBQ sauce (try this Dr. Pepper sauce sometime) and char under the broiler or, better yet, over some lump charcoal.

Cheatin’ never tasted so good!

Categories: BBQ, Recipes Tags: ,

Baking Adventures

April 17, 2010 3 comments

The Fun Foodie can eat with the best of them, and I also happen to be a decent cook (some would even say I’m very good).  But baking has never been my specialty.  Luckily, The Fun Wife is an awesome baker so I get to be the recipient of many delectable home-baked treats.  Recently, our oldest offspring (we’ll call him The Fun Son #1) celebrated a birthday.  He’s a fan of Sesame Street’s Oscar the Grouch so, naturally, The Fun Wife came up with this:

It’s a chocolate cake topped with a food-dyed buttercream (both scratch-made, of course).  Okay, so the marshmallows and gummi worm were store-bought.  She’s not Martha Stewart.  Thank heavens.

When I’m not low-carbing, one of my guilty pleasures is cinnamon rolls.  As hard-core chocolate-lovers, we had to find a way to bring these two together in holy matrimony.  Recently, we experimented using Callebaut semi-sweet chocolate.  Callebaut is a high-end European chocolate that is the choice of gourmet pastry chefs world-wide.  We buy ours at Whole Foods and it is amazing!  If it’s not readily available to you, Ghirardelli is an excellent choice, especially for the price.  If you can’t find Ghirardelli where you live, move!

Anyhizzle, the experiment was a smashing success!  Seriously, if I could only find an investor, I think we could be rich.  It was as simple as adding a generous heaping of grated chocolate to a fairly standard cinnamon roll filling.  We used dark brown sugar, which has a stronger caramel-like flavor.  It’s a great compliment to the chocolate.  Topped ’em off with more grated chocolate and they looked like a million bucks!  Tasted like a billion!

Yeah, that’s how we roll.

CINNAMON ROLL DOUGH
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 ounce package active dry yeast
1 cup warm milk (105-110 degrees)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 tsp salt
2 eggs

FILLING
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 1/2 TBS cinnamon
1/3 cup butter, softened
Grated chocolate

ICING
8 TBS butter, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup cream cheese
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
Grated chocolate (garnish)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk.  Add sugar, butter, salt, eggs and flour and mix well.  Knead the dough into a large ball.  Cover and let rise in a warm place for about an hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.  Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface.  It should roll out to about 21″ x 16″ and be about 1/4 inch thick.  Mix the filling ingredients together.  Spread softened butter over the surface of the dough and sprinkle filling mixture evenly.  Working carefully from the longer side, roll the dough down to the bottom edge.  Cut the rolled dough into 12 even pieces and place, evenly spaced, onto a lightly greased baking pan.  Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Smokin’ Hot Wings

February 5, 2010 4 comments

Man food. **Insert cave man growl** Corn dogs, ribs, meat loaf, and bratwurst are fine examples of masculine culinary expressions.  With the Super Bowl upon us, it behooves me to provide a recipe that will delight the masses of men meaning to munch on meat.  This ultimate sporting event stimulates a surge of testosterone that causes us to consume copious amounts of flight appendages.  I can eat me some hot wings.  There’s just something about that combination of buttery, tangy, and spicy.  But let’s add another element: smoke!  Does it get any more manly than that?

I like to grill-smoke my wings for 30-35 minutes.  I put them directly over a thin layer of lump charcoal with a chunk of smoldering hickory working it’s magic over to the side.  The initial blast of the charcoal will put a nice crust on the wings, but with the smoker closed, it will cool off enough to gently cook them without torching them.  Then they go into the fryer to crisp up.  It only takes 2-3 minutes to get them golden brown and delicious!  Toss in the following garlicky buffalo sauce and you’ve got a manly (and low carb) treat.

**This should be plenty for 20 or so wing pieces.
1/2 stick of butter
1-2 cloves of garlic (crushed)
1/4 cup of your favorite red pepper sauce (Red Rooster, Louisiana)
1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
Salt and Black Pepper to taste

Melt the butter slowly with the garlic over medium low heat.  Remove garlic before it has a chance to brown.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.  Then let the chicken wings party with the sauce!