Monday, June 25, 2012

Fresh Vegetable Frittata

“You’re bringin’ home flowers, and a bottle of chablis/You forgot I don’t drink wine, I know that bottle’s not for me.” -- Reba McEntire, “Take it Back”

Any recipe that allows me to quote one of the great Reba McEntire’s classic “he done me wrong” songs is a winner in my (cook) book. And indeed, you can count that song as the unofficial anthem to this Fresh Vegetable Frittata, seeing as a key ingredient is ¼ cup of the good stuff.

I used to thrill to the very sophisticated notion of brunch – a repast worthy of its own name and subcategory of meal-straddling foods. Brunch was never “done” in my house until I was at least a teenager, and then we were firmly in the French toast and sausage camp – no quiche or frittata for us. I had to get my egg-dish thrills from my friend Annemarie’s family – who made a delicious crustless quiche that was actually memorialized in song (though not by Reba McEntire).

Here, then, is a brunch recipe that clearly shows my aspirations toward a glittering future in which I would whip up a frittata and pour wine with a connoisseur’s hand. I’m not sure I’ve realized that future because now, as then, I had no idea what chablis was, other than fun to say. The recipe notes that the wine “adds a delightful flavor.” Expectations mounting, I headed to the grocery.

The "delightful" final results.
The wine steward’s eyes lit up when I asked him where to find chablis. He quickly ushered me to the French Imports aisle and brought down one of the two brands offered – both retailing for $20. Skinflint that I am, I quickly asked him what I could substitute, in the, say, $7 range. I can still see the disappointment in his eyes. Apparently, like “real” Champagne, Chablis is Chablis is Chablis. My dreams of substituting Two Buck Chuck died, and, taking one for the team, I paid $20, hoping I would find a new favorite splurge.

Now that I’ve eaten my share of egg dishes, frittata has always struck me as the quiche’s poor relation. But I have nothing against cutting a few calories, and a lot of time, by foregoing crust. We love breakfast for dinner at my house, and this fills the bill nicely for a meatless main, too. I had high hopes the hubby and I could quaff a glass or two of the star ingredient as an aperitif.

But … ugh. I got home, wrestled the eggs, zucchini and cheese into submission and cracked the chablis. I’ll grant you my palate has not advanced much past Boone’s Strawberry Hill. I am the only one at the Passover table actually enjoying the grape-syrupy Manischewitz. So, take this into consideration when I advise you to save your hard-earned cash and find a replacement, any replacement, for a $20 bottle of chablis, which I found bitter, acrid and most definitely not “delightful.” Alas, most of my investment ended up down the drain.

Fortunately, the frittata has plenty of tasty flavors to mask what chablis is bringing (or not) to the party. (For this reason, too, I suggest a more wallet-friendly replacement.) The frittata puffed up in a dramatic fashion. The fresh veggies, cheese and crackers were, yes, a delightful combination. Worthy of a brunch, breakfast, lunch or dinner. And, probably worthy of its own country-western song. Might I suggest: “Take it Back”?

Because, Reba?  If chablis is the best he can do, trust me: Cut him loose.

Fresh Vegetable Frittata

6 servings

4 medium tomatoes
1 cup chopped green onion
2 medium zucchini, cut in 1/8-inch slices
14 soda crackers, crumbled
6 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
Dash of pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ cup chablis
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ cup grated paramesan (sic) cheese

1.     Peel, seed and drain the tomatoes well before chopping.
2.     Mix together the tomatoes, onions, zucchini and crumbled crackers in a large bowl. In a medium-size bowl combine eggs, salt, pepper, oregano, vegetable oil, wine and Worcestershire sauce.
3.     Add the egg mixture to the vegetable mixture, tossing lightly to blend.
4.     Pour vegetable-egg mixture into a well-greased 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake in a preheated 300-degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool slightly before serving.

·      I did not peel my tomatoes, preferring to keep my sanity intact. I sliced them into quarters and seeded them before chopping, and let them drain on a layer of paper towel while I prepped the rest of the ingredients.
·      I substituted 1 T. fresh oregano. It’s going nuts in my garden.
·      I baked this for 40 minutes, finding it too runny at 35.

Why Don’t You …
·      Make this in the summer with really fresh tomatoes, and that zucchini everyone’s giving away?
·      Substitute cream sherry -- a wine that does have a distinctive flavor?
·      Tell me if you love Chablis. Was my experience a one-off?
·      Get Reba’s 1992 album “It’s Your Call” from which “Take it Back” is from. It’s really excellent – especially that title track, which is Reba at her heartbroken best.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"Mrs. Fields'" Cookies

A delicious urban legend.
If there is a recipe in my collection more quintessentially ‘80s than this, I have yet to find it. Mrs. Fields’ cookie stores were founded by, yes, Mrs. Debbi Fields, in the late 1970s and soon turned into a phenomena, fueled by the popularity of the new mall culture. What’s really intriguing about this recipe, however, it that it was a popular pre-email chain-letter circulating in the mid-80s after the stores became successful. (And, one assumes, frustrated bakers nationwide were slapping their foreheads and moaning: “Why didn’t I think of that?”)

The typewritten, photocopied recipe looks like an “official memo” from one “Jo Spotts” (whom nobody actually knows). Jo reports that an anonymous “woman” who works for the American Bar Association (why is this important?) was gouged after she innocently called Mrs. Fields’ headquarters and asked for their cookie recipe. Told it would cost “two fifty,” she happily agreed, assuming she would be charged $2.50. When her Visa bill came due, however, she realized she’d been charged $250 – and promptly went into chocolate-chip induced revenge mode, passing out copies of the cookie recipe to anyone with a will to bake, and a taste for sticking it to the man. Or in this case, woman.

This is what 8 oz. of grated chocolate looks like. Also grated, but not shown: My NERVES.
Mrs. Fields’ has since publicly denied ever distributing any of their recipes, stating they are a “delicious trade secret.”

Be that as it may, let me add my own $2.50 to the intrigue. Whoever came up with this recipe – even if it's not a trade secret – could charge at least a fiver. In fact, with apologies to Debbi Fields, they are better than any cookie I’ve ever had at the mall. They are better than any cookie I've had in most other locations, too. This recipe may be the best thing to come out of the time capsule yet. These cookies are delicious.

Basically, it’s a chocolate-chip cookie recipe with two unique twists: the addition of 5 cups of pulverized oatmeal, and 8 oz. of grated Hershey’s milk chocolate. My Cuisinart took care of the oatmeal, but I was on my own for the grated chocolate. (If anyone has a secret for how to easily grate chocolate, please let me know. I am willing to pay up to $2.50.)

Now of course there are issues, and not just my disloyalty to the baking sisterhood. One is the industrial-sized amount of cookie dough this recipe makes. This past weekend, I had lots of reasons to make 112 cookies – an end-of-year party at my daughter’s school, Father’s Day, binge eating – but when I make this again – and rest assured, it will be in heavy rotation – I’ll halve the recipe.  With the original quantities, I thought I was going to lose my loyal KitchenAid mixer. It wheezed through the gargantuan amounts of butter, sugar, flour, oatmeal, chocolate and eggs, and I ultimately had to put it out of its misery and mix the ingredients by hand. (Haven’t done that since the ‘80s, either.) My biceps, already sore after grating 8 oz. of chocolate, quivered in silent protest.

The KitchenAid takes a break.
I like to think the workout I got preparing this recipe offset the enormous amount of calories I consumed once the cookies were out of the oven, but that’s probably wishful thinking.  These are moist and chewy, with just the right ratio of chip and chopped nuts. The oatmeal adds a nice texture, but unless you know it’s in there, you’ll be hard-pressed to identify it (proving that Jessica Seinfeld’s not the only one with stealth-food tactics). The Hershey’s bar adds an extra boost of chocolate delight, and also flecks the dough, giving the cookies a freckled appearance.

Equally good hot out of the oven with a glass of cold milk, or eaten at room temperature with a cup of hot coffee. I’m not sure why you’re still reading this. Do not pass the mall, do not collect $250 – go to your kitchen and make these cookies.

“Mrs. Fields’” Cookies
Cream together: 2 c. butter (use real butter); 2 c. sugar; 2 c. brown sugar. Add 4 eggs; 2 tsp. vanilla. Mix together: 4 c. flour; 5 c. oatmeal (put small amounts into blender until it turns to powder. Measure first, then blend.); 1 tsp. salt; 2 tsp. baking powder; 2 tsp. baking soda.

Mix together all ingredients and add 24 oz. chocolate chips; one 8 oz. Hershey’s Bar, grated, and 3 c. chopped nuts (any kind). Bake on ungreased cookie sheets. Make golf-ball sized cookies, 2” apart, and bake at 375-degrees for six minutes. Don’t overbake. Makes 112 cookies.

The end results -- worth $2.50, at least.
·      Pack the brown sugar when measuring. My preference is dark brown for the richest flavor.
·      I used toasted, cooled and chopped walnuts.
·      My cookies were still raw after baking for the six minutes recommended by the recipe. I had better success with 10 minutes, but your oven may run hotter than mine. Start checking at 9 minutes.
·      Cool them on the baking sheet for approximately 2-3 minutes, then transfer to the cooling rack. I find this helps lock in the “chewy” texture.
·      These freeze really well. Scoop dough onto cookie sheets and stick in the freezer for a few hours. Once they’re hard, transfer the dough balls to a Ziploc freezer bag. Add a minute or two to your baking time.
Why Don’t You …
·      Substitute white chocolate chips and macadamia nuts?
·      Substitute dark chocolate chips and a grated Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Bar?
·      Add dried cranberries or cherries (which would be especially good with the dark chocolate option described above)?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Indoor Barbecued Chicken with Cornbread Stuffing Balls

My bird, with its initial coat of sauce. Note the clean pan.

Here on the west coast of the Evergreen State, we refer to the sixth month as “June-uary”—apt, because of the incessant rain, chill and gloom that also perpetuates the turn of the year.  But what’s a Seattle girl craving BBQ to do while her friends in the Midwest bask in the glorious sun of early summer? Proving that when the cook is ready, the recipe will appear, here comes Indoor Barbecued Chicken with Cornbread Stuffing Balls! Yee-haw!

This “quick and easy summer dish” comes courtesy of the late, great McCall’s magazine. McCall’s, founded in 1873, had the distinction of being America’s oldest women’s magazine. In a bizarre twist of journalistic fate, Rosie O’Donnell took over the reins in 2001, changed the name to Rosie, and drove it into the ground a year later.

But this recipe harkens back to happier, dare I say “rosier” times. It’s not really a recipe, per se, as much as two simple steps: Put a chicken in a roasting pan and brush it with barbecue sauce. My preferred sauce is a homemade version heavy on the bourbon, but really, who has the time on a weeknight? For store-bought sauce, you cannot fail with Rufus Teague Honey Sweet. You’ll pay a little more to have Rufus T. do the heavy lifting, but it is money well spent.

My muffin batter -- and my fatally flawed purchase in the background.
While the grey skies threatened rain, the chicken roasted, filling my chilly home with the comforting scent of a July potluck.  I moved on to the next step, already grinning like a fool, so great is my love of cornbread.

Uh, cornbread stuffing balls? After dumping in my creamed corn, onion and sage, the batter was decidedly loose – way too loose to form any kind of free-form stuffing ball. I scooped the batter into lined muffin tins, but, with the roasting chicken hogging all the space in my oven, I had a dilemma. I decided to wait until the chicken was resting and then pop in the muffins, cursing the decision not to install a dual oven when we remodeled 12 years ago. (Although, this would only have been approximately the second time I really needed it.)

And then, as I stared down at my raw muffins, I realized my fatal mistake – instead of cornbread muffin mix, the recipe stated cornbread stuffing mix—like Stove Top – which must’ve been why I clipped this recipe in the first place.  (I still fondly recall those Stove Top commercials that featured one chipper fellow accepting his friend’s invitation to stay to dinner because “they’re having Stove Top!”) The fact that Stove Top didn’t make it into my shopping cart, but Jiffy Cornbread Muffin mix did, may provide a clue as to which I purchase more frequently.

Pretty good -- but not what McCall's intended.
So, my cornbread balls were, in fact, corny cornbread muffins. A pleasant-enough side dish, but I will need to revisit the original, intended version. Stay tuned.

The meat took much longer to cook than the stated one-and-a-half hours. At the one-hour mark, my thermometer only hit the low 100s, so I cranked the oven up to 400. It took another hour and change to hit the magic 165 degrees.  But, what a surprise! It actually looked like it’d been on the grill. It was moist and delicious. A final slather of Rufus Teague sauce and I could have sworn it was August. Or 75 degrees. Or both.

I came down from my faux-summer high when I took a look at the roasting pan. Oh dear God, the roasting pan. Hubby and I did the rest of the dishes and optimistically filled the pan with hot water and dish soap and set it “to soak” while we went about the rest of our business. There it sits. Still. Do yourself a favor. Use a disposable pan, or, line the roaster with foil. Anything to avoid the scrub-a-thon that you will endure if you don’t.

A June-uary miracle!
Indoor Barbecued Chicken with Cornbread Stuffing Balls
5-lb. ready-to-cook roasting chicken
1 cup bottled barbecue sauce
1 pkg (8 oz.) cornbread-stuffing mix
1 can (15 or 16 oz.) cream-style corn
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon dried sage

1. Preheat oven to 350-degrees.
2. Wash chicken under cold running water, dry well with paper towels. Place on rack in large roasting pan. Tie legs together, twist wing tips under body.
3. Brush with 1/3 cup barbecue sauce. Roast, uncovered, 1-1/2 hours. (If chicken starts to become too brown after 1 hour, place sheet of foil lightly over top.)
4. Meanwhile, making stuffing balls. Prepare cornbread stuffing as package label directs, substituting corn for water called for and adding onion and sage. Form into 10 balls; place around chicken. Bake with chicken 30 minutes longer.
5. Place chicken on platter; brush with rest of barbecue sauce. Arrange stuffing balls around chicken. Garnish with parsley springs, if desires. Makes 6 servings.
 ·      I skipped Step 2 in its entirety.
·      I used 1 T. chopped fresh sage in the cornbread. My sage is growing like a weed and it would have been criminal not to have used some of the bounty.
·      The recipe says to cook the bird at 350 degrees for a total of two hours. In my experience, there is no way you will reach a food-safe temperature of 165-degrees using those coordinates. Stay at 350 if you’ve got time to spare, but count on at least another hour. Crank the oven up to 400 if you don’t. Either way, I definitely recommend covering the bird with foil after the first hour.
 ·      I found an additional 3/4 cup of sauce brushed on at the end to be overkill. Use what you like.
·      Yes, yes, I know: People the country over use their gas-grills year round. In my house, though, we’re charcoal purists. More to the point, it’s just not fun to stand in the rain, shivering, while trying to cultivate a carefree, BBQ mood.

Why Don’t You …
·      Cut up your bird (or have your butcher do it) – thereby ensuring a faster cook time.
·      It bears repeating: Line your pan with foil or use a disposable pan.
·      Make “real” barbecue chicken if you’re one of the lucky ones and are actually enjoying barbecue weather.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Baby Fozzie's Dump Cake

I was home with a sick kid, who was holed up in the family room watching the newest Muppets movie. Kudos to Jason Segel for bringing this warm-hearted reboot into the new millennium. But he’ll probably not thank me for resurrecting this rather dark chapter in the Muppets’ history. Yes, I’m referring to the Baby Muppets craze of the mid-‘80s.
Baby Fozzie's Dump Cake, living up to its name.

In retrospect, this seems like even more of a desperate last-gasp than it did at the time. (Even more so than the Peanuts’ “Flash Beagle” record my brother and I loved so much circa 1983. Yes, Flash Beagle. As in, Flashdance, the movie. As in, Snoopy as a flash dancer. What a feeling indeed.)

At any rate, the infantilizing of characters continues today. Last I checked, the Baby Disney Princesses were still selling like wee hotcakes. So we can hardly blame the Muppets for trying to keep themselves current.

But, back to 1985, with a special “kids cookbook” insert to Woman’s Day magazine featuring the Baby Muppets’ gang.  My brother’s name is written in neon pink highlighter across the top, so I’m going to attribute this to him – also, in 1985, I’d like to think I was on to more sophisticated fare than the Muppets – Jem and the Holograms, perhaps.

Hot out of the oven ...
This recipe had a strike against it from the outset. I mean, usually when I hear the words “baby” and “dump” in the same sentence, dessert is not the first thing that comes to mind. But the fact that neither the better half nor I could say “Dump Cake” without cracking up meant I had to give it a whirl, leaving Baby Kermit’s Croona Tuna Melt and Baby Piggy’s Moi Mosa (ha!) for another day.

Baby Fozzie’s Dump Cake is fun and easy to make – as you would expect from a kids’ recipe. The baking soda and vinegar boil up nicely like a small volcano. Had she not been convalescing on the couch, my daughter could easily have helped make this.

... and ready for some frozen yogurt!
Another thing Baby Fozzie’s Dump Cake has going for it is the one-bowl prep and bake. It’s almost as easy as a box mix, and quite a bit healthier. I was surprised to see the addition of applesauce in place of some oil – I didn’t think that trend really caught on until the gummy ‘90s. The whole-wheat flour is welcome, too.

Therein lies a bit of the problem, however. Be it 1985, or 2012 this cake is a little on the bland side. Even the addition of raisins (if you like them!) and vanilla does little to liven it up, although the former does add a nice moistness. I helped it toward the realm of spice-cake with the addition of cinnamon, ginger, allspice and cloves.

All-in-all, nobody’s going to request Baby Fozzie’s Dump Cake for their birthday. But when you need a fast, snacky cake that will make you laugh, this one’s your daddy.

Baby Fozzie's Dump Cake
Check the oven to make sure 1 shelf is in the middle. Turn on the oven to 350-degrees. Get out an 8-inch square baking pan. Measure out the following ingredients and dump them into the pan: 1 cup all purpose flour; 1 cup applesauce; 1/2 cup packed-down brown sugar; 1/4 cup raisins (only if you like them!); 1/3 cup vegetable oil; 1 large egg; 2 teaspoons cider vinegar; 1 teaspoon baking soda; and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Mix everything together with a fork or clean fingers. (Don't worry if the dough bubbles. That's what happens when you mix vinegar and baking soda.) When there are no more lumps, put the pan on the middle shelf of the oven. Bake it for 20 minutes. When the time is up, use potholders to put the pan on a cake rack. Stick a toothpick into the center of the cake. If it's dry when you pull it out, the cake is done. If there's some uncooked batter sticking to it, put the cake back into the oven for another 5 minutes. When done, turn off the oven; let the cake cool completely on the cake rack. Cut into sixteen 2-inch squares.

·      I added ½ tsp. of ground cinnamon, and ¼ tsp. each of ground allspice, cloves and ginger. I love a spice cake and would take these higher next time.
·      The additional dump of vanilla frozen yogurt on top appealed to my kids. I think whipped cream or COOL WHIP would also be tasty.
·      I served this for dessert, but, thanks to the whole-wheat flour and applesauce, it would also work at breakfast or brunch.

Why Don’t You …
·      Add other dried fruits beyond the basic raisin? I’m currently in the midst of a love affair with dates , so that would be my next choice, but dried apples would highlight the applesauce, and there’s almost nothing that isn’t improved by a dried apricot.
·      Likewise, some crunchy chopped walnuts would work nicely here.
·      What about adding a streusel-like topping? It would only add a few minutes to your prep to mix together 2 T. softened butter, 2-3 T. packed brown sugar, and a few of those nuts we were talking about. Crumble the mixture on top, and you’ve dressed up your dump!
·      Play around with shredded carrots or zucchini to complement the applesauce and punch up the moistness.
·      Go rent the Muppets movie right now, on Blu Ray. It’s beautiful to look at and funny.  Perfect for the whole family!