chestnut flour – who knew

over the past couple of years i have investigated (and tried my fair share of) gluten-free baking recipes.  it is not out of necessity but rather curiosity, as gluten-free treats tend to have a lackluster reputation.  the good news is that gluten-free baking has come a long way, and the most creative bakers out there are getting inventive with alternative baking ingredients so that the gluten-free brownie you see in the bakery’s case doesn’t taste like cardboard.

my coworker george recommended i check out the book alternative baker, as his wife swears by its recipes.  i quickly placed my order on amazon and once in my eager hands, i started at the beginning to read all about the author’s outlook on alternative ingredient baking and how to use the book.  alanna taylor-tobin presents her recipes in a welcoming manner and includes charming backstories to each which, to no surprise, i just love reading.  i have put my own baking skills to the test with near perfect success on several recipes, and although i’d like to take the credit, i must give it to alanna.  she has meticulously tested different ingredients in different amounts over and over again to ensure that the recipes in this book will make anyone come across like a seasoned baker.  and besides the fact that they taste incredible, my treats have always come out looking exactly like her pictures.  exactly.  i mean it!  there might be nothing more satisfying, at least today.  🙂

in a recent baking mood, i came across a recipe for loaded chocolate chip cookies that required chestnut flour.  i looked high and low at the local grocer for chestnut flour with no luck and then resorted to calling the specialty food stores in town.  still, no chestnut flour to be found anywhere in the greater atlanta area.  not ready to give up, i went back to the recipe, which actually referenced two suggested brands of chestnut flour.  next thing i knew, i was in contact with sandy bole from ladd hill orchards in sherwood, oregon who so kindly helped me order one pound of chestnut flour.

with the primary ingredient in hand (thank you again, sandy), phillip and i got to work toasting pecans and chopping chocolate and sifting flour.  the dough came together nicely, don’t you think?

nothing better than cookie dough.

we patiently waited 15-18 minutes, rotating the cookie sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking.  the smells from the oven were cozy and warm as the cookies baked to perfection.  once slightly cooled, we took a gooey bike, taking in the rich chocolate, tart cherries, crunchy pecans, and nutty chestnut flour.  here is one of the best parts about these cookies (and most everything in this cookbook), unless you tell someone they are gluten-free, they should have no idea because the quality, flavors, and combination of ingredients is so thoughtful and delicious they have no reason to believe otherwise.  the bonus?  you learn about new options, and if you are not learning, you are not growing.  🙂

so, here is what you need to take away from this post:

  1. gluten-free baking is not scary or difficult.  with the right ingredients, you’ll be a booming success.
  2. this cookbook is incredible.  please.  go order it.  now.
  3. for all your chestnut product needs, give ladd hill orchards a ring.  they couldn’t be kinder.  tell  them alanna taylor-tobin and kelsey davis sent you.

next up from the cookbook?  i’ll try my hand at some rich chestnut brownies and am betting they’ll be a hit at book club this month.

cranberry bliss bars

it was an all-starbucks weekend when my mom was in town to help dog-sit my dog nephew rocco and house-sit for my brother while he, kari, and bode were out of town.  things started off with a couple of post-workout pumpkin spice lattes on saturday and continued into that evening when we tried out this copy-cat recipe to make our very own cranberry bliss bars.  they are mom’s favorites during the holiday season, and since they aren’t out just yet for purchase at your local starbucks cafe, we decided we would make our own!

can’t you just hear the Christmas tunes on your radio now?

my mom, the expert on how a cranberry bliss bar should taste, tried them for breakfast this morning and said they were divine.  i bit into a forkful myself and declared the same, even though i’ve never actually had one from a starbucks store!  the chocolate chip chunks combined with the cream cheese frosting and chopped craisins make for a delicious, rich bite that pairs perfectly with some fresh fruit and a steaming cup of coffee.  our only tweaks to the recipe?  more craisins in the batter and some orange zest in the frosting.  oh yes, that is exactly how i will make them next time, and i’m sure that will not be long from now.  🙂  the seasons are changing, and we are ready for all the holiday-themed treats we can get!

breakfast of champions.

presidential chicken

as you all know, i’m almost always up for trying a new recipe, and a few weeks ago was one of those nights.  my inspiration was from my dear friend jamie and his fiance caleb.  they have been dabbling in the podcast world and have multiple times mentioned the famous presidential chicken recipe from michigan state university, which is where jamie attended college.  after hearing them describe it as chicken with puff pastry, sour cream, and cream cheese, i demanded a copy of the recipe so that i could try it myself.

so, being the obliging podcast hosts they are, they sent me a link and off i went to kroger to get everything we would need.  as i took over the kitchen with pots and pans and knives and cutting boards, phillip walked in and asked, “what are you making?”

“presidential chicken!” i replied, as if he should have known all along.

he politely said “okay” and left me to my work.

making the stuffing was no big deal, but trying to get the puff pastry looking all nice and on purpose was not as successful.  i may have even ended up with some precious little mini pouches, over there, on the right…oh well!

while these bad boys baked away in the oven, i got to start on the sauce.  now, as i started on the sauce, i found myself confused.  my sauce was not thickening up at all and, with a taste here and there, was quite bland to me.  i double-checked the directions and was doing everything right, but perhaps there’s an msu trick to getting it to thicken properly.  i’ll just have to let one of you show me how it’s done!

eventually the puffs were baked to near-golden perfection.  ah, who doesn’t love a nicely browned, flaky pastry crust?

i plated the chicken up with some broccoli and a little bit of the sauce, but honestly, my sauce wasn’t even necessary (and promptly wound up going down the drain).  those heavenly pouches can stand on their own with piping hot chicken and a creamy, rich sour cream and cream cheese mixture.  this dish is easily one i can see us enjoying time and time again.  🙂

so, if you enjoyed this post, there are two things you need to do:

  1. go get the recipe and enjoy this dish yourself
  2. go listen to jamie and caleb’s podcast

for both, you’ll thank me later.

kyle and black eyed peas

like most folks, black eyed peas are a staple in our family around the new year.  i mean, if eating some of them will bring us good luck, then what do we have to lose?  this year i made my mom’s famous black eyed pea dip for phillip and me, and my brother kyle decided he needed some for his household as well.  he was following the recipe i posted a few years ago and recorded and shared his very own black eyed pea making experience for us all to enjoy.  i love this post because in it kyle sounds so much like our father milo; a fact that simply cannot be denied.  like father like son!  😀

“When preparing the Italian dressing mix, you notice the directions call for vinegar, but they don’t specify the type of vinegar.  Call Kelsey to get her recommendation, which is white vinegar.  Pray you have white vinegar in your pantry; prayer answered.

When preparing the Italian dressing mix, you notice the directions call for oil, but they don’t specify the type of oil.  Call Kelsey, again, to get her recommendation, which is vegetable oil.  Pray you have vegetable oil in your pantry; prayer answered.  Good Seasons company, please make the font on your packaging a little smaller and include these details!

Spend about 2 seconds opening the jar of pimentos.  I suppose the packaging company decided that whole zombie apocalypse was much ado about nothing.

Do the choppin’ and transfer all the ingredients using the new bench scraper your mom got you for Christmas.  Thanks, Mom!

Stand back and admire all the work you’ve put in.  Make sure to sample but resist the urge to eat the entire bowl in one sitting.  You need to share with family and friends when the clock strikes midnight!”

rice flour and tapioca flour and xantham gum, oh my!

many of you know how much i love to bake, and some of you have even been lucky enough to enjoy some of my treats.  now, since i no longer have an office to go into, i had to figure out what to do with all my baked goods, because keeping a whole cake or tray of cookies in the condo with just phillip and me is out of the question.  we’d be too tempted to eat it all ourselves!  so, i started baking things phillip could take to his coworkers.  he’s relatively new at his job as well, and there’s almost no better way to make friends in a new place than coming in with something tasty to share with everyone.

the first recipe i sent to the office with him were those classic and delicious peanut butter, sugar-rolled cookies with a hershey’s kiss on top.  they are almost always a crowd-pleaser!  but when phillip returned at the end of the day with nearly half the cookies still in the tin, i was a wreck!  “phillip, what happened?  did people not like them?  we tried them last night and they were perfect!”  after taking a moment to catch my breath, phillip responded, “well, it turns out that a lot of people in the office are gluten-free and couldn’t eat them.  but those who did have one loved them!”  such a great cheerleader.  🙂

“well, i guess i need to find some gluten-free recipes, then!”  so, discouraged not and determined much, i was on the hunt, and since i know nothing about gluten-free baking, i took my search to social media and relied on my trusty facebook friends to lend a hand.  luckily, within what seemed like just minutes, several folks responded with suggestions – what great people!  after perusing the suggestions, we finally decided that this gluten-free chocolate chip recipe would be the way to go.  it is a classic and cookies are easy to share, so it seemed like it had potential to be a winner.

nothing about the recipe itself scared me away; however, i had to be sure we had the right gluten-free ingredients on hand, so off to whole foods i went!  i made a beeline to the baking aisle and was astounded at the variety and number of alternative baking ingredients out there.  who knew such a world existed!  after checking the shelves, checking my shopping list, and checking my shopping cart again, i was ready to go.

back at the condo with the necessary supplies flung around the kitchen, it was time to get to work.  step by step everything came together nicely, and phillip can confirm that the batter itself tasted as delicious as any one of your favorite gluten-full chocolate chip cookie recipe batters.  that’s got to be a good sign!

but, the real test would be when the cookies were baked, cooled, and ready to eat.  as stated in the recipe, i tried baking them for 14 minutes per sheet, rotating halfway through, but those batches were a little more golden than we prefer, likely due to our oven running a little hot.

so, we bumped it down to 12 minutes total and ended up with a pretty delicious result.  i mean, we just had to taste test a couple of cookies each, washing them down with an ice-cold glass of milk.

with new-found gluten-free confidence, we packaged the cookies up, wrote up a little note and ingredient list, and phillip took them to the office the next day.  i almost couldn’t concentrate on my own work, i was so eager to hear if they were liked!  i got a text from phillip in the afternoon that people were loving the cookies and were appreciative that we took the time and money to go out of our way and make a gluten-free recipe.  ah!  success is ours!

now, we could have stopped there, content with the joy our cookies brought phillip’s co-workers.  however, the baker in me was too intrigued and had to keep going.  one of my own colleagues recommended to me a book called alternative baker, and i have been conquering it like there is no tomorrow!  from the corn meal blueberry muffins to the no-bake oat bars, everything we have made so far has been a hit and there is only more to explore and create.  what more could a baker ask for, right?  right!  if you’re someone out there who has a sweet tooth like us but has some dietary restrictions, i highly recommend giving this particular recipe and this book a try.  the baking world is full of so many creative options, and who knows, maybe you’ll surprise yourself with a new favorite.  🙂  enjoy!

that blue apron thing

after much advertisement dodging and internal reflecting, i decided to take the plunge, jump on the bandwagon, and try out blue apron.  for those of you who do not know, blue apron is a meal-delivery service.  now, when i say “meal” i mean that they mail you all the ingredients and instructions for a few meals that you then get to cook in the comfort of your own home.  now, there are all sorts of companies like blue apron, but considering they were offering three meals for only $20 in your first week, it sounded like a deal too good to pass up.

when you sign up for blue apron, you do get to decide what day of the week your box arrives.  i figured tuesday was as good a day as any, so a few days ago our first box was waiting at the back door for me to scoop up and bring inside.

in addition to designating your delivery day, you get to provide some meal preferences.  for example, if you’re vegetarian or only eat seafood, you can indicate just that in your profile.  a handy feature, especially for someone who might be on a more restricted diet.

the box that arrived was quite compact, at least in my opinion, and i got as excited as a child on Christmas morning when i grabbed the scissors and cut that box open.

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before i proceed much further, it is clear that blue apron definitely has some thinkers working for them.  the way they package the ingredients and recipes along with the charming notes and witty branding really does the job it should:  it gets you excited to cook!

one of the delightful things about blue apron is that each refrigerated item is individually packed, “pantry” produce is loose in the box (which is fine because less packaging means less waste), and you get these awesomely large freezer packs that you can re-use or, if you desire, you can have blue apron recycle for you – nifty!  however, maybe above all else, the best part is that everything comes in the cutest little bags and cutest little containers with the cutest little labels!  again, their marketing dollars hard at work.

our box had three meals that have two servings each.  of the options in front of us, phillip and i decided to make the burgers and slaw because we were hungry.  as such, we wasted no time at all grabbing the recipe (complete with instructions, pictures, and recommended wine pairings) and getting to work.

now, the estimated completion time for this particular recipe was 25-35 minutes.  my friend judson who had done a similar meal-delivery service said that it always takes him longer than what the recipe says.  well, challenge accepted!  i kept our trusty chef timer around at all times to see if we could beat the clock.

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the recipe’s step-by-step instructions were perfectly clear.  i chopped away and mixed up the slaw while phillip was on burger duty.  phillip enjoys being in the kitchen and was especially entertained as he marked off each completed step with a little check on the recipe.  #adorable

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just as phillip was flipping the burgers to finish them off, our chef timer rang out loudly, sounding the buzzer for the suggested 35 minutes to cook the entire meal.  well, it turns out we needed about 10 minutes more.  but still, a home-cooked meal in under an hour isn’t something to be too upset about, right?  sure!

with the oven off and the stovetop cooling down, phillip and i plated our first blue apron meal, poured a couple glasses of delicious red wine, and dug in.  first things first, yes, this meal was as delicious as it looks.  the slaw was a great crunchy texture to have with the tender beef patty and schmear of sriracha mayo.  and, as you can see, there was plenty of slaw that we really even had it as a second side next to the sweet potato wedges.  those wedges were cooked through just right and were so easy to make!

now, i know what your next thought is.  “that looks like a pretty big plate of food.”  well, it certainly was.  in fact, the portion size for this meal was so large that i almost couldn’t finish!  i let phillip polish off the last few sweet potato fries and then i think we were both stuffed.

besides the end result of a delicious and different dinner on an otherwise normal tuesday night, what is our review of blue apron?

  • are you happy you tried it?  yes, especially with the first week at only $20!
  • did the box provide everything you needed to make the meal?  almost.  blue apron assumes you have things like extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper on-hand.
  • was the food you got a good value for what you paid?  again, for the first week, yes!  it’s hard to go out to restaurants and spend only $20 on six humongous meals.
  • what are you liking most so far?  i think the convenience factor is the ultimate perk of something like blue apron.  i didn’t have to stop at the store on the way home from work, which saved me time and got us cooking earlier in the evening.  i also very much like the variety of recipes.  for example, this week’s recipes were the burgers and slaw, creamy shrimp spaghetti (which we made last night and also was quite tasty), and then chicken enchiladas.
  • will you do blue apron again?  well, considering i forgot to cancel next week’s “order,” yes!  at least for one more week.  do know, though, that the regular price for three meals with two servings each (so six meals total) bumps up to $60 per week.  however, if you don’t like eating monstrous dinners, you could likely split these two servings per meal into four, so then you’re getting twelve total meals for $60 rather than just six.  so, in the end, still a pretty good price.
  • anything else we should know?  well, yes!  apparently i have three free meals i can give to my friends, so if you’re interested, let me know and i’ll hook you up!  also, for those of you who want more per meal or have more than just a pair like phillip and me, they do have family-size options you can order.  and (i promise this is the last thing) you can also skip weeks without any penalty at all.  just make sure you do so a week before your next delivery date.

bon appetit!

ze best chili ever

yesterday at work we had the annual chili cookoff at the office.  like a good sport, i offered to bring some in.  however, i don’t really have a go-to-chili recipe on hand.  lucky me, my family out in california is all about a good chili competition, so i went to the experts for a little help.

my cousin ali was quick to supply a recipe that put her in first place at a local competition in southern los angeles.  well, if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me!  i pulled up the recipe and was slightly intimidated by the required prep work and number of ingredients, but i figured if i was going to make some chili i may as well go all out for it.

to make things easy on myself, i chopped all the vegetables earlier in the week so that the actual cooking would be a quick process.  now, after having made the chili and also eaten more bowls than i care to admit, i think it goes a long way if you chop the vegetables up as tiny as you can.  i mean, i’m not sure a big ‘ole hunk of green pepper is really what you want, but if that’s how you like your chili, go for it!

also, whatever you do, do not leave out the italian sausage.  in my opinion, the sausage is what makes the chili, so please, please, make sure you have it in there.

finally, i think i could have used a bit more heat.  now, the recipe calls for four tablespoons of chili powder which, honestly, terrified me.  as such (and not wanting the chili to be inedible because it was too spicy), i used only a single tablespoon of chili powder.  however, this recipe makes so much that i think i easily could have done at least two if not three, and i am a spice wimp.

so!  the chili cooked overnight as i dreamed happy dreams, and when i awoke in the morning, my nose was warmly greeted with the delectable scent of a cozy, home-cooked meal in the crockpot.  after freshening up, i loaded up the car and headed to the office, where i counted down the minutes until noon so that i could eat.  it’s hard to not be hungry when there are crockpots full of chili in the office!

once the hour was upon us, our moderators meghan and greg explained that we could try all three and then vote for our favorite chili, for the most unique chili, and then for the hottest chili.  the votes would be cast and collected and then the winners would be decided.

my coworkers and i gabbed and relaxed between bites of chili and cheese and bread, but i was secretly (and anxiously) awaiting the results of the competition.  now, i wouldn’t say i am much of  a competitor, but i wanted to make ali proud!

so, after all bowls were emptied and the tally sheets were in, the results were……that i won the most unique chili!  people liked the seasonings and sausage (duh!) and thought the flavor profile was unexpected (in a good way).  greg won the award for the hottest chili and then our other coworker tabri won the award for the favorite chili.  i think the potatoes in tabri’s chili is what won over everyone, even i admit it!

it was such a pleasure to become part of this company tradition, and even though the chili was a bit of work, i’d say it was worth every minute spent.  this chili is hearty without being heavy and is so delicious that i had a hard time putting my spoon down.  if you’re looking for a warm meal as the winter weather sweeps in, give this recipe a try.  i bet it’d be a hard thing to be disappointed with it.

tabri, greg, & me.

tabri, greg, & me.

m&m cookies!

i found myself in a baking mood late last night.  the result?  m&m cookies!  this recipe has been in my recipe book for ages, and whenever i flip past it i always wonder how i obtained it.  there’s no author, no web url, nothing.  just ingredients and instructions written on a piece of college-lined notebook paper.

regardless of how and when i got it, i decided they would make the perfect labor day weekend treat.  rather simple, this recipe makes a bucketful of cookies that would be great for a crowd, the office, or even a college football tailgate (go dawgs!).

ingredients

1 cup shortening (like crisco shortening, not oil or butter)

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 1/4 cups plain flour

1 bag of m&ms (12 ounces, anymore and you’ll have more candies than batter!)

instructions

cream together the shortening and sugars using an electric blender.

add the vanilla and the eggs and beat until mixed.

in a separate bowl, mix the salt, baking soda, and flour.  then, slowly incorporate into egg mixture with blender.

using a spoon (not the mixer!) fold in the m&ms and stand back at take a look at what a beautiful thing you’ve made.

the cheeriest cookie batter there ever was!

the cheeriest cookie batter there ever was!

dollop the cookie batter on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes at 375 degrees fahrenheit.  let cool before storing.

then!  because you have extra batter and what to be a little cray on a friday night, make one giant cookie the size of your face!  🙂

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coconut curry shrimp

earlier this week i was looking for an easy weeknight recipe that would satisfy and also provide tasty leftovers for lunch the next day.  well, phillip and i struck gold with a coconut curry shrimp recipe that had been hiding in my recipe book.  to no surprise, it actually originated from fellow food blogger ree drummond, and the unarguable fact that this recipe is delicious should also not be a surprise.

i got done prepping all the ingredients when phillip walked in the door just in time for cooking and assembling.  our walk the moon album was spinning on the record player while he prepared the shrimp and sauce and i finished up the rice and got the table set.

we sat down and dug in, remembering exactly how good this meal is.  phillip was almost speechless between bites!  this recipe is quick, delicious, and filling.  it doesn’t take many scoops of rice and shrimp and sauce to satisfy your taste buds and your hungry stomach.  as usual, i pretty much doubled up on the garlic and the curry because who doesn’t like a little punch at the end of each bite.  also, don’t be afraid to go a bit spicier since the coconut milk will definitely sweeten the dish considerably.  enjoy!

i promise this looked way fancier in my fine china at home.

i promise this looked way fancier in my fine china at home.

the easiest dip ever

this past weekend phillip and i spent some time in dadeville, alabama visiting my childhood friend adam at his parents’ lakehouse.  at lake martin we lounged in the water drinking beers, took the jet ski for a whirl, ventured to chimney rock, and enjoyed the company of friends both old and new.  after this long day of relaxation and fun, we arrived back at the house hungry and lazy.  well, the dip that adam’s mom tina whipped up was the perfect appetizer for a bunch of hungry and lazy twentysomethings.  this recipe is so easy and so delicious that i insist you go out to the store, acquire all of the ingredients, and make it right now!

so, how easy is it?  let me tell you.

step one:  grab an 8-ounce block of cream cheese out of the fridge (no need to let it soften).

step two:  moosh that cream cheese evenly across the bottom of some kind of microwave-safe dish (i think a square or circle casserole dish would do nicely).

step three:  grab a can of your favorite chili.  with beans, sans beans, beef, turkey, whatever your taste buds desire.

step four:  evenly spread the chili on top of the cream cheese.

step five:  suffocate the chili layer with shredded cheese of your choice.  i prefer to put so much on that you can’t see the chili through the cheese.  true confessions:  i love cheese.

step six:  microwave your masterful creation for about 3-5 minutes, depending on how powerful your microwave is and depending on how melty you want the cheese.  we nuked ours long enough so that the cheese kind of bubbled around the edges.  mm.

step seven:  devour the entire dish without any regrets because you’re at the lake and it’s the weekend and that’s acceptable.