Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Blogging Real Talk

The maddening truth, and reason why I blog so infrequently:

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls and A Seasonal Rant

 I am fully aware that what I'm about to say will be wildly unpopular. That's okay. I've come to terms with it, but I just think it needs to be said! And it's far enough into the holidays and out of fall that I feel the hype has died down enough to avoid getting egged for the following words:

I. Hate. Like, seriously hate. Pumpkin spice lattes.

And here's the biggest reason: I think it's inappropriately named. And I'm serious. To me, the term "pumpkin spice" indicates the same thing that the little jars of "pumpkin spice" in the spice section mean: cinnamon, clove, allspice, etc. What Starbucks and the look-a-likes are actually serving is Pumpkin Pie Lattes. Without the crust. Maybe Pumpkin Custard Lattes? But pumpkin spice is literally (yes, literally) spices used to spice your pumpkin pie. And if that's what the lattes were, then that would be the tastiest thing this side of Nutella crepes. But it's not. It's a mug of lies!! That said, I completely respect everyone is enjoys their mug of lies. I don't have to like everything that Starbucks makes. But the very least they could do is rename it, and stop filling me with false hope at every turn.

Was that a bit much? Are you still with me? Wow - congratulations. Seriously - thank you for sitting with me through that rant, I think we're all a little better for it. Go ahead and unfollow me, that's fine. But my premise is valid.

Now, I'll tell what won't fill you with sad and bitter remorse of wasted seasons sat in the office: these pumpkin cinnamon rolls (not pumpkin spice cinnamon rolls - they're appropriately named).

I got the recipe from Smitten Kitchen and didn't change a thing. However, I did have trouble with the rise. I'm not sure if it's the Pacific North West working against me, or that the yeast wasn't fully awake (it was within the expiration date on the label)... I've made them twice and had trouble both times. On the second round, I was making them for family after Thanksgiving and couldn't wait for a longer rise. I thinned the dough with an extra egg, some oil, and some milk to make it into waffle batter. It made fan-TAS-tic waffles. We topped them with the same cinnamon roll icing. The batter made exactly 8 waffles for the group. And exactly 8 cinnamon rolls on the first attempt.

Check out the link here for the printable version of the recipe at Smitten Kitchen's website. These rolls are fantastic. But I need to continue tweaking to get these as fluffy as other rolls I've tried. The flavor is great, though. And perfect for New Year's morning after a night of partying!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Chocolate Coconut Icebox Cookies

It's holiday cookie time, y'all!

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2012

For The Great Food Blogger Cookies Swap, I decided to make a family favorite of mine: Icebox cookies! I have never made them before, but are one of the earliest cookies that I remember.

My mom never considered herself a baker, but she could (and still can) ROCK a cookie tray. At her legen-wait for it, because this next part is used to top your latkes-DARY! Legendary Hanukkah parties, latkes are brisket were always the star, but you have to have something sweet to finish the meal. She became a master of meringues (something I have failed at several times over) and spritz cookies (a favorite of my dad). But the cookie from her childhood, and the only cookie that I remember from my great grandmother, is the icebox cookie. I remember my mom making it a few times, but the meringues and spritz were her staples. 

Icebox cookies are beautiful - spiraled and lightly flavored - and so easy to make in bulk. And, once rolled into its tube, it will stay in the fridge for days, or (if well-wrapped) in the freezer for a few months. They're like homemade slice and bake! The set up is easy: make a batch of plain dough. Divide into thirds. Add the flavor and food coloring to each of the small sets. I usually use vanilla and chocolate, then switch up the third. My mom would use green coloring and mint. I sent out blue coloring (teal?) and coconut. I experimented with chocolate, almond, and red raspberry. After you mix each third, you roll out each layer until its 1/4 - 1/2" thick and all about the same size (roughly 9x13) and stack. Roll into a log, refrigerate, roll in sugar, then slice and bake!

Coconut flavor was a big hit! I used sanding sugar around the outside to add extra holiday pizazz (Holiday Jazz Hand Cookies!). And, here's the part to explain my lack of photos... They were so good and so plentiful that in addition to the dozen I had to send to each of my swappers, I had about 2 dozen left at home. I set aside about 5 for a photo shoot later (I get off work so late that I didn't have any daylight by which to photograph!), and gave my hubby permission to eat at will. He usually doesn't eat very many of my creations because they're all fancy. And he literally begs for sugar cookies. And apparently these were boring enough that in less than one week, he ate all of the extra cookies AND my secret stash. Leaving me without any photos for this. Now, I can't really stay mad at him because he is usually so good about leaving food that I need for blogs, and it does mean that he finally liked something enough to devour it.

Recipe notes: This follows 3-2-1 proportions of the main ingredients of flour, sugar, and butter. Use 3 units of flour, 2 units of sugar, and 1 unit of butter. If you're using pounds, cups, or shoe horns - just keep these together. I found that 1 egg for the cups was *just* a little dry. I needed about 1 Tbs of milk to get the dough to a Play-doh consistency. Depending on your humidity or elevation, you may not need this. Decide after you add the flour. The proportions below, using cups, produce about 18 cookies.

Soooo... here's the recipe! I hope you enjoy. And that yours come out mostly like spirals.
Chocolate Coconut Icebox cookies:

1 cup of butter at room temperature
2 cups sugar
1 egg
3 cups all purpose flour
1 Tbs milk (optional)

1/4 extract of your choice (I used vanilla and coconut)
~1 Tbs unsweetened cocoa (if using chocolate layer)

Food coloring
Flour for rolling
Granulated or crystal / sanding sugar for the outside
Wax paper and saran for storing.

(1) In the bowl of a mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until pale yellow and fluffy.
(2) Add the egg and mix until smooth.
(3) Add the flour, 1 cup at a time, and mix just until combined. If necessary, add milk (1/2 - 1 Tbs) until dough just holds together, like Play-doh.
(4) Remove dough from bowl and divide into three individual bowls. In each bowl, add a separate flavor and food coloring (if using). For the best contrast, leave one without any dye. A chocolate layer also adds great contrast.
(5) On a floured surface, roll out each batch into a rectangle about 1/4 - 1/2" thick, and about 9" x 13" in size. Stack the layers as you finish them.
(6) Starting with the long size towards you, roll the dough along the short side so that it spirals on itself. Roll the entire log in saran wrap, and then in wax paper. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, but up to 3 days.
(7) When you remove the dough from the fridge, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silpat.
(8) Put your sanding sugar in a shallow dish and roll the dough log to coat the outside in sparkly sweet goodness.
(9) Slice your sparkly dough log into cookies about 1/2" thick and place on the cookie sheet. These will not spread much, but shouldn't touch on the pan. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Check after about 8 minutes, though - these will not brown much, but will start to look dry on top. My batches took 11 - 12 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack, then hide from your hungry husband so that maybe you can enjoy a few, too!


Monday, December 3, 2012

Crab Scampi (And a rant typed from a claustophobic death tube)

Preface: The following was typed while flying at 31000 feet in a small, claustophobic plane from Dallas to Portland, on our approximately 5th rescheduled flight back from South America on a work trip.

If you follow me on Twitter (@kvetchnkitchen), you probably noticed last week that I was traveling for work. The location where I was working is quite difficult to get to – at least 3 flights. More flights come with an increased chance of delays and hiccups. Let’s face it – it’s hard enough with one flight. Though, to be honest I don’t remember the last time I took a single flight to get anywhere. It’s been at least a year, I think. Anywhere for work requires at least 2 (usually 3), and vacations are usually cheaper with a connection (even SEA à LAX, because who wouldn’t want to double trip time and fuel cost by laying over in Salt Lake City but it’s okay because it’s cheaper).

Crab Scampi

Anyways, I don’t want to gripe too much because I really do love my job, and I realize that I am very lucky to get these amazing travel experiences, even if it is just to spend 11+ hours working most days. But the trips to South America have been the most challenging. The country we visit has a small airport (4 gates). It averages about 4 incoming and 4 outgoing flights every day, and with the exception of Miami, it only services other South American countries. As it is late Spring in the Southern Hemisphere, thunderstorms are very frequent and prolonged. Basically, we were delayed several times over and I am writing this on a cramped plane that is on it’s 3rd of 4 hours but for such a long flight, there is no sight of television monitor, in-arm entertainment, and I’ve drained the power reading on both my phone and iPad. So as I sit, going on hour 24 of travel time, tummy rumbling, I tend to fantasize about what I will make when I get home. Or what I can eat at the airport. Or if that cough drop in my bag will stop the grumbling. And it’s a bit much to spend $9 on a questionable Caprese salad.  And I would just like to add that trapping us on a flight with *zero* free entertainment options (not even a terrible, one-sided documentary?) and then charging $6 per hour for Wi-Fi, but not make charging ports available, is simple extortion. My butt hurts. My foot is asleep. And I want my two bites of stale pretzels that I am entitled to!

Crab Scampi

Crab Scampi
And the previous rant has nothing to do with anything except that I’m hungry on this plane and wrists are contorted into weird typing angles as the man in front of my has his seat fully reclined into my personal bubble and I have no idea what I’m actually typing. Anyway, onto to the recipe I made before I left on my work trip. This recipe combines some of my most favoritest things (in no particular order): butter, garlic, pasta, and crab. And because I was feeling guilty, I added some zucchini into the final sauté. The recipe itself has no special story except to say that one day I wanted shrimp scampi because of my love for butter and garlic, but then the grocery store had a special on crab, so I went for it.

Crab Scampi
Crab Scampi

Note – I was able to find quality, shelled crab at a decent price. If you cannot, and want to splurge, find a nice whole crab and go through the work of steaming and shelling (which I certainly would have done because I am obsessed). If not, you can substitute shrimp, or even some nice boned white flake fish (like cod… Cod scampi? This post is counterproductive because now I’m hungrier than ever and we still have 45 minutes until our descent). If you choose the fish, add it halfway through the zucchini sauté and then add a lid to the pan to let it steam.

Crab Scampi

1 stick of butter (stop with the judgey eyes – SURPRISE: scampi is mostly butter. Let’s move on.)
1/2 head of garlic, peeled and minced [about ¼ cup] (use fresh, please. I will admit to using jarred on many blasphemic occasions, but never in scampi)
1 large onion, diced (Yellow, brown, or sweet are all fine here)
2 cups dry white wine, divided (one in a measuring cup, one in a wine glass)
2 lemons, juiced
pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
dash of Tapatío
dash of Worcestershire sauce
1 large zucchini, halved and thinly sliced
half box of angel hair pasta (you may use whole wheat if that will make your conscience feel better, but to be honest it won’t do much for that stick of butter you already put in your pan)
8 oz fresh crab meat, picked through for shells
1 Tbls packed fresh basil, thinly sliced 

Crab Scampi
Crab Scampi
Crab Scampi

1.     Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
2.     In a large pan, melt the butter over medium heat.
3.     Once all melted and starting to foam, add the diced onion. Salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to turn translucent, but before the butter starts to burn. Reduce the heat, if necessary.
4.     Add the garlic, and cook a few minutes, until fragrant.
5.     Add 1 cup of wine (have you been drinking the other?), and cook just until the alcohol evaporates (usually about 2-3 minutes). Add the lemon juice, red pepper flakes, and dashes of Tapatío and Worcestershire sauces, to taste.
6.     Add the angel hair to the boiling water and cook per package directions (usually about 4 minutes).
7.     Add the zucchini to the scampi mixture. Toss to combine, and cook until zucchini is tender (usually just about the same time as the pasta takes to cook).
8.     Add the crab to scampi, and toss to combine. Toss to combine, place a lid on the pan, and turn off the heat (but leave the pan on the burner). Let the carry-over heat warm the crab while you drain the pasta.
9.     Personal preference: I like to toss the pasta and the whole scampi mixture together in the large pasta pot. Serve, finishing with the basil.

Crab Scampi