Weeknight Cream Biscuits

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An earlier incarnation of the dinner I made tonight. I really need to work on my picture-taking skills.

This blog is titled Ky Cooks, but let’s be honest– I’m way more of a baker than a cook.  I loathe “throw whatever you want into this [soup, casserole, etc]” recipes.  I have no idea what spices go with what flavors, and I suck at cooking meat (I would probably be 90% vegetarian if I didn’t live with J).  But baking…baking I can do.  I’m a rule follower, and there are lots of rules in baking.  You have to measure, mix, and combine just so.  The order of ingredients actually matters!  And there’s just something way more fulfilling about pulling off a complicated pastry recipe than managing to make a soup that doesn’t look like it has fetuses in it (BTW, that actually happened.  There were no fetuses harmed in the making of said chicken crock pot concoction, but the final product somehow looked like it had miniature fetal-shaped pieces of meat in it.  And yet it was one of the blandest things I’ve ever eaten.  THIS IS WHY I DON’T COOK.).

In summation, I like the intricacy of baking.  But sometimes you come home from work and you need something to go along with the dinner you’re making (meatless, of course…this if you’re interested) and you feel like bread, and you don’t want to wait hours for yeast to rise. Enter the cream biscuit.  The Kitchn may be telling a slight fib, because these take 15 minutes to bake, and so they are not, in fact, made in “less than 15 minutes.”  But they are definitely made in 20 minutes or less.  I’ve made these several times now, and they always turn out, no matter how frantically I’m running around the kitchen trying to get things done.  They’re also very versatile; they have a slightly sweet flavor that makes them perfect with a jam for breakfast, but they’re not too sweet to serve with dinner.

I make these biscuits as written, with one quirky change.  I never have parchment paper (and I call myself a baker!), but I do have nonstick muffin pans with square tins instead of round tins.  I just slice the kneaded dough into squares that fit into the tins and bake them in the muffin pan.  I don’t even grease the tins, and I’ve never had a problem with the dough sticking.  So, maybe best practice would be to use parchment paper….but I never have and they’ve turned out fine.

The Kitchn has ideas for modifications (cheddar cheese!  chives!) but so far I’ve just stuck to the original.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

A Nutella Love Story

I was first introduced to Nutella in 2007, when I studied abroad and was looking for a substitute for peanut butter.  As I’m sure happens with everyone’s first experience with Nutella, it was love at first bite.  In fact, I love Nutella so much that I can’t buy it or I will eat it all in two days or less.

My favorite story about Nutella also comes from my trip abroad.  During our time in Europe, my friends and I became obsessed with doner kebaps.  For those that don’t know what doner kebaps are, they’re kind of like gyros, but 100x more delicious.  The sketchier the kebap shop looks, the tastier the doner kebap is.  That’s a fact.  I’m pretty sure that’s why they don’t have doner kebaps in the U.S., because they could never pass health inspection standards.

Anyway, my roommate and I had developed a bad habit of stopping for doners on our way home from clubs at 2 am.  One night, I decided that I was going to be strong and resist the lure of the doner, so I went straight home without stopping by a kebap shop (despite passing at least three on my way home).  I woke up the next morning extremely proud of my newfound willpower.  I even started bragging to my roommate about how I TOTALLY resisted the doner kebaps, and I wasn’t even tempted by them, and how awesome I was for my awesome-y awesomeness.

And then I saw the half empty jar of Nutella on our desk.  You know, the one that had been full before we left the night before?  And then I remembered that I ate half a jar of Nutella when I got home at 2 am.  Which may or may not have been just as bad as eating a doner kebap, because at least kebaps have some nutritional value (I think…there’s some type of carne in there, so yay, protein?).

And that is why I can’t buy Nutella unless it has an explicit purpose.

Luckily, this recipe that I found for Nutella Brownie Bites took up almost the entire jar of Nutella, so there wasn’t much left for me to eat straight from the jar.

I’m not going to rehash the recipe here; it can be found at the link above.  I did add the suggested 1/4 tsp of salt and I also sprinkled the tops of the bites with mini chocolate chips before baking them.  I would post a picture, but the lighting was awful, so I’ll leave you to drool over the pictures on the recipe post at Laura’s Sweet Spot.

These were amazing right out of the oven, and they were maybe even better the next day.  They’re the perfect combination of brownie on the outside with chocolate goo on the inside.  And I get to have my Nutella and eat it, too.  Now I just have to try to not eat the whole pan.

A Masterful Dinner

Eat your heart out, Olive Garden

After a couple weeks of being sick and a couple weeks of being out of town, I’m back in action.  J just graduated from grad school, so I decided to cook him a celebratory dinner.  Since I wanted this dinner to actually be a success, I opted for pasta, which is something I can (usually) make without completely ruining it.

I had an unlikely source of inspiration for this recipe:  Olive Garden.  I’m usually not a huge proponent of the restaurant, but when my best friend suggested it for lunch one day, I agreed.  I ended up getting the Five Cheese Ziti Al Forno, which ended up being pretty delicious.  I couldn’t finish the whole meal (and never got the chance to finish my leftovers), so it was still in the back of my mind when I was looking for new pasta recipes to try.  I searched for a copycat recipe online, and decided to go with this one.  In an effort to remember what I actually did, I’m going to list how I made it, as I made a few changes and scaled it to what the site listed as 4 servings (which was more like 8 servings!).

Olive Garden Five Cheese Ziti Al Forno (adapted from Food.com)

Ingredients:

Ziti Sauce

  • 2 2/3 cups four cheese tomato-based pasta sauce (I used Prego)
  • 1 1/3 cups creamy alfredo sauce (I used Classico)
  • 1/3 cup part skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 2 tablespoons shredded smoked provolone cheese
  • 2/3 teaspoon garlic pepper seasoning
  • 1/3 teaspoon garlic powder

Ziti Topping

  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/3 cup Italian breadcrumbs
  • 4 tablespoons shredded parmesan cheese
  • 2/3 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Also needed

  • 11 ounces dry ziti pasta
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 11 x 7 baking dish
  • non-stick spray

Instructions:

Combine all listed ziti sauce ingredients in a medium bowl, stirring well.  You may cover and refrigerate for later use if desired.  Next, mix together all ingredients for the ziti topping; again, you may cover and refrigerate for later use.  When ready to prepare the dish, boil ziti pasta for 10 minutes.  In the meantime, spray the baking dish with non-stick spray and preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Spread a little over 1/3 cup of ziti sauce into the bottom of the baking dish; you want enough to make an even thin layer of sauce.  When the ziti is finished boiling, drain pasta and add to remaining ziti sauce (I need a new bowl for this.  If you want to minimize on dishes, you might want to make the ziti sauce in a larger bowl.).  Pour pasta and sauce into the baking dish, spreading evenly.  Sprinkle 1 cup mozzarella cheese over top of the pasta, then sprinkle the ziti topping on top of mozzarella.  You may have a little bit of ziti topping left over; discard it (or eat it, I guess…whatever floats your boat).  Place dish in oven and bake until cheese and sauce is bubbling, about 27-30 minutes.  Remove and serve.

There were several things I liked about this recipe:

  1. It was easy.
  2. It was tasty.
  3. You could prepare different parts of the recipe ahead of time.
  4. It reheats well.
  5. J liked it and it didn’t upset his IBS.

This was a winner as far as pasta recipes go.  I don’t really remember if it tasted exactly like the Olive Garden one; all I know is that it was good.  The creamy sauce and the crunchy topping made the perfect combination.  I have to admit, I was a little leery of just combining pre-made pasta sauces, but it turned out really well.  The only change I would make is to make less servings!  There is no way this was only 4 servings; it fills up an entire 11 x 7 all the way to the top.  Next time I make it I’m going to try halving it and using a smaller dish.

PS- I also made caesar salad and milk chocolate pudding with whipped cream and raspberry sauce from Joy the Baker.  The recipe was delicious, but I followed it word for word, so no need to go into detail.  Plus, since I was taking pictures at 8:30 at night with a regular digital camera, the photos didn’t turn out too well.

PPS- I just realized that in leaving out the romano cheese from the original recipe (which I had, but didn’t realize had expired), this unintentionally ended up being a four cheese pasta instead of five cheese.  Unless you count the alfredo sauce, which probably has some sort of cheese in it (I hope).  AND there are four (supposed) cheeses in the pasta sauce.  So maybe it’s a nine cheese pasta dish. Call it what you will…

Vegetable Aversion

Looks gross, tastes great

It all started with an unfortunate incident involving tempeh, Trader Joe’s red curry sauce, and peppers.  “It” being my week-long-and-still-strong aversion to anything remotely healthy.  (Hint: if you like real red curry, don’t buy the Trader Joe’s kind.  Just suck it up and go to a Thai restaurant.)  Anyway, ever since then, just the thought of vegetables has made my stomach turn.  Who knows, it could be some weird side effect from all of the meds I’m currently on, because nothing has really sounded appetizing for the past few days.  I even looked through Milk and Cookies and nothing was calling out to me.  When cookies don’t tempt me, we have a problem.

So I was standing in the middle of the grocery store, trying to figure out what to have for dinner.  I didn’t want anything complicated, but I didn’t want to just eat a frozen pizza (again).  Enter this recipe for Penne with Vodka Cream Sauce.  I haven’t made it in forever because J got sick once after I made it, and I don’t like to make it when he’s around in case there’s something in there that triggers his IBS.  Since he wasn’t going to be here, I was in the clear.

It’s a simple recipe, and it’s ready in less than half an hour if you start the sauce while the pasta is boiling.  I follow the recipe exactly, except that I use shredded parmesan instead of grated.  Be warned: this looks disgusting while cooking.  When you add in the tomato sauce and cream, it will look like a huge mess of grease.  And you’ll think it will never combine.  But it will.  And it will be delicious.  AND it’s just as good reheated.  Which is important when you’re making a pound of pasta for one person.

Yes, I dropped a noodle. Shhh.

I bought a bag of spinach with every intention of having a salad with this to at least have something healthy, but…well, you see my plate at the top of the post.  Maybe tomorrow?

Big Whoop– An SCP Hiatus

I have unfortunate news.  Due to a suspected case of whooping cough (“What is this, the Middle Ages?,” J asked me), the Summer Cookie Project (SCP) will have to take a back seat for a week.  I offered to bake J a batch of cookies, but he politely declined (“Are you trying to kill me?!?”).

No worries; since I’m pretty much home bound, I’m sure there will be baking projects to come in the next day or two.  They just won’t be consumed by anyone but me.  And what’s so bad about that, anyway?

Tuesday Morning Baking Urge

Blueberry boredom busters

I woke up this morning and my kitchen was still a mess from last night’s blackened chick-noa disaster.  Failure begets laziness, what can I say?  So what’s my first thought?  LET’S BAKE SOME COOKIES!  Obviously.  What is my life?

Since I had fresh blueberries, these Brown Sugar Blueberry Cookies were a must.  The thing I like about baking is that I almost always have everything on hand without having to run to the store.  Which is perfect when you wake up on a Tuesday morning with a baking urge.

Anyway, I followed the recipe pretty much as stated.  I ran out of light brown sugar and had to sub in dark brown sugar for about 1/8 a cup.  Today I wasn’t doing laundry so sitting the stick of butter on the deck to bring it to room temperature did the trick.  The recipe didn’t state to mix the dry ingredients first or to cream the butter before adding the sugar, but I did both of those things since almost all other cookies I’ve made recently have called for that.  Couldn’t hurt.  You have to refrigerate the dough for half an hour, which was the perfect amount of time to clean up my disastrous kitchen.  Also, the cleaning was the perfect activity to distract me from wanting to grab the dough and plop it in the oven ASAP.  Two birds, ya know?

As I’ve said before, I like my cookies a little underdone, so I usually go for the lower end of the baking time.  This time I went for 10 minutes.  The cookies were browning on the bottom, so I decided to pull them out to see if they were done.  They were not.

But they were still delicious!

Back into the oven they went…for a couple of minutes, then I gave in and took them out.  I left the next batch in the oven for around 13-14 minutes, which was much better.  Still soft and moist, but not oozing dough from the center.

I really like these cookies.  I’m not sure that J would, which is why they’re not part of the Summer Cookie Project.  The brown sugar flavor is subtle, letting the blueberries really shine.  These are perfect for a breakfast cookie.  If you were going to eat a cookie for breakfast…I mean, who does that?  Not me.  Me.  I ended up with 12 cookies total, which was the perfect amount.  I will try to save at least one cookie for J to try when he gets home on Friday.  But I’m not promising anything.

Quin-WHAT?

Hey, that’s not quinoa!

Once upon a time I decided I was going to make J like quinoa.  As in, when it’s not hiding in stuffed peppers.  Actually, it was more like once upon a time I needed to make something for dinner, I found this recipe, and it had quinoa and I thought hoped maybe J would like it.  Whatever, the point is I made quinoa tonight.  And it sucked.  The chicken found in said recipe was slightly better.

Here is a breakdown of how tonight’s dinner went:

Make rub for chicken.  Don’t have lid for big enough sauce pan for quinoa; use big pot instead.  Heat olive oil and place chicken in pan.  Put lid on top.  Freak out that steam is rolling out of pan.  Envision lid exploding off of pan, sending molten chicken all over kitchen.  Go get J to check chicken.  J says chicken is fine.  “Are they supposed to be black?”  “Yes, J, that’s why it’s called blackened chicken.  Duh.”  Flip chicken.  Get testy when J tries to help.  I’ve got this, silly man.  Notice apartment is getting smoky.  Complain to J.  J opens window so fire alarm doesn’t go off.  Quinoa isn’t cooking fast enough.  Turn up heat on burner.  Flip chicken again.  Apartment looks like we’ve been chain smoking for two hours.  Check temperature on chicken.  One piece done, one not.  Remove cooked piece of chicken.  Turn down heat on other piece of chicken.  Other piece finally done.  Quinoa complete.  Pour into bowl and add spices/herbs/juice.  Taste quinoa.  Make face like just licked a foot.  Refuse to let J try quinoa because don’t want to ruin his quinoa experience.  J insists, tastes quinoa, says “eh.”  Refuse to serve quinoa; leave it sitting in bowl in messy kitchen.  Plate chicken.  Unsuccessfully try to cut chicken with butter knife.  Taste chicken.  “Eh.”  Finish chicken.  Go back to taste quinoa to see if it’s less disgusting.  It is not.  Make foot-licking face again.  Fin.

Quinoa FAIL

Needless to say, I will not be making this dish again.  I honestly don’t think there was anything wrong with the recipe; the comments on the original article were excellent.  I just think I should be banned from cooking meat.  This, mis amigos, is why I bake.  And my quinoa tastebuds are apparently vegan, because they hated the chicken broth base (J didn’t think it was THAT bad.  I beg to differ.).  Water only, they say (or maybe almond milk?).

Cooking: 1.  Ky: 0.  I need a cookie.

Work What Ya Got

Hello, my lovelies

Today’s Summer Cookie Project (SCP) cookies were a spur-of-the-moment baking endeavor.  After making raspberry waffles (with Bisquick, so although they were delicious, they don’t deserve a post) and laying around in my snuggie for a couple of hours, I decided to clean up the kitchen.  Then after cleaning up the kitchen, I decided to mess it up again.  Duh.

I didn’t really plan ahead any particular cookie to make, but I happened to have some mini chocolate chips in the freezer, so that heavily influenced my decision.  I ended up making the famous Milk and Cookies chocolate chip cookies from, you guessed it, the Milk and Cookies cookbook.  Buying that book was a wise investment.  I decided to halve the recipe since J and I don’t need 30 cookies every week.

Anyway, luckily I had everything on hand.  Only two problems:  the butter needed to be room temperature, and I somehow needed to convert a Ghirardelli dark chocolate bar into chocolate shavings/curls.  What to do, what to do.  I didn’t want to microwave the butter because then it would be too melted, and I didn’t want to use a knife to make the curls because I would inevitably chop my hand off.  The clear solution was to put the butter on top of the clothes dryer (which was on) and to use a vegetable peeler to make the chocolate curls.  While holding the chocolate with a paper towel so it didn’t turn into a melty mess.  Obviously.  This week’s SCP cookies brought to you by laundry and a vegetable peeler.  Awesome.

Both totally worked, and I was left with some pretty awesome chocolate chip cookies.  The chocolate curls melted throughout the cookies, like little delicious flecks of chocolate confetti.  I ended up cutting down on the baking time from 15 minutes to 13 minutes because the first batch came out a little crumbly.  I like my cookies a little underdone anyway (salmonella, shmalmonella).  Thirteen minutes ended up being perfect.  These are actually the only cookies I’ve ever had that taste better when they’ve had time to cool.  They were good right out of the oven, but the semisweet and dark chocolates meshed better once cooled.  After halving the recipe, I ended up with 15 cookies, which was perfect.  We ate three during the baking process, and I sent six off with J when he left for school, leaving me with six cookies for myself.  Of which I’ve already eaten two.  Let’s see how many more last through the night…

Green Beans, Hold the Pistachios

Finished product

I know you can find literally millions of recipes online, but I’m a sucker for cookbooks.  There’s just something about flipping through the pages and taking in the beautiful photographs that makes me want to cook (not an easy feat).  So, when I saw Ripe at Anthropologie several weeks ago, I knew I had to have it.

Ripe is a cookbook focused on cooking with fresh produce.  Instead of being organized by season, it’s organized by color, which adds to the visual appeal of the book.  Each fruit and vegetable has a dedicated recipe, as well as three other ideas for uses.  As someone who is a novice cook, this is a great way for me to get an idea of flavors that pair well together.  There is also a short intro for each produce item; a lot of times it has tips for how to pick the item and a little background info from the author (these intros are usually pretty funny…I haven’t read all of them yet, but trust, I will).  And the photographs?  They are gorgeous.  If you’ve never wanted to eat fruits and vegetables, this book will change your mind.

Anyway, I was at the farmers market last week and picked up some green beans.  I really had no motivation when I bought them; I’ve never cooked green beans before (unless you count heating up the kind that come in a can, ha).  I think subconsciously, I must have had Ripe in mind, though.  When I was reading the reviews for the book, one reviewer stated that a single recipe was worth the price of the book alone:  Green Beans with Smoked Pistachio Dust.

I had this recipe in the back of my mind when I went grocery shopping earlier this week, and noted that I needed to pick up pistachios.  Then I got to the grocery store and noted that the pistachios were $7.99 per bag.  Um, no, thank you.  I will wait until there’s a sale.

But, the impatient person that I am, I still wanted to try the recipe.  Since the only thing I lacked were the pistachios, I decided to give it a whirl today for a side dish for lunch.  I quartered the recipe to make one serving instead of four, which made the perfect amount of dust for the green beans (side note:  I forgot how fun it is to snap green beans!).  A drizzle of olive oil, with a sprinkle of the (pistachio-less) dust, made for the perfect seasoning to the green beans.  You could still taste the green-ness (technical term) of the green beans, but the spice mixture kept it from being bland.  I can only imagine the pistachios would add to the deliciousness.

I’m excited to now have a side dish that goes with just about anything.  And it’s healthy!  I can’t wait to try this with pistachios.  Just as soon as they go on sale.

Butterscotch for the Win

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Half-eaten Scotchie

I like to think that this Summer Cookie Project (SCP) is an act of selflessness.  Not because I’m baking for J (because I like excuses to bake), but because I’ve been picking cookies with J’s taste in mind.  If it were up to me, I would have immediately baked something with as much peanut butter and as much chocolate as possible.  But I haven’t even touched a peanut butter recipe yet.  See?  Totally selfless : )

This monumental act of kindness is what led me to choose Scotchies as my first real cookie for the SCP.  J is a huge butterscotch fan, and his all-time favorite cookies (so far) are oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  A cookie that combines both butterscotch and oatmeal was the obvious choice.  Again, I turned to Milk and Cookies (mentioned in an earlier post) for the recipe.

I followed the recipe almost exactly, except that my bag of butterscotch chips was just shy of the two cups required.  Also, instead of stirring in the chips last, I added them in as I kneaded the dough.  I think either way would work, as this dough is less stiff than the sugar cookie dough.  Finally, after the first batch, I took a minute off of the baking time (14 minutes instead of 15) to make them a little chewier.

I have only three words:  Oh. My. Goodness.  I don’t even normally like butterscotch that much, but Scotchies are my new favorite cookie.  The cookies spread a bit, but to the amount that I would imagine they’re supposed to; they look like cookies you would get in a bakery.  And they are HUGE.  And they are chewy.  And they are delicious.  The perfect amount of butterscotch, combined with the oatmeal and a hint of cinnamon…these are to die for.  Even better, they go perfectly with coffee.  I could see myself eating these for breakfast (dangerous!).

J hasn’t tried these yet, but if he doesn’t like them, then, well, more for me!  Another win for Milk and Cookies.  These are going to be hard to top.