Rainy Saturday & Corn Dog Muffins

As I sit here this Saturday watching Brunch at Bobby’s on the Cooking channel, I realize I didn’t post anything about the birthday dinner I made for my stepson. 

I didn’t do anything crazy for dinner – just fun kid food (it was his 11th birthday). 

I made corn dog muffins and homemade macaroni & cheese.  I’ve made the macaroni & cheese before (I posted it a while back) but the corn dog muffins were new to me.  I didn’t use a recipe – I had just seen them on Pinterest and thought it was a cute idea… And easy because I used Jiffy corn muffin mix.

I can’t remember how they put the hotdogs in the muffins on Pinterest but I suspect they did it differently than how I did it… I didn’t notice how ‘odd’ they looked until I saw the pics.  Lol. See if you agree…

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Fondant-covered Pokemon Cake

My stepson decided he wanted a Pokemon birthday this year.  The Pokemon figures are pretty hard to make into a cake so I decided to make the Pokeball, which is just a round ball, half red & half white.

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I’ve been wanting to try my hand at decorating a cake with fondant after washing billions of hours of Charm City Cakes’ amazing creations and ‘the Cake Boss’.  Obviously this would not be anywhere in the same league as the cakes they create, but you have to start somewhere, right?

I have to say that even after making the fondant, I was still surprised at how heavy it was when it came down to decorating the cake.  It’s not like pie dough where you can roll it onto itself and move it.  You actually need to decide ahead of time to bring the cake closer to you.  I found this out after having finally kneaded the fondant so it was just right and then rolling it to just the right thickness and then trying to get it to my cake… And having it rip apart and fall on the floor… Thus having to start all over with a new piece.  And I did this TWICE before moving the cake.  Ugh.  Sometimes my brain doesn’t work!

Anyway, once I moved the cake and got a feel for the fondant, it went pretty smoothly.

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Then I went to add the final touches, which I thought would be the easiest part… I had that icing in a can with the writing tips.  That’s what I used for the black lines I needed.  It came out in globs and made a mess.  Then I tried to ‘fix’ it by making another line so maybe it would look like it was supposed to be thicker.  It looked awful!  Oh well.  It was black, it’s not like I could take it back off and start over (the fondant instantly took on the color!).  I decided to just be happy the fondant worked.

But then, because I can’t just leave well enough alone, I had to write on the cake.  I used that same icing in a can, this time in blue.  Maybe it’s just me.  I don’t think I can write on cakes.  The writing was awful and I was very upset about it.  I do have a really nice set of cake decorating tips so next time I’ll see if I can do any better with the decorations using homemade icing.

The actual cake was just a white box cake, I made a blue and a green layer and then I cut each layer in two so it would be a 4-layer cake.  I made a delicious vanilla buttercream to frost it. I also added a layer of sprinkles :). I wish I could post a pic of the inside but it was so late after trick-or-treating last night, it never got cut!

I think I’m going to go eat the leftover vanilla buttercream!

Pepperoni Calzones

I planned on making pizzas.  I’ve never made pizza at home before but I like making dough so I thought it would be fun to try.  It was a fun idea but after I made the dough, I got scared.  All I kept reading about making pizza was about using a pizza stone – and I don’t have one!  So… I lost my nerve. 

That’s why we had pepperoni calzones and not pepperoni pizza!

I had already made the pizza dough using this pizza dough recipe.  It’s a great recipe!  The dough was beautiful to work with and even more important, tasted amazing!

The calzone filling was easy.  I used a bunch of ricotta cheese (3 cups probably), shredded mozzarella (maybe 1 cup), about 1/2 cup of parmesan, an egg, some fresh chopped parsley and voila, calzone filling!  Oh yeah – I had pepperoni slices so I cut about a ton of them in half and mixed them in with the cheese mixture.

I made 4 large calzones and a side of Traditional Tomato Sauce to dip them in.  I’ve seen where people put the sauce in the calzone before they close it and bake it, but to me, that’s a stuffed pizza – not a calzone like I’m used to. 

I brushed them with an egg wash and baked them at 400° for about 25 minutes.  They were so good! Everyone liked them… Yeah!
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(I did have trouble getting them to stay sealed but not much leaked out!)
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Snickers-type Almond Candy bars

My 10-year old stepson’s birthday is coming up and I’ve been looking for food ideas for his party.  I thought it might be kinda cool to make a homemade candy bar.

I found this recipe for Snickers bars and I figured I better try it ahead of time to see if I can make them.  I only had almonds so I made copycat Snickers Almond instead of regular Snickers (I’ll make the regular peanut ones for his birthday though).

In order to stick with the almond version instead of the peanut version, anywhere it said to add peanut butter, I left it out. 

The other thing I changed was I made my own caramel.  For the caramel I used this recipe.  Here’s my caramel cooking…

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Here’s a picture of my almond nougat…

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Yum! 
I love regular Snickers bars but sometimes I prefer the almond ones (all depends on my mood I guess).

As soon as the caramel was cooked, I poured it on top of the nougat.  Then, while the caramel was still hot, I poured the second layer of chocolate chips on top.  When they softened, I spread them with a spatula.

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I just tasted a little sliver off the edge because I couldn’t wait any longer – I had to know if they turned out right… and they’re actually really good!!!  I wouldn’t say they’re exactly like Snickers Almond, but the caramel is a little salty and I love the salty/sweet combination so… It could be BETTER than the original…!?! 

Chocolate Chip Squares (ALMOND!)

Chocolate Chip Squares is the name of this recipe according to my mother’s old recipe card.  That doesn’t begin to capture what they are!  They have an incredible almond flavor and a crunchy brown sugar meringue topping that melts in your mouth.  I think they should be called “Almond Chocolate Chip Brown Sugar Meringue Heaven-in-a-Bite Bars”.  Seriously.

About a month ago this memory came to me about a cookie bar I remembered from my youth.  I believe we had these when I was very young – not when I was a teenager and beyond.  I called my mother but wasn’t sure my memory was at all accurate or that she would have any idea what I was talking about.  I described to her this flavor that I remembered – specifically almond and meringue but not normal meringue. Maybe something like brown sugar or molasses? 

She knew exactly what I was talking about!!!  When she pulled out the recipe card and said “Chocolate Chip Squares”, I thought that couldn’t be it because as much of a chocaholic as I am, the chocolate was not the flavor I remembered.  It was almond.  Surely the name of them would mention the star of the show!  But she started reading the ingredients to me and sure enough, this had to be what I was remembering.

This is an old recipe – given to my mother from her mother and to her from her mother (my great grandmother, who was an utterly amazing baker and one of those real “grandmotherly” type grandmas!).  Enjoy.

Chocolate Chip Squares

Ingredients:

3 eggs (two of which need to be separated into eggs & whites)
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup shortening (that’s what the recipe card said but I substituted butter)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 teaspoon Almond Extract
1 pkg chocolate chips (recipe card didn’t specify the size but I figured it’s probably a normal 11.5 oz. bag)
2 teaspoons milk
1 1/2 cups sifted flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch salt

Directions:
Preheat oven to 325°
Grease a 9×13 pan

Stir together the flour, baking powder & salt.

In a separate bowl, cream together the (softened) butter (or shortening) and the 1 cup of sugar.  Add the vanilla, almond extract, milk, 1 whole egg & two egg yolks.  Mix all together.

Add the flour mixture.  Combine well.  Add the chocolate chips.  Stir so they’re evenly distributed.  Spread in your greased 9×13 pan.

In a separate bowl, beat the two egg whites until they’re stiff.  Slowly add the brown sugar.  Spread over the entire dough mixture.

Bake for 45 minutes at 325° (that’s what the recipe card said but considering my oven cooks hot, I only baked them for 35 minutes and they were done).

When cooled but not cold, cut into squares.  (Note:  with this crunchy meringue topping I do not think it’s possible to cut these ‘pretty’ – the top breaks and crumbles and looks a mess – but don’t worry, it doesn’t affect the taste AT ALL!)

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Yum.

Pork Chops and Rice

If it were up to me, I doubt I’d ever buy pork.  It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s that I always overcook it.  I’m so paranoid about undercooked pork.  I have a meat thermometer but when it comes to pork, I don’t trust it (see what I mean about being paranoid?).

Of course my husband loves pork.

When we were at the store the other day, he spotted the pork – and it was even on sale (buy one, get one free!).  Now we have pork.

Today I decided I’d make pork for dinner and since I’m trying not to make dry pork, I thought maybe if I bake it in the oven with rice and something saucy, it’ll be OK.

Here’s how I finally made moist pork chops…

Ingredients (for 4 servings):
4 boneless pork chops (3/4″ thick)
4 cups water
2 cups long grain rice
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup milk
Salt & Pepper & Paprika (for seasoning)
2 small onions (sliced into rings & then halved)
2 garlic cloves (minced)
Oil (olive, vegetable, canola, sunflower, or any other kind you like)

Make the rice first (bring 4 cups of water to a boil, add rice & salt (1/2 teaspoon or so), reduce heat to low so it’s just simmering. Cover.  After 20 minutes remove from heat.  Don’t stir it after the boil – it has a tendency to not cook thoroughly and you wind up with crunchy pieces.  Yuck!)

While the rice is cooking, start the onions.  Cook them in a pan with a couple tablespoons of oil (your choice) over medium low heat.  They cook slower but they’re good this way.  When they’re all translucent and tender, add the garlic.  Just let the garlic cook for a minute or two and then remove the pan from the heat.  At this point I drained my onions and garlic so I’d get rid of most of the oil. 

In a bowl, whisk together both cans of cream of mushroom soup, the chicken broth & the milk.  Remove about 1/3 of the mixture (to be used later).  Add the cooked rice, onions & garlic and mix all together.  Spread into a greased 9×13 pan.

About now you should preheat the oven to 350°.

On to the pork chops.  Season one side of the pork chops with salt, pepper & paprika.  Bring a pan with oil (your choice) up to medium high heat, then place your pork chops in – seasoned side down.  Now you can season the other side of the pork chops with salt, pepper & paprika. After they cook for 3 minutes, you’ll be able to turn them over (before that they’ll stick).  After you turn them, cook the other side for 2 minutes.

Place the pork chops on top of the rice, like this:
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Pour the remaining soup mixture over the pork chops.  Cover with foil and place in the preheated 350° oven.  Bake for 45 minutes.  They should be cooked through but check to be sure (145°-160° is the safe temperature range for pork). 
Just make sure your instant-read thermometer actually works!  I almost overcooked my pork because I discovered mine doesn’t work!  My pork was beautifully cooked but my thermometer only registered 120°.  Ugh.
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Enjoy your super delicious moist pork chops and rice!

Baked Onion Rings

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I’ve had a craving for onion rings for weeks now but I haven’t wanted to make them because I hate the mess frying creates.  I have a recipe for oven fried chicken that’s really good so I thought I could do something similar for onion rings.

I dipped the rings in milk and then in some flour I had seasoned with a little salt and pepper.  I whisked a couple of  eggs to dip the floured onion rings in and then coated them with bread crumbs.  I preheated the oven to 450° and coated my baking sheets with olive oil.  After coating the onion rings, I put them on the oiled baking sheet but before putting them in the oven, I flipped each one over so they’d have oil on both sides.  I baked them for 10 minutes and then flipped each one over and baked them for 5 minutes longer.  That’s all they took to cook!  (My onions are small so these weren’t very big onion rings – bigger rings would take longer.) The onions were perfectly tender and the outside was crunchy.  Not like fried, but good enough to satisfy an onion ring craving. 

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I made a copycat Bloomin’ Onion Dipping Sauce to go with them – but I think I will look for another recipe in the future.  The one I used wasn’t spicy enough.  It was sweet, not like the real recipe which has a little heat.

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So now you know you can make pretty decent onion rings without frying.  Give them a shot if you have an onion ring craving.

I’m going to have to experiment with ‘oven frying’ other fried foods!  I’ll keep you posted 😉