Friday, March 15, 2013

Easy Take-out for Game Night

I love playing hostess. Anytime I can cook or bake for family and friends is a great day. For me though, hostess usually means putting out munchies when a few of our friends come over. My boyfriend, roommate, and I still live in an apartment so we don't have many grand events going on where we need to prepare a fancy dinner. But when my man had his friends over for a Lord of the Rings: War of the North marathon, I jumped at the opportunity to make them dinner. Being guys, of course they accepted ;] saves the day again! I found this FANTASTIC blog that has amazingly simple and delicious recipes. I found this recipe for Take-Out Fake-Out: Sweet and Sour Chicken, and because it looked so easy, I actually made it a couple of nights later. You know how it is with stumble and pinterest; you save things that you think you'll use later, but they just pile up in your "I'll do this someday" file. I would highly recommend looking through this blog though. There is a huge variety of recipes.

The sweet and sour chicken was fabulous! I couldn't believe how much it tasted like take-out from our fave Chinese restaurant. There were a few things about the dish that I wanted to experiment with, and with game day/night upon us I had the perfect opportunity. I'd look at the original recipe linked above before trying mine to see how you like it. I changed the time the chicken bakes in the oven, how much sauce it bakes with, and thickening the sauce in a separate pan.

Here's my variation:

*6-8 chicken tenders cut into cubes--I only buy tenders because they are an easier portion to work with for a quick solo meal
*salt and pepper
*2 eggs, beaten
*vegetable or canola oil

Put the chicken cubes in a large ziplock bag and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Then add enough cornstarch to coat the chicken. I'd say start with a 1/2 cup and add as needed. I use a ziplock bag because I hate dealing with raw chicken, so you could do the previous steps by hand. Take the chicken cubes out of the bag and place on a plate, and chill in the fridge for about 20 min.

Tasty :P

This is about a third of the chicken I used. I decided later in the process that I wanted to do a post about it haha! When the 20 minutes of chicken chilling are almost up, start heating a skillet with enough oil to coat the bottom.

Next you need to coat the chicken cubes in egg. Work in batches of 6-8 cubes, make sure they're evenly coated, then pop them in the skillet. Oh, you should also preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

After about 2 minutes, flip each chicken cube over to cook for another 2-3 minutes. The pieces should be browned, but not cooked all the way through. There isn't a great way to test this, and you're going to be cooking them again in the oven, so I just go until the egg coating is browned. When each batch is done, put the cubes on a foil lined baking sheet.

If you're cooking solo you'll have to do this next step after all of the chicken is done frying. If you have a lovely assistant at the ready, they can help you with it while you are frying! I asked my man to help the first time, and he had the look he always gets when I ask him to help me bake or cook: terror. This is so easy though, he had no trouble. For the sweet and sour sauce just whisk these ingredients together in a bowl:

*3/4 cup sugar
*1/4 cup ketchup
*1/2 cup white distilled vinegar
*1 tblsp. soy sauce
*1 tsp. garlic salt.

Once the sauce is made, take about half of it and pour it over the chicken in the baking sheet. Make sure all of the pieces are coated and bake in the oven for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, take the chicken out of the oven and stir. Put chicken back in for another 15 minutes. Meanwhile, take the remaining sauce, put it in a small saucepan, and heat it over medium heat. While it's warming up, mix a teaspoon of cornstarch and a teaspoon of water to make a slurry. Add it to the warm sauce and whisk. This will thicken the sauce. Keep whisking over a low boil until the sauce thickens up. It doesn't take that long, and you don't want it to get too thick. Just think of the consistency of your favorite Chinese take-out :] Once it's reached the desired thickness, remove the sauce from the heat.

When the chicken is done, all you have to do is add the remaining sauce, stir, and enjoy! I made some fried rice to go with the chicken as well. There's a link on the blog I mentioned above for another simple and tasty recipe.

The meal was definitely a success. This was enough to feed five hungry 20-somethings, but I'm sure we could've eaten more. The guys played games for 9 hours that day!! One video game for 9 hours! Now I'm definitely a video game lover, but that's a little too much time on my hiney.

OH! I kind of forgot something. I may not be able to post for awhile because, you know, I'll be going to Italy in like, 3 days. That's something I forgot to mention in my recap post. My aunt is taking my sister and I to Italy for a 10 day tour. I'm bringing my computer, but I don't know how much I'll be able to use it, having never been out of the country and all. BUT, I will have lots to share when I get back. Hope you all enjoyed today's post! Try some take-out fake-out for yourself sometime!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Tutus on Ice!

I think I'm on a bit of a roll with posting! I'm not quite to the point where it's like every Tuesday I do a blog post, but we're getting there! I've had a few adventures in the kitchen recently so I've got some material for future posts.

Today I thought I'd share a super simple project: tutus! I made my first tutus (thirteen to be exact...) for the dance team that I now coach. The girls wanted something different to wear than their normal uniforms, and I suggested making tutus. They were extremely easy! It's just when you have to make more than one that they get a little time consuming.

On a semi side note, for the past five years my mom has done the Polar Plunge with her work. It's an amazing event that raises money for Special Olympics. You can plunge solo, but most people go as a group. I went with a dance team I was on one year, and it was a blast! I recommend that everyone should do it at least once. One of the cooler things about the plunge is all of the crazy costumes that people show up in. The group before my mom's happened to all be in speedos...some were nice to look at...some not so much. My mom's work usually just has t-shirts made each year, but this time she asked if I would make tutus for everyone that was plunging. I knew some of the people plunging with her, and the thought of those folks, plus my mom, in a tutu? Priceless.

So! Super simple tutus! All you need is elastic strips, needle and thread, and tulle. Now, the needle and thread part may scare some of you, but it's just to make the elastic strip into a ring! I suppose you could use a long ribbon and tie it, but I like the finished look of a complete circle of tulle.

First, take the elastic strip and measure it around your waist. I do mine right above my hip bones. You want it to be a little snug but not too much. Enough that when you put the tutu on it stays put but doesn't squeeze your stomach in. Once it's cut to the desired length, overlap the two edges a bit and sew them together to make a circle. This is the form for your tutu!

Next you need tulle. You can find all sorts of colored tulle at your fabric store, but I just go to Walmart for mine. I haven't compared prices, but they can't be too different. I usually pick two colors, and the amount will vary depending on how fluffy you'd like your tutu to be. I think 3 yards for each color is a good amount if you're doing two colors. Cut the tulle in about 2"-3" strips (eyeball it, I didn't measure a thing when I made these). I did all the cutting at once and just put everything into piles.

However long you'd like your tutu to be is up to you. Take that desired length and double it because you'll be folding each tulle strip in half for this project.

Next, take two strips of tulle and lay them together. Now here's where you can do one of two things. Take your elastic ring and

1) Tie the tulle strip in a double knot around the stip.
2) Fold the two strips in half, but the folded end under the elastic, and pull the "legs" of the tulle  over the elastic and through the tulle loop.

Method 1 will get you a nice secure tutu, and method 2 is faster (in my opinion) but the knots come loose much easier.

This is Method 1

Continue either method around the whole elastic ring and POOF! Tutu! You can make it suuuuper fluffy by making the knots really close to each other.

Here's 8 tutus piled up!
The look was a success! Everyone, even the gentleman, loved their tutus! I ensured my mom that they wouldn't fall off while plunging because of the elastic. Funny thing about tulle though, it gets real heavy when wet. No one fully lost theirs, but there was some definite clutching going on as they tread through the ice cold river.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Individual Cookie Butter Granola Bars

Finally! I have a post for you about something sweet that is made from scratch! is a beautifully dangerous thing. I've mentioned before that if you have a life, a job, a family, anything that requires you to be an attentive human being, do NOT get a stumble account. It's Pinterest before Pinterest, so if you have that then you might as well be a glutton and get stumbleupon. Anywho! I found this recipe online for Cookie Butter Funfetti Triple Chip Bars (say that three times fast). I had no idea what this "cookie butter" was. I didn't really pay any attention to it because it's a Trader Joe's brand, and the closest store we have is an hour away in a city that we really only pass through on trips. On one of those pass-throughs though, Nissa brought home a jar of this stuff. Holy cheese is it delicious! It's exactly what it says: speculoos cookies (the cookies you get on air planes) ground up into a peanut butter consistency. If you haven't tried this stuff and you're able to, try it. Seriously.

We stock up. They even have crunchy cookie butter!
Once I had this delicious spread at my disposal, I started researching what I could do with it. I wasn't really interested in putting it on anything--I've heard it's good on waffles--because it has such a distinct flavor, but I basically found out that you could use this in any recipe that calls for peanut butter. Um, okay. I can do that.

I found yet another recipe on stumble for granola bars made with cookie butter and decided to try it out. Cooke Butter Granola Bars. When I've made granola bars like this recipe, where you put the whole mix in a cake pan and slice it after it's baked, it NEVER bakes evenly. I get crunchy edges and too gooey of a center. I make my brownies in a cupcake pan so I decided to do the same with these bars. I've made a few other small changes from the original, so you can choose which one you'd like to follow. Here we go!

Individual Cookie Butter Granola Bars

1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 egg white
1/2 HEAPING cup Cookie Butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
2 cups old fashioned oats
1/3 cup mini chocolate chips

**Note. I really hate wasting an egg yolk when something calls for just the whites, so this time I decided to use meringue powder. Mixed with a bit of water it's a substitute for egg whites; we normally use it in icing recipes. For this recipe, however, I'd stick to the egg white. The flavor doesn't change, but it was more work. I can also assume that you don't have meringue powder sitting around in your pantry.

Preheat oven to 350. Spread almonds on a cookie sheet and toast in the oven for 8 minutes.

While the almonds are toasting, whip the egg white in a mixing bowl until light and frothy.

Next, add the cookie butter, brown sugar, and honey to the egg white froth and mix. If you have a stand mixer, I switched to the paddle attachment...even though it doesn't show that in the picture...I highly recommend switching...

Yay for Disney measuring cups!

By now, the almonds should be about done. They always say on Food Network that when you smell them, they're done. I never want to risk burning anything, so I just go by the times that the recipe gives me. Take those suckers out of the oven, add them to the cookie butter mixture along with the oats and melted butter.

After that is all mixed up, add the mini chocolate chips. I decided to use mini chips because the very first time I made this recipe I used regular sized ones, and they overpowered the great taste of the cookie butter. They also make a bigger mess when they melt, and this is a treat you should be able to grab and go with.

Mix the chips until evenly distributed. All done! Kind of.

Next, spray a cupcake pan with cooking spray and using a large disher, (one of my favorite kitchen toys) place one scoop into each cupcake well.

Because there isn't any leavening agent like baking powder or any cold butter to cause the bars to spread, leaving them in the pan like this isn't a good idea. I just used my fingers to smoosh them down a bit. This will help them to bake evenly and, of course, look pretty!

Bake for 12 minutes. This is the best baking time for my oven, but things always vary when baking. I would say "bake for 12 minutes, or until golden brown" but these are already golden brown in color. I really hate when recipes do things like that. "Golden brown and gooey in the center". How am I supposed to know if it's gooey in the center when the entire thing is going to be gooey before it's cooled all the way?? And then by that time I can't go back and bake them some more because they're already cooled and baking doesn't work like that!!! 12 minutes is fine.

If you do look closely though, you can tell that the edges are a little browner and drier than the center. That's when they're done. You really should let them cool completely before eating them. Biting into warm gooey granola isn't quite the same as biting into a warm gooey brownie. These are better at room temperature.

Keep them in an air tight container and they'll be good for a while. That's something else I don't really like about recipes, the time limit. For example, when I make salsa, the recipe makes a huge tupperware container. Like, the biggest ones in the Rubbermade set. I get done making the recipe and then it says it'll keep in the fridge for a week. What, am I supposed to bathe in salsa?? I can't eat that whole thing in a week! Unless there's mold growing out of these bars--which there shouldn't be because there's nothing in it that would spoil that badly--you should be fine keeping these for awhile.

These bars are seriously delicious and seriously easy to make. If you have access to a Trader Joe's, pick up some cookie butter and try these out!....and maybe pick up a few jars for me while you're there.