Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Easy Peas-y Summer Snap Peas

Here's a little gem of a recipe that my Dad recently gave me.  A couple weeks ago, my parents made the trek from Fairbanks to Anchorage to spend a little time with their favorite granddog Milo.  Afraid that my Dad might get bored or restless over the weekend at my house without something to do, I put him to work.  I mean, it was the least I could do, right?  After a 3 day trip, I had trim pieces painted and installed, an ugly hedge in my front yard removed, my yard fertilized, and a 300 pound ancient boiler taken to the metal recyclers.  I'm just glad I could make him feel useful.  (Did I mention how much I love my Dad's visits?)

The most lovable of obstinate creatures on the planet: Milo.
My Dad is a jack of all trades kind of guy.  Besides being my carpenter, mechanic, and financial advisor, my dad is also a great cook.  He's actually a bit more adventurous than I am in the kitchen, willing to try new ingredients or cuisines while I prefer to stick to my mediterranean favorites.  And like father, like daugher- he has a slight tendency to be a bit bossy in the kitchen, so while he's visiting my house I usually have to tell him to stay in the living room while I cook.  (The less cooks in my tiny kitchen, the better- as my friend Cheryl once said, "This is a one a** kitchen!")

Me and Dad on the Chena last weekend.

On the day my parents were planning to leave, my friends Michal and Rebecca invited me to their house for dinner.  I wanted to bring a quick and easy veggie side dish with me, and before he left my Dad suggested this deliciously simple snap pea dish that he made to rave reviews.  It's not a recipe so much as a method, so here goes:

Bring some salted water to a boil on the stove.  At the same time, have a bowl of ice water at the ready.  While the water on the stovetop is coming up to temperature, peel the tough stem off each of the snap peas (I used about a pound and a half of peas, but you can use more or less). 

Toss the snap peas in the boiling water to quickly blanch them- about 1 to 2 minutes.  Be careful not to overcook them, because you want them to retain most of their crunch!  After draining them, immediately shock them in the ice water bath.  This way, they cool down quickly and retain their crunch while also turning a beautiful shade of green.

I leave the peas in the ice water bath for a minute or so, then drain them and pat them down with a paper towel.  At this point, toss the peas in a bowl and add the following to taste:  kosher salt, sesame oil (a little goes a long way) and black sesame seeds. 

And there you have it: a delicious and healthy side dish that is the perfect accompanyment to your fresh salmon or halibut.  Thanks, Dad!

Enjoy! xo H

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Crack Blondies

Since my post in April about my less-than-thrilling attempt at baking my own birthday cake, I think it's a fair question to ask why anyone should listen to my take on any baked good. We're new in this relationship together, so let me explain something about myself. First, don't judge a book by one bad cake. Second, cakes and other pastries are a bit fussy for me- they require weighing, careful measuring, and no substitutions. And for those of you that have ever watched me cook, you know that I don't like to feel confined by recipes. I usually use recipes as mere guidelines, in the way that Italian drivers feel about stop lights and "no passing" zones.

But cookies and brownies, I can DO.  I find that you don’t have to be super perfect about the recipe, and sometimes you can throw in your own twist.  Plus, cookies and brownies are two of my top three food addictions.  (The third is Cheez-its.  I can’t explain the hold they have over me- they just do.)  

I found this recipe for blondies in an Everyday Food magazine a few years ago, and thought it was the perfect cookie to bring over to a barbeque at my friend Christina's house.  When I brought them over, the pack of wolves descended. After devouring her first cookie, Christina declared: "These cookies are like CRACK!"  And ever since, we affectionately refer to them as...Crack Blondies.  They've been a hit at nearly every party since.

The original recipe only used semi-sweet chocolate chips, but I like mixing half semi-sweet and half white chocolate chips.  I think the mix tastes better than using only semi-sweet chips.  And I love these blondies because they are essentially cookies in bar form, so they're fast and easy.

First, butter an 8 inch square pan, and line it with parchment paper so that there is a 2 inch overhang on two sides (ensuring easy blondie removal- nice trick), and butter the paper.  Cream the melted butter with the sugars, and then add the egg and vanilla and blend well.  Next, add the flour and salt and mix until just combined and moistened- do not overmix it or you'll have tough little blondies.  Add half the chopped walnuts, and half of each of the different chips.  Transfer the batter to the pan.

Scatter the remaining walnuts and chips on top. 

At this point, let's be honest with ourselves: the baking part is optional.  This batter is so damn good, sometimes I eat too much of it and don't have enough to fill out the pan.  So, bake the suckers if you want at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes and...voila!  Delicious little Crack Blondies for you, your family and friends to devour.  Completely 100% drug free, and completely 100% addictive!

Crack Blondies

1 stick (1/2 c.) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. granulated sugar
1 egg
1 t. pure vanilla extract
1 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. salt
1/2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 c. white chocolate chips
1 c. chopped walnuts

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter an 8 in. square baking pan.  Line the pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2 in. overhang on two sides (for easy removal once cool).  Butter the paper.

2.  In a large bowl or mixer, mix the butter and sugars together.  Add the egg and vanilla.  Add the flour and salt, and mix until just moistened and combined. 

3.  Fold in half of each the semi-sweet and white chocolate chips (or 1/4 c. each) and half of the walnuts.  Spread the batter in the buttered pan.  Sprinkle the top with the remaining chips and walnuts.

4.  Bake 35-40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.  After they have cooled, lift the cookies out of the pan with the parchment paper, cut cookies and make sure to pocket a few before you serve them because they will go fast!

Enjoy! xo H