Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween Sugar Cookies

I always liked Rizzo better.  “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” was so much more heart-wrenching than “Hopelessly Devoted” and, let’s be honest, not everyone could make a short, punkish, curly hairdo coordinate perfectly with a satin pink jacket.

Robbie and I made it through this week's Hurricane Sandy just fine although I can’t say the same for others in the area.  We were very lucky in our neighborhood and just had a lot of debris, wind and rain.  There were a few crashes and car alarms throughout the worst of it but I will take that over loss of power or worse circumstances any day.

I spent all weekend following the weather and trying to figure out how much I needed to prepare.  I ended up filling the bathtub with water. (To refill the toilet, not to drink, as most locals thought.  Bless their hearts.) I started saving my Big Gulp cups and filled those with water to drink.  We bought some non-perishables, stocked up on toilet paper and then waited for the storm.  I didn’t buy extra batteries and I didn’t tape any windows and I went with the assumption that I could use Newt as a flotation device.  We made it through Irene without any drama so I figured this would be the same.

But now, as I am approaching day three of working from home and have had a trip to North Carolina this weekend cancelled by US Airways, I am realizing how crazy it is out there.  Since yesterday morning, I have been watching 24-hour news and am stunned by the damage.  But as one news anchor alluded, this is New York.  A city of 8 million people who put up with grittiness on a daily basis and no matter what you throw at it, its inhabitants seem to build each other up.  We won’t make eye contact on the subway but if someone needs help, there will be a donation made to city relief, a warm shower provided or some bright sweets to welcome neighbors home the day before Halloween.

Halloween Sugar Cookies
Adapted from My Recipes 

1 stick of butter, softened
1 ½ cups sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon lemon zest
1/2-1 teaspoon lemon juice
Yellow gel food coloring
Red gel good coloring

Slice butter into several slices once softened.  Beat butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until fluffy – about two minutes.  Beat in egg and vanilla.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt and lemon zest.  Gradually mix the flour, salt and lemon zest mixture into the butter mixture until well combined.  Squeeze the lemon juice into the bowl and continue to mix. 

Divide the mixture into thirds.  Place 1/3 of the dough into the bottom of a 9x5 inch loaf pan and press with your fingers until evenly spread across the bottom.  For the remaining 2/3s, mix yellow gel food coloring until the dough is a bright yellow.  Take half of that and place in the loaf pan, patting down on top of the white dough.  For the final 1/3 that is now bright yellow, add red food coloring until it is a bright orange.  Pat that into the loaf pan on top of the other two colors.  Refrigerate for two hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degree Fahreinheit.  Turn dough out onto a work surface and slice off about ¾’s of an inch like you are slicing a piece of bread.  Cut the slice into triangles.  Repeat with the remaining dough and place on a parchment or foil-lined cookie sheet.  Bake 7-8 minutes until slightly hard.  They will continue to cook once taken out of the oven.  Cool on a wire rack.     

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Chocolate Flank Steak with Pineapple Salsa

When Robbie and I got married, some of my favorite gifts were recipes that were collected at bridal showers and given as gifts during the wedding festivities.  This recipe was one of those and came from a dear family friend (Hi, Ms. Wicklin!) who is both a talented artist and a fantastic art teacher.  She is one of those family friends who you get to know through your parents and as you get older, you continue to refer to them as Mr. or Ms. and they continue to insist that you call them by their first name but you just can't do it because you refuse to admit you are a contemporary of other adults.  Maybe that's just me.  

This recipe was ideal for our apartment living since we don't have a grill but we do have a fantastic grill pan.  We also do not have a good circulation system in our apartment as the moment I threw this flank steak onto the pan, those spices created some impressive fumes that led to a major coughing fit.  I realized my mistake was using chili chipotle powder instead of ancho chili powder and did not thoroughly mix the spices and marinade. First time marinating meat.  Rookie mistake.  This led to a steak that did not have equal disbursement of the flavors and created bites that were much more fire-y than others.  The cocoa actually helped meld the spice out which was an unexpected outcome.    

Luckily, we used Newt as our 'canary in the coal mine' and since he didn't keel over from the spicy air, I knew we were going to be ok.  Even if we did eat it over by the open window.  The salsa in this recipe was a winner.  The fresh tang of the pineapple complemented the heat of the steak perfectly and the avocado added a buttery texture to the sometimes tougher flank steak cut.  

Chocolate Flank Steak with Pineapple Salsa
From the Kitchen of Ms. Wicklin

4 tbs. white wine vinegar
2 tbs. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tbs. olive oil
1 tbs. ground cumin
2 tsp. ancho chili powder (or chipotle chili powder if you want a spicier, smokier flavor)
1 1/2 tsp salt
Pinch of ground black pepper
2 lbs. flank steak

Mix the vinegar, cocoa powder, olive oil, cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper in a bowl. When thoroughly mixed, pour the mixture into a plastic, resealable bag. Add the flank steak. Refrigerate for one to two hours or overnight. When ready to cook, remove steak from marinade and discard left over marinade. Using a grill pan, cook over medium high heat – about 4-6 minutes on each side. If you are using a smaller flank steak, the time should be adjusted to 2-5 minutes. Make a small cut into the middle of the flank steak to get a sense of how done it is. Leave on longer if you prefer a more well-done steak.

Pineapple Salsa

1 whole pineapple, peeled and diced
1 avocado, halved, pitted and flesh diced
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro leaves
1 tbs. lime juice
1/4 tsp. salt

In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients.  Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour before serving with the flank steak.  

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Maple Oat Scones

Fall weather gets me excited about the kicking off of the holiday and Oscar movie seasons.  There are so many coming out that I am very excited about.  The majority of them take me back to my English major days (Hello Les Mis, Anna Karenina, and The Great Gatsby) but I am actually looking forward to doing the whole book vs. movie debate on some French and Russian lit.   I have a feeling the Great Gatsby will just be a good time but not worthy of any sort of literary critique.  Thank you Baz Luhrmann. 

We saw Argo this past week and I found it fantastic.  Ben Affleck has really come around since Chasing Amy (that was a movie ahead of its time if I ever saw one).  Robbie on the other hand, felt differently.  I knew I had a problem when I turned to Robbie with wonder in my eyes as the lights came on in the theater and gushed “That was amazing!” and he said “Ehhhh, it was ok . . .” and wouldn’t make eye contact with me.  Robbie’s biggest problem was that (SPOILER ALERT – But only if you aren’t familiar with history) the movie did not follow up with the remaining dozens of hostages that were released only once Reagan came into office.  My biggest problem was when (SPOILER ALERT – Sort of) Ben Affleck’s character goes to the home of his wife and son, and his wife was not played by Jennifer Garner.  Lost opportunities for perfect cameos are a pet peeve of mine.


One thing we do agree on is how crisp mornings should naturally lead to maple flavored goodies so I found these from Smitten Kitchen and decided to follow suit.  I will admit, mine are not as pretty as Deb’s but they were just as delicious and served as a comforting breakfast/snack/dessert on the subsequent days. 

Maple Oat Scones
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup rolled oats
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup maple syrup
¼ cup milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Prepare a baking tray by lining it with parchment paper.  Whisk both flours, oats, baking powder, sugar and salt together in a bowl.  Cut the butter into pieces and add to the bowl.  Work in with your fingers, pastry blender, or with a fork, as I did.  In a separate bowl, combine the milk and the syrup.  Add these to the butter and flour mixture and bring everything together to form a softish dough.  (Warning – Here’s where I deviate from the original because of my very limited counter space so if you want to hear about rolling and patting the dough, click here.)  Using two tablespoons (the dough will be sticky so you can do what I did and just used my hands), drop the dough onto your prepared cookie sheet.  Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until they begin to brown on the edges.  Serve warm with butter and jam, obviously.   

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sautéed Halibut with Mushrooms

I am afraid that I don't have much of a story about this recipe.  I made it to maintain my one-seafood-recipe-a-year trend.  And, just like the other two recipes, the recipe was easy, quick, and delicious and made me wonder why I don’t cook with seafood more often.  Then I remembered – it costs a lot.  These halibut filets?  Were embarrassingly expensive.  When I went home and Googled ‘Halibut’ to confirm my assumption that they were made of gold, I discovered the opposite.  They are not made of gold (they are actually quite ugly looking) and they are ginormous.  Which explains their scientific name Hippoglossus.   I love Wikipedia.  When one fish averages 24 – 30 pounds, one would think the cost of four 6-ounce filets would be cheap.  Maybe they cost more because their eyes migrate from one side of their head to another.  (Again, I love Wikipedia.)

Anywho, impress your significant other or just perk yourself up on a random weekday night and make this restaurant-quality dish.  The original recipe called for bass which my grocery store didn’t have so I had to adapt quickly – both to a new fish and to filets with skin on one side.  After a quick call to my omniscient mother, I was good to go with slightly amended instructions. 

Sautéed Halibut with Mushroom Sauce
Generously adapted from Cooking Light

2 teaspoons canola oil
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
4 (6-ounce) halibut filets
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons bottled ground ginger
¼ cup water
¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Heat canola oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Sprinkle salt and pepper over the skinless side of fish.  Add fish to the pan, skin side down; cook for two and a half to three minutes on each side or until the fish meat flakes easily with a fork.  Place the fish on a plate and cover to keep it warm.  Add mushrooms and sesame oil to the same pan and sauté for a two minutes.  Add the ginger and garlic to the pan.  Sauté for another minute.  Add the water, soy sauce and lemon juice to the pan and sauté for two minutes.  Arrange each piece of fish on a plate and pour some of the mushrooms with the sauce onto each filet of fish.

Serve with a green salad garnished with citrus fruit and vinaigrette of your choosing.  And a glass of white wine.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Butterscotch Pumpkin Muffins

Last October I made this Pumpkin Bread and dedicated it to the two pumpkins in my life.  I may have started a tradition.  Albeit a sappy one.  Tomorrow, Robbie and I will celebrate our two year anniversary by eating a fancy dinner at one of our New York City restaurant bucket list places.  Meanwhile, Newt and I celebrate our 7+ years together on a daily basis by trading kitty head butts followed by cold stares.  

You'll notice in the archive of this tiny blog of mine a huge gap between the months of June - December of 2010.  That was because I was in the throes of wedding preparations and, afterwards, trying to create some sense of 'normalcy' post-wedding.  There were times after the wedding when I would get home with this anxiety of  what wedding deadline was coming up only to realize the big day was over and I had nothing to do but watch the Bachelor.  To top it off, I was living nearly 100 miles from Robbie.  I was deciding very important wifely things like what my official name should be -- Mary Jordan Samuel, Mary Mullinax Samuel, Mary-Jordan Mullinax Samuel, Britney Spears Samuel, etc. -- and how to deal with the confusion from my colleagues when they realized this newlywed still lived apart from her husband.  (Side note - I actually recommend not living with your spouse right after you get married as a way of easing into this lifestyle.)  

Once we got our groove, I think it worked out well.  And considering we went from living apart to living in this tiny NYC apartment for over a year now, I'd say things are miraculously good.  We still have our disagreements and I imagine these will never go away but we are (well, I am - nothing seems to bother Robbie) adapting.  Robbie hasn't figured out that I throw all his crumbled up receipts that he leaves on the dresser away because I assume since they are being treated like trash then they are trash.  He didn't question when I chose the side of the bed farthest from the bedroom door by giving him the logic of 'that way you can come to bed as late as you want' when in reality it was because I didn't want to have to feed Newt at 6 am every morning.  He lets me keep all my shoes in the closet while his get exiled outside the apartment in the hallway where he then has to move them inside every Monday when the superintendent vacuums.  And, God bless him, he pretends not to notice when I sneak an extra scoop of ice cream from the container.  

Newt, on the other hand, is another story.  He continues to make me feel guilty when I spend five minutes not paying attention to him.  He hisses at our neighbor cat when they run into each other in the hallway and then looks at me with a sense of loyalty and concern that even I find astounding as if to say 'Yo, you ok Mom?  I can take this playa if you need me to.'  He manages to take up the entire bed so that Robbie and I are squeezed into our own, separate 1 x 5 foot space.  Come to think of it, Newt sounds a lot like me . . . 


To thank Robbie for putting up with me and my 20+ pound diabetic cat that I brought into this relationship, I made him these pumpkin muffins.  And then I rationed how many he could have because I wanted to save some for guests that we had in town.  And he didn't question me at all.  He just raved about how good they were and how they were better than any dessert he could find on the island of Manhattan.  He knows I would rather be lied to than to be told something I made wasn't the best-thing-ever.  

I love you MT.

Butterscotch Pumpkin Muffins
Adapted from PeoplesBank's Centennial Commemorative Recipes and Remembrances
Makes about 15 regular sized muffins.

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
2/3 Tablespoon Vietnamese Cinnamon (or 1 Tablespoon regular cinnamon)
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon mace
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 cup butterscotch chips
2 large eggs
1 stick melted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix all dry ingredients.  Make a well in the middle of dry ingredients.   In a small bowl, mix eggs, pumpkin and butter.  Stir in chips.  Pour this mixture into the well of dry ingredients. Fold until moistened.  Do not overmix.  Pour into greased muffin tins and bake for 20 - 25 minutes.  Mine took about 21 minutes. 

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Sweet and Sour Baked Beans

Oh, was there a debate last night?  Let’s discuss something less contentious.  Let’s talk about beans.  Just kidding, let's talk about sports.

I consider myself a Big-3 Sports fan because my interest doesn’t range far from baseball, basketball and football.  I have my favorite teams in each category (Yankees (playoffs!!), Duke (obvs), and Panthers (Cam), respectively) but I love nothing more than a lazy fall weekend watching game after game of football.  It’s how I know the difference between the Fox and CBS football jingles after all.  Dunna-dun dunna-dunnnnnnn (pause) dunna-dun dunna-dunnnnn (pause) dunna-dun dunna-dun DUN DUN DUN is Fox while CBS is dooo do-do dooo do (pause) dooooo do-do do-do-do do (pause) dooooo do-do dooooo do (pause) doooooo do do do-do-do do is CBS.  And this is why I need a Podcast.

This year’s NFL season has been even more engaging because I joined my first Fantasy Football Draft. Two weeks after the season started of course, but, hey, at least I am engaged.  I, of course, picked too many players of the same team and towards the end of the draft just started going with whichever player looked the nicest -- and then somehow ended up with Michael Vick as my back-up quarterback.   Not since the movie Labyrinth has something that calls itself ‘Fantasy’ caught my attention so much.  Ok, maybe since the Twilight series.

So what does this have to do with Sweet and Sour Baked Beans?  Not much, really.  Only that the moment I hear one of the two football jingles in my Sunday afternoon vegetating state, I want a bowl of these.  If you can throw it together in the slow cooker that morning, the dish will be ready after just a couple of hours – and, unlike the Sanchez/Tebow duo, it only gets better with time (trash talk, that’s right).  I may have lost my first week’s Fantasy Football match up by over 30 points but I will win the stomachs of those in the league with me. 

Sweet and Sour Baked Beans
Adapted from my Aunt Linda’s recipe found in the Beth Eden Lutheran Church Cookbook, Volume 1 (I’m on a roll with this one.)

8 slices of bacon
2 large onions
½ cup of brown sugar
½ cup vinegar (I used red wine vinegar)
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 can kidney beans
1 can canary beans (original called for green limas but, incredibly, my grocery store did not have them)
1 can white limas (I used butter beans and told myself they were the same thing.)
1 tsp. dry mustard
2 cans pork & beans

Fry bacon until crisp and drain.  Set on paper towels and let cool.  Crumble once cool.  In a small amount of bacon drippings (or large amount – your call), sauté onions and add brown sugar, vinegar, mustard, and garlic powder.  Stir it until mixed.  Add mixture to a crock pot.  Add crumbled bacon, drained beans and pork and beans to the same crock pot.  Stir carefully.  Turn crock pot on High and cook for two hours.  Each day you reheat these, they will get better and better. 

Note – I’m putting this recipe under both the ‘sides’ and ‘main dishes’ category because, honestly, it could go either way.  I ate it at as a main dish but did I crave a hot dog or hamburger to share the plate alongside my pile of beans?  Maybe.