Snacks

How ya like them apples?

Valentine’s Day. It’s a thing. If you’re not part of a couple, you can either choose to ignore it, wallow in your singlehood, or celebrate not having to feel any obligation to do anything at all about it. If you’re part of a couple, there’s generally a range from, “Oh geez. This again?” to, “Gimme all the romance! All of it! Now!”

The boyfriend and I are somewhere more towards the low energy end of the spectrum, but we usually end up caving and at least getting cards or something. If you’re like us, and you want to acknowledge the day, but would like to keep the Fuss Factor to a minimum, you might enjoy this little treat.

This is what would happen if your typical Rice Crispy treat was us, and decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day. It takes a little extra effort to dress up, but doesn’t go too far out of its way to make it a whole production. For this version of what is an infamously low maintenance dessert, we’re going to do two things to make it just a little more special– we’re going to brown the butter, and we’re going to make a topping. The brown butter gives it a nutty flavor, and makes it a little crispier. As the boyfriend describes it, “More like a baked good.” The topping, a very simple apple pie type concoction, spices things up just a little, and gives the whole she-bang another layer of flavor.

Equipment
Large sauce pan
Measuring cups and spoons
Mixing spoon
9″ x 11″  baking pan
Fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth
Small bowl
Knife
Cutting board
Saute pan

Ingredients
For the treats:
4 tablespoons butter
10 oz (one package of the large ones) marshmallows
6 cups puffed rice cereal
Pan spray to coat the baking pan

Melt the butter over medium heat in the large sauce pan, swirling occasionally, until the butter becomes a golden brown color. The solids in the butter will brown and sink to the bottom. Strain the butter through the strainer or cheesecloth into the small bowl to remove the solids, then add the butter back to the pan along with the marshmallows. Stir until the marshmallows have melted completely into the butter.

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Then, add the rice cereal and stir to coat. Pour into the baking pan and press to make sure it’s evenly distributed. Set aside.

For the topping:
4-5 small apples (enough to make one cup), peeled and diced
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Melt the butter and the brown sugar together over medium heat until the sugar is melted, stirring constantly. Add the cinnamon and continue to stir until the mixture becomes a loose caramel. It might look a little dry, but don’t worry, once you add the apples it’ll loosen up a little. Add diced apples and stir until the apples are well coated and cooked through.

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Spread the apple topping over the treats and cut into whatever shape you want.

Alternatively, you could spoon the apple topping over each treat individually when you serve them, if you want to be a little more fancy pants about it all.

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From start to finish, this shouldn’t take you more than half an hour to put together. I recommend ordering pizza or Chinese food, opening a bottle of wine, and making these while you wait for the food to arrive, but if you just don’t give a crap, grab a pile of napkins and a fork and go to town. I’m not judging!

It’s a Non-judgmental Lentil

I just very nearly typed, “It’s been a long week,” and then I realized it’s only Monday. Good grief.

Next Sunday is Superbowl Sunday. There will be gatherings of people crowded around televisions to watch the sports ball while simultaneously putting food in their faceholes. Ahhh, tradition.

I always thought it was a little unfair that just after so many of us have had a decent January of eating healthy and getting our bodies out of Holiday Food Coma-geddon, they go and drop a day full of  deep fried, sauced, beerified, cheesy, crunchy snacks on us. I love those snacks. So, so much. *wistful sigh*

But I have an alternative for you. Or, if not an alternative to the whole array of goodies, maybe an alternative for one of the things on your game day plate. It’s kind of a dip… hummus-y sort of thing that is packed with flavor.

It was inspired by this Roasted Garlic and Red Lentil soup posted by Patricia over at Grab a Plate. I thought it sounded awesome as a soup, but maybe equally as delightful as a dip. I experimented a bit, and came up with this little ditty. You can do some of the prep, like cooking the lentils and roasting the garlic, a day ahead and then whir everything up in the blender on the day of the game. Or the day of the sitting at home watching Empire on Hulu while avoiding any mention of football altogether and snacking your face off.

Equipment:
1 medium bowl
1 medium pot
1 baking sheet
measuring cups and spoons
aluminum foil
spoon
knife and cutting board
blender

Ingredients:
1 cup red lentils, soaked for 30 minutes just covered in water
1 cup water and 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 whole garlic bulb
salt and pepper
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tsp ground coriander seed
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400º.

In a medium pot, combine 1 cup water, 1 cup of stock, and the lentils. Bring to a boil over medium-high, then lower the heat to a simmer and cover for 30 to 40 minutes until the lentils are tender.

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While the lentils are cooking, divide the garlic bulb in half horizontally, place it on a piece of aluminum foil, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

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Wrap the whole thing up and pop it in the oven for about 40 minutes. When it comes out, it’ll be all roasty and sweet and mellow and smooshy and just really freaking delicious.

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Once the garlic is out of the oven and the lentils are ready, pour the lentils, as much garlic as you like, the red wine vinegar, and the ground coriander into the blender. Pulse 5 or 6 times to combine, then let the blender run while you stream in 1/4 cup of olive oil. Taste for seasoning, adjust, pulse a couple more times, then, viola! You’ve got dip.

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You can drizzle a little more olive oil on top, kind of like the way you serve hummus.

Also, you can play around with the seasonings to your hearts content. I imagine some curry spice would be interesting, or maybe a little smoky cumin. Give it a whirl!

Caramel Apples: Not just for Halloween anymore!

Even though the Broncos didn’t manage to make it past the Colts in Sunday’s playoff game, up in the suites, the food was a major victory. We served ribs, beef tenderloin, poblano potato casserole, creamed spinach, crab cakes, heirloom tomato salad, mini Pavlovas with mint whipped cream and pickled peaches, and… this fan favorite– Caramel Apples.

It might surprise you to know that even in a professional kitchen, the interwebs are used as a resource for recipes. Contrary to what some might think, chefs don’t just walk around with an encyclopedic knowledge of every single recipe known to humanity in their brains, so when they’re looking at making 1,600 caramel apples, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that they’d do exactly what you’d do– Google it.

The recipe comes straight from a source with which you are probably familiar– The Food Network! Although, I’ll point out that they got the recipe from a cookbook called “Retro Desserts” by Wayne Harley Brachman. I’m sharing it with you here because peoples, it’s f*cking delicious. This recipe will make 8 full sized apples, or 16-20 mini apples.

Equipment:

heavy bottomed sauce pan
candy thermometer
whisk
8 – 20 (depending on the size of your apples) sticks – We used sturdy wooden picks. You just need something that can hold the weight of an apple laden with caramel and what ever else you dip it into.
additional baking pans if you’re dipping the apples into a second topping such as crushed nuts
waxed paper
cookie sheet

Ingredients:
8 regular sized apples, or 16-20 mini apples (We used mini Lady apples)
1 cup heavy cream, divided (3/4 cup and 1/4 cup)
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Wash and thoroughly dry off the apples. Insert the sticks into the stem end of each one.

Prepare your pans of additional toppings. Line your cookie sheet with the waxed paper.

Fit the candy thermometer onto your heavy bottomed sauce pan. Cook 3/4 of the cream, the butter, the corn syrup, and the sugar over high heat, until the mixture reaches firm ball stage (246° F). The syrup should be golden in color. Pull the pot off of the heat and add the remaining 1/4 cup cream and the vanilla, whisking carefully. NOTE: the caramel is super hot, and it will bubble up when you add the cream so give it just a second to calm down before you get too close.

While the caramel is hot, dip each of your apples. If you’re using an additional topping, roll the apple in those immediately after dipping. Set the apples on the waxed paper to cool.

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Some suggestions for additional toppings:

* chopped nuts
* crushed cookies
* sprinkles
*crushed candy bars (like Butterfinger)
* mini chocolate chips
* toasted coconut
* crushed M&M’s
* toffee candy bits

These are a fairly easy treat to make, and if you can get your hands on mini apples, they’d be a cute dessert for everything from a birthday party to a baby shower. You could even wrap them once they’re cool and hand them out as a take home gift.

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Have fun!

I dip, you dip, we dip

Thought I’d give you all a little peek inside the kitchen today. We’re in the process of dipping about 1600 caramel apples for Sunday’s game.image

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Yay Sportsballs!

So, just in case you weren’t aware, I live in Denver, home of the Denver Broncos. I’m not a crazed fanatic about the team, or really, any team, but I mention this fact because some of you might be interested in one of the NFL teams which, along with the Broncos, will be participating in play-off games this weekend. Or, maybe you’re like me, and you really just pay attention to professional sports because watching them at home (yours or someone else’s) involves making or eating snacks.

I actually work at Sports Authority Field, where the Broncos will be playing the Colts on Sunday. I work for the catering company that cooks and serves the food to the folks in the suites for all home games, so I don’t really get to see much of what’s going on on the field. I’m typically very busy in a pantry somewhere helping to push out the food we’ve been cooking all week. However, if I were going to host or attend a watch party, these Chipotle Meatballs would be on the menu.

The original recipe comes from this book:

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It’s a great little book full of interesting recipes using authentic Mexican ingredients and cooking methods. My favorite chapter is the soup chapter, but the photos next to every recipe have been good enticement to want to make them. Details at the end of this post on how you can make this cookbook part of your collection. But first, we cook!

I’ve simplified the recipe I’m giving you here because I had limited time to cook, like many of you, and used a few shortcuts. The recipe in the book walks you through a few extra steps using more authentic ingredients for an entree version, but it’s still very approachable, as are all the recipes in the book. I took my batch of meatballs to a Rose Bowl party and they were a HUGE hit. I am pretty sure these would work just great in a slow cooker, too, if you wanted to make sure they stayed warm through the whole game. That is, if they last that long. Mine didn’t.

Equipment:

large pot
skillet
mixing bowl
knife and cutting board
spoon for stirring
tongs or a spatula for turning the meatballs (or just use the same spoon, like I did, because  have I mentioned how much I hate washing dishes?)

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 can of chipotles in adobo sauce
2 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
1 small onion, finely chopped, then divide in half
1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed, but kept whole
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of thyme (or a small pinch of dried thyme, if that’s what you have)
1 lb lean ground pork
1 lb lean ground beef
1 garlic clove, minced
1 egg
salt and pepper to taste

For the sauce:
Heat the oil in the pot on medium-low heat. Add 1/2 of the chopped onion and cook until just softened. Add the smashed garlic clove and cook until it just starts to become fragrant. Add both cans of crushed tomatoes and stir well. Add 2-3 whole chipotles (depending on how spicy you want your sauce to be) and about a tablespoon of the adobo sauce to the tomatoes, along with the thyme and bay leaf. Allow the sauce to simmer on low while you cook the meatballs.

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For the meatballs:

First of all, let me just say that I am not sure what kind of sorcery people use to keep their meatballs pretty and round when they cook them in a pan. If you know the magic, I applaud you. I have not mastered it, so please forgive the less than attractive shot of meatballs cooking. They taste delicious, and that’s how I forgive myself for not knowing how to make them pretty.

Anyhoo…

Combine the other half of the chopped onion, the minced garlic, the pork, and the ground beef in a mixing bowl. Add the egg, plus a generous pinch each of salt and pepper, and mix well. I’m not a huge fan of touching raw meat, but I think this is one of those times when you just want to get in there and mix with your hands. Use rubber gloves, if you want, but your hands are definitely the best tools you have for this particular step.

Form the mixture into umm… the book recipe says “chestnut sized” balls. Mine were somewhere between a large marble and a ping pong ball. I couldn’t remember exactly how big a chestnut is, so I just made meatball sized looking meatballs.

Brown the meatballs in a pan until they’re just cooked through. You’ll need to cook them in batches so as not to crowd the pan.

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As each batch is done, just add them to the sauce you have simmering over there.

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When all the meatballs are browned and in the sauce, bring it to a boil for about a minute, and then let the whole thing simmer on low for at least 20 minutes (but as long as 35 or 40), stirring occasionally.

And that’s that! You could serve this as the book suggests, as an entree over rice, or just bring them to the party as they are… maybe with some little rolls or slider buns or mini-tortillas. Both the sauce and the meatballs are so full of flavor, they don’t really need much garnish.

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And now, for the giveaway details. All you need to do to enter is answer this question:

What is your biggest recipe/cookbook pet peeve?

Mine is when the ingredients list includes a lot of specialty items that are expensive or difficult to source.

Leave your answer in the comments section to be entered. I’ll draw the winner next Wednesday, January 14th.

This giveaway is not sponsored by or affiliated with the authors or the publisher, Barnes & Noble New York. Winner will be notified on the I’m Gonna Cook That Facebook page, on the I’m Gonna Cook That Twitter account, and of course, here on the blog. The winner will have 3 days to respond or the prize is forfeit. Please allow 6-8 weeks for delivery.