Friday, November 21, 2008

You Wanna Piece of Me? ... Buckeye Candy That Is!

In the time before there were Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, there lived a lovely treat so decadently delicious that it was hard to tell if it was a candy or a cookie or a dessert. Candy won the final toss, and these wonderful, joy inducing treats became widely known as “Buckeye’s”. Why Buckeye, you ask? It’s quite simple, really. The little beauties resemble the nut from the Buckeye tree. Just about everyone from the wonderful state of Ohio knows what a Buckeye is, and now it is my pleasure to introduce all of you to .... Buckeye Candies!

Folks, let me tell you that this is one treat that will wow your friends and family. Have you seen these before? Ever tried one? I remember first trying these as a kid, and then a couple years ago, I attended a Christmas Cookie Swap Party and saw these sitting on the exchange table. They were just terrific, and their unusual “look” really makes them appropriate for festive fare. Creamy, rich, and very decadent, these treats are a favorite among kids and grown ups. Even better, they are gluten free, super easy to make and,(picture me pulling down both arms in a victory motion saying “yessss”) my teenaged son volunteered to help make them.

Let’s begin. You won’t believe how easy these are to put together.

2 cups smooth peanut butter (Sorry, not the natural, no stir kind. I used regular Skippy.)
½ stick butter – softened
1 box powdered sugar (1 lb! Perhaps this is why they are called candy!)
2 cups chocolate chips (I used semi sweet)
2 Tablespoons shortening (I used Crisco; you could substitute a bit of paraffin instead)

In a large mixing bowl, beat the peanut butter and softened butter until creamy. I used an electric hand-mixer, but a regular mixer would probably have been better. Then add the powdered sugar and mix until incorporated. The whole box of sugar (yikes!). You’re on the right track if the mixture is crumbly looking.
Now it’s time to line two cookie sheets that will fit in your freezer with wax paper. Then simply form the peanut butter mixture into one inch balls and place on the waxed paper lined cookie sheet.I used my handy dandy 1” scoop, but you could just use a spoon and eye ball it. Now, from the top down, stick one toothpick all the way into each peanut butter ball.Place in the freezer to firm up for one hour.

Next, in a medium sized microwaveable bowl, place the choc chips and the shortening.It’s kind of shocking to see all that shortening, huh? I mean how often do you use shortening by the spoonful? Let's not think about it, 'kay? Movin' on ... Microwave for 1 minute and stir. Keep microwaving and stirring in additional 15-30 second intervals until the mixture is very smooth and runny. (It took me a total of 1 minute 45 seconds.)

Remove the tray from the freezer, and using the toothpick, remove one peanut butter ball from the tray and dip into the melted chocolate.Dive into the pool of chocolate!That’s my son’s hand at work there. He’s got his dad’s big mitts. Cover most of the ball with chocolate, leaving only the top section uncovered. Transfer back to the wax paper.Repeat with each one. Remove all the toothpicks, and with a slightly damp fingertip, lightly “swirl” out the toothpick hole. Place the tray in the fridge this time to firm up the chocolate. Serve as soon as chocolate is set. Keep extras in the fridge, as the balls soften up easily. My children and husband went crazy over these. They are a waaaay upscale version of a Reese’s peanut butter cup.Helloooo Beautiful! These will be the first to go on any dessert tray you set out for the holidays. Yeah, they’ll be wantin’ a piece of Buckeye Candy! How about you? Shall I save one for you?

KNIT ONE/SAVE ONEOn a separate note: Look what my oldest daughter and I did together! Aren’t these just the cutest little baby caps EVER! As part of her Religion studies, my daughter participates in community service projects of her own choosing. This has been a wonderful experience for her as it has shown her how one person performing acts of kindness can make the world a better place. Last Spring, she made a darling no-sew fleece baby blanket through Project Linus. For this current Fall season, she had originally wanted to volunteer at the Local Food Bank, but they have too many volunteers (that's a good thing). Since she really tries to think of ways that she can make a difference, we searched the internet to find something that would allow her that opportunity. My daughter is the most stewardship minded 13 year old on the planet. Plus, she doesn't desire recognition for her efforts; she just does it because she thinks it's a good thing to do. I, of course, am very proud of her. I never did anything remotely like this when I was her age. Anyway, she decided to knit little baby caps for the Knit One/Save One program through the Save the Children Organization. This wonderful organization is determined to improve the quality of life and survival rate for newborn babies in underdeveloped nations. The little babes are soooo tiny in those areas, and providing something as simple as a cap for their little noggins makes an enormous difference in their survival rate. She immediately made the connection to all of her own newborn pictures that showed her with a little cap on her own head. I was very proud of my daughter and her empathy, and enjoyed teaching her how to knit. Oh yeah ... she had to learn how to knit first. Plus, she sent an email to President-elect Obama asking him and his policy makers to keep the children of the world in mind as they make world-wide impacting decisions during his tenure as President. Not bad, eh? Knit One/Save One ... she did a good thing. For more information, here’s the website:

Saturday, November 15, 2008

French Bread Pizza - That's Amore!

Have you ever sunk your teeth into a bite of French bread pizza? Do you remember the massive crunch sound that erupted? For today's post, instead of french bread, I actually used a lovely puglieise bread, which is a crusty bread that hails from Southern Italy. (That’s pronounced pool-yee-AY-zee.) It is the closest I’ve ever found to the type of bread my Italian grandma made every other day. Still warm from the bakery oven, I snatched it off the shelf as soon as it was set out.Isn’t it lovely? (I like the word "lovely". I say it a lot.) Crunchy crust + soft yet dense interior = YUM. I don’t really boast a love affair with pizza per se, but my oldest children go all dreamy eyed when the word pizza is mentioned. As we follow a mostly gluten-free diet for my youngest eater, pizza has not been on our menu for a spell. Tonight, however, my hubbyman escorted said gluten-free child to her end-of-season soccer party, which left me at home with two hungry teens. I actually planned to have pizza as a surprise for them. But not just any old pizza. Nope, we were going to make French, oops, I mean Italian bread pizzas, or pizza bread, together.

This is part of yet another quest of mine to teach my children their way around a kitchen. I’ve been hit and miss with this task, and after watching Marjie and Pam regularly create all sorts of goodies with their kids, I seized upon the opportunity to get my petit chefs cooking tonight.

Italian pizza bread conjures up sweet, sweet memories for me. When I was little, my mom would frequently make the most amazing, awesome spaghetti meat sauce. As a special treat, she would spoon some of the thick, meaty sauce on a slice of homemade bread for me as a hearty snack to hold me over until dinner time. Gosh, I’m getting all teary eyed remembering standing by her side, and seeing the love on her face as she handed it to me. She’d give me a quick hug, and kiss my forehead before sending me on my way. Gee, those memories can really sneak up on a body sometimes!

Anyway, I prefer pizza on bread most likely because of that special snack. I love that CRUNCH that you can only get from thick, toasted bread combined with the gooey cheese and toppings. One reason I don’t really crave traditional pizza is that I can’t stand the grease that I have to dab off the top. BLECH! Since my son and hubbyman are die-hard carnivores (they like pepperoni and/or sausage on their pizzas), so I take an extra step to avoid having those orange pools of grease on their pizza. Want to know my secret? Ready? (whispering) Cook the meat first. That’s it; it’s that simple. The pepperoni can easily be microwaved for about 30 seconds thereby releasing the majority of its fat content. (I had a photo to insert here to show you the grease released from the microwaved pepperoni, but, well, that’s just gross.) Watch it carefully because pepperoni can crisp up like bacon really fast. I have a great appetizer recipe idea for pepperoni chips, but that’s for another time. For pizza bread, just zap your pepp, dab with a paper towel just as you would bacon, and set aside until it’s time to build the pizza. If crumbled sausage makes your heart sing, just fry it up in a pan first. I used my handy-dandy cast iron pan.

To create a top-notch pizza bread, start with a lovely, crusty loaf such as Pugliese. Slice in half, and in half again if you like. Here’s another tip. Rather than just pile on the toppings and bake, treat it like garlic bread. Whip together equal parts melted butter and olive oil, and season with garlic powder, season salt, oregano, and basil.Spread this mixture over the sliced loaves, and pop them in a preheated 375 oven for about 10 minutes. The top of the bread should feel just slightly crunchy. That texture will keep it from getting soggy when you put the sauce and toppings on.Now it’s time to load up your bread. The method is to start with sauce, then a thin layer of shredded mozzarella (Shred it yourself, I beg of you. It melts so much better.) This will “glue” your toppings to your pizza. Next, put on whatever toppings you like ... pepperoni, sausage, onions, peppers, mushrooms (precook those a bit, too), tomatoes, olives, whatever... and then top it off with a little bit more cheese. Of course, you can create a plain cheese one or even leave the sauce off and create a lovely cheese bread. If you like, you can sprinkle the top with parmesan (we didn’t this time, but it’s goooood.)

Pop it back into the 375 oven for 5 minutes or until the cheese is all gooey.Now, leaving your pan in the oven, crank up the top unit of your broiler. Watching carefully, look for the cheese to start to bubble and brown, anywhere from 3 – 5 minutes.As soon as it starts to show that golden brown color, take the bread out of the oven. Let sit for 5 minutes and then serve.

Ohhhhh yeahhhhh. C-R-U-N-C-H! The toppings stay in place, the cheese is gooey, and the bread provides terrific texture.Here is a plain one.Here's one loaded up. See what's missing? No grease! Your mouth and tummy will do a happy dance. Warning: Pizza Bread is VERY filling. Your loved ones won’t be able to snarf this down like regular pizza. In fact, just pair it with a tossed salad, and you’ll be good to go.

My kids and I enjoyed making these together, yet for me, the best part was when they went all dreamy as they started eating their bread. Both kids raved about it, and my son wants to make and eat it again tomorrow.Mmmmmm. *Happy sigh* My work is done here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Great Scot! Scottish Savory Oat Stuffing That Is!

My 7th grade son is currently reading Kidnapped, which takes place in the legendary Scottish countryside and coast. Written by Robert Louis Stevenson, the tale is told in 18th Century Scottish dialect, transporting my son back in time via vocabulary and phrases such as nae (no), ken (know), mair (more), dinnae (did not), and dirdum (blame). You all know how much I love words and word roots, so while my son's level of enthusiasm is, shall we say, not the same as mine, it's been fun for me to learn these Scottish phrases.

That brings us to our recipe for today. Delightfully labelled a “skirlie”, this is an oat stuffing whose roots trace back for centuries in Scotland. It’s a wonderful recipe, and is surprisingly light with terrific texture and full flavor. With Thanksgiving around the corner, I’m looking for alternative stuffing recipes for my wee bairn that cannae (cannot) eat traditional wheat based stuffings. Sure, I can prepare a rice stuffing, but one bite of this has assured and secured it a spot on our Thanksgiving menu this year. Besides, it’s fun to say. “Skirlie” Skirlie, skirlie, skirlie!

Let’s begin, shall we. Oh, one more thing, I tested this using chicken ... no sense at all in cooking up a big Turkey two weeks before reenacting the Pilgrim celebration after all. Ok, now let’s get to it.

Super Savory Stuffing – Scottish Skirlie Style
(It's gluten free, too!)


½ stick butter
1 onion chopped
1 cup regular old fashioned oatmeal
Couple grinds of salt
Generous grinds of pepper
Scant ½ teaspoon coriander
¼ teaspoon nutmeg (I dinnae use this --- we’re not huge nutmeg fans)

1 whole chicken for roasting
3 large onions, sliced in half
Seasoned salt
½ stick butter, melted and combined with a couple tablespoons of canola oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a 10” skillet, over medium heat, melt ½ stick of butter until it starts to bubble.Isn’t melted butter yummy looking? Add chopped onions and sauté until golden. Nope, they’re not golden enough yet.Okay, now they are golden. All at once, add the oatmeal and stir to coat with butter.Saute until toasted and slightly golden. You'll notice I'm not adding a drop of liquid here. We don't want this to turn into the consistency found in your breakfast oatmeal. Add your seasonings.Here’s the coriander in my pale, Pacific Northwest sun deprived hand. Hmm ... I have a relative who always wants to know how I know if I’m adding the right amount if I actually don’t measure everything. Let’s test shall we? I need a scant ½ teaspoon.I’ll just tip this into a measuring spoon and ... ta da! Oh ye of little faith. Not you, my blog friends, I’m referring to someone with the same blood line as myself. Hmphf. To be fair, though, she's usually asking me how much to add of something ... since I don't measure, I usually respond with "two shakes of this, or a couple grinds of that". Do you measure everything? Everything? Let me know.

Alrighty. Spoon your stuffing into a bowl to cool slightly while you prepare your bird. Place your chicken breast side up in a shallow roasting pan (I used Pyrex). Fill the cavity of the wee beast with the cooled skirlie. Don’t pack it it, it will expand while cooking. Place your halved onions all around the bird. NOTE: I didn’t lace up the chicken; instead I used the onions to prop up the chicken. I don’t usually stuff my poultry; I usually prepare the stuffing in a separate pan. So, therefore, I’m not much of a lacer. Feel free, of course, to lace up your bird. How many of you do that? Let’s take a quick poll ... how many of you are lacers? How many are not? Now season and baste your bird and onions with the butter/oil mixture.Pop it into the oven, and roast for 1-1/2 hours. Baste the bird and onions every 20 minutes or so.Just look at this gorgeous color! YUM! The meat is so moist!Just look, look at the breast meat!Mmm, a quick taste test ... and yep, it’s heavenly.See how crisp that skin is?

Hold on though, folks. It’s the stuffing we’re after today. Just look at this. For those of you who have only experienced oatmeal in sweet recipes, you are in for a treat with this savory version! This stuffing really has it goin’ on. The onion flavor really shines through, and the salt, pepper, and coriander hold their own. Let’s look closer. The texture is just outstanding. Remember: No added liquid (If you make it as a side dish, I'd use just a tad of broth.) It has a great al dente-ness about it; I’m quite pleased. Let’s try a bite. Oh, yeah, this is a keeper recipe for sure. Oh, and since this has no wheat in it whatsoever, this is gluten free, all the way baby! (NOTE: Some folks following gluten free diets have to abstain from oats as well. Use your best judgment in determining what's best for you and those you cook for.)

This Thanksgiving, I’ll be giving thanks for savory oat stuffing. Of course, I’m thankful for ALL stuffing recipes ... YUM. I can’t wait to say to those at the table, “Pass the skirlie, please!” What’s your favorite type of stuffing? Traditional? Do you have a special twist? I’d love to hear about it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Let Go My Nacho -- Potato Skins!

In my never ending quest to expose my children to the culinary benefits of foods that touch each other, I fired up the ol’ brain cells to concoct something so terrific that even the pickiest of pickies would at least try a nibble of. Was I successful? Did we experience a breakthrough? Houston ... Did we solve a problem?

My picky eater fan club members like potatoes. They like cheese. Actually, they luuuv cheese a lot. They will also choke down plain old, don’t jazz it up, taco meat. Soooo .... why not put them together? Just this once, why not let those three items cohabitate and create Nacho Potato Skins!

I realized that I hadn’t made potato skins since, well, let’s just say it was back when Pluto was still solidly considered a planet. Still, how hard could it be? Not hard at all, is the answer. A quick internet search provided me with basic instructions. First you bake the potato, then you slice and scoop the potato, then you alternately broil and stuff and broil the potato again.

I’m not super familiar with the broiler; we’re more like acquaintances. My friend, Marjie, is a pro at the broiler. (Have you met Marjie yet? I adore Marjie. Go take a quick visit; we’ll wait. Be sure to tell her Paula said “hi”.) Having read Marjie’s broiling instructions for a while now, I figured that the time had arrived to advance my relationship with said broiler from acquaintances to friends. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s review the recipe first.

Nacho Potato Skins

Russet potatoes – one or two per person
Sea Salt
½ cup melted butter
Seasoned salt

1 ½ lbs. of cojack cheese – shred it yourself!

1 ½ lbs ground beef
taco seasoning (I used gluten free)
chicken broth

chopped tomatoes
chopped green onions
chopped cilantro (hi Pam!)
sour cream

Preheat oven to 350. Wash potatoes, prick each one 3 times with a knife, place whole potatoes on a foil lined baking sheet, sprinkle with sea salt, and bake for about 1 hour or until baked through.

In the meantime, shred the cheese. Yes, please shred it and don’t buy the prepacked shredded stuff. I timed myself, and it took me not even 2 minutes to shred the cheese, including interruptions. The cheese you shred yourself melts sooooo much better than the packaged stuff. After shredding your cheese, go ahead and prepare your garnishes.

Prepare the taco meat using your favorite recipe. I used a package spice mix and substituted chicken broth in place of the water. I like chicken broth. A lot. Do you ever substitute chicken broth for water? I do. A lot. Have I said “a lot” enough in this post?

When the potatoes are finished baking, let cool slightly and slice each one in half. Even after letting them cool, they will still be tarzan hot. If you have asbestos fingers like me, you’ll be okay. Otherwise, use a hand towel to hold the potato and protect your fingers. (Have you ever seen those commercials for the OvGlove? I thought about that product as I was playing hot potato.)

Preheat your broiler. Using a small sized melon baler or teaspoon, hollow out each potato half, leaving about a ¼ inch of flesh. You’ll end up with lots of potato “pulp”. Save it for mashed potatoes or other uses. Using a pastry brush, coat the inside of the hulled potato with butter and sprinkle with season salt. Turn the potatoes cut side down, and coat the outside with butter, too. If you see a stray bit of potato, absolutely nab it and do a taste test. Place under the broiler for 3-4 minutes. Remove, turn cut side up and return to the broiler for 3-4 minutes. Remove, and fill the shells with lots of cheese. Be generous. It’s cheese. It’s yummy. Pile it on. Oh, and don’t worry if you need to sneak a shred or two for a taste test. It’s okay, I won’t judge you. Top that with a couple spoonfuls of meat, and then crown it with another mountain of cheese. Then it’s back under the broiler for about 3 minutes or until melted and bubbly. I love melted and bubbly cheese. Oh, if you’re like me and discover that some cheese went onto the tray as you were filling the shells, you are in for a treat! Look at it now. All melty with no where to go. Hmmm ... just a quick tasty sample. Oh, here’s one with some stray meat. Better not let it go to waste.

Ahem. Alrighty. Now it’s time to plate your potatoes. They will be really hot, so take care when transporting them from baking tray to plate. Top with your favorite garnishes, and dive right it. I prefer the fork and knife method. My children, however, had ideas of their own.
Couple notes: You could easily substitute other fillings and meat. Bacon, of course, comes to mind. You could use chicken or steak or pork even. My kids ate theirs sans garnishes. I think these would make a lovely fancy breakfast being stuffed with scrambled eggs, bacon/sausage, and cheese. And absolutely, you can use left over baked potatoes. In fact, next time I make baked potatoes, I’ll throw in a couple extra just to use for later. Oh, and this is gluten free, all the way, baby!