Candy bark cookie mess

Chocolate Candy Icebox Bars

Is candy/cookie gravel a thing?  Because I think that's what I made

Is candy/cookie gravel a thing? Because I think that’s what I made

All of these “use up candy” recipes start with a false premise, namely, leftover Halloween candy is something that you need to do something with.  Like something other than just put it in your face or give it away.  I mean, it’s a fun idea, but these are difficult recipes to justify.  Also, this recipe specifically calls for Kit Kat, Snickers, and Crunch.  What if you gave away something else?  I actually wound up buying Halloween candy so that I could have these particular leftovers.  That’s kind of the tail wagging the dog, right?

All musing aside, these are amazing.  They are actually worth buying the stuff for.  They are rich and sweet and delicious.  They are a little like muddy buddies and oreos and a bowl of candy had a baby.  If that sounds good, then welcome aboard.

But I must get a few pointers out of the way.  1) chocolate wafer cookies don’t exist outside of the east coast.  Stop it, B, they don’t.  I put oreos in the food processor instead.  Because that meant that I pulverized both cookies and filling, I omitted the powdered sugar from the recipe.  Side note: if you have extra cookie dust, you can mix it into vanilla ice cream and make your own cookies and cream.  2) Do not let this chill overnight before cutting into it.  Just don’t.  I used melted chocolate chips with M & M’s on top because I didn’t have Crunch bars, but I did have M & M’s and those are crunchy…  I wound up with a rock hard topping that could not be cut, which turned cookie bars into a sort of candy bark.  Let’s have an illustration to explain where this went wrong:

I did the first step with all of the cookie crumbs and peanut butter and candy bars, and I followed those instructions to the letter.  Then it was getting late, so I decided to melt the chocolate chips, sprinkle on the M & M’s…then I went to bed.  The recipe calls for you to let it set for 30 minutes.  I woke up to this:

Um, and there were parchment paper pieces in it...that wound up in my sister's mouth.  oops.

Um, and there were parchment paper pieces in it…that wound up in my sister’s mouth. oops.

Cutting it with my biggest, sharpest, nastiest knife left me with this:

Clean little bars, these are not...

Clean little bars, these are not…

It went downhill from there:

I literally took this picture and thought, "Well, you caption this one 'the moment I gave up.'"

I literally took this picture and thought, “Well, you caption this one ‘the moment I gave up.'”

The top kept busting off of the bottom, the M & M’s were coming apart.  This is what I wound up with:

*shrugs

*shrugs

I brought the pretty pieces (the ones that kind of stayed together) to my family’s party.  The rest of it hung out in my fridge.  And was eaten by me.  Pretty?  No.  Delicious?  My word, yes.

So save yourself the heartache and follow the directions on this one.

 

Where’s the beans?

Grilled chicken thighs and garden salsa

Bravo.  That's the worst picture on the entire blog.  Possibly the entire internet.

Bravo. That’s the worst picture on the entire blog. Possibly the entire internet.

First of all, let me apologize for possibly the worst picture on the internet.  A 90’s GIF of stars twinkling would have been better.  I’m guessing I need the paid version of WordPress to insert a GIF, so we aren’t going to find out which is worse.  So I apologize for this crime scene photo of a half eaten piece of chicken and some scattered salad.

Second, the chicken is fine.  It’s grilled chicken with a marinade.  We made it with bone-in, skin-on thighs and adjusted the cooking time.  That was fine too.

Third, and here’s where I really have something to say, the salsa needed beans.  Let me back up.  Do you know what Texas Caviar is?  It’s that salad with the black eyed peas, tomatoes, jalapenos, bell peppers, etc and a basic vinegarette.  You’ve seen it at cookouts.  I promise.  It’s usually served with tortilla chips.  It’s amazing.  I had a hard time eating this salsa because it’s just beans and jalapenos away from being Texas Caviar.  That and the total lack of tortilla chips.  Always a problem.  So while this was tasty, the constant reminder of something tastier ruined it for me.  By the way, there’s an awesome Texas Caviar recipe in Martha’s American Food.  Ah, yet another 50 state cookbook that I own that could be used for some kind of dinner party theme, but is not.  Sigh.

Upshot: make some Texas Caviar and recommend some photography lessons.

 

Aloha!

Hawaiian Hot Dog

Must. Not. Eat. Hand.

Must. Not. Eat. Hand.

So here’s a hot dog that’s so perfect for me that I’m genuinely surprised I’m not the one who came up with it.  I love pineapple.  I love red onion.  I love hot dogs.  Really, this one is hitting all of the high notes.  It’s also similar to a hot dog I had at my favorite hot dog place in Chicago, Chubby Weiners.  That restaurant holds the ignominious distinction of being where D and I had dinner on every presidential election day since we moved to the neighborhood.  Yeah, that’s only two elections.  And I think we maybe decided to go there on a non-election day once.  But still.  To me, this is the Election Day headquarters for our family.  Some of you who are familiar with the Chicago hot dog scene (and didn’t chuckle at that last phrase) will wonder why I didn’t pick Hot Doug’s.  Well, because my favorite hot dog place can’t be somewhere where I have to wait in line for an hour.  It just can’t.  And Hot Doug’s is closing, so I have to pick something else.  Why not Weiner’s Circle?  Because I’ve never been, and I don’t like confrontation.  I do, however, love this Conan O’Brien sketch  where Triumph the Insult Comic Dog and Jack MacBrayer go to Wiener’s Circle.  Well, now I have to try not to fall down a You Tube rabbit hole of Triumph videos.  Did you guys know he visited The Real Housewives of Atlanta?  It’s really hard not to click that.

Why am I spending all this time talking about local hot dogs instead of writing about the recipe?  Because it’s such a no-brainer.  It’s just delicious.  It’s also the kind of thing that you already know whether you’ll like it without me telling you anything.  Do you  like pineapple?  Welcome aboard.  That was quick.

Jerk chicken and the controversial corn

Backyard Jerk Chicken

Savory Corn pudding

Don't worry, chicken.  This isn't about you. You're good.

Don’t worry, chicken. This isn’t about you. You’re good.

Let’s start with the totally uncontroversial part of this delicious Sunday meal: the chicken.  This chicken recipe is easy and delicious.  The ingredients are fully bizarre.  If you can name me any other food besides jerk chicken that has you combining hot peppers with allspice, please do.  This was super hot.  D told me that the vapor of marinade hitting heat on the grill was giving him coughing fits.  I believe it.  I had one fingerful of the marinade right after it was done and my eyes were watering.  Keep in mind, please, that this was all with a jalapeno pepper because we couldn’t find a habanero or scotch bonnet pepper at the store.  I can’t imagine how much hotter this could get.  The chicken was awesome and that is that.

The corn pudding was also good, but therein hangs a tale, as they say.  The directions call for you to grate 8 ears of corn.  I really had no choice but to use a box grater for this.  I got one ear in to this process and was pretty exhausted.  After two ears, my arm was tired and the kitchen looked like a corn cob exploded on it (which it kind of did).  After three ears I was getting desperate and losing hope.  D suggested that I cut the corn off the cob and run it through the food processor.  Fine.  Sold.  He could have suggested putting whole ears in the blender.  I was ready to try anything.

Please also note that the coffee maker, in D's words, looks like a crime scene.

Please also note that the coffee maker, in D’s words, looks like a crime scene.

You can see that the one on the right, the grated corn, is considerably juicer than the one on the left.  To which I say “Who cares?”  Yes, this might have been a little bit more pudding-like, but I have the use of my arm.  So that’s that.  Even with that modified process, this was still terribly tedious.

Was it all worth it?  Depends who you ask.  I thought it tasted like high brow creamed corn.  To me, in a world where canned cream corn exists and, more importantly, where corn casserole exists, this cannot be justified.  Oh yeah, you add bacon and some basil to it.  Still not enough to justify the hassle.  D also thought it tasted like high brow creamed corn, and he thought that was good enough to make it worth the trouble.  Who went through the trouble?  Yeah, good point there…Grumble, grumble…  Also, D doesn’t like corn casserole.  For the uninitiated, corn casserole is a mix of a can of corn, a can of creamed corn, Jiffy cornbread mix and some proprietary ingredients to make it hold together which are then baked in the oven.  My brother’s girlfriend tops hers with cheese.  It’s delicious.  D is wrong.  If you too think that two cans and a box do not a side dish make, then go ahead and grate some corn until your arm hurts.  I, on the other hand, won’t be fooled again.

How’s your burger?

Pesto chicken burger

Sigh.  Too bad the tomato falling off of it looks like a tongue.  :(

Sigh. Too bad the tomato falling off of it looks like a tongue.😦

This is yet another recipe where several liberties were taken, but it all ended up for the best.  First of all, ground chicken?  No.  Ground turkey was at Aldi so that is that.  Second, foccacia bread?  Anything I found was kinda skimpy and flat and didn’t seem like it would make much of a burger bun.  So I bought pretzel buns.  No regrets.  From there, I just followed the recipe.

I love that this recipe mixes in some spinach with the basil in the pesto and uses walnuts instead of pine nuts.  Anything to make things cheaper, but still taste good, is a good idea by me.

And this is just a tasty burger option.  The fresh mozzarella and the grilled tomato were all so squishy and wonderful.  The pesto gave it just enough bite.  The burger itself was earthy and pleasant.  D and I ate it out on our back porch and had a wonderful summer evening.

…Yes, that title is a Dumb and Dumber reference.  Once again, G dates herself almost to the second.

Insert jokey title with “clambake” as term for party…

One pot clambake

Cheesy chive bread

Yes, for two people.  oof.

Yes, for two people. oof.

D and I are big fans of another alternative clam bake recipe from Everyday Food.  That one you do on the grill.  I had never done one of the stove top versions, but I’ve always been intrigued and maybe just a little scared.  Why?  Well, I don’t have one of those enormous New England lobster boiling, enamel coated, monstrosity pots that these recipes seem to call for.  I’ve got the biggest stock pot in the Cusinart set of stainless steel pots and pans that we got for our wedding 10 years ago.  So I didn’t want to run into a situation where there isn’t enough room for the shrimp and clams and this becomes a potato and corn bake.  I’ve also been reticent because we here in the middle of the country don’t so much have access to clams.  I surely didn’t want to buy canned clams (ew!!!!!), and I wasn’t sure if I could find fresh ones at any of my usual grocery stores.  This was not the weekend for a special trip to a fancy grocery store.

My fears were, luckily, unfounded.  The stock pot was a fine size.  And the frozen clams that D found at our normal grocery store (No, not Aldi) were just fine.  You were supposed to cook them from frozen, which is great because I didn’t have to thaw clams in the fridge (ew again!!!), but it did cause a problem for the shrimp.  The clams are the second to last thing to go in.  The shrimp are last.  The recipe has you add the shrimp, turn off the heat, then open the lid back up in three minutes to reveal perfectly cooked shrimp.  I opened the lid after maybe six minutes (distracted) and found some 1/8 cooked shrimp.  I put them back on the heat and gave them a few minutes to finish cooking.  They tasted great.  Here’s what I think happened: the recipe assumes that you have fresh clams and I used frozen ones.  When I cooked the frozen clams, I brought the clams up to the right temperature, but in doing so managed to bring the temperature of the entire pot way down.  So when I added those shrimp to what should have been a warm and steamy environment, it was probably only lukewarm and moderately steamy.  Hence, undercooked shrimp (one more time: ew!!!!).  So if you’re cooking with anything but fresh clams, keep the pot on the heat for the shrimp step.

Oh, the cheesy chive bread?  It was ok.  I made it garlic bread instead because I couldn’t find chives.  With the corn and the potatoes in the clambake, the bread wasn’t really necessary.  It was kind of nice for sopping.  I will say that buying a loaf a shade less than crusty is probably the way to go.  Hacking through that giant, hard loaf to make the cuts in the loaf was grueling.  All that fuss for some garlic bread?  C’mon.

B also tells me that these clambakes ordinarily have sausage.  How this midwestern girl missed out on an opportunity to eat sausage is kind of mind-boggling.  As B noted, what we lack in clams, we make up for in sausage.  That sounded bad.  Never mind.

clambake closeup

Enjoy the swingin’ clambake!

Obsession: brownie ice cream sandwich

Brownie ice cream sandwich

You were just here!

You were just here!

I think I can hear your thoughts.  You’re thinking, “Yeah.  Of course it’s good.  It’s ice cream and brownies.  We’ve all had a brownie sundae before.”  Stop right there.  You are wrong.  This is not like an ice cream sundae.  Well, at least not the way that I made it.  Take a look at that picture.  See how thin the actual brownie is?  Now take a look at the picture that Martha uses on her website:

I've got to figure out these jaunty angles...

I’ve got to figure out these jaunty angles…

Notice how thick the brownie is?  Kind of like an actual brownie, right?  Mine was more like a super crispy and thin brownie-flavored cookie, at least on the first day that I ate it.  Every day the brownie kept getting softer and softer and the sandwich kept getting better and better.  I believe mine wound up thin because I had to get creative with my pan.  I only have 18×13 quarter sheet pans/whatever you want to call them.  Cookie sheet with the lip on all sides.  How’s that?  This recipe calls for a 10×15 jelly roll pan.  Well, in order to make the surface area smaller, I created a dam of sorts with a glass loaf pan upside down on one side and a sheet of foil bumping up where loaf pan met brownie batter.  It was not perfect.  The loaf pan wasn’t as long as the sheet pan, so I kinda scooted it back and forth every time I opened the oven to check.  That helped make the brownie a little more rectangular.  Anyway, I have no regrets and I will not be rushing out to buy a new pan.  The thin brownie was great.

So here’s another question that haunts me and D: what other ice cream flavors would be good?  Mint chocolate chip was pretty perfect.  We were thinking moose tracks, but we don’t want it to get too rich.  Cookies and cream, surely.  Plain vanilla would probably be nice.  Coffee ice cream, maybe?  I think anything but plain chocolate (too weird) would be excellent.

On a related note, these ice cream sandwiches ruled my world for the one week that they were in our freezer.  Everything that happened all day long revolved around making it home to have another ice cream sandwich.  They are that good.

 

That Old Bay river…

Poached Shrimp on Succotash

SHRIMP!!! (with guest appearance by succotash)

SHRIMP!!! (with guest appearance by succotash)

This is from a feature on poaching.  I’m on record as loving poaching as a cooking method, but I’ve never poached shrimp.  It never seemed necessary to me.  I like to poach chicken because chicken gets dry when you cook it other ways (has anyone ever had dry shrimp?), needs flavor (shrimp is a flavor), and I hate checking to see if chicken is done or not (shrimp cooks almost instantly).  So the draw was not there.  It turns out that poached shrimp is amazing.  This is poached in water and Old Bay with a halved lemon thrown in there for good measure.  My can of Old Bay is almost certainly 10 years old, but this was still good.  I should probably buy another can, but let’s be honest with ourselves, I do not cook a lot of seafood, let alone the kind of awesome seafood (read: crabs) that takes a lot of Old Bay.  So old Old Bay keeps on rolling along.

The succotash is fine.  It’s just zucchini, green beans, and corn.  It’s almost certainly a waste of corn on the cob to cut it off and cook it like this.  Unless the price of corn on the cob is truly great (and it isn’t yet), then frozen corn is going to be a better bet.  Really, the shrimp is the star here.  I’d recommend poaching the shrimp this way and serving it with some cocktail sauce.  I don’t have my secret cocktail sauce recipe in front of me to share with you, so I’ll have to give it from memory…  Here it goes: about a 1/2 c. of ketchup, an 1/8 c. prepared horseradish, 1 T or more of hot sauce, 1 t Worcester sauce, maybe a little salt and pepper.  Honestly, I think the recipe might be closer to 1/4 c. horseradish.  I add so much horseradish that this is actually pink, not red.  If you like hot cocktail sauce, give this a try.

Stacked

Tofu-vegetable stack

Through the magic of small plates and camera angles, this doesn't look all that small!

Through the magic of small plates and camera angles, this doesn’t look all that small!

This dish is labeled as a “Meatless Main.”  It also gives its calorie information as 175 calories per serving.  Now, unless you’re going to have a rather substantial side dish or you’re saving ample room for dessert (good move) or you’re using MyFitnessPal and you find yourself with no more calories left….this is a side salad.  That’s how we served it.  We had frozen pizza with this as a side.  I wound up eating less pizza because this was here, so that’s good.  Anyway, I just wanted to point out for you that this is meatless, but it’s probably not much of a main dish as is.

On to the more interesting things.  Can you really grill tofu?!  Yes!  You definitely have to drain it to get it nice and dry.  The recipe says to split the block crosswise in four and the picture looks like big slices of tofu, so I took that to mean that you were supposed to cut it horizontally to make, in essence, wide patties of tofu.  This made sense from a grilling standpoint.  My tofu was wider than your usual block and not quite so tall, so I just cut it once.  If I cut it into four big slices, there’s no way they’d have the structural integrity not to fall through the grates.  Plus, only two people were eating, so why bother?

D is silly

D is silly

The veggies also grilled very nicely, and the dressing was awesome.  I took some liberties with the dressing.  I only had a little bit of parsley, but I have an herb garden in my window that’s producing basil, thyme, and oregano.  I chopped up some basil and oregano and added it to the little bit of parsley I already had.  That was delicious.  It took on more of an Italian flavor.  I really enjoyed the earthiness I got from the oregano.  Fresh oregano is really pretty awesome, but who wants to bother, right?  Right.  So I definitely recommend getting creative with your fresh herbs.  And here’s the real bonus to getting creative with your herbs…and this is kind of a fat kid move…the dressing is very good on frozen pizza.  How do I know?  Are you going to make me say it?  I dipped my pizza in it.  I figure fresh herb, fresh lemon, and olive oil dressing on pizza is the classy version of dipping it in ranch dressing.  Whatever.  It was good.

So please enjoy this side salad or very small main dish or pizza dip.

Well, once you notice the lemon wedge for scale, you really do see how small this is.

Well, once you notice the lemon wedge for scale, you really do see how small this is.

More side dish and less main

Mexican Charred Corn Dog

Who invited that hot dog?!

Who invited that hot dog?!

This post is really just a recommendation to make the topping and skip the hot dog.  The topping is completely delicious.  I didn’t think that cooking corn (I used defrosted frozen stuff) in a dry skillet would actually make much of a difference for flavor.  I was so wrong.  The browning brings out the sugar in the corn, making it the perfect foil for all of the other sour ingredients.  I think I overcooked my corn a little, though.  The recipe says to roast the corn in a dry skillet until it is browned, then add oil and scallion greens, and cook until the scallions are soft.  Well, the corn doesn’t magically stop cooking once you add the oil and scallions, so I cut this whole process off before the scallions were cooked because the corn was edging from brown to black.  That having been said, it was delicious.  I think I would brown the corn by itself until it is very nearly fully browned, then add the oil and scallions to brown it the rest of the way while the onions cook.

I wound up absolutely loving the corn topping, dressing, everything.  So I was super excited to eat the hot dog.  Here’s roughly a transcript of what went on in my head with each bite: “whoo hoo!  Corn!  Lime mayo!  This is awesome! (chew, chew) Oh, yeah, hot dog.  Huh.  Bun.  Yeah…ok, I guess.”  Then I’d take another bite and repeat that.  The hot dog and bun really got in the way of the salad.  Unlike the banh mi dog where the hot dog added some salt and umami to the other flavors, here it just seemed like an afterthought.  So just serve the salad as a side with a hot dog that you dress as you please.  Curious how I prefer my hot dog?  I thought you’d never ask.  I like it with cheap yellow mustard, corn relish, and raw onions.  Actually, I once had that hot dog with homemade pickled watermelon rind added on and it was perfect.  That would be my ultimate dog…with this corn salad on the side.

On the other hand, you could just grill corn on the cob on the grill and dress it with the lime mayo, Cojita cheese, and chili powder.  That would probably be the best of the best.  That cheese, by the way, tastes almost exactly like feta.  I’ve also had corn dressed this way with freshly grated Parmesan.  That works too.