Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Peach Cobbler Recipe

Even if you cook nothing else from scratch this summer, bake a dish of this Peach Cobbler! It is shockingly easy, incredibly delicious, and better with a scoop of Blue Bell vanilla ice cream (although what isn't better with a scoop of Blue Bell vanilla ice cream?). I must admit that this recipe is so easy that every time I prepare a batch of it, I have a fleeting thought that it's too simple and that it's not going to turn out. But on every occasion, this peach cobbler proves me wrong and it comes out perfectly.

It consistently turns out great because I follow my grandmother's simple recipe. My copy is written on a stained 3 x 5 lined index card in my mother's swirly handwriting. Along the top of the card is the recipe title which was penned by a much younger version of myself in my own hesitant cursive. . . priceless! The actual recipe card is at least 25 years old and the recipe itself is even older than that.

When making this for others, be prepared because my mommom's Peach Cobbler is one of those recipes that once people try it they want to make it themselves. Its simplicity is one of its strengths. The freshly sliced peaches create a silky syrup which bubbles up around the delicate cakey topping as it bakes. Another one of its assets is that, besides peaches and some good vanilla ice cream, it only requires five other ingredients all of which are pantry staples. What's not to love?. . . simple ingredients and delicious results!

Peach Cobbler Recipe

5-6 ripe fresh peaches
3/4 cup sugar (divided)
1 egg
1 Tablespoon butter, softened
1/2 cup flour
dash of salt

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Butter a 9 inch round pie plate. (I use my standard glass pyrex pie plate, not deep dish)
  3. Peel peaches, and slice them into the buttered pie plate.
  4. Sprinkle peaches, which are now in the pie plate, with 1/4 cup sugar.
  5. Mix 1/2 cup sugar, 1 egg, 1 Tablespoon of softened butter, 1/2 cup flour, and a dash of salt until combined. Dab over peaches (topping will not completely cover peaches, no worries, it will spread as it bakes).
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 or more minutes or until cobbler is bubbling around the edges and the topping is golden brown. If in doubt, stick a knife into the center of the cobbler. When the knife comes out clean or with only a few crumbs, the cobbler is done.
  7. Serve warm with ice cream for dessert, or at room temperature with whipped cream for a snack, or , if you're lucky enough to have leftovers, enjoy a bit straight from the fridge out of the pie plate for breakfast:)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Baked Potatoes Recipe

The first time I encountered the brilliant culinary pairing of baked potatoes and beef barbecue, I was at my church's Fall Gift Market.  The Boy Scouts were serving lunch and, although the temperature outside was still in the 90's,  I was in the mood for a baked potato.  When I ordered my baked potato the nice young Boy Scout behind the counter said, "Would you like barbecue on top of that, Ma'am?"  Only two months into my Texan experience, I still bristled just a bit whenever someone addressed me as Ma'am, but the fact that I was being offered flavorful tender meat as a potato topping caused me to warm up to it.  I paused, having a 'why-didn't-I-ever-think-of-this' experience, and then answered, "Yes, I would love that!"

I immediately became a fan of baked potatoes topped with beef barbecue!  The sweet, yet tangy flavor of the barbecue sauce is the perfect compliment to a fluffy baked potato.  Also, the protein of the meat elevates the spud from skimpy side dish to hearty main course.  I've since learned that the addition of beef barbecue to a baked potato does not stop some Texans from continuing to add other, more traditional, toppings such as cheese, sour cream, chives, jalapeƱos, and even butter.   Everything is bigger in Texas, including the calorie count for a baked potato.

Having already mastered the art of preparing beef barbecue at home, I then set out to create the perfect baked potato.  After interviewing friends and observing at restaurants, I devised my own fool proof method.  I found that I didn't need to wrap the potatoes in foil, but could place them directly on the oven rack.  I also discovered that rubbing the potatoes with olive oil and then rolling them in kosher salt adds more flavor and creates a nice crispy skin on each potato.   For baking time, low and slow is the best.

It has been almost two years since I first encountered a baked potato smothered with a hearty dollop of beef barbecue.  In that time, I've learned that being called Ma'am is quite nice, especially if it is by my own children.  I've also found out that when I'm looking to lighten things up a bit, marinara sauce or salsa is an acceptable baked potato topping.  Most of all, I've discovered that beef barbecue on a baked potato is amazing any day of the year.

Baked Potato Recipe

6 medium sized russet potatoes
6 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
toppings of your choice including, but not limited to, sour cream, grated cheddar cheese, butter, salsa,          jalapeƱo peppers, chives, beef barbecue
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  
  2. Scrub and thoroughly dry  6 medium sized russet potatoes.  
  3. Pierce each potato with a fork about a dozen times.  
  4. Rub the potatoes with about 1 teaspoon of olive oil per potato.  Then roll them in kosher salt, about a half a teaspoon of kosher salt per potato.  
  5. When the oven is preheated, place the oiled and salted potatoes directly onto the center rack of the preheated oven. Place a sheet pan on the rack below the potatoes to catch any drips.  
  6. Bake the potatoes for at least 90 minutes or until a knife is easily inserted into the potato.
  7. Removed hot potatoes from the oven and serve immediately or place them in a baking dish that has been lined with a clean dish towel and cover the entire dish with foil to keep the potatoes hot.  
  8. To serve baked potatoes, take one potato at a time and firmly tap it on the kitchen counter.  Gently slice along the long end of the potato and squeeze the two shorter ends.  
  9. Serve with your favorite toppings.
Tuesday Night Supper Club

Monday, August 9, 2010

Candylicious Houston Texas

Once upon a time when I was knee deep in sippy cups, cheerios, and board books, my mom made the comment that I ran my home like a Kindergarten classroom. Not sure if that was a criticism or a compliment, I luckily got distracted by a crying baby and a food encrusted high chair and didn't think of my mother's statement again until recently.  Now, years later, when I am more preoccupied with Wii controllers that require new batteries, back-to-school fashions that need to be purchased, and future middle school students that must master the use of a combination lock,  I realize that she was absolutely right.  I fully embrace my roots as a Kindergarten teacher and can still appreciate naps, story times, recess, and crafts.   I even enjoy a good field trip now and again.  Currently my kids are older and although they might resist a nap, they can still appreciate a family field trip, especially if it's to an amazing candy store like Candylicious.

Last weekend before my husband and three sons and I visited The Chocolate Bar, we stopped by its neighbor Candylicious.  This candy emporium on West Alabama Street in Houston, Texas is any sugar lovers dream.  It is a vibrant and colorful storefront that is brimming with classic confections and modern morsels.  My kids were amazed  by the variety of Pop Rocks, Now and Laters, and Nerds that were on display.  They thoroughly enjoyed browsing the shelves that are cleverly arranged with Air Heads, Fun Dip, M&M's, and Pez of all types.  Choosing a small plastic basket at the front door and then carefully filling it with their goodies was a highlight of the trip.  Each of my sons had worked extra hard on their chores prior to our Candylicious field trip so their wallets were filled with crisp dollar bills just waiting to be spent on candy.  They were each able to purchase at least a half a dozen novelty items with their allowance money thanks to the reasonable prices.

As my sons and husband were deciding on their purchases, I enjoyed inspecting the candy 'cakes' that are for sale.  These are unique shapes that are creatively covered with popular wrapped candies.  I admired a candy coated pirate ship, red bird, and Star Trek Enterprise.  The Barbie doll with the candy skirt would make a great center piece at any little girl's birthday party as would the candy castle.  I was also impressed by the candy numerals and letters that are displayed around the perimeter of the shop.

My husband, who is also a candy lover, filled his goodie basket with classic candies that conjured up memories of being a boy in the 70's.  I overhead him utter comments such as "Oh, wow!" and "Hey, look at this!"  as he encountered watermelon flavored Pop Rocks, Candy Farm's neapolitan  coconut slice, and Charleston Chews.  He also gasped in amazement when he encountered the candy filled tins that were in the shape of the Ghost Busters symbol, Pac Man's Blinky, and Hello Kitty's pal Keropi.    As my mind was fast forwarding to birthday party favors and stocking stuffers, he was reveling in nostalgia and sharing his Pac Man high scores with our sons.

Anxious to start sampling their candies my boys each approached the cash register after our exciting shopping experience.  The pleasant young man behind the counter was cheerful and patient as my boys fished for dollar bills out of their wallets. His friendly attitude was the icing on the candy cake for our field trip. My sons are already asking when we can visit Candylicious again and I agree that this location will be added to our family fun roster.  Whether you ever taught Kindergarten or not, Candylicous is a perfect field trip for any family in the Houston area.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Royal Pasta Primavera Provencale Recipe

There is a time to indulge in fine chocolates, and then there is a time to enjoy flavorful vegetables.  I believe in balance and subscribe to the notion of all things in moderation.  I like to cook, I love to eat, and I desire to be as healthy as possible.  As part of this quest for good health, I recently read You: On a Diet by Michael Roizen and Mehmet Oz.  Although I usually shy away from anything that contains the dreaded d-word, Dr. Oz did introduce me to the neti pot and steel cut oats and I was curious about his ideas on weight loss.  In addition to tons of good information about our bodies and how they interact with food, this book contains a two week eating plan to jump start healthy living and weight loss.  The book also includes some of my favorites things. . . recipes!

The recipe for Royal Pasta Primavera Provencale is one that I would have totally glossed over if I had come across it in another book or  magazine.   I realize now that I often dismiss recipes based on certain ingredients or techniques that are out of my comfort zone.  For example, this recipe contains eggplant.  I love eggplant and will gladly order it from a restaurant or eat it when my husband prepares it, but for some reason I never cook with it at home.  Also, this recipe calls for tossing a cup of mesclun or mixed spring salad greens into the sauce before serving.  Again, this sounds weird to me, so in the past I would have moved onto something more familiar.  Not anymore, however, because in addition to recipes for family comfort foods, I also want to leave my children with recipes for healthy dishes that are as delicious as they are nutritious.

Royal Pasta Primavera Provencale meets both of these criteria.  It is delicious and nutritious!  The whole wheat pasta provides a nutty background for the hearty and flavorful sauce.  Although I had never used a dried ancho chili pepper before and it did take two very nice workers to help me find it in the produce department of my HEB,  I was so grateful that I had put forth the effort to find this key ingredient.  The dried ancho chili proved to me that peppers are about flavor and not just heat.  This main course was full of taste but was not overly spicy. Also, I was pleasantly surprised to find that adding a handful of fresh greens to the pot right before serving added yet another dimension of texture.

This recipe for Royal Pasta Primavera Provencale has motivated me to look more closely at recipes that I would have dismissed in the past.  Just like most Americans today, I desire to incorporate more whole grains and vegetables into my family's diet, but I refuse to sacrifice taste in order to do that.  I love that while making this dish, my kids drifted into the kitchen and inquired, "What's that great smell? What's for dinner?  When are we eating?" and I love that indulging on vegetables can be nearly as satisfying as indulging on chocolates.


Royal Pasta Primavera Provencale Recipe

2 servings, 451 calories per serving

6 ounces whole wheat rigatoni or linguine pasta
1 small dried ancho or pasilla chilli pepper
1 cup (4 ounces) diced (1/2-inch cubes) unpeeled eggplant
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 yellow or orange bell pepper, coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, sliced
2 cans (14 1/2 ounces each) stewed tomatoes, undrained
1 cup packed mesclun or mixed spring salad greens
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme or lemon thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat if desired.
  2. Heat a large, deep skillet or dutch oven over medium heat until hot.  Add the whole chili pepper; cook, turning occasionally until fragrant and toasted, about 2 minutes.  Remove the chili from the skillet.  When it is cool enough to handle, discard its stem and remove its seeds.  Set the seeds aside for garnish and roughly chop the chili.
  3. Add the oil to the skillet.  Add the diced eggplant and cook until browned, about 4 minutes, stirring frequently.  
  4. Add the chopped onion, bell pepper, and garlic; cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.  (Add another teaspoon of olive oil if the pot seems dry or the veggies start to stick.)
  5. Add tomatoes with juice and chopped chili.  
  6. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, or until vegetables are tender and sauce thickens.
  7. Remove sauce from heat; stir in salad greens and thyme.
  8. Season to taste with salt and pepper if desired.
  9. Serve sauce over hot pasta.
Recipe from You: On A Diet by Michael Roizen and Mehmet Oz

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Chocolate Bar in Houston Texas

The Chocolate Bar may have become famous because of its recent appearance on Food Network, but it will stay famous due to its unique chocolate treats and whimsical, inviting atmosphere.  My family and I found ourselves at The Chocolate Bar after seeing it on the latest Food Network show "Kid in a Candy Store".  My son, who turned eleven on Thursday, is a candy connoisseur who enjoys watching cooking shows.  We were thrilled to see a local shop on TV and planned a weekend field trip to visit The Chocolate Bar and its neighboring store Candylicious on West Alabama Street in Houston, Texas.

The Chocolate Bar's logo features a martini glass with the motto "Where Every Hour is Happy Hour".  My son pointed out that no alcohol is served at this sweet place and I discovered that no alcohol is needed.  As soon as we walked in the door my nose was filled with the rich, sweet aroma of chocolate and my happy tank was filled.  I was overwhelmed with all of the chocolate novelties that lined the shelves and tables in the store.  My eight year old son liked the chocolate hammer while my five year old was drawn to the chocolate letters and numbers.  I drifted over to the display case that was brimming with a vast variety of foods that had all been dipped in luxurious chocolate.  In addition to the traditional chocolate dipped strawberries and chocolate covered cinnamon grahams, I was pleasantly surprised to find chocolate covered Pringles, chocolate  coated Twinkies, and chocolate Lucky Charms , just to name a few.  These chocolatiers think outside of the chocolate box!

While standing in awe of this bar of chocolate, I was greeted by a warm inviting voice that turned out to belong to the essence of The Chocolate Bar, Gilbert.  He is the co-owner of The Chocolate Bar and was more than willing to chat.  His passion for chocolate oozed from every word.  He shared about his twenty hours with the Food Network folks, pointed out some of his specialties such as the Texas Frito Brittle and chocolate covered breakfast cereals, and invited us to come back to help them celebrate their tenth anniversary on 10-10-10.   My husband and I made plans to stop by on one of our upcoming date nights and are thrilled that The Chocolate Bar is open until midnight on Friday and Saturday and until 10pm on the other nights.

Reaching the limits of their patience, my sons pointed me in the direction of the cafe side of the store and we began the arduous task of choosing what to purchase.  As my husband began to woof down his Chocolate Covered Twinkie, we gazed through the glass at the jumbo cookies, freshly churned ice creams, and mile-high cakes all of which, of course, feature chocolate.  My youngest sons each chose a large cookie, my older son got a slice of Bayou City Mud Pie, and I couldn't resist ordering a hunk of the Cadylicious Junkyard Cake.  The cookies were chewy and flavorful with a generous amount of either M&M's or chocolate chunks.  The Bayou City Mud Pie had a dense brownie crust that was filled with chocolate mousse and topped with whipped cream.  I reveled in my slice of the Candylicious Junkyard Cake that contains an array of crushed candy bars that float in a heavenly Bavarian cream.  Amazing!

Candylicious Junkyard Pie
Everything we bought at The Chocolate Bar surpassed our expectations, including the ample scoop of German Chocolate Ice Cream that my husband squeezed in right before our departure.  German Chocolate is my husband's favorite type of cake and he has been on a quest for a good ice cream version of it his entire life.  The Chocolate Bar's German Chocolate Ice Cream was everything he had hoped for and he said he will gladly drive the 26 miles from our home to get a bowl of it.  That is perfectly fine with me because I will visit The Chocolate Bar again and again for their incredible chocolates, and also for the hospitality and attention to detail that makes any shop famous in my book.