Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sweet As Pie: Bacon-Wrapped Asparagus

I was going to make this two weeks ago with Pioneer Woman's Whiskey Rib-eyes.  But my in-laws came up and we decided to cook the steaks on the grill, and then because I wasn't in the middle of the cooking, I completely forgot about the asparagus!

Thank goodness asparagus keeps pretty well in our crisper.

Even so, I knew this weekend that I was running out of time before I'd have to throw it away, and not much makes me as upset as throwing away food we never cooked.

This week I went to the grocery store but didn't like the steaks I saw, so rib eyes were out. But in the meantime, we bought a family-size tray of ground beef, because Mick ordered these

I'd like to attribute these photos but have no idea where I got them. If they belong to you, please say so.
from television and wanted to try them.

But then here it was Sunday afternoon, and we hadn't given any serious thought to the Stufz and I knew I needed to pack away the meat -- and cook that darn asparagus.

I decided it would be a good day for a meatloaf.

I checked our cookbooks and found this recipe from Pioneer Woman, and this one from Trisha.

(Note: I used the recipes from the cookbooks, which sometimes have slight modifications. In Trisha's cookbook, there is no ketchup glaze as shown in the photo in the link.  We did not make a glaze. Also, if you click both links you'll see that they both have the SAME photo. That's a shame, because we've made each of these at some point, and neither one looks like the photo!)

Trisha's just seemed simpler, and Mick and I were in the mood for simple -- or, if not simple, at least easy.  Besides, we've already made the PW recipe, and hadn't yet tried the one from Trisha's cookbook.  But really, it was the simplicity that trumped. This is our last day of winter break and neither of us felt like doing much of anything.  I even snuck in an afternoon nap!

Trisha introduces her recipe by saying she loves meatloaf, has tried quite a few, and really sticks with this simple, delicious version.  She's dead-on.  This is one of the easiest things you'll ever make and incredibly flavorful.

For our side we had bacon-wrapped asparagus (because anything wrapped in bacon is usually better, except that Mick and I tend to disagree with that because usually the bacon is soggier than we'd prefer).  Oh my goodness.  There is a strong chance we'll have bacon-wrapped asparagus for dinner by itself one night soon.  This was absolutely fantastic.

Naturally, neither CAM nor WHM would take so much as a bite, even though I tried to tell WHM that the sauce was made with his favorite black Chinese sauce (translation: soy sauce!).

Oh well. More for us.

Bacon-Wrapped Asparagus Bundles

Verdict: Holy awesomeness, Batman. Delicious. Pretty. Perfect if you're having company, or if you're not!
Cook it again: Yes. Tomorrow, if we had more asparagus.
Cost factor:  a bit expensive for a side, depending on sales.  Both bacon and asparagus can be costly if not on sale.

First of all, this is so easy that it's silly.

Trim some asparagus and group it into bundles.  Based on how many stalks we had, our bundles were 5-6 stalks.  (Think about how much a single person might eat and make the bundles accordingly -- if you have super skinny or super thick asparagus, that would play a role.)  Did you know you're supposed to hold an asparagus stalk at each end and bend it until it snaps?  Apparently that's the natural break point at which the rest of the stalk is not going to be good.  Mick and I learned that years ago and have used it ever since. But for the sake of pretty little bundles, I actually trimmed the stalks with a knife instead.

Wrap each bundle with bacon and set the bundles in a baking dish.

Trisha says to hold them together with toothpicks, but we didn't find that to be necessary.  Also, my pan is non-stick ceramic, but I don't think the bacon would stick no matter what baker you have, so don't worry about spraying it.

Then in a saucepan, mix a stick of butter, brown sugar, pepper, garlic salt, and soy sauce.

totally used the brownulated stuff again.  It melts a little differently, so I had to stir like crazy!
 When it bubbles to a foam, pour it over your asparagus bundles, and throw it in the oven.

Now, Trisha said to bake it for about 25 minutes at 400.  Since I had the meatloaf in the oven at 350, I put these in for longer, but on the very top rack.  I don't think that had any adverse effect.

Here they are, fresh out of the oven:

And here is our dinner.  Oh my goodness.

For the record, a little of the extra sauce drizzled on the meatloaf was also outstanding, and the bacon did get crispy enough to our taste.

For not wanting to really cook tonight, we ate like kings.  This was one of the best meals in a while!


Update on the Tuscan Bean Soup

Remember this?

It's all gone.

I made it on Friday, and yesterday was Saturday and CAM and I were at her baton competition most of the day.

When we got home, I was dreaming about this soup.

None to be had.

It's definitely a hit.


Sweet As Pie: Brownie Batter Cookies

This recipe is a Trisha Yearwood recipe that's not in either cookbook we have.  

But I sure am glad we stumbled upon it, because it's simple and delicious.

Trisha Yearwood's Brownie Batter Cookies

Verdict: Very yummy. A simple and tasty, thick chocolate cookie dressed up by chocolate chips.
Cook it again: Absolutely.  I *almost* doubled this to start with, and I really should have. We devoured these.
Cost factor: Hard to say. We have all this on hand, usually.

First of all, one evening you need to try to dig out your stand mixer from the mess that is your kitchen counter.

If you get a hankerin' to mess with your camera settings and try to get some one-handed action shots, pouring sugar is a good one to try.  Also, sing Def Leppard while you do it. Makes it more fun.

Add some butter.  Two sticks.

And brown sugar.

What on earth kind of brown sugar is that, you ask?  That's my favorite thing in the world, "brownulated" sugar -- granulated brown sugar.  Technically, the recipe calls for dark brown sugar. But technically, we don't have any.  And technically, our regular brown sugar is presently in brick form, even with the little ceramic disk that is supposed to prevent such catastrophes. So, brownulated sugar.

Seriously, I love brownulated sugar.  It melts more slowly if you're using it in other recipes (say, for a brown-sugar sauce for carrots), which can make it a bit tricky to learn to cook with, but it's fabulous for baking.

Melt an ounce of baking chocolate.

See the mushy shape of the bar?  I might have pre-melted it by leaving it on the back of the stove while the oven was pre-heating.

I also may have completely forgotten this was baking chocolate and licked my finger after scooping an ounce out.

Don't do that.  I thought I was going to die.  Then CAM tried it and her reaction was about the same as mine -- we would have gladly guzzled motor oil if it had been on the kitchen counter.  ANYTHING to get rid of that chocolate!

Add three eggs to your mixture, and then some cocoa powder/flour/baking powder/salt.

Nothing fancy.  Also, we ran out (!!!) of this mid-recipe and Mick was the hero who ran out in an icy rain storm to get replacement cocoa.

Mix it all up to form a batter ...

And when it's clearly a cookie dough, add the vanilla and re-mix.  (Yes, the recipe says to do that. No, I don't know why.)  And finally, fold in some chocolate chips.  (I took the paddle out after I snapped this, but don't mix them with the paddle.)

WHM made some "poop" comments, but seriously, this looked divine in real life.

Into the oven.  Trisha says to use generous spoonfuls, so I took her at her word.  The cookies flatten but keep their basic base shape, so if you make this you'll want to be sure the dollops are relatively the size and shape you want. I could have flattened these down a bit, but I wanted thicker cookies.

I took this picture in a super-dark kitchen at 10 p.m. but this is not a bad view.

This was a better, more accurate view.

So, that's all well and good, but how did they taste?!

These were very good.  The melted chocolate, cocoa, and chocolate chips allow you to call these triple-chocolate cookies.  They were delicious right out of the oven -- the chips held their shape but were just gooey enough.  Overall, these are flavorful without being too rich (I think a darker chocolate may have put them in that too-rich category).  They are just on the "cakey" side of "cake" cookies, and definitely have the flavor of brownies. But make no mistake: these are cookies, not small cakes and not brownies. They don't have that moist denseness (is denseness a word?!) of brownies, but have that cake-ish consistency.  Of course, I also made big dollops, so these were pretty thick, and that may have contributed to that cake-ish-ness.  Also,  I'm not sure if I over baked them or if they are supposed to be just the tiniest bit dry.  I wouldn't say the cookies were dry -- just, like the cakey-ness, on that side of the dividing line.  Certainly it was nothing some red wine or cold milk can't fix. And Mick, my resident "those are dry" expert, didn't feel they were too dry.

Evidence of their deliciousness: I have no idea how many cookies this recipe yields, because we ate the cookies as they came out of the oven for every cookie sheet!  I'd say a reasonable estimate is 4 dozen; more if you make smaller cookies. (Ours were pretty big, and thick, which we quite loved.)

I picked this recipe and I'm glad it came out well.  This recipe comes together quickly as long as you've got butter softened.  We'll add this to our go-to list (like Chocolate-Chip cookies are) -- easy to make, ingredients always all on hand, and instantly rewarding.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

It's Twirling Season!

After a very busy week of hockey (games/clinics Saturday, Sunday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday) it was finally CAM's turn.

We could tell she was really tired of sitting through hockey and really needed some attention of her own, so today's first baton competition of the season couldn't have been more timely.

As it happened, WHM had both hockey and a birthday party, so Mick and I split our duties -- he to hockey and the party, me to southern Maine for CAM's competition.

She competed in three events: team, solo, and marching.  And she won first place in each!

(For the record, this is actually not something we wanted.  As she and I drove down this morning, she told me she was doing three things and was going to get three medals. Mick and I really don't want her to come to expect to win every time she does anything. But her team was the only one in its division, and then both other times she competed, there were only two girls in each division.  Oh well. Soon enough she'll learn that sometimes you have to lose gracefully. For now, she's delighted -- and so are we. She has been tickled pink all day, and that's important, too!)

Here are the photos. I have some videos as well but I have yet to successfully get videos from my phone to anywhere other than Facebook.

Shoot. I never took a photo of CAM wearing all three medals. I'll have to update this tomorrow!


In the morning, when we first arrived and got in costume #1. We had to be there between 8:30 and 9, so we left the house around 7:45. One of the things I really love about twirling is that we're able to use age-appropriate make-up (or none at all). I let CAM wear lip gloss and the tiniest bit of silver eyeshadow (which was rubbed off before we pulled out of the driveway) and she looked just perfect, as far as I am concerned! Time enough for mascara and the stage make-up ...

Aunt Sheila gave her a little bendy baton girl to play with as a good luck charm.

Ready to march out with her team for practice!

... and now, marching out with her team for real!

Introducing the Pixie Stix! 

After all the team events, there was a marching clinic while the results were tabulated.

Pixie Stix getting their first place medal!

Checking out that awesome medal.

Still checking it out!

Marching competition!

Watching the twirlers.
Practicing for her solo.

When they call your name, you bring a cassette tape to the judge.  The judge then keeps notes for you the entire length of your performance.  Here, CAM's dropping off her tape for her solo.

Solo!  There was no good place for me to position myself for photos, because CAM was on the far side of the gym from me.  But see that judge right there at table 3? That's Aunt Sheila. (CAM was at station 4, not to worry!)

Beaming after finishing.  She didn't nail it, but she came pretty darn close!