On Smitten with Brown Butter Krispie Treats

So, we are still not totally unpacked, and likely won’t be for some time. Why is it so much faster to throw things into boxes than it is to pull things back out again? Yes, organizing is one of my most favorite things to do in this world, but at the same time, our dining room and bathroom are taking FOREVER to get to everything! Not to mention I’m still jet lagged out the whazoo, so it’s all I can do to just make something yummy to eat before my body starts to feel like a million pounds. Safe to say, I am definitely struggling just a little bit (a lot). BUT that being said, everything is coming along, and our neighborhood couldn’t be more perfect for us right now! Oh, and did we mention that Tuggs loves his new doggie pool in the backyard? Because this little guy is in heaven!

But with it being summer, and most days warm as get all, the last thing we ever want to do is click the oven on to make anything, even the sweet stuff like pies or cupcakes. I mean, don’t get me wrong, what’s a July 4th without a little Cherry Pie? (Not a typical July 4th, that’s what!) But sometimes, it’s just too hot to even contemplate turning on that dastardly cooking device, so when that happens, what do you do? You stick to making something that requires almost no heat, that’s what! And again, turning to my ever delicious Smitten Kitchen, have I got the dessert for you: Rice Krispie Treats! Universally loved by most, if not all, for being soft and chewy, and not too sweet around the teeth, this is a really great go to treat for those really warm days where the thought of an oven alone makes your skin sweat (gross). And naturally, being the kitchen whiz that she is, Ms. Perelman has turned this on its head in the best way ever! BROWN BUTTER! I’m going to say it again for you, and you let me know if your mouth hasn’t begun to water yet. Brown. Butter. MM!

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Now, the way to get your brown butter is to go low and slow, and to keep your eyes on it at all times! And I do mean at all times, stirring often enough that it doesn’t brown too quickly, which equals burnt butter instead of nutty deliciousness! And this is precisely why I have zero photos of the browning process (Frankie was not at home otherwise I would have put him to work on snapping the color transformation). BUT, you should be able to smell it as it browns, getting that almost toffee-like sweetness as it cooks and darkens. And this will absolutely take your rice krispies to the next level! See the darkness mixed with the marshmallows (pictured below)? THAT’S what you’re looking for! Not too dark that it then becomes bitter, but not too light that it doesn’t impart that nice new layer of flavor to the rest of the mallows & cereal!

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I plan to try making a caramel to drizzle on top next time around (but perhaps more in fall weather so that I don’t have to stand over my stove any longer than I absolutely have to), and try my hand at Salted Caramel Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats. (What a delicious mouthful!) Oh! And now to quickly address the controversy between large marshmallows vs. mini marshmallows. Now, large marshmallows, I think, have a higher gooey content to them that a mini just can’t compare to, BUT they take longer to melt completely, so if you’re not careful, you risk taking them too far over in the cooking process. As for tiny marshmallows, I do have to admit that these are my preferred way to go, mostly because they don’t take as long to completely melt, so there’s no risk of over cooking. And in addition to that, I never let them melt completely anyway, ensuring that there will be some marshmallow chunks within the treat for added gooey factor! A good idea might be to do a 75% mini and 25% large to enhance the gooey mallow chunk factor, but for now, my mini mallow way has been working for me and you know what they say, don’t fix what’s not broke.

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JUST LOOK AT THAT! Mm mm good! OH! And throwing a little sea salt in there REALLY adds a delightful little pop on the tongue to be sure! So smart! And then the rest is heat free easiness! Just form your rice krispies into a pan, let it sit for an hour until completely cool (overnight is best, but you know, when they look that good, how can you not help yourself, right!?), then enjoy! Though, I will give another tip for ease of forming. Vegetable Oil. Lightly spray your spatula or wooden spoon (or hands if you’re not afraid of getting a little bit dirty) and that’ll help prevent sticking! I’ve even gone so far as to make little Pumpkin Rice Krispie treats for a Buzzed Broadway Halloween Themed show, and boy were they super tricky to mold without the help of a little oil on the hands! I’ll be making them again this year, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled for some decorative holiday treat ideas! But these treats are SUCH a great idea and will definitely get your guests talking about these delicious bites of joy! — Cooking Maggie

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Salted Brown Butter Crispy Treats from smitten kitchen

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On Telling the Truth: Dishes I Wouldn’t Make Again & Chili

Recently, I’ve been asked a few times about how I handle dishes that I didn’t like or wouldn’t make again. These could have been dishes that either just turned out bad (because not every recipe out there is going to work out the way it says it will) or they just didn’t suit mine or Frankie’s taste. So I thought I would go out on a limb and be honest about something that not a lot of cooks will speak to.

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  1. What do I do when I make a dish that doesn’t turn out right?

Easy. If it’s a complete disaster and there’s no helping it into something palatable, I will throw together something quick that I’ve made before, or we eat it for a night and then don’t make it again. A prime example would be the one time my mom made chili so spicy that no one could eat more than three bites of it, and the boys ended up munching on chicken nuggets, while my mom and I suffered through one bowl before pitching the whole batch. Even my dad, who has a high tolerance for spicy food, couldn’t muster more than a small bowl of it. And goofs like this are BOUND to happen every so often with anyone who cooks, even when you read over the ingredient ratios to make sure it all looks like it’ll come together nicely, so I try not to get too hooked up on those moments. But I will say, I never keep a recipe I didn’t like in my home or on a secret pinterest board because, frankly, if it wasn’t good, I’ll remember that it wasn’t good if it pops back up on my screen.

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Another example: During my first year in Chicago, I tried to make pulled buffalo chicken in my crockpot to make little sliders for dinner. Seemed like an easy enough recipe, a packet of Hidden Valley ranch, and a ton of hot sauce, and that should have come out delicious, right? Nope! What came out in the end smelled like cat food and tasted like mushy bread. It was AWFUL, like, I couldn’t even eat a slider it was so bad. I ended up pitching it (I know, wasteful, but even if I had thought to bring it into work, NO ONE would have eaten it…even Frankie, who normally is a good sport and will at least give most of my food a good ol’ fashioned try wouldn’t eat more than a couple bites), and whipping up a quick pot of spaghetti, which I always have the ingredients for because it’s an easy go-to.

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But if it’s something that just doesn’t suit our tastes as is, but could be good if a, b, or c was adjusted, then I get into my experimenter mode and go at it. And this is one of the reasons that I feel so lucky to have such an honest guinea pig for a boyfriend. Not only does the guy watch an unhealthy amount of Food Network with me, even turning it on for me if I’m having a rough day, he’ll treat my food like any judge on Chopped. He’s honest about what he likes, what he doesn’t, and if he does like the dish, but thinks it’s missing something, or maybe needs a little more/less cooking time, or a spice adjustment, my immense dabbling in food and cooking has rubbed off on him enough that he often helps me with each new variation.

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This isn’t to say that any bad recipe isn’t salvageable. I think every recipe is, but some are just better to start from scratch or find a different recipe base to build off of if it needs more than just simple tinkering.

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2. Would I ever write about a bad recipe?

Yes and no. Devoting an entire post to something you shouldn’t make seems really counterproductive to what I am trying to do, which is share recipes that you should be making because they are delicious! I also wouldn’t go out of my way call out a recipe as bad if I just personally wasn’t a fan. There’s no glory or good to come from defaming anyone else’s hard work, but I most certain have no problem commenting on a foundation recipe I’m using if it’s lacking certain ingredients or their ratios are off, at least, based on what I know about myself and what I like in my food because no one’s palate is the same. But in commenting on what I feel it lacks, I’m not calling it quote unquote bad, but rather giving myself the room to tinker, adjust, and create something of my own to suit me better. That’s why we have recipes, why we cook, adjust, share the adjustments, cook some more, and share any other adjustments back. It’s a beautiful, and inherently inclusive, cycle that I will continue to be a part of if I can.

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And speaking of chili, my main example for this is my own chili, which I thought I had posted back in February, but somehow find that it’s missing! OH CALAMITY! But not to worry, because I’m using it as my example, what better remedy than to include the recipe here! The recipe I initially started with had a very simple ingredient list: meat, kidney beans, 3 tablespoons of chili powder (their main mishap), a teaspoon of brown sugar, and diced tomatoes. Three ingredients and minimal spices does not a cowboy chili make and I knew the end result was going to be…disappointing. So, given how little was there to begin with, that’s when I went to my fridge & spice wall, and, well, went a little crazy. I wanted to brighten this initial canvas with all sorts of colors and flavors, really build off of their bare bones and add my own flair! I threw in Worcestershire sauce for a tart bite (I always have a bottle of this in my pantry, fyi), turned the 3 tablespoons of chili powder into 1/3 cup (which should be a BARE MINIMUM for any chili base), added in an onion and bell pepper to add some additional freshness to the hearty beans and meat, threw in chicken stock instead of water to build on the meaty flavor that chili should exude, and then went to TOWN on the spices. I’m talking cayenne, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, parsley, coriander, marjoram, and then a little more brown sugar to just round out all the edges. AND VOILA! A cowboy chili that would make any chili-loving man, woman, or child happy.

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And what’s great is this chili can actually be re-purposed! Do you happen to remember a particular post I had made about Cincinnati Chili? Well, this was the actual chili that I ended up using! And this chili can be thrown into a pot of Mac n Cheese, dolloped on top of some queso to make it fundido, layered between sheets of lasagna, or put between a bun! Chili does NOT have to just be eaten from a bowl, and I even served this chili with some SUPER DELICIOUS French Onion toast rounds that were out of this world delicious (so much so that Frankie asked me to make a second batch to go with his second bowl of chili) from who else but the amazing Deb Perelman! The recipe is in her first cookbook, but I was able to find the recipe online (JUST FOR YOU GUYS!) so I hope you do give it a try because it is one of those dishes that will definitely make it to my Christmas Party this year for sure! Oh, and please try hard not to balk to hard at all the spices that are in this chili because these are just what I threw in at the time I was originally messing with the recipe. YOU DON’T HAVE TO USE EVERYTHING! Especially if you don’t have them, DON’T WORRY ABOUT THEM! I’ve put the most important ones at the top and optional are just the other ones I threw in last minute.

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But all in all, I know for a fact I’m not going to like everything I make, and that’s okay. My kitchen is really just a test kitchen after all, so I expect mistakes and missteps. In fact, as I’ve maybe mentioned more than I should how much I like finding things I can tinker with as much as I find things that are just super tasty as they are! It means I get to take the time to practice my skills and maybe learn something new about myself! And besides, it’s all a process anyway. — Cooking Maggie

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French Onion Toasts
from Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 Pounds yellow onions, cut into dice of about 1/3 inch (about 4 1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Cognac, brandy, or vermouth (optional)
  • 1 cup low-sodium beef, veal, or mushroom stock or broth
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Thirty-two 1/2 inch thick slices form a long baguette
  • Finely grated Gruyere cheese (you might want a little extra)

Instructions

  1. Melt the butter and olive oil together in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions to the pan, toss them gently with the butter and oil, reduce the heat to medium or medium-low, and cover the pan. Cook the onions for 15 minutes, then remove the lid, stir in the salt and sugar, and saute without the lid for about 10-15 minutes, until the onions are fully caramelized and have taken on a deep-golden color. Pour in Cognac, if using it, and the stock, then turn the heat all the way up and scrape up any brown bits stuck to the pan. Simmer the mixture until the broth almost completely disperses (a small amount of slosh is okay; you don’t want to cook it off so much that the onions seem dry), about 5-10 minutes. Adjust the salt, if needed, and season with freshly ground black pepper.
  2. Preheat your oven to 75 degrees. Line two baking sheets with foil. Dollop each round of bread with most of a tablespoon of the onion mixture. Add 1 tablespoon grated cheese to the top of each toast, mound it a bit so it all stays in place. Bake the toasts for about 15 minutes, until bubbly and a bit browned. Serve immediately.

Cooking Maggie’s Cowboy Chili

Ingredients

  • 2lb ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. black pepper
  • ½ cup chicken stock or water
  • 1 (28 oz.) can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (14.5 oz.) can of stewed tomatoes
  • 2 cans of drained kidney beans
  • 1/3 cup chili powder
  • 2 tbsp. Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 ½ tbsp. brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. cumin

Optional Spices:

  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • ¼ tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp. parsley
  • ¼ tsp. ground coriander
  • ¼ tsp. ground marjoram
  • ½ tsp. chili flakes

*Optional spices are just that, optional. Use what you want, don’t use what you don’t like. All spices can be adjusted to taste as well.

Instructions

  1. In a large pot, brown the ground beef, drain, and put back in pot. Add onion, bell pepper, garlic, and saute for 1 minute.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and all spices. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer 30-40 minutes.
  3. IF you would like a thicker chili, whisk 2 tablespoons cornstarch with 1/3 cup of water and add to chili after it has simmered for at least 30 minutes, cook for additional 5 minutes.

 

On Empanadas!

So, let’s get real with food right now: Empanada. I can’t exactly pinpoint my desire to eat/make these yummy little pastry pockets of powerful flavor, but all I can say is, YES PLEASE!



Funny enough, I had my very first empanada in Chicago after helping one of my fellow MFA cohorts move, and it happened to be on the corner of Montrose & Wolcott from the food truck 5411. It was completely unassuming and frankly, I don’t think we would have stopped if the air simmering around the truck hadn’t been so heavy with spiced meat and golden crust, or if we hadn’t been as hungry as we were. The idea of food trucks at this point were still kind of new to me, and I had grown up leery of most street food stands in Hong Kong that were more likely to get you sick than to leave you satisfied. The only real food truck experience that I had was in college, ordering hamburgers and bratwursts with grilled onions, sauerkraut, and grilled melted mozzarella cheese, which always came free and layered elegantly on top like freshly washed sheets on a freshly made bed. Nothing better, but back to 5411 and their empanadas. We were so hungry, having done a lot of physical activity and the smell of meat and cheese was making our mouths water, not to mention the price of $2.75 an empanada was too good to pass up, so I tried a beef, just to get as close to authentic as I could for my first bite. The pastry was hot and steamy, the meat tender and juicy, earthy with a kick of heat. a dash of sweetness, and a quick salty tang of brine. It was simple, but it was delicious, and the fact it was hand friendly made the continuance of our cool down walk all the better.



I haven’t had the pleasure of encountering this truck since then, or venturing to their many locations around the city, but that’s when my MFA started to really kick in and food had to take a small backseat. But as I started to cook more this year, the memory has popped back on more than one occasion, especially when I have been looking at pictures of scones and making pies. The pastry connection was inevitable.




And just to be clear so I’m not overselling my current predicament of minimal kitchen, I did NOT make the dough. When I’m all moved and unpacked, I plan to make more empanadas, perhaps with chicken this time, and make the dough from scratch, but for now, I turned to the ever handy empanada wrappers, which I found at my nearest Tony’s Finer Foods, which specializes in ethnic foods more than our local Jewel or Mariano’s. Eucalyptus? They got it! Yuca? They got it! Empanada wrappers? Oh yeah, they DEFINITELY have that, whereas the 5 Jewels, 3 Mariano’s, and 2 Whole Foods that were within 10 miles of my home or office were like, “Empanada what now? What are those?” I don’t think I’ve ever been more frustrated trying to find ONE THING. In future, I now know exactly where to go when I need to look for my not-so-run-of-the-mill groceries. [Helpful Note: Definitely take stock of where your nearest specialty marts are for such occasions!]



And the filling is everything you would want in a comfort food. Meat, potatoes, olives (which I know most folks aren’t a fan of, but they’re chopped super small so you can’t really taste them as is, but they provide that perfect little pop of saltiness that meat and potatoes really crave, especially when they’re bunked together in the same dish), peppers for crunch and freshness, cumin for a little earthy sweetness, chili powder (and my favorite, chili flakes) for the heat to kick it all up a notch. Even in the heat of summer, these little pockets of spiced perfection are still a wonderful little bite of comfort and satisfaction! If you’re looking to spice up your summer, this is definitely one way to do it! Enjoy! — Cooking Maggie


Beef & Potato Empanadas from the candid appetite.