Totes McOats

I know so many people who say, “I’m not a breakfast person.” I’m not either — I find the options limited and my culinary creativity stifled with breakfast foods — but having a little sumthin’ sumthin’ in the morning gets my day going, so I’ll usually grab an English muffin and count the minutes until I’m hungry enough for some midday masterpiece. My breakfast-bitter brain was blown last week, though, when I embarked on a National Oatmeal Month celebration with LiveWell360’s peanut butter cup oatmeal (slightly adapted).

In addition to not being a breakfast person, I’m also not an oatmeal person, but this recipe looked simple and inexpensive (especially considering I “borrowed” a handful of oats from my roommate’s stash), so I gave it a go.

♦1/2 c. rolled oats
1 c. water
pinch of salt
1/2 medium banana, sliced
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1-1/2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. sugar
1 tbsp. peanut butter

Heat oats, water and salt oats in a saucepan over medium heat. Once simmering, stir in bananas and mix until thickened. Add vanilla, cinnamon, cocoa powder and sugar until mixed. Either pour mixture into a bowl and top with peanut butter, or — as I did, at left — mix peanut butter into heated mixture because you can’t gracefully get it off the spoon.

Total time? 10 minutes, start to finish.
Cost? $2 oats. $2 peanut butter, 45¢ banana
Overall success relative to expectations? 6 out of 10. The taste wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, — not like biting into a Reese’s — but I still enjoyed it. The banana is virtually undetectable, but helps create a nice, thick consistency. The cinnamon was a little strong, so I’d probably drop that down to 1/8 tsp. next time. If this isn’t your thing, but you’re still interested in celebrating the last two weeks of National Oatmeal Month, check out the 30-Day Oatmeal Challenge for all sorts of crazy concoctions.

I’m going to be on Food Network?

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned Food Network in at least half of my posts, so it should come as no surprise I dropped everything last week when my friend, Jay, e-mailed me about a show taping at a local sandwich place: Jake’s Sandwich Board on 12th Street in Philadelphia.

I took the notification — “We will be filming all day on Thursday, but opening our doors to everyone during some of the filming around 3 p.m.” — to mean the crew would get some B-roll and be on its way, but what we walked into was a full-out filming of an “Outrageous Food” episode about the eatery’s Five-Pound Philly Challenge, and they let us sit in on the entire thing.

(had to be stealthy)

If you’ve never seen the show, it’s almost as if “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” procreated with “Man V. Food.” The host, Tom Pizzica, travels the country in search of ridiculous foods a la Guy Fieri, but often pits locals against restaurants’ ludicrous food challenges, like the 105-pound burger and the 72-inch burrito.

At Jake’s Sandwich Board, the challenge consists of an assortment of tasty Philly staples: a two-foot cheesesteak, four Philly soft pretzels, 12 TastyKake Krimpets, 24 Peanut Chews and one Champ Cherry soda to wash it all down. Oh, and you have to do it all in 45 minutes.

To date, only two individuals have successfully completed the challenge (and if you don’t finish in time, it’ll cost you $34.95), so to make the episode a little more interesting, “Outrageous Food” filmed two teams of three (boys v. girls) taking on the feat. I won’t spoil the outcome, but what remained of the losing team’s plate is pictured at the left.

My friend, Steve, and I were seated next to the challenge table, so we’re almost definitely going to be on screen when the episode airs next season, but we were both interviewed, so we might get some feature facetime, too. (I was really nervous, though, so I’m almost hoping they cut me on account of blushiness.)

Tom Pizzica was hilarious, and the entire production was so much fun. Oh, and did I mention how incredible the sandwich I ordered was? The Philly Wasabi — rib-eye steak, wasabi spread, American cheese and crunch onions. Yup. And based on the few bites I had of Steve’s Village Turkey sandwich and how drool-inducing the two-foot challenge cheesesteak was, I can’t imagine this place puts out anything short of amazing. I highly recommend you check it out.

Jake's "Philly Wasabi" sandwich

melting in the snow

It’s snowing here in Jersey. The last snow was the first major storm of the season (8-10 inches?), and I learned a valuable lesson: Your new car may not drive as well in the snow as your last car. Or even close to as well. Your new car may be less useful and/or safe on winter roads than the 10-speed Huffy you rocked in sixth grade.

With the snow still falling and no plans until at least the early evening, I’ve resigned myself to staying indoors until I absolutely must dust off my car and brave the unsteady — and undoubtedly congested — Jersey roads. Fortunate for my car, but unfortunate for my kitchen (and related appliances)…

Today’s lesson of the day: American cheese is really good at melting. Everywhere. Behold, the result of my homemade cheesesteak quesadilla (an “American, without” for all you Philly folk).

don’t be cruel

I’ve been watching a lot of Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars” lately, and I noticed in two consecutive episodes, contestants made what they called “Elvis cupcakes.” Pshhh. I made that ish months ago. (Anyone about to tear me apart: I’m being facetious.)

A little while back, I wrote about the mini-BLT-ish sandwiches I made for my friends’ potluck dinner. Feeling ambitious for the event, I also made these chocolate-filled banana cupcakes with peanut butter frosting. And feeling overambitious, I opted to make them miniature so if everyone felt full post-feast, they could certainly find room for an itty-bitty cupcake. In retrospect, I wish I had stuck to 12 standard-sized cupcakes and let everyone fight to the death if we ran out.

The banana base flavor of the cupcake really came through, and the chocolate filling soaked in nicely; it was like a little chocolate surprise inside. The frosting was the most disastrous part of the project. It was supposed to be a mousse, but it was so thick, it ended up feeling like dollops of straight peanut butter atop the tiny cakes. I’m not really sure what went wrong. I found the peanut butter a little overwhelming, but I’m also one of those people who doubles the jelly and halves its counterpart in my PB&Js.

post-coning, pre-frosting

FOR CAKES
1/2 c. mashed ripe bananas

1/2 c. buttermilk1 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt

4 tbs. unsalted butter
3/4 c. sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, mash ripe bananas until no chunks remain; add buttermilk to bananas, mix and set aside. Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg, then vanilla. Add half of the flour mixture, the banana mixture and then the rest of the dry ingredients. Scoop mix into lined cupcake pan. Bake 18-25 minutes at 350 degrees.

FOR FILLING
1/3 c. heavy cream
2/3 c. semisweet chocolate chips

Combine cream and chocolate chips in microwave-safe bowl, and heat mixture on high for 1 minute. Stir and heat again in 15-second intervals until fully melted. Once cupcakes are cool, cut out a cone in the center, pour in cooled filling, replace cone and frost. (I also drizzled some of the extra topping across the frosting dollops to break up some of the peanut butter-ness.)

FOR FROSTING
♦1 c. creamy peanut butter
5 tbs. unsalted butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 c. heavy whipping cream
1 to 1 1/2 c. confectioner’s sugar

Total time? 25 minutes prep, 20 minutes bake, 25 minutes frost
Cost? $1 banana, $2 buttermilk, $2 heavy cream, $1.25 peanut butter
Overall success relative to expectations? 6 out of 10 Despite my trials, these were pretty successful. It yielded more than 30 cupcakes, and I went home with only about 10. These were a bit more work than your average cupcake — cutting little cones out of each cupcake, angling in the chocolate and — in my case — using every ounce of strength in my body to push out little chunks of peanut butter “frosting” from my piper. I gave myself a bonus point for busting out some fancy liners and edible gold flecks, but to make this a true hunka-hunka “Elvis cupcake,” I think I’ll add some candied bacon next time.


2010 bites

I’m not going to waste your time Auld Lang Syne and all that jazz. If you’re going to a New Year’s party tonight, and need a little snack for the guests, you’ve come to the right place: buffalo chicken bites.

There’s ne’er a party in my circle of friends that doesn’t offer buffalo chicken dip as part of the spread, and while I’m grateful we’ve embraced such a delicious dip, I’m always looking to switch it up. These bite-sized beauties are crispy and spicy, take no more than 40 minutes total and should cost you only about $10 to accommodate a decent amount of people. (And, as part of that unspoken who-brought-the-best-dish-to-the-party competition, you’ll definitely take first place.)

♦3 c. shredded cooked chicken
1/2 c. hot sauce
3-1/2 oz. cream cheese, softened
1-3/4 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 c. sliced green onions
1 c. flour
4 eggs, lightly beaten
3 – 4 c. corn flakes cereal, crushed

Combine chicken, cream cheese and hot sauce, then mix in green onions and cheese. Make 1-inch balls out of mixture, and set aside. In three separate bowls, place flour, egg and corn flakes. Dip each ball into each bowl (in that order), and place on a greased baking sheet. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes at 350 degrees. Check on them periodically to make sure they don’t semi-explode.

Total time? 20 minutes prep, 20 minutes bake. (Note: I foolishly didn’t realize until halfway through that I could and should roll these more than one a time, so my prep time could have been a little shorter. Doh!)
Cost? $2.50 corn flakes (you won’t use even close to the entire box), $4 chicken, $1.99 shredded cheese, $1 green onions, 79¢ Texas Pete Hot Sauce, $1 cream cheese.
Overall success relative to expectations? 9 out of 10. I initially made these to use up some leftover chicken I had, and didn’t really expect much, but I’ve dubbed them the ultimate party snack. You’ll see in the photos that my balls were pretty big (let’s hear it, comedians), so if you’re cooking for a crowd, tone ’em down a bit and you’ll get more for your money. This dish lost points only because I ran out of hot sauce, and had to improvise with the Tiger Sauce (see maki mockery for more on Tiger Sauce), which didn’t have nearly the kick I needed, but that’s easily remedied. Yields about 45 bites.

Happy New Year, everyone!

a maki mockery

What I’m about to share with you transpired roughly four months ago, but it’s taken me that long to stomach the thought of this disaster long enough to pen this post. I also thought it apropos to recount the tale now, considering my friend, Laura — with whom I embarked on this maki mishap — just got home from her first grad school semester in Europe.

When I first sought to break into the food blogosphere, I was inspired by a site called The Food in My Beard. This guy, Dan, always seemed to be entertaining his friends with fun parties full of creative dishes. One of the first recipes I ever favorited was his macaroni and cheese mock-i rolls, a playful take on maki (hand-rolled sushi) using Kraft macaroni and cheese and ground beef. Now, if you read my “About” section, you’d know that I typically avoid The Blue Box in my esculent endeavors, but the creativity and novelty of Dan’s creation reeled me in.

First mistake: Laura and I tackled this challenge on a weeknight. You must set aside a lot of time for this — like, four+ hours. Unfortunately, we were incredibly impatient, which not only doomed the dish, but caused us to pick at all the mac ‘n cheese and ground beef scraps along the way; when the dish got plated hours later, I wasn’t hungry anymore, and forcing myself to try it made me sick to my stomach. (I may or may not have gagged a few times writing this.)

The basic approach is to make thicker macaroni and cheese, spread out the “rice” on a sushi roller, add ground beef and sriracha (Thai hot sauce), roll it up, put it in the freezer to solidify, cut into maki slices and bake to serve. Sounds simple enough, right? Yeah, we thought so, too. Our mac ‘n cheese wasn’t thick enough. We used Tiger Sauce instead of sriracha. We rushed through it. Things got messy. Instead of clever little maki rolls, we ended up with terrible little maki blobs. A culinary failure if I’ve ever seen one.

Total time? Way too long. Way, waaaay too long.
Cost? $1 Kraft mac ‘n cheese, $3 ground beef (but you need only about 2 cups), $3 Tiger Sauce (but I implore you: Go with the sriracha).
Overall success relative to expectations? 2 out of 10. And to make matters worse, Laura insisted she’d eventually bake up the unclaimed mac-beef logs in my freezer, so instead of throwing them out, I had to be reminded of this disaster every time I went for ice. (And, I might add, Laura left for Europe without following through on the maki resurrection.) Kudos to The Food in My Beard for the creativity, and more props for pulling it off. Laura and I could not, but at least we had a good time. That’s all that matters in cooking, right? No? Well… I got nothing then.

even the lighting was bad