make a dang apple quesadilla

It’s been a few days since my last post, but fear not: I had another rantable (yeah, I made up that word — so?) kitchen experience last week in prepping for my friends’ potluck dinner, so I’ve got something good cooking in my drafts. In the meantime, I wanted to share a quick-and-easy recipe that helps usher in the fall — the best season of them all: apple-bacon quesadillas.

(By the way, I hate the way ‘quesadilla’ is spelled; there should be an ‘e’ where that first ‘a’ is. And now I’m about to write this word approximately 7,000 more times. Sigh.)

At Christmastime, my friends organize a Thieving Elves/White Elephant party, and I was fortunate enough to come away with the El Paso Quesadilla Maker this past year. When I first moved into my new place, we had a few taco nights where I whipped up some spicy chicken quesadillas, but since then, my little El Paso has been taking up real estate upon the barren shelf in our least-used cabinet.

When I saw Red Delicious apples on sale at the supermarket, I grabbed two and vowed to use them in some sort of savory-and-sweet dish — my favorite kind. The easiest way I could think of? Dust off the El Paso and fire up some nontraditional quesadillas.

This was a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants experiment (dangerous, I know), so I have no recipe or measurements, but it seriously couldn’t be easier:

♦apple (variety of your choosing)
♦bacon
♦cream cheese (non-fat works)
♦flour tortillas

Fry up some bacon. Chop up your apple into tiny cubes. Take two flour tortillas congruent to the size of your quesedilla maker, and spread a thin layer of cream cheese across one side of each. Top one cheesed side with bacon and apple, then add the other tortilla cheese-side down. Place on preheated quesadilla maker, and cook until golden brown.

apple-bacon quesadilla with honey

These tasted awesome and were incredibly easy — especially the cleanup. In true me-fashion, I drizzled honey across the inside before adding the second tortilla. (Seriously, I put that stuff in and on everything — tea, chicken fingers, grilled cheese…)

As far as quantities go, I was able to get two full quesadillas (12 slices) out of about six pieces of bacon and less than one apple. For a healthier take, I used low-fat cream cheese and turkey bacon.

Total time? 20-ish minutes (includes bacon frying).
Cost? Really cheap: $1.49 for tortillas, 45¢ for one apple, 99¢ for cream cheese.
Overall success relative to expectations? 8 out of 10. The next time around, I’ll cut my apple cubes a little smaller so they’ll be a little more consistent throughout. I might also throw in some shredded chicken to make them more of a meal and less of a snack.

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the corn soup catastrophe

Up until this week, I had a handful of consecutive, successful culinary adventures under my belt, so it was only a matter of time before I screwed up.

Enter corn soup, massacred from One Perfect Bite.

ready to be shucked!

With fresh summer corn on its way out — and me in desperate need of some easy, cheap food with leftover power — I opted to take on this liquescent collation. In hindsight, I should have stuck with corn on the cob and saved myself three hours and $3.

To give this a try yourself and/or follow along with the disaster I’m about to describe, check out the full recipe at One Perfect Bite.

I kind of enjoyed my first corn shucking, but that’s where the fun ended. I loaded the kernels, cobs and milk into a pot (despite being instructed to use a skillet or saucepan), and reached for the baggie of sea salt I gleaned specifically for this soup. Hmm. Looks like my roommate tossed it in the garbage earlier this week. After some whining, I used kosher salt and hoped for the best.

do not use any of the above to puree.

But certainly the absence of sea salt and a skillet didn’t devastate this dish’s future, right? Oh no, it wasn’t that; it was probably the fact that I didn’t own a blender and tried to use a hand mixer to puree the finished mixture. That’s funny, right? What’s funnier was my next ill-fated attempt to puree the mixture by pouring it 12 ounces at a time into my Magic Bullet. When that started leaking everywhere (and nearly electrocuted me), I poured the entire mixture back into my ill-advised pot, stormed out to my car, sped to Walmart, trounced anyone in my way, bought the cheapest blender they had and returned home — determined not to abandon this already-sad, pathetic corn soup.

Seeing as the mixture sat on the stove for a full hour before stuff hit the fan, my stomach was empty and my frustration was mounting. After several rounds in the blender, my impatience got the best of me and I abandoned the appliance.

In keeping with not keeping to the original recipe, I nixed the cilantro (because I hate it), and I don’t own any fancy “smoked” paprika, so generic had to do. At this point, I was delirious, so I just started throwing in all sorts of things — most notably cayenne pepper.

In the end, the flavor wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be, but the consistency was horrendous. Instead of a delightful soup, I got some spicy corn-flavored liquid and the daunting task of chewing chunks of corn kernel remains. The more daunting task, though, will be unloading the five servings of this stuff that’s currently sitting in my fridge.

the finished product. sigh.

Total time? Too long.
Cost? $1 for three ears of corn + six cups worth of milk.
Overall success relative to expectations? 0 out of 10. If I really have to explain this to you, you are probably incompetent enough to more miserably fail at this than I did.

game day: pizza puffs

Happy Football Day, everyone! I’m a week late on the season-opening Sunday parties, but I doubt there will be a lack of game-day gatherings for you this year. Whip up these simple pizza puffs (recipe courtesy of Noble Pig) for the games today, or stash the recipe for another day, but they’re sure to be a crowd pleaser at any time. (Go Giants!)

3/4 c. flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 c. milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
4 oz. mozzarella cheese (1 c.)
4 oz. cubed pepperoni (1 c.)
1/2 c. pizza sauce
2 tbs. fresh basil

Whisk together flour and baking powder, then add milk and egg. Stir in pepperoni and mozzarella cheese. Let stand for 10 minutes. Stir the batter and divide into a greased, 24-cup mini muffin tray. Bake 20-25 minutes at 375 degrees, until puffs are golden. Microwave pizza sauce for dipping, and garnish with basil. Yields 24 puffs.

Total time? 40 minutes (including 10 min. setting, 20 min. baking).
Cost? Relatively cheap, so long as shredded cheese and pepperoni are on sale.
Overall success relative to expectations? 7 out of 10 (the first time). On the first go, we got a few puffs that were weak on the pepperoni; when I made these a second time, I made sure I chopped the pepperoni smaller (time-consuming as that was) so it was more evenly dispersed throughout the puff batch. Overall, though, really easy and tasty, so give ’em a try.

National Cupcake Week 2010

No one informed me until today that this week (Sept. 13-19) is National Cupcake Week. To celebrate, I’ll be baking a batch of cupcakes Thursday night (TBD variety), but in the meantime, I wanted to get up a post about some delicious cupcakes I baked up a few weeks ago: Fluffer-Oreo Cupcakes, courtesy of Picky Palate — one of my new favorite food blogs.

These were the most involved cupcakes I’ve made to date, but that’s not really saying too much, considering I’ve only ever made Funfetti‘ cupcakes out of a box. (Then again, Funfetti is always a crowd pleaser…). I dubbed myself The Cupcake Fairy after I made these, as I brought a dozen to the office, a bunch to a barbecue and had a handful of visitors pop over for a taste. The overwhelming response? Success!

For more photos, click here!

A full Oreo inside!

For cakes:
♦1 box yellow cake mix
♦1/2 c. water
♦1/2 c. canola oil
♦4 eggs
♦1 box vanilla instant pudding
♦4 oz. softened cream cheese (non-fat works!)
♦1 package Oreo cookies
♦1 c. marshmallow cream (half for batter, half for layers)

For cream cheese icing:
♦8 oz. softened cream cheese (non-fat works here, too!)
♦1 stick softened butter
♦3 c. powdered sugar

Beat cake mix, water, oil, eggs, pudding mix, cream cheese, five crushed Oreos and 1/2 cup marshmallow cream with a stand-up mixer until well combined (about 1 minute).

In lined cupcake tin, drop about 2 tablespoons of batter into each cup. Press one Oreo into each cup, plop on a dollop of marshmallow cream and add 2 more tablespoons of batter to fill the cup about 3/4 of the way.

Bake for 25-27 minutes at 350 degrees. Tops should be golden brown. Let cakes cool completely before frosting. Use remaining Oreos (crumbled) to top. Yields 24 large cupcakes.

FROSTING: Place cream cheese and butter in mixer and beat until well combined. Slowly add in powdered sugar until frosting is desired consistency. (For this recipe, the cupcakes were so sweet that I used less sugar in the frosting to avoid my friends’  teeth falling out of their heads.)

Total time? 75-ish minutes (including frosting-making).
Cost? On the cheaper side: $1 cake mix, $1 cream cheese, Oreos on sale for $1.99, generic brand instant vanilla pudding for 79¢, marshmallow cream for about $2, powdered sugar about $2.
Overall success relative to expectations? 9 out of 10. People loved these things; I just wished I had invested in a nice icing piper to make them look stellar.

More photos!

sushi feast

My friend, Laura, and I recently got a hankering to try a different sushi place from the five or so in our arsenal. We checked out Woksabi in Collingswood, N.J., on a Friday evening, and were quite pleased with the results (despite it being a little pricier than other places we’ve visited). I’m a sucker for a sweet maki roll, so topping our sushi with things like strawberry puree and mango with coconut sauce won my heart. (Big ups to the peppered tuna-topped roll, too!)  The air of the restaurant was nice, the service was fast and the sushi tasted as amazing as it looked.

Feast your eyes on our sushi feast…

Woksabi on Urbanspoon

return of the mac

Another part of my poor showing as an Italian is that I loathe pasta. It’s one of those things I always wished I liked because it’s easy to make, comes in several varieties and costs 35¢ a box. Sadly, my brain has refuted every attempt at a logical food prelation; but what’s even more illogical is that there is one — and only one — type of pasta I will eat: elbow macaroni.

In an attempt to use some leftover cream cheese I had in the fridge, I did some digging on Recipe Puppy, a great search engine that gives you a mess of recipes based on whatever ingredient you enter.

The winner? Cream cheese macaroni and cheese. (For more photos, click here!)

I used a recipe from food.com, but if you’re not looking to feed an army (i.e. about four people), see below. I halved the recipe (and used a smaller dish) and had mac ‘n cheese aplenty:

♦1/2 lb. elbow macaroni
♦1.5 tbs. butter
♦1 tbs. flour
♦1.5 c. milk
♦4 oz. low-fat cream cheese
♦8 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
♦salt, pepper to taste
♦breadcrumbs

Cook pasta in a large pot according to package. Drain, rinse, return to pot.

In a separate skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add flour and cook until bubbly (about 1 min.). Add milk slowly — stirring — and heat ’til slightly thickened. Add cream cheese and stir until completely melted. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour cream cheese mixture over cooked pasta; stir. Add shredded cheese; stir ’til completely combined.

Pour mixture into an 8×8″ casserole dish (greased with cooking spray). Add breadcrumbs to top if desired. Bake for 18-20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Before it went in...

And after!

This was so easy to make and the end result was banging, if I do say so myself. The cream cheese gave the dish a creamy consistency, but using the shredded cheddar helped keep that delicious baked macaroni and cheese feel. I would also recommend the breadcrumbs on top as a nice variant in consistency.

Total time? 30-ish minutes.
Cost? Cheap: 75¢ for macaroni, $1 cream cheese, $2.50 cheddar.
Overall success relative to expectations? 10 out of 10.

More photos!

welcome

I got the beat end of every piece of my heritage: I’m Irish — overly-freckled, burn in all natural lighting — but an 8-year-old could drink me under the table (not that I’m endorsing that). I’ve got the too-thick-for-its-own-good Italian hair and grease leaking from my pores, but missed out on that olive skin tone and — most tragically — the natural Italian prowess in the kitchen.

Fortunately, it didn’t come into play too much when I lived with my family and was met with satiating [and free] meals more often than not. But now that I’m living on my own [and poor], I’m just that — on my own. It didn’t take too long for cheese sandwiches and frozen chicken patties to get old, and if I have to eat another g’damn box of Kraft for dinner, I’m going to blow chunks. (Should probably refrain from colorful vomit euphemisms in a food blog, huh?) (Or from preceding “vomit” with “colorful.”)

If you haven’t yet figured it out from my inability to simply say, “I’m learning how to cook,” I write for a living, but I’m looking to parlay that into something more fulfilling than what I do at work. Here, I’ll detail my kitchen exploits, list recipes, post enticing food photos (who doesn’t love some sexy ‘food porn’?) and share other assorted culinary tidbits.

While you’re perusing, please remember I am not a chef nor a photographer; I do, however, have a fascination with both food and visual arts, so I’ll use a dash of trial and a dollop of error and pray it’s palatable.

Any feedback, comments and suggestions you’d like to leave — good or bad — are always welcome. Thanks for reading!