peanut butter and broken fingers

What I’ve neglected to mention in the past is that any time I’ve needed to mix, cream or beat something, it’s been by way of hand mixer. A dinky, little, potentially-broken hand mixer. I’d cringe whenever a recipe began with “cream butter and sugar together.” I struggled to “add dry ingredients gradually.” Using a hand mixer added 15 minutes of prep time to just about every dish or dessert. (I bet you’re a little more impressed with my work now, eh?)

Well not anymore. Get comfortable in that cabinet, hand mixer; there’s a new appliance in town: my brand-new, “caviar” black KitchenAid Artisan mixer. And I am in love.

I’ll gush about my new toy in a forthcoming post, but I’d like to pay tribute to the hand mixer by sharing its last hurrah: peanut butter pudding pie (from p.s. love love). For as irritating as that thing was, it was there for me at the start of my culinary adventures, and I’ll always have a little spot in my heart for it. (But I will probably never use it ever again.)

I’ve mentioned my peanut butter aversion before, but I was recently summoned to create a pb-centric dessert for a friend’s birthday, so I delivered with an over-the-top PB treat: loads of pb, Nutter Butters and Reese’s sandwiched between layers and layers of chocolate and peanut butter puddings. 

Surprisingly enough, the biggest risk to my health in all of this was not the caloric intake, but rather my inability to follow simple safety procedures — more specifically, inserting beaters into the hand mixer before plugging in. Yes, that’s right: I damn near broke my fingers putting together this dessert. I accidentally switched on the hand mixer while my right hand was in mid-insert and wrapped around the beater, causing a lot of pain and my already mounting frustration to bubble over. This ultimately led to a temper tantrum, the results of which are seen in the photos below.

(At left, how far the beater flew after it nearly ripped off my finger. At right, what happened after I Hulked out on the Reese’s package.)

Why was I so frustrated to begin with? It might have something to do with how incredibly long it took me to prepare this dessert. I have no issues with a 30-minute prep time and an hour of baking, but this pie calls for absolutely no cooking, and yet it still took me more than an hour. And don’t even get me started on the cleanup; this thing requires you to use approximately 1,100 bowls. It also ended up being one of the least aesthetically pleasing things I’ve ever made.

Don’t let my bitterness over my mixer mishap deter you; this dessert was a big hit, so if you have some friends who love peanut butter, try your hand at it. Just make sure your don’t break your hand in the process.

♦2-1/2 c. milk
1 box instant chocolate pudding
1 box instant vanilla pudding
1 package of Nutter Butter cookies
24 oz. whipped topping
1 c. smooth peanut butter
8 Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups 

To start, crush peanut butter cups in food process. (I used a plastic bag and a rolling pin. Same effect.) Set aside. Do the same for 10 Nutter Butters. In separate bowl, 6 oz. of whipped topping with chocolate pudding mix, 1-1/4 c. milk and 1/2 c. peanut butter. In a different bowl, combine 6 oz. whipped topping, vanilla pudding mix, 1-1/4 c. milk and seven crushed Nutter Butters. In another bowl, combine remaining whipped topping and remaining peanut butter.

Use glass cake pan (I used 8×8, which yielded really thick “slices”). Separate enough Nutter Butters to line the bottom, centers facing up. Spread vanilla pudding mixture on top of cookies. Add 10 crushed cookies on top. Spread chocolate pudding mixture, followed by peanut butter/whipped topping mixture. Top with crushed Reese’s, and chill for at least three hours before serving.

Total time? More than an hour. Sigh.
Cost? $1 chocolate instant pudding, $1 vanilla instant pudding, $2.50 Nutter Butters, $3 whipped topping, $1.50 peanut butter, $1.50 Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
Overall success relative to expect? 7 out of 10. Again, peanut butter isn’t my thing, but based on my friends’ reactions, I think this was pretty successful. I loved the textural variety the crushed Reese’s created, but I would have liked more Nutter Butters in the middle. It was a little too rich for my liking, so I’ll also use a bigger cake pan next time for more manageable servings and fewer stomach aches.

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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).

black-bottom cake, you make the rockin’ world go round

click for a better view!

“More pumpkin?! When are you going to be done with that stupid can?”

My friend, Randi, dislikes almost everything that’s not chicken fingers. I’ve been trying to broaden her palate by offering her some of my non-chicken finger kitchen creations. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Despite her distaste for pumpkin, I managed to lure Randi into helping me make these black-bottom mini caramel pumpkin cheesecakes — quite a mouthful, both literally and phonetically.

She’s right: This can of pumpkin purée seems to be unending, but I’m not complaining, and neither were the visitors I had over the next three days. People loved these things. I even went for some style points — putting the cakes on a plate, drizzling them with caramel sauce and topping them off with a Hershey’s Pumpkin Spice Kiss right before my guests’ eyes.

The hardest part was the 10 minutes Randi and I spent trying to figure out how to use my new food processor. It took approximately five minutes for us to realize we hadn’t put the blade back in after filling the cup with Oreos. It took another five for us to realize we had to match up the little dots to get the motor to turn on. When it finally began chopping, you would have thought we won the Super Bowl.

♦8 whole Oreos, ground in food processor
1 1/2 tbl. melted butter
8 oz. softened cream cheese
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. pumpkin purée
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
Caramel sauce (from a bottle works — I used Hershey’s)
12 Hershey’s Pumpkin Spice Kisses, unwrapped

Combine crushed Oreos and melted butter in a bowl. Spoon into 12 muffin cups that have been coated well with cooking spray. Push into the bottom of each cup so the crust is flat and packed. Partially bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees, and remove from oven. In a separate bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar and pumpkin until smooth. Beat in egg, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg. Pour evenly into cups, about 3/4 full. Spoon a teaspoon of caramel onto the tops of the cups and swirl with toothpick. Bake 25-28 minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool completely. When serving, top with caramel and Kiss.

Total time? 10 minutes prep (20 minutes if you don’t know how to use a food processor), 25 minutes bake.
Cost? $2.69 bag of Pumpkin Spice Hershey Kisses, $2.19 can of pumpkin purée, $1.79 caramel sauce, $2.99 Oreos, $1 cream cheese.
Overall success relative to expectations? 7 out of 10. I really enjoyed the taste of these, and I’m not even a big cheesecake fan. If I had a mini-cheesecake cup tin, this adventure might have earned an 8; it was difficult to get the cakes out of my muffin tin, and I lost some crust in transit. Make sure you wait until the cakes are completely cooled to take them out. I also cut a corner by using caramel sauce instead of the Lifehouse caramel dip Picky Palate recommends, so the coating wasn’t as substantial — or enjoyable — as it could have been. Either way, Randi didn’t hate them (though she substituted out the Kiss for some chocolate chips), so I’ll consider it a victory.

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.

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.