Tonight, I’m attempting the Lee Brothers’ Pimiento-Cheese Potato Gratin, but I’m also looking ahead to the weekend. Something yeasty, cinnamonny, and sugary. I’m thinking either cinnamon rolls or monkey bread. Your thoughts?

Pioneer Woman’s Chicken Spaghetti

I’ve always thought of myself as above chicken spaghetti, because I associate it with canned chicken, mushy peppers, cream of mushroom soup, and crappy cheese. Chicken spaghetti is the equivalent of chick lit, a guilty pleasure. Surely my tastes are more refined than that! But I’ll admit: it’s pretty tasty, especially when you use fresh, high-quality ingredients, but it’s tasty even when you don’t. And I will fully admit to having lots of biases shaped by my being spoiled to really good food and also having grown up on a wide variety of “lowbrow” (read: cheap) food and not really wanting to relive that for myself or subject my children to it.

Last Monday night, we had a rotisserie chicken from Costco for dinner. Because those things are huge, we always have a lot of meat left over. I often the leftover meat for tacos or enchiladas, but this time I wanted to go a little more comforting. I was thinking a chicken and tortellini soup, but I was idly perusing my Pioneer Woman cookbook and came across her recipe for chicken spaghetti. I offered Matt a choice between the soup and the spaghetti and he chose the latter.

Chicken Spaghetti, adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks:

2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
1 pound fusilli
4 oz. pimientos, drained
1 small onion, diced
1 finely diced green bell pepper
2 cans cream of mushroom soup (I used Campbell’s Healthy Selections: MISTAKE)
8 oz. grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 tsp. seasoned salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/8 tsp cayenne (or to taste)
2 cups chicken broth

Preheat oven to 350. Cook the pasta. Drain it, then throw it in a big bowl or pot with the cream of mushroom soup and 2 cups of the shredded cheddar. Toss in the onion, green pepper, and pimiento. Add the seasoned salt, black pepper, and cayenne. Toss in the chicken and the broth. Stir it all together and, if you can bear to taste raw casserole, check that the seasonings suit your taste. Pour the mixture into a large baking pan (I used a glass casserole dish sprayed with Pam) and top with the remaining cheddar cheese. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until bubbly.

I thought it was pretty tasty, but next time I will use spaghetti and full-fat cream of mushroom. This was lacking in creaminess and the heft of well-executed comfort food, and I blame the Healthy Selections soup. And I think the fusilli prevented the satisfying casserole-glop that spaghetti would have provided.

Damn, now I’m hungry and the leftovers are in the freezer. Time to go for a walk.

Baked Brownies for the Super Bowl

I made these brownies for a Super Bowl party, and even though they were in competition with a delicious homemade King Cake on the dessert table, they were a big hit (especially with the pregnant lady!).

My darling sister-in-law gave me a copy of Baked for Christmas, and for that I will be forever grateful because even though I have only tried a couple of recipes from the book, it is already among my favorites. I love the relaxed tone of the recipes, the accessibility and broad appeal of many of the desserts found within (don’t think I won’t come up with a reason to make a peanut-butter-chocolate-malt cake!), and the overall beauty of the book. I also like that they set parameters and definitions of what their products are and aren’t (to wit: “an even slightly overcooked brownie isn’t a Baked brownie”). That’s a really savvy rhetorical gesture, even if it’s a bit uppity.

The one thing I don’t like about it is that some of the photos of the desserts show the items with bites taken out of them. Seeing someone else’s teethmarks in a peanut-butter crispy bar that would otherwise look extremely enticing just grosses me out.

I sent the 5 or so leftover brownies to work with my husband and he forwarded a very sweet note from a coworker a few hours later: Brought back memories from when my Mom was around. She was so known for her kindness and made brownies for the garbage collectors and postman at Christmas and the small children in the neighborhood would even accept her brownies at Halloween. (A concept that our children and grandchildren will never know; imagine, homemade goods from neighbors.)

Any recipe that inspires nostalgia in a 60-year-old woman is a keeper, y’all.

The consistency of these brownies is hard to describe. “Perfect” comes to mind. I like a fudgy brownie that straddles the line between raw dough and cake, and these are fudgy without being gooey. They’re the perfectly dense storm of extremely moist, chewy-but-not gummy, delightful bricks of chocolate. Perfect.

The Baked Brownie from Baked – New Frontiers in Baking

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder (I used run of the mill baking cocoa; I now have a bag of Valrhona cocoa powder for the next time I make these)
11 ounces dark chocolate (60 to 72% cacao), coarsely chopped (I used 7 ounces of 70% Valrhona feves and made up the difference with semi-sweet chocolate chips, as that’s what I had on hand)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the sides and bottom of a 9 x 13 glass or light-colored metal baking pan. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt and cocoa powder. Put the chocolate, butter, and instant espresso powder in a large bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth. Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water and add the sugars. Whisk until completely combined, then remove the bowl from the pan. The mixture should be room temperature. Add 3 eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Add the remaining eggs and whisk until combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not overbeat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be cakey. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture. Using a spatula (not a whisk), fold the flour mixture into the chocolate until just a bit of the flour mixture is visible. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it. Let the brownies cool completely, then cut them into squares and serve. Tightly covered with plastic wrap, the brownies keep at room temperature for up to 3 days.

How to make chicken pot pie in just nine hours!

Who doesn’t love chicken pot pie? Donnie sure does!

When I was an undergrad at UT-Austin way back in the flannel-clad ’90s, among my pauper’s menu (alongside the requisite ramen and 39-cent bean burritos from Taco Bell) were the 2/$1 store-brand pot pies from the local grocery chain. These were not good pot pies, but they got the job done. Because I’ve been watching my weight since I knew what it meant to watch my weight, I didn’t eat them that often. Over time I’ve developed a taste for homemade chicken pot pie (and turkey pot pie isn’t too shabby either); my friend Sally makes a killer one. Sure, there are some ready-made ones that fit the bill (the positively Flintstonian one at Costco comes to mind), but I’ve really come to the point where a scratch pot pie is the only choice when it comes to pot pie, not only because it tastes better and fresher, but also because you have control over the ingredients.

Now then, it’s hard to make anything from scratch when you’ve got small ones underfoot. My 15-month-old daughter is fond of hanging onto my legs while I’m cooking/washing dishes, so I spent some time in the morning while the kids were out of the house (and I should have been working on my dissertation) doing a lot of the prep work. That way, once everyone was home, all I had to do was cook up the filling, roll out the biscuit dough, and then toss it all in the oven.

The recipe for the filling is adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks, and the biscuit topping is adapted from Sally’s recipe, which I think she got from The Joy of Cooking, but I’m not sure.

3 medium celery stalks
3 carrots
1 medium onion (I used a white onion)
4 tbsp unsalted butter
2/3 cup edamame (the original calls for 1/2 cup frozen peas, but my husband hates peas, so this is the compromise)
2 cups cooked chicken breast (I drizzled two breasts with olive oil, salt, pepper, and dried thyme leaves, then baked in a 350 oven for 30 minutes)
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/4 cups chicken broth (the original calls for a chicken boullion cube and a 1/2 cup white wine)
1 cup 2% milk (original calls for heavy cream here, but we are not Henry VIII, nor do we aspire to his physique)
1 tsp ground thyme (thank goodness I cooked the chicken with thyme, because I totally forgot this step!)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper, black

First, prepare your mirepoix:

Then cover it and put it in the fridge … somewhere:

Then prepare your chicken:

and pop it in the fridge:

Then make your dough.
Sift together
1 3/4 c flour (I used 1 1/4 c. all-purpose, and 1/2 c. whole-wheat)
1/2 t salt (here I was thinking about something else and accidentally put in 1 1/2 t salt; I scooped out what I could and then threw in a pinch of sugar)
3 t baking powder
4-6 T chilled butter (I used 5!)
Cut the butter (one T at a time, unlike me, who threw the whole chunk in at once) into the flour mixture until it’s in pea-sized chunks.
Add, all at once:
3/4 c 2% milk
Stir until the dough is coming off the sides of the bowl, then get your hands involved and get the rest of the flour mixture incorporated.

Put it in a bowl, cover it, put it in the fridge. Ignore the dishes:

Leave the house for several hours in order to get some reading and writing done, go pick up the toddler from daycare, and play/snuggle/nurse until Dad and Big Brother get home and take her off your hands.


Preheat oven to 450.
Melt butter in a skillet or dutch oven. Add your mirepoix and cook until translucent. Throw in the chicken and edamame and mix it all up.
Sprinkle flour over mixture and stir. Cook over medium heat for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly.
Pour in chicken broth, stirring constantly. Pour in milk.
Bring to a slow boil and allow mixture to cook and thicken for a few minutes. Add salt, pepper, and thyme to taste.
Pour mixture into a casserole dish or deep pie pan and let it sit a minute.
Get your biscuit dough from the fridge. Dust a flat surface with some flour and knead the dough a bit. (By this point, the menfolk were absorbed in the Wii and the toddler was … you guessed it, clinging to my legs and crying). Roll to your desired thickness. I think I rolled mine to about half an inch.

Take your dough and lay it over the top of the casserole dish. I had some excess dough, so I got fancy with some tiny cookie cutters:

Bake for about 15 minutes. And … behold! Dinner is served, piping hot!

The verdict? I’ll be honest with you: chicken pot pie that doesn’t have potatoes is an abomination. I’m not quite sure why I didn’t think to put in potatoes. Next time I will. Otherwise, this dish was delish. I wish the carrots hadn’t been as al dente as they were. Next time I’ll cut them smaller or blanch them or cook the filling longer or something. On the whole, though, it was a hit.

Oh, but you know who doesn’t like pot pie? This cat:

Here was his dish *after* we cleared the table:

I bet Donnie would have eaten it.

Homemade graham crackers

So, the hubbo bought me a number of baking-related cookbooks for Christmas and, after going through and marking all the recipes that looked interesting, I dove in. First up, graham crackers!

Graham crackers bear an interesting provenance, in that they were invented by the dietary reformer Rev. Sylvester Graham in 1829. They were part of his Graham Diet, which was developed to help people control their “carnal urges.” Graham was a proponent of vegetarianism and a whole-wheat/high-fiber diet; fresh milk, cheese, and eggs were permitted in moderation. Interesting that while many of Graham’s tenets have come back into fashion, his most enduring legacy, the graham cracker, is now pretty much junk food.

But no more! Here is a recipe that strips that foodstuff of its fillers and nasty industrial sugars like high fructose corn syrup! I reckon you could even substitute the butter with some Earth Balance and make it vegan! (Be sure to vet your sugars, though; many sugars aren’t vegan because they’ve been processed using bone shards.) So, without further ado, I give you:

Crispy Golden Grahams
adapted from The Craft of Baking

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup Lyle’s Golden Syrup (the original calls for honey, but I prefer the bright nuttiness of golden syrup)

In a bowl, sift together the all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, dark brown sugar, granulated sugar, and golden syrup Mix on medium until well combined, about a minute. In two additions, add the dry ingredients, letting the first fully incorporate before you add the second.

Flatten the dough into a rectangular shape, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes or up to 2 days. (You can freeze the dough for up to a month if you wrap it really well.)

Preheat the oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment (I used a silpat).

Unwrap the chilled dough, and on a lightly floured surface, roll it out into a rectangle approximately 1/8 inch thick (mine was between that and 1/4 inch). Cut the dough into rectangles and use a spatula to transfer the rectangles to the baking sheet as you go. Reroll and cut the scraps as necessary until you’re out of dough. Using a fork, pierce each rectangle with two rows of four to six marks (I don’t think I was this precise. I just jabbed at the dough in some sort of pattern and called it good).

Bake the graham crackers, rotating the baking sheets halfway through, until they are golden brown, 15-20 minutes (mine took exactly 15 minutes, and probably could have been taken out a minute or so sooner). Cool on a wire rack. Try and save some for your kids when they get home.

The graham crackers will keep in an airtight container for room temperature for up to a week. Yeah, right. Like they’re going to last that long.

I reckon these would taste really good slathered with almond or peanut butter. Or with Nutella and some marshmallow creme. Or you could make some marshmallows, throw in some fancy dark chocolate and call them gourmet s’mores. The possibilities for dolling these up are endless, but they are also pretty darn delicious on their own. You could also roll it out a bit thinner and use it for pie crust.