Bombshell blondies that can’t be beat

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One recipe I keep going back to is the Joy of Cooking’s recipe for Butterscotch Brownies, aka Blondies. Some people think a brownie isn’t a brownie unless it involves chocolate, but this recipe gives you the consistency and richness you’d expect, but with a different flavor. This is one I make well, and one that has been well-received by anyone who has tried them. It’s a keeper.

The key to this recipe is to get the first step right. Browning butter is an easy thing to mess up the first few times you do it. The trick here is to make sure you don’t turn the heat up too high. I did that when I first tried browning butter, and it went from beautiful to burnt in a matter of seconds. I’ve had consistent success browning butter when I keep the heat at medium-low, about a four on my oven knob. When the fat starts to separate, the butter will start to smell differently. When it starts to smell like butterscotch, take it off the heat immediately and throw in the sugar to keep the butter from burning. It doesn’t take long for the butter to smell slightly burnt, and that flavor will carry into the finished blondies if you don’t catch it before it gets there.

These decadent bars are a delicious treat and a great excuse to work on your butter-browning skills, which can be used in pasta dishes like this one and other types of meals. Use your nose, and you’ll get it down. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Ingredients
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shredded sweetened coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan lined with foil.

In a large heavy saucepan, melt butter over medium heat, then boil, stirring constantly until light golden brown, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in sugars until well-blended. Let cool to barely warm. Stir in egg, egg yolk, corn syrup, and vanilla. Add dry ingredients and coconut. Stir until combined. Scrape mixture into greased baking pan. Bake until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25-30 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a rack.

Simple scallops with tangy orange sauce

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When it comes to scallops, I like to keep it simple. I don’t remember where I first came across the recipe for the orange sauce, but it’s one of the few I have memorized.

Scallops can be tricky to cook. If you overcook them, they get a rubbery texture. They should be cooked all the way through, but not so much that they crack all the way through. I prefer to quickly sear them. I went through the trial-and-error process when I first tried making them, and it took a few sacrificed scallops to get it just right.

This orange reduction sauce is my favorite thing to have with scallops because, though it adds a flavorful punch, it complements the scallops instead of overwhelming them.

Enjoy!

Ingredients
8-10 sea scallops
1 cup orange juice
Dash of white pepper
Pinch of salt

Pour orange juice into a small pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer and let simmer until juice is reduced to about 1/2 cup. It should have a slightly syrupy consistency.

Meanwhile, put a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Once heated, add scallops. Do not crowd. Sear for about two minutes, or until scallops are lightly browned on one side. Turn over and sear for another two minutes, or until scallops are opaque all the way through. Turn off heat.

Add salt and pepper to orange juice. Stir.

Serve scallops with sauce.

Tempting tofu with peanut sauce

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Tofu can be boring, or it can be good. It’s like life: It’s what you make of it. I usually throw some sautéed tofu in a quinoa dish with vegetables and spicy sauce, but a couple weeks ago I was browsing online and found this recipe for Seared Tofu with Spicy Peanut Sauce. It looked like an easy way to try something new, so I bookmarked it.

This recipe was easier to make than I had anticipated. It only took about 15 minutes from start to finish, and was great by itself for lunch. I only had chunky peanut butter in my cupboard, which made my sauce turn out a little thinner than it would have had I used creamy peanut butter like the recipe called for. I really liked the acidity from the vinegar. It added a nice burst of flavor to the dish.

While I’m not vegetarian or vegan, I do enjoy tofu as a way to mix up the protein in my diet. This recipe was great for that, and something I can make again.

Ingredients
1 (14-ounce) package extra firm tofu, cut into strips a little less than 1/2-inch thick
1/4 cup smooth, unsalted, natural peanut butter
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
2 tablespoons vegetable or grapeseed oil

Lay out tofu strips in a single layer on a paper towel or clean dish towel. Put another clean paper towel or dish towel on top and pat well all over to remove surface moisture.

Make the peanut sauce by placing peanut butter and vinegar into a bowl and mashing with a fork until thoroughly mixed. Whisk in honey, soy sauce, and chili flakes until smooth. Set aside.

Heat a skillet or sauté pan over high heat. When pan is hot, add 2 tablespoons oil with a high smoke point. Make sure oil is covering pan and add tofu in a single layer, with room between each piece.

Cook tofu on one side until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes, then flip and cook the other side for about another 2 minutes. Remove from heat and serve warm with peanut sauce available for dipping or toss with stir-fried vegetables and serve over brown rice with peanut sauce drizzle for a complete meal.

Calzones and a lesson for an ambitious beginner

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Calzones are basically small pizzas folded in half and sealed around the edges. But sometimes, it’s a nice change.

Last week was busy, and I wanted to make a lunch I could eat at my desk if I needed to — something that didn’t require utensils or much cleanup. So, I went with calzones.

This is the second time I’ve ever made calzones. The first was years ago when my brother graduated from high school. I had just tried making them for the first time and got overly ambitious. I told my mom I’d make them for everyone at his graduation party. I made bowl after bowl of dough and kept the oven on for hours — even during the party — as I pulled them out of the oven. For me, that was one of those learning moments, particularly around cooking and entertaining. If you overcomplicate things, you won’t get to enjoy the gathering. Lesson learned.

That time I filled them with ham and cheese, but I liked the ones I made using this recipe more. While they may not look like they’ve been filled enough, the fillings I chose had stronger flavors, so it tasted like enough. Beware that using fresh vegetables such as spinach or peppers can make the bottom of the calzone watery if you haven’t sautéed them first.

Calzones2This recipe — the dough is from the Joy of Cooking — makes two large calzones. I like to keep my calzones basic, so I went with pepperoni, cheese, and pesto. You can put whatever you’d like in them.

Ingredients
2/3 cup warm water
1 1/8 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons pesto
20 slices of pepperoni
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Combine water and yeast in a large bowl and let sit until dissolved, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, lightly coat another large bowl with olive oil.

Using a stand mixer with a dough hook, or using your hands, mix in flour, olive oil, and salt. Transfer the dough to the oil-coated bowl, cover with a cloth or plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, up to two hours. If you want to speed up the process, preheat the oven to 200 degrees and turn it off when you put the bowl of dough inside. I did it this way, and it took about an hour.

When dough is ready, remove from oven and preheat oven to 475 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Divide dough in half. Shape each half the way you would for a pizza. Leaving about an inch all the way around the circumference of the dough, top with sauce, cheese, and pepperoni — or the toppings of your choice. Once topped, fold in half and pinch the edges to close. Place on baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly browned.

A better way to make bacon

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I know very few people who dislike bacon. It seems to be quite the trending food lately, and people are getting creative with things such as chocolate-covered bacon, candied bacon, and more. But I like to keep it basic.

Up until about five years ago, I used to make my bacon in a frying pan like everyone else I knew. Then one of my coworkers told me he baked his. I tried it, and I haven’t looked back.

20140621-223541-81341010.jpgWhen you fry bacon in a frying pan, it stays greasy — which I understand is appealing to some people, but not me. If you do it in the oven, the grease has a chance to drip off. By using a cooling rack on top of a baking sheet, you create room for the drippings to fall through, instead of pooling on top of the bacon. Cook it long enough, and you have perfectly crisp bacon.

Though this method takes a little longer, it is completely worth the wait.

Instructions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place a cooling rack on top of the parchment paper. If it doesn’t completely fit in the baking sheet, tilt it in. Place strips of bacon on the cooling rack.

Bake for 20 minutes, then turn bacon over using tongs. Bake for another 10 minutes, or until bacon is crisp all the way through.