Recipe: Tomato and Basil Bruschetta

I had been looking for a good recipe for some time and I finally found a bruschetta recipe that I liked on Allrecipes.

There’re not a lot of fancy ingredients here, but what I especially like about this recipe is that it calls for a thin layer of herb-cheese spread on the bread before one adds the tomato mixture. That rather effectively keeps the bread from becoming soggy, which is great if you may be setting out the bruschetta as hors d’oeuvres that need to last through a cocktail party or the like.

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar [Among supermarket brands, I quite like Lucini Gran Riserva Balsamico.]
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced [Apparently a Microplane can work well for this, if you have one.]
  • 7 roma (plum) tomatoes, chopped
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 sourdough baguette, cut into ½" thick slices [I like to cut the bread on a bias to create a larger surface area for each slice. Plus it looks nice too.]
  • 1 (4 oz) package semi-soft cheese with garlic and herbs (such as Alouette)
  • (optional) Shredded deli Parmesan, to taste [This is often sold in a small circular tub of about 2" high and around 4" across.]

Directions:

  1. Mince the garlic, chop the basil, and then whisk those together with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar in a bowl.

  2. Chop the tomatoes and stir those into the mixture with the whisk. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (You’ll need to add salt and pepper, stir, and repeat the process a couple times—it may take three sets to get the mixture properly seasoned.)

  3. Cover with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator to marinate for at least 20 minutes. (The plastic wrap should be right on top of the tomato mixture to prevent it from drying out.)

  4. Preheat oven to 350° F (175° C). Spread the bread slices in a single layer on a large baking pan.

  5. Bake in the oven until golden, about 10 minutes. Remove to cool on a wire rack.

  6. When the bread is cool, spread the semi-soft cheese evenly over each slice. Using a slotted spoon, spoon some of the tomato mixture over each slice. (You may as well leave the bread on the baking trays for this step; that way, if any of the tomato mixture topples over the sides, it’s not a big deal.)

  7. Optional: If desired, sprinkle some shredded deli Parmesan over each slice and, on the broiler setting, slide the bread trays back into the oven, taking them out once the cheese becomes melty.

  8. Depending how hot they are, you may need a spatula to transfer the bruschetta to a serving tray. (Sometimes a wooden cutting board can work nicely for this.) They’re ready to eat immediately.

If desired, the tomato mixture can be made a day ahead of time. In fact, a little extra marinating of the ingredients can make the final product all the more scrumptious. Just be sure to cover the bowl with plastic wrap before placing it in the fridge.

Recipe: Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookies

Back at my old job, my friend (and coworker at the time) Matt brought in some chocolate chip peanut butter cookies into the office a few months back. They were pretty yummy—the cookies were soft and full of peanut flavor. I recently asked Matt for the recipe and he was gracious enough to mention that I could share it as well:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup sugar (set aside in a small bowl for in which to roll the cookies later)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup creamy (or chunky) peanut butter [I used Skippy Natural creamy peanut butter when I made a batch recently and that seemed to work out pretty well. —Ashley]
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) of unsalted butter (softened)
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 c. flour
  • 12 oz bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 375°

  2. Combine sugar (just the first cup), brown sugar, butter, peanut butter, baking soda, vanilla extract, and eggs in a large mixing bowl.

  3. Add the flour about ½ cup at a time. This makes it easier to mix by hand, but it also helps you achieve the right dough consistency. You want the dough to be as moist as possible, while still peeling cleanly off your finger. Much dryer than that and the cookies will be cakey. Not dry enough, and they'll be too doughy.

  4. Mix in the chocolate chips.

  5. Using a small spoon, scoop out little clumps of dough and roll them in the small bowl of sugar you set aside. Place the dough balls on a cookie sheet (no need to grease it).

  6. Bake each batch for 8–10 minutes. You want to take them out just before they look done and let them continue to bake outside of the oven on the hot cookie sheet for a few minutes.

These are probably my favorite chocolate chip peanut butter cookies and I’ll definitely be making these again. Om nom nom.

Oh, and on a side note, while I normally go for just-peanuts peanut butter (the kind with “Peanuts, salt” as its only ingredients), I’ve learned that most recipes that call for peanut butter usually do so under the assumption that you’ll use pre-sweetened peanut butter. So, if you’re buying peanut butter that you plan to use in a baked good (such as cookies), I’d recommend buying one that includes sugar among its ingredients. (And though its name may imply otherwise, Skippy’s Natural line does include sugar.)

Recipe: Harry and Janie’s Raspberry Pecan Feta Salad

The Dallas Camera Club occasionally has one or two potluck meetings each year and one of the dishes that I’ve always enjoyed over the years was Harry and Janie Rumberger’s Raspberry and Feta Salad which they would often bring.

A month or two back, I got around to asking them for the recipe since I had wanted to make the recipe for Thanksgiving. As it turns out, the recipe isn’t too complicated, but it comes out great every time.

Harry and Janie’s Raspberry Pecan Feta Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 5-oz box of mixed greens of your choice [I found these in one of the refrigerated cases next to the produce]
  • 1 6-oz box of fresh raspberries
  • 1 4-oz package of plain feta cheese
  • About 1/4 pound of candied pecan halves, coarsely chopped [I found these with the other bagged nuts in the baking aisle]
  • 2–4 Tbsp Ken’s Non-fat Raspberry Pecan Dressing (or Ken’s Raspberry Walnut Vinaigrette), to taste

Directions:

  1. Toss dressing and greens.
  2. Add cheese and toss very briefly.
  3. Add raspberries and nuts last and stir just to mix, being careful not to crush the berries or get too much dressing on the nuts.

Blondies Recipe from America’s Test Kitchen

America's Test Kitchen - Blondies

The Dallas Camera Club has a potluck holiday party each year and, after thinking about it for a bit, I decided to make some blondies for this year’s party. (Blondies, in case you’re not familiar with them, are like brownies but without the chocolate; they’re a bar cookie which generally have a butterscotch-type flavor.) Well, to be sure, that I kinda had in mind was something like the Sheila’s Dream Bars from Potbelly Sandwiches. To be honest, I’m not even sure if Sheila's Dream Bars qualify and blondies, but that was my best guess — they're moist and dense bar cookies (in the way that a good brownie would be) with oats and chocolate chunks.

As a side note, I’m apparently not the only one looking for something analogous to Sheila's Dream Bars. One guy even wrote to Potbelly to ask for the recipe (but was politely declined). I also came across an attempt at a clone recipe at AllRecipes. Interestingly enough, one reviewer “was trying to duplicate the very addictive Sheila's Dream Bars from Potbelly” and went on to say that “these are EXACTLY what I was looking for” while another reviewer said that they’re “not even close to Sheila’s Dream Bars at Potbelly Sandwich Shoppe”. Great. How’s that for indecisiveness?

Since I didn't really want to take a chance on a recipe which was a toss-up between being “exactly” or “not even close” to what I was looking for, I turned to America’s Test Kitchen to get their take. (America’s Test Kitchen is a half-hour cooking show on PBS. Made by the same group that publishes Cook’s Illustrated magazine, the two groups are known for testing dozens of variants on a recipe before selecting their favorite which they then publish.)

I had recently picked up a couple DVD box sets of past seasons from the show and so I flipped through those to see if there was a blondie recipe. As it turns out, there was (it was from the 2005 season, for those curious). And, pleasantly enough, the recipe wasn’t too complicated either; with the exception of the chocolate chips or pecans, you might even have most of the other ingredients in your cupboard already (flour, eggs, sugar, and so on). The recipe also called for melted butter, so there wasn’t even a need for a mixer — only a spatula to fold some ingredients together.

Next up: the recipe; after that, I’ve included some comments on how they turned out.

Ingredients:

  • Vegetable cooking spray
  • 1 1/2 cups (7 1/2) ounces unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped (These can be toasted by putting them on a pan and placing them in a 350° oven for 5-7 mins.)

Directions:

  1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 13- by 9-inch baking pan with 2 pieces of foil. Coat the foil-lined pan with vegetable cooking spray.

  2. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together. Set aside.

  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the melted butter and brown sugar together until combined. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well. Using a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture until just combined. Do not overmix.

  4. Fold in the semisweet and white chocolate chips and the nuts, and turn the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a rubber spatula.

  5. Bake until the top is shiny and cracked and feels firm to the touch, for 22 to 25 minutes. Place the pan on a rack and let cool completely (about an hour). Cut into 1 1/2- by 2-inch bars.

Makes 36 bars.

I’m generally pleased with how these blondies turned out — they’re tasty and I have few worries about having any left over at the end of the holiday party. Still, I’m not sure they exactly matched how I thought they’d turn out (more on that in a bit). In preparation for writing this post, I took a notebook with me to the kitchen and jotted down a few thoughts as I ate one of the blondies:

  • Aroma: Right out of the oven (or out of the RubberMaid cookie container), these have a pleasant butterscotch aroma.

  • Texture: Their texture, for the post part, is quite good. They tend to break apart easily in your mouth without being fragile enough to crumble apart in your hands.

  • Density: This is one of the few gripes that I had — these have a density quite similar to a cake-style brownie. Now, if that's your bag, you're all set. For me, though, I tend to prefer more of a gooey brownie and I think that type of texture would have been my preference here.

  • Other notes: The flavor white chocolate chips came through quite well. That’s all well and good, but I think I would have preferred if the semisweet chocolate chips could have taken a more prominent role. In fairness, some rejiggering of the ratio between white chocolate and semisweet chocolate chips could probably take care of this. (Or, if you really like white chocolate, the recipe could probably remain unchanged.)

In all, I think I’d give these blondies about a 7/10. They’re quite good and, for all I know, they might represent the Canonical Blondie Taste™. I think it just happened to work out that I was making a recipe for something which the recipe might not have been aiming for.

Recipe: Chocolate and Cream Cheese Cupcakes

I brought some cupcakes in to work last week and I thought I’d share the recipe here. Thinking over what I should bring, I was looking for something more substantial than a cookie, but still hand-held (for the sake of easier office eating). I soon narrowed it down to cupcakes and I looked through the cupcakes section of AllRecipes to see if anything caught my eye — and the Chocolate & Cream Cheese cupcakes sounded pretty good.

So, I bought some cream cheese and cocoa over the weekend and made the cupcakes later that week. I made them with Splenda and I’m pleased with how they turned out. And, other than the flour and chocolate chips, the cupcakes were relatively low carb (well, by cupcake standards, anyway). There’s also a photo of the cupcakes at the RD2 blog. Anyhow, on to the recipe:

Black Bottom Cupcakes I

Prep Time: approx. 30 Minutes
Cook Time: approx. 30 Minutes
Ready in: approx. 1 Hour
Makes 2 dozen cupcakes (24 servings)

Ingredients:
  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips [regular-sized chips worked fine for me]
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white sugar [or Splenda]
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder [I upped this to a heaping 1/3 cup, as recommended in the reviews]
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup water [I used a cup of milk instead, as recommended in the reviews]
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F (175° C). Line muffin tins with paper cups or lightly spray with non-stick cooking spray. [I both lined and sprayed, just to be sure.]

  2. In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese, egg, 1/3 cup sugar and 1/8 teaspoon salt until light and fluffy. Stir in the chocolate chips and set aside.

  3. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, 1 cup sugar, cocoa, baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Make a well in the center and add the water, oil, vinegar and vanilla. Stir together until well blended. Fill muffin tins 1/3 full with the batter and top with a dollop of the cream cheese mixture.

  4. Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes [I only baked mine for about 20 minutes, as recommended in the reviews].

The only change I might make would be to make extra cream cheese topping next time, as I almost didn't have enough for all of the cupcakes. But, other than that, I think I’d make these again sometime.