And the appetite’s back.

I-Can’t-Even-Stand-Myself Danishes

Mr. Pena took on dinner last night and grilled us up two fantastic steaks he had picked up at the market. Being a manly man, “dinner” received a check off Mr. P’s mental list with the procurement of meat, and it was only during plating that he noticed the abundance of white space. Always resourceful, Mr. P threw a few frozen waffles into the toaster, and I moved the couch out onto the front lawn. Mercifully, our dignity was revived with a few of these for dessert (I will have a few of whatever I want, I am presently a trinity for god’s sake). The lovely gal over at GimmeSomeOven.com knows her puff pastry, and I foresee a summer of experimentation with my new favorite flaky medium. I almost substituted mascarpone for the ricotta, but in retrospect I think that would have made it too sweet, as would the extra powdered sugar. As it was, Mr. P stood over my shoulder while I drizzled the icing with a whisk, commanding me to just get a spoon and start dumping.

Pastry:

1 pkg puff pastry (2 sheets) thawed
1 egg white, whisked
raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and mandarin oranges, room temperature

Cheese Filling:

1 C ricotta cheese
1/4 C powdered sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp lemon zest
2 tbsp flour

Glaze:

1/2 C powdered sugar
1/3 C freshly squeezed lemon juice

Set your oven to 350. Depending on what kind of person you are, the first part will be the fun/infuriating part. Cut one sheet of puff pastry in thirds along the fold lines. Cut two of the thirds into three rectangles each. Use the third third to cut strips from, to form frames on the tops of the rectangles. Repeat with the second sheet. Use a few drops of water to glue the frame pieces to the bases, and please try to cultivate some pride in your work. If you require visual aids, I’m sorry, and here’s the original recipe.

Once that’s out of the way, mix up all the filling ingredients in a medium bowl until even (and a little granular). Deposit about 1 tbsp of the cheese mixture into each pastry square, and spread it just to the frames. Brush the frames with egg white, then bake until the pastry has puffed up nice and high, about 20 minutes. Check at 15, but don’t take them out if they look too buttery. You’ll know what I mean. Let them cool for 15 minutes, then arrange the fruit over the cheese. Stir together the powdered sugar and lemon juice, and drizzle (or slather) the glaze over the pastries, then seal whatever you don’t immediately inhale in an airtight container and refrigerate until cool.

(Tiny?) Bites of Decadence.

7 Layer Bars
Inspired by this.

Drool. I'm sorry, what did you say?

This dessert has achieved a level of notoriety among my friends–this is the only dessert they ask for. Don’t think that my cookies, brownies, pies, or cakes aren’t delicious–they just aren’t The 7 Layer Bars. (It should be noted that the original recipe is called something completely accurate and boring. My name came about because of the sheer height of these squares–at almost 3 inches tall, they are a thing of beauty. The recipe seems like you get 12 squares, max, from the 9″ x 9″ pan. Don’t be fooled–the only person who could get down a portion that size is my husband.)

Mid-afternoon snack.

Batter:
1 cup butter, softened
1 3/4 cups firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups uncooked quick oats

Filling:
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 (12-ounce) package semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chopped walnuts

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Lightly grease a 9" x 9" baking pan.
3. Cream together the butter and brown sugar.
4. Add the eggs and vanilla.
5. Stir in the flour, salt, and baking soda.
6. Add the oats, and mix well.
7. Press a little more than half of the batter into the prepared pan. Set aside the rest of the batter.
8. For the filling, melt the chocolate with the milk, butter, vanilla, and salt in a double boiler. (Can also be melted in a saucepan over low-medium heat, stirring constantly until chocolate is just melted.)
9. Pour over the batter in the baking pan.
10. Sprinkle the top with the nuts.
11. Spoon the remaining batter over the filling.
12. Bake for 30 minutes, until the batter is golden brown. Cool for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
13. Cut into 20-25 squares and stuff your face.

Those 1000 extra calories aren’t going to eat themselves.

The Day Is Mine Chocolate Chip Cookies

About once a month I make an impromptu variation on the Tollhouse Chocolate Chipper. In my never-abating quest for superiority, I assume that mine will be the face behind its eventual perfection, at which point everyone will jot down my recipe and we can all move on to other culinary ventures. Usually my experiments yield cookies that are fine, but with a lowercase “f.” But endeavor is never a waste, and I’m able to take advantage of Billy the Kid’s not yet fully developed palate to move the mediocre product. This afternoon, however, I created a most magnificent monster, a complete departure from my signature butter-crisp version, but a delicious bastard indeed.

At fifteen I began a several-year career with the burger tycoon known within the industry as The Monarch, and back when a pack of Old Golds went for $1.85, Burger King’s menu offered a chocolate chip cookie that I believe was supplied by one Mrs. Fields. I spent the summer after my senior year waking up at 4 AM five out of seven mornings to scoop lard into industrial deep-fryers and ready the palace for its throngs of noble patrons. I fully believe in getting one’s due out of the employment contract, and as my morning ritual continued and I placed the mandated dozen frozen balls of dough into the very specific and very branded tiny oven, I’d throw in an extra six to hide behind the tomatoes and sustain me throughout my shift. They were the best cookies I’ve ever eaten, nuanced with the most indulgent of all secret ingredients: sneaky.

These cookies bring me right back to my bad girl days of dark lipstick, Colt 45’s, too much eyeliner and pink hair. Oh, to be young and ridiculous.

1-1/2 stick butter (3/4 C)
1/4 C shortening
3/4 C sugar
3/4 C dark brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2-1/4 C flour
1-1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 bag Toll House Semi Sweet Morsels

I hate it as much as anyone, but for the best cookies, all ingredients, including eggs, must be at room temperature before beginning. I didn’t microwave the butter as I sometimes do, and I suggest you rock these old school as well. So, set your oven to 375, but not before the butter easily accommodates a poking.

Cream together the butter and shortening, then add the white sugar and continue mashing until completely blended. Add the brown sugar and disperse, then beat in the eggs and vanilla until everything’s consistent. Stir in the flour, salt and soda with a hefty wooden spoon, as this dough gets thick enough to snap a dollar-store utensil. Once all loose flour has been incorporated, stir in the chocolate chips until the mass has an even distribution.

Form the dough into 1-1/2″ balls and space 2″ apart on cookie sheets before flattening just slightly. Bake single sheets at 375 for 12 minutes (10 minutes for extra soft). Cool the finished cookies on the sheets for three minutes before transferring to a wire rack until room temperature. These should be stored in an air-tight container as they crisp quickly, and the chewy middle must be preserved!

Sonofabiscuit!

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been striving to recultivate my enthusiasm for food preparation, seeking inspiration from many, many cooking blogs. I have not found it. What I have found is a bunch of liars with skillets and Internet access. And while I usually relish the opportunity to verbally flog accosters of my aesthetics, I’m unable to confidently determine that my present fury stems from the ineptitude of others, as opposed to my hormonally-decimated sense of taste. That seems like an adequate disclaimer, so let’s get started with my grievances.

I had hoped to be blown away by a site I Stumbled Upon called BunsInMyOven, wondering if I had found my doppleblogger. After combing through the entire history, I slated Country Pasta with Mozzarella for dinner last night, the first home cooking poor Mr. P has seen in weeks. I’m partially to blame for the mood-wrecker that had me in bed early just to call it a day. My eyebrow should have shot up in suspicion upon reading that two cups of grated mozzarella should be added directly to a bacon-grease-based melange, no cream or liquid assigned to melt and distribute it. The result: bacon-flavored pasta and awkward broccoli bystanders loosely coordinating around shiny, bacon-speckled cheese tumors. I had assumed that the dish would be a success from the lovely photos that failed to showcase the chunks of cheesy sadness, so I bought some chocolate chips for Ms. Bun’s scone recipe. I think I’ll go ahead and just hold onto those for now.

My chronic disappointment hasn’t been limited to the independent cooking community; Epicurious, its reviewers, and Gourmet all have a hand in the disturbing apple massacre of April 9th. Recipes like Apple Walnut Crisp make me wonder if measuring cups are universal, and if anyone uses them. When dozens of reviewers rave about such a texture catastrophe, I understand why mayonnaise and Cheez-Whiz are considered standard condiments in some parts of the country.

Now that I’m riled up, I’ll take just a moment to address a real world issue that’s been raising my blood pressure over the past month: clam chowder. Suddenly my favorite restaurant comfort food, milk-based New England clam chowder, has been bisqued. Jell-O should look into this, as I believe they go in for foods that stick to spoons turned upside down. Whether it’s a trend or a regional difference I’ve failed to notice before, my last five cups of chowder have been comparable in consistency to Yoplait, and it has to stop. Next week I plan on making several gallons of this and freezing it, as I have little faith these days that good taste will make a comeback.

If you didn’t enjoy the privilege of my company during my last pregnancy, you’ll start to notice the overtones of resentment and entitlement more and more from here on in. Keep in mind that posts with a time stamp after 3 AM have been written by an especially queasy and irritable individual, and may be just a little dark.

Mary’s had a little lamb.

Lemon-Pepper Lamb Chops

While I thought my days of ovine infanticide were behind me, I found myself standing in front of an almost completely barren meat counter at my Hannaford last night, save for an abundance of “Manager’s Special” lamb chop 4-packs. After gazing covetously at the bounty while absent-mindedly stroking my rapidly-increasing belly for several minutes, I submitted to temptation, shamefully buried the thickest cuts I could find under some paper towel rolls, and the Peña’s proceeded to heartily enjoy the tastiest of Easter metaphors.

To my chagrin, my spice cupboard has hit an embarrassingly low supply, and I’m fresh out of parsley, sage, rosemary and, you guessed it, thyme. So I shook a little lemon-pepper powder on each side of the chops, rubbed on some olive oil, and tossed them under the broiler for 5 minutes, then flipped them over and gave them another 7. Not wanting to detract from the headliner, I plated the chops with baked potatoes and a Fresh Express BLT Cesar Salad, a product that widely surpasses bagged salad expectations. Unfortunately, I was unable to contain myself long enough to take any pictures.

Mr. Peña and I spent dinner (all 6 minutes of it), in lama-like communion with our plates, and for at least 10 minutes afterward, I felt almost alive for the first time since I undertook my latest chromosomal oeuvre. There’s no way to convey the delicate gaminess of the wrongest of meats, the slight rose-petal quality of the ruddy medium-rare flesh, the enthusiasm of the fat as it bows cheerfully for your knife. If you’re as evil as I am underneath it all, go ahead and make it a yearly transgression. Whatever your religion, atonement will be worth it.

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