Monday, October 31, 2016

Potato Chip-Crusted 7 Layer Magic Bars

Halloween has arrived and I'm trying quickly to make sure this posts. As you can see my candy corns dutifully melted and yes, I do believe the rumours are correct that they contain a waxy substance. In any case, I do admit to being a fond lover of candy corn, waxy or not. And yes, this recipe can easily be made without it and probably would be better off!

As part of Blogging for Books, I received the book, " Modern Potluck" by Kristin Donnelly. It is an array of fun, more hip versions of food designed for modern potlucks. Unlike recipes of my era that often contained ingredients from cans and other processed goods, this is a book for my kid's generation and yes mine too, and yes again, we will all probably be better off for it. In fact, Kristin would probably cringe in horror at my addition of candy corn to her layer bars. Well, it is Halloween so I guess cringing is in order!

These layer bars, compared to the original version, are less sweet, which is what the author intended. I'll let you be the judge when you make them to see which you prefer. Her addition of a potato chip crust and smoked almonds, plus coconut chips rather than sweetened shreds, certainly turns these into a more adult version of 7 layer bars, though I am sure  no kid would turn up their nose at these. What a creative use of ingredients she has put together!

Lest you think you won't find recipes for things like three bean salads and potato salads, well guess again! There are potato salads for each season and the bean salad contains a wide array of fresh and dried beans, plus fresh herbs and such. Potlucks can be so challenging these days with having to worry about dietary challenges and pressures to make stand out dishes due to Instagram, and even issues like sustainability deserve thought. Kristin wrote this book with those things in mind. This book filled with fool-proof modern recipes and gorgeous photos would be a great addition to any one's cookbook library.

Potato Chip-Crusted 7 Layer Magic Bars
From: Modern Potluck
Makes: 1 9x13" pan
Time to Make: About 20 minutes to make and 40 minutes to bake
1 10 oz bag plain salted potato chips, not thick cut
3 T all purpose flour or rice flour
4 T unsalted butter, melted
1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 12 oz bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 c large unsweetened coconut flakes
1 c salted, smoked almonds or your choice, roughly chopped
1 c candy corn (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350. Butter a 9x13 pan, preferably metal, and line with parchment paper so it overhangs on the long sides of the pan.

In a food processor, pulse the potato chips with the flour until they resemble coarse bread crumbs. Pour in the butter and pulse until the chips are evenly moist and finely chopped. Press mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for 15 minutes or until the crust is lightly browned.

Pour the sweetened condensed milk over the crust and tip the pan so it forms an even layer. Scatter the chips, coconut and nuts on top and use a fork to press ingredients into the condensed milk.  Bake for about 20 minutes, then top with the candy corn, pressing it in, if using. Bake another 5 minutes or so until the coconut is toasted and the condensed milk is lightly browned at the edges. (If you are using candy corn and overbake it the cndy corn will spread into a molten mess!) Let cool on a rack.

When pan is cool, lift out the parchment paper by the sides and cut into bars. Enjoy!

More Layer Bars:
     Original Magic Layer Bars       7 Layer Pumpkin Butter Bars   Chocolate Peanut Layer Bars


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Friday, October 28, 2016

Ketchup Chicken

Ketchup chicken, where have you been all my life? Honestly people, being a ketchup lover, I can't believe I haven't discovered this before now. Truly Mark Bittman has been holding out on me! I ate ketchup on everything as a child. It always held an important role on our table and was used recklessly on chicken and steak and even scrambled eggs. Back then there wasn't such a thing as jarred salsa and who had ever heard of sriracha? The closest we got to condiments was Heinz 57 or Worcestershire for one's steak. But I was simple. Ketchup floated my boat.

 As a child my mother used to make ketchup sloppy joe. She never made it for my father. She only made it before they abandoned us wee ones at home. We didn't care because we had ketchup sloppy joe. It wasn't really sloppy joe. I think all she did was brown the beef and add ketchup. That was our bribe for not giving the sitter a hard time when they departed. My parents were the social type. They went out a lot. If I recall there was always golf in the summer, theatre tickets or the numerous cocktail parties. I think parents did a lot more socializing without kids back then. But what the heck? We ate like kings when they were gone. Many times we were bribed with Swanson's TV dinners-the ones with the Salisbury steak, corn and the brownie. We also adored their chicken pot pies. And get out-who doesn't love Jeno's pizza rolls and Sara Lee brownies for dessert? There was no powdered macaroni and cheese or spaghetti o's in our house, and I still don't know the reason why. Nope. My mom preferred freezer meals!

But back to ketchup chicken. Such a glorious dish certainly should bear a better name, but alas, this says it like it is. Ketchup chicken, I love you.

I served my ketchup chicken over yakisoba noodles. I guess I still have a yearning for Chinese! In any case this chicken would also be great over potatoes or rice or spaghetti. Kids love it. Adults love it and it takes minutes to prepare. While cooking the ketchup color deepens and sightly caramellizes. One could adjust this with other flavors and make this into a Chinese meal or Italian or even Mexican. But the truth is it is the simplicity of this that makes it so lip licking good. And oh yeah. The peas are strictly for color. They do taste good, but the original recipe lacks veggies of any kind. But feel free to throw the peas on, if it makes you feel healthier!

Ketchup Chicken
Serves 4
Time to make: 20 minutes
1 1/2 lbs boneless chicken cut into 1" chunks (I used white meat, but Mark prefers dark)
1/2 c flour or as needed
4 T canola oil
Salt and Pepper
2 T slivered garlic
1/4 t cayenne or sriracha mixed with:
1 c ketchup
Toss chicken with flour so that it is lightly dusted. Put 2 T oil in a large skillet, preferably nonstick, and turn heat to high. When oil smokes, add chicken in one layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

When chicken browns on one side, turn or toss and cook on other side. This shouldn't take more than 5-10 minutes. Remove from pan. Turn off heat and let pan cool for a few minutes.

Add remaining oil to pan and turn heat to medium high. Add garlic and cook, stirring for about 2 minutes. Add ketchup and stir; cooking until ketchup bubbles and darkens slightly. Return chicken to pan and stir to coat with sauce. Taste and drool.

(Once removed the chicken from the pan, I tossed in some slivered onion and cooked that briefly. I then added a package of yakisoba noodles and stirred then around until warm. This picked up the flavors of the ketchup and garlic and was yummy with the chicken.)

chicken, ketchup, noodles

More to Eat:
  Lemon Garlic Roast Chicken                  Sloppy Jose                   Fudge Brownies w/ Filling


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Apple Cake with Streusel and Caramel Sauce and Pandas!

There are a zillion types of apple cake. There are apple cakes made like bundt cakes and apple cakes like pound cakes. And French apple cake and German apple cake and apples tossed with batter and apple cheese cakes and so on and so on. This my friends is a Passover apple cake. Now some of you might ask why bake a Passover apple cake in the fall, when Passover is in the spring? Well, to that I would respond that a good cake knows no season and so I present to you an apple cake that has received accolades over the years; whether served in the spring or the fall.

This is an apple cake that is so simple to make one might call it a crime, but we won't tell. This is a cake whose batter is moist and luscious. This is a cake where the apples almost become the batter as they leak into the dough surrounding them. This is a cake where the streusel is somewhat crunchy, somewhat crumbly, but more than  good. This is a cake that demanded a hint of caramel sauce to add to its simple decadence. This is a cake that's almost a pudding; but it's not. This is a cake that has one going back for seconds or heaven forbid licking the knife that sliced it. And yes, this is a cake my mother made but forgot about. How could she?

I didn't make it back in time from China to bake this for Rosh Hashona, when apples are part of the celebration. However my contribution for break the fast was this Passover apple cake. Remember Passover isn't just for Passover anymore! This cake is as simple as mixing up oil, eggs, matzoh meal and sugar and spreading half of it into a spring form pan. Top that with cinnamon sugared slices of apples, spread the rest of the batter on top, throw on a simple streusel and this is ready to bake. Adding the caramel sauce was inspiration, because everything goes better with caramel sauce, does it not?

More about China is ahead, so I understand if you want to get to the goods. Skip down to the recipe and just look how cinnamon and sugar, and apples and caramel sauce, will make your day. You won't be disappointed and you will love the compliments. I know I sure did!


Now onward to Chengdu. I was so busy stuffing my face with Sechuan food that I could have used a slice of this cake to cool my mouth off! Chengdu is in the Sechuan region of China and Chengdu doesn't let you forget it. Chengdu is also home of the pandas and so many other sites that I can't wait to go back. It is a city the size of Chicago and maybe that's why it seems somewhat more manageable than some of the other larger cities we visited.

We started by heading over to Jin Li for lunch. We didn't really know where our hotel was sending us after asking them to recommend a lunch spot. Before we knew it we were being dropped off near the Wuhou monastery and the entrance to the Jin Li Pedestrian Street which is a street food kind of touristy street. Touristy but fun, some might say Disney-esque and not one western face in the crowd. It also had awesome shopping, but this was our 2nd full day in China and we couldn't really get into shopping. Makes me sad remembering how I was sure I'd see the same things everywhere, but didn't.

So, some might notice this poor guy in the corner. Ear cleaners are quite common in public areas in China. I am told that Chinese ear wax is different than Westerner's, in that it is more solid. Do not laugh! I will never state this as fact, but it does beg the question. Is it? And if I were this guy I probably would have followed the advice on his t-shirt!
Jin Li was packed. I remember ladies staring at my feet which were encased in sandals and having just had a pedicure before I left, I had lovely pink toe nails. Hmm. I think they were quite shocked! Manservant quickly found a bowl of noodles that he ordered for take out as he left us to go back to work. No lids in China that I know of. They put his bowl of soupy noodles in a plastic bag, tied it up pouch like, and somehow he managed to get it back to the hotel without spilling a drop. In the meantime we proceeded to try lots of street food, but couldn't find a place to sit. We continued our walk through the crowds and somehow ended up in the back of the monastery gardens. It was amazing going from a packed, noisy street into the solitude of the gardens in just a few short steps! Still feeling jet lagged we welcomed the peace.

I imagine that parks and gardens are true escapes for many Chinese. Alex tells us that even in the cold of winter the parks are full of folks bundled up while congregating in groups, playing cards or mahjong and having a good time. Most homes or apartments are very small, so socializing can't always  be done there. We saw people singing, dancing and playing a variety of games in every park we visited. 

Sechuan food is a story unto itself. One must truly pick out the chicken from the peppers or whatever it is you ordered. Peppers make up at least half of the dish. Not that that's a bad thing! Just make sure you realize that the green peppers aren't green beans and proceed to eat them as such. Hmmm. Wonder who did that. Dinner found us at this wild restaurant called Chaozuo Dashi in the top of a mall near Taikooli. Filled with designer stores and amazing architecture

 and even some impostors.

This restaurant which means Great Master, Alex found on the Chinese equivalent of Yelp.

It was decorated like a fashion show runway and I do believe the food was the fashion. I couldn't find anything on any English sites showing its existence, but this was a great place to burn one's mouth! Notice anything defining about that food?

Our third day in Chengdu had us off to see the pandas. Pandas are considered a national treasure in China. The park had red pandas too, which I think are just as cute and also endangered. But man oh man, pandas are cute, though we all agreed that Mr Big Buddha was more exciting.

The baby pandas are quite active!
However one can't go to Chengdu without seeing the pandas. Really. From there we found ourselves at the Wenshu Monastery, the largest Buddhist Temple in Chengdu dating from 618, during the Tang Dynasty. We wandered around but quickly found ourselves craving food which took us to Zhang Liang Fen, a famous ma po tofu place where we also had Dan Dan noodles and dumplings. There Ma Po Tofu wasn't my favorite, but the noodles and dumplings more than made up for it.  And then it was a matter of wandering some more. That's the thing about China. It is hard to stick to a plan because there is so much that catches your attention. It's easy to lose track of time while people watching, or eating or wandering off the beaten path.

Another night found us walking through The People's Park to the Wide and Narrow alley, which is  a quaint place to walk through. We took a photo of the Starbucks pagoda and as you can see this was quite a photographic opportunity. (Not the best photo but I was being pushed around a lot!)

 Additionally, my beautiful Zoe was stopped several times to have her photo taken. She appeals to the 12 year olds who seem to be taken with her blond hair. Happily, she obliged the paparazzi with many opportunities.

Dinner was hot pot at The Way of the Dragon. And hot it was, though we just ordered it medium. Zoe and I would have preferred mild but no one listened to us and the men in our group kind of admitted that we were right. What a gorgeous restaurant! People literally were cramming in just to take photos and yes, it was photo worthy. We waited awhile for a table, which meant missing the Sichuan Opera performed in the restaurant, so if you ever go to eat there, call ahead. And good luck with that!

Hot pot is ordered by the type of broth one wants. There is a traditional spicy pot, a tomato pot and a blander type of fish broth. We ordered a dual broth pot, but I was outvoted on the tomato. One then chooses what goes into the hot pot. There is a huge variety of things like intestines, tripe, eel, duck tongues and even a superior pig aorta. Yes. That is how the menu describes it. This was one menu that was printed in both English and Chinese. We were probably considered boring as we stuck to things like shrimp and beef and mushrooms and of course, Budweiser, the king of beers. About $2 a bottle, we drank quite a few! The three bowls below were garlic, cilantro and green onion that were used to season the food. Additionally, we had our own individual jars of chili oil!

Our last morning in Chengdu found us having massages. This is a Chinese thing and one that should be common over here. Luckily for me we actually have one close to where I live. I can get a 75 minute fully clothed massage for $35. Not bad, huh? But way better in China. After relaxing a bit and having a fish for lunch...yes, there are many places where  an entire fish is cooked at the table in the sauce you prefer,  with the veggies and accompaniments  you want. Very good and healthy! After filling his belly Manservant  went back to work while we headed over to the Wangjiang park and to see the River Watch Tower dedicated to a woman poet of the Tang dynasty.

After taking in the sites and feeling very Chinesey we sat and had tea.  It was relaxing sitting in the park in our blue and green chairs and sipping tea out of what look like covered bowls. This was a new one for me. Tea leaves are placed in the cup, water is poured atop. After steeping, one drinks by pushing the lid back ever so slightly to avoid a big wad of leaves in one's mouth.The lid also keeps your tea warm. You can tell by the thermoses of hot water that are set by your table that they expect you stay awhile.

Alex Odie san China Boy has become "of the culture". He even purses his lips while saying "mmmm." It's a Chinese word uttered very deeply and with purpose. We still have no clue what it really means.
And that's it! Chengdu is a recent memory and one I would love to repeat. However editing these photos takes a lot longer than taking them. So now it's on to Shanghai. Can't wait! And of course the recipe for this apple cake. It would have gone great with that tea.

Apple Cake with Streusel Topping and Caramel Sauce 
(For Passover)
Serves 12-16
Time to Make: About 25 minutes and 75 minutes to bake
6 eggs
1 c oil
2 t potato flour
2 c sugar
2 c matzoh meal
Pinch of salt
4 or more large, thinly sliced, peeled apples (I used Honey crisps or Granny's work well, too)
3/4 c sugar or to taste
2 t cinnamon
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 c chopped nuts or matzoh meal
2 t cinnamon
1/2 c sugar
2 - 4 T oil or butter (I used butter in this for a richer taste)
Caramel Sauce:
1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 stick butter
2 T milk
1/2 t vanilla
Preheat oven to 350. Grease lightly a 12" spring form pan. Soak apple slices in sugar, cinnamon and lemon juice. Stir together ingredients for cake. Spread half in bottom of pan. Pour apples and juice over. Cover with remaining batter. Mix ingredients together for topping. (I use my hands to make clumps of streusel, however you don't need to use butter or oil if you just want a crumb topping.)
Sprinkle topping on cake and bake for about 75 minutes. Let cool. Remove spring form and pour caramel over.
To make caramel: Combine butter, brown sugar and milk in a small pot. Stir well to combine and let mixture come to a boil while stirring. Once it starts to boil, let it boil for 2 1/2 minutes. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Let cool to room temperature. Pour over top of cake. If you want it thicker stir in a few tablespoons of powdered sugar. This stays sauce like for  about 4 hours. If left over night with the sauce on the cake, it will harden. Still tastes great, but it won't be warm and gooey.

More Fall Desserts to Pin and Share:

Brown Sugar Spice Cake with Caramel Glaze

Gingerbread Pear Upside Down Skillet Cake

Apple Brown Sugar Sharlotka

Honey Cake with Apples and Toasted Walnuts

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Bacon Crisps with Caramel and Pepper Plus Buddhas!

 Bacon is a common ingredient in China though not often in the form we are used to seeing it in here. I love my bacon crisp, which is why I probably detested it as a kid, because my dad always fried it up soggy. He likes things with fat and always ate the fat off my steak which is why, I guess, he liked bacon not so crisp. Bacon is served as part of a western breakfast in China, but it is not served crisp. Bacon is also served as pork belly in numerous ways in China and Manservant loves pork belly. Me, not so much. But give me crisp, well done bacon in any form and my eyes light up.

Before I left for China I was invited to my friend's 100th day party to celebrate her successful bone marrow transplant. So far, so good and though she isn't over the hump yet, it still spells happy! Being a bacon lover,I brought bacon appetizers and these bacon crisps were a hit. I did two versions; one for my friend that was not so spicy, and the other for the rest of the family. It's hard to say which was gobbled up first, but needless to say there weren't any leftovers. Given that football season is upon us, I do believe these would be winners in anyone's play book.

I did two versions. One contained sweet, spicy, smoky seasoning and the other I topped with goat cheese, fig jam and bacon. I The fig version is accented with some orange zest which really brings out the fig and the bacon flavor. Both were hits. Using a refrigerated crescent dough made this an easy appetizer. The hardest part is frying the bacon, but I cook mine in the microwave which makes the job much easier. Feel free to come up with your own versions of this easy appetizer.  And now skip ahead for the recipe or read on for more about China.

So back to China. We started with one day in Beijing with the idea that we would go back at the end of the trip and see more. Our first day in China was to be spent in the Forbidden City. Well, we made it through two gates only to discover that they-who is obviously the government-had recently decided to start closing on Mondays. Much to our chagrin, we never saw the forbidden city. We did walk the outskirts and had great views of it from Jingshan Park,

but just didn't want to fight the lines on our return trip which was the beginning of the National holiday. I guess this is one reason for us to return!

It appears this guy had a different view!

Moat around Forbidden City

After seeing the views of Beijing from Jingshan, we went for Peking duck at Bianyifang. This is located in the New World Mall which was otherwise of this world. We quickly learned from Alex that many restaurants are in malls and they are always at the top of the mall which means one should catch the elevator rather than the escalator. Yes, this was a great duck place and we highly enjoyed it. It may not be as fancy or as full of atmosphere as others but the price was right and the duck was superb. The duck price is based on the weight of the duck that you choose for your table. Standard accompaniments such as scallions, hoisin sauce and pancakes are included; even sugar which is a new one for me.

Just wanted you to get a close up of the scenic back drop!
The menu comes in a giant hard back book cover and the inside of the menu is in full glossy photos. This is standard in most restaurants we visited. It does make it easy to order but one must make sure that what one thinks might be noodles are not intestines! Leaving the restaurant we were able to look down and watch the skaters!

Early Tuesday we left for Chengdu, which is a place I would love to go back too. (After coming home and getting a break from China, I realize now that I would love to go back and spend time at a more leisurely pace. After all, I still have a lot to eat!) Chengdu is in the Szechuan region of China which means spicy food and that is putting it mildly. Chengdu is also home of the pandas and the hot pot. There is so much to do from Chengdu and one of my favorite things was seeing the Leshan Buddha. I think this was the day we did 29,000 steps, so my walking sure paid off.

The Leshan Buddha is a Unesco World Heritage site. The Buddha is the largest stone Buddha in the world, built during the Tang dynasty. Construction began in 713 and took 100 years to complete. The Buddha is built overlooking a spot where 3 rivers come together. It is said that many fisherman lost their lives in the currents and a monk thought a Buddha would protect them. Turns out that with all the demolition of the rock face to create Dafo, there was enough rock that fell into the river which caused the currents to slow, which  ultimately saved the shipping vessels that passed through the area.

Getting to Leshan required taking the bullet train from Chengdu and then from there we took a taxi, but not before we fortified ourselves with noodle bowls across the street from the bus station.

Making dumplings where we ate
Zoe's noodles

It was here we also learned the proper stance when waiting in line in China. It involves standing with your elbows out so no one can cut the line. Alex was quite good at it. We were lucky because on our day at Leshan the crowds were small. After seeing signs above the Buddha stating "three hours from this point", near the steps to begin the hike down, we were grateful we didn't have to wait. It also seems that one can be dropped off closer to the Buddha which is what many tourists do.  We went to the entrance of the Oriental Capitol of Buddhism (love these names) which allowed us to walk through the park and see the views, the many carved stone Buddhas in the caves, and  get in our steps!

The entrance to the park


Just to give you an idea of the size.

Loved this guy! I think he is perfect for a food blog, don't you?
 It was difficult to take pictures, because it was so dark inside. There was even an X-rated section. It appears Buddhas are quite well versed in this area. This photo is quite tame.

                           And then there was this guy. I think he belongs in the Middle Ages.

                     This lady was honored. I know there is a story here, but I don't remember what.

Climbing down the side of the Buddha is about 13 stories of very steep, very uneven steps which is strenuous. And it seems Chinese women often dress up for these occasions. We saw many wearing high heels!

Climbing down also requires one to go back up. I think Zoe and Manservant were giving a gift to the gods and praying I'd make it back up! It also requires one to carefully watch out for selfie sticks which are prevalent through out China. Approaching the Buddha from the top allows one to spy the head of the Buddha. It takes a moment to realize that the river is not what one should stare at. There are over 1000 top knots of carved stone on this guy. Plus he has his own built in drainage system that allowed him to stay in such good shape over the years. Quite impressive to think of that way back when!

So this is what he looked like from the top. And below is looking up from the bottom. Maybe now you can get an idea of how much rock they moved in order to stop those currents!

Here is a view of the three rivers. Well. Maybe two out of three. And perhaps some pollution. Yes, that is the city of Leshan in the distance.

The maps are terrible at this place and I'm not sure what we missed, but I am sure we did miss things. In any case, this was an incredible day and one that I would do a repeat of again-if I ever have that chance. Stay tuned for more from Chengdu, but now it is time for intermission. These bacon crisps will surely keep you sated until my next episode!

Caramel Bacon Crisps
Serves about 12-15
Time to make: About 30 minutes for prep and 25 minutes to bake
1 lb bacon, cooked until just about done and not quite crisp. It will finish cooking on the pastry. Drain well.
1 pkg crescent roll dough - I bought one that had two sheets and no perforations that I found in my grocer's refrigerator section
1/4 c maple syrup
1/2 c brown sugar divided in half
1/2 t smoked paprika
1/2 t black pepper
3/4 jar of fig jam
3-4 oz of crumbled goat's cheese or blue cheese
Zest of 1 orange
Preheat oven to 325. Line 2 15 x 10 pans with foil and grease the foil well. Unroll dough and stretch to fit pan forming a crust around the edges. Prick the dough with a fork. Drizzle maple syrup on one. Mix the brown sugar with paprika and pepper. Sprinkle this on the pan with syrup. Top with 1/2 lb of bacon torn into small pieces. Top with remaining brown sugar. Bake for about 25 minutes or until crust is golden and bacon is crisp and topping is bubbly. Allow to cool before cutting or breaking into pieces.
Top crust of the second pan with fig jam and then torn bacon on top of that. Bake 15 minutes, then add the cheese and bake for another 10. Grate orange zest on top and let cool before breaking or cutting into pieces.

And a few more to pin and try!
Italian Nachos
Green Chile Peppadew Cheese
Chipotle and Caramel Glazed Popcorn
Nachos Al Pastor

The winner for the September giveaway is HS! I'll try emailing you!