Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Homemade "Little Debbie" Oatmeal Cream Pies

I get cravings for things and if I don't satisfy the craving I will crave it for weeks (I feel bad for Dan when we decide to have kiddos, I can only imagine what my cravings will be like then!) A few weeks ago I got this taste for a Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pie. I was never a fussy eater as a kid but when it came to snack cakes I only ever really cared for the oatmeal cream pie, the "zebra" cake also by Little Debbie and the butterscotch sponge cakes made by Tasty Kake (a northern thing my Aunt B would send to my dad from PA).

Each week as I passed the snack cake aisle at the grocery store I had to resist grabbing a box; I know it seems silly but after reading the ingredients on the back of the box I just couldn't bring myself to get them!!

Thus, I searched the web for a homemade version and I was not disappointed. I found a recipe on Recipe Zaar, which I typically do not trust and have rarely used anything from the site, but it was tested by many folks on the site, other food bloggers, etc. and all had rave reviews, so I figured why not give it a whirl.

I used Bob's Red Mill Organic Rolled Oats; as with all of their products, the quality is consistently good. Also, for this recipe, the rolled oats are far better than a quick oat (the quick oat just turns into mush whereas the rolled oat will give a better texture).
Call me old fashioned, but I get sastifaction out of making something from scratch; I can control the ingredients, use local, fresh items when available and know that though it's not "healthy" per say, it is also not chock full of mystery ingredients.

The filling is far from being healthy, with marshmallow cream, shortening and powdered sugar, however, Spectrum has a pretty decent shortening (I have their coconut oil too...looking to make a coconut cream pie soon...to be continued!)

On the whole these were a big hit with my co-workers and friends. I decided to individually wrap mine in plastic wrap for ease in transport, and it worked like a charm; I would highly advise this method if you do not want cream filling all over your container and all over the other cookies.

Oatmeal Cream Pies
Adapted from Recipe Zaar

1 cup butter (I used Plugra--it is my favorite)
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp molasses (used "Grandma's" brand original, but blackstrap would likely work as well)
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp cinnamon (used Ceylon cinnamon and just eyeballed this using a pinch and a half)
1 1/2 cups rolled oats

Cream Filling
2 tsp very hot water
1/4 tsp salt
1 (7 ounce) jar marshmallow cream
1/2 cup shortening
1/3 cup powdered sugar (I used a heaving 1/3 cup, so basically 1/3 cup plus 2 or 3 tbsps)
1 tsp vanilla

1. Combine flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon in a bowl.

2. In large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugars. Add in eggs, beating after each. Finally beat in molasses and vanilla. (Keep in mind--butter and eggs should be at room temp before using--so throw these on your counter an hour or 2 before you plan on using).

3. Add to the flour mixture to creamed mixture and beat until just blended; mix in the oats with a wooden/plastic/silicone spoon.

4. Drop dough by tablespoons (they are apt to spread so be weary of this; I used a small ice cream scoop--it is PERFECT for cookies--a good investment if you bake cookies often) on parchment lined sheets, with plenty of space in between. Bake at 350 degrees (F) for 10-12 minutes, or until just starting to brown around the edges. They will look moist; don’t overcook...they will brown all around very quickly. Let sit on cookie sheet for about 5 minutes and then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

5. While the cookies bake prepare the filling. In small bowl, dissolve the salt in the hot water. Set aside and allow this to cool.

6. Combine marshmallow cream, shortening, powdered sugar, and vanilla in a bowl; mix on high until fluffy (roughly 3-4 minutes)

7. Add the cooled salt water and mix well (be careful not to add too much salt-I compensated with the extra few tbsps of powdered sugar-whatever floats your boat)

8. Spread filling on flat side of one cookie, press 2nd cookie on top.
Makes 1 1/2 – 2 dozen

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Brasserie Beck

After reading some mixed reviews I had been dying to try Robert Weidmaiers' Brasserie Beck myself. I have found that many of the "food reviews" in the Post and other local papers should be taken about as seriously as movie reviews in many cases. More often than not, the reviewers rip the restaurant or movie but I go and end up really enjoying myself. Thus when I read a review that says the food is great but it isn't "new" or "innovative" my curiosity is peaked because part of me doesn't care, why reinvent the wheel, just do it right.

Anyhow, many friends have said such great things about Beck, so when we wanted to take our good friend MB out for a thank you lunch this was the first place that came to mind.

This is just OJ...we had a 9am flight out of Chicago back to DC and by 11am I just wasn't ready for a drink yet. Dan had this fabulous beer called Kasteel Rouge (first picture on this post).

I am not a beer connoisseur by any measure...I will drink a Dos Equix, Corona, or Yuengling, but I prefer wine quite frankly. This however has a tangy sweetness to it that is rather appealing due to the cherries in the brew.

MB ran into Carla Hall , a former Top Chef contestant, at a local event and they got to chatting about area restaurants. MB asked her which area places were her favorites and this one came up in conversation for being great for their mussels. MB naturally ordered such to see if the recommendation proved accurate.

One of my best buds (Court) and her fam LOVE these little suckers but I just never cared for them. However, MB offered one and I couldn't pass it up....verdict...they were FANTASTIC; Carla was dead on with her recommendation. The texture was almost creamy, it melted in my mouth like butter. Courtney had always said that I have to try mussels at a good place when they are fresh and done right...boy was she right...these were killer.

I ordered the salmon because it sounded tasty and fresh on a summer afternoon. It was cooked perfectly, tender, flavorful, an A+ in my book. I would have liked to have a little bit more substance than just the greens it was served on but I think this was because I was smelling the Belgium frites across the table that MB and Dan both had and looking down on my greens just wasn't cutting it!

They host a chef's table at the restaurant, and we walked by this great big butcher block table lined by shelves stocked with Le Crueset pots all lined in a row in the center of the restaurant that I can only assume is used for this purpose. This may be something we try later this summer or in the fall...if our lunch was any testament...should be fabulous.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Remington...Before & After

Remi has to go to the groomer every 4 to 6 weeks for a trim, otherwise he starts to look like a cross between a wookie and an ewok. Basically, he has this shaggy teddy bear thing going on, which is cute and sort of fitting for his personality, but it's quite a bit of fur and it gets to be a beast to brush out.

This is Remi post haircut; locally we go to a little shop in Alexandria. Remi seems to like his groomer (though, to be honest, Remi likes most everyone...his breeders Shawne & Traci...did a fantastic job raising him and getting him used to being groomed) but there is certainly a difference between this local shop and when we are able to get the little guy up to Maryland to see Shawne & Traci.

These gals do a top shelf job; they show dogs professionally and really know their stuff. It's a good hour and a half drive to get up to them to board Remi but they are the only folks outside of family and friends that we trust because they too are part of his family--they are his roots--we are his home.

This is just a Remington version of a fashion shot; his best command is not "stay". If you are around, he wants to be next to you so I was trying to take this on his level and he kept trying to come up to me to say hi; this was taken when I prepared lunch for him (mistake #1) and put his dish down but didn't give him a "go get it" command yet (when feeding him we put the bowl down then he has to sit and wait for the command before he can eat.)

Taste of the South

Every "spring" (May/June) there is a gala in DC called Taste of the South. A dozen or so southern states get together to create a booth that represents their state. Each state has its own organization committee that raises money for the event, finds area sponsors for its booth, and chooses a state charity as a benefactor.
Each booth is stocked with "swag" such as pens/stickers/merchandise etc. from state schools and companies. As the name suggests, the big pull is southern food; now, to be fair the food isn't terrible, but it is by no means why one attends the event because it is pedestrian at best.

Dan couldn't resist a picture in front of the pirate ship...naturally! Mississippi (the state with the pirate ship in front) had a pretty good booth--decent seafood. I quite like this shot of Dan...very debonair.
He hasn't invested into a good tux as of yet (there really isn't a need--he only has occasion to wear one every once in a blue moon); so for this black tie affair he cheated and wore a black suit with a bow tie. We were a bit skeptical if he could pull off the look, but I think it worked out well.

Anyone who has been to the event knows what I'm talking about, but it is HOT inside the DC Armory--the event organizers don't pay to have the A/C on (it's like 10K to do so) in order to give more money to the individual state charities. However, it becomes mighty steamy inside (hence all of the shiny faces!) so typically the guests are fairly young, or generally those brave enough to stand the heat (the open bar helps in this matter).

Dan hijacked the camera as I was adjusting my shoe situation (see below for offending footwear); it didn't help that I had my canvas swag bag...TOTS went green this year...chock full of stuff on one shoulder whilst attempting to balance. I decided to go pack horse style at the party...swag on one side...camera on the other.

I clearly need to buy an external flash or an IS lens because it becomes glaringly apparent that I am a) lacking in photo skills and b) lacking the proper equipment to really pull off such low light shots; none of mine came out but I wanted to post something about the event for all of the peeps back home.

Above is a blurry picture of an old friend from HS Emmanuel and a new friend from work Chastine; this proves my long held view that I am just not photogenic (which is why I love being behind the camera so much...mom had something going here!)

As the end of the night all of the girls hobble out because after four hours in four inch heels...standing/dancing the whole time...you really don't care if you are walking barefoot on the streets of DC.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Dupont Circle Farmers Market

In my last post I discussed my new found love of the Farmer's market so I figured I should show you guys just why I feel this way. The DuPont Circle Farmer's Market in DC is by far the best I have found around the DC Metropolitan Area--they are a FRESHFARM Farmer's Market so every vendor is from the Chesapeake Bay region with an emphasis on "promoting local food with a face".

My first stop is coffee (those who know me well are fully aware of my "slight" obsession with coffee and the perfect cup of Joe.) I like Bread & Brew when near DuPont--especially on a Sunday because Maryanna works on Sundays and she is the best Barista!

Don't get me wrong, the Old Towne Alexandria Market is decent--they have some cool crafts, a great guy who makes ice cream, but on the whole their produce and food related items are limited--it's also not a FRESHFARM Market which means that the goods do not necessarily need to be local so it's a mixed bag.

You can pretty much find what you need for the week, eggs, milk, bread, produce and even stuff like soap or cedar chips for your closet.

The stand above always has a great selection--often times they have things I've heard are fabulous in the paper/magazines but I'm not confident enough in my skills to purchase them. Example: squash blossoms (shown above) or earlier in the year...ramps. Knowing me, they will hang out in my fridge for a week and go bad while I figure out what to do with them.

There is one dairy Clear Spring Creamery, which has cream line milk--pretty tasty--my favorite is still Trickling Springs Creamery which you can buy from Bread & Brew or La Fromagerie in Alexandria or a My Organic Market Shop. (Many of the best area coffee shops: Peregrine, Baked & Wired, and Bread & Brew all use Trickling Springs milk).

I am sucked in by all of the gorgeous seasonal flowers--poppies have been out in full force the last few weeks--I am a sucker for their vibrant colors and textures.

The fruit I cannot resist--I have left the market with at least one quart of berries each week and this past week cherries hit the stands so I got a 1/2 quart of Queen Anne and a 1/2 quart of Bing.

I made my first purchase from Endless Summer Harvest , the Purcellville, MD Lettuce & Herb Folk, and I must say that the basil I have is FANTASTIC--fragrant and robust, and most importantly, still alive in a glass jar on my counter :)

Most of the produce is organic or at least pesticide free (some of the smaller farms are not registered organic but they use sustainable farming practices), so you can feel good about supporting local farmers and putting good stuff in your families bellies!

The bright colors and the life of the market make it one of the highlights of my weekend. I have quite the ritual of grabbing a cup of joe and meandering through the aisles; it is my escape from my M-F reality.

This shot is definitely overexposed but I think it shows the bright "happy" feeling I get from being at the market (and we all know I love Peonies...thanks to Court!)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Chicago-Style Hot Dog

Dan and I went to Chicago for a friend's wedding (groom is the blond pictured above) and the first thing we did after landing was head to Portillo's for a traditional "Chicago-Style" dog.

I have been hearing about these hot dogs for years...years I tell you...so I was mighty curious if they would live up to their hype or if it would be another "grandma's lasagna" situation (there are foods that you have as a child that you attach a fond memory with, but in all honesty, from a culinary perspective, it isn't that great now that you are older and your taste buds have changed.)

The place is quirky--rustic cool decor--extensive menu. I kept it simple and ordered a beef hot dog all the way. Above is a shot of our hot dog "artist" with our dogs on the hot dog skateboard (or that's what it looked like to me as they rolled down the line!)

Dan ordered his two all the way and then proceeded to pick all the good stuff off; he had something going there...the sport peppers are good, but left on, they become overpowering; order it all the way and pick the peppers off, because the juice gives it just enough heat without the unpleasant bite from the actual pepper.

My dog is above and below--pre sport pepper removal. First, the dog: it is a Vienna Beef, but it isn't like what you'll find in the grocery story--these have a thinner casing and is likely simmered first and then thrown on the flat top because it has a snap to it.

Second, the bun--it is made from a soft Italian bread, fresh, steamed, with a sprinkling of poppy seed.

I have to disagree with my Chicagoan relatives in that I do not feel that the poppy seeds really make a flavor difference, the New York Times says: "sprinkling them around is mere child's play" when we're talking about flavor--to bring out their full potential they need to be toasted (like nuts) and you have to have a large quantity; however, they do make it look nice.

Lastly, the toppings: I really enjoyed the combination; a "traditional" dog all the way from my family's perspective has mustard, relish, onion, tomato, pickle, sport peppers (Serrano) and celery salt...some Chicago joints will add fresh cucumber too, but from what I can find--this is not the usual.

Also, most of the time you'll see electric green relish, which was introduced in the 1970's by Fluky's. Portillo's doesn't use this relish but they don't need to--their sweet relish is tasty without having a disturbingly bright color!

Of note, it is a cardinal sin to add ketchup to your dog unless you are under the age of 17--for someone who loves ketchup in general and especially on a hot dog, I was a bit skeptical, but it honestly doesn't need it--the fresh tomato covers it.

In all, these were the best hot dogs I have ever had, so I will be on that bandwagon 100% with my husband and in-laws the next time we're in the Chicago area.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

I've been trying to utilize all of the wonderful local farmer's markets we have around the DC area, so when I went last weekend they had these beautiful stalks of rhubarb and gorgeous strawberries so I had to bring some home. I've always liked Rhubarb pie but had never personally made one.

I definitely have purchase a quart of berries every weekend since strawberries have been on the market--I'm drawn in to the little red orbs and just cannot resist!

There is a spice shop in old town Alexandria that sells varieties of freshly ground spices; I never really new that there were such variations until visiting this shop and smelling all of the spices. Ceylon Cinnamon is a more mild cinnamon than we are typically used to finding in stores--it has a subtle flavor.

The smell from the tart rhubarb and the spicy cinnamon was absolutely fantastic, and I've heard rhubarb dipped in sugar is pretty tasty too, but I didn't try it--I was too hungry for pie!

I am impatient and did not wait for the pie to cool 100% before slicing up a piece (naturally), it was still fantastic, but it was much better the next day when it had time to really set, and vanilla bean ice cream on top is a must!

I know that many claim an all shortening crust is best but I am a big fan of the butter/shortening mix because you get the flaky quality that shortening gives with the flavor that butter gives--the perfect marriage.

Lattice Topped Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

3 cups all purpose flour (I prefer King Arthur)
2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
10 tablespoons (about) ice water
3 1/2 cups 1/2-inch-thick slices trimmed rhubarb (1 1/2 pounds untrimmed or 5 stalks)
1 16-ounce container strawberries, hulled, halved (about 3 1/2 cups or a quart container)
1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I prefer the subtle flavor of Ceylon for this)
1/4 teaspoon salt (Fleur de sel might be nice here?)
1 large egg yolk beaten to blend with 1 teaspoon water
2 Tbsps. Turbinado Sugar

Combine flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl--either use a food processor or a dough cutter. I use the old fashioned stainless dough cutter and a mixing bowl--cut in the shortening and butter until coarse meal forms. Blend in enough ice water 2 tablespoons at a time to form moist clumps. Gather dough into ball; cut in half. Flatten each half into disk. Wrap separately in plastic; refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. (You can make the night before--the key to a flaky pie crust is keeping the dough cold so that when the "fat" melts in the oven air pockets are created giving that flaky crust...think croissants.)

Preheat oven to 400°F. Combine first 7 ingredients in large bowl. Toss gently to blend.
Roll out 1 dough disk on floured work surface to 13-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch-diameter pie dish. Trim excess dough, leaving 3/4-inch overhang.
Roll out second dough disk on lightly floured surface to 13-inch round. Cut into fourteen 1/2-inch-wide strips. Spoon filling into crust. Arrange 7 dough strips atop filling, spacing evenly. Form lattice by placing remaining dough strips in opposite direction atop filling. Trim ends of dough strips even with overhang of bottom crust. Fold strip ends and overhang under, pressing to seal. Crimp edges decoratively. (It's really much easier than it sounds!)

Brush glaze over crust. transfer pie to baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Bake pie until golden and filling thickens, about 1 hour 25 minutes. Transfer pie to rack and cool completely.