Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Crock Pot "French Dip"

Back when we were young, with extraneous income and no one to be responsible to, my friend T and I used to go out to dinner in our old neighborhood.  We always went out for Burritos and Beer (and often cake because the bar made its own cake with HOMEMADE carmel sauce poured over the top).  During our weekly B&B evenings, we would discuss very important things like what we want served at our funerals.  The food should, of course, be food you loved and which celebrates your life.  T, I'm here to make an official addendum to my funeral foods!  In addition to burritos and fried chicken, I need to add THIS FRENCH DIP recipe to the mix.

This stuff is "'da bomb".  I mean, its so good that I feel ok about posting this on the web with the words "'da bomb" attached do it.  I am salivating just thinking about it.  Ay dios, I'm now thinking about it in another language, that's how good it is.  Sadly, I have no pics of my own to show you how amazing this recipe is.

And preparing it comes with my two favorite caveats:
1) It couldn't be easier!
2) It makes enough for leftovers!

I used this recipe from the Pioneer Woman (the first one on the page), but made some changes according to what I had in the cupboard, what I thought my family would eat and the mistakes I made from not reading the recipe right.  :)  God Bless yummy mistakes.  Because I'm thinking about going into the freezer to defrost what I just put away and eat it straight from the bag.

Except that would leave me with less for next time.  And that would be sad.  Unlike my funeral, with all that good food, which will not be sad at all.  :)

Crock Pot French Dip 

1 whole Beef Chuck Roast, 2.5 To 4 Pounds 
2 cups water + 2 tsp beef base OR 2 cups of beef broth/stock
1 packet dry Italian dressing mix

1 jar (12 Oz) Pepperoncini Peppers, With Juice 
Buttered, Toasted Deli Rolls
Top with cheese- optional 

Preparation Instructions
Put roast into crock pot.  Blend pepperoncini peppers in blender with juice.  (You can leave whole, but I don't really like pepperoncinis, so the blending works well).  Pour over roast.  Pour beef flavoring (either water plus beef base or beef broth) over roast.  Add Italian dressing packet.  Cover.  Cook on  high 5-6 hours or low all day until fork tender.  Place meat on buttered rolls (I like to melt cheese on the rolls first, so as to prevent sogginess).  Serve with small bowls of liquid from crockpot.  Don't forget the bowls to dip, that's what makes it "French Dip".  Die of goodness.

**Also, this makes enough for at least one nights of leftovers.  After everything has cooled (usually the next day, after I've removed the fat from the top), I'll divide the leftovers into freezer bags with the liquid.  It "freezes beautifully", and provided you have rolls and cheese, you have an EVEN EASIER meal for another night in the future.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Peanut Butter Cookies with Candied Bacon

I know it looks kind of like a regular chocolate chip cookie, but I promise, it is SO much more, my friends.
Recently My Loving Duke and I were discussing our Roads Not Taken.  Not in a sad way, but simply some of the choices we contemplated in our younger days but chose not to make.  Things like moving in with an old college roommate or back across the country to be closer to your parents.  These weren't sad reflections, just a respectful nod to the things that might have been.

But if I am being honest, I do kind of kick myself for not following through on my largest road not taken: becoming a doctor.  I knew I wanted to be a doctor from the age of 5.  I don't know why or how I knew, but I knew.  For the next 17 years, when someone asked me what I wanted to do, I said "Pediatric Oncologist".  Then my senior year of college rolled around and in the midst of some serious reflection during a spiritual retreat, I decided that perhaps I'd been letting the inertia of "becoming a doctor" substitute for the actual dream.  Once I decided not to pursue medical school, I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders, and rather enjoyed finding my new calling.  And that my friends, is how I became a teacher.

But now, in my newest career of Diaper-Changer/Boo-Boo Kisser/Snuggler-in-Chief/COO of the Wholesome Household, I look back and wonder if I wasn't letting fear of the unknown and the very hard work scare me away from medical school.  No matter what the reason, however, that choice is gone.  Sure, I COULD go to medical school, if I could re-take a lot of those science classes, then finish up my pre-med program, interview and gain entrance to a program.  But the reality of me actually going to those schools, spending that time away from my family is just... well, not a reality at all, because I work harder now than I ever would have in med school.  But I'm not sad about this, for even with nostalgia and a little bit of a grass-is-greener sentimentality, I can't really imagine my life having gone any differently.  I can't imagine my children being anything other than they are, and I love being with them, even on the hard days and in the worst of tantrums and middle of the night feedings.  (Ok, maybe not RIGHT during the worst tantrums, but shortly thereafter I remember again why I like them so much.)  One of the roads I've taken is to raise beautiful, strong people who will leave the world a better place than they found it.  To be a strong role model, I don't have to be a doctor, but I can distill that lifelong dream of medicine down to its elements and instill those I hold dearest into my children; a deep love of science and how understanding the world around us in a deeper way can enrich our lives and an ingrained need to give back to the universe through service to others as a way of saying "Thank You" for the beautiful gifts we've been given.

Some might say, myself included, that as a stay at home parent, I do spend my life in service to others.  Most certainly I've learned humility and flexibility in my two years as a mom.  (Also traits I'd like my kids to have in measure.)  But there is something important, I think, about offering of yourself to others, to do your best to help not only those you know and love, but people in general.

And so I try to take the things I'm good at and use them to help others, even with what little "free time" I have.  I try to help babysit when a mom really needs an afternoon out.  I make dinners for my friends when they are undergoing a big life change.  And next Tuesday, I will be baking two different kinds of cookies for the Cookies for Kids Cancer Bake Sale, hosted by Moms of Fredericksburg.  All proceeds from the bake sale go directly to pediatric cancer research.  (Local friends-- feel free to come by Picnic in the Park next Tuesday to buy some!!)  I do this not because it will benefit directly anyone I know, but because this is a gift my parents gave me-- to say thanks for your own blessings, and to use what you're good at to serve others.  And I know my munchkins are too young to remember this event; it won't even be a blip on their radar.  But its important to me to demonstrate with something other than lip-service how we are all dependent on each other, and small kindnesses for others in turn help make us better people.

So I will bake.  Because its about all I've got time for, and because I'm pretty good at it.  I'll be baking my famous Nursing Cookies (famous only to my friends who read the blog, I know, but I'm pretty proud nevertheless) and I'm baking Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies with Candied Bacon.  I have no claim to this recipe-- my friend posted it on Facebook one day, and I made it exactly as it is.  The second time around I've added more bacon because, well, frankly, I think if you're going to use Candied Bacon you should go big or go home.  I mean, really, what's the point if there are just little bits of bacon in the cookies?  You're already eating cookies with bacon in them... there is no health food here, my friends.  Go big or go home.  Consequently-- when chopping the chocolate coated candied bacon (do your arteries hurt just reading those words?), make sure its a really rough chop-- you're going to want nickle sized pieces.

There are two pieces of advice I'd like to offer if you're planning on making these cookies.  First, and this is VERY important: Don't skimp on the bacon.  Make sure you buy good, Applewood Smoked bacon.  Its worth it.  I buy mine from the local butcher shop as a special treat every once in a while.  Nice, thick sliced bacon.  If you use the stuff you get in the cold case at the store, unless its really high end stuff, you will be disappointed, mostly because it tends to cook away entirely.  And the applewood smoking process makes your house smell like a campfire while its cooking, which is just delightful.  Secondly: and this is probably the most important in your enjoyment of the cookie: wait for them to cool.  They're SO much more amazing when they're cool.  I don't know why-- that is the opposite of most cookies.  But they are PHENOMENAL.  I wish there was a font big enough to demonstrate how wonderful these cookies are.  They are a must make, sometime when you have a free bit.  And a little bit of extra room in the waistline of your pants.  :)  I suppose the good news on that front is that this recipe doesn't make that many, so you can't go TOO overboard on eating them.

How To Candy Bacon
Adapted from How Sweet It Is

8 slices (or about half a pound) of Applewood smoked bacon
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I like it hot-- its a nice compliment to the cookie)
1/2 cup chocolate chips for melting
vegetable oil

Lightly oil a cooking rack with the vegetable oil, and place over a cookie sheet.  On a plate, mix brown sugar, cinnamon and cayenne pepper.  Gently press each side of each slice of bacon into the sugar mixture.  Place sugared bacon on rack with cookie sheet underneath, and bake 20-25 minutes until crispy, turning once.  Remove from rack, place on a towel for one minute to drain, then leave on a plate to cool.  (Don't leave on paper towel, or you'll have paper coated candied bacon, a terrible sad waste.)  At this point, either eat as is OR--- melt 1/2 cup chocolate chips (either in the microwave or on double boiler) and drip bacon in said chocolate, place BACK on rack to dry.  Then use in recipe below.

Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies with Candied Bacon
Adapted from How Sweet It Is
makes 12-15 cookies

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
8 slices candied bacon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream butter, peanut butter and sugars together in the bowl of an electric mixer until fluffy – about 3-4 minutes. Add egg and vanilla, mixing until combined. Add flour, baking soda and salt, mixing until just combined and dough forms. Crumble bacon and fold it into dough. Drop tablespoon-sized dough balls on a baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes.