Friday, January 31, 2020

Graham Cracker Toffee Bars

Graham Cracker Toffee Bars - made January 30, 2020 from Tastes Better From Scratch
I have a bunch of other recipes to put up that I made before this but I'm leap frogging this to the front of the line because it's just that good and I want you to make it as soon as humanly possible. Actually, it's also because it's amazingly easy. Like, seriously amazingly easy.
I modified the original recipe slightly to make it even easier. I used chocolate chips which I already had in my pantry instead of running out to get Hershey bars. I also skipped the step of covering the newly baked bars with foil after placing the chocolate on top. Instead, once you take out the bars and turn your oven off, blanket the top of the bars with chocolate chips, put it back in the hot (but turned off) oven for 2-3 minutes (no longer!) then take out and the chips should be melted enough to spread easily.
Sprinkle the top with any garnishes like toffee bits while the chocolate is still melted so they'll adhere more easily. Then let cool and set. You'll want a sharp knife to cut these. The graham cracker layer is still crisp and makes for a nice base. I think that's also why I liked these so much. There's a nice texture contrast between the crisp graham crackers, the crunch of the toasted pecans and the richness of the chocolate.
I made these to put in the care package for a deployed military service member and they also turned out to be a good choice for mailing. The food vacuum sealer fit snugly around the bars which will also help them from getting crushed or broken and won't move around in the box during shipping. Last pic shows all the cookies and brownies/bars I made and vacuum sealed for shipping. I'm such a stickler for freshness that I don't think I'll ever mail non-vacuum-sealed baked goods again.
1 package honey graham crackers
14 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup pecans, chopped and lightly toasted
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13" pan with foil and lightly spray with cooking spray.
  2. Place graham cracker sheets along the bottom of pan, covering completely.
  3. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add brown sugar and bring to a full boil, stirring constantly. Add pecans and boil mixture for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
  4. Remove from heat and pour mixture over graham crackers, spreading in an even layer.
  5. Bake for 7 minutes. Turn oven off and remove pan from heat. Sprinkle with chocolate chips, blanketing mixture completely; this is not the time to skimp. Put bars back in hot oven for 2-3 minutes, no longer.
  6. When chocolate begins to melt, remove from oven and spread melted chocolate evenly over top. Sprinkle with toffee bits or M&Ms if desired. Cool completely before cutting and serving.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Bistek Tagalog

Bistek Tagalog - made December 16, 2019 from Lola Kusinera
Growing up, bistek was one of my favorite Filipino dishes. Filipinos shortened "beef steak" to "bistek" but however you want to say it, it's slices of tender beef simmered in a lemon-soy sauce marinade with sliced onions. Or "really good" if you want to keep it simple.

This is a typical Filipino dish of something with a tasty sauce to help also flavor the rice. I can give up rice as long as I don't eat Filipino food because so many amazing Filipino dishes (except the ones with noodles) just beg for rice. And you can't eat bistek with soft, fluffy rice to further enjoy the sauce.

This was pretty good and very easy to make. You just want to make sure you get a good cut of beef, slice it thinly and simmer long enough to soften the beef. Add water during simmering if your sauce starts to dry out but you want to keep enough flavor and not water it down too much.

2 pounds beef chuck roast, sliced thin and pounded
3/4 cup Knorr Liquid Seasoning or 1/2 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup kalamansi juice or lemon juice
8-10 cloves garlic, peeled and minced.
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground pepper
salt as needed
1 large onion, sliced thin and round
1/3 cup cooking oil
  1. In a large bowl, combine soy sauce, kalamansi or lemon juice, minced garlic, brown sugar and ground pepper. Add beef slices to the mixture and mix well. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Remove meat from the marinade and reserve marinade.
  3. Heat oil in wok or wide frying pan. Quick fry onion slices and set aside. Using the same wok or frying pan, adjust heat to high and quick fry beef by batches. Remove from pan and reserve.
  4. Pour remaining marinade into frying pan. Simmer on low heat for 3 to 5 minutes. Add the fried marinated beef to the cooking pan. Stir and simmer for another 3 to 5 minutes or until the sauce thickens. Add the onions and stir. When meat is tender, remove from heat. Serve warm with rice.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Super Moist Air Fryer Chicken Wings

Super Moist Air Fryer Chicken Wings - made December 21, 2019 from Craving Tasty
The last chicken wing recipe that's been - haha - waiting in the wings to be posted. This one is probably the easiest out of all of them since it's basically a dry rub that you rub all over the chicken wings then let it cook in the air fryer. Simple.

It was also pretty tasty. If you want a quick snack or an easy, low-carb meal, this fits the bill. I ran them in my air fryer a little bit longer to make sure the chicken was cooked so mine don't look as moist on the outside as the original blog's but inside it was still pretty moist and the outside was crisp. A reminder to keep using my air fryer more often with good results.

12 chicken wings (drummettes and wingettes)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
  1. Dry the wings with paper towels and place in a medium bowl. Mix the salt, chili powder, garlic and baking powder in a small bowl. Gently rub the seasoning all over the wings, ensuring even coverage; set aside.
  2. Lightly rub the cooking rack of air fryer with cooking oil to reduce sticking or lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray. Arrange the chicken wings on the rack in a single layer, allowing for free air circulation.
  3. Set temperature of air fryer to 400 or 410 degrees F. Set the cooking time to 20 minutes and start.
  4. After 20 minutes, check time for doneness and cook further if needed or if you want more crispness.
  5. Serve immediately.

Monday, January 20, 2020

MLK Day of Service

Martin Luther King Jr Day of Service - January 20, 2020

This is going to be a different post than I normally write. I have to admit, I'm getting tired of baking the same things and writing the same things about them. As I continue to struggle with the should I/shouldn't I give up the blog issue, I decided to take a break and post a bit more about how I'm spending my time in retirement. I have a lot of thoughts running in my head, namely, that retirement doesn't change who you fundamentally are, but that's for a future post.

For today, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr and the MLK Day of Service, I wanted to showcase one of the nonprofits I volunteer at, namely the Food Bank of Northern Nevada. These pics are from the various distribution events I've gone to over the past 2 months.

I've volunteered at food banks back in the Bay Area, namely the Second Harvest Food Bank, but, because I worked so much, it's typically been (very) sporadic. I often didn't have the time or the energy or either. What I love about being retired now is I do have the time and I'm getting enough sleep to definitely have the energy.

My prior food bank volunteer experience has usually been helping sort and pack in their warehouse. I've helped out at the warehouse here as well but now I primarily volunteer at what they call their Mobile Harvest distribution. I try to do mobile harvest twice a week and I also help out at the food bank office every other week, helping them catch up on their data entry for volunteer activity. Based on working with other volunteers and meeting food bank clients directly, I wrote a note about the lessons I've learned by volunteering at the food bank. I'm posting an updated version here based on the additional learning I realized at last week's mobile harvests.

Things I Learned Volunteering at the Food Bank
Thanks to my current semi-retirement, I’m realizing my goal of volunteering more often and giving back to my local community. One of the nonprofits I now regularly volunteer at is the Food Bank of Northern Nevada. I try to volunteer at a “mobile harvest” distribution at least twice a week. Mobile Harvest is when the food bank sets up at a predetermined site to distribute food to its clients. As the name implies, “harvest” refers to the fact that the bulk of the food given away is fresh produce: grapes, tomatoes, garlic, potatoes, sweet potatoes, celery, and other produce. Sometimes there are proteins like pork patties, eggs and dairy like milk. I’ve also done volunteer shifts at their warehouse and I go into the office itself every other week to help with their administrative tasks.

What I’ve learned during all my volunteer shifts:

  • There’s a core of volunteers who show up faithfully at each one of these and I’m starting to recognize some of the “regulars”. They, like me, are mostly retired, although I’m still probably one of the youngest volunteers there. At first I thought they were also like me in that they are fortunate enough to be able to retire. Maybe they are. But I also noticed some of those die-hard volunteers are clients of the food bank themselves.
  • Hunger has no race. I never take pictures of clients (just the food being distributed and the food bank truck) but I have seen a steady stream of Caucasians, Hispanics, Filipinos, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Middle Eastern and others I probably can’t easily identify.
  • Hunger has no gender or age. Clients are both men and women, elderly folks pushing walkers, young couples with babies in their arms, mothers with children in tow, pet owners with dogs on leashes, single folks, middle-aged, old and young.
  • Clients have jobs. I hear them talking about their work shifts, overtime, not taking sick days and working the night shift.
  • Clients don’t “just take free stuff”. They are given the option to accept the allotted food from each station. Some refuse, saying they have something already and would rather that particular food “go to someone else who needs it”. Or, even more touching, they take their full allotment and talk about sharing their extras with their (often elderly) neighbors who physically can’t get out to a distribution event.
  • Clients are grateful. Whatever their circumstance that leads them to being a food bank client, many are cheery, volubly thank the volunteers for what they’re doing and express their appreciation. Many look you in the eye, smile and say thank you.
  • Clients help each other. As each person goes past each station to receive the allotment of food, they help each other with placing the items in their bags, wait patiently as the person in front of them takes a bit longer to get all of their items in order and don’t complain. Lines in retail stores at the mall could learn something here.
  • Volunteers are an amazing group. We stand in the freezing cold for 90 minutes to 2 hours, setting up, cleaning up and breaking down the stations when it’s over. No one complains. One man uses a cane and has to sit for his shift but he shows up and has been showing up for the last 10 years. They are kind. They are respectful to the clients. They greet them like old friends. They have heart. They wait until the end before they take their allotment of the food distribution. Some of them have been volunteering for years.
I’m always grateful for the opportunity to give back. But I didn’t expect to receive so much in return. If you ever have a chance to do it, I highly recommend it. You will be repaid tenfold.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Korean Fried Chicken in the Air Fryer

Korean Fried Chicken in the Air Fryer - made December 13, 2019, modified from Tasty Kitchen
This was from last month when I was still going through my Korean Fried Chicken and chicken in the air fryer phase. This recipe let me combine both themes.
At this point, I'd finally broken down and bought the more expensive chicken wings from Costco. I don't know why chicken wings would be more expensive than thighs or drumsticks but if I wanted to try actual chicken wings, I had to buy chicken wings.
The air fryer worked beautifully to cook the chicken with far less mess than frying them in hot oil and is healthier. The drummettes and wings came out crispy enough. I did double the sauce recipe though as it didn't look like there would be enough sauce for all the chicken. I think I still have the Filipino mindset where you need enough sauce to go with the rice.

Good KFC though, in my experience, doesn't need to be sauce heavy. Part of the allure is having enough to make the chicken flavorful but not be too heavy handed. It isn't meant to be saucy enough to be sopped up with rice.
Still, this turned out pretty well. The gochujang makes it spicy so I could've probably cut back a little on the sauce and done a better job tossing the chicken to coat. But it was "good enough" for me.
Chili Sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons ginger, grated
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons Gochujang (Korean chili paste)

For the Chicken
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 whole chicken wings, separated and tips discarded
1 tablespoon oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 stalk green onion, for garnish
  1. Chili sauce: combine soy sauce, vinegar, corn syrup, sesame oil, ginger, garlic and gochujang in a large bowl; set aside.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, cornstarch, egg and salt for the batter until it's a thick paste. Add the wings and mix with your hands until wings are thoroughly coated.
  3. Place coated wings in air fryer basket and drizzle with oil. Cook in air fryer for about 35 minutes or until brown and crispy.
  4. Add fried chicken to the sauce and add sesame seeds; toss to coat completely. Serve hot, garnished with green onion.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Pecan Butterscotch Shortbreads

Pecan Butterscotch Shortbreads - made dough December 14, 2019 from Dorie's Cookies by Dorie Greenspan
I made these for my mom to take to a holiday party last month. I'm still catching up on posts from December. You'd think I'd have more time with this retirement thing but I find the days going by pretty quickly. Only difference is instead of work, they're filled more with the activities of my choosing :).
This is another great recipe from Dorie Greenspan. The original recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of Scotch whisky, presumably for flavoring. I don't drink and I can't stand the taste of whisky (it only took one disastrous snickerdoodle recipe spiked with whisky to convince me) so I subbed out the whisky for 1 tablespoon of rum and an extra tablespoon of vanilla extract.
I've baked with rum before, notably in a Basque cake, so I know I can stand a small amount for flavoring. The rum flavor came out in this shortbread cookie but not too much. Bear in mind I have very low tolerance for alcohol. More seasoned drinkers probably wouldn't even taste it.
But I did like how these cookies turned out. The dough was easy to work with, the cookies held their shape well in baking and sandwiching with cookie butter was the perfect flavor complement. You can eat these plain as well but I like making them as cookie butter sandwiches.

1 3/4 cups (238 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (32 grams) cornstarch
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into chunks, room temperature
1/2 cup (100 grams) packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup (30 grams) confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 tablespoons Scotch whisky (I substituted 1 tablespoon rum and 1 tablespoon vanilla extract)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup (80 grams) chopped pecans, toasted and cooled
3 ounces best quality milk or white chocolate, finely chopped (I left them out)
  1. Sift flour and cornstarch together.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter, brown sugar, confectioners' sugar and salt together on medium-low speed until smooth, about 4 minutes; scrape down sides of bowl.
  3. Add the Scotch and vanilla and beat for 1 minute more. Stop the mixer and add the dry ingredients all at once. Pulse until the risk of flying flour has passed. Beat on low speed until dry ingredients are absorbed. Add pecans and chocolate.
  4. Turn the dough out and gather together. Divide in half and shape into a disk. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll the dough between pieces of parchment paper to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Slide the parchment-sandwiched dough onto a baking sheet and freeze for at least 1 hour or refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  5. Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Butter or spray two regular muffin tins and have a 2-inch diameter cookie cutter in hand.
  6. Working with one sheet of dough at a time, peel away both pieces of parchment paper and put the dough back on one piece of paper. Cut the dough and drop the rounds into the tins. The dough won't fill the tins now but it will once baked. Save the scraps.
  7. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the cookies are toasty brown and set around the edges. Transfer the tins to the cooling rack and allow the cookies to rest for at least 20 minutes or until they reach room temperature before unmolding.
  8. Repeat with remaining cookie dough. Gather the scraps together, re-roll, chill, cut and bake.

Sunday, January 12, 2020


Fudge - made December 6, 2019 from Back to My Southern Roots
This was another attempt to defy the Fudge Gods to make decent fudge. I've had my failures and my (limited) success in the past with fudge. I want to make it as creamy as See's Candy fudge but I don't like walnuts so I want a plain fudge a la See's Candy.
Over the years and failed attempts, I've lowered my aspirations from See's Candy goodness to "fudge that isn't dry or crumbly". Fortunately, this hit the mark.Although it firmed up nicely, it was creamy and soft when you bit into it. A bit sweet, like fudge usually is (hello, marshmallow cream) so if you want a darker, richer fudge, use 85% bittersweet or dark chocolate. I used mini chocolate chips for easier melting and they're standard semisweet.
Although I normally like to make fudge with roasted almonds or pecans in them to offset the sweetness, I kept these plain as the bulk of it was going into a care package for military personnel overseas. While the deployed soldier I was sending them to checked "no allergies" on his info, I know they share their care package with the rest of their unit and there might be allergies amongst them so I left out the nuts.
This was creamy enough when first made but I did find it dried out a little, even though I froze them first before mailing. I wrapped them tightly (this was before I got a food vacuum sealer for Christmas) so I hope they arrived okay.
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter
2/3 cup (5 ounces) evaporated milk
3 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup (5 ounces) evaporated milk
12 ounces mini chocolate chips
1 7-ounce jar marshmallow cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted (I omitted them this time)
  1. Line 8 x 8" square baking pan with foil and very lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium high heat. 
  3. Add evaporated milk and sugar; stir. Bring to a full rolling boil on medium heat; stirring constantly. Cook until candy thermometer reaches 234 degrees or for 4 minutes. Remove from heat.
  4. Add marshmallow cream; stir until well blended. 
  5. Add vanilla; stir until blended.
  6. Add chocolate chips and stir until chips are melted and blended.
  7. Fold in toasted pecans. Pour into prepared pan, smooth top and cool.