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  • Have a Spooky Halloween!

    Cheddar Witches Fingers - Cheese straws in the shape of fingers, complete with a black almond "finger nail." Delicious and totally spooky.

    Candy Apples - You don't need to go to the fair to get my favorite treat because you can make these at home. Black food coloring gives them a festive touch.

    Pumpkin Caramel Sauce - Having a not-so-scary Halloween party? Serve ice cream with this pumpkin infused caramel sauce on top.

Monthly Archives: February 2011

Oak Bars (Blondies with Chardonnay)

Oak Bars (Blondies made with Chardonnay)

I have a slight obsession with cookbooks, mostly of the dessert variety. Since there are very few cookbooks I absolutely know without a doubt I’ll love, I often check them out from the library before buying them. It’s nice to be able to test out a few recipes first. If I find myself reluctant to return it, I’ll buy the book. A few months ago, a friend mentioned the cookbook The Boozy Baker to me. Not to sound like a lush, but alcohol in desserts? I am so there. I have a long list of cookbooks that I need want, so I hadn’t yet purchased it. Although I wasn’t looking for it, I happened to find it at the library Saturday morning. The next day, I was making these oak bars. This one has officially been bumped to the top of the “cookbooks to buy” list.

These blondies are different than any I’ve made before. There’s only a 1/4 cup of Chardonnay in them, but don’t underestimate the flavor it provides. Oak bars don’t taste like wine. Rather, they have flavor notes similar to that of the wine. The key to getting that flavor is to use an oak aged Chardonnay (hence the name oak bars). Have you ever tasted a barrel aged wine against a stainless steel aged wine of the same variety? The difference is instantly noticeable. With Chardonnays, the oak barrels (used in fermentation, aging or both) are what provide the wine with hints of butterscotch and vanilla. I generally prefer unoaked Chardonnays, which have a fruitier flavor with a crisper finish. After trying these blondies, though, I’m rethinking that preference. They’re bold and butterscotchy, even when you get a bite without the butterscotch chips. The toasted cashews add a wonderful flavor and crunch to the chewy blondies. As you can imagine, these taste great with a glass of Chardonnay.

Oak Bars (Blondies made with Chardonnay)

Oak Bars
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup oak aged Chardonnay
1/2 cup chopped, toasted cashews
3/4 cup butterscotch chips

Preheat oven to 350º. Line an 8-inch square pan with foil, leaving a 2 inch overhang. Lightly coat with nonstick spray and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and brown sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. On low speed, beat in the egg and Chardonnay. Gradually beat in the flour mixture until just combined. Stir in the cashews and butterscotch chips.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the edges are golden and the center has just set. Cool completely in pan set atop a wire rack. Remove from pan using foil overhang, then cut into 12 bars. Store in an airtight container for up to four days (if they last that long!).

Adapted from The Boozy Baker by Lucy Baker

Couscous with Toasted Pine Nuts


I’ve been making an effort lately to focus more on side dishes. I always put a lot of thought into them when we’re having guests over, but that doesn’t always happen when I’m making mine and Eric’s meal plan for the week. We have a few standard sides that we make frequently, and I thought it was time to change it up a bit. As luck would have it, I just picked up Ina Garten’s new book How Easy is That? and was inspired to make this recipe the day after seeing it.

This couscous, as you can tell from the name of the book, is incredibly easy to make. It’s ready in about 20 minutes, and 10 of those are just letting the couscous steam. This side is simple but elegant and would go well with nearly any entrée. The thing that I especially liked about this couscous was its texture. I’ve had couscous before that seemed kind of flat, but this one gets added texture from the onions and crunch from the toasted pine nuts. Those two things, in combination with the vibrant parsley and fluffy couscous, make for one delicious side dish. The only change I made was to squeeze a bit of fresh lemon juice over the couscous once it finished cooking. We were having lemon chicken, and I thought it was a good way to tie it all together. I liked the freshness the lemon juice added to the couscous, but it will taste great either way.


Couscous with Toasted Pine Nuts
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, chopped (1 cup)
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup couscous
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice (optional)

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft but not browned. Add the chicken broth, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Stir in the couscous and immediately turn off the heat. Cover the saucepan and allow the couscous to steam for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork, then stir in the pine nuts, parsley and lemon juice (if using). Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings

Adapted from How Easy is That? by Ina Garten

Garlic Potato Soup

Garlic Potato Soup

Like I mentioned in my post yesterday, Eric and I have been on a bit of a soup kick lately. Due to the crazy weather we’ve had (flip flops one day, pea coat the next), I have been craving soup more than usual. I have a few favorite soups that I make when I’m feeling bad, but I wanted to try something different and was so happy when I found this recipe. Most of the potato soups I’ve had get the majority of their flavor from the bacon, cheddar and green onions on top and not the soup itself. I was intrigued by this recipe, and you know I can’t resist anything with garlic in the title.

The thing I loved about this soup is that both the garlic and potato flavors were evident. The soup uses two types of potatoes – russets and Red Bliss. The starchy russets break down, thickening the soup. The Red Bliss potatoes provide more flavor and maintain their shape so that the soup remains somewhat chunky. Three different techniques are used for the garlic in this soup – sautéing, poaching and frying. We’ve never poached garlic before, but the outcome is basically the same as roasted garlic. The poached garlic is used to create a paste to flavor the soup. The recipe instructs to add half, then additional to taste. When Eric was adding it, he said, “You want me to add all the garlic paste, right?” My response was that there was no need to even ask. :) We both love garlic that much. The fried garlic is used as a garnish for the soup and adds a crunchy texture to it. You can also use croutons or fried leeks. However you top it, this soup is rich, delicious and perfect for chilly nights.

Garlic Potato Soup

Garlic Potato Soup
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium leek, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise and chopped small (about 1 cup)
3 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
2 heads garlic, rinsed, papery skins removed and top third of heads cut off and discarded
6-7 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
2 bay leaves
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 1/2 cups)
1 pound Red Bliss potatoes (unpeeled), cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 3 cups)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup minced fresh chives
For the Garlic Chips
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced lengthwise

In a Dutch oven set over medium heat, melt the butter. Once foaming subsides, add leeks and cook until soft but not browned, 5-8 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add garlic heads, 6 cups of broth, bay leaves and salt. Partially cover pot and increase heat to medium-high. When mixture reaches a simmer, reduce heat and continue simmering 30-40 minutes or until garlic is soft enough to be easily pierced with the tip of a knife. Add potatoes and continue to simmer, partially covered, for 15-20 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, make garlic chips by heating oil and garlic in a 10-inch skillet set over medium-high heat. Cook, turning frequently, until garlic is light golden brown, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer garlic to a paper towel lined plate and sprinkle lightly with salt. Set aside.

Discard bay leaves and remove garlic heads. Using tongs, gently squeeze garlic heads at the base to remove each clove from its papery skin. Using a fork, mash cloves to form a smooth paste.

Stir cream, thyme and half the garlic paste into the soup. Cook for about 2 minutes, until soup is warmed through. Taste and add additional garlic paste, if desired. Using an immersion blender, carefully process soup until creamy but with some chunks remaining. Alternately, a potato masher can be used to mash some of the potatoes, but the consistency will not be as creamy. Add more broth if necessary to reach desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve soup with garlic chips and chives.

Adapted from Cooks Illustrated, March 2007

Cashew Chicken Stir-Fry

Cashew Chicken Stir Fry

Although Eric and I both immensely enjoy spending time in the kitchen, there are some nights that doing so just isn’t feasible. We recently had a night like that. Though we didn’t have any prior commitments, both of us were sick with nasty colds and didn’t have the energy to cook anything too involved. Having already eaten soup three times that week, I was looking for something that would be easy, tasty and spicy. This recipe turned out to be exactly what we needed. Having already made it a couple times before, I knew it would pack a lot of flavor in a short amount of time. Plus, I figured a dose of Siracha in our meal might help clear up our colds. Hey, it couldn’t hurt, right? :)

I love making stir-fry because it’s quick, delicious and filling. You can really use any combination of meat and vegetables, which makes it highly adaptable. I love this combination – moist chicken, crisp-tender pepper strips and crunchy cashews. The sauce is made from hoisin and white wine vinegar, with a cornstarch slurry to thicken it. I was a little wary the first time we made this because I thought for sure the sauce would need more ingredients, but it’s quite flavorful as is. The only change I made to the original recipe is to add Siracha to the sauce. I like the heat it adds, but you can certainly leave it out if you don’t want the dish to be spicy. This is an insanely quick meal, and it takes longer to prep the ingredients than it does to actually cook them. If you’re fast with a knife, you can have this meal on the table in next to no time, perfect for nights when you’re in a hurry or simply lack the energy to cook.

Cashew Chicken Stir Fry

Cashew Chicken Stir Fry
2 tablespoons cornstarch
6 tablespoons water or chicken broth
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon Siracha (optional)
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup roasted, unsalted cashews
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, chopped into bite-size pieces
salt and pepper, to taste
Half a bell pepper, cut into strips
3-4 green onions, thinly sliced
Rice, for serving

Cook rice according to package directions. In a small bowl, combine cornstarch and water/chicken broth and whisk until smooth. Stir in hoisin, vinegar and Siracha and set aside.

Add oil to wok or large skillet and set over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cashews and stir until garlic is golden and fragrant. Season chicken with salt and pepper, then add to wok. Cook until chicken is no longer pink, then add pepper strips and cornstarch mixture. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, for 5-7 minutes or until sauce has thickened. Stir in all but 2 tablespoons of the green onions. Serve with rice and top with remaining green onions and additional cashews, if desired.

Serves 3

Adapted from Eclectic Recipes

Fried Plantain Chips with Avocado Kiwi Salsa

Fried Plantain Chips with Avocado Kiwi Salsa

Today is an unseasonably warm day in Virginia. So warm that I can finally wear my flip flops outside! Although I know it won’t last long, I’m comforted by the fact that spring will be here soon. To hold you over until then, I thought I’d share this warm weather recipe from my 24×24 party last month. I’ve received several requests for the recipe and figured this warm, sunny day would be the perfect day to share it.

When I was searching for recipes for the 24×24 party, I knew I wanted some type of chips and salsa. I wanted it to have some type of tropical flair and was so excited when I came across these recipes on Epicurious. They turned out to be perfect for each other, and they were both big hits at the party. Such big hits, in fact, that they were gone when I went back for seconds. The super crunchy plantain chips are sprinkled with a combination of smoky seasoned salt, cayenne and lime zest, giving them a bright and spicy kick. The original recipe called for regular salt, but I couldn’t resist subbing in my favorite smoky seasoned salt from Penzey’s. I’ll admit – the plantain chips were so good that Eric and I both got a little carried away when taste-testing them before the party. The salsa gets tons of flavor and texture from the avocado, kiwis, red onion and jalapeno. I was a little unsure about the avocado and fruit combination, but this salsa turned out to be one of the best ones I’ve ever made. It’s incredibly refreshing, and we loved it so much that we made it again a week later. I think it would be great served over grilled fish, too. This would make a great appetizer for a spring or summer cookout, and I know we’ll be making it several more times once the warm weather (permanently) arrives.

Also, thank you so much for all the wonderful comments you left about your most memorable dessert! Eric and I both enjoyed reading through all of them. The winner is Diana, who said, “The best dessert I ever had was a molten chocolate cake at Maria Marie in Mexico. So delicious, it was 3 years ago and I’m still in love with it.” Congratulations, Diana! I’ll be emailing you your Bake it Pretty gift certificate soon.

Fried Plantain Chips with Avocado Kiwi Salsa

Fried Plantain Chips
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lime zest
1 1/2 teaspoons seasoned salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
6 cups vegetable oil
4 very green plantains (about 1 1/2 pounds)

In a small bowl, combine zest, salt and cayenne. Set aside. Line a baking sheet with a double layer of paper towels and set near stovetop.

Heat oil in a 5-quart pot set over medium to medium-high heat until a thermometer reaches 375º. While oil is heating, cut ends off plantains and use a sharp knife to score each plantain lengthwise 5 times. Place into a bowl of hot water and soak for 5 minutes before peeling. Using a mandoline or vegetable peeler, slice the plantains into very thin (about 1/8-inch) strips. Fry strips 6 at a time, turning frequently, for 30 to 45 seconds or until golden. Remove using tongs or a spider and sprinkle immediately with salt mixture.

Plantain chips can be made several hours in advance. Cool completely, then store in an airtight container at room temperature until ready to serve.

Adapted from Epicurious

Avocado Kiwi Salsa
2 kiwis, peeled and roughly chopped
1 avocado, pitted, peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1 jalapeño chile, seeded and finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
salt and pepper, to taste

Gently toss together all ingredients, adding salt and pepper as needed. Serve immediately.

Note: Since I was making this for a party, I tossed together everything except for the avocado and added it a few minutes before guests arrived.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

Adapted from Epicurious