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Test Kitchen

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My New Year resolution to post a new recipe every week? It only lasted a few weeks. Oh well, I can stick with posting my kitchen experiments as they happen. Or in this case several all at once.

When I was making cookies today I thought “wow, I’d love to work in a test kitchen.” To be paid to tweak recipes, try variations, how awesome. Where is the part time job with flexible hours at a mom and pop bakery? I think that’s what I need when I go back to work.

I’ve tried a few recipes recently: falafel (two recipes), chicken tortilla soup, crockpot orange chicken, and s’mores cookies. With the exception of the falafel, I’d try all of them again – with some changes.

Leia and I had lunch at the Luna Grill across the street. I left thinking “I could totally make falafel!” So I searched online and decided to try this version on Martha’s site. It was a complete fail. The mix (batter? dough?) was so runny it was mushy goop in the frying pan. The flaws? Juice of a whole lemon is way too much. It needed more than the egg to bind it together. Maybe I need to squeeze the liquid from the mashed chikckpeas with a towel? I ended up throwing out the whole mix. I did enjoy the addition of mint. With 4.5 stars and 700+ reviews I thought Sean’s Falafel would be a winner. It included breadcrumbs, but it was still too loose and mushy. I thought the amount of onion was overpowering as well. Tossed the whole batch.

So now what? I think I’ll just let the Luna Grill make my falafel. Until I meet someone that has a Grandma with an old family recipe to show me the ropes. Or a box of the Casbash mix stuff. Moving on…

My friend Melissa pinned this recipe for chicken tortilla soup. I love that “pinned” is a verb – kudos to Pintrest for making it big time. I have tried a handful of tortilla soup recipes in the past. The problem being there are so many variations it’s hard to replicate your favorite. I like mine with no vegetables, no beans. A thicker broth. Soft tortillas in the soup, crunchy ones on top. A little spicy, but not overwhelming. Claim Jumper and Playa Grill set the gold standard for me. This recipe had a lot to live up to, and for the most part it delivered. I like that it recommends using rotisserie chicken – that is my favorite kitchen shortcut. It was a little heavy on the cumin. I felt like it didn’t get “creamy” enough so I tried running my immersion blender through the finished soup a few times. That was a mistake, it destroyed the chicken and soft pieces of tortilla (duh). I didn’t like the chunks of tomato. I want to try it again soon with the following changes: 1 tsp cumin, blending the canned tomatoes before adding to the soup.

Orange chicken was the first Chinese food I ever tried. I think I was 20 years old, with the palate of and 8 year old. I thought it was disgusting, but like most unhealthy things (ha) it eventually grew on me. I love my crockpot so when I came across this recipe for orange chicken I thought I’d fall in love. The pictures look perfect – sticky, sweet, a little sour, slightly crunchy. Making it myself means I can use all white meat. The only change I made to the recipe was adding orange zest. It was really good, but not quite was I was hoping for. Changes I’d make? I put too much chicken in the pot. I think this made it hard for the sauce to reduce and get sticky. Her blog shows then chicken in a single layer at the bottom or a big pot. My chicken was a few layers deep. I’ll also try frying the pieces a little longer or on higher heat to get a crispier exterior. I think it needs more brown sugar, and maybe rice vinegar instead of balsamic. I want to swap the ketchup too, but I’m not sure for what, I need to look at other recipes for ideas. I suggest cooking it on high vs. low so the chicken doesn’t fall apart.

Her version.

My version (veggies steamed separately).

I bought graham crackers for Leia. On the back of the box was a cookie recipe. They had chocolate chips, and the first thing I thought of was s’mores – I had leftover marshmallows from making rice krispie treats earlier this month. I’ve contemplated testing some other s’more cookie recipes, but this one intrigued me with the use of condensed milk, which was also sitting in my pantry.

Irresistible Graham Cracker Cookies

1 1/2c. honey graham crackers, finely crushed
1/2c. flour
2t. baking powder
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1/2c. butter or margarine
2c. semisweet chocolate chips
1c. chopped nuts (optional)
1c. flaked coconut (optional)
1t. vanilla
To make graham cracker crumbs:  Place graham cracker squares into a large resealable plastic bag and seal the bag.  Using a rolling pin, crush crackers into finely crushed crumbs to make 1 1/2 cups.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a medium bowl, mix together graham cracker crumbs, flour, and baking powder.  Mix in sweetened condensed milk, butter, and vanilla.  Stir until smooth.  Stir in chocolate chips, coconut, and nuts.  Drop by teaspoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet.  Bake 12-15 min. or until lightly browned.

I omitted the nuts and coconut and added 1 1/2 c mini marshmallows. The dough seemed too soft so I put it in the freezer for 10 minutes before scooping and baking. It didn’t work, the marshmallows dissolved halfway through cooking turning the cookie into a melted flat crisp sugar mess. Delicious, but not a cookie. So now I was stuck, I had to pick out the marshmallows and try again, adding them later in the cooking process. This also resulted in a loss of overall dough and too many chocolate chips in each cookie (I know, it sounds impossible, but there really can be too much chocolate in a cookie). First attempt was adding marshmallows on top during the last minute of cooking – not bad, but not the slightly melted, lightly browned effect I wanted. The cookies were also spreading too thin still despite the chilled dough. So I added some extra graham cracker crumbs to the remaining (marshmallow free) dough. Then I tried another batch adding the marshmallows a few minutes before the cookies were done.


I definitely want to make the cookies again. I will increase to 2 cups of crushed graham crackers, 2/3 c flour, decrease chocolate chips to 1 1/2 c. And of course add the marshmallows a few minutes before cookies are done (around the 10 minute mark).


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