Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sometimes I Cheat in the Kitchen

When the summer months roll around I find that I don't have much motivation to turn on my oven or stove.  And my family doesn't have much of an appetite for big, hearty meals anyway so it works out nicely.

Instead of soups and roasts and casseroles that are so popular around here in the colder months, I opt for cold throw-together pasta dishes or meat -- any meat -- on the grill.  We definitely consume more meat in the summer months.  For veggies we love cherry tomatoes and new potatoes just plain with a little salt or butter.  If I only served tomatoes or potatoes for dinner my kids would think they had died and gone to heaven.

Lately there have been two items in particular that have steered me away from my make-from-scratch ways and have been oh so easy and oh so delicious.

The first is rotisserie chicken.  Do you ever buy these?  At first I turned up my nose thinking it was a serious crime against the homemade.  But now I'm learning to love the ease of pulling meat off the bone and sticking it in a chicken salad (just add celery, halved red grapes, mayo and a squeeze of a fresh lemon) that lasts for days in the frig.  My kids love it plain and Brian loves it on top of toasted whole wheat bread.

And here's the thing that really won me over: There generally isn't a cost savings to buying a whole chicken raw anyway so why not let the deli do the cooking for you?  Now that I'm paying attention I've started to notice deals popping up all over.  Our fancy schmancy grocer sells these babies for $5 each on Fridays.  And I can usually squeeze three meals out of one chicken depending on what I'm using it for.  It's a total winner.

The next item on my cheater list makes me want to put my tail between my legs and hide in the corner.  I'm a little ashamed of it.  It involves the word box which is pretty much banned from my kitchen.  And I really wouldn't even fess up to it except that it's so incredibly delicious I feel it's my duty to pass on the recommendation.

There is a story behind how I stumbled upon this little gem.  One day I was wandering through Trader Joe's when I had a huge hankering for chocolate.  I blame the bun in the oven.  I decided I would make brownies that afternoon but I couldn't remember if I had baking chocolate at home and I didn't want to risk buying Trader Joe's baking chocolate because I'm kind of a chocolate snob and if it went wrong I would have wasted an entire pan of brownies.  So there it was, a box of Trader Joe's Brownie Truffle Baking Mix staring back at me from the shelf.  Just begging to come home with me.  Just this once, I promised myself.

I added the melted butter and couple of eggs as the box indicated and 30 minutes later -- Oh. My. Stars.  Insanity is the best word to describe these brownies.  The next day I ran out and bought two more boxes.  Two because what if they ran out and I had to wait for them to restock?  I wasn't taking any chances.

One word of advice: Bake these for the minimum amount of time required.  They won't look done but once they are fully cooled they will be so much more fudge-y.  Anyway I'm not going to say any more.  Just go buy a box and see for yourself.  And if you don't have a Trader Joe's near your home, I'm so sorry for dangling this carrot.

And to finish this post, so I don't appear to be a total sloth in the kitchen, I should mention that last week I took the long way and made a large batch of iced coffee concentrate from scratch.  I love a good iced latte with hazelnut or vanilla in the summer but they get expensive!  This one totally tastes like I got it from the posh cafe down the street for a fraction of the cost and without having to step out my front door.  The recipe, complete with gorgeous step-by-step photos, can be found here.

Some notes on the final recipe: I only added a splash of half and half to my glass because I like a strong coffee taste.  And instead of sugar I used just a hint of the vanilla flavored syrups that can be found in the coffee aisle at the grocery store.  If you try the recipe let me know how it goes!

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