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Tuesday, June 21, 2016
I'm a relatively new convert to Chick Fil A. I'm not nearly as hardcore as many of the locals around here (I don't make it my life's ambition to eat there at least once a day, for instance, like some people I know), but I appreciate their classy take on the fast food theme. Additionally, I like the fact that for a fast food place, you can choose to eat relatively well. Take their new "superfood" salad. I know that kale is in vogue right now, so it strikes me as kind of a publicity stunt, but it's a darn tasty one. I don't think I'll complain too much that they decided to jump on the bandwagon.
I really like the maple vinaigrette, too. It's sweet but has just a bit of an edge and a pleasantly complex taste. After looking online to see if someone had already developed a good "copycat" recipe, I realized I'd have to do it myself. Most of the recipes I looked at in no way resembled the ingredient profile of Chick Fil A's vinaigrette. My version, I think, really comes very close to the flavor profile of the original.
This maple vinaigrette is darn tasty. While I do really like it on the kale/broccolini mixture Chick Fil A uses, it would work on all kinds of other salad mixtures. The original is fairly sweet, I think to help mitigate some of the bitterness you can often get in kale. If you want to make it less sweet, just reduce or eliminate the brown sugar. As for the nut mixture, you can use candied nuts or just a mixture of roasted ones. The nice thing about making the superfood salad at home is that you can customize it to your palate! They cap it off with dried, tart cherries, which I think is perfect, but you could use any other kind of dried fruit that floats your boat.
Lastly, before I give you the recipe, let's have a brief word about massaging. Massaging bitter greens like kale releases enzymes that help break those bitter compounds down, making your salad a more enjoyable experience. Simply wash, spin, and cut/tear your greens as usual, dress them, and then get in there with your hands and give them a back rub! While you're working them, you'll notice that the leaves will lose some of their inherent toughness (making kale especially more palatable, in my book) and the color will darken. It usually takes 2-3 minutes to get them just right. I don't like to do it too long, or the leaves become wilty and remind me of cooked greens - not what you want for a salad! This works for kale and also broccolini. You could make this salad with broccoli rabe as well (in my experience, broccolini has been hard to find), but it is a bit more bitter. Some folks like that more than others. You do not, by the way, need to blanch the broccolini or broccoli rabe, if using them; just be sure to give them a little massaging, too.
Yield: approx 1 cup vinaigrette
1/4 real maple syrup
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 TBS soy sauce
1 TBS balsamic vinegar
1 tsp onion powder
4 tsp brown sugar (optional, or to taste)
1/16 tsp guar gum (optional, helps to emulsify the dressing)
Mix all ingredients together in a jar. Place a cap on the jar and shake vigorously for a full minute. Keep leftovers refrigerated and use within a week.
Monday, June 20, 2016
I cannot begin to tell you how excited I am to have figured out this recipe. We love Middle Eastern fare. One of our favorites is kabobs, although we love everything else we've ever tried of it, too. Yogurt sauce is ubiquitous in many Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. Unfortunately, I've just usually never been a big fan of them. Tzatziki is probably the best known, but it's always too tart for my taste. Enter our local Mediterranean/Middle Eastern eatery (hey, it's a small town - thus this one place has a wide range of cuisine). From the first time we ordered their gyros and souvlaki, I was hooked. I had never enjoyed eating a yogurt sauce so much! But what was the difference? When I asked them, they said it was basically just yogurt and cucumber, but when I would buy Greek or other yogurt from the supermarket, it never came out right.
Then I recently placed an order for some more cheese cultures. While surfing New England Cheese Making's site, I came across a yogurt culture that claimed to be "sweet." Was this what I was looking for? I had to give it a try!! I ordered some culture, but just sat on it for a while, never quite getting around to it. Then, while out of town, I was in a Mediterranean grocery and started asking them about the yogurts they had for sale and whether any of them had a sweeter flavor. The clerk suggested I try this one, which is a strained yogurt "cheese" (i.e. is drained until it is almost the texture a soft cheese). I gave it a whirl and it turned out exactly how I wanted it! It was absolutely delicious!
Just one problem. I live in a small town in the South. Not many Mediterranean groceries around here. But now that I had a recipe, I knew I had to give that "sweet" yogurt culture a try. It worked perfectly. It's a bit time consuming to make the yogurt sauce when you have to make the yogurt yourself first, but - I'm telling you - it's worth it! If you have a market nearby you can buy the stuff from, even better!! Even my three year old scarfs it down like there's no tomorrow. Give him a plate of kabob meat and yogurt sauce, and you've got one happy little boy.
Well, if you can buy the stuff, then you can ignore the next few paragraphs (lucky devil!). Otherwise, here's how to make your own yogurt.
First, you have to scald the milk. The starter culture that I use will work for 1-2 quarts. The process is the same for either amount, you just need to change the size of the vessels you use. I did one quart this time, but I'll probably do two in the future to maximize my time. Place the whole milk (please don't skimp on this) in a pan and heat to 185 degrees, stirring occasionally to reduce the chance of scorching. Use a thermometer and pull it off the heat as soon as it reaches temperature. Have a sink of cold water ready to set the pan in. The goal is to cool it down to between 110 and 112 degrees F fairly quickly.
Add the starter culture and stir for one to two minutes. Pour the milk into a jar (or other vessel) to culture. I use a jar when I make yogurt because you typically don't want to disturb the yogurt once it's done because it causes it to separate. In this case, it's not as big an issue because you're going to dump it all into a colander to drain anyway. I drilled a hole in the top of my lid so that my instant read thermometer can sit in there and keep tabs for me without having to disturb the whole kit and caboodle.
Use a heating pad to keep the yogurt at around 112 degrees F for approximately seven or eight hours. If you have a yogurt maker, even better. This set up works really well for me, though. I wrap the heating pad around and then a towel for insulation (and to hold it all together). A binder clip finishes it off. Adjust the heating pad temperature as needed to maintain as consistent a temperature as possible in the milk.
Once the yogurt is set and thickened, it's ready to drain, This particular yogurt culture did not set as firmly as some others I have used, but since I was going to drain it anyway, I wasn't concerned. I lined a colander with butter muslin (you can also use multiple layers of cheesecloth, but it will let some of the "curd" through). Let it drain for a couple of hours, until the yogurt is very thick.
Here, you can see just how thick it is, that it holds its shape quite well in the muslin. One quart of milk made about 1 1/2 cups of drained yogurt.
Add approximately an equal amount of grated English cucumber. Do not squeeze the liquid out. Add the remaining ingredients and let sit in the refrigerator for at least four hours. I actually think this sauce tastes best on days two and three. The first day, it's still a bit tart. By day four, it's starting to break down a little bit.
Lebanese Yogurt Sauce
Yield: about 2 cups
1 - 1 1/2 cups Labna* or "sweet"**, drained yogurt
1 cup grated English cucumber, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp microplaned garlic (or very, very finely minced)
1/2 tsp salt ***
1/8 tsp (white) pepper
After grating the cucumber, run a chef's knife through it to cut the shreds into smaller pieces. Do not squeeze the liquid out of the cucumber. Mix all ingredients together. Place in a covered container in the refrigerator for four hours or overnight. Tastes best if used within three days.
* Look for Labna in Middle Eastern or Mediterranean groceries.
** You can make your own "sweet" yogurt using the directions in the post above. Use the starter you can purchase here.
***The amount of salt you will need will depend on whether you use store bought or homemade Labna. Homemade will need more. Be sure to taste regularly to get it just right. In general, this sauce tastes best when it is a bit on the salty side.
Friday, June 17, 2016
This is one of those things that I always feel weird posting because it seems too simple. I originally started doing this when my boy first started eating solids, about three years ago. I wanted to reduce the amount of sodium in the butter I used, so I could use a wider range of other ingredients without feeling like I was blowing his daily limit too badly. Interestingly, a couple times over the last few years, I've briefly had to go back to regular butter and it's just not as good! I find myself getting anxious to get back to the "good stuff."
When I recently had multiple people in a short time period asking what butter I used because they thought it tasted so good, I decided maybe it was time to share my secret with the world. It's so simple, it's hard to imagine it making such a big difference! All I do is mix one stick of salted butter with one stick of unsalted butter. Then I put the mixture in a crock and leave it on the counter. So, so easy.
Why does it make such a big difference? I think the reason is two fold. First, I think salted butter is salty enough that it tends to overwhelm the delicate flavor of the butter. Second, look at the photo below. The top box is salted. See the ingredients? Cream and salt. That's it. Now look at the bottom box. See those ingredients? Cream and natural flavoring. Initially, I was, like, whoa!, what are they sticking in my butter!?! But after a little snooping around, it appears that to keep it from tasting too flat without any salt, manufacturers add a little lactic acid to the butter to give it a little tang. It's a cheaper way to give a little bit of cultured flavor to butter (like what the Europeans do) without actually having to culture the cream. I think between those two things, the butter just tastes extra fresh and delicious. Additionally, now that I am used to the lower sodium, regular salted butter seems overwhelming to me.
The other good news is, that in my experience, it doesn't matter what butter you use. Name brand or store bought, it all comes out tasting about the same. Yay!
In other news, see the utensil in that bowl? That's called a "sandwich spreader" in food service lingo. May just be the most awesome tool ever made. I use them for everything. In this case, though, they make mixing butter like this a breeze and they make spreading soft butter on toast amazingly easy. I own around half a dozen of them and almost start crying when I realize they're all in the dishwasher. :-)
Wednesday, June 15, 2016
It's blueberry season here in middle Georgia! Despite triple digit heat indexes yesterday, my boy and I went picking. We didn't get a lot picked, just enough for this one batch of jam, but the bushes are loaded with plenty of berries yet to come! I imagine there will be many more trips out there... hopefully on days that aren't quite so hot.
It's been a few years since I made blueberry jam. Long enough that I couldn't remember which recipe I had previously used. I decided to start with Linda Ament's recipe in her Blue Ribbon Preserves book. I tweaked it a bit here and there, but the important part is that her sugar to fruit to pectin ratios are generally spot on and I rarely have trouble with my jam setting with her recipes. This one was no exception.
This recipe makes a nice, large batch of jam: nine half-pints. I like recipes that maximize my time like that! I crushed the berries, measured them out, and heated them slowly with the sugar and lemon juice. I initially was concerned because the mixture seemed so liquid-y, even right up until I poured it into the jars, but the little bit left in the pot began setting up before I even had the lids on the jars! The flavor of this jam is fantastic. The lemon gives the palate a little fresh kick and the hint of cinnamon and nutmeg bring on warm memories of pie and days at grandma's.
Adapted from Linda Ament's Blue Ribbon Preserves
Yield: 9 half-pints
5 cups crushed blueberries (fresh or frozen)
2 TBS fresh, strained lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp butter (salted or unsalted)
1/8 tsp cinnamon
7 cups sugar
2 (3-ounce) packets of liquid pectin
Measure the berries into a minimum 7 quart pot. Add the lemon juice, zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar. Stir and heat gently over medium-low heat. When the berries begin to pop and the sugar is dissolved, increase the heat and bring to a full rolling boil. Boil for one to two minutes. Add the liquid pectin, stirring. Return to a full rolling boil and boil, stirring constantly, for one full minute. Remove from the heat. Skim any foam. Let the mixture sit for five minutes, stirring occasionally, to help keep the fruit pieces from floating in the final product. Pour jam into prepared jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Wipe rims with a clean, damp cloth. Put on the lids and process in a slowly boiling water bath for ten minutes for half-pint jars. Increase processing time to fifteen minutes for pint jars. When processing is done, let jars sit in water five minutes with the heat off and canner lid off before removing to cool. This step helps prevent oozing jars, which are never fun.
If you are not an experienced canner, you can check out my Canning 101 post for more details on the process.
Monday, February 1, 2016
Quite some time ago, I posted a brownie recipe on here that I was pretty fond of. Fond enough that I called them "Devilishly Good." They are. But as time went on, I stopped using the coffee granules; I guess I just wanted that pure chocolate taste. And they are just a tad on the cakey side, and I found that I really was a fudgy brownie girl at heart. And even though I had already reduced the fat in them significantly from the brownies I used as my beginning recipe (Barefoot Contessa's), they still seemed a bit greasy. Lastly, they just never quite seemed dark enough, but just adding more chocolate didn't help them.
I pondered and pondered this darkness conundrum over the last few years. Then one day, out of the blue, I remembered an interesting accident I had once when making my favorite chocolate cake. I had messed up the leavening, substituting baking powder for baking soda and came out with drastically different results. And I do mean drastic... baking powder cake on right, baking soda cake on left. Interestingly, not only was there a difference in color, but the chocolatey-ness was completely different. It got me to wondering if there was some kind of a special chemical reaction that happens between the acidic cocoa powder and the basic soda that just wasn't happening when using baking powder.
And so there is! Check out these two batches of brownies. On the right is my original "Devilishly Good Brownies" and on the left is my "Brownies - Perfected!" recipe. The recipes really aren't that different, but look at the change in the end result! My new brownie recipe is fudgy and so, so, so chocolatey, they are divine. Hard to imagine that simply changing the type of leavening could make such a big difference in the color and flavor. Adjusting the fat and egg level did the rest. If you prefer cakey brownies, stick with my old recipe, but change to using baking soda. If you want the perfect fudgy brownie, this is the last recipe you will ever need.
The hardest part about this recipe is melting the chocolate and butter together in the microwave... just kidding - it isn't hard at all!
This recipe is a cinch to mix together and the end results are really, truly special.
Brownies - Perfected!
Yield: one 9x13 pan of brownies
1 1/2 stick salted butter
1 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup flour
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
In a medium microwave safe bowl, melt together the butter and chocolate chips. Check regularly and stir until smooth. Add the cocoa powder and sugar and mix together. Add the eggs and vanilla and stir again. In a small bowl, mix together the flour and baking soda. Add to the batter and stir just to mix. Dump into a greased 9x13 pan. Smooth out with a spatula and bake in a 325 degree F oven for about 20 minutes. Be sure not to over bake or they won't be fudgy. Brownies are ready when the middle does not jiggle much when the pan is gently shaken on oven rack and a tester will come out clean. Let cool before cutting.
Friday, January 8, 2016
I've been making meatloaf for years. Decades, really. It's gone through a number of iterations as the years dragged on, some better than others. I posted about my bacon wrapped meatloaves early on in the life of this blog. They are good, but the whole bacon thing fell by the wayside as I came to realize that the true glory of meatloaf is how easy it is to make at the last minute. The bacon wrapping puts a kink in that "easy." So, I stopped wrapping, but I still wasn't quite satisfied. Then, one night, I was really in a hurry to get the meatloaf made and decided to not even bother with dicing an onion; I'd use dried minced onion instead. What a revelation! I'm not entirely sure why it makes such a difference, but it does. To be honest, my meatloaf often gave me heartburn when I made it with fresh onion and garlic. Now, it never does. I absolutely adore my new recipe. It is so simple, so easy to make, and so delicious. It's tender, moist, and meaty.
Now, before I give you the recipe, let's talk just a moment about the top of a meatloaf. The classic is ketchup, but I've never been a big fan. It's not thick enough and it's too sweet. I really like using just plain tomato paste, but my husband has kind of given me the turned up nose at it. I recently decided to try mixing tomato paste and ketchup 50-50 and have decided it is the clear winner. You can go with whichever of those three sounds best to you, but my vote now goes solidly in the 50-50 camp.
Meatloaf - Perfected!
Yield: serves 4
1 lb lean ground beef (~93% lean)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp garlic powder
2 TBS dried, minced onions
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup ketchup
1/3 cup tomato paste or ketchup, or a 50-50 mix of the two
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with foil. In a large bowl mix all ingredients thoroughly. Dump onto the sheet pan and form into a flat, rounded loaf. Shoot for a loaf thinner than two inches, or it will take a really long time to bake. The recipe as written will make a loaf about 5"x10"x2". Recipe can be doubled easily, simply increase the cooking time to roughly one hour. If you want to make more than a double recipe, make more than one loaf to keep the cooking time reasonable. Spread the topping over the entire surface of the loaf. Sprinkle with a little oregano or parsley, if desired. Bake for 45 minutes or until cooked through. Let cool slightly before serving so that it does not fall apart when sliced.
NOTE: If you eat a lot of processed foods or tend to eat a lot of foods high in sodium, you will probably not be satisfied with the seasoning level as written. Increase the amount of salt you add, but don't go too crazy because there is a lot of sodium hiding in both the bread crumbs and the ketchup. Try 1/2 to 3/4 of a tsp the first time you make it and adjust from there.
Wednesday, January 6, 2016
I tend to think of myself as a pretty practical gal. When it comes to generic brands, for instance, all other things being equal, I find no reason to pay a premium price for an ingredient. Occasionally, I find there are exceptions where all things are not, in fact, equal. For example, take domestic pre-grated Parmesan cheese; the stuff in the green can is always better than the store brand version.
Recently, since I started doing a lot of baking for hire, I've been going through tubs of cocoa powder. It seems like such a basic ingredient I thought, surely it's all the same, right? Wrong!!! I made the mistake once. I will not make it again. I made my classic chocolate cake and all I changed was using store brand cocoa powder instead of Hershey's classic cocoa. The cake was horrible! The lack of chocolaty flavor was so obvious and overwhelming, I could hardly believe it.
But upon close inspection of the powders, it became obvious. The store brand powder's aroma was so weak in comparison and so was it's color! Take a close look a the picture above. Which is which? Depending on the type of screen you are using, you might have to move your head around to get a good look at the difference, but it is clearly there. Look how much richer the color of the powder on the left is (Hershey's). Lesson learned... some things are worth the premium price. Now, what do I do with the rest of that container of store brand cocoa? It feels wrong throwing it away, but I sure don't want to use it!
Friday, October 23, 2015
Every now and then, I discover something earth shattering totally by accident. And, I must say, what a wonderful bit of serendipity this discovery was! Over the years, I have made a lot of bread of many different types. I have posted about french baguettes and boules, and most recently about high-hydration artisan loaves. In all that time, I was rarely able to obtain the really shattering crust for which I was looking. Oh, sure, occasionally it happened (with my almost no knead recipe in particular- now I know why!), but it was never consistent. The crust mostly just came out... hard. It might be crisp, but it wasn't shattering.
If you don't know what I mean by shattering, then you are missing out on the best the bread world has to offer. It's a delicate crispness that only lasts while the loaf is fresh, but is one of the best reasons to ignore prudence and jump into that loaf before it's fully cooled. Shatter is truly the world for it because the second you start to bite down on it, the crust breaks into a million flavorful pieces in your mouth. It is divine. It was elusive.
I have been working on a rye boule recipe for some time now. It's just about ready to share with you, but it took a while because there were some issues that had to be dealt with. The biggest issue was that the finished loaf was often gummy. After quite a bit of research, I came to find out that is a particular issue with rye. Apparently, it has more of a certain enzyme that converts starch to sugar, leading to a gummy crumb. The cure? Acidity. And here's where the serendipity came in. The very first time I added citric acid to my loaf, the crust dramatically changed. Not only did that tiny amount of acid fix my gummy crumb, it improved my crust a hundred fold. It was absolutely magical. I have since tried adding a little acid to a variety of artisan type loaves with great success. For a 600 gram flour boule, I use a mere half teaspoon of powdered citric acid. This certainly explains why the almost no knead bread often had that crust - it has vinegar in it, providing some acidity. I suppose you could just add some vinegar to your water when making bread, but I think the consistency the powdered citric acid gives is very nice. In either case, the acid imparts no meaningful flavor to the final product, but, oh, what a difference it makes in the crust!
Saturday, October 3, 2015
Sometimes I just like to come up with new ways to put fairly normal things together. Meatballs are one of my favorite foods. I've posted about my everyday meatballs, about the Afghani kofta challow I love so much (seasoned meatballs in sauce over rice), meatball soup, and chicken meatballs. Really, in my mind, there is no time when a meatball doesn't seem like a great idea. And, if you've spent any time visiting my blog, you know that I adore gravy, lamb, and spinach. Mushrooms, too. Truly, this recipe is a win-win-win in my book. The flavors go so well together. It's a great one course meal.
Lamb Meatballs with Mushroom Gravy
1 pound ground ground lamb
1/3 cup dried bread crumbs
2 TBS ketchup
1 TBS dried minced onion
1/4 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp oregano
1 tsp dried parsley
Mix all ingredients together and form into balls using a 1/3 cup of mixture per meatball. Refrigerate meatballs for one hour before cooking. Cook in a non-stick saute pan with one teaspoon of oil until nicely browned on all sides and cooked through. Use a meat thermometer to be sure of your internal temperature. When the meatballs are only a few minutes away from being cooked through, turn on the spinach to cook. When the meatballs are done, set them in a heavy bowl and cover with foil while preparing the gravy.
16 oz fresh spinach
1/4 cup chicken or beef broth
Bring broth to a simmer in a large pot. Add the spinach, tossing regularly until it is all wilted through. Remove from the heat and set aside until ready to serve. Can be kept warm in a low oven if desired.
1 pint button or cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 tsp minced garlic
3 TBS Madeira (a fortified wine available in many grocery stores)
3 TBS heavy cream
1/4 cup whole milk
salt and pepper to taste
Drain off all but one tablespoon of fat from the meatball pan. Return to heat and saute the mushrooms, shallots, and garlic until nicely browned and softened. Add the Madeira to deglaze the pan. Add the cream and milk, stirring thoroughly. Cook through, adding the salt and pepper to taste.
To put the dish together, place a nice helping of the wilted spinach in the bottom of a pasta bowl. Spoon a large spoonful of the gravy over the top and then serve out 2-4 meatballs, depending on the individual's appetite. Serve immediately and enjoy!
Sunday, July 26, 2015
Tap... tap... this thing on? Man, has it been a long time! I always have the best of intentions. I think about what I want to write all the time. I tweak new recipes regularly; I take pictures; I have things to say, dang it! But then I get tired or busy or... well, who the heck knows. But then I come across something that I just can't wait to share with you. In this case, it's that picture that greeted you today. Every now and then I take a picture that from the second I see it, I think, "Now that's a photograph worth looking at over and over and over." Don't get me wrong, this is a great, super easy recipe and totally worth posting with no photo at all, but the photo makes me drool uncontrollably. I've made this dish three times in the last two months (which is a lot since I normally make a cobbler/crisp type thing maybe once or twice a year), but that picture. It's been haunting me. I pull it out to look at multiple times a day. And then I think about making another pan of peach crisp. Living in the middle of peach country makes peaches an easy choice, but you could just as easily make this recipe with any fruit you like. I just happen to be partial to peaches... today, anyway.
Yield: 9x13" pan, 8 servings
1 gallon frozen peach slices OR about 12 medium sized firm, ripe peaches *see note below*
1/4 cup - 1/2 cup sugar (depending on sweetness of the fruit)
2 TBS cornstarch for fresh peaches (3 TBS if using frozen)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Toss the peaches, sugar, cornstarch, and spices together. *If you are using a fruit other than peaches, simply use enough fruit to fill the pan about two inches deep.* Level the fruit mixture into the bottom of a 9x13"pan.
1 cup flour
3/4 cup old fashioned oats
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter, softened or melted
Mix the remaining ingredients together in a small bowl. It's easiest to mix it with your hands. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the top of the fruit. Bake in a 350 degree F oven until the topping is golden (about 40 minutes if using fresh peaches, an hour or more if using frozen peaches). Let cool slightly before serving.