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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Potato Soup #143

There are some things that I make that are never the same. Take potato soup, for instance. God only knows how many times I've made it. Maybe this was #143... who really knows? I have a general formula, but every time I make it, it is always a new creation. This is a great, bad thing. It's great because it never gets old and it's bad because sometimes I make a soup that is absolutely phenomenal and I don't remember how I did it.

When we had potato soup a couple of weeks ago, I knew that I would be taking pictures of it for later posting on here. Therefore, I did something I don't usually do when I make potato soup - I wrote down what I put in it as I made it. What I'm posting here today was that day's version of potato soup. It was very good and I feel confident sharing it with you, but I will probably never make it exactly this way again. With some things I just can't help but shoot from the hip.

Potato Soup #143
Yield: 4-6 servings

2 tsp olive oil
6 strips bacon, chopped
5 small potatoes cut into cm sized cubes (2-3 cups, cubed)
1/2 cup diced onions or shallots
1/4 cup diced celery
3 TBS flour
2 cups chicken broth
1/4 tsp dried parsley
1/4 tsp dried marjoram
2 cups milk
2 TBS heavy cream (optional)
salt & pepper to taste

In a heavy Dutch oven, add the oil and bacon and cook over medium to medium-high heat until the bacon is crispy. While the bacon is cooking, prepare the potatoes, onion, and celery. Remove the bacon onto a paper towel lined plate and set aside.

Drain off all but 2 TBS of the bacon grease. Add the onion and celery to the pot and saute over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until the onions are slightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and stir to thoroughly mix. Add the broth (it works best if the broth is slightly heated, but this step is not required), parsley, and marjoram. Add the potatoes and cover, reducing heat to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are soft, about 15-20 minutes. Add milk and stir. Stir in the heavy cream, if using. The cream is optional, but it is amazing what even a little bit of the stuff does to the mouthfeel of a creamy soup. Right before serving, return most of the bacon into the soup. I hold a bit back to sprinkle on top of the bowls when I serve them.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

No Fuss, No Muss

I really enjoy cooking. I like darn near everything about it, including those tasks that some might consider tedious. I enjoy the serenity I gain from chopping and dicing ingredients, using my knife in efficient strokes. I like cracking and separating a dozen eggs for an angel food cake, working carefully to get all the egg white I can without breaking a yolk. I enjoy rolling out pasta even when I make a large batch that takes me an hour or standing at the sink peeling and paring a bushel of peaches. I enjoy all of these things because the outcome is worth the effort. The entire time I am working, I understand that every motion I make has a purpose. It is because of this efficiency that I accept the tedium with joy.

What I can't abide by, however, is work with no purpose or reward. Why spend extra time doing things that don't actually affect the end result? I can see no reason for it. I will pare those peaches because I know that the flavor of the tree ripened ones when they are canned will be unmatched by anything I could purchase. I dice my own vegetables because not only are the prefab ones at the store expensive, they have to be treated with preservatives to give them a reasonable shelf life. But what about some of those things that you often hear chefs going on and on about? So many of these techniques are just not necessary and do not affect the result, so why should you spend time doing it the "right" way? I don't see any reason to. Here are a few of my top "not worth the effort" tasks in the kitchen. What are yours?
  1. Weighing Ingredients - I just don't see the need for it! 99% of the time, the difference between weighing and measuring is negligible. Alton Brown, on the Food Network, has recently become a fan of weighing ingredients, so much so that he doesn't typically even mention an equivalent measure. That is frustrating to me. While there are a few instances where weighing is important or, in some cases, even easier, for the most part, I just can't be bothered. I can stuff a scoop in my flour jar and measure out 2 cups of flour a lot faster than I can dig out my scale and measure 9 oz.
  2. Speaking of measuring... I also don't get the need for the whole "fluff and level" part of measuring (for flour especially). Again, while there are always fussy exceptions, most things that I bake could care less. I measure flour somewhat haphazardly and I am never disappointed with my results. As far as I'm concerned, this is another case of "why bother?"
  3. Why do so many people roll their lemons before juicing them? "To get the juices flowing" seems an odd rationale considering the fact that when you juice a lemon, you end up destroying all the membranes in the flesh that hold the juice anyway. I just can't see how a little roll on the counter (unless you roll the living heck out of it) is going to impact how much juice you get or how easy the fruit is to juice.
  4. It seems every "official" instruction on dicing an onion always includes cutting slices parallel to the cutting board as seen in this illustration. Onions are already segmented in that direction by their layers... why would you feel the need to make those additional cuts? When I dice onions, I cut in two directions only: both cuts are down and perpendicular to each other.
  5. Deveining shrimp is typically another time waster in my book. While I might decide it was worth the time if I splurged on jumbo shrimp, I usually get the smaller ones. In my experience, the 20-30 count size shrimp never need to be deveined and I have never particularly noticed an off taste or grittiness because I skipped this step. Deveining shrimp definitely fits in the tedious category, especially if you're trying to clean the small ones. Since this task should actually be named "deintenstinal tracking," it only makes sense that the larger ones might benefit from this procedure, but save your time on the little ones.

That's all I can think of for now. Besides, my butt is screaming at me from sitting on the floor. You never realize just how nice furniture is until it's gone!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Peas & Caramelized Shallots

So, here I sit on the floor in the middle of an empty house with my laptop on my lap (how fitting, right?) thinking about how I wish I could be cooking. After two days of the movers and packers being here, it is nice to have a chance to just relax. Of course, the real work starts again tomorrow. There's some serious cleaning to be done. I can't even begin to describe how disgusting the floor where the refrigerator stood is. Wow. Apparently, I need to be more proactive in that department.

But, in the meantime, I will sit here and dream about being able to cook... in particular, I am thinking about this wonderful way to jazz up the simple English pea. I love peas by themselves and often serve them with just a little butter, salt, and pepper. Occasionally, I get a hankering to make them extra special. OK, you've caught me. I just like to have an excuse to make and consume caramelized members of the Allium genus. Yummmm.

This is one of those dishes that takes a while (caramelizing doesn't instantaneously just happen, you know), but it can easily be made while preparing the rest of the meal. Caramelizing the shallots takes around thirty minutes, but there is very little maintenance required during that time. Finishing this dish is super easy and quick and it is hard to believe what a difference a few little shallots can make.

Peas & Caramelized Shallots
Yield: Serves 4

4 medium shallot bulbs, peeled and sliced thinly (you can also use regular old onions)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3 cups fresh or frozen green peas
fresh ground pepper
1 TBS butter

Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat with 2 tsp of the butter. You want to be sure that your skillet is not too small (you don't want to overcrowd the pan) or too large (which tends to lead to burnt butter). When the butter is about done bubbling, add the shallots. Stir to coat and then saute the onions until they just begin to soften and brown. Reduce heat to medium-low, add a pinch of salt, and mostly ignore for 30 minutes. Occasionally stir, but they brown better if you let them be for the most part. If you like your shallots more caramelized, simply let them go longer.

About 8 minutes out from the shallots being how you want them, place peas and enough water to just cover them in a sauce pan. Turn the heat on high and bring to a boil. As soon as the water comes to a boil, turn the heat off. Let the peas sit in the water for one minute before draining. Add the remaining salt, butter, pepper, and the shallots. Stir and serve! Makes a beautiful, delicious vegetable dish for company.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus

Well, the computer issues are definitely NOT resolved. Sigh. At least my old, old laptop has decided not to fail me. It is, however, challenging getting my pictures on here. I was at least able to get at my Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus photos. Hopefully, I can get at a few more over the next few days...

So, these little babies are super, duper good. Roasted veggies are in themselves divine, but when you wrap a little dry cured meat around them, they are truly out of this world. And they are so quick and easy. Many vegetables take a bit of time to roast, but this in not the case with asparagus. In only 25 minutes of oven time, you can have these things ready to serve... of course, that's assuming you are willing to share!

Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus
Yield: varies

fresh asparagus (whatever amount you need/want)
thinly sliced Prosciutto (1 slice for every 2 spears)
fresh ground pepper

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Prepare a foil lined baking sheet. Wash and trim the ends of the asparagus. Cut the Prosciutto slices in half. Wrap the Prosciutto around the middle of each spear as shown in the picture. Ideally, the meat should cover at least two-thirds of the spear. Lay the spears out on your baking sheet, being sure not to crowd the sheet. Sprinkle with pepper and then place in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the Prosciutto is nicely crisped and the asparagus is browned and soft. Because the Prosciutto is so salty, I do not find any additional salt necessary. Serve hot or at room temperature. These guys make great appetizers.

Lastly, I have found that there are two types of Prosciutto in existence. The first is the bane of my existence and I hate it; with this type, the slices always stick together and come apart in pieces when you try and separate them. For the longest time, I just thought that was the nature of the beast. But I now know that this is not the case... there is Prosciutto out there that is charming to work with and you should just keep trying different brands until you find one that works well for you. Of course, if you only have one brand to choose from at your store, remember: "It is better to have Prosciutto and be frustrated than to never have Prosciutto at all!"

Friday, May 22, 2009

Chicken Cordon Bleu Roulade

I am one of those people that incessantly clips recipes. I have been clipping recipes from magazines for nearly twenty years and now have quite a collection. I clip them out and then paste them by category onto white paper kept in a 3-ring binder. Actually, it's now in multiple 3-ring binders. I try to be more selective these days; only the most interesting recipes make the cut. Unfortunately, the magazine and issue that the recipe comes from is not usually clipped with the recipe.

I tell you this so that you can understand why I can't tell you where this recipe originally came from, but based on the recipe's location in my binder, I would say that it is about 2-4 years old. I wish I knew which magazine it's from because I like to give credit where credit is due, and this was a really smashing idea.

I have always liked chicken cordon bleu - the combination of flavors is delicious. I also really like roulades. There is something about fillings rolled up in pounded meat that appeals to me... maybe it's just that I like pounding the meat. It's very cathartic. I have made this recipe twice now, once the way the clipped recipe describes and once the way I'll outline here. It's one of those recipes that had me saying to myself, "Why the heck would I go to all that trouble?" It had a few time consuming steps that I just couldn't see being that important. You know what? They're not. I've pared this recipe down to the bare nubbins and I couldn't tell the difference. It's delicious and quick to make!

Chicken Cordon Bleu Rolade
Yield: Serves 4

3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 TBS minced garlic
1/2 tsp kosher salt
6 thin slices Prosciutto
1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1/2 cup plain, dry bread crumbs
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp dried oregano
2 TBS grated Parmesan cheese
pinch paprika

Place a chicken breast between two large pieces of plastic wrap or in a gallon zip top bag. Pound evenly until the breast is about 1/4" thick. Be sure to flip the breast over a few times to pound from both sides and be somewhat gentle, you want a nice, contiguous piece of chicken, not a pounded, shredded mess.

Mince the garlic and add 1/2 tsp of kosher salt to the garlic on your cutting board. Using the flat of your chef knife, smear them together until a paste forms. Set aside.

Mix the bread crumbs, the other 1/2 tsp salt, pepper, oregano, paprika, and Parmesan cheese together and have in a small container so you can dip the chicken once they are rolled up.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a small baking sheet with foil. Spray the foil lightly with cooking spray. Take a piece of chicken and lay smooth side down on the counter (the part of the breast where the skin was removed). Smear the up side with 1/3 of the garlic paste. Place two slices of Prosciutto across the breast so that the entire surface is covered. Sprinkle evenly with about 1/4 of the Gruyere cheese. Roll the breast up the short way (i.e. so that you have a fatter rather than longer roll) fairly tightly. Cut the roll in half. Where the roll comes together is the "bottom". Dip the roll so that the top and sides are covered with bread crumbs. Try not to get too many crumbs on the cut face (it looks prettier that way). Lay the roll down on the pan "bottom" down; this keeps the roll from unraveling. Continue until you have six rolls on your baking sheet. Sprinkle the tops with the remaining cheese.

Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes or until a thermometer stuck in the middle reads 160 degrees.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Superlicious Sauce

OK, the first thing I have to do here is apologize. Posting this recipe may just be a crime... you will be shocked at how easy it is to make this chocolate sauce and it may just be life changing. Or... maybe waist changing. It's not exactly a low calorie food and it is so easy to make and so yummy, you may find yourself making it a little more often that you planned. That's all right, just pour it all over Breyer's Smooth & Dreamy Ice Cream (1/2 the fat, 1/3 the calories, and it actually tastes pretty darn good)!! That makes it all OK, right?

This recipe came about as a "necessity is the mother of invention" moment. Still being between two houses and now having half our stuff in each house can cause some problems when you realize your pantry and refrigerator are not stocked in their usual manner. We had some ice cream but no chocolate syrup. It was vanilla ice cream. Vanilla ice cream needs a friend. What's a girl to do? Well, I had cream and I had chocolate chips. That was all I needed for the first iteration. It was fabulous! But, as so many things, I figured a little booze might help. It did. I thought a few other things might not hurt. They didn't. I may have died and not even realized it. It's pure heaven!

Oh, I almost forgot. Another thing I really like about this sauce is that as the sauce cools on the ice cream, it firms up, kind of forming a soft shell. It is reminiscent of that chocolate shell topping that you can buy at the store, but this actually tastes good.

Superlicious Sauce
Yield: 1 cup of sauce

2/3 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 tsp vanilla
2 TBS liquor (optional)
1/2 tsp instant coffee granules (optional)
2 TBS light corn syrup (optional)

In a heavy sauce pan over medium-low heat, melt the chocolate chips and cream together. Add the remaining ingredients. Stir over the heat until it is nice and warm. Do NOT overheat. Err on the side of caution. Burnt chocolate is very yucky. Actually, it's beyond yucky. But I digress.

If you are using the coffee granules, heat the cream and add the coffee and then add the chocolate. Coffee, at such a minimal level, simply plays a supporting role. You can't really taste the coffee, you just know that the chocolate tastes richer. If you have the granules on hand, I strongly recommend using them.

As for the booze, the sky's the limit. Here are some really good options: Bailey's Irish Cream, Grand Marnier, Kahlua, Mint Schnapps, or any fruit flavored liquors (such as raspberry or cherry). Or go without. Chocolate by itself is not a bad thing.

The corn syrup is optional, but it adds a nice glossy luster to the sauce.

Pour over ice cream while the sauce is still warm. Sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Simply reheat on the stove or in the microwave before serving.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Garlic Toast

Once you try this recipe, you will never buy that garlic bread that comes in the foil bag at the store again. This is the real deal and it is to die for. While you can make this with just about any type of bread, my favorite is the Sweet Loaves bread that I posted yesterday... somehow it is just the right match. Second choice would be any type of French or Italian bread.

Garlic Toast

2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp dried parsley
2 TBS room temperature butter
pieces of bread, sliced

This is kind of an "eyeball" recipe. The amounts will vary depending on how much bread you want to toast. You can use whatever amount of garlic you think is appropriate. I like my bread pretty garlicky, so I use about a 1:6 ratio of garlic to butter, but you can use less or more as you see fit.

Peel and mince the garlic. Sprinkle kosher salt over the garlic and, using the flat of your chef knife, smear the garlic and salt together until a paste forms. Add garlic paste to butter and add the parsley. Stir thoroughly. Spread garlic butter onto the bread. Place bread pieces onto a flat sheet and bake at 425 degrees F until the bread is nicely toasted and browned. If you want to add a little more "toastiness" to it, turn the broiler on for the last few moments.

You can skip the baking part and just use the broiler, but I find that often only the top gets toasted when I try it that way. When you bake at a high temperature, it gets toasty all around.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sweet Loaves

There is nothing better than homemade bread, and I like to keep a variety of it on hand. This recipe is one of my favorites because it is easy to make and you get a lot of product for your time. I can crank out six long loaves in the same time it takes me to turn out two loaves of other breads. I also like it's flavor. It's somewhat sweet, which is a nice change of pace.

There are two main things that I use this bread for. It makes the best darn garlic toast EVER and it makes a great sandwich bread. My favorite sandwich combination for this bread is salami, ham, and cheese with lettuce and tomato. It's to die for!!

This bread is the perfect freezer keeper. Make one batch and get six loaves. Keep one out and wrap the rest. Freeze until needed. Because the loaves have a fairly small diameter, they thaw quickly on the counter. They can be a little challenging to wrap, as they are so long (about 14 inches), so I wrap them in plastic wrap instead of trying to fit them in a plastic bag.

Sweet Loaves
Yield: 6 - 14" loaves

3 cups warm water
4 tsp instant yeast OR 2 packages active dry yeast
1 cup sugar
1 egg
3 TBS olive oil
8 cups flour
1 TBS salt

Mix the water, yeast, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and let stand 5-10 minutes. Using a paddle attachment, add the egg, oil, and 5 cups of the flour. Mix on medium-low speed for 8 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Switch to the dough hook and add the remaining 3 cups of flour and the salt. Mix on low (2nd speed on my KitchenAid) for another 3-5 minutes until the dough is well mixed and smooth. Spray a large bowl with oil, pour the dough into this bowl, spray with oil and then cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Place bowl in a warm place to rise until double, about an hour.

Once the dough has doubled, punch it down to get all the air bubbles out. Let covered dough sit for ten minutes. Turn dough out on a floured counter. Divide dough into 6 equal portions. Shape dough into 6 long loaves. They do not have to look perfect, as they will poof up before baking. I place 3 loaves the long way on each of two half sheet pans (11x17 cookie sheet). Spray with oil and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until double, about 40 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. When oven is preheated, remove the plastic wrap and place loaves in the oven. Bake until a thermometer inserted in the center of a loaf reaches 190 degrees, about 30 minutes. If you do not have a convection oven, you will want to swap racks halfway through the baking so that the pans spend half of the time on each shelf.

Remove from oven and remove onto cooling racks until completely cool. Wrap in plastic wrap and store at room temperature or freeze for later use.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Minestrone Soup

This is a really wonderful soup. I especially enjoy making it in the summer when I can use a lot of items out of my garden. But you can make it at any time of the year. It makes a good amount of soup, but it freezes well and also makes great leftovers. In fact, I think it tastes better on the second day. I'll often make this for company, but cook it up a day or two ahead of time. Then I simply reheat it to serve. Be sure to top it with generous amount of a grated cheese such as Parmesan, Asiago, or Romano.

Minestrone Soup
Yield: 10-12 cups

3 TBS olive oil
2 TBS minced garlic
1/4 cup green onions, chopped (green parts too)
1 medium onion, minced
1 cup chopped celery, leaves included
2 carrots, shredded

2 15 oz cans tomato sauce
2 15 oz cans diced tomatoes (with juice)
6 cups water
1 15 oz cans red kidney beans
1 15 oz cans cannellini beans
2/3 cup cilantro, chopped

2 tsp salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp pepper
1 TBS dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1 TBS dried basil
1 TBS dried parsley
1/2 tsp dried rosemary

2 small zucchini, halved and sliced
1 cup small shells

Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot over fairly high heat. Add garlic, onions, celery, and carrots to the oil and saute for about 1 minutes, until they begin to soften and brown slightly. Add the next two batches of ingredients (do not add the zucchini or shells yet). Stir to mix. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for one hour. Add zucchini and cook for 15 minutes and then add shells and cook for 15 minutes more. Soup is then ready to serve or you can cool it and store in the refrigerator to serve another day. Keeps for up to five days in the refrigerator and can be frozen for up to one year.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Ice Cream a la Pie

I love apple pie a la mode. I love how the vanilla ice cream starts to melt in with the pie filling. I love how the fruit and the cream go together perfectly. I really do love it, but despite how easy it is to make a pie, there are times when I just don't feel like making one... and you can't ignore the fact that crust is so full of fat and calories. So sometimes, I just make a topping that I can pour over the ice cream and get the same effect with less work and calories. You just can't complain about that.

As for the fruit, you can use all apples or all pears if you choose, but I like the combination. In this case, I used a gala apple and two bosc pears.

Ice Cream a la Pie
Yield: 1 1/2 - 2 cups of topping

1 apple, peeled, cored, and minced
2 pears, peeled, cored, and minced
1 TBS fresh lemon juice
1 TBS brandy
2 TBS raisins, minced
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar (or to taste)
1/4 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp cinnamon
dash of: allspice, nutmeg, cloves, and salt

vanilla ice cream, for serving

Throw all ingredients together in a sauce pan. Cook over medium heat until the fruit is pleasantly soft, about 30 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving. Topping can be stored in the refrigerator in an air tight container for up to one week. Gently warm topping in the microwave before serving.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Trout Almondine

I was so, so excited to find fresh trout at the fish counter the other day. I absolutely adore these little fish, but rarely seem to be able to find them for a reasonable price, if at all.

It was a no-brainer what to do with them, considering it had been so long. There is nothing like the pairing of trout, almonds, and lemon to make you feel like you're in heaven. This dish is super quick and simple to make, but is very gourmet.

Trout Almondine
Yield: 2 portions

3 whole trout, fileted OR 6 trout filets
1/3 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 cup sliced almonds
4 TBS butter
1 fresh lemon

Mix the flour with the salt and pepper. Dredge the trout filets and set aside. Toast the almonds in a large, dry skillet over medium-high heat until lightly browned. Set aside. Add 2 TBS of butter to the already hot pan. When it begins to sizzle a bit and begins to brown slightly, add the fish filets. Do not overcrowd the pan. If necessary, you can cook the trout in batches. Trout cooks very quickly, you only need about 2 minutes on each side, depending on how hot your pan is. Remove trout before it gets cooked too well done or the filets will start to fall apart. Hold trout in a warm oven while making the sauce. Add remaining butter to the pan and melt, add two tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice and stir to deglaze the pan and pick up all the browned bits. Add the almonds and stir. Plate the fish filets and top with the sauce. If the sauce is too thick a little water can be added.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Steak Sandwich

I had some sirloin steak thawed out for dinner tonight; I had plans of a nice, rare steak, or maybe a stir fry. I even contemplated stroganoff. But my husband had other plans. It must be a guy thing, this fascination with sandwiches. Even though we had grilled chicken sandwiches last night, he was all about having sandwiches again. I was in the mood to create something special, though, and this sandwich was the result.

Steak Sandwich
Yield: 2 sandwiches

4 slices toasted bread
1 medium sweet onion, sliced & caramelized
8 oz sirloin steak, sliced very thinly across the grain
1 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp butter or olive oil
salt & pepper
1 oz gruyere cheese, sliced or grated
basil mayonnaise (recipe below)

Slice the onion and caramelize as decribed in my post for French Onion Soup. Meanwhile, prepare the mayonnaise and slice the steak and cheese. When the onions are done, remove them from the pan and set them aside. In the same pan, melt the butter and, over medium-high heat, brown the steak strips with the garlic and salt & pepper until the steak is nicely browned on the outsided. It does not need to be completely cooked through. Spread the mayonnaise on two of the bread slices. Top each with half of the caramelized onions. Divide the steak between the two sandwiches and top immediately with the cheese. If the cheese does not seem to be melting, the sandwiches can be placed under the broiler without their tops on until it does melt. Place the top piece of toast on each sandwich and cut in half. Serve immediately.

Basil Mayonnaise

2 TBS mayonnaise
1/4 tsp salt
1 small garlic clove
1/8 tsp pepper
2 TBS fresh basil, minced
1/8 tsp paprika
sprinkle red pepper flakes

Mince garlic and then pour salt over on your cutting board. Using the flat of your knife, smear the salt and garlic together to form a paste. Put into a bowl with the mayonnaise and remaining ingredients. Stir to mix.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Basil Shallot Dressing

Despite there being so many different types of salad dressings out there, it often seems that we get stuck in a rut anyway. This is a very simple dressing but is a pleasant change of pace.

It is tangy and has a strong, fresh basil flavor. It is particularly good on spinach. You can use regular balsamic instead of white, but the dressing will not look very attractive, despite tasting good. If you do not have any fresh basil, a teaspoon of dry will work in a pinch.

Basil Shallot Dressing
Yield: approximately 1/2 cup dressing

1 TBS shallot
1 small garlic clove
3 TBS white balsamic vinegar
4 TBS extra virgin olive oil
1 TBS fresh basil leaves
1/4 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp sugar
dash salt & pepper

Put all ingredients together in a blender. Blend until all ingredients are pulverized and well mixed. Pour over your favorite salad. Can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two days.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Best Bread Baking Resources

Here is a list of my favorite bread baking resources:
  • The Bread Baker's Apprentice, by Peter Reinhart: This is one of the best bread books I've ever come across. It gives a very detailed description of all aspects of bread baking and gives well written recipes for a wide variety of breads. Highly recommended. Available in my Amazon aStore or at your local book retailer.
  • King Arthur Flour's Bread Troubleshooting Website: a great list of possible bread making problems and their possible solutions. A must if you are trying to figure out what is going wrong. I have also used the list to help me decide what to do to modify a recipe to make it more a certain way. Check out some of their pages linked to this one for additional helpful information.
  • Baking and Baking Science is a web site put together by a retired professional baker. I like this site because it gives an in depth treatment of all aspects of bread baking including what each ingredient does in the bread. It's not a fancy site, but it does have good information.
  • Kansas Wheat Baking Terms & Techniques This pdf file from Kansas Wheat Commission - Kansas Association of Wheat Growers is a very useful reference of baking terms, including bread baking terms. It is very complete and a handy reference if you are reading another reference using terms with which you are not familiar.
  • Baking Science: Bread - Here is another good reference from the Kansas Wheat folks; it is also in pdf format. In particular, I find pages 3-8 useful. It provides a very clear description of what each ingredient does in bread and gives guidelines on how to manipulate them in making bread.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Yeast Bread Making 101

Making yeast bread from scratch is a very rewarding endeavor. Home-baked bread tastes nothing like store bought bread. It's not even in the same league. When you first start baking bread, good recipes are essential and you may want to stick with recipes that are recommended as specifically being a good beginning bread.

As you become more proficient, though, you may want to start experimenting. There are so many great bread recipes out there! If you start to move away from the simple, basic breads, it becomes more important for you to understand the whys of bread making. If you don't know why bread works, you can't troubleshoot when it doesn't. This post outlines the most basic principles of bread making; if you want a more in depth treatment, I will outline a list of my favorite bread making resources in tomorrow's post.

Yeast Bread Making 101

The first important thing to understand is that yeast is a living, single-celled organism. When you purchase yeast, it is in a dry form and the cells are not active. Liquid, especially warm liquid, "wakes" them up and causes them to become active again. Yeast are somewhat sensitive though; temperatures that are too warm will kill them. The ideal temperature is between 90 and 100 degrees, about the temperature of a baby bottle, but yeast can grow in much cooler temperatures. You may see recipes that talk about let dough rise in the refrigerator. Yeast dough rises when yeast cells convert sugars to the carbon dioxide that causes the air bubbles in bread.

There are two main types of yeast that home bakers use: active-dry and instant. Active-dry yeast is what you find in the little individual use packets at the grocery store. Both types can be used for home bread baking, but there are a few differences that need to be taken into account. Active-dry yeast, because of the way it is processed, requires a more specific "activation." This generally involves mixing the yeast with some warm liquid and a little sugar. Instant yeast, on the other hand, can be mixed directly with the dry ingredients. Instant yeast is also a little more concentrated. When interchanging the two, the proportions are 1 part instant yeast to 1.25 parts active-dry.

Besides yeast, there is another very important player in bread making, and this player is gluten. Gluten forms when the proteins in flour absorb liquid, forming elasticity in the dough. Different types of flours contain different amounts of gluten. Whole wheat flour, for instance, contains less of these proteins than white flour. This is because these proteins are found in the endosperm of the wheat grain; white flour is composed entirely of the endosperm whereas wheat flour contains all part of the grain. Besides hydration, kneading also helps to develop gluten.

Salt is also a key component in breads. Salt acts as a regulator for the yeast. For this reason, salt should not usually be mixed directly with the yeast and should be added after the flour as it buffers the yeast.

Kneading is a critical part of most yeast bread making. While there are some "knead-free" bread recipes out there, most yeast breads require some amount of kneading. This can be accomplished either by hand, in a stand mixer, or - sometimes - in a food processor. Each bread dough is different: some require a lot of kneading and form a very stiff, smooth dough while some do not need to be kneaded as long and are very soft and sticky. These soft and sticky doughs are particularly nice to make in a stand mixer. Kneading by hand is fairly easy but can be good exercise! To knead, put the dough on a floured surface. If you have a particularly high counter top, you may want to consider using a lower table. To make kneading easier, you want to knead from the waist, not just in your arms. The closest analogy I can come up with is to imagine you are giving the dough ball CPR. Between pumps, simply fold the dough over and rotate. Pump and then fold and rotate again.

After the dough is kneaded to the proper point, it is left to rise. This is usually in a warm place, but it varies. As I mentioned before, sometimes dough is raised in the refrigerator. The dough is left to rise until it has doubled in volume. Dough should be lightly oiled and the bowl covered with plastic wrap or a damp towel to keep the surface from drying out.

Most doughs go through two risings with the second rise being after the dough is shaped. "Punch" the dough down to degas it. A couple of quick kneads is all that is required. Let the dough "rest" for a few minutes to make it easier to handle; resting allows the gluten to relax a bit and makes it easier to shape the dough. Shape the dough as specified for your recipe and then spray and cover again to rise until double. It is critical at this point to not let the dough rise too much. Doughs that are over-risen can collapse in the oven, a disappointing end for a loaf of bread.

Preheat the oven and do not put the loaves into the oven until the oven is completely preheated. Putting the loaf in the oven gives the bread a final "lift," but if the oven temperature is not right, it can lift too much and collapse.

The best way to tell when a loaf of bread is properly baked is by using a thermometer. Most breads are done when the temperature reaches 200 degrees F internally. This temperature does vary though. For a lot of breads, you can test them by tapping on them with a knife handle or some such thing and listening for a hollow sound. Remove bread from the oven and remove loaves from their pan onto cooling racks. Let cool completely before slicing, if you can.

Most breads can be successfully frozen and then thawed for later use. Be sure bread is completely cool before wrapping or condensation may cause you grief.

While this posting outlines the basics of yeast bread making, there are many other factors to consider when you start trying to more fully understand bread making. In future posts I will address some of these more advanced concerns.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Shish Barak (Meat Dumplings in Yogurt Sauce)

My husband and I first tried this dish at an Afghan restaurant in San Diego. After tasting it once, I just knew I had to figure out how to make it! Using won ton wrappers makes this dish much quicker to make. However, because they are so thin, they must be handled very gently. You can also make a large batch of dumplings and then freeze them on a baking sheet until firm. They can then be stored in the freezer so that you can enjoy this dish at a moments notice.

While you can use regular yogurt, you may find that Greek yogurt produces a less tart sauce.

Shish Barak (Meat Dumplings in Yogurt Sauce)

1 TBS butter
1 cup minced onion
2 TBS toasted pine nuts
2 cups ground lamb (or hamburger)
1 package round won ton wrappers

2 cup plain yogurt
2 cups water
1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 tsp salt

In a saute pan over medium high heat, melt the butter and cook the onions until softened and translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the meat and saute stirring frequently until well browned and cooked nearly though. Add the toasted pine nuts, stir, and set aside to let cool enough to handle.

Once the mixture is cool, spoon a small amount of filling into the middle of a won ton wrapper. Dip your finger in water and dampen the edge of half the wrapper. The water acts as a glue when you fold the wrapper over in half, forming a little pouch. Press the air out and firmly seal. Set on a plate or baking pan until ready to cook.

When all of the dumplings are made, mix the yogurt, water, cornstarch, egg white, and salt together in a sauce pan. Whisk together well. Bring to a simmer and add the dumplings. Stir very gently as they cook. Simmer the dumplings for five minutes. Serve garnished with chopped cilantro, if desired.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Kousa Mihshi (Stuffed Zucchini)

My husband and I really like a lot of ethnic foods. Last summer, when we were in San Diego, we went to an Afghani restaurant for the first time. It was love at first taste! Since that visit, I have figured out how to make the two dishes we ate there, shish barak and kofta challow. Last night, I made the shish barak (meat dumplings in a yogurt sauce). Unlike kofta challow, which is something of a "one pot" meal, I felt that the shish barak needed an accompaniment.

Thus began the search for an appropriate middle eastern side dish. This stuffed zucchini was the end result. This was a great side dish for the meal I made. However, because it has meat in it, it could serve very well as the main dish. This could also be made without the meat as a vegetarian dish.

Kousa Mihshi (Stuffed Zucchini)
Yield: 6 servings
3 8-10" zucchini

1 cup ground lamb (or hamburger)
1 c diced onion
1/2 cup seeded, diced tomatoes
1 TBS olive oil
1 cup cooked rice
1 TBS chopped parsley
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 TBS toasted pine nuts

Cut the zucchini in half and scoop out the centers so that you have a nice boat shape left. Soak the zucchini in salted water while preparing the filling. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients for the filling. Remove zucchini from the salted water and pat dry with paper towels. Place zucchini in a foil lined deep dish baking vessel (you want to be able to cover them with foil without messing up the filling, if you had to you could bake them on a flat sheet and tent the foil). Evenly divide the filling between the zucchini "boats." Cover pan tightly with foil and bake at 375 degrees F for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, remove foil, return the pan to oven, and increase the heat to 425 degrees F. Continue baking uncovered for another 15 minutes. Serve immediately. I find it easiest to serve them using tongs in one hand and a spatula in the other. The boats are somewhat fragile since the zucchini have steamed and softened, so a gentle hand in needed in serving them.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Perfect Pot Roast

When you want to make a cheap, chewy hunk of meat into a succulent, tender meal, there are two rules: low and slow. This is why crock pots are so effective... but I'm something of a throw back. I have a crock pot, but I don't use it a lot. Instead, I use my trusty cast iron Dutch oven.

Cast iron has been a popular kitchen material for a long time. There is a reason for this popularity. Since I started making my pot roasts in a cast iron Dutch oven, I have never turned out anything but a perfect pot roast every time.

Perfect Pot Roast

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Heat a tablespoon of oil in the Dutch oven over medium high heat on the stove top. Brown the roast (your choice of meat and cut) on all sides. While you can cook without adding anything to the pot, I like to add one chopped onion and two garlic cloves. Do not add any liquid to the pot. The heavy lid will keep all moisture that is already in the meat within the pot. Therefore, no additional liquid is necessary.

Put the lid on the Dutch oven and put in the preheated oven. Let the roast bake for 4-6 hours, depending on the size of the roast. I usually allow for four hours for a two pound roast. The roast will be safe to eat (temperature wise) much sooner than it will be ready to eat from a tenderness stand point. To test whether it is ready to enjoy, stick your fork in half an inch or so and twist. If the meat pulls away from the roast easily, you are good to go. If not, give it a little while longer. Roast can be served in slices or pulled apart into chunks.

If you want to have gravy, simply pull the meat out of the Dutch oven and put it onto a plate or into a bowl. Cover with a piece of foil to keep warm. If you roasted a fairly fatty piece of meat, you can skim off some of the fat, if you desire. Place the pot on the stove top over medium heat. Sprinkle some flour over the gravy. I use a small sieve to sprinkle the flour to keep lumps from forming. Be sure not to stir too much flour in at once. You could also mix the flour with some cool water or milk before adding it to the gravy. Stir continually until it gets thick and bubbly. Add salt and pepper to taste. If you added an onion and garlic while roasting, you do not need to remove them when making the gravy. Just break them up slightly with a fork and stir them into the gravy. Delicious!

Glazed Carrots

I made a pot roast last night and one of my favorite companions for roast is glazed carrots. They are super easy and fast to make (especially if you use the baby cut carrots in a bag) and taste delicious. For some reason, I think that carrots have fallen by the wayside slightly as a cooked vegetable and this is a sad state of affairs. Give these carrots a try and you will want to work carrots into your menu on a regular basis.

I have made the recipe to feed four, but to be honest, when I make it, I usually just throw the ingredients in to whatever amount of carrots I want. As long as you get the proportions roughly close, these carrots will turn out great.

Glazed Carrots
Yield: 4 side servings

1 small bag (16 oz) of baby cut carrots OR 1 lb peeled carrots sliced into coins
1 TBS butter
2 TBS brown sugar
1 TBS lemon juice
pinch of lemon zest
pinch of ground nutmeg
salt & pepper to taste

Boil carrots in water until they are fork tender. Drain and add remaining ingredients immediately, while carrots are still hot (you want to butter and sugar to melt together). Stir to coat. Serve while still hot.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Bacon Wrapped Mini Meatloaves

Meatloaf is a staple meal for a lot of us. But how often have you made meatloaf for company? You can serve these little individual meatloaves to your guests with pride; they are both delicious and handsome. Wrapped in a strip of bacon, topped with tomato paste, and garnished with parsley, they make a stunning addition to the table.

Use whatever combination of ground meat appeals to you. You can use all ground beef or combine ground beef and pork. I often make them from ground venison. If you can't get your hands on venison, try lamb for a change of pace.

Bacon Wrapped Mini Meatloaves

2 lb ground meat
4 slices fresh bread crumbs OR 2/3 cup dry bread crumbs
1 TBS fresh thyme OR 1 tsp dried thyme
1 TBS fresh oregano OR 1 tsp dried oregano
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, diced
2 eggs
8 oz tomato sauce
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper

1 small can tomato paste
8 strips bacon
1 TBS dried parsley

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, mix the first 10 ingredients. Do not over mix or your meatloaves may become tough. Line a half sheet pan or large cookie sheet with foil. Using a 1 cup dry measure, mold 8 meatloaves. Smooth the tops so that they are somewhat rounded. Wrap a slice of bacon around the base of each meatloaf. The bacon should stick to the meatloaves and a toothpick should not be necessary to hold the bacon together.

Divide the tomato paste between the meatloaves and smear over the top of each. Bring tomato paste right to the edge of the bacon. Sprinkle the tops of the meatloaves with dried parsley. Bake at 350 for approximately 45 minutes or until the internal temperature measured with a thermometer reaches 160 degrees.

These meatloaves freeze well and can be thawed and reheated easily in the microwave.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


I don't know about you, but every time that I work with pie crust dough, I always have some left over. What do you do with that extra dough? I certainly hope you don't throw it away!! These little cookie-like pinwheels are so good that sometimes I make pie crust dough just to make them . Yum, yum, yum!


pie crust dough
room temperature butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Prepare a pan by either spraying it with cooking spray or, preferably, lining a pan with parchment. Roll out however much pie crust you want to use.

Smooth butter in a thin layer over the rolled pie crust. Sprinkle generously with sugar and cinnamon. Roll into a log. Do not roll too tightly. Ideally, you want to have some room for the dough to expand when it bakes. Slice log into half-inch slices and lay onto the prepared pan. Bake 10-14 minutes or until nicely browned. Let cool and enjoy.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Easy Strawberry Tarts

There are all kinds of wonderful, super easy desserts out there. You don't have to spend a lot of time to have a great tasting, great looking dessert. This is one of the quickest desserts out there to make. You can make the crust rectangles either from scratch or use a store-bought pie crust pastry. You can also either make your own whipped cream or use stored bought whipped cream.

Easy Strawberry Tarts

1pie crust recipe or one box store bought pie crust
1 pint fresh strawberries, sliced
1/2 cup strawberry jam (preferably freezer jam, if possible)
1/4 tsp lemon zest
1 TBS sugar

1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 TBS sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Prepare pie crust and cut into 4x5 inch rectangles. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes or until nicely browned. Cool on a rack. Prepare strawberries by mixing the sliced strawberries, jam, sugar, and lemon zest. Set aside. Prepare whipped cream by mixing cream, sugar, and vanilla in a bowl. Whisk cream until it is nice and thick.

Prepare tarts by placing a crust rectangle on a plate. Spoon a generous scoop of strawberries onto the crust. Top with a scoop of whipped cream. Serve immediately.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Cheese Ravioli

Making your own homemade ravioli is a very rewarding endeavor. It is so tasty and, while a little time consuming, you can make a lot at one time and freeze the remainder to use later for a quick and easy meal. I use my Super Easy Cheese in this recipe, but if you want to make this without having to make your own cheese, you can substitute crumbled queso blanco or queso fresco cheese, available at most supermarkets now.

Homemade Cheese Ravioli

For the Pasta:

3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
4 eggs
1 TBS olive oil
2 TBS water

Mix all ingredients together well. It is easiest in a food processor or stand mixer. Knead dough together slightly to finish it off and get a nicely formed dough. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and set aside for at least half an hour.

After the dough has had a chance to rest, prepare a pasta machine with a flat roller. While you can use a hand-crank one, it is much easier and quicker to use a pasta roller attachment for a stand mixer. Cut dough into about 6-8 balls. Using generous amounts of flour to keep the dough from sticking, run the dough through the pasta maker. Run a few times through the widest setting before gradually decreasing pasta thickness with the machine settings. Do not roll too thinly. On my KitchenAid roller, I roll through setting 5.

For the filling:

1 cup Super Easy Cheese curds (or crumbled queso blanco/fresco cheese)
1/2 cup crumbled chevre cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1 TBS minced parsley (fresh or dried)

Thoroughly mix together. It is easier to mix if the cheeses are at room temperature.

Forming the ravioli:

Roll the pasta into long sheets the width available on your pasta roller. Lay out on a generously floured counter. Using a spoon or a disher scoop (I use a #100 scoop), place small balls of filling about 2 inches apart in a line on one side of the dough (about 2 tsp of filling). Smoosh the balls slightly. Using a pastry brush, brush egg wash (one whole egg mixed with a splash of water) around the filling. Fold pasta over and press down firmly. If there are air bubbles, use a cake tester or toothpick to make a small hole to press the air out. Use a pizza cutter or crimping wheel to cut pasta apart. Set onto floured plastic wrap or parchment in only one layer thickness. You can cook immediately, or freeze until solid and then place in a ziptop bag until ready to use.

To cook and sauce the ravioli:

You can make any type of sauce you want for these pasta, but my favorite is an easy cream sauce. Boil the pasta for 5-7 minutes (the longer time if they were frozen) in salted water. Drain pasta and splash with olive oil to keep it from sticking together. Meanwhile, in a sauce pan, add 1 TBS butter and 1 large clove of minced garlic with 1 cup of light cream and 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese. Add a sprinkle of salt, pepper, and parsley. Cook over medium heat until it gets bubbly. Pour over ravioli, serve, and enjoy!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Milk & Honey White Bread

Bread is one of those things that seems to intimidate a lot of people, but if you have a good recipe, it really is fairly easy. And if you have a stand mixer, it is even easier. It's nice not to have to get your hands to messy! I have a 6 quart KitchenAid mixer and this recipe is on the verge of being to large for it. However, it is great to get it started, when it starts to crawl up and over the top of my dough hook, I take it out of the mixer and finish it up by hand. By that time, the dough is not very messy and is easily worked.

This is one of the best bread recipes I have ever come across. It is an easy dough to work with and it tastes fabulous. It has a soft crumb and rich flavor.

Milk & Honey White Bread
Yield: 3 - 8x4 loaves or 2 - 9x5 loaves

1 pkg active dry yeast or 1 TBS instant yeast
2 1/2 cups warm milk
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 tsp salt
8 to 8 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Warm the milk to about 100 degrees and add the melted butter, yeast, and honey. Pour into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add 5 cups of the flour and mix on medium with the paddle attachment for about 4-5 minutes, until the batter gets very elastic and stringy. Switch to the dough hook and add the salt and 3 more cups of flour. Knead on 2nd speed until flour is incorporated and the dough begins to come together. Continue kneading until dough becomes fairly smooth and elastic, adding up to 1/2 cup flour more. This dough will never lose its stickiness unless you add too much flour (resulting in a heavy, dense loaf). As mentioned above, I knead in my mixer until the dough starts to ride up the hook and then I finish kneading on the counter, about 3-5 minutes more.

Spray a large bowl with cooking spray. Put dough in the bowl and spray again. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set the bowl in a warm place to rise. Allow to rise until it doubles in volume, about an hour.

Pour the dough onto the counter and knead it a few times to knock the air out of it. Let the dough sit while you prepare 3 - 8x4 loaf pans or 2 - 9x4 loaf pans by spraying them with cooking spray. Split the dough into 2 or 3 equal pieces (depending on pans being used). To shape the loaves, flatten dough into a rectangle and then roll up, tucking the edges under, and pressing the seam together. Place in the pan seam side down. Spray the tops with cooking spray and loosely cover with plastic wrap. The dough will expand, so be sure the plastic wrap has room to go with it. Set the pans in a warm place to rise until double, about 45 minutes. Do not let them rise too much or they could collapse in the oven.

When the bread has just about finished its second rising, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Carefully remove the plastic wrap. Do not put the loaves in the oven before it has reached the full 375. Place loaves in oven and a set timer for 30 minutes. At thirty minutes, test bread by sticking a thermometer in an inconspicuous place. You want the center to have reached 190 degrees. If it has not reached this temperature, continue cooking a few more minutes. Thumping these loaves to listen for a hollow sound as you do for a lot of other breads is not always a good measure of doneness because these loaves produce such a soft bread.

Remove bread from oven and let cool in the pan for 3-5 minutes. Have cooling racks ready and remove bread onto racks to cool completely. Try to restrain yourself at least 10 minutes before cutting your first slice (longer, if you can manage it... I never can). Cutting too early can lead to a gummy slice of bread because the starches have not finished setting yet.

Once the bread is complete cool, store in an airtight container. Loaves can be frozen for future use. Bake one for now and freeze the others for later!

If you do not have a stand mixer, simply mix the 5 cups of flour with a hand mixer and then stir and knead in the remaining flour. It works the same, it just takes a bit more elbow grease.
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