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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Chicken Tikka Masala

Boy, I bet you were starting to wonder if I had bit the big one, huh? I tell you, it's kind of been feeling like I have! Whew. I even had to take a day "off" to get some much needed work done. I hate trying to teach day-by-day. I now at least know where I'm headed for the next month. But I still didn't get that stack of papers graded... again, the good news is that my husband and I still have to eat. Some nights are better than others. Tonight, despite the hubby getting home at a decent hour, I just wasn't up for cooking. In fact, I got about five minutes into trying and just had to switch gears and make nachos instead. That's my go-to gig for "I can't cook" nights.

The other evening, however, I decided to christen my new Weber charcoal grill. I love chicken tikka masala. I really enjoy a lot of other Indian dishes, but this one is my favorite. I try not to let it bother me too much that it really isn't Indian but a British adaptation. Either way, it's just darn good. It's a little more involved than some dishes because it requires marinating, grilling, and then finishing on the stove, but I think it's worth it.

You start with a tangy yogurt marinade. Mix together plain yogurt with cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, ginger, and lemon juice. Throw in your chunks of chicken breast and let sit in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. By the way... if anyone knows why Blogger randomly rotates pictures when you don't want them to and can explain it to me, I would be eternally grateful.

Soak some skewers in water for twenty minutes so they don't burn up while grilling. Start the grill and, meanwhile, skewer the chunks of chicken.

When the briquettes are nice and hot, throw on the skewers. You do not need to cook the chicken all the way through during this step. The purpose is to get some good flavor on that meat. You could actually, in a pinch, simply saute the chicken in a pan or broil it in the oven, but I really like the smokiness the grill imparts. I think it is crucial to the flavor of the end result.

Remove the chicken from the grill, let cool slightly, and remove from the skewers. Then, mince up some garlic and an Anaheim chili. You don't have to mince the chili. In fact, most Indian restaurants leave the pepper in larger pieces, but I'm somewhat anti-pepper, so I like my pieces small. Do whatever floats your dingy. By the way, if you like hot stuff, you can always substitute the relatively mild Anaheim with a jalapeno or other hot green pepper. You also will need a can of tomato sauce handy.

Cook the sauce ingredients together and then serve over Batsmati rice. I love those aromatic rices! Be sure to follow the rice packages directions as Batsmati rice typically takes less water than regular long-grain rices.

Chicken Tikka Masala
Yield: serves 2-3

1 cup plain yogurt
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp - 1 tsp ground cayenne
1 TBS fresh grated ginger
1 tsp salt
3 large boneless chicken breast cut into bite sized pieces

1 TBS butter
1 minced clove of garlic
1 minced Anaheim chili pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp paprika
1/2 to 1 tsp salt, to taste
1 8-oz can tomato sauce
2 cups light cream

Mix together the first group of ingredients in a medium-small bowl. Stir to coat the chicken, cover, and place in the refrigerator to marinate for a few hours.

When ready to start dinner, get the grill going first. While that heats up, skewer your chicken onto pre-soaked skewers. Do not pack the skewers too tightly with meat. Grill the skewers over high heat until the meat has some good color on it. The meat does not have to be cooked all the way through. Remove from the grill and let cool until you can handle them. Remove the chicken from the skewers.

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter and then lightly saute the garlic and pepper together. Add the chicken and then the spices and tomato sauce. Stir completely. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the cream. You could use milk, but the texture and taste are just not quite right; I'd advise against it. Cook over low heat for 5-10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce has thickened slightly. If the sauce is not quite as thick as you would like at this point, sprinkle a little flour through a strainer and stir in until it reaches the desired consistency. Serve over Batsmati or other aromatic rice.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Frozen Cranberry Treat

I love frozen goodies. And I like a little variety, too. Whenever I have a really strong food craving, invariably it is for something frozen and creamy. That's why I try to keep either lemon sorbet, mint chocolate chip ice cream, or this in the freezer. My sister-in-law first introduced me to this recipe at a Thanksgiving she hosted a few years back. I really enjoyed it and she gave me a copy of the recipe. I think it was originally considered a "salad," but when I read the ingredient list, I just had a problem calling it such a thing. Additionally, the idea of setting it out in slices on the table to pass around with a bunch of other stuff, melting, just seemed kind of funky to me. So, I made a few changes and it is now a full blown frozen treat!

What I really like about this treat is that it tastes good (always important!), is easy to make, is beautiful, and a is bit off the beaten track. When I'm in the mood for something a bit different, this is where I head.

The first thing is to be sure you have some room temperature cream cheese. Mix it together with a can of whole cranberry sauce and a can of crushed pineapple. For the smoothest result, you can beat the cream cheese with a mixer for a minute before adding the fruit.

Or, if you are impatient like me, you can try to mix it before the cream cheese is really soft and get a bunch of lumps in your mixture. I prefer it lump free, but sometimes, I just can't wait for the whole softening thing. Mix until everything is well incorporated.

In a separate bowl, whip some heavy cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla together. Beat until you are somewhere between soft and stiff peaks. Fold into the fruit/cheese mixture.

Prepare a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan by draping plastic wrap inside. This will make it nice and easy to unmold once it is frozen.

Pour the mixture in the pan and smooth out. Place another piece of plastic wrap over the top and press down so that you have a nice seal. Place in the freezer until hard, preferably overnight.

Once frozen, remove from the pan and slice using a long knife. It should be fairly easy to cut despite being frozen. I like half-inch thick slices. I typically get around 12-13 slices.

For storage and easy serving, I get out the wax paper and line a large Tupperware container. Arrange the slices in the container, placing wax paper between each tier. Aren't they pretty?

Or, you could wrap them individually in wax paper for quick and easy treats on the go. Great for kids and guests alike! I use a bit of scotch tape to hold them closed.

Yum, yum, yum!

Frozen Cranberry Treat
Yield: approximately 12 servings

4 oz room temperature cream cheese
1 16-oz can whole cranberry sauce
1 8-oz can crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Mix the cream cheese, cranberry sauce, and pineapple together until well mixed. For the smoothest results, you can beat the cream cheese for a minute before adding the fruit. In a separate bowl, whip the heavy cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla until it is somewhere between soft and stiff peaks. Fold into the fruit/cheese mixture.

Line a 9 x 5 loaf pan with plastic wrap and pour the mixture in. Smooth and cover with another piece of plastic wrap. Freeze until solid, preferably overnight. Unmold and cut into 1/2" slices. Serve immediately or prepare for storage by either wrapping each slice individually in wax paper or line a Tupperware container with wax paper and layer, placing wax paper between each tier.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Am I the Only One?

While the cat's away, the mice will... well, eat whatever they want to! I love my husband, but occasionally, I look forward to him being out of town because it gives me a chance to gorge on foods he's not a big fan of. This is one of those dishes that he says is "fine" but would prefer to eat all kinds of other things.

Not me. I love this stuff. In fact, if you promise not to tell anyone, I'll share a secret with you: Even though I'm not a kid anymore, if I think no one's looking, I'll still pick up my plate when I'm done and lick it clean. That's how much I like it. Now, we're not talking about that "s**t on a shingle" stuff that military folks always gripe about; we're talking about a flavorful white sauce poured over toast. In my book, that means it's gravy. You just can't go wrong with gravy.

If you're looking for a more robust application of this dish, you can always add a little cheddar cheese to the sauce and pour it over a baked potato instead of toast. We ate that for dinner growing up. But - I have to say - I've always preferred it unadulterated.

This recipe is so simple and you can multiply the recipe for however many servings you need. If you prefer a dish that's a bit less salty, you can rinse the dried beef and pat dry before using it.

Creamed Dry Beef
Yield: 1 serving, multiply into as many servings as needed

2 slices of toast
1 TBS butter
1 oz dried beef, approximate, torn into shreds
2 TBS flour
1 cup milk

Melt the butter in a sauce pan over medium-high heat. Toss in the dried beef. Let the beef brown slightly in the pan, stirring occasionally. Add the flour and stir until all the butter is absorbed and the beef is coated. Pour the milk in and stir continuously until the mixture becomes bubbly and thick, about 3-4 minutes, depending on your stove. Pour over 2 slices of freshly toasted bread and serve immediately.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


The other day, I posted a recipe for Giant Ginger Cookies. The day that I made them, I only baked enough of the dough to make 6 of the 25 cookies the recipe makes. Since then, I have fiddled with the remaining dough. Although I very much enjoyed the cookies as I posted them, I have since decided that I really am more of a crispy ginger cookie kind of gal. I'm all about the snap! I found that as I was eating those giant cookies, the part I was enjoying the most was the slightly crispy outside.

So, I went to work. I baked a few here, a few there, using various sized scoops. This is one of the reasons I love cookie dough: make the dough one day and bake it a few cookies at a time as you want them. I often freeze the preformed dough balls. In this case, I just put it in the fridge; I knew I'd be coming back to it soon.

My favorite iteration, which I felt I had to share, was a snappy, super gingery cookie. If you like Trader Joe's gingersnaps, you'll absolutely adore these. I cut up a bunch of crystallized ginger and put it in the dough. I made no measurements. It's all about a gut feeling here. Go as crazy as you like. Well, almost. You do want more dough than add-ins.

I ended up liking them fairly small and thin. I used my #100 disher which holds about 2 tsp of dough. I rolled them in sugar and then baked them. I used sanding sugar which is fairly coarse grained, but regular sugar works fine too. Some of them I pressed flat before baking. I liked them both ways. The ones that I didn't flatten got a pretty crackled surface, but the ones I pressed had more snap to them. You can see the difference in them below. I still baked them at 350 degrees F and they took about 20 minutes to bake. I think I need another cookie!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Pesto Rolled Pork Loin

It's Mother Hubbard's cupboard around here. Who would've thought that I might start finding it challenging to get to the grocery store? Of course, there's the grocery store and then there's the grocery store. Strangely enough, where we're living now is almost like living out in the sticks from a shopping point of view. There are local stores to shop at, but the prices are so high, I can only justify emergency shopping there. I'm all for supporting local merchants, but a 40% mark-up? Come on! So, to do some real shopping involves driving "across the water" and paying the toll to get to Destin. It takes about twenty minutes to get over there, so I guess I've been putting it off... and putting it off.

It got so bad that yesterday I had to cave and do an emergency run at the local store to make it through the rest of the week. I had to get food that can be taken for lunches at work and things that can be eaten on the go for breakfast. While there I had to see if anything was on special in the meat department (I needed something to make for dinner, too). They had beautiful pork tenderloins on sale! They're the perfect weekday meal canvas because they cook quickly and are tender and flavorful. My favorite way to prepare one is rolled up with pesto. Two ingredients! You can't beat that.

The first ingredient is pesto. You could use store bought, make you own fresh, or get out some of the cubes of pesto you froze last time you had a bunch of basil around. For this recipe, you need about 1/3 to 1/2 a cup of pesto. I simply throw some of the frozen cubes in a bowl and nuke in the microwave for about 30 seconds.

The trickiest part of this whole thing is butterflying the loin. While there are a few ways to accomplish this task, I'll show you the way I do it.
With the loin sitting on the board, divide it in your mind into thirds: top middle, and bottom. Cut into to the loin at the line between the middle and top thirds and cut about three quarters of the way through the loin. Flip that top third back out of the way. By the way, can you see all that marbling!?! I have never seen such a fatty tenderloin in my life! It was delicious!

Now, from where you just stopped cutting, cut through the loin toward you at the line between the middle and bottom. Again, cut only about three quarters of the way across. It's like cutting a tri-fold brochure out of pork. Now just lay the thing open and slather pesto all over it.

Roll the pesto up so that you have a nice, long roll. Use kitchen twine to snug it up tightly. Place on a foil lined pan and roast at 400 degrees F until the internal temperature of the thickest part has reached almost 150. It took my loin about 30 minutes to get there.

In the last two minutes, I switched the oven over to the broiler so that I could get a little more color and flavor on the outside. Remove from the oven and be sure to let it rest for a few minutes before removing the twine and cutting into three-quarter inch thick slices. So divine! I served mine with saffron rice and steamed broccoli. 'Course, now I don't know what to make for dinner tonight...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Giant Ginger Cookies

Well, it's official. I've decided to stoop to bribery. Actually, the students I have at my new school are quite good and - for the most part - I am enjoying my new job. I really wish it were a part time gig so that I could teach and not only teach. I do occasionally like to do things other than grade papers, plan lessons, and copy handouts. The thing is, I figure with bribery, I can kill two birds with one stone. Not only can I provide incentive to my students, but I can play in the kitchen and not have to eat everything that is its result. So, I have decided to start testing some cookie recipes. Cookies travel well and everyone loves them.

These gems turned out pretty darn good. It's from a cut out in my recipe binder. It looks like it's from way back based on its placement in the book and the food stains on the nearby pages. Amazingly though, all I had to do was Google the name of the recipe and there it was. It's a Better Homes & Gardens recipe and I think it's worth sharing with you. You could just go straight to their page, but then you wouldn't get to hear my two cents (that is why you're here, right?).

My first concern while making them was the amount of cloves. A whole teaspoon... were they sure? I worried that it was too much, but I figured they must have tested the recipe, so I decided to go with it. I'm glad I did. The mixture of spices in these cookies is just right. There's a slight bite (at over a tablespoon of dried ginger powder, one would think so!), but it's not too much.

Really, I think this is a nice recipe, but I think their baking times are way off. The cookies are huge balls of dough - 2 inches across - that they do not instruct you to flatten at all. I hit the recommended 12-14 minute point and my cookies had barely started to lose their ball shape. I think it took mine nearly half an hour to bake. Now, I did use cold shortening (I keep it in the fridge for pie crusts), but I think that the best thing is to slightly flatten the cookie before baking. And, while you want to be careful not to over bake if you want chewy cookies, you also don't want to under bake them. I liked how the edges were nice and crunchy in a pleasingly tender way. Be sure that you let them bake long enough to get a little golden color for the best flavor.

Giant Ginger Cookies
Yield: 25 four-inch cookies
from Better Homes & Gardens

4 1/2 cups flour
4 tsp dried, ground ginger
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups shortening
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup molasses
coarse sugar for rolling (granulated works, too)

In a medium bowl, mix the dry ingredients together. In the bowl of a mixer, cream the shortening and sugar together until it is slightly fluffy. Add the eggs and molasses and beat until well mixed. Slowly add the dry mixture to the wet and beat to incorporate.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a sheet tray with parchment or simply place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Roll dough into 2-inch diameter balls and roll in the sugar. Place on the pan, leaving 2-3 inches space between cookies. Flatten slightly with your hands to help them bake more quickly and evenly.

Put in the oven and bake until they are nice and crackly and have a light golden color on them, about 15-20 minutes. The centers should be set but not dry. Timing will vary depending on the starting temperature of your dough and how much you flatten them, so keep an eye on them.

Let cool for a few minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

Have I told you lately how much I love my freezers? I know its approaching pumpkin season, but I still have plenty of seeds in my freezer from when I grew a bounty of pumpkins two years ago. Check out the date on that baggie: December '07!

When I processed my pie pumpkins to freeze the pulp for bread and pies, I saved all the seeds and froze them. You don't need to do anything except measure them into the baggies and freeze. You can use whatever pumpkin seeds you have... heck, keep them from your jack o'lantern. I prefer the smaller seeds from pie pumpkins because the hulls are more tender and I like that, but they're all good.

Thaw the seeds out and let them come to room temperature before preparing. If you try and mix them with the butter when they're still cold, you'll get a clumpy, yucky mess.

Mix the seeds, melted butter, Worcestershire sauce, and seasoning salt (like Johnny's) together. Spread the seeds out onto a sheet pan and throw in a 250 degree F oven. Bake, stirring occasionally, until they are nicely browned, about one hour.

Let the seeds cool completely before storing in an air tight container. I find that plastic bags do not keep them at their freshest. I prefer to keep them in a canning jar with an air tight lid.

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
Yield: 2 cups

2 cups unwashed seeds
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 TBS melted butter
1 tsp seasoning salt

Mix all ingredients together and spread onto a sheet pan. Bake at 250 degrees F for an hour, stirring occasionally, until they are nice and toasty brown. Cool completely before stirring in an air tight container.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Potato Wheat Bread

Long, long ago in a land far, far away, in a lifetime I don't always feel is my own anymore, I was introduced to homemade potato bread. This was way back in high school, when I first realized that, deep down inside, I am a cowgirl. It was as if I had never really lived until I started working cattle.

As part of this coming of age, I spent a fair amount of time with some friends on their ranch in Soap Lake, Washington. Now, I grew up eating homemade bread and I always loved it, but the bread my mom made was very whole wheat and quite dense and rustic. That's not a bad thing and I know that's how my dad preferred it. But, I guess I had never realized just how soft homemade bread could be until I tried Sy's potato bread. Sometimes, I think I drove over there to visit just so I could eat some of her bread. She was nice enough to give me her recipe and I've made it often over the years, but one day I happened to wonder what it would be like to take that super soft bread and make it a wheat dough. I wondered if it could make a nice, light wheat bread. As it turns out, it does! This is the softest homemade wheat bread you'll ever taste.

By the way, if you can't find soy flour, you can substitute for all-purpose, but the soy flour does some interesting things to the dough's texture, flavor, and storage length. Therefore, I recommend using it if you can find it.

It starts out with boiling a diced up potato in water. Boil it until it's nice and tender.

You need to let it cool quite a bit before heading to the next step or you will end up with scalding hot potato water shooting all over your kitchen. Trust me... I learned that one the hard way a long time ago! Please note that I made a double batch here, so your blender will not be this full. I have a 6 quart Kitchen-Aid, and I must say that a double batch of this bread is so big it's a fair pain in the rear. I'd recommend just sticking with a normal batch size. Blend the potato and water together until it's nice and smooth.

Mix all the wet ingredients together. Boy, doesn't look very appealing here, does it? Don't worry, it will turn into a fairly nice dough. It's going to be a bit sticky even when it's done, but that's why the mixer is nice. Add the soy and whole wheat flour and gluten and mix for a bit with the paddle. Then switch to the dough hook and add 2 cups of the white flour and the salt. Knead, adding as little of the remaining flour as necessary to obtain a nice, cohesive dough. Again, it will still be sticky, but it should also be nice and elastic.

Put the dough into a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm place to rise until double. This dough is very active, so don't walk away and forget about it. I did that once, too, by accident. I had been letting it rise in the oven and, while I went out for a ride on my horse, the dough rose up and over the sides of the bowl and all through the oven rack. Yuck, was it ever a mess. Just be sure you keep an eye on it.

Here it is doubled. It didn't seem to take very long, but I put it in our 80 degree garage for about 45 minutes. The yeast apparently like that.

Dump the dough onto a floured counter and pat it down into a rectangle. Have your pans ready and lubed before getting started. I use the 8x4 size pans. Cut the dough so that you have two rectangles where one side is close to the length of the pan. Again, I made a double batch, so I had four rectangles.

Roll the dough up into a log and pinch the ends together. Pinch the ends up too and then flip the whole thing over and place in the pans, seam side down.

Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about an hour.

Once they have doubled, remove the plastic wrap and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Don't worry if the loaves don't seem to be as poofed as you would like because they have a good spring in the oven. In fact, if you let them rise too long and too high before baking them, they might fall in the oven.

If you like a split-top loaf, you can cut a line down the middle of the loaf with a sharp knife or razor blade. Don't cut too deeply or your resulting loaf shape will be odd. About 1/4 of an inch deep is enough. Place bread into the preheated oven and bake for about 30 minutes. Bread should sound hollow when done or have reached an internal temperature of 200 degrees. Let cool slightly before taking the loaves out of the pan to finish cooling. For a beautiful, soft, glossy top like shown in the first picture, brush the tops with butter. For best results, wait until the loaves are completely cooled before cutting... yeah, right.

Potato Wheat Bread
Yield: 2 loaves

1 small potato, peeled and diced
water to make 2 1/2 cups potato puree
3 TBS softened or melted butter
1 TBS instant yeast
2 TBS honey
2 TBS molasses
1/2 cup soy flour
3 TBS vital wheat gluten
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 - 2 1/2 cups white flour
1 tsp table salt

In a small sauce pan, boil the prepared potato in about 2 cups of water. Boil until the potato is very tender. Remove from heat and let cool. Place mixture into a blender and blend for a few seconds. Add water to make 2 1/2 cups and blend until smooth.

Add the potato water to the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the butter, yeast, honey, and molasses and mix thoroughly. Add the soy flour, gluten, and wheat flour. Mix on medium speed with the paddle for about 5 minutes. Remove the paddle and put on the dough hook. Add 2 cups of white flour and the salt. Knead on speed 2 for another 3-5 minutes, adding as little of the remaining 1/2 cup of flour as you can while still trying to keep the dough from being too sticky. It will never completely lose its stickiness and it is better to err on the side of less flour.

Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until double. Dump the dough onto a floured counter and pat into a large, flat rectangle. Cut into two rectangles and roll each rectangle into a loaf, pinching the seams closed. Place the load, seam side down into a greased 8x4 inch load pan. Cover the pans with plastic wrap and let rise again until double, about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Slash the top of the dough if you prefer a split top loaf and place in the oven for about 30 minutes. When done, the loaf should sound hollow when tapped or have reached an internal temperature of 200 degrees. Let cool slightly before removing from the pans to finish cooling on a rack.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Produce Perfection

The most amazing thing happened today. I was standing at the kitchen counter trying to make potatoes, Tupperware, and blue water do special things for my earth science class tomorrow when my stomach yelled at me. I don't mean the meek kind of rumble that makes you think casually, "Hmm, I think I might be hungry." This was a roar of epic proportions that made me immediately drop what I was doing and walk straight to the refrigerator. When the tummy starts barking orders like that, I obey.

Somehow, I suddenly remembered the forgotten honeydew in the back of the refrigerator. I'm not really sure how I had forgotten it since every time I opened the fridge door the last two days, its sweet aroma enveloped me.

That's what was so wonderful. This one was divine. Sweet and juicy, tender and flavorful. The perfect specimen. How often do you actually get a honeydew that smells like a honeydew, let alone tastes like one? I was walking through the produce aisle the other day and, from two rows away, I knew that there were ripe honeydews to be had. This is a truly rare event; I can count on one hand then number of decent honeydews I've had in the last ten years.

It's a shame that getting decent produce from the grocery store should be so challenging... and it's surprising to me that people actually buy and eat under ripe, flavorless produce (honeydews are not supposed to be crunchy!). It's no wonder Americans don't eat enough fruits and vegetables; many of them must not know what they're missing!

I always enjoy watching shoppers in the produce aisle. Everyone has a different method of picking fruit. Some simply pick the prettiest specimen there. Others pick them up and fondle them. Me? I'm a sniffer for most produce. If I can't smell it, I don't buy it. There are exceptions, of course. Listed below are a few of the criteria I use for choosing my favorite produce. What techniques do you favor?
  • Cantaloupes and honeydews: absolutely must pass the sniff test
  • Watermelons: I look for a yellow area on one side (where it sat on the ground) and sounds hollow when thumped
  • Peaches, nectarines, plums: has the slightest give when pressed lightly, must pass the sniff test
  • Grapes: I like my grapes to crunch when I bite into them, so I give 'em a squeeze to see how firm they are, for green grapes, I look for a yellow hint as they tend to be sweeter, I also am not opposed to testing one right there in the produce department
  • Tomatoes: pointless to test at the grocery store, but if you are at a market where you suspect they might be locally grown, submit them to the sniff test
  • Pears (especially D'Anjou, my favorite): I reject any with bruises, I like just a slight hint of yellow to ensure they ripen properly
  • Red Delicious Apples: most apples are pretty easy to pick, I think. Red delicious is the exception as it can often be mealy. To be sure I don't end up with mealy Red D's, I give them a squeeze. If there is even the slightest hint of give, I put it back and choose another.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Creamy Pesto Pasta

I love this dish, not only because it is sooooooo quick to make but because it is sooooooo delicious. Tonight was one of those nights. But just because I can't spend a lot of time making a meal doesn't mean that I don't' want to eat well. Tonight, it was steaks with sauteed mushrooms. With the steaks, I made steamed squash and broccoli with a browned butter drizzle and this pasta.

If you've been one of those folks that reaches for pasta in a box on those quick meal nights, give this a try. I think it's actually faster than any box could hope to be. The trick is to always have pesto in your freezer. I make mine in the summer when the basil is plentiful and then freeze it in ice cube trays. I pop them out of the trays and store in zip top bags. Ready to go at a moment's notice!

Boil your pasta and drain. In this case, I used the remnants from two bags. If you look closely, we had small shells and some large alphabet pasta from Trader Joe's. Thaw the pesto in a small dish in the microwave. For ice cube sized hunks, it only takes a few seconds (literally! start with 15 seconds). Pour the pesto over the pasta, add a good splash of cream (heavy or light, whatever you've got), and a nice shake of Parmesan cheese. For this recipe, I just shake it right out of the green can. On nights like these, I can't be bothered to grate fresh. That's it! Stir it around and then eat it up. Just make sure you make enough. This is one of those dishes that when I go to do the dishes, I have to have a few more spoonfuls. Sssshhhhh. Don't tell!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Crispy Coconut Macaroons

I grew up eating Mother's Coconut Macaroons. You know, the ones with the circus top logo? They were crispy and coconuty and so delicious. I've made macaroons a lot in the last few years, but I have always been dissatisfied. While "traditional" macaroons are the best cookie you can eat if you're looking for a "healthy" cookie, they just seem kind of blah to me. I knew to get to the kind of cookie I was looking for, I was going to have to bring butter and flour into the equation. Sometimes, you just have to make these kinds of sacrifices.

It only took me three tries. Batches, that is. And on the last batch, I had to make some mid-batch alterations. But I've got it now! If you like coconut and a nice, buttery, crispy cookie, then give these guys a try. You won't be disappointed. Unfortunately, as a result of the multiple batch process, most of the pictures I took were not for the final batch (I guess I was starting to get discouraged). So, all I've got to share with you is this one of the final product. Well, at least I can share the recipe with you!

Crispy Coconut Macaroons
Yield: approximately 30 cookies

1/2 cup softened butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 whole eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla

1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cream of tarter
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut

Cream the butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla together. Unless you can find unsweetened, "macaroon coconut" which is finely ground, you will need to run it through the food processor a bit. If you cannot find unsweetened coconut, you can use the sweetened, but you will have to adjust the amount of sugar. Toast the coconut in a dry saute pan over medium heat, stirring frequently until the coconut has a nice, light, toasty color. Let the coconut cool.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, salt, cream of tarter, and baking powder. Stir in the coconut and then add the wet batter. Stir to mix thoroughly. Drop batter by tablespoons onto a parchment lined sheet. The cookies will spread quite a bit, so be sure to leave plenty of room between each. Dampen your fingers and press the batter flat.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the cookies are flat and nicely golden. Cool completely on a rack before enjoying.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Chocolate IV Cake

Warning! Only make this cake if you are in dire need of a fix. It is dangerous. Very, very dangerous... and rich. Oh la la.

This thing is like a cross between a molten cake and a pudding. It starts with chocolate. I made it with Ghiradelli's bittersweet chocolate chips and, boy, was it chocolaty. If you want, you could use chocolate that is less intense. But I personally like it super chocolaty.

Melt the chocolate, butter, sugar, and vanilla together in a medium heat proof bowl over gently simmering water. It will be thick and the sugar will still be grainy, but that's okay. It'll do its thing in the oven just fine.

Add the eggs and stir gently. It will become very gelatinous. Again, it's okay. Just roll with it.

Stir in the flour just until the batter is well mixed.

Butter and flour four ceramic ramekins. Evenly distribute the batter between the four. FYI, the batter does not rise, so if your batter fills your ramekins more than mine, don't worry about it. Pour hot water into the baking pan halfway up the sides of the ramekins. I used the water from the double boiler. Bake for 30 minutes in a preheated 375 degree oven. Remove from the oven and jiggle each ramekin briefly before inverting onto a plate. The cake should come out very easily. Let cool slightly before dusting with powdered sugar and serving. Prepare yourself! This dessert requires the accompaniment of either coffee or milk. Don't say I didn't warn you!

Chocolate IV Cake
Yield: 4 cakes

10 oz high-quality semi- or bittersweet chocolate
5 TBS salted butter
2 TBS sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
3 eggs
1/4 cup sifted flour

Melt the chocolate, butter, sugar, and vanilla together in a medium bowl over gently simmering water. Stir together until it is melted and smooth. Do not worry if the sugar is still grainy. That is normal.

Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter and flour four small ceramic ramekins. Set into a baking an with one inch sides.

Add the eggs to the chocolate mixture and stir until just mixed. It will seem somewhat gelatinous. Add in the sifted flour and fold in until well mixed. Divide evenly between the four ramekins. Prepare a water bath by pouring hot water half way up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 30 minutes. A pick will come out clean, but the middle will not be set.

Jiggle the ramekin slightly and then invert immediately onto a serving plate. Let cool slightly before sprinkling with powdered sugar and serving.

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