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Monday, June 27, 2011

Blueberry Cornmeal Pancakes

If you've been around here for any time at all, you may have started to notice a pattern. I am a huge fan of using cornmeal in baked goods, and if there are blueberries in said baked goods, even better. There's my cornmeal pie crust, a blueberry lemon cornmeal cake, and my lemon cornmeal cookies. I think you get the idea. And that idea is that cornmeal is just fabulous in so many baked goods.

This past weekend, I gave the combination a try in a pancake version. Wow! In this case, because the batter has a little more liquid, the cornmeal ended up a bit more subtle than in some of those other recipes, but it was still there and still a star player. These pancakes were great right off the griddle with syrup, but they were just as good five hours later as an out of hand snack. I highly recommend them!

Blueberry Cornmeal Pancakes
Yield: approx. 16 4-inch pancakes

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup whole milk
3 TBS butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg
1 1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Mix together the first five, dry, ingredients. If you are using buttermilk powder, mix the powder in with the dry ingredients as well. In a separate bowl or measuring cup, mix the buttermilk (or its liquid), milk, butter, and egg together. Add to the dry ingredients and mix just until incorporated. The mixture may be lumpy. Lastly, add the blueberries. If using frozen berries, I often will not add them to the batter since they start to melt and lead to purple pancakes. Instead, in that case, I place the berries into the pancake once it starts to cook on the griddle.

Heat a non-stick pan or griddle over medium heat. Place a small amount of butter in the pan and then wipe down with a paper towel. Spoon approximately 1/3 of a cup of batter on the griddle for each pancake for small, manageable pancakes. You can make them larger, but this size is easier to flip than large ones. Cook until they are slightly dry around the edges and they are nicely browned on the bottom. The top should be full of bubbles and have started to lose its batter look. Flip and continue cooking another two minutes. Extras can be kept warm in a low oven.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Blueberry Lemon Cheesecake Tart

This is one of those "put together" recipes. It has three separate components that I have previously posted put into one delicious dessert. In fact, my husband - who's not a huge sweets fan - told me the other nights that it was, "One of my best efforts." Whoo hoo! Of course, that means that it's tasty enough I've eaten it for lunch, snack, and dinner the last two days. It's a horrible thing, too, because my husband will look at me after dinner tomorrow and say he wants some of that awesome dessert I made the other day and I'll have to look sheepish and admit that I already polished the whole thing off. I hate it when that happens.

It's a horrible, wonderful thing. .:sigh:.

But here's how it goes. First, make a batch of my Perfect Graham Cracker Crust. Press it into a nine inch spring form pan such that a little bit of it rides up the sides half an inch or so. I reduced the sugar in the crust to only 1/4 of a cup in this case since I wanted to balance the sweet fruit topping a bit. Don't bake the crust yet for this dessert.

Then mix up a batch of my Mini-Cheesecake filling. It has a nice lemony flavor that compliments those blueberries oh so well. Pour the prepared filling into the unbaked crust.

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Place the pan in the oven and reduce the heat to 350° F. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the filling is set but not browned in any way. While you can use a cake tester to test for doneness, I just use the "jiggle" test. Gently jiggle the pan and if the center does not jiggle with it, it's finished. Turn the oven off and let the cheesecake remain in the oven for another ten minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely.

Lastly, prepare a batch of blueberry topping that is very similar to my Maple Blueberry Topping. In this case, however, we're going to omit the maple syrup, cinnamon, and nutmeg. We're also going to increase the sugar to 1/3 of a cup. The other change is that we'll only actually cook one cup of the blueberries. We'll add the last cup after the mixture has cooked, thickened, and cooled slightly. I really love the way those fresh blueberries taste in the cooked blueberry mixture. It's my secret weapon! Once the blueberry mixture has cooled and the cheesecake has cooled, pour the blueberries on top! Refrigerate at least four hours before serving.

Now who wouldn't want a slice of this heaven?!?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Spinach Pasta

I'm not gonna lie to you. Making homemade pasta can be very time consuming. How time consuming depends on the shape. Today, I'm going to walk you through a basic spinach pasta dough recipe. Once the dough is made, you can process it into any shaped pasta you please. If you want something fast, you can go for fettuccini (or even taglioni - wide ribbons - if you don't have a pasta machine). I'm going to show you how to make farfalle pasta, aka bowties. This may be one of the most time consuming pasta shapes to make. Why do I still do it occasionally? Because they're so darn cute and they make a wonderful gift.

The first step in making spinach pasta is preparing the spinach puree. I often think about making this dough after I realise I bought a bag of spinach and then forgot to use it before it started getting a little funky around the edges. Not all of the spinach is bad, so I dump the bag into a sink full of water. This allows me to pick out the nasty pieces and rinse off any goo left behind from those nasty pieces. You can, of course, use fresh, beautiful spinach; I - unfortunately - am never that organized.

In my experience, you'll want to avoid using frozen spinach or spinach that is too mature because it is too fibrous and will not puree well enough and you could end up with fibers that don't cut easily, making it very hard to form the pasta. Not good.

Prepare a pan with a steamer insert and a little water. Steam the spinach until it is evenly wilted.
Then put the spinach into a food processor. You can add some water to help it puree. You'll have to let it drain regardless, so you might as well make your life easier. Once the spinach is nice and smooth, spoon it into a fine mesh sieve and let it sit and drain for a few hours. At this point, you can continue with the recipe or freeze the puree for later use. Since the recipe requires one half cup of puree, I freeze cups with that premeasured amount.

When you get ready to make the pasta dough itself, place the ingredients together in a stand mixer. You could, of course, mix this by hand, but that certainly sounds like a lot of effort to me! Especially with this dough. For some time, you're going to look at this mixture and wonder how it is ever going to come together, it looks so dry. You'll be sorely tempted to add some water. Don't!

Just give it a little more time and it will turn into a beautiful, green dough. This is a fairly soft dough to begin with, so if you add any extra water you will really be in a world of hurt. In fact, once it comes together, if it's still tacky, you may want to add a little extra flour. Knead for an additional 4-5 minutes after the dough comes together. Take the dough out and pat it into a ball. Spray a little oil on a sheet of plastic wrap and wrap the dough up to sit for a couple of hours before continuing.

Notice that after the dough rests, it will look a lot more workable. Divide the dough into six even pieces. At this point, you could roll it out with a rolling pin as thin as you can and cut it into strips with a pizza cutter. It will be delicious. If you want to go a little more gourmet, pull out the pasta roller. I have a KitchenAid stand mixer with the pasta roller attachment. It comes with a flat roller, a spaghetti roller, and a fettuchini roller. When making faralle, or bowties, I only use the flat roller. As I mentioned before, this dough is fairly soft and sticky, so have plenty of flour on hand. It will make a fine fettuchini, but I don't recommend trying to make spaghetti or any other "fine" pastas.

Take one of the pieces and dust it liberally with flour. Run it through the pasta roller until it is flat and fairly thin. Don't go too thin or you will have a mess. Bowties are usually a fairly thick pasta and that's a really good thing with this somewhat challenging to roll pasta dough (compared to plain old egg pasta dough, anyway). With my KitchenAid roller, I go up to setting six. Then lay the sheet down on a floured counter. I like to use semolina flour at this point because it keeps things from sticking without making my pasta all white. Also, if you have a lot of all purpose flour stuck to your pasta when it dries, it can get a little gummy when it cooks.

Lay the sheet out and use a pizza roller to cut long strips about 3/4 to 7/8 of an inch wide. Then use a ravioli cutter (with fluted edges) to cut the ribbons into individual pieces about 1 3/8 inch long. Have a large sheet tray with a parchment liner ready to accept your finished farfalle.

For each piece, squeeze the middle together until it sticks, forming that classic shape.

The pieces can then be transferred onto your sheet tray to dry. Let them sit at room temperature for at least 24 hours or until they are nice and brittle. Then place them in an airtight container for storage. They are best used within 2 to 3 months. When you go to prepare them, I find that homemade pasta tends to cook more quickly than store bought, so check for doneness early.

Spinach Pasta
Yield: about 1 pound of pasta

1/2 cup of drained spinach puree (from about 6 oz fresh spinach)
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt

Add all ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook. Mix and knead on fairly low speed 3-4 minutes after the dough finally comes together. Spray a sheet of plastic wrap with a little cooking spray, place the dough inside and wrap up. Let dough sit and rest for 2 hours. After it has rested, divide dough into six pieces and shape as desired. Use semolina flour to prevent sticking. Finished pasta can be frozen or dried to prolong storage.

Here's a picture of what the finished farfalle looked like when I was packaging it to sell. This pasta makes a great gift that anyone would be happy to receive!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Venison Cabernet

I know there are a lot of you out there that probably don't have access to wild game. If you don't hunt, don't know someone who hunts, or don't live near a specialty grocery store, you're probably out of luck. You can certainly make this dish with beef, and it will be delicious, but it won't be the same. Wild game has a distinctive flavor. Often, folks refer to this as "gaminess", but they are usually misspeaking, as I discussed in a post about baked rabbit.

I adore wild game. Elk is my favorite, but since I left the moutainous west almost eight years ago, I haven't had much opportunity to cook with it. Venison, on the other hand, actually got easier to have around once I married. I hunted venison before I got married, but having the time and resources made it a haphazard affair. Fortunately, I married into venison! I know, that sounds weird, doesn't it? Funny thing, though, my brother-in-law, who is a big hunter, tied the knot with a vegetarian. It's definitely been a good thing for me. I've had a non-stop stock of venison ever since.

While I cook all kinds of venison dishes, this is my favorite "quick" dish (as opposed to roasts, and such). The boldness of the Cabernet stands up to and accentuates the flavor of the meat and creates a delicious sauce to boot. I've served it over a number of things, but pasta is my favorite. Bow ties look beautiful and are a chewy and satisfying partner to this dish.

Venison Cabernet
Yield: 4 servings

1 lb small cubes of venison chops, steaks, or tenderloin
1 TBS vegetable oil
1/3 cup sliced shallots
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 cups quartered mushrooms
1 tsp fresh thyme, minced
1 cup beef broth
3 TBS cornstarch
1 cup Cabernet wine
salt & pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a dutch oven or stock pot over medium-high heat. Add the meat pieces and brown on all sides. Depending on the size of your pot, you may need to brown the meat in batches. If the pieces don't have enough leg room in the pan they will steam instead of brown. Remove the meat and set aside.

If necessary, add another drizzle of oil to the pan. Reduce the heat to medium and add the shallots, mushrooms, garlic, and thyme. Cook until browned and soft. Deglaze the pan with the beef broth. Return the meat to the pan. Mix the wine and cornstarch until there are no lumps and add to the pan, stirring to mix everything together. Bring to a simmer and cook for twenty minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve over pasta or potatoes.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Old Fashioned Deviled Eggs

Deviled eggs are such a classic appetizer, although to be honest, in our house, they're more often a snack food than an appetizer since my husband likes deviled eggs more than he likes entertaining. As a military wife, there are plenty of opportunities for me to make and take dishes to functions, and this is a common one for me to take.

Now, I know these days, there are all kinds of fancy schmancy deviled egg recipes out there, and I've tried a few, but both my husband and I always come back to the old traditional version. It's simple and straight-forward but, oh, so delicious. I like a really creamy filling, so I press mine through a sieve before piping, but you can certainly skip that step... and the piping, for that matter. I just sometimes enjoy the art of cooking as much as the rest of it.

Old Fashioned Deviled Eggs
Yield: 2 dozen egg halves

12 eggs
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp white vinegar
salt to taste
paprika and chives for sprinkling

Place the eggs in a large sauce pan and cover with cold water. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, reduce to a simmer and start a 15 minute timer. As soon as the timer goes off, pour off the hot water and immerse the eggs in cold water with lots of ice. Let eggs cool until they are easily handled. Peel eggs and slice in half.

Remove the yolk halves from the eggs and place in a bowl. Smash the yolks with a fork and then add the mayonnaise, mustard, and vinegar. Mash together until the mixture is smooth and evenly mixed. Add salt to taste. For the best texture, press the mixture through a sieve. Using a star tip, pipe the filling into the now hollow egg halves. Sprinkle with paprika and chives to garnish.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Raisin Bread

Please note that I since writing this post, I have posted about soy flour, specifically the fact that I did not realize there were two kinds on the market: regular and defatted. You want to be sure to use defatted soy flour in this recipe. For more information, click here.

My carb induced dreams never tasted as good as they did the first time I made raisin bread from scratch. Those ritual breakfast muffins took a backseat for five whole days while I polished this bad boy off. What's great about raisin bread isn't just the raisins, although they're nice too, it's the subtle spice of the dough. It isn't just bread with raisins in it, it's raisin bread!

This dough has a mixture of white bread flour and whole wheat to give the strength of the bread flour's gluten with the heartiness and tastiness of the whole wheat. It also has a little bit of soy flour in it. Soy flour helps you end up with a loaf that is more moist and tender and it also helps the loaf to have better shelf life. If you can't find soy flour or would rather not use it, you can simply substitute bread flour instead.

This particular recipe utilizes a process called autolyse (pronounced "auto-lease"), where after a few minutes to mix the ingredients, the dough is allowed to sit for a bit before finishing the kneading. This short rest allows the flour to more fully absorb the moisture allowing the gluten to develop more fully. The raisins are added at the very end. Let the dough rise, covered, in a warm place until doubled.

After the dough has doubled, turn it out onto a lightly floured counter. Knead a few times to degas the dough. Using your hands, press the dough out into a large rectangle as wide as the longest dimension of your bread pan. In the photo here, I divided the dough into two smaller loaves and placed into two 4.5 x 8 inch pans, but I wasn't a fan of the proportions of the final loaf. The next time I made this bread, I made a single loaf in a 4.5 x 12 inch pan I picked up at IKEA a few years ago. If you don't have access to a pan like that, I would recommend going for a single 5 x 9 inch loaf pan. Roll the flattened dough up and then pinch the ends down and under to make a tidy log shape. Place in greased loaf pans, pinched sides down. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise again until slightly more than doubled.

Gently remove the plastic wrap and place the loaf into a preheated 375° F oven. Bake approximately 30 minutes, until the crust is nice and browned and the loaf has a nice hollow sound when tapped. If you are unsure whether the loaf is properly baked, you can stick an instant read thermometer in the middle and look for a minimum temperature of 200° F. Remove from the pan immediately onto a cooling rack. Let cool completely (or as much as you can) before tearing into the loaf. It will be hard... I'm telling you, this loaf smells goooooood when it's baking!

Raisin Bread
Yield: One 4.5"x12" loaf or one 5"x9" loaf

1 TBS instant yeast
2 1/4 cup bread flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup defatted soy flour
1/2 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 cup raisins

Mix together the first eight ingredients (through the sugar) until incorporated. Add the oil, egg yolk, and water and mix together. Knead by hand or with a dough hook in a stand mixer for 7-10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Finally, gently knead in the raisins, just until they are evenly distributed. Mixing too much with the raisins in the dough can start to break the gluten strands, so go easy.

Place the dough in a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until double, about an hour. Dump dough out onto a lightly floured counter. Gently knead a few times to degas the dough. Press out into a flat rectangle 9 or 12 inches wide, depending on the loaf pan you are using. Roll the loaf up and pinch the bottom seam together. Then pinch the ends together and down so that from the top, the loaf has a nice shape. Place seam side down in a greased 4.5"x12" or 5"x9" loaf pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until slightly more than double, about another hour.

When the loaf is about half risen, start preheating the oven at 375° F. When the loaf is properly risen, carefully remove the plastic wrap and bake in the center of the oven for approximately 30 minutes. When done, the loaf should have a nice golden crust, sound hollow when thumped, and have an internal temperature around 200° F. Remove from the pan promptly to cool on a wire rack. Cool completely before storing in an airtight container at room temperature for up to five days or over a week in the refrigerator.

NOTES: You can use one package of active dry yeast instead of the instant, but you will need to activate it in the warm water first for five to ten minutes. Therefore, the yeast will be added to the dough with the liquid and not with the dry ingredients. If you do not have soy flour, bread flour can be substituted.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Definitely Worth the Effort: Dried Thyme

In these hectic modern days, it seems every decision is a cost-benefit analysis... is the end result worth the time it takes to do it yourself? In many cases, the answer is yes for me, especially when it comes to the kitchen. However, sometimes, life starts making some of those decisions for you. The other day I mentioned how we had to leave our little Ohio farm behind a few years ago. When I had my farm, I don't think I ever purchased store bought herbs for any reason... I grew them all myself.

Now days, I have to be a little more selective about what I plant. I currently have only 64 square feet to work with. That's less than one half a percent of the garden space I had in Ohio. This deficiency leads to some hard choices. Which crops are so much better home grown that they deserve some of that tiny little space? While I grow a number of fresh herbs in pots on my patio, I've recently realized that growing a few thyme bushes in my garden so I can have enough to dry my own is definitely worth the effort.

I came to this realization when I bought some thyme at the grocery store a few months back. Can you tell in the picture above which I bought and which I grew? Yeah, me too. Today, while I was shopping for some spices, I saw a jar of ground thyme that was brown. I may be mistaken, but I'm pretty sure thyme isn't supposed to be brown. One other benefit of home dried thyme? It actually smells like thyme. I know, you've probably started to forget that dried thyme actually has an aroma, haven't you?

Fortunately, thyme is super easy to grow. In fact, in Ohio, I started regretting planting all five thyme plants because by the third year, I had more thyme than I could eat, store, or sell. Drying thyme is also easy. I use my dehydrator because it dries it so quickly, which helps to retain that beautiful green color, but you could dry yours just as easily in an low oven or simply hanging in a warm, dry place. Once it's dried and stripped from the stems, it will last for years in an air tight container, provided you protect it from too much light exposure.
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