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Monday, January 31, 2011

Moroccan Style Chick Pea Soup

Everyone seems to assume that because I currently live in Florida that it's all sunshine and warm weather for us all winter. While I can't say we never experience that combination, in the panhandle, there's plenty of cold and dreary to go around. It seems we go through little phases of the not so nice weather. The difference between here and real winter up north is that we get a lot more breaks of beautiful weather through the winter.

It seems like we've been going through one of those not so nice phases. While two days ago was a stunningly beautiful day, today and many of the other days in the last two weeks have been cold and/or dreary. And you know what cold and dreary means? Soup! Lots and lot of soup!

This soup is wonderful for a couple of reasons. The first is that it can easily be made in less than half an hour. Another reason I like it is since there is no meat in it, I can make it spur of the moment on those evenings when I've forgotten to thaw out something for dinner. The last really great thing about it is the taste. Those Moroccan spices with the cinnamon and cumin really make this a warming soup. Yum!

Moroccan Style Chick Pea Soup
Yield: 4 servings

2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp cumin powder
1/8 tsp cayenne powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1/8 tsp fresh ground pepper
4 cups vegetable broth (I like Knorr vegetable broth cubes)
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
2 15-oz cans chick peas, drained and rinsed
1 tsp sugar
2 cups fresh spinach

Saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat in a 6 quart or larger pot. Cook until onions are soft and slightly browned. Add the spices and stir to mix. Add the broth, stirring to remove any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the tomatoes, chick peas, and sugar. Let cook 15-20 minutes. Remove the soup from the heat and add the spinach, stirring to wilt it. Serve immediately.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Palmiers

I've been disappointed lately. It just doesn't seem like my photos have been coming out very well in the last month or so. I wish I knew if it was operator error or if - somehow - my digital camera has decided to do its own thing. Either way, the end result is a bunch of photos that I just haven't been very excited to share with you. However, my mom convinced me that you might rather deal with less than perfect photos than no photos at all.

My husband is currently a squadron commander and, as you might imagine, there are some "wifely" responsibilities that often go along with that. Recently, I hosted a luncheon at my home as part of the social club. It was a fairly casual affair, and - since I've been busy - I didn't feel the need to go all out and prepare a multi-step dessert like profiteroles or something. Nope, just something nice and easy... provided you "cheat" and use store-bought puff pastry, that is.

I love these little pastries so much! I'd be completely content if palmiers were considered their own food group. In fact, after everyone left, I had absolutely no problem eating every single remaining pastry in less than an hour (and, please, don't ask me to admit how many there were!). These things are flaky and crunchy, sweet and oh so cute.

The first step is the thaw the frozen, store-bought, puff pastry on the counter for forty minutes or as instructed on the package. Then, sprinkle the counter liberally with granulated sugar. Lay out the pastry sheet on top of the sugar. Sprinkle the top with more sugar and then gently roll across the dough to imprint the sugar slightly. There is no need to roll too much or too hard. Gently brush off the excess sugar. If you have too much sugar clinging to your palmiers when they bake, not all of the sugar will be able to melt, leaving you with grainy palmiers... which is not the intent at all!

Start rolling the pastry up across the long side until you reach the middle and then do the same on the other side so that you end up with a double "scroll" roll of dough. Trim the ends so that they are even. Don't roll too loosely or you'll end up with gaping holes in your finished pastries.

With an oiled serrated blade, gently "saw" slits along the tri-fold seams of the puff pastry. This cut will help you evenly slice the rolls and insure you don't end up with weird un"seam"ly pastries. Ha, ha.

Sorry.

Once your initial divisions are made, slice the dough, using a sawing motion, into individual pieces. The recipe I have always followed specifies that they should be cut into half-inch sections. I always seem to end up with them thicker which isn't as good. The thicker ones don't seem to bake up as lightly. It may be worth the effor to get a ruler out to be sure they aren't too thick. Even erring on the side of a little thinner might be better. Depending on how you slice them, you'll get between twelve and twenty palmiers per sheet of dough.

Lay the palmiers out on a parchment lined baking sheet, cut edge up. You can adjust their shape if need be at this point.

Bake at 425° F for 12-15 minutes, until the tops are nicely golden and the pastry can be moved without falling apart. Remove the tray from the oven and flip the pastries using a pair of tongs. Return to the oven to continue baking to brown the reverse side, perhaps another 8-10 minutes.

Continue baking the other side until it is also golden, perhaps another 8-10 minutes. Place on a cooling rack as soon as they are removed from the oven. Cool completely before serving, at least one hour so that they are fully crisped. While you can store them in an air tight container for 2-3 days, I really think they are best enjoyed on that first day. That's why I ate all those left overs so quickly.

Really. You believe me... don't you?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Hazelnut Liqueur

This is one of those recipes that takes a long time from start to finish, but the work load is fairly low. In fact, the most frustrating thing may well be getting the skins off of the nuts. Needless to say, however, if you have any patience at all, you should try this recipe. Well, provided you like liqueurs. I'm not a huge fan, myself, of sipping liqueurs; to me they are too sweet to drink alone, so I enjoy mixing them and using them in cooking. There are a lot of folks out there though that really enjoy a good sipping liqueur, and this is one of them... another grand gift idea!

Of course, it starts with the nuts. I based this recipe from one I found in Linda Amendt's Blue Ribbon Preserves book. She was making an almond liqueur, but not once did she mention toasting the nuts. I think this is a crucial mistake.

You always want to toast the nuts, in my opinion. Toasting is what brings out their true nuttiness. For hazelnuts, toasting also allows you to remove most of their papery skin. Throw the nuts on a sheet pan and bake at 250 until the nuts are very fragrant, just slightly browning, and there are plenty of cracks in their skins. Remove from the oven and pour into a kitchen towel. Close the towel up and let the nuts steam themselves for a bit to loosen the skin. To remove the skin, simply rub the nuts together with the towel. You won't get all of the skin off, but you will remove a large portion of it.

Chop the nuts up and pour into a large glass jar. I used a half-gallon canning jar that can be found at Michael's or similar craft stores. Heat the vodka and sugar together, gently, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Let the mixture cool slightly and add to the nuts. Throw in the chopped up vanilla bean. Cover the top with a double layer of plastic wrap and put the lid on. Gently swirl the jar to mix the ingredients. Place in a cool, dark place for a month.

After a month, the mixture will have taken on a lovely hue. It will also be full of a bunch of goopy stuff. Have no fear! It will all strain off, leaving you a gorgeous liqueur.

Use a fine mesh strainer to remove the nuts and vanilla bean. Then set up a filtration system with a coffee filter. The first filtration will be the slowest since the filter fills up with goop the fastest. I did find that keeping the filter full results in a faster filtration. Filter the liqueur four or five times. If there is any remaining cloudiness, let the liqueur sit undisturbed for a week and then carefully pour off the top of the liqueur, leaving any sediment behind. Bottle the result in pretty bottles and enjoy!


Hazelnut Liqueur
Yield: about 3 cups
Adapted from Linda J. Amendt's Blue Ribbon Preserves

4 cups hazelnuts
3 cups vodka
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 whole vanilla bean, cup into pieces

Toast the hazelnuts on a sheet pan in a 250° F until they are fragrant, slightly browned, and the skins are well split, maybe 15-25 minutes. Remove nuts from oven and immediately pour into a kitchen towel, wrapping it closed so that the nuts can steam. After 10-15 minutes, rub the nuts with the towel to remove most of the papery skin. You don't want to remove all of it, as I believe the skin is what helps give the liqueur its gorgeous color.

While the nuts are toasting, place the vodka and sugar into a sauce pan and heat gently just until the sugar is dissolved. Do not heat the liquid to a boil. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
Chop the nuts coarsely and place in a large glass jar. Add the cut up vanilla bean and then pour the warm vodka/sugar mixture into the jar. Swirl to mix. Cover the top with some plastic wrap and then close with the lid. Place in a cool, dark place for a month.

After a month has passed, the liqueur should have a nice golden hue. Pour the mixture through a fine mess sieve to remove the nuts and vanilla bean. Filter the liqueur through paper coffee filters four or five times to remove all sediment. If the liqueur still has sediment after four or five filterings, let it sit in a cool place for a week to let the sediment fall to the bottom of the bottle and pour off the clear top liquid. Decant the final product into pretty glass bottles and enjoy!

NOTE: I have doubled the amount of nuts this recipe uses compared to how I first posted it (four cups instead of two). While the finished product was good with the two cups, I later decided it was not as nutty as I would like. If you're going to go to the trouble of making this, you want it to come out with a robust flavor! 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Shrimp Scampi

.:Phew:. I never know whether to be sad or relieved when the holidays are over. Perhaps I feel a little bit of both. I do know that driving fourteen hours in one day is a lot. I also know that suddenly being around little kids that are bathing in a pool of germs you're not used to swimming in can be rough on a gal's immune system. But I have persevered. .:Phew:.

Fortunately, I know some really easy dinners to get me through this recovery phase. This is what I made last night. Not only is it fairly healthy, provided you don't get carried away with the oil, but it is super-ooper-duper fast to make. Especially if you purchase your shrimp peeled and ready to go. I served it with garlic toast and green beans mixed with toasted almonds, a squirt of lemon juice, and a little butter. It was a great meal. Yummy and healthy!

Here are the main players for the shrimp. Of course, I realize now that I forgot to put the olive oil in the picture. I guess I had already drizzled it in the pan and put it away. Well, you get the general idea: a fairly simple cast of players. I used dry vermouth, but you could simply use any good white wine you have on hand.

I used Campari tomatoes. They're the only tomatoes I buy in the winter months of tasteless, crunchy store-bought tomatoes. They're a little more expensive and the small size is sometimes a hassle, but they actually taste like tomatoes. That makes it a no-brainer for me. Cut the tomatoes in half (across the tomatoes equator, separating top from bottom) and squeeze out the seeds. Then dice.

Once you have all the ingredients ready, turn the heat on and get going. Start with the garlic and then add the shrimp. I used a non-non-stick skillet for this. You can use a non-stick pan, but see all those dark bits stuck to the pan? There's flavor in them thar bits. You won't get as many of those bits if you use a non-stick pan. At the end of the process, you'll use the vermouth to loosen up those bits and deglaze the pan. Instant delicious sauce!


Shrimp Scampi
Yield: 2-3 servings

1-2 TBS olive oil
1 TBS garlic, minced
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1 lb peeled and deveined shrimp
1 TBS lemon juice
1/4 cup dry vermouth (or white wine)
1/2 cup seeded, diced tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat a skillet over medium-high heat with the olive oil. When the pan and oil are hot, add the garlic and pepper flakes, stirring to keep from burning. When the garlic turns slightly golden, add the shrimp and lemon juice. Let the shrimp cook for 2-3 minutes per side without stirring very often. This will allow browned bits to stick to the pan which will provide extra flavor for the dish.

When the shrimp are completely pink, add the vermouth and stir to loosen the bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the tomatoes and stir. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.
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