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Thursday, December 27, 2012

English Muffins

I hope you had a wonderful holiday. Since I'm in my last month before our new arrival arrives, I've been on restricted travel... I wasn't allowed to drive fourteen hours to spend Christmas with the family this year! It's the first time in the almost ten years that we've been married that my husband and I spent the day at home alone. It was relaxing, but I think I prefer the wonderful chaos of our normal routine better.

Being stuck at home, we decided we could celebrate our time together by splurging on our meals. I prepared some items I've never prepared before and enjoyed some other special meals that I only get to make rarely. Christmas eve we enjoyed a small prime rib. For Christmas day dinner, I made a roasted duck. This is the second time I've roasted a whole duck, and while it was darn tasty, it sure did make a mess of the oven! Last night was the finale of our gluttonous extravaganza. I made a roasted rabbit with mashed potatoes and gravy; boy was it tasty!

Surprisingly, probably the most challenging meal I made was breakfast on Christmas morning. I've been playing with an English muffin recipe and I know how much my hubby loves a good eggs Benedict, so I figured I'd give it a go. There were two components in this dish that I had never made before: poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce. I'll talk more about eggs Benedict in a future post, but let it suffice to say for now that these English muffins played a wonderful supporting roll.

Now, while we're on the subject of English muffins, lets talk about nooks and crannies. Those round holes you see in so many brands of commercial English muffins? Yeah, that's not traditionally an English muffin feature. You find those holes in crumpets, which also are also an English bread and are also cooked on a griddle, but are made from a looser batter and require rings to make. The traditional English muffin looks more like regular bread inside when split. It still holds the butter nicely when toasted though, so don't you worry!

The first step is to mix the dough. Mix the dough at least the night before you plan on making the muffins. For a more robust flavor, you can actually make the dough 2-4 days in advance. This extra fermentation time in the refrigerator helps to develop a very nice flavor, but they're still good when made after only twelve hours. The dough  mixes together nicely and does not need to be kneaded for an exceptionally long time. When ready, dump the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and stash in the refrigerator. It will swell up nicely and do some lovely yeasty things.

When ready to make the muffins, lightly flour the counter and dump out the dough. Sprinkle the dough with a little flour too and roll it out until about one-quarter of an inch thick. Make sure you roll it thin enough. One time I didn't and I ended up with English muffins that looked like the Sears tower! They were crazy! Cut out using a 3 1/2 inch round cutter (or something similar). A nice sharp cutter is preferred because you don't want the dough on the edges to get sealed together as this can inhibit the muffins from puffing properly. If you only roll once, you should get about 8 muffins out of the dough; if you re-roll the scraps, you can get up to 14 muffins. Please note, however, that once you try to re-roll the dough, you'll be waging an uphill battle against gluten.

Place the muffins on a sheet tray sprinkled with cornmeal or farina (Malt-O-Meal or Cream of Wheat cereal). I prefer the look and taste of the farina, personally. In this picture, you're looking at cornmeal. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins as well and then loosely cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until they have doubled in volume. Be sure to let them rise fully. If you try to cut this step short, most likely you will end up with dense, doughy English muffins.

When they are done rising, preheat your electric griddle to 325F. You can do this step on the stove, but I find being able to easily manage the temperature is a real plus here. Cook the muffins for two minutes on one side.

Give them a flip and let them cook another 5-7 minutes on the other side. If they do not have a nice golden color on them when you complete this first flip, you may want to hold off a bit longer and evaluate your griddle temperature.

This photo shows the second side once it has finished cooking as well. You see how it is not as flat as the first side? The first side cooking time is short for a reason. If you let the first side go too long, the top of the muffin gets too rounded and you end up with a smaller and smaller flat spot on the top of this second side, leading to a domed muffin instead of a nice flat muffin. In my experience, two minutes is a nice compromise between color development and maintaining as flat a second side as possible.

Let muffins cool slightly before slicing and toasting. While you can fork split these muffins, I almost prefer them cut open. Give it a try both ways and see which one appeals most to you. These muffins are great by themselves (as shown at the beginning of this post) or as part of a smashing eggs Benedict. Freeze the leftovers (I slice mine apart first), and you can enjoy homemade English muffins whenever the mood hits!

English Muffins
Yield: 8 - 14   3-1/2 inch muffins (depending on whether you re-roll the scraps)

3 cups bread flour
1 tsp table salt
1 1/4 cup milk
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp instant yeast
2 TBS vegetable oil

Mix all ingredients together and knead by hand or in a stand mixer for 5-7 minutes. Dough should come together but still be somewhat sticky. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator at least overnight, but up to four days. The ideal time from a flavor/yeast development standpoint is probably on day three (let sit two nights in refrigerator).

When ready to make the muffins, pull the dough from the refrigerator and dump out onto a lightly floured counter. Sprinkle the dough with a little more flour and roll immediately until the dough is 1/4 inch thick. You should be able to cut eight 3 1/2 inch rounds without having to re-roll the dough. If you want to use all of the dough now, re-roll to obtain up to 14 rounds. The gluten will start to fight you as soon as you start re-rolling. Let the dough sit a few minutes to allow the gluten to relax a bit if it gets too frustrating.

Place rounds on a sheet pan generously sprinkled with farina (Malt-O-Meal or Cream of Wheat cereal) or cornmeal. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins as well. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until double. Be sure to let them rise fully or you may end up with muffins that are dense and doughy.

When they have doubled, heat a dry electric griddle to 325F. Once preheated, place the rounds on the griddle and cook two minutes on the first side. Check to be sure the bottom is nicely golden and give the muffin a flip. If you wait too long to flip, the muffin will be dome shaped instead of flat. Cook another 5-7 minutes on the other side. Let cool briefly before splitting and toasting. Muffins can be frozen for up to six months.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Refrigerator Dinner Rolls

You're going to love this recipe! If you've been intimidated by making dinner rolls from scratch, be afraid no longer! These are so easy to mix, so easy to shape, and so easy to bake. And the best part? They taste phenomenal!!!!! These rolls have a lovely flavor, are light and soft, and are the perfect vehicle for sopping up whatever gravy or juices you've got going on in your meal.

This recipe makes a good sized batch of rolls, somewhere in the neighborhood of three dozen. The other nice thing about the dough is that once it is made, it keeps fairly well. You can leave it in the refrigerator up to three days or store it in the freezer for up to a month. If you freeze the dough, thaw it completely in the refrigerator before proceeding. This is a fairly soft dough that can be mixed by hand fairly easily, but if you have a stand mixer, it is the easiest dough ever to mix.

Refrigerator Dinner Rolls
Yield: approx. 3 dozen rolls

4 1/2 tsp instant yeast (or 2 pkg active dry yeast)
1/3 cup sugar
2 cups warm water
5 1/2-6 1/2 cups of flour, divided
2 tsp table salt
1 whole egg
1/3 cup shortening, melted and cooled slightly
egg yolk wash (one yolk and 1 TBS water) optional

If using active dry yeast, mix the yeast, water, and sugar together first until it become frothy. If using instant, you can simply mix the ingredients together. Add 4 cups of the flour to the yeast, water, and sugar. Stir together and then add the salt, egg, and shortening. Add as much of the remaining flour as is necessary to make a soft dough. Knead a couple of minutes until the dough is smooth. It will still be sticky at this point, but once it rises in the refrigerator, it will be a nice dough to handle.

Place the mixed dough in a greased bowl, at least 4 quarts in size. Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator for two hours or until doubled in size. If you want to store the dough at this point, punch it down and put it back in the refrigerator or in the freezer. If you are ready to make rolls, dump the dough out and punch it down. Cut the dough into strips to make shaping easier. Cut the strips into small pieces such that when you roll each piece into a sphere it's about 3/4 of an inch in diameter. Spray a muffin tin with oil and place three of the dough balls in each cup. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until double, about an hour. Brush the tops with egg wash and bake at 400F for about 12 minutes or until nice and golden. Remove from the oven and let cool a few minutes before removing from tins.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Chocolate Pie

We had a guest for dinner last night; it was someone we hadn't seen in almost ten years! It was great to catch up and also a great excuse to have some fun in the kitchen. I made a shepherd's pie with chicken, salad, and some rolls (which I'll share with you in the next few days). For dessert, well, you know that's where my true passion lies, I wanted to go all out; I absolutely love baking!

I decided to go with making a chocolate pie. First, nearly everyone loves chocolate pudding, so I feel pretty confident that no one will turn down a chocolate pie when made. Secondly, I like the fact that I can make the  whole thing in advance... like a whole day in advance. It's perfect!

This is another one of those "put together" recipes that uses a handful of other recipes that I have already posted to end up with a fabulous new creation.

The first step is to make the crust. I used my new flaky pie crust recipe that I posted yesterday, but you could go with a traditional crust as well, or - gasp - with a store bought crust. (Don't worry, I won't hold it against you if you do use a store bought crust. I don't use them because I don't like the flavor, but if they taste good to you, then why wouldn't you?). Blind bake the empty pie shell (pricked with a fork, lined with foil, and filled with pie weights or dried beans) at 425 degrees for ten minutes. Remove the foil and weights and continue baking until the crust is beautiful and golden. Let the pie shell cool completely at room temperature.

The next component is the filling. I started by making my chocolate pudding recipe. Once the pudding was thickened and off the heat, I added a few extra things. The first thing was about a half cup of bittersweet chocolate chips. I wanted to up the ante on the chocolate-y-ness of this filling. I also added about half a teaspoon of coffee liqueur. Both of these items are completely optional. Fiddle with it at this point as you see fit. You could add mint extract for a mint pie or hazelnut liqueur for a nutty essence. The only change that I made that I strongly recommend making is the addition of some gelatin. This pudding sets up pretty well, but for perfectly cut pieces, it really could use a little added stability. To do this, soften one teaspoon of gelatin in two tablespoons of cold milk. Let sit for 3-5 minutes. When the pudding first comes off the heat, stir in the milk/gelatin mixture. That's all there is to it, but it makes a huge difference. Pour the pudding into a bowl and place plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Let the pudding cool completely but not become cold (you don't want it to start setting up yet). Pour the cooled pudding into the pie shell and smooth the top. Cooling the pudding is important for two reasons: first, it keeps the crust from getting soggy, and second, at this point you don't have to worry about a nasty skin from forming. Now you can put the pie in the refrigerator uncovered without any problems.

The last part of this process is the whipped cream edge. Because I wanted to be able to make everything in advance and then have any leftovers keep beautifully (there were only three of us, after all), I used stabilized whipped cream. Follow the recipe exactly and pipe the whipped cream onto the pie in any design you choose. I usually use a rope type border around the edge. I then sprinkled some chocolate shavings on the whipped cream for contrast. Refrigerate for at least a few hours before serving! Cuts beautifully and tastes wonderful!

*Per a commenter's request, I have written up my pudding recipe with the pie filling additions here. As I was writing the recipe, I remembered that I did also add a wee bit of sugar to balance the addition of the chocolate. It wasn't a lot, and you can certainly add some to taste if you find it necessary.*

Chocolate Pudding for Pie
Yield: enough for one pie

1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 TBS cornstarch
2 1/2 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (optional)
1/2 tsp coffee liqueur (optional)
additional sugar to taste, if necessary
1 tsp unflavored gelatin softened in 2 TBS cold milk

Sift the sugar, cocoa powder, salt, and cornstarch into a medium sauce pan. Mix the milk and vanilla. Pour just enough of the milk into the dry ingredients to make a loose paste. Once the dry ingredients are all moistened, pour in the rest of the milk and whisk until well mixed.

Cook over medium-high heat, whisking occasionally, until the pudding just about reaches a boil and is thick and smooth. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate chips and liqueur, if using. Stir to mix. Add in the softened gelatin/milk mixture and stir again until well mixed and smooth. Pour into a bowl and place plastic wrap directly on the top of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming. Cool in the refrigerator until cool but not cold (and not set). Once cool, stir and then pour into pie shell, smoothing the top. Pie can now be refrigerated uncovered until served. Pipe a border of stabilized whipped cream, if desired. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Super Flaky Tender Pie Crust

I know I have already posted a recipe and tutorial on pie crust, but this one is just so phenomenal, I can't not share it with you. Look at how flaky that pie crust is! It's almost like puff pastry. I've been messing with this recipe for a little over a year now, but have finally gone a few times making it without making any adjustments to the recipe.

You use the exact same technique as I outline in my Pie Crust 101 post and video. It's amazing how just a few alterations in the recipe make such a huge difference. A pleasing bonus is that the dough is easier to work with when rolling because using half cake flour reduces the amount of gluten in the dough. Give this dough a try in your next pie crust application - I promise you will not be disappointed!

Super Flaky Tender Pie Crust
Yield: enough for two thin single crusts or one thick crust with some extra

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
1/2 tsp table salt
11 TBS chilled butter cut into small pieces
5-6 TBS chilled water
1 TBS white vinegar

I think making crust is easiest in a food processor, but you can certainly mix it by hand. Mix together the flours and salt. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs with some pea sized pieces of butter remaining. Mix the water and vinegar together and then add to the mixture while pulsing in the food processor or add all but the last TBS and then mix by hand. Hold back the last TBS of water regardless of your method until you are sure you need it. The ambient humidity will impact how much water is required to allow the dough to come together into a ball. Pulse just until the dough starts to clump. Dump out onto the counter and shape into a disk of dough about 6 inches across. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill 30-60 minutes before rolling.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Gingerbread Men Shaped Lollipops

I love the holiday season. I especially love that it really gives me an excuse to go all out making all sorts of food goodies to give away. When I first started making lollipops a handful of years ago, I bought a variety of molds at a baking store (SugarCraft). The metal molds made by Sweet Creations are definitely my favorite. You can see what they look like in my Old Fashioned Lollipop post. I love them because they are easy to use and come in a variety of shapes.

In the packs of molds that I bought previously, I had ended up with two person shaped molds. One day, as I was making some root beer lollipops, I looked at those two and thought, "Wow! Those would make awesome gingerbread men for the holidays!" And then my life got busy and the idea got put on the back burner because I didn't really want to buy as many packs of molds as I'd need to get a reasonable number of the gingerbread men molds.

For some reason last month, on a whim, I decided to call the company and ask if they could make me a special pack of all gingerbread men molds. The folks at Sweet Creations were wonderful. Within a week, I had my new pack of molds and was ready to roll! They said they could create any package of molds from the shapes they offer that I wanted! How great is that? I am so happy that I called them, because look at how cute these little lollipops are!!!

I made a batch to give away to the little ones in our family for Christmas. I always make goodies to give to their parents, why shouldn't they get something special too? I made the lollipops exactly as I describe in my Old Fashioned Lollipops post. The only difference here was the addition of the white details. For this I used a stiff royal icing (I used the recipe on a package of Wilton meringue powder) and then let them dry uncovered at room temperature until the icing was dry and hard. Although most of our homes are on the dry side this time of year from the furnace, don't leave the lollipops out any longer than necessary or they could end up absorbing moisture and getting too sticky.

I then packaged them the same way I described in my previous lollipop post. I dusted them with powdered sugar and brushed the excess off with a pastry brush. Into the bags they went with pretty bows and, voila!, perfect little gingerbread men lollipops!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Peasant Loaf

The sad news is that we have been "moved in" for over a month and I still am not done putting everything away. This is the slowest unpack job I have ever completed. Usually, I am done in less than a week. Granted, there are a few extenuating circumstances this time... like the fact that this townhouse has almost no storage (where am I going to put everything?), and that we just got word that we will be moving again next summer (hard to get motivated to unpack at that rate), and, lastly, because I'm becoming a little rotund (makes bending over and hauling boxes challenging). That's right, I'm in the family way. This is our first - and I tell you - it's been a whole new world, especially for a girl who's used to doing everything herself.

But I have made time to play in the kitchen. Unfortunately, most of what I've been working on takes a few tries before I feel confident enough in the recipe to share it with you. Take this bread, for instance. Today was probably the fifth or sixth time I've made it in the last month and a half and I only now feel good enough about the recipe to post it. Now that the trial and error is over, it's time to enjoy! This bread is simple; there are only four ingredients. The crust is crispy, the crumb is moderately soft, and the flavor is perfect. It requires overnight fermenting, but it's very worth it.

The first step is to prepare the pre-ferment. Do this in the evening the day before you want to make bread. Alternately, if you want to have this bread fresh from the oven for dinner, you might be able to start the pre-ferement early in the morning and have enough flavor development. In this case, the fermenting step is almost entirely about flavor development; if you have to proceed before 10-14 hours have passed, so be it. This is what it will look like after you mix the first batch of ingredients. It is fairly easy to mix. It takes me four minutes to put together before I go to bed. Be sure to cover it and leave it out on the counter to work its magic overnight.

The next morning, it will be much bigger and full of bubbles. It will also have a distinctly ferment-y smell with a definite alcohol aroma. If you can't make the bread before lunch, then place the pre-ferment in the refrigerator until you are ready later in the day.

To finish the dough, add the remaining ingredients (except the salt) and mix with a paddle until it comes together, then switch to the dough hook. Knead on speed 2 (KitchenAid) for five minutes. Turn off the mixer and cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a towel and let it sit for 15-20 minutes. After this rest period, start the mixer back up and slowly add the salt so that it mixes in well. Continue kneading until the dough passes the windowpane test. This can take a while... much longer than you might think, in fact. If you or your machine needs to rest during the kneading period, no problem, cover and let it sit. Fortunately, this rest period helps to develop the dough as well. To get a good windowpane could take anywhere from 10 to 25 minutes after you add the salt. I know, I know. That's a lot of kneading! But it is very worth it. After the dough is ready, place it in an oiled bowl, cover, and let rise at room temperature until doubled, about an hour.

After the dough has risen, dump it on the counter and press it flat to get most of the air bubbles out. This can be a very gassy dough, so be prepared. If you handle it too much, the gluten can get a bit grumpy; if this happens, simply let the bread sit ten minutes before you try and shape it. Once you get this initial shape, roll it up and pinch the seams together to form a fat log (batard) shape.

Place the batard on a sheet pan lined with parchment. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise again. This time, let it get really puffy... almost tripled in volume. It took mine only a little over an hour this morning. I tell you, my dough was hopping!

When the dough is almost tripled, begin preheating the oven to 450 F with a terra cotta saucer on the bottom rack. This saucer is our steaming mechanism. When the oven is ready, heat 1/3 cup of water to a boil and then slice the top of the loaf. In my post on baguettes, I talked about slicing loaves using a razor. I have since found the light. Why didn't anyone tell me the true trick is to use a serrated knife? What a difference! You still want to make sure your knife is wet so that it doesn't drag through the dough too badly, but it makes gorgeous slices this way. Cut three deep parallel slices into the loaf. Cut at a slight angle from the long axis. Spray the sliced loaf with cold water and place in the oven. Immediately add the 1/3 cup of hot water to the terra cotta saucer. The water will finish evaporating about the time you no longer want steam in the oven, so it's very convenient.

Bake at 450 F for 25-30 minutes, or until the inside of the loaf reaches between 200 and 205 degrees F. I use a thermometer to be sure. Remove from the oven and let cool before slicing. Look at how much additional oven spring this loaf had!

As for storage, if the loaf will not be finished the first day, wrap it in a flour sack towel to keep it fresh overnight. This keeps the bread from drying out too much without redistributing the moisture from the crumb to the crust. Wrapped in a towel, you will still have a decent crust on your loaf the following day. If it will take you longer than that to eat it, you'll want to store it in an airtight bag or container.

Peasant Loaf
Yield: one large (1 1/2 to 2 lb) loaf

For the pre-ferment:
2 cups bread flour
1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 cup warm water

Mix these three ingredients together in a bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit on the counter overnight (or at least 10 hours).

For the dough:
all of the pre-ferment
1 1/2 cup bread flour
1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 tsp salt

Mix all ingredients except for the salt together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix with a paddle attachment until the dough comes together and then switch to a dough hook. Knead on low speed (KitchenAid speed 2)  for five minutes. Turn off the mixer, cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a towel, and let sit for fifteen to twenty minutes.

Uncover the bowl and begin kneading again. Slowly add the salt so that it incorporates evenly. Continue kneading until the dough passes the windowpane test. This can take quite a while, anywhere from 10 to 25 minutes. If you or the mixer needs a break, simply cover the dough and let it sit 5-10 minutes before proceeding.

When the dough is ready, place it in an oiled bowl, cover, and let rise at room temperature until doubled (about an hour). Dump the dough out onto the counter and press it flat into a rectangle. Knock out the gas and then roll up into a batard shape. Pinch the seams together. Place seam side down on a parchment lined sheet pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until nearly tripled (about another hour or so).

When the dough is almost ready, preheat the oven to 450 F with a terra cotta saucer on the bottom rack and heat up 1/3 cup of water. When the oven is preheated, make three parallel slices deep (3/4" to 1" deep) into the bread with a wetted serrated knife. Spray the loaf with cold water. Place the bread in the oven and pour the heated water into the saucer. Close the oven door and let bake undisturbed fr 25-30 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 200-205 F. A thermometer is the most accurate way to check. Remove from the oven and let cool completely,

NOTE: If you just can't handle kneading the dough as long as it might take to pass the windowpane test, it's not the end of the world. The texture of the finished loaf will not quite be the same and the loaf may not get as large, but it will still be very tasty!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Strawberry Margarita Jelly

It's getting to be that time of year again. That time when I start to cook, and bake, and stockpile all sorts of assorted yummies to give as gifts. Some gifts need to be made right before they are given, but jams and jellies are wonderful in that you can make them in advance and pull them out of the pantry at the last moment.

I made this jelly before as a plain margarita jelly, and while it turned out well, I prefer to drink strawberry margaritas, so I wondered how a jelly would turn out. Oh my! It's beautiful and so reminiscent of a strawberry margarita. It's got a hint of the strawberry with a tart lime back. You can taste the tequila, but it's not overwhelming and the booziness has burned off. The other nice thing about this jelly is that you can basically make it year round. You just need a couple of clam shells of strawberries, limes, a little booze, and a packet of liquid pectin.

The first thing to do is prepare the strawberry juice. The recipe calls for one cup of clear strawberry juice and one cup of lime juice. If you want your jelly flavored more with strawberries and less with lime, you can adjust the proportions by up to half (i.e. max of 1 1/2 cup strawberry juice to 1/2 cup lime).

To prepare the strawberries, wash and hull them. Then cut them into small pieces. Measure out the sugar into a bowl and then use some of it, maybe 1/2 cup, to help get the strawberries juices flowing. In this bowl, the strawberries have only been macerating for a couple of minutes and look at all the juice that has formed already!

Once they get a good start, you can pour the strawberries into a cheesecloth lined colander over a measuring cup. Let the strawberries drip until you reach the correct amount of juice. Try not to press the fruit too much or you'll end up with jelly that is a little cloudy. For the best juice clarity, let it drip slowly through a muslin bag or a coffee filter.

When you have the correct amount of strawberry juice, it's time to juice the limes. Lime juice becomes bitter on standing, so you'll want to juice them right before you are ready to make the jelly. These were pretty good sized limes and they each gave about 1/4 cup of juice, so I used four. Strain the lime juice like you did the strawberry. The good news is that I found the juice you use does not have to be perfectly clear to end up with a beautifully clear jelly. Just do the best you can and call it good.

Once you have the strawberry and lime juice prepared, mix it with the tequila and Triple Sec and heat it over medium heat. Once it is warm, add the sugar and stir until it is completely dissolved. Add the butter and then increase the heat to medium-high. Stir constantly until it reaches a full rolling boil. Add the pectin, return to a full boil, and boil for one minute while stirring. Remove from the heat and immediately ladle into waiting canning jars. Leave 1/4 inch head space and process for 10 minutes (for half-pint jars). Look at that beautiful color!

Strawberry Margarita Jelly
Yield: 5 half-pint jars for canning, plus a little extra
Adapted from Blue Ribbon Preserves by Linda J. Amendt

1 cup of filtered, fresh strawberry juice (from 2 quarts berries)
1 cup of filtered, fresh squeezed lime juice (4 large limes)
1/2 cup tequila
1/4 cup Triple Sec
4 1/2 cups sugar (divided)
1/4 tsp butter
1 (3 ounce) pouch liquid pectin

Wash and hull the strawberries. Chop into small pieces. Stir in 1/2 cup of the sugar and let macerate, stirring occasionally. Once there is a fair bit of juice, dump the strawberries into a cheesecloth lined colander to collect the juice. Filter the juice through a coffee filter or a piece of muslin.

Because lime juice becomes bitter over time, juice the limes right before using. Filter the lime juice through a coffee filter or muslin as well. Mix the juices, tequila, and Triple Sec and heat over medium. Once the liquid is warm, add the rest of the sugar and stir until it is all dissolved. Add the butter.

Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a full, rolling boil. Add the pectin, return to a boil, and stir for one minute. Remove from the heat and skim any foam that formed. Ladle immediately into clean, half-pint jars. Leave 1/4 inch headspace, wipe the rims clean, and put on the lids and bands. Process in a water bath for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the jars sit in the water for five minutes before removing to cool on a towel lined counter. Letting the jars sit in the water for five minutes makes sure that the jars do not bubble over upon removal from the water. Let jars sit on the counter for 24 hours before removing bands and wiping the jars clean before storing.

NOTE: If you would prefer to make a traditional margarita jelly, simply substitute water for the strawberry juice. For a nice color, mix one drop of green food coloring with 2 TBS of water and add a little at a time until you get a hue you like. Color is best added after dissolving the sugar and before ramping the heat up.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Corej Chicken Marinade

I am so excited to share this recipe with you. I originally had it at a friend's cookout and immediately had to ask for the recipe (thus, I have no idea from where it originally came). I then decided to use it to make grilled chicken skewers for that large party I catered a few months back. While I think this dish has the best flavor when cooked over a grill, it's pretty darn good when broiled in the oven too, which is what I did last night. The other trick about this dish is that I think it's absolutely imperative that you use chicken thighs and not breasts. I once used this marinade to make grilled chicken breasts and it just wasn't the same. Don't get me wrong, it was tasty, but after having enjoyed it on the fattier, more flavorful thighs, it was a distinct letdown. 

This marinade will easily cover two to three pounds of meat. It's best if you can let the meat soak for at least 3-4 hours, but it's still delicious when you only have time to give it an hour. The combination of flavors is superb. What's more, I am not a fan of mustard (that's an understatement, mustard is one of three flavors in the world that I simply cannot abide), but I love its addition in this marinade. Not only does it boost the flavor but it helps to emulsify the marinade so that all the flavors meld together. Look at that rich, dark color! Yum!

Corej Chicken Marinade
Yield: enough to marinate 2-3 pounds of meat

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 TBS Dijon style mustard
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1-3 pounds of deboned, skinless chicken thighs

Whisk all of the marinade ingredients together. Trim the meat as desired (either keep in whole pieces or cut into pieces to skewer for satay style) and place in the marinade. Let soak in the marinade, ideally, for 3-4 hours in the refrigerator. 

When ready to cook, prepare the grill or turn on the broiler. Grill over medium high heat or broil 5-6 inches from the element, flipping once. Use a thermometer to be sure the meat is cooked to approximately 160 degrees. 

The Corejs just told me they believe I've adapted the California Marinade recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens Barbeque Book, circa 1965. You've gotta love a classic!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Spinach & Sage Dressing

This little side dish here is one of my favorites. The flavors go so well together. I love the savory flavor of the sage with the onions, mushrooms, and spinach. Dressing does not need to be a holiday exclusive dish! I like to prepare this dish year round. And, as you know, dressing from a box just isn't the same.

This recipe started as the filling for my stuffed mushrooms. Then, over the years, it's morphed into its own dish which I serve either alone as a side dish or use as a stuffing. You can roll it up in a pork tenderloin or stuff it in the center of a chicken breast. I'm telling you, this is some good stuff!

Spinach and Sage Dressing
Yield: 4 side servings or enough to stuff one pork tenderloin

3 TBS butter
1 cup diced onion
1 1/2 cup diced mushroom
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 oz fresh spinach, chopped
1 TBS ground sage
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup ground Parmesan
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

Melt the butter in a saute pan. Saute the onions and mushrooms over medium-high heat until tender and lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook one minute. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the spinach, stirring to wilt. Add the sage, salt, and Parmesan, stirring to mix. Lastly, add the bread crumbs, stirring to moisten. Serve immediately as a side dish or let cool before stuffing into pork loin or chicken breasts.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hamburger Buns

We are moved in! Well, everything is in here anyways. We still have a lot of stuff to put away... and a lot of stuff that still needs to find a home. This townhouse living is challenging! We're definitely going to have to get a storage unit. Yup, those three dish pack boxes full of mason jars will not be able to live with me this go around. So sad. Fortunately, despite still having a ways to go on being truly "moved in," my kitchen is unpacked, put away, and usable. I've been having a great time getting back into the kitchen making stuff I haven't really been able to make for the last two-plus months.

Today and tomorrow my husband gets off from work due to the storm, so we are trying to find a balance between getting things done and enjoying a little down time. I thought a little baking was in order. My husband's been hankering for cheeseburgers, but since I neglected to get buns when I was at the grocery last, I decided to making them for the first time. Wow! They were delicious and, really, quite simple to make. The dough is so easy to work with and they puff up beautifully in the oven. I highly recommend this recipe. Kudo's to the folks at King Arthur's Flour for making such a great recipe available to all!

The first step is to simply mix all the ingredients for the dough together and mix/knead until the dough comes together and is smooth and supple, about five minutes. The dough is then placed in an oiled bowl and covered to allow it to rise until it is double in volume, one to two hours. You know it's ready when you give it a gentle poke and the hole remains.

Dump the dough out and divide it into eight even pieces. This was easiest to accomplish with a kitchen scale. I weighed the total amount of dough and then divided that weight by eight. I then cut each piece until it was the appropriate size, in this case 111 grams.

Take each piece and smoosh it flat on the counter to degas it.

Then bring up the sides and pinch them together. Continue doing this, pulling the dough taunt to form a nice, smooth ball. You are pinching the dough together on the bottom of the future bun. This dough is so nice to work with; the dough pinches together easily and cleanly.

When finished, each piece should look smooth and make a nice round ball.

Place each ball on a parchment lined baking sheet. Eight will fit in a somewhat staggered fashion on an 11x17 inch baking sheet. Press each ball flat using a measuring cup or similar device. To keep the cup from sticking to the dough, lubricate it with a little bit of oil first. Press the dough flat until it is about three to four inches across.

Cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap to keep the buns from drying out. Let rise for an hour or so, until nicely puffed.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and once it is ready, remove the plastic wrap and brush the tops of the buns with egg white wash. You could brush them with butter, but I found the egg white wash produced superior results. If you want, you can toss sesame seeds on at this point. The egg wash will help them to stick to the bun as it bakes.

Bake at 375 degrees F for 15 to 20 minutes or until gorgeously golden. Remove and let cool before slicing and using or freezing.

Just a moment ago, I mentioned that I found the egg white wash superior to simply brushing the bun with butter. In this picture, the butter bun is on the right while the egg wash bun is on the left. The egg wash produces a bun that is beautifully golden and shiny. Once the buns come out of the oven, I do brush them all with butter because it helps to keep the top of the bun soft and glossy. As you might imagine, these homemade buns are more dense than the store bought kind, but they have such a wonderful flavor, you'll never regret the change!

Hamburger Buns
Yield: 8 4-inch buns
Adapted from King Arthur Flour

1 cup warm water
2 TBS melted butter
1 large egg
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 TBS instant yeast
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Mix all ingredients together and knead until the dough comes together and is soft and smooth, about five minutes. Place in an oiled bowl and cover; let rise for about an hour, until the dough has doubled in volume.

Turn the dough out onto the counter and divide into eight even pieces. A scale is the most accurate way to accomplish this task. Taking each portion of dough in turn, press it flat against the counter to degas the dough. Then pull up the edges and pinch together in the middle to form a nice, smooth ball of dough. Place seam side down on a parchment lined 11x17 inch baking sheet. To fit all eight, the buns will need to be staggered slightly. Oil the bottom of a flat measuring cup or similar to press each dough ball flat into a 3-4 inch diameter circle. Cover the buns with plastic wrap and let rise for about an hour, until they are nicely puffed.

Once the buns are about finished rising, preheat the oven. Remove the plastic wrap and brush the top of each bun with a wash of egg white. Add sesame seeds, if desired. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until the buns are beautifully golden. Remove from the oven and let cool completely before slicing and using or freezing.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Greek Style Chicken Pitas

You know what happens in five days? We finally start moving into our new place. I can't tell you how excited I am. Two and a half months in temporary housing is more than enough! I am really starting to miss my stuff. While I miss our king sized bed (two adults and a forty pound dog is a little cramped for a queen sized), fall appropriate clothing (it's getting a bit cool to be wearing summer wear in mid-October), and comfortable furniture (there is not a single chair in this place that doesn't make my butt go numb), what I really miss the most is my kitchen.

Now, I'm not saying I can't cook without all my kitchen gear, but I am quite limited in what types of things I can make. Additionally, it will be nice not to run out of dishes after one meal. Ooooo, and to have enough pots and pans to make all of the dishes in my meal at the same time! What a concept! I've really been sticking with simple stuff here lately. I especially miss having the wherewithal to successfully experiment in the kitchen. Prepare to feast your eyes!!

But, alas... I still have a week of dinners to prepare in this little no nothing kitchen. Fortunately, simple doesn't have to mean boring. This dish, although it's really great with homemade pita bread, can be easily made with store bought in mere minutes. This dish is flavorful and filling. I love the contrast between the tang of the tzatziki, the sweetness of the onions, and the savory flavor of the browned meat.

I like to use diced chicken tenderloin for this dish, but you could use regular chicken breasts as well. Cut the chicken into bite sized pieces and then add some minced garlic, a sliced onion, oregano, lemon juice, and a tiny bit of olive oil. You'll also want to salt and pepper to taste, but I often do that as I finish the cooking. That way I can be sure I don't overdo it.

Stir all the ingredients together and then let them sit at room temperature for about thirty minutes. This will give the meat a little time to absorb all the flavors. This is a great time to put together the tzatziki. After thirty minutes, heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Drizzle a little olive oil in the pan and saute the mixture until the chicken is nicely browned and cooked through. Spoon chicken mixture into a pita pocket with tomato slices and the tzatziki. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Greek Style Chicken Pitas
Yield: 4 pita pocket "sandwiches"

1/2 pound diced chicken breast
1 medium onion, sliced
1 TBS fresh lemon juice
1 TBS extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp dried oregano, crushed
salt and pepper to taste
tomato slices
2 pita pockets, sliced in half
1 TBS oil, for sauteing

For the tzatziki:
1 cup plain Greek style yogurt
1/2 cup peeled, seeded, and minced cucumber
1 TBS lemon juice
1 tsp minced garlic
salt and pepper to taste

Mix the chicken, onion, lemon juice, oil, garlic, and oregano together. Stir to mix and let sit at room temperature for thirty minutes. Meanwhile, mix together the tzatziki ingredients. Stir until well incorporated and set aside. Slice tomatoes and pita bread. After the thirty minutes is up, heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cooking oil and let it heat up before adding the chicken mixture. Saute until the chicken is nicely browned and cooked through. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spoon cooked mixture into pita pockets and add tomato slices and tzatziki. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Angel Food Cake

 Angel food cake is one of those classic desserts that seems often to be forgotten these days. I do sometimes see it in the grocery store bakery, but I can't remember the last time anyone served it to me at a get together. I find this kind of odd considering just how delicious angel food cake is! Besides that fluffy texture and tasty flavor (in this case, just plain vanilla, but you can flavor it any way you like), this cake is great because it is almost fat free! No added oil or butter means that this cake is a bit more figure friendly than your average cake. I think some people shy away from it because it involves whipping so many egg whites and maybe that makes them nervous, but with a stand or hand mixer, it couldn't be quicker or easier.

The first step is to sift the flour and powdered sugar together and set it aside. That way it's all ready to go when you're done whipping the egg whites.

The next step is to whip the whites. This recipe takes between 10 and 12 egg whites, depending on the size of your eggs. The big question, of course, is what to do with all of those yolks...there are a few options. You can make a nice French vanilla ice cream, or a batch of pastry cream to fill some yummy cream puffs or eclairs, or - more simply - you could make some delicious pasta carbonara for dinner.

Mix together the egg whites (preferably at or close to room temperature), cream of tartar, and vanilla. Mix on medium speed until you get to the soft peak stage; this the point at which the whites are starting to be able to hold their shape, but the tip on a mound of whites will flop over.

Increase the speed now to medium-high or high. Gradually add the granulated sugar while the mixer is running.

Continue to beat the whites until they form stiff peaks. At this point, the mixture will hold its shape well, and a pointed peak of the whites will stay completely upright.

Gently fold in the flour and powdered sugar mixture to the egg whites and, once completely mixed, place in an ungreased 10 inch tube pan. This part is very important because if you put it in a greased (or even greasy) pan, the whites will not be able to hold themselves to the side of the pan and you could very well end up with a very flat cake! Smooth the top out as best you can and place into a preheated 350 degree F oven.

Bake 40-45 minutes or until the top of the cake is golden and beautiful. Remove the cake from the oven and place the hot pan upside down on a cooling rack to cool. Again, this is an important step as it helps to ensure that the cake retains its full height and fluffiness. Let the cake cool completely in the pan. Once completely cool, flip the pan right side up and use a knife to loosen the edges of the cake away from the sides of the pan. Gently remove the cake.

Slicing an angel food cake is best done with a serrated blade. The great thing about this cake is that it is delicious right out of the pan or a day or two later. If not serving immediately, store tightly wrapped in an air tight container. Serve alone or with any topping you please. Some of my favorites are a chocolate sauce (as shown above) or a fruit sauce such as strawberry or blueberry.

Lastly, the other great thing about this cake is how easy it is to freeze and serve at a later date. When I had laying hens that got ahead of me, I would often make this cake to use some of the eggs and then freeze the cake for later use. I cut the cake and individually wrap each slice in plastic wrap before placing them in a bag to keep them together in the freezer. Provided they are tightly wrapped, they should last 4-6 months in the freezer without any adverse affects.

Angel Food Cake
Yield: 8-10 servings
Adapted from the New Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook

1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 cup flour
1 1/2 cups egg whites, at or near room temperature (about 10-12 whites)
1 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Sift together the powdered sugar and flour and set aside. Using a stand or hand mixer, whip together the egg whites, cream of tartar, and vanilla on medium speed until the whites reach the soft peak stage. Slowly add the granulated sugar with the mixer running, then increase the speed to medium-high/high. Continue whipping until the whites reach the stiff peak stage. Fold in the flour and powdered sugar mixer. Pour batter into an ungreased 10 inch tube pan. Smooth out the top and place in the preheated oven. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the top is nicely golden. Remove the cake from the oven and place upside down on a cooling rack to cool completely. Once cool, use a knife to cut around the edges of the pan to loosen it before removing. Use a serrated knife to slice cake into slices. Serve immediately or store in an air tight container up to 2 days before serving. This cake can also be frozen for up to 4-6 months if tightly wrapped.

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