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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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