Saturday, January 24, 2015

Mardis Gras King Cake (with cream cheese filling)

I've  been to New Orleans, several times, but never during the Mardis Gras season.  (I'm not so sure I could handle the crowds and craziness.) Mardi Gras season begins on January 6, of each year and ends on Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent. One of the wonderful traditions of Mardi Gras, and probably the most delicious, is the King Cake. The "traditional" King Cake is made from twisted strands of cinnamon dough.
A few years ago, I was handed a slice of "King Cake" from a local bakery.  It was bone-dry, and didn't have a whole lot of flavor, and so I made it my personal mission to try baking my own King Cake.   I really enjoy baking sweet rolls, and once I searched various recipes, I decided to make a brioche-type dough, with a cream cheese filling.

Each cake is decorated in the traditional Mardi Gras colors - purple representing justice, green representing faith, and gold representing power-- and I think they look so festive.

Working with yeast is a fear that I have successfully overcome.  I just remind myself that yeast likes to be warm (not hot) and likes to be fed something "sweet".

In this case, warm water and sugar makes the active dry yeast bubbly and creamy.  To the dough, I'll be adding some freshly grated nutmeg as well.

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Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Best Vegetarian Chili - Thick and Hearty and Healthy!

For as long as I can remember, I always make a big pot of my Chile Con Carne recipe for Super Bowl Sunday.  I've been making this for so long, that I don't need a recipe. It's hearty, and not too spicy. With a pile of warm flour tortillas, my men ladle bowls of this to watch the game.

I'm also a fan of vegetarian dishes, but so far most vegetarian chili recipes I've seen, or tried, are most like a bean and vegetable stew.  America's Test Kitchen agrees, and so they decided to create a vegetarian recipe that has plenty of beans, and a good meaty flavor-- obviously, without using meat. My husband and I watched their television episode, and we both commented that this would be a good version to try-- for our health's sake, and for variety.

To accomplish making a hearty vegetarian chili, ATK uses a few unlikely ingredients for this chili recipe.

The first one, is 1/2 ounce of dried shiitaki mushrooms.  Per ATK, "These nucleotide-rich dried mushrooms have a synergistic effect when combined with glutamates, cranking up savory umami flavor even more.  Interesting...

Another ingredient-- walnuts. Per ATK: "Ground toasted walnuts add richness and body as well as tons of flavor-boosting glutamates."

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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Healthy and Flavorful Mushroom Barley Soup

Like so many other folks, I overdosed on sugar during the holidays. Making three flavors of homemade caramels, and being surrounded by boxes of See's chocolates and cookies, at my office,  made my pancrease work overtime. By the time I packed up our Christmas decorations, I was craving vegetables.

 I had a package of cremini mushrooms, and I was trying to decide on what to make with them. I was looking for a healthier way of using them, other than on top of a cheese laden pizza...

A year ago, I won a copy of America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook, signed by Christopher Kimball.   If you look at my recipe index, you will see that I have made any of their recipes (including Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country).   I decided to revisit the recipes in this book, and the Mushroom-Barley Soup sounded perfect, given that we were in the middle of a California "cold snap" (which is nothing compared to those of you who live in the Chicago area).

The key ingredient that makes this soup so flavorful are the dried porcini mushrooms.  This might be an elusive ingredient to find, and it can cost up to $80.00 a pound!  I was able to buy a 2 ounce bag for just under $10.00.  I didn't take my usual  step-by-step photos because winter deprives me of natural lighting during the dinner hour.  I think anyone can make this recipe, by just following the recipe.  This recipe includes cremini and Portobello mushrooms.  I decided to substitute the Portobello mushrooms for shiitakes-- which is one of the few mushrooms that my husband really likes. I think it's fine to interchange what mushrooms you prefer, but don't skip using the porcini mushrooms! 

The soup is pretty straightforward to make.  Cooking time is about 50 minutes, because barley can take that long to cook.  I decided to shave off 30 minutes of the cooking time, by using my pressure cooker to prepare the barley-- which took a total of 20 minutes.  While the barley was cooking, I prepped the onion, carrots and mushrooms. 

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Monday, December 29, 2014

Perfect Easy-To-Peel Hard Boiled Eggs & Deviled Eggs Recipe (with some help from my Pressure Cooker)

I hope that everyone had a wonderful holiday, as we did. I think I've burned myself out with my all the sugar and carbs that crossed my lips. I'm ready to get back to healthier dinner fare with a lot more vegetables and fruits, that's for sure!  That plan might have to wait until after New Year's Eve, however. The last day of 2014 will be our last chance to party a bit more, and enjoy appetizers and champagne. So here's an appetizer that is sure to please your guests, and I've got some great tips to share.

Every Christmas Eve, my mother always made a tray of deviled eggs.  They always looked perfect.  I never quite got the knack of making them the way that she did.  I tried the ice bath trick, but most of my egg shells would stick, and my eggs looked like a cat's claws peeled them. They weren't a pretty sight.

Last Easter,  I discovered a really cool way to cook eggs in my pressure cooker on Frieda's blog "Frieda Loves Bread". (Incidentally, if you don't own a pressure cooker, America's Test Kitchen has a stovetop technique that works great, and I'll provide those directions as well.)

Since using her technique, this the only way that I cook hard boiled eggs.  It's fool-proof, as I've done this more than once.  I like that I don't have to babysit the pot, on the stove.  Frieda's suggestion that I use the cardboard egg carton to prevent any of the eggs from breaking is absolutely brilliant!  So far, not one egg has broken.

In my pressure cooker, I place a trivet and then add one cup of water.  I cut the cardboard egg carton to fit inside my pressure cooker (mine is an 8-quart oval shape, so I can hold up to 15 eggs).  NOTE: Sadly this particular model of pressure cooker is no longer made and I dread the day it might actually break. (I perish the thought.)

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