Sunday, January 30, 2011

Super Bowl & Valentine's Day Ideas

I've had a crazy month  week-- from being sick with a winter cold to dealing with a broken water heater, a flat tire that needed repair and needing new brakes on my car.  Somehow I managed to twist my body in the wrong way, which required a visit to my chiropractor. On top of that, I did something funky to my ankle, during a water aerobics class, and I'm limping a little bit.   The dust is settling, and I'm on the mend-- and it's all good.   I have some new recipes to post, but -- as you can see-- I have run out of time. Instead, I've decided to post a few recipes that are some of my husband's favorite meals. Maybe I can inspire someone to make a special Valentine's Day dinner for your loved one-- and that includes a spouse, family member or great friend.

Valentine's Day holds a very special place in my heart.  My husband proposed to me on Valentine's Day 2005, after dating for more than a year-- and we were married almost a year later.  Yes, he's a very romantic guy and I am a very lucky woman. Do I hear an "awwwwwwww"?   In truth, I prefer to not go out on Valentine's Day.  I don't particularly care for the hustle and bustle and price-inflated Valentine's special menus.  Instead, I like to make a special dinner for just the two of us-- at home.  There is a catch though-- I collect a rain check for us to enjoy a romantic dinner after February 14th.  You bet! 

Filet of Beef Au Poivre is a dinner I posted about 1 1/2 years ago (my, how time flies).  The Cognac-Cream sauce was easy to make, and so delicious.  So far, this is the dinner I'll most likely prepare since Valentine's Day falls on a week night.  How can anyone go wrong with roasted asparagus served on the side? The cost of making this dinner is a fraction of what we'd pay at a nice restaurant.  The only downside is having to do the cleanup-- but, my husband is always willing to help out. 

Chicken-Fried Steak isn't as fancy a dinner- but I can tell you that my husband loves this deep-fried steak.  The crust (dipped in buttermilk and seasoned flour) has a nice crunch to it, and the gravy is manly meal that pleases him very well, indeed.  Served with creamy mashed potatoes and green beans (rather than broccoli), he would be a very happy husband. 

Last year, I made this Coeur a la Creme dessert for my sweetheart.  We both enjoyed the silky texture of this cream cheese and heavy whipped cream dessert.  These two rich dairy products are whipped together with heavy cream, with the added brightness of lemon zest.  A Raspberry-Chambord Coulis Sauce is very easy to make.  It's such a light dessert and the bright red of the dessert sauce says "Happy Valentine's Day". I'm making this again, since it was a success (and so easy to do).

But, before Valentine's Day, we have our Super Bowl Sunday munchies to think about.  Guacamole is a given, of course.  There are a few recipes that I will be making, so I thought I'd share them with you.

 Shredded Pork Taquitos-- I love these!  I sear and roast a pork butt roast and then cook this in a pressure cooker with a Chili Verde Sauce. I've made my own chili verde sauce, but Trader Joe's sells a great bottled one. Why not take a short-cut.  This can be cooked in a Dutch Oven, nice and slow or in a slow-cooker, too.

I miss our summer tomatoes, so that I can make fresh Pico De Gallo.  However, this easy restaurant-style salsa is very easy to make.  I'll be whipping up a big batch for Super Bowl.  


Restaurant Style Salsa, adapted from The Pioneer Woman

        <p>After making this very easy recipe for salsa, I will never buy this in the jar again!  You can adjust the amount of kick you want, by the amount of jalapeno&#8230;or, you can leave out the jalapeno altogether. This recipe comes from The Pioneer ...     

        See Restaurant Style Salsa, adapted from The Pioneer Woman on Key Ingredient.     

We keep things simple on Super Bowl Sunday.   Of course, I'll make my Chili Con Carne (with pinto beans and ground beef, thank you very much).  I'll do my best to write down measurements and to take photos, since I've never posted the recipe.  

I have a few recipes to share with you in the coming week.   Hopefully, I'll have a much lighter work week ahead.   I think Murphy's Law has hit me enough times, that the coming week should be smoother sailing. I'll be back!

I'm curious-- do you have any special dishes you like to make for either Super Bowl or Valentine's Day?

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Liege Belgian Waffles for my Baby Boy

When my son was in first grade, we used to spend time at lot of time at the Border's Book Store at our local shopping center.   There was a quiet little man who had a cart stand, where he'd sell freshly made Belgian Waffles.  He'd take a square of dough and make a fresh, hot "Liege Belgian Waffle" and my son would happily receive it with a hop, skip and a jump.  As the mother of an only child, the price was worth the smile on my son's face as he chewed on this special treat.  I remember that I was a divorced mom at that time, so affording this treat meant that I wouldn't buy one for myself.  My son would give me a bite, and I remember that the waffle had a rich taste of butter, with a hint of vanilla. The caramelized sugar left a chewy and sweet mouth feel.   One day, we realized that the man with the cart no longer set up business at the shopping mall-- sadly, we never saw him again.   Every so often my son-- who is now 22 years old-- would ask me if I remembered those delicious waffles.  Yes, I did, but my memories are more connected to that sweet little boy who delighted in his special treat. I miss those years, but I don't miss those teen years!

This  waffle is different from our traditional American Waffles. The Belgian Sugar (or “Liege” Waffle) is a popular street-food across Europe. Served warm, plain or garnished with chocolate, Nutella, fruit, ice-cream or whipped cream, it is enjoyed by thousands of shoppers and sight-seers.  I decided to do a little internet research on the history of the Liege Waffle and this story is consistently shared:
 "According to legend, it was invented in the 18th Century by the Prince of Li├Ęge's cook. At the Prince's request, he experimented with cooking a kind of bun by adding polished sugar to the dough. Seduced by the appetising odour of vanilla that emanated during the cooking, the Prince fell for the new cake's charm." Source

I did most of my Christmas shopping on Amazon, and I stumbled across this Belgian Pearl Sugar.  Since I qualified for free shipping I decided it was time to see if I could recreate a childhood memory for my son.  After looking at several different recipes, I decided to use the one on the very back of the box of pearl sugar.  You might wonder if you can just crush sugar cubes.  You could, but I wanted to be authentic.  Having read other recipes, I'm told that there's something special about this Belgian Pearl Sugar.  You really want the sugar to melt, and get that wonderful caramelization, don't you? The ingredients are: milk, yeast, eggs, butter, flour, salt, vanilla and eggs.  Cinnamon is optional, but I decided to skip that.

For those of you who are afraid of working yeast, this is a great beginner recipe.  I used Rapid-Rise Yeast.  They key is that you don't heat the milk to be scalding hot.  Using my beloved therma-pen, you can see that 96 degrees was just right.  You also want the butter and eggs to be at room temperature. Yeast likes warmth!
Begin by dissolving the yeast in the milk.  That's easy enough, right?

Gradually add all the ingredients to the flour, except for the pearl sugar. (My stand mixer works great to do this.)

Let the dough double in size (about 30 minutes). I let mine sit for about an hour. (Bottom right corner photo.)
NOTE: I turn my oven on to WARM for a few minutes, then turn it off. I cover the dough in a bowl, and place it into the warm and cozy oven to help proof the dough.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Slow Roasted Beef (Cook's Illustrated)

I am a huge fan of roast beef sandwiches.  I prefer that my roast beef is rare, while my husband prefers medium. Either way, a fresh sourdough roll with mayo and deli mustard, Swiss cheese and sweet pickles is my winning formula.

NOTE UPDATE ON JULY 1, 2014:  Wow! This photo has gone viral on Reddit!  It's funny to read the comments-- that this meat is raw. It's fake. It has face with a tongue sticking out (funny, and true...never noticed that before.)  Let me say one thing-- this roast beef was bomb-diggity. Yes. it's cooked exactly the way I like it!  If it's too rare for y'all, then cook it some more. One person said it would dry up in 10 minutes and be a dry roast.  Nope. Didn't happen.  Anyway-- welcome Reddit Army!   I'm cooking for real, without any photo shopping. Please be nice, and not steal this photo without linking back to this blog. I have some work to do, as I see it's been done. Thank you!

The problem is finding good deli roast beef. I often wonder how long the beef has been in it's shrink wrap package, and I prefer to eat grass-fed beef.  I spotted a recipe in a food magazine (and I won't name it) for Salt-Encrusted Beef. I've always wanted to try the technique of making a salt-flour dough and wrapping it around beef.  The magazine photo looked delicious. But...

..I ended up with an unappetizing piece of gray meat.  I was so disappointed that even though I had cooked the meat to 130F, the meat continued to cook until it was well past done!  Contrary to the recipe, I should have taken the meat out at 120F, and maybe I would have had better luck. In short, this recipe was a total bust, and  I ended up caramelizing a lot of onion so I could make a palatable sandwich out of gray shoe leather.  Unfortunately, the meat was very dry and I never posted that recipe. You can thank me for that!

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cal-Tex Mex Chili Stew with Pinto Beans

Is chili meant to be served with or without beans? Ah, that's an unresolved issue-- depending on where you're from and how you were raised.  As a kid, my mother made Chili con Carne, because my father was Mexican.  My mother never used kidney beans. Ever.  She always soaked pinto beans and added them to seasoned ground beef, with lots of onion.  The chili was always served with hot flour tortillas and a side bowl of salsa.  Mimicking my father, I'd tear each tortilla into quarters, fold over the pointed end and fold it into a scoop to hold a mound of my chili --and eat it with great relish.  To this day, I must have flour tortillas when I eat re-fried or chili beans, or something feels like it's missing.  I love me some beans, and I do make a delicious pot of chili beans, if I do say so myself. Super Bowl Sunday wouldn't be complete without a pot of my chili con carne. 

A year ago, I caught watched a pre-recorded show on the Barefoot Contessa.  Ina's friend ("Devon") was showing how she made her award-winning Tex-Mex Chili.  I forgot about these photos (which are taken with my old camera), but I do think this recipe is worth sharing.

I was intrigued, because she used brisket, and I happened to have one that was frozen in my garage freezer. Once thawed, I cut it into bite-sized pieces and made sure they were patted very dry. 

I also liked that she used fresh tomatoes, bell peppers ...

 and strong coffee...

I haven't used any of those ingredient in my own chili, and I've heard that coffee adds another layer of flavor to the spices.  Before I made this recipe, I decided to read the review. Whoa! I was taken aback at the backlash of  true Tex-Mex lovers who said that this recipe was in no way Tex-Mex!  Many reviews said that a Texan would never use beans.  Okay.  Now, I will agree that I found it very strange that Ina's friend used basil to flavor the sauce. Really? While I love basil, I nixed that idea. Instead, I opted for my beloved cilantro (which Ina Garten strongly dislikes).   As a result of my tweaks, I have renamed this recipe to be Cal-Tex Mex chili, because I'm going to use beans.  Hopefully, this will give me some leeway in my tweaks and I won't get spanked by my Texan friends.

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

King Arthur Flour , and Baked Doughnuts -- The Non "Krispy Kreme"

Who doesn't love a fresh doughnut?  I recall the first time I walked inside a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop. It was the late 90's and we were in Southern California.  My son's eyes grew as big as doughnuts as he watched freshly baked doughnuts coming out of vats of oil, and then roll down a conveyor belt and into a glaze "jacuzzi".  As we both bit into a warm doughnut, we were in sugar heaven.  I don't want to think about how many fat grams we indulged in, but they sure were good! It's a very good thing that we don't have a Krispy Kreme store anywhere less than a 90-minute drive away.  There is a local doughnut shop (Red's Doughnuts) where we live that makes some of the tastiest assortment of doughnuts I've ever had.  I avoid that place, because I wouldn't be able to decide between their custard-filled bar with chocolate glaze, applesauce, devil's food or glazed old-fashioned doughnuts.    By sheer willpower, I've avoided doughnut shops for a few years, because I don't need the guilt of over-indulging. I love baked goods far more than I should.  I have another weakness, however.  It's called "Cost Plus/World Market" stores.  We have two within 15 minutes of where I live and work.  They send me coupons, and I can't let them go to waste. 

At World Market, I spotted a Mini-Doughnut pan for about $10.00. I must have picked it up and set it back down several times.  King Arthur Flour sells them for $15.95, plus shipping...and I had a coupon.  I gave in, and it came home with me. This is the time of year when many of us try to lose those extra Thanksgiving and Christmas pounds.  Still, a baked treat can't be all that bad. Can it?  I settled on making a recipe for baked doughnuts that I found on the King Arthur Flour Recipe Website.  I carefully read the reviews, many of which were positive.  Whenever someone writes a negative review, I try to figure out what might have gone wrong and what can I do to improve it.  I have a bag of Arrow Mills Organic Pastry Flour, so I decided to use that instead of cake flour.  According to their website site, "it is made from soft wheat berries grown each Spring in the fertile San Luis Valley of Colorado, Arrowhead Mills Pastry Flour provides a finer texture and lighter consistency with low gluten content. It's perfect for flaky and delicate pastries and cakes." I keep 1% buttermilk on hand, so I decided not to use buttermilk powder.  

Since the doughnuts won't be deep-fried, I read that it's important to heavily grease use a non-stick spray-- even though the pan is non-stick. Done.

The pastry flour is unbleached (and I never buy bleached flour).  Though it has whole grain, it's milled very fine.
So, here are the dry ingredients-- pastry flour (you can use unbleached all-purpose, but pastry flour is supposed to yield a tender cake), nutmeg, cinnamon, baking powder and sugar. For the wet ingredients, I used 3 Tablespoons of 1% Buttermilk, and 3 Tablespoons ofcanola oil (instead of vegetable oil). 

I believe I've mentioned my addiction to the King Arthur Shopping Website, and I'm not paid to say so.  I've also touted my fondness for their Buttery Sweet Dough Bakery Emulsion.  I can best describe the aroma as smelling like yellow cake batter. Trust me, you want to drink it, but I add a teaspoon of this to most of my baked goods.  (Otherwise, I recommend adding 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.) I've been using their Cake Enhancer with great success. I don't fully understand the chemistry behind why it works, but it does-- it makes my cakes stay extra-moist, for several days.  Pour the liquid ingredients all at once into the dry ingredients and stir just until combined. 

I gently folded the batter, but didn't work up the gluten. (That makes for tough pastries, ya know).  You can see the wheat in the flour, because of the dark brown color.  There is pastry flour that has less wheat it in it, so use that if you prefer. Some reviewers suggested pouring the batter into a ziploc bag (I was too lazy busy to dig out my pastry bags).

I was cautioned not to overfill each well, or the "whole" would fuse together and it won't look like a doughnut. I think you could spoon these in just as well.
Bake the doughnuts in a preheated 375°F oven for 10 to 12 minutes. When done, they’ll spring back when touched lightly, and will be quite brown on the top. (Mine took about 9 minutes.)

Remove the doughnuts from the oven, remove them from the pan, and allow them to cool on rack. To me, they looked like flat muffins. I wasn't sure if I was impressed.  I could have dipped them in melted chocolate and called it a day.  I could have sprinkled them, and that would have been lovely.  But, I'm trying to make these as guilt-free as possible.

I decided to go with cinnamon-sugar. Since the doughnuts weren't fried in oil, I decided to spritz them, lightly, with some water (rather than melted butter).

That did the trick!  I brewed a cup of coffee and decided to give these a taste test.

VERDICT:  At first bite, I thought the doughnut was less than exciting.  I questioned my wisdom in using a whole wheat pastry flour.  They were tender, yes, but I wasn't digging the wheatiness of the flavor.  I was underwhelmed, as was my husband. But, wait!  The very next morning, something magical happened when I tried them again.  The doughnuts were stored in an air-tight container, the night before.  The flavor had changed, and to the better!  In all honesty, these baked doughnuts won't fool any kind of doughnut connoisseur.   But, with a cup of hot coffee these remind me a bit of Mexican Churros (without the grease).  

I see possibilities with this recipe, and I'll try them again.  Next time,  I'll use regular pastry flour, or a mixture of whole wheat and all-purpose.  Rather than glazing these, or dipping them in melted chocolate-- I'll just make the real thing if I'm going to spring for a fat and sugar-rush of that caliber.  Sometimes, you just have to indulge in a traditional doughnut and I plan to make traditional doughnuts, in the future-- just so I can say I learned how to do it.  This recipe is certainly quick to put together, and a lot less messier than heating oil.  They're also easier on the arteries and waistline, and that's a good thing.  On a scale of 1-5 for flavor, I give these 3 1/2 stars. With some tweaking, next time, I think these could earn an extra star or two.

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Indian Style Rice

At last, the weekend has arrived-- as an extra bonus, we have a three-day weekend. Amen!  I have a dozen recipes I've photographed, and I am longing to get them organized and edited so that I can share them with you.  Today's recipe is a very simple rice side dish that I served with the Cook's Illustrated Tandoori Chicken.  It is, indeed, a simple yet very flavorful dish to make.  Did I mention that it's healthy, too?   I'm really loving the spice blend of Garam masala. You can make your own blend, but I buy one at my local supermarket because the spice company has done all the grinding and blending for me-- and because it's not too expensive.  I used brown basmati rice and my rice cooker, but you can make this in a covered skillet or pot.

Use enough olive oil to thinly coat the bottom of a pot with a tightly fitted cover. Saute onion and garlic, just until fragrant and slightly translucent. Add  rice, and cook for about 2 minutes, to lightly toast. Add garam masala spice and stir, and then add the chicken stock (or water).

 The addition of golden raisins is something we really enjoy.  I also think it adds more color. I added the toasted rice to my rice cooker, then added chicken stock.

Once the rice was cooked, I added about a cup of frozen peas and then gently stirred.  On a whim, I added  a squeeze of juice from two lime wedges and gave it a final stir.  We love cilantro, I garnished the rice with a bit of this fresh herb.  Parsley would be fine, too.

VERDICT:  Garam masala adds a multitude of flavor to otherwise plain rice.  The cinnamon is subtle, and this complimented the flavorful Tandoori Chicken.  I make this rice often, as it's become a family favorite. A printable recipe card is at the bottom of this post. 

Our California rainy weather and cloudy skies have disappeared, and it's a clear and sunny day.  I'm off to enjoy the sunshine, and I'll try and work on more recipes to share.  I've been making quite a few baked goods, such as baked doughnuts and a few other tasty treats.  Amidst all my baking, I'm still losing weight and swimming on a regular basis. I am feeling so much better!  Thank you for your words of encouragement.

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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Tandoori Chicken, Reworked (Cook's Illustrated Style)

Is it safe to come out, now that the holidays are over?  Don't get me wrong-- I'm not a Grinch during the month of December.  This Christmas, however, will go down in my personal history as the day that my appetite disappeared for two weeks.  The sight or thought of food did absolutely nothing for me, can you believe it?! Apparently a new medicine that my doctor prescribed decided to kick in on Christmas Eve.  My husband watched, with a perplexed look, as I two two bites of my slow-roasted prime rib.  The creamed spinach and special potatoes amounted to about 1 teaspoon of each.   I didn't even photograph the finished meal because I felt queasy and downright miserable. My appetite is slowly returning, and I've lost 12 pounds since December 1st. It's a good thing, but I also know it's important that I eat-- so I have to psyche myself into eating.  (I'll explain more at the bottom of this post about my newly diagnosed Diabetes to spare those of you who want to pass on my stories of injecting a new drug and my progress.)

I made this dish in early December, while I had already begun my pre-holiday goal of eating healthier and dropping some pounds. Time, and my appetite setback,  got in the way of posting this. Now that I can enjoy looking at food again, I'm happy to share this recipe with you.  While organizing the photos, I could recall how much I loved the flavor of this dish.    I had bookmarked this Cook's Illustrated recipe several months ago and then I stumbled across it again.  Per Cook's Illustrated, "authentic versions call for a 24-hour marinade and a tandoor, a traditional beehive-shaped clay oven—requirements that keep the dish mainly in the realm of restaurants." In the method of CI that I love so much, they set out to reinvent this Indian classic into a recipe that could be made year-round in the oven.  This is how they did it:

We begin with 3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken parts (breasts, thighs, and drumsticks, or a mix, with breasts cut in half), trimmed of excess fat and skin removed.

Garam Masala is a key component for this recipe.  I'm still learning about Indian cooking, so it wasn't until I made Cook's Illustrated's Tikka Masala dish, I wasn't familiar with garam masala.  According to CI, "Though there are countless variations of garam masala, the warm flavors (garam means “warm” or “hot” and masala means “spice blend”) dominating this Indian spice blend are consistent: black pepper, dried chiles, cinnamon, cardamom, and coriander are staples, while cloves, cumin, fennel, mace, and nutmeg frequently turn up as supporting players."  Finding this spice blend has become much easier. I found mine at my local supermarket.

You need yogurt, to marinate the chicken with.  I used Greek Non-Fat yogurt, because I love how thick and rich it is.

You also need chili powder and cumin...

There's a little more prep work to go-- you need the juice of two limes, freshly minced garlic and ginger...

Using sharp knife, lightly score skinned side of each piece of chicken, making 2 or 3 shallow cuts about 1 inch apart and about 1/8 inch deep; transfer to bowl. The prep work took me about 30 minutes, between washing my hands a lot while taking photos.  Ready?

We're going to "bloom" the spices and reserve half as a rub, and the other half to flavor the yogurt that we'll marinate the chicken with.  Heat oil in small skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

 The aroma is packed with so much flavor!  We're just getting started...

Transfer half of garlic-spice mixture to medium bowl; stir in yogurt and 2 tablespoons lime juice and set aside.
In large bowl, combine remaining garlic-spice mixture, remaining 2 tablespoons lime juice, and salt.  I didn't photograph the next step of using my hands to gently massage salt-spice mixture into chicken until all pieces are evenly coated; let stand at room temperature 30 minutes.(It's a bit messy and I didn't want to get my camera all dirty.) Pour yogurt mixture over chicken and toss until chicken is evenly coated with thick layer.

 Next, adjust oven rack to upper-middle position (about 6 inches from heating element) and heat oven to 325 degrees.

Arrange chicken pieces, scored-side down, on wire rack set in foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet or broiler pan.
Discard excess yogurt mixture.

Bake chicken until instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of chicken registers 125 degrees for breasts and 130 for legs and thighs, 15 to 25 minutes. (Smaller pieces may cook faster than larger pieces.
Transfer chicken pieces to plate as they reach correct temperature.) After removing chicken from oven, turn oven to broil and heat 10 minutes.

The broiler is ready...

Once broiler is heated, flip chicken pieces over and broil until chicken is lightly charred in spots and instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of chicken registers 165 degrees for breasts and 175 for legs and thighs, 8 to 15 minutes.

The method of broiling the chicken mimics the way that juices fall, in a tandoor oven,  on the coals along with rendered fat, creating smoke that flavors the food.

I also created a brown basmatic rice with garam masala and some other delicious aromatics.

My husband loves Indian food.  He was both surprised and thrilled to see his "Foodiewife" making a dish I'm really not familiar with.  I admit, I was looking forward to tasting this dinner.

VERDICT:  When my husband really likes the flavor of something, he let's out a slow moan.  I smiled, as he savored the flavor of this dish and he complimented me over and over again.  My husband can handle really spicy food much better than I can.  On a scale of 1-5, the heat of this dish is about a 2.5.  If you love to breathe fire, you might want to kick up the spice heat. To me, it was perfect.  This is not boring chicken! It was tender, flavorful and very healthy.  I loved this dish so much, that I'm going to pay closer attention to learning how to make more Indian dishes. I am really bonding with the traditional Indian spice combination, and I look forward to adding more spices to my pantry. Cook's Illustrated did it again-- they figured out how to make juicy, lightly charred, well-seasoned meat with just the right degree of tenderness. A printable recipe card is at the very bottom of this post.


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