Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sweet Endings: Fior di Latte Panna Cotta

I have been wanting to make a specific ice cream flavor for quite some time.  So, I bought an industrial sized container of heavy cream from Costco.  I had all the other ingredients to create a flavor that I was convinced would be as good-- maybe even better-- than the Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream that I made a while ago.

Only I never made it.  Sigh.

I don't like to waste food, and Sticky, Gooey, Creamy Chewy's food blog solved my dilemma on what to do with all that heavy cream.  Susan created this "Flower of Milk" Panna Cotta recipe, and that was that. It would become dessert immediately. Panna Whatta?  This Italian dessert translates to "Cooked Cream". Think of it as an eggless custard-- a creamy, slightly sweet dessert that can be transformed into just about any kind of flavor that you like. Like ice cream.   I've posted one of my favorite panna cotta recipes that's served with a Grand Marnier caramel sauce and bruleed figs. Yes, it's fancy and oh so delicious.  This recipe is much simpler, and uses an ingredient that I happened to have on hand:

Orange Flower Water.  Yes, it's an unusual ingredient.  I found this at Trader Joe's, and it's a key ingredient to make a Ramos Gin Fizz (definitely not for children).

Susan's recipe could not have been easier-- to four cups of heavy cream, add 1/2 cup sugar and heat until hot, but not simmering.  In a separate bowl, sprinkle four teaspoons of powdered gelatin over 6 tablespoons of cold water...

Once the milk is hot, this is where you add your flavoring. Susan's recipe uses two teaspoons of orange flower water.  However, I wanted just a teensy bit more orange flavor, so I added 1/8 tsp of Pure Orange oil.  Perfect.

The hot, flavored heavy cream is added to the "bloomed" gelatin and whisked together...

...then poured into glass serving dishes.   Of couse, Panna Cotta can be poured into ramekins, and removed onto a plate for serving.  I chilled these, overnight-- and that was hard. Because I really, REALLY wanted to taste one. But, I resisted.  NOTE: What I liked about this technique, is that I did not use a water bath.  This dessert took about 10 minutes to make. Easy, peasy. I like that.

The Panna Cotta set perfectly, and I decided to garnish it with a few Mandarin Orange sections.

I served this dessert to my dinner guests, after we enjoyed a hearty dinner. It was perfect.

TASTING NOTES:  This is a really easy dessert to make. Can it be made with skim milk? I have no idea.  Half and half? Probably.  I have a philosophy about desserts like this-- indulge, enjoy, but don't do this every day.  To me, Panna Cotta is defined as "cooked cream" for a reason. If you have success with skim milk, please let me know.  As for flavor-- I loved it.  The citrus flavor was very mild....subtle. You knew you were eating orange, but it didn't overpower the flavor.  I am a big fan of custard desserts, and this is very creamy without being too rich.  If you don't have orange flower water, add vanilla.  I love eating Panna Cotta with a fruit coulis sauce.  But this is very refreshing. I'll have to experiment with a lemon-scented version.

I still want to make that ice cream flavor, and I shall.  Fortunately the heavy cream is finally gone-- some in mashed potatoes, and a few splashes here and there in pan sauces and creamed soups I've made.  The dessert looks impressive, and you don't have to tell anyone how easy it was to make.

A printable recipe card is at the end of this post.  Thanks, Susan



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Monday, February 20, 2012

Pork Chops with Wine & Garlic

On most week nights, I still come home wanting to eat home-cooked food-- as opposed to bringing  home take-out.  I'm pretty much the Chief Cook in the house, and I need meals that come together quickly.  I often resort to pan-searing meat and making a pan sauce.  I love pan sauces.  They transform boring old chicken, pork or beef into something that resembles restaurant quality food.  It couldn't be simpler. When the Pioneer Woman recently posted this recipe, I knew that this would be dinner. That very night!

I stopped by my meat market, and picked up two luscious pork loins.  I already had the rest of the ingredients on hand-- red wine, garlic cloves, beef broth and balsamic vinegar.  So, here we go-- the pork is seasoned with coarse salt & black pepper. Then it's seared in a screaming hot skillet with a little oil and unsalted butter.

I did something a little differently that "PW" does... I prefer to sear my meats on one side until golden brown, and then put them into a 425F oven to roast them.  (I already had baked potatoes going, so it was convenient  to do this.) This method pretty much assures me that the meat will be moist.  I roasted these for about 4 minutes, then removed them and lightly covered them in foil.   (Otherwise, just flip them more a few more minutes, because you'll finish cooking the pork in the sauce.) To the skillet, I added about 8 peeled cloves of garlic, and tossed the about on medium heat until golden brown. Look at all the brown deliciousness on the bottom of the pan...flavor, just waiting to happen!

So, now I add some red wine, a bay leaf and let that bubble and reduce for a few minutes. Last, I add some beef broth and the chops and let them simmer for a few minutes more.

I add a bit of balsamic vinegar, and swirl the pan a bit...

For a final ta-da, I turn off the heat and add some unsalted butter and whisk it in.

I served this with a baked potato, and a salad with a light white balsamic vinaigrette.

TASTING NOTES:  I do consider pork to be the "other white meat" and we love it.   I realize that this isn't exactly a child-friendly dish, but my baby is already a grown young man.  The garlic was sweet, and cooking it removed any kind of strong garlic "bite".  I wish I had added even more garlic cloves. The sauce was so flavorful, with that very subtle tang of balsamic.  Loved this dish. Love, love. This recipe is going into my regular rotation for those nights when I'm hungry, but tired.  Super easy to make, and good enough to serve company for dinner.  Thanks, Ree!

A printable recipe card is at the end of this post. 

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Monday, February 13, 2012

S'Mores Rice Krispie Treats

Other than French Fries, Rice Krispy Treats are one of of my guilty pleasures. There's something about biting into crunchy cereal that has a gloriously chewy texture of marshmallow that transports me to my childhood, with great memories. Seriously, I could eat an entire pan of these, if left to my own devices. Fortunately, my son is as crazy about these treats as much as I am. That means they'll be gone before I have a chance to go overboard with eating these. Amen.

It has been years since I've made these. My son was in Middle School, 13 years ago, and I tried my best to play the role of June Cleaver when his friends would hang out at our home. (Little did my son know that a mom's secret weapon is to feed his friends all kinds of treats-- the better to get to know the little monster darlin's, so that I could keep a closer eye on the hormonal-raged" tweens".) A couple of weeks ago, my son asked me to make a pan of rice krispie treats. It took all of 5 minutes to do, and my husband thought it was an odd dessert for me to make-- so different from my fancier Apple Brown Butter Tart or Red Velvet Layer Cake.. I mean, melted marshmallows and a cereal? Uh-huh. My husband polished off his fair share of them. I think he understood, at that point. These are very addicting.

Let's face it-- S'Mores are so popular in Blogsphere. I've seen S'Mores Cupcakes, Pies, Cookies, Brownies.... who doesn't love melted Hershey's Chocolate, graham crackers with gooey melted marshmallows?I found this recipe on the blog  Greens And Chocolate, and thought this would be a fun variation of our beloved Rice Krispie Treats. 

The prep work is very minimal, other than measuring chocolate chips. I chose to go with milk chocolate, but if you prefer semi-sweet please be my guest. I chopped up one package of graham crackers.

I decided to increase the 4 cups of mini marshmallows to 6 cups, because we love our rice krispie treats to be super gooey. I use the microwave, by adding 3 Tablespoons butter and nuking it for about one minute. Then, I give it a stir.

 I've measured five cups of rice krispy cereal with 1-1/2 cups of coarsely chopped graham crackers.

After nuking the marshmallow-butter mixture for another 30 seconds, it melted and ready to be poured into the bowl of cereal and graham crackers.

I added 1-1/2 cups of the milk chocolate chips and started to fold everything in, mixing it well. Then I poured it into a 9x13 pan, that I had placed a foil "sling" into and sprayed with non-stick spray. I like to butter my well washed hands so that I can easily pat the mixture evenly. I let this set for about 30 minutes.

I measured 1-1/2 cups of milk chocolate chips and microwaved them for about one minute, then stirred vigorously until silky smooth. I will adjust the printable recipe card to be 2 cups of melted chocolate, as I ran out!

Much better, as I used an off-set spatula to get chocolate into every nook and cranny. Next I added the reserved 1-1/4 cups chopped graham crackers and spread them evenly-- then pressed them into the melted chocolate with a flat spatula. I chilled the dish for 30 minutes.

 The beauty of having a foil "sling" is being able to lift out the entire bar to cut it more easily.

 That's what we're talkin' about!

 My husband was lurking close by, waiting for his taste.

TASTING NOTES: Yesssss! These are sinfully good. I'm so glad that I chose milk chocolate, over semi-sweet, because it has that authentic taste of S'mores. Though I added 2 extra cups of marshmallow, I think I'm going to increase it to at least 7 cups....maybe 8. I'd love just a bit more "goo", which my son concurred-- as he stuffed one eagerly into his mouth.

 A printable recipe card is at the end of this post.


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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Beef and Barley Slow Cooker Soup

It looks like Mother Nature has finally stopped playing "spin the bottle" on what season it is. It's finally raining!  Of course, we Californians don't have a true Four Seasons.  Yes, we're spoiled. We also pay hefty taxes, so I guess we're even.

Recipe#3 that I've made from this cookbook.

Did I ever mention that I meant my shy and handsome husband at a golf course? No?

Take note, those of you mature single women who are hoping to meet a single man-- golf courses are ripe for the picking! I figured that out, when I found myself divorced, with a teenage son, 8 years ago.  I hadn't torn up the dance floor since the BeeGee's were all the rage, after Saturday Night Fever was a box office smash.  So, I took golf lessons and started a Singles Golf Club.  True story.  Oh, did I mention that I used to help recruit members?  Never let is be said that I'm not an enterprising woman.

What does golf have to do with this recipe?  You have to think as I do. Random.  This weekend is the world famous AT&T Golf Tournament at Pebble Beach.  That means that I'm staying home-- far and away from the crowds.  It also means that it's raining today, because the tournament will usually bring out the Rain Gods.   That means soup is a perfect meal. My man loves them--especially anything with barley. 

To make Beef and Barley soup, you begin with.... well, naturally, you would buy beef.  I learned a tip from America's Test Kitchen that has forever changed what kind of beef I use for soups and stews. If you've never heard of chuck eye roast, please ask your butcher about it.  Unliked neat labeled "stew cut", I find that chuck eye roast is very tender.

To begin with the soup, it does start with a skillet. Using a couple tablespoons of vegetable (in my case, I used olive oil), cooked chopped onion, some tomato paste, and thyme (dried or fresh) until the onions are softened and slightly browned.

This takes about 8-10 minutes. In the meantime...I lined my removable slow cooker insert with a plastic liner (easily found at your local grocery store). These make cleanup super easy.

To build more flavor, we add dry red wine, then add the cooked onions to the slow cooker.  Next, we add in crushed tomatoes, beef and chicken broth, chopped carrots... sauce (I use Tamari sauce), 

...barley and then the cut up meat, that has been seasoned with salt & pepper. At this point, I covered the slow cooker insert, put it into the fridge and went to bed.  Obviously, if you are a homemaker, you can do all of this earlier on the same day you want the soup.   Early in the morning, I turned on the slow cooker to the low setting and came home 11 hours later.  

This is when I don't gripe about having to prep my slow cooker meal, the night before.  It's a nice feeling to come home to smelling your dinner cooking away.  ATK says to remove the meat, and then shred it into bite-sized pieces. I skipped that step, by cutting my pieces into bite-sized chunks in the first place.  Simple details.  I didn't have much fat to skim off the top, either. 
I added some fresh chopped parsley, made a quick green salad and sliced some fresh French Bread.

For the finishing touch, we had a roaring fire going and listened to much needed rainfall outside.  

TASTING NOTES:   This soup has a very rich red color to it, because of the crushed tomatoes and red wine.  The beef is super tender.  I felt a little disappointed in that I didn't go with my gut instinct to increase the amount of barley from 1/4 cup to at least 1/2 cup.  I really appreciate a higher barley to beef ratio, and I could barely detect in the soup.  As for the flavor, I liked it.  I'm a lover of all things flavored tomato, but I felt that the crushed tomato overpowered the flavor of the beef.  However, my son disagreed with me. He loved this soup.  That is not to say that this isn't a good recipe. It is.  I would say that you need to adjust the recipe to have less tomato, if that's your preference.  I would definitely double up on the pearl barley, if not more. Other than that, this is a lovely soup and I would make it again. 

I am glad that I have re-bonded with my slow cooker.  Sure, I spend a half hour prepping dinner the night before. But, it is gives me the next night off from having to prep, cook and clean pots and pans.  I've bookmarked a few more recipes from this cookbook that I hope will be as good as the last three I've posted and shared with you. Let's see who won my giveaway to receive a copy of America's Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution.

I think I'll tune in to our local news to see how Tiger Woods and all the other professional golfers are doing with this weekend's golf tournament.   Did I also mention that I haven't swung a golf club in about four  years?  At least I scored well with my Valentine-- my wonderful husband.  I figure that once we both retire, we'll have plenty of time to hit the putting greens.

A printable recipe card is at the end of this post.

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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Tequila and Lime Turkey Chili - Slow Cooker Style

I remember when crock pots first became the rage. Some of you might not have been born yet, but I was a young bride who had a very limited repertoire of recipes to make.  At that time, it seemed so cool that I could throw in some chicken and a can of soup and come home to dinner.   Several years ago, I upgraded my crock pot to a programmable slow cooker with a removable ceramic insert.  I like the oval shape and size, so that I can cook larger cuts of meats.  However, my slow cooker spends a lot of time, sitting on my garage "kitchen gadget" shelf.   My reasoning was that I don't have time to prepare a slow cooker meal in the morning, before work.

Then, I had an "aha" moment, that I should prepare the meals the night before, then turn on the crockpot before leaving for work. D'oh!  So, I bought America's Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution Cookbook... and the book ended up sitting on my bookshelf for a few weeks.   I finally made time to read the cookbook, and I have to say that it's well worth the investment. There is a lot of updated information on how to choose a slowcooker, and a lot of valuable tips from America's Test Kitchen.  The first recipe I made, and posted, was Easy Barbequed Ribs, and those turned out to be easy to prepare and very tasty.

I decided to try the Tequila and Lime Turkey Chili.  To be honest, I've made chicken chili, and turkey chili before. I found them to be lackluster in flavor.  However, the fine folks at America's Test Kitchen promised that they had a few tricks up their sleeves that would yield a moist and flavorful turkey chili.  As luck would have it, I had all of the ingredients on hand.  So, the night before, I prepared the chili.  The first step is to make a "panade" of white bread soaked in milk.  This prevents the lean turkey meat from becoming dry. I needed fresh oregano and garlic cloves.

The spices I needed were chili powder and cumin.  A skillet is heated with some vegetable oil over medium-high heat, until shimmering.

Next, I add onions, chili powder, tomato paste, garlic, cumin, oregano and red pepper flakes and cook until vegetables are softened and lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes.

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Friday, February 3, 2012

Weeknight Roast Chicken With Lemon-Tarragon Pan Sauce

Oh, hi!  It's Friday. Amen.  It's been a wild week at work, and I haven't been able to post recipes for over a week. I've missed y'all!

It didn't help that I popped a rib, last weekend.  I won't get into the sordid details as to how it happened.   Let's just say that I slept about two hours, total, last Sunday night.   I was in so much pain, that I couldn't wait for the sun to come up so I could show up at my chiropractor.  After some painful deep massage , I could hear a "pop" as my rib went back into place.  Instant relief.

The rest of my work week kept me pretty busy, since I'm taking a few night classes.  This dinner turned out to be the perfect antidote, after a night or two of grabbing dinner on-the-run.  I wanted home-cooking.  Whole Foods had a special on whole chickens, so this 3-1/2 pound bird cost less than $5.00. Score!

I don't roast a whole chicken very often.  I'm not sure why, but it's most likely that I find them to be a little" Dullsville".   A week ago, I had recorded an episode of America's Test Kitchen, Season 2012.  Craig watched the episode, with me.  According to "ATK', this recipe promised to deliver flavorful and moist chicken-- without brining-- in under an hour.  Really? I'm listening.  That's when Craig told me that he looooves roast chicken.  Who knew?

The first step is to preheat a skillet in a 450 degree oven.  According to ATK, "preheating the pan and placing the chicken breast side up gave the thighs a jump start on cooking."  To prep the chicken, all I had to do was to tie the legs, slather the bird with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  I then transferred the  chicken, breast side up, to the preheated skillet in oven. I roasted the chicken until the breasts registered 120 degrees and thighs registered 135 degrees, 25 to 35 minutes.

Here's the twist--Turn off oven and leave chicken in oven until breasts register 160 degrees and thighs register 175 degrees, 25 to 35 minutes. This technique was to prevent the evaporation of juices, ensuring moist meat.

While the chicken was roasting, I prepped the ingredients for the pan sauce. Shallots are a staple in my fridge.  They're much milder tasting than onions, and I use them often.  I love tarragon, and we grow it in our herb garden. Parsley would make a fine substitute.

The chicken is cooked to the perfect temperature, so I set it on a carving board and lightly covered it with foil.

There wasn't that much fat in the skillet, but just enough, so I added the shallots and cooked them until softened (about 2 minutes). Next, I stirred in the broth and mustard, scraping skillet bottom with wooden spoon to loosen fond. I simmered the sauce until it reduced to ¾ cup, about 3 minutes.

I turned off the heat, then added the lemon juice, butter and tarragon...

...and gave it a good whisk.

Last, a little pepper to taste... then covered, and kept warm.

We finally got the hang of learning how to carve a whole chicken (which could be part of the reason I rarely roast a whole chicken), by pulling out the leg...

...then learning how to cut the leg away, at the joint. Easy!

I served this with roasted asparagus and mashed potatoes.

I shot these photos in very dim light, but I hope you can see how moist the chicken was. It was juicy!

TASTING NOTES:  As promised, the dinner was ready in an hour.  The chicken was very moist. I loved the pan sauce, but how can one go wrong with lemon and tarragon?    I loved this meal. I loved the simplicity in preparing it, and the sauce was excellent.  The beauty of roasting a whole chicken is that it is cheaper than paying for cut-up chicken-- plus, the carcass became chicken stock, the next day. Double bonus!   America's Test Kitchen does it again-- another keeper recipe.

I have several recipes to share, but tomorrow I'm taking an all-day class.  That means, I'm headed to bed early for a Friday night.  My R&R won't begin until Super Bowl Sunday.  All my plans to make lots of finger foods and a spread of munchies, while my men watched the game,  will have to wait until next year.  Being a Northern California gal, the "9-ers" aren't playing, but it was a close and exciting playoff!  So, I'll make a pot of my famous Chili Con Carne (I have never blogged that recipe), kick up my feet and cuddle with my husband (hoping I won't fall asleep).  I've been very scarce at home, and we need "we time".  Hopefully, I can work on more recipes to share with you-- especially a cake that I baked last week that rocked my world!  Soon... I promise!

A printable recipe card is at the end of this post. 

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