Saturday, June 29, 2013

Vanilla Salted Peanut Cookies (and my extended absence)

It has been almost three weeks since my last post. That's a record for me. According to all the blog experts, this is also a way to lose readership.  Knowing all of these things, I have been in a rather miserable state of mind, and just couldn't muster up the mojo to write about food. I'm sorry.

My husband has been telling me that he's tired of seeing that Olallieberry Dutch Baby on my blog, so today I will change the recipe! What? 

Yes, there is a recipe in this post-- and please feel free to scroll past my personal update on why I've been absent. Here goes:

Many of my followers/readers/friends know that I underwent major surgery on June 11th.  I had a total left knee replacement.  I checked into the hospital, like a brave little soldier-- iPad fully charged, with all my iMagazines downloaded.  I factored in that there would be pain involved. I wrapped my mind around there being a six-inch scar down the middle of my knee. I carefully interviewed three orthopedic surgeons, and chose the one who has the best reputation in town.

The surgery was a success.  Technically.  There were some definite hiccups.  Like, my epidural went a bit awry, so when a team of physical therapists insisted I stand up on my new knee within four hours of surgery-- they couldn't grasp my desperate pleas for mercy.  My right leg was so numb (from the epidural) that I could not will it to move.  The pain!  Oh, the pain!

I had no idea I was capable of the  guttural screams that came out of my throat-- and I was not giving birth!  Once the epidural was removed, and I was given mega doses of gnarly pain meds, I began the arduous work of trying to walk with my new knee.  I threw up a lot, and food lost any hint of interest to me. I was discharged on Day #4. The ride home, in the car, wasn't pleasant at all. Getting out of the car was difficult-- as any movement to my knee made those screams come back.  I'm not gonna lie-- this is a worse pain than anything I have ever experienced!

Before I checked into the hospital, I baked these cookies for my husband.  He loves salted peanuts, and I spotted this recipe in King Arthur Flour's magazine subscription, "The Baking Sheet".  There's a lot of vanilla in this recipe, and it's what makes the recipe work. The cookies have a combination of  shortening  and butter, oatmeal (for texture), brown sugar and white chocolate chips-- all pantry staples.

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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Olallieberry Dutch Baby

Unless you live on the Western side of the United States, odds are you haven't heard of olallieberries. If you look it up on Wikipedia, you'll see a photo that I took in my own backyard-- and that was **ahem** stolen copied (without my permission). Side note: if anyone knows how to rectify that situation, please let me know. I've had no luck getting the photo removed, or at last watermarked by me.)

My husband loves Olallieberries so much, that we bought an olallieberry plant a few years ago.  Craig has lovingly nurtured that plant, until it has grown into a large bush. This year, the bush gave him lots and lots of olallieberries!

To me, olallieberries  taste like a cross between a blackberry, with a bit of tartness from a boysenberry, with a hint of raspberry.  Their season is very short-- starting around June 1st and lasting only a few weeks.

Every year, I make at least one dozen pints of Olallieberry jam, which my husband enjoys all year round. I also bake him, at least, one Olallieberry Pie.  This makes him a very happy husband, and he deserves it.

Last weekend, I had an idea.  Why not use my recipe for an Apple Dutch Baby, but substitute olallieberries instead?  Since many of you won't be able to find these berries, as they only seem to grow in the Western side of the United States (I don't know why) -- use any berry of your own choosing, to make this recipe. If you've never had a Dutch Baby, think of this as baked pancake.  These are so simple and quick to make-- no fancy ingredients needed: flour, sugar, milk, egg, vanilla.  You need an oven proof-pan, 5 minutes to make the batter and 15 minutes of baking.

Since our Olallieberry bush wasn't quite ready to present ripe berries to us, I thawed the last of the frozen ones (from last year) and macerated them with a little sugar-- only because when I tasted the berries, they made me pucker just a bit. I used only a generous tablespoon of sugar, and let the berries macerate for a few minutes.

The batter is so simple to make-- add milk to flour and sugar, whisk in eggs and add a bit of vanilla.

I melted one tablespoon of butter, tossed in the macerated berries... 

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Monday, June 3, 2013

Smoked Grilled Chicken

Years ago, I didn't know a whole lot about grilling. I love barbecued chicken, so I figured if I slathered chicken with bottled barbecue sauce, placed it on a grill and I was good to go. I'd battle the flare-ups with spray bottle and gamble that the chicken wouldn't burn (from the sugar in the sauce) and-- holding my breath-- that it would be properly cooked.  Nobody wants raw chicken, and dry chicken isn't much fun either, right?

I realize, now, that I had a lot to learn...
A few years ago, I made an effort to learn more about grilling.  There's a bit of selfishness in this goal, I confess.  My husband reads my blog, so I'm going to admit (to him, and blogsphere) that my hope was that he would learn to be a Grill Master.  We love barbecue, but it's  hard for me to do the prep work, prepare side dishes-- and watch the grill. So, having a Sous Chef would be  blessing.
I bought my husband a copy of this book, but I've spent some time reading each recipe and appreciating all the great step-by-step photos, as well.  This book convinced us to invest in a Weber grill, and we have grown to love it.  We did buy a new gas grill, on sale, last summer.  The gas grill is convenient, when we want dinner in a hurry-- especially fish and shellfish. For us, the Weber grill has been our first choice when we want to create barbecue that mimics slow-cooking over oak wood.  We've perfected Santa Maria Tri-Tip, Ribs, Pulled Pork and Brisket by using wood chips and our Weber grill.  

I should rephrase that last sentence.  It is my husband who has perfected the art of grilling with the Weber.  I'm very proud of how this self-proclaimed non-cook has become one of my favorite cooks. He still leaves baking, and most everything else to me, and I'm not complaining one bit.

Once again, it is America's Test Kitchen's/Cook's Illustrated's recipe on how to make Smoked Grilled chicken that had me summoning my husband to watch the video. In past years, I've had brined turkey and chicken and I didn't care for the texture.  My skepticism began to soften as I saw that this brine only needs 30 minutes, up to an hour.  It made sense that a sugar/salt brine would help the chicken to retain moisture. 

What I really thought made sense, is that this recipe uses a cut-up, whole chicken (bone-in, skin on).  The genius idea is that the larger pieces would be placed on the grill, farthest away from the heat source, while the thighs could go closer to the heat. The thighs can take the heat, and wouldn't dry out-- hence the chicken would all cook at the same time!   I halved the recipe, by buying  one 3-pound chicken (instead of six pounds), and asked the butcher to "pretty please" cut it up for me.

I whisked one cup sugar and one cup salt in a 6-quart plastic bucket, with a lid (easily found at restaurant supply stores).  Into the fridge it went for an hour.

NOTE: (If you own a gas grill, I will give America's Test Kitchen's adapted recipe on the printable recipe card at the bottom of this post.) While the chicken is brining, Craig fires up 3 quarts of briquettes and sets 2 quarts of unlit briquettes off to the side.

Once the briquettes are ready, he dumps them on top of the unlit briquettes (we are going for a low and slow grill here).  Using a disposable aluminum pan, he pours in two cups of water. The water helps to stabilize the temperature, and helsp to create humidity, so that the chicken won't dry out-- as does the brining. The coals are ready in about 25 minutes or so.

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Saturday, June 1, 2013

Fresh Strawberry Pie and a Buttery Pie Crust

In my (almost) five years of food blogging, I have never gone longer than one week between posts. I'm back, from a record three-week hiatus, and feeling a bit more rested and less stressed.  Amen.

One of my favorite cooking shows, that I record (as well as subscribe to also online and digitall is "America's Test Kitchen". This is the source for this recipe that I'm about to share with you.

If you look at my Recipe Index, I have a variety of strawberry recipes.  With the exception of Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie, I don't like to cook strawberries. I want to enjoy the firm and sweet juicy flavor of these summer berries.  That's why I was intrigued that America's Test Kitchen developed a glaze that would help to hold fresh strawberries together.   For our Memorial Day Barbecue, I decided that a fresh strawberry pie would be the perfect dessert. 

I used Cook's Illustrated's Vodka-Based pie crust recipe. Vodka? Yes, that's right. You can't taste the alcohol, and it's safe to serve to children. Trust me. Here's what Cook's Illustrated has to say about the recipe they developed:
For a pie dough recipe that baked up tender and flaky and rolled out easily every time, we found a magic ingredient: vodka. Using vodka, which is just 60 percent water, gave us an easy-to-roll crust recipe with less gluten and no alcohol flavor, since the alcohol vaporizes in the oven.

We begin with a combination of butter and shortening.  I use my food processor, but if you don't have one-- I grate frozen butter. It's a great little trick!

If you buy store bought pie crusts., I hope that you will try making your own. Store bought pie cannot compete with scratch crust, and you will never go back! It's really not that difficult, except that you do need a good rolling pin. The key to successful homemade pie crusts, is using cold ingredientsYou don't want to overwork the dough, and you want to let the dough rest-- too much gluten = tough pie crust. 

Once the butter and shortening are "cut" into the flour, a combination of cold vodka and water is added. The dough is folded together, until it clings.

I plop the dough onto plastic wrap, and then shape it into a disk, then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. I actually made this crust a day ahead of our party.  When ready to make the crust. I remove it from the refrigerator and get ready to roll the dough on a generously floured surface. I prefer a silicone mat.

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