Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Shucked Corn on the Cob Made Easy

This video might make you giggle, but the tip is fantastic. We are eating silk-free corn on the cob almost every night thanks to the tip from this guy. I nuke two ears at a time (setting the microwave to 8:30 minutes). It works every time!

Candied Bacon-Wrapped Chicken

Bacon-wrapped chicken is nothing new. It's not remotely original, but when you coat the bacon-wrapped chicken in a mixture of brown sugar and chipotle powder before you bake it, it suddenly becomes a lot more interesting. It also becomes a crowd-pleaser ... and who doesn't love making a crowd-pleasing dish?
I found a version of the recipe on Pinterest, but since I made it without referencing that recipe, I'm calling this one my own. Whether grilled or baked, it's incredibly tasty and everyone in the family loves it (which around here, is a huge bonus!). We even had a few young men (missionaries from my church) over for dinner and they loved it. One went so far as to say it was one of the best meals he'd had in his almost two years as a missionary!

Candied Bacon-Wrapped Chicken

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and cut half (long-ways)
8 strips of bacon (or more)
Garlic powder
3/4 cup brown sugar
Chipotle powder and/or sweet and smoky rub to taste

1. Heat oven to 400.
2. Pat the chicken dry after cutting it. Sprinkle with garlic powder (not garlic salt).
3. Wrap each piece of chicken in raw bacon. If the piece won't wrap around twice completely, make sure the exposed area of chicken is facing up.
4. In bowl, mix brown sugar and chipotle powder/rub together. Carefully roll each bacon-wrapped piece of chicken in the brown sugar mixture, pressing the brown sugar onto the chicken on all sides.
5. Bake for 40 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and the fat renders out of the bacon (bacon should be slightly crisp on top). Or, grill until chicken is cooked through.

Substitution Suggestions: If you would rather deal with chicken tenders and avoid trimming your chicken, you absolutely can. You'll just need to dial down the amount of time your chicken bakes.

I supposed you could use turkey bacon, but the fat from the pork bacon helps keep the chicken moist. 

And, you could probably use chile powder instead of chipotle, but I much prefer the smokiness of the chipotle to the flavor of chile powder. I have a sweet and smoky rub by McCormick that works really well. I probably added about a tablespoon into my brown sugar.

Lessons Learned: You can definitely omit the chipotle, but I like the hint of heat that it gives to the chicken. If you want to really punch up the heat, sprinkle the chipotle directly onto the chicken before wrapping it in bacon.

We like to use the drippings from the pan for extra flavor on each bite. If you grill it, you obviously won't get the drippings, but you will get a delectable char on it, which makes up for the lack of drippings.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Baked Brie Bites

When I saw a picture of these on Pinterest, I knew I had to try them. This completely blended my love of Monte Cristos with fond memories of my three-week vacation to England in 2011. Bacon and brie grilled sandwiches are very popular across the Pond (at least in many of the cafes I visited around Yorkshire). Add puff pastry and you essentially get the offspring of a bacon and brie sandwich that mates with a pasty.

Baked Brie Bites

2 sheets puff pastry, thawed but still cold
1/2 wedge of mild brie, chilled
Slices of deli ham or Canadian bacon, cut into small pieces
1 large egg, beaten
1 tbsp milk
Coarsely ground sea salt

1. Preheat oven to 375.

2. Cut puff pastry into thirds along the creases. Cut each panel into four pieces (2 ¼ inches x 3 inches). Cut each rectangle in half for a total of 24 rectangles that will create 12 rectangle pockets.

3. Combine beaten egg and milk. Brush 12 of the small rectangles with egg wash. Place a small sliver of brie (including rind) on top of the egg wash. Top with several mini slices of ham.

4. Take another square of puff pastry and gently press between your fingers to enlarge slightly. Place on top of cheese and ham. Crimp edges together with a fork so that the cheese and ham are completely sealed.

5. Place brie bites on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake 12 to 14 minutes or until golden brown.

6. Cool slightly before serving. Serve warm.

Substitution Suggestions: The original recipe, taken from joythebaker.com, called for a ½ tsp of cherry jam instead of ham. I preferred ham and then dipped the bites into raspberry jam as I ate them. You could also sprinkle it with powdered sugar instead of salt for a Monte Cristo-type treat.
I don’t particularly like brie rind (flavor or texture), but I used a mild brie with a thin rind and it all melted into a pleasant texture. And, because brie isn’t necessarily a cheap cheese, it goes further.

Lessons Learned: It took a while for the pastry to brown. Also, don’t prep this near the oven as the oven preheats. The puff pastry needs to stay as cold as possible (without being frozen). So, work fast.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Beef Braciole in Tomato Sauce

On a really cold and windy day, nothing hits the spot quite like warm comfort food. And, if you're feeling a little international, nothing says comfort like Italian food (OK, and Ethiopian food, but I have yet to try making Ethiopian cuisine).

I made this dish a year or so ago and forgot to write it down, so I had to go from memory to recreate it for tonight's dinner. This is "almost" as good as the original. The measurements are anything but exact, but it's a forgiving recipe, so adjust according to your preferred tastes. It cooked/braised in the tomato sauce for more than two hours, so it was incredibly tender and packed with flavor. This is definitely a dish that needs to cook for a long time. And, you definitely want the smell to permeate the house. I served it with creamy polenta.

Beef Braciole in Tomato Sauce

1 pound lean ground pork or sausage
2 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
4 tbsp (or more) minced olives or tapenade
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup bread crumbs or Panko
1/2 cup Parmesiana Reggiano
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, minced (optional)
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted and chopped (optional)
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp celery salt
Red pepper flakes and/or chipotle powder to taste
Salt and pepper
1 pound sirloin, very thinly sliced into four pieces with the grain
8 slices provolone
Handful of fresh spinach, stems removed
Searing flour (all-purpose will work)
Olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 325.
2. In hot saute pan, toast pine nuts, stirring frequently, until fragrant and golden.
3. Combine pork and next 13 items (through salt and pepper) in a bowl and gently mix until well incorporated. Set aside. (Best to let it sit in the fridge for at least a few hours to have the flavors meld. Make the tomato sauce -- see below -- while the flavors get happy.)
4. Pound meat between sheets of waxed paper or plastic wrap until very thin. On each piece, layer provolone and spinach. Starting at a narrow end of the sirloin, spread sausage mixture onto spinach and provolone, covering approximately 2/3 of the sirloin. Tightly roll the sirloin and tuck the end under. Repeat for each piece. Dust each sirloin roll with flour.
5. Heat saute pan, add a little olive oil (no more than 1 tbsp) and heat to almost smoking. Add sirloin rolls and sear on all four sides until a brown crust forms. This should take no more than a few minutes total.
6. Place beef rolls in deep, oven-safe dish. Pour tomato sauce over the rolls (recipe follows). Cover and bake for two to three hours. The larger the roll, the longer it will need to bake. Uncover for last 30 minutes of baking. The rolls are done when you can cut into them with a table knife or a fork.
7. Top with Parmesan and enjoy.

Tomato Sauce

2 large cans crushed tomatoes
2-3 cloves garlic, minched.
1/2 Vidalia onion, diced
1 tbsp good-quality balsamic vinegar
1-2 tsp sugar, depending on sweetness of tomatoes
Red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil

1. In a sauce pot (yes, a sauce pot, not a saute pan), saute onion in a little olive oil until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot and bring to a simmer. Simmer, stirring frequently, for at least 20 minutes, although longer is better. The longer the sauce reduces, the richer the flavor will be. Taste to adjust seasonings. (Note: The sugar is not necessary, especially if the tomatoes are already sweet or the balsamic is fruity. The onion measurement is just a suggestion. Adjust to personal preference.)
2. Carefully transfer the sauce to a blender in batches and blend until smooth. Pour over beef rolls and bake as directed above.

Substitution Suggestions: OK, get comfy. This is going to ramble. Let's start with the ground pork. You can absolutely use prepackaged pork sausage instead. The lean stuff will work fine, but if you can find something with a little kick already incorporated, even better. If it's got kick, omit the red pepper flakes from the mixture. Whatever you do, don't use the stuff with maple syrup in it!
Some recipes I've seen call for flank steak. I found thinly sliced sirloin at my favorite grocery store for a great price, so that's what I went with. It was fantastic. Just make sure that no matter which cut you use, that it's pounded thin (but not so thin that you can see light through it).
Cheese: Romano works. So does Pecorino. I'd stay away from cheddar. Any Italian cheese should work, although mozzarella might melt too quickly and become stringy.
Spices: You know what you like. Change up the spices to suit your tastes. If you're unsure if you have enough salt in the sausage, fry up a little bit of it in the pan you'll use to sear the rolls. If you like a lot of garlic, add more. If you hate olives, don't add them. Add mushrooms if you like. If you use seasoned bread crumbs, go easy on the other spices. You definitely don't want to overdo it.
Tomato sauce: I didn't do it this time, but you could definitely add a healthy splash of red wine to the sauce before you reduce it. A bay leaf wouldn't hurt either, but remove it before you blend the sauce. You could also add fresh basil and/or oregano. If you get really lazy, a jar (gasp!) of spaghetti sauce would work, although if you're going to go to the effort to make homemade braciole, why would you use jarred sauce?

Lessons Learned: This may have a long list of ingredients, but most of them are pantry staples and any well-stocked kitchen will already have all of them.
Don't pound the meat too much. It's already dead. You don't want it to turn to ground beef. Just make it thin enough that it'll roll easily -- 1/4 inch should be good enough.
I ended up with extra sausage mixture, so I made pork meatballs with the rest of it, seared them like the sirloin rolls, then added them to the baking dish with the sauce. They were great.
Some recipes will tell you to tie the rolls before you sear them. If you pound the sirloin thin enough and then roll it tight enough, it will hold its shape when you sear it, thus negating the need for the annoying string to  keep it together.
I'm not sure the spinach adds any noticeable flavor, but it does make me feel nominally healthier because it has roughage in it. I only did a single layer of spinach in each roll.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Bacon-Ranch Pull-Apart Bread

Dinner is still warm on the table and the dishes are piled up in the sink, but this recipe had to be shared ASAP. It's a variation on a recipe a friend shared with me almost two years ago. I saw this version on Pinterest and knew it needed to be tried. With a garlic boule just a day away from going stale beyond use, I had the perfect opportunity to use it up, try the recipe and let the bread crumbs fall how they may. Most of them fell straight to my belly (which eventually means my hips, but that's beside the point).
With cheese, bacon and butter in the recipe, I knew I couldn't go wrong. And boy, was I right. I expect this sinful recipe to make an appearance at a potluck very, very soon.

Bacon-Ranch Pull-Apart Bread

1 unsliced round loaf/boule sourdough bread (any Italian or French boule will work)
8-12 oz cheddar cheese, thinly sliced
1/2 jar Hormel Real Bacon bits
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 Tbsp Ranch dressing mix

Using a sharp bread knife cut the bread going both directions to create a checkerboard. Do not cut through the bottom crust. Place slices of cheese in between cuts. Sprinkle bacon bits on bread, making sure to get in between cuts. Mix together butter and Ranch dressing mix. Pour over bread. Wrap the entire loaf in foil and bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. Unwrap. Bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted.

Substitution Suggestions: I didn't use cheddar; I used provolone and mozzarella. It's what I had on hand. And frankly, I like cheeses that don't have as much oil as cheddar, although a white or smoked cheddar would be really good. I like the way Muenster melts, so I may try that one in the future.
Any boule (except highly flavored varieties like rye or pumpernickel) will work here. And, if you can't get a boule (the round kind of bread), use a French loaf.

Lessons Learned: I think it needs longer than 15 minutes to melt the cheese. I also didn't unwrap it since my bread was starting to go stale and I wanted it to stay as moist as possible. I used a garlic-topped boule, which was fabulous.
Make sure that the butter and Ranch mix are well mixed before you pour the mixture over the sliced loaf. You don't want gobs of Ranch clumps in one place or else you'll get a salt overload.
I used low sodium bacon bits from a jar. I think they're better than the bacon bits that come in the yellow bag. There's absolutely no reason why you couldn't use real bacon that you've chopped up yourself, but the jar is so much easier.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Alton Brown's Onion Dip

I'm in charge of appetizers for Thanksgiving this year and I was asked to keep it low-brow. While I admit that I dropped more than a small chunk of change on predictable junk like chips and crackers, I "forgot" to pick up dip packets to make sour cream-based dips. So, I looked up a few.
This one comes to you courtesy of Alton Brown, who is about the smartest food person I know. (OK, I don't really know him. We've never met. But in an alternate universe, we are friends and I can call him up whenever I have a cooking question.) It got rave reviews on FoodNetwork.com. And, I think I may never buy an onion dip packet again (not that I make a habit of it anyhow). It takes minimal effort except for dicing up two onions, which is quick work with my handy-dandy mandolin. All credit goes to Alton Brown on this one. I have not altered any ingredients (although I do think there is no such thing as too many caramelized onions).

Alton Brown’s Onion Dip

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups diced onions
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups sour cream
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

In a saute pan over medium heat add oil, heat and add onions and salt. Cook the onions until they are caramelized, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Mix the rest of the ingredients, and then add the cooled onions. Refrigerate and stir again before serving.

Substitution Suggestions: I honestly can't think of any (unless you only have table salt, which will work). I read one review in which the reviewer omitted the onions (why?!) and added chopped dill instead. I guess that would work, but this is all about the caramelized onion.

Lessons Learned: I kind of wish I'd diced another onion. As it is, I diced two Vidalia onions for a yield of just shy of two cups. I also upped the amount of garlic powder and decreased the amount of mayo to 1/2 cup.
This is not a recipe you throw together 10 minutes before you need it. It needs time to get happy (to borrow an Emeril phrase). Let the flavors meld overnight and it'll be fully ready to serve.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Carnitas Flacas con Salsa Verde

Lately, my son has been complaining that we eat too much chicken. I don't know what he's complaining about since he doesn't eat much of anything, chicken or otherwise (which is a blog post for another time and venue). But, with his complaint ringing in my ear, I woke up today thinking that carnitas sounded good.
I've made carnitas before and they were pretty good, but I wanted more flavor than just pork, garlic, salt and oil. I loved this recipe. As usual, I altered some things from the recipe I found online, so this is my recipe. It cuts down on the fat/lard that's typically found in carnitas. The meat does dry out a little more than if I'd fried it in full lard, but if you drown it in salsa verde, you'll never know. So, I give you skinny carnitas with green sauce ... or carnitas flacas con salsa verde. Buen provecho!

Carnitas Flacas con Salsa Verde
1 medium onion, quartered

2 pounds pork roast, cut into 2-inch cubes
Kosher salt
2/3 cup Criollo sauce
6 cloves garlic, divided
2 medium bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick, broken into four pieces
1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
6-8 tomatillos, roughly chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, split and seeded

1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees.
2. Season pork chunks with 1 tablespoon salt and place in a 9-inch square casserole dish. Pour Criollo sauce over pork. Add onion quarters, 4 cloves garlic, bay leaves and cinnamon stick to dish. The pork and seasonings should fill the dish with no spaces. Pour vegetable oil over the top. Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil and place in oven. Cook until pork is fork tender, about 3 1/2 hours.
3. Set fine-meshed strainer over 1 quart bowl. Remove onion, garlic, cinnamon stick, and bay leaves from pork. Transfer pork and liquid into strainer. Let drain undisturbed for 10 minutes until the fat and juice separate. Transfer pork back to casserole. Skim fat from surface of liquid and pour it (yes, the fat) back into the pork, then roughly shred the pork. Season to taste.
4. Transfer remaining liquid (the non-fat liquid) to medium saucepot. Add tomatillos, onion quarters, garlic, remaining 2 garlic cloves, and jalapeño to saucepot with strained pork liquid. Add water to one inch below the top of the vegetables. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer, and cook until vegetables are completely tender, about 10 minutes. Blend salsa with hand blender or in a stand-up blender until smooth. Season to taste with salt.
5. While salsa simmers, place casserole dish with pork under a high broiler and broil until brown and crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove pork and stir to expose new bits, then broil again for 5 more minutes until crisp. Tent with foil to keep warm.
6. Serve hot with warm tortillas, queso fresco, cilantro and cilantro-lime rice on the side.

Substitution Suggestions: The original recipe called for a quartered orange instead of the Criollo sauce. I didn't have an orange and didn't want to go to the store, so I used Criollo sauce, which has naranja agria (bitter orange) in it. It is also loaded with other fabulous Latin flavors. It works great as a marinade on its own or as it's used here. If you use the orange, juice the orange into the raw pork, then wedge the orange pieces (rinds and all) into the casserole. Remove and discard them after the initial roasting is done.
I imagine you could use green tomatoes instead of tomatillos for the green sauce, although the two are very different. The tomatillos have a very citrusy flavor and I happen to have a lot picked fresh from my garden.
If you don't like a lot of spice, swap out the jalapeno for a poblano (or two). They have a lot less heat, but still add another flavor level to the sauce.

Lessons Learned: The pork was a little dry. I think next time, when I pour the rendered fat back into the dish, I'll include a little more of the pork juice with it to keep it moister. As it is, I did add a little more vegetable oil to the pork before I broiled it ... but only a little.
I absolutely loved the aroma that came from my oven as the pork got happy with the onion, garlic, cinnamon and bay. I can't wait to try it with the orange. And I can't wait to try it after I first marinade the pork in Criollo sauce overnight. That ought to really boost the flavor.
The two-pound roast was enough for my family of four. This recipe could easily double and triple. But keep this in mind: The reason why everything needs to be wedged together in the pan is so that the meat doesn't dry out. Sure, it'll dry out some -- that's what happens when you broil shredded meat -- but by creating a steam bath with the tightly tented dish, all that great moisture stays in the meat as long as possible.
You can make this several days in advance and then crisp it under the broiler just before serving.
Is this truly a skinny verson of carnitas? Maybe. Maybe not. But I will say this: All but 1/4 cup of the fat in the dish comes directly from the roast, which was pretty lean.