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 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.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Iced Chocolate

Last fall, I went to an arts and crafts fair in West Virginia. The highlight (aside from getting a pinecone wreath reminiscent of the ones my mom used to make) was the iced chocolate. It was a really hot day and the iced chocolate hit the spot. It isn't hard to make and hardly merits a recipe, but in the interest of creating a record of it should my children ever attempt it on hot summer days, here it is -- my version of iced chocolate.

Iced Chocolate

Enough powdered hot cocoa for the equivalent of one mug of hot chocolate
Warm water

1. Combine powdered chocolate and about 1 cup warm water in a tall glass. Stir until dissolved.
2. Add enough ice to fill glass.
3. Enjoy.

Substitution Suggestions: I'm sure you could use chocolate syrup, but I was using a chocolate cherry powdered cocoa (which was excellent, by the way). You can also make it more like the Starbucks version by adding whipped cream and chocolate shavings and/or syrup on the top, but I like the refreshing lightness of this version.

Lessons Learned: I loved this in a tall water bottle. My only complaint was that I added a little too much water, which diluted it, so I had to add more chocolate. It really comes down to personal preference on the amount of chocolate you want.
You need to use warm water if you're using powder because it'll dissolve better. If you're using syrup, it's a non-issue, so use cold water.
This isn't meant to be creamy. Think iced coffee except with chocolate. (Granted, I've never had iced coffee, so I'm only guessing. But, if you want an iced coffee recipe, I have it on good authority that this one is fabulous.)

Monday, May 30, 2011

Goat Cheese and Balsamic Onion Montaditos

I recently returned from a fabulous two-and-a-half-week vacation to England. English food isn't exactly my favorite cuisine (it's too bland), but immigrants to England certainly know a thing or two about flavor (or if you're British, flavour). There's a fabulous Indian restaurant in Harrogate called Sar Taj. Oh my. Its tikka masala was out of this world! But, that's not what this post is about. This post is about the montaditos I had at La Tasca.
La Tasca is (admittedly) a chain restaurant, but it was my first real tapas restaurant experience. We tried all sorts of dishes, but my favorite (or favourite) was the goat cheese and balsamic onion montadito -- basically a bruschetta-style sandwich topped with the aforementioned ingredients. I asked one of the guys from the kitchen how to make it. He explained it to me -- in Iberian Spanish, no less. I understood most of what he said (the accent was a little heavy) and I recreated the dish for a neighborhood get-together. It tasted just like the ones at La Tasca, so I was pleased. Here's my version. Buen provecho!

Goat Cheese and Balsamic Onion Montaditos

1 loaf French bread or baguette
2 tbsp butter
3 Vidalia onions, very thinly sliced
2-3 tsp sugar
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (aged at least 25 years)
2 whole garlic cloves
Olive oil
4 oz (or more) creamy goat cheese

1. Caramelize the onions in butter over low heat, stirring every few minutes. Add sugar partway through the cooking process. (Gauge according to taste.) This caramelization process will take 30-45 minutes. Once it turns a light golden color, add balsamic vinegar and remove from heat. Set aside.
2. Slice bread into 3/4-inch slices. Set on a large baking sheet and toast in 350-degree oven until lightly browned. Remove from oven.
3. Rub each piece of bread with fresh garlic (you may need more than one clove), then drizzle each piece with 1 tsp. olive oil. Spread generous amount of goat cheese over each piece, then top with the caramelized onions. Return to oven only long enough to melt cheese. Serve warm.

Substitution Suggestions: Any montadito (or bruschetta-style sandwich) starts with this same preparation -- toast bread, rub with garlic, drizzle with olive oil, then top with whatever topping. I tried one with a tomato-cucumber-onion salsa and another with manchego and eggplant (abergine). Simply divine!
I don't think cream cheese would work here. The goat cheese has a particular texture and flavor that melds very nicely with the onions.
The balsamic vinegar should be a full-bodied vinegar. Don't use the weak $2 stuff from the supermarket shelf. You want something thicker. I like Williams Sonoma's Olivier brand, which runs about $25/bottle. Pricey, but well worth the investment because a little goes a very long way!

Lessons Learned: You don't want to bake the goat cheese, just melt it slightly. It'll dry out around the sides and it just doesn't look pretty. It's also served better warm instead of sitting out for a few hours. If you don't like balsamic vinegar, omit it. But, I like the pungent sweetness that the vinegar adds. If you're using a good quality vinegar, a little really goes a long way. Taste as you go.
I used 2.5 onions and wish I'd had more. They cook down to almost nothing, volume-wise. If you use a smaller onion than a Vidalia, you'll need to use more onions. You don't want to spend 45 minutes of your day cooking down the onions and end up with just a 1/2 cup of onions. You really need a good cup (at least) if you're slicing up an entire loaf of bread. I used a French baguette from Costco, which was about 16 inches long.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bacon-Wrapped Pork Loin with Cranberries

I pulled this recipe from the March 2009 issue of Real Simple. As usual, I tweaked it and the results were a sweet and savory delight. It looks complicated but is surprisingly easy to assemble. I just need to remember to have a very sharp knife, because mine didn't look so great after I cut it into slices. The version below is my tweaked version. The photo belongs to Real Simple.

Bacon-Wrapped Pork Loin with Cranberries

1 2-pound piece boneless pork loin
1/2 tsp ground allspice
Black pepper
1/2 cup Craisins, soaked in water or juice and chopped
2 tbsp dried parsley
1 tbsp whole-grain mustard
8 slices bacon
1 tbsp cranberry-jalapeno jelly
1 tsp red wine vinegar

1. Heat oven to 350. Season the pork with the allspice and 1⁄2 teaspoon pepper and place on a rimmed baking sheet.

2. In a small bowl, combine the cranberries parsley, and mustard. Spread evenly over the pork. Lay the bacon slices crosswise over the pork, overlapping them slightly and tucking the ends underneath. Roast for 45 minutes.

3. In a small bowl, combine the jelly and vinegar. Brush over the bacon and continue roasting until an instant-read thermometer registers 150°; F, 10 to 15 minutes more. Let rest at least 10 minutes before slicing.

Substitution Suggestions: The original recipe called for cherries. I used Craisins soaked in -- get this -- raspberry Crystal Light. It was great! The original recipe also called for 1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley instead of dried. Either will work. Whole grain mustard is a must. You can use any jelly variety. I went with cranberry-jalapeno because I had it and I wanted the extra little kick. Currant jelly will work just as well.

Lessons Learned: I absolutely love what the jelly did to the bacon. It candied it, which helped crisp the bacon and add another layer of flavor. I may try baking bacon on its own and candying it with the cranberry jelly. (By the way, I love baking my bacon!)
There was quite a bit of grease from the bacon. Perhaps it could be undercooked and blotted before wrapping it around the pork. But, the pork really did require the full cooking time plus a little bit to get it to temperature. The bacon was just crisping at that point.
You don't necessarily need to soak the Craisins in juice, but they are pretty tart and I wanted something a little sweeter, which is why I soaked them in juice before packing them onto the tenderloin. Any fruit juice will do, I suppose. I liked the raspberry Crystal Light, even if it does sound a little bizarre.

Savory Polenta

One of my favorite childhood meals is mush -- polenta that has been chilled, fried, then served with powdered sugar and syrup. My dad would make it Saturday night, pour it into two loaf pans, then fry it up Sunday morning before church. My parents live 2,200 miles away, but whenever I visit, Dad pulls out a loaf pan and makes it. It's the thoughtful little things like that that really show me that my parents love me ... they remember that I love mush and hate stroganoff.
I've never made mush by myself. Somehow, I'm afraid I won't get it right. (Dad just eyeballs the measurements, which is how I do most of my cooking ... except for mush. I want the exact quantities.) But, thanks to some coaching from Dad and the following recipe from Alton Brown, that fear is now behind me. I tried this recipe a few weeks ago and wow, it was incredible! It's not the kind to top with powdered sugar and syrup, but with a few tweaks and omissions, it could be. This recipe can be served creamy or fried.

Savory Polenta

2 tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 quart chicken stock or broth
1 cup coarse ground cornmeal
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. In large, oven-safe saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and salt, then sweat until the onions begin to turn translucent (about 5 minutes). Reduce heat to low, add garlic and saute 1 to 2 minutes. Make sure the garlic does not burn!
3. Turn heat to high, add chicken stock and bring to boil. Gradually add cornmeal while constantly whisking. Cover the pot and place in the oven. Cook for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes to prevent lumps. Once the mixture is creamy, remove from oven and add butter, salt and pepper. Gradually add in the Parmesan.
4. Serve immediately. Or, pour the polenta into a 9x13 cake pan lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate until completely cooled.
5. Once set, turn the polenta onto a cutting board. Cut into squares, triangles or circles, Brush each side with olive oil and saute in nonstick skillet over medium heat, or grill.

Substitution Suggestions: I threw in some sun-dried tomatoes (dried, not packed in oil) and it was a great addition. This could also work well with a variety of other cheeses. The original recipe called for red onion, but I prefer Vidalias.
I used a mixture of polenta and cornmeal. Either one will work.
I'm curious what would happen if I used milk/cream instead of part of the stock. I may have to try that at some point.

Lessons Learned: I loved cooking this in the oven. I've stirred the cornmeal mush for my dad in the past and it spits. This eliminates the need to dodge bits of boiling cornmeal shooting you in the eye or arm or hand or whatever else it takes offense to. And, it was incredibly creamy and smooth when I pulled it out. Not a lump in sight! (I wish I could say the same thing about my waistline!)

Pao de Queijo (Brazilian Cheese Bread)

In 1999, I was introduced to the delicacy of Pao de Queijo, or Brazilian cheese bread, at Rodizio's, a Brazilian rotisserie grill in Salt Lake City. These semi-gooey balls are little bites of heaven. They're cheesy, doughy, savory, piping hot and oh so good!

Texas de Brazil in Fairfax, Va., also serves these delectable balls as a complimentary appetizer. I usually ask for five or six servings since I've never found an adequate recipe to make them at home (and I've tried a variety of recipes, some of which stink up the house pretty good).

I once asked our server if there was a recipe the kitchen could share. She inquired and reported back that the restaurant buys them frozen and reheats them. She couldn't find the packaging to show me. I was very disappointed on multiple levels ... until recently.

I came across a recipe and it looked very different from all the other recipes I'd tried. So I gave it a try. It bombed. But, I took notes, tweaked several things and created a recipe that comes pretty darn close to the restaurant version. It takes 20 minutes from start to finish and I don't have to pay $45/plate at a nice restaurant to get them.

Disclosure: I borrowed this photo from another blog because my family is too busy eating these delicacies to be able to get a picture, but mine look just like these ones.

Pao de Queijo (Brazilian Cheese Bread)

1 egg, at room temperature
1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
2/3 cup milk
1-2 tsp garlic powder (optional)
130 grams flour
45 grams corn starch
50 grams parmigiano reggiano, grated
50 grams queso fresco (Mexican farmer's cheese)
1 tsp salt (or more to taste)

1. Preheat oven to 400. Grease mini muffin tin. Combine all ingredients in a blender and pulse until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the blender to get all the extra flour bits.
2. Pour into mini muffin tin, filling 3/4 full. Bake 15 to 18 minutes until puffy and lightly browned. Serve hot.
Makes 2 dozen.

Substitution Suggestions: The recipe I based this on called for tapioca flour instead of all-purpose and cornstarch. Tapioca flour is not at generic grocery stores, so this flour-cornstarch mixture is a substitution. If you have wheat flour intolerance, use 175 grams of tapioca flour and omit the cornstarch entirely.
I tried using olive oil and rice flour. One word -- don't! The olive oil flavor overpowered everything else and the rice flour was too gritty.

ETA: I found tapioca flour and tried it (Bob's Red Mill, in case you were curious). Yep, it's a winner. It perfectly mimicked the little cheese balls that I love so much from Rodizio's.

Lessons Learned: I don't plan ahead usually, so my eggs are never at room temperature. I dropped it in a cup of warm water for a few minutes and took the chill off. It worked just fine.

When measuring the ingredients, I put my blender on my kitchen scale and measure away. Measuring queso fresco in a measuring cup is just too difficult. I put broken-up chunks of it in the blender and let the blades do the heavy lifting.

The batter should be the consistency of smooth pancake batter, perhaps a little thinner. If the batter is too thick to pour, mix in a little extra milk and/or oil.

I'm not squeamish about tasting raw egg, so I taste the batter to see if the salt content is OK. If you use all queso fresco, you will need to add more salt. If you add the parmesan (and don't use the nasty crap in the green can), you won't need more than the teaspoon the recipe calls for. If you omit the salt, your recipe will be bland.

These little balls are meant to be chewy inside, so I favor a shorter cooking time (perhaps even as short as 12 minutes). And, they are best eaten hot and straight out of the oven. I don't know how well they'll reheat, but my family of four eats all of them in one sitting, so it's not really a problem for us. If they start to cave in so they look like little volcanoes, pull them out or they'll lose the gooeyness!

The batter will keep in the fridge for up to a week.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spicy Chicken Shawarma

Spring is in the air. The seeds for the garden have been planted and are already starting to sprout. It's time to start thinking about cooking with seasonal vegetables. Once everything is ready to harvest, this recipe will be one that can come straight from the garden ... at least the cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley and red pepper. Somehow, I don't think my HOA would look kindly on me having a chicken coop in the backyard.
This recipe comes from the Cooking Light magazine and is incredibly quick and easy and healthy and worth of two thumbs up from every member of my family. That is what I call a ringing endorsement!

Spicy Chicken Shawarma

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground coriander
5 tablespoons plain low-fat Greek-style yogurt, divided
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
3 garlic cloves, minced and divided
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon tahini
4 (6-inch) pitas, halved
1/2 cup chopped cucumber
1/2 cup chopped plum tomato
1/4 cup prechopped red onion

1. Combine first 6 ingredients in a large bowl; stir in 1 tablespoon yogurt, 1 tablespoon juice, and 2 garlic cloves. Add chicken; toss to coat. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken mixture to pan; sauté 6 minutes or until browned and done, stirring frequently.
2. While chicken cooks, combine remaining 1/4 cup yogurt, remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice, remaining 1 garlic clove, and tahini, stirring well. Spread 1 1/2 teaspoons tahini mixture inside each pita half; divide chicken evenly among pita halves. Fill each pita half with 1 tablespoon cucumber, 1 tablespoon tomato, and 1 1/2 teaspoon onion.

Substitution Suggestions: Don't be like one person who used something other than plain yogurt in this recipe. (No, it wasn't me!) I suppose you could  use non-Greek yogurt, but the thickness of the Greek version is best. I used a fat-free version and it tasted just fine.
No, you cannot use dried parsley. Don't even think about it! Yes, you can use bottled lemon (I did).
In addition to chicken, you could probably use the marinade with lamb and/or turkey. I'm not sure how beef would work with the yogurt. You could also use the marinade for a kabob and completely skip the pita part. I foresee that in my family's meal plan when the weather warms up enough to grill outside. 

Lessons Learned: The recipe says to cook the chicken immediately. I let it sit and get happy for almost an hour, partly to let it finish thawing since I sliced it while it was still slightly frozen (much easier that way ... and you get a thinner slice). I was concerned that the chicken wouldn't brown, but it absolutely did. The key is to not use too much marinade. In this case, there can be too much of a good thing. I used two chicken breasts for this recipe and it fed my family of four.
I made homemade pita to go with it. Though my pita didn't separate to create a pocket, I liked it better than the store-bought version.
The red pepper flakes weren't over-the-top spicy. I will increase the amount the next time I make this dish since my family does like the spice. The way it's presented here had a hint of residual, front-of-the-mouth heat, but nothing to clear your sinuses or make your eyes water.
I left the house shortly after dinner and came back an hour later. The house smelled wonderful. I wanted to walk out and walk back in again, just to get that initial wallop of aroma.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Parker House Rolls

I have a love affair with yeast -- the bloom, the aroma, the risen mass of pale flour, salt, leaven and water that will eventually turn into something truly delicious. I love it. I have actually been known to moan with delight at seeing the glossy dough as the gluten develops and strengthens. My husband might actually be jealous, but he forgives me since he loves these rolls.
If given the option between quick bread and yeast bread, I'll choose the yeast version every single time. So, when I read this Parker House Roll recipe from Alex Guarnaschelli in the November 2010 issue of Food Network Magazine, I knew it was a must-try recipe. I tried it out on my neighbors at my annual soup night. It was such a hit that I served it with Thanksgiving dinner two weeks later ... and then for Christmas ... and a New Year's Eve party ... and a teacher appreciation lunch ... and any other opportunity I can find to make these absolutely fabulous rolls. It needs no substitution or embellishment. It's perfect just the way it is.

Parker House Rolls

1 1/4-ounce packet active dry yeast (or 2 1/4 teaspoon yeast)
1/2 cup sugar
7 1/2 to 8 cups all-purpose flour
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for brushing
2 cups whole milk, half-and-half or cream, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tbsp kosher salt, plus more for sprinking

1. Measure 1/2 cup warm water (between 110 and 120 degrees). Sprinkle yeast into large bowl (not the mixer bowl), add the warm water and whisk in sugar. Let sit 1 minute (it should bubble and froth slightly), then gently stir in 1 cup flour. Set aside to bloom (develop) in warm place while you prepare the dough.
2. Mix the melted butter and milk in a mixer with dough hook on low speed. Add eggs and mix until blended. Scrape yeast mixture into mixing bowl and mix until incorporate. Add 6 1/2 cups flour and 1 tbsp salt. Mix until dough forms a ball, 2-3 minutes, adding up to 1/2 cup more flour is the dough is too wet and sticky. (It should still stick to your fingers slightly.)
3. Brush large bowl with softened butter (or spray with cooking spray). Transfer dough to the bowl, flip so that all sides of the dough are covered with the butter (or spray), cover with a towel and let rise in warm place 2 to 2.5 hours or until double in volume.
4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. (I prefer to spray the parchment with cooking spray, but it's not really necessary.) Dust a clean flat surface with flour and turn the dough out into it. Flour your hands, then gently press the dough into a 16-by-8-inch rectable, about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick (do not use a rolling pin!).
5. With the short side of the dough in front of you, cut the dough in half lengthwise with a floured knife. Then slice crosswise into 12 strips.
6. One at a time, fold each strip of dough unevenly in half so the top part slightly overlaps the bottom half, then tuck the overhang underneath. Place the rolls seamside down on the prepared baking sheet in 3 tightly packed rows (the rolls should touch each other in each row, but not between the rows). The rows should be only an inch or two apart. (If making in advance, wrap the baking sheet tightly in plastic wrap and freeze up to 3 weeks.)
7. Bake until the rolls are bursting at the seams and golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. (If frozen, bake 25 minutes at 325, then 10 minutes at 375.) Remove from oven and brush with softened butter. Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately. Store leftovers in sealed bag to maintain softness.

Substitution Suggestions: One word -- don't! OK, you can substitute cream for the milk and the milk really doesn't need to be totally at room temperature, but if it's cold, the butter will harden into clumps when you combine them. In the end, it's not a big deal. I don't use margarine, so I don't know if the results will be as good with the oleo.

Lessons Learned: This makes the most beautiful dough I've ever seen. The milk and eggs are what makes this dough so glossy.
I typically have to add a little more flour than what the recipe calls for, but I live in a humid climate, so my flour has more inherent moisture in it than if I lived in a dry climate. Just remember that the flour will continue to absorb the liquid while you knead it, so if you add so much flour up front that it refuses to stick to your fingers, you've added too much flour. It's easier to add more than to take some out. And, using less flour will yield a more tender roll.
The recipe is somewhat mute on how long you should mix/knead the dough. I shoot for 7-10 minutes so the gluten has time and movement to develop. I always do the window pane test on my yeasted breads. Alton Brown explains it best (Google it for a variety of instructions.) Here's my version: Pinch (never tear) off a piece of dough and start pulling it in opposite directions. If it tears, the gluten isn't fully developed. If you can start to see light through the dough (like an translucent window pane) as it gets thinner and thinner before it tears, you're golden. Throw the dough back into the mixer and mix it back into the dough. Keep in mind that if you overmix the dough, it will also tear, so try the window pane test every minute or two until you're happy with the result.
I've successfully doubled the recipe. In fact, I usually do a 1.5 version of this recipe. I also cut my rolls smaller so they last longer. (Hey, you eat a whole roll at a time, regardless of the size, right?)
Bottom line -- these rolls are incredibly tender and have a beautiful crumb. There's a subtle sweetness inherent in this recipe thanks to the sugar and butter. They work great with thinly-sliced roast beef and creamy horseradish, with soup, with chili, with salad, with pasta sauces, with just about anything. They'd probably even taste good with green eggs and ham.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Nachos with Chipotle Lime Steak

Sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words. And other times, a picture will ignite a thousand taste buds. That's what made me set aside all the other recipes in my "must try" binder and elevate this one to the very top. My husband wanted pizza for dinner (it's Super Bowl Sunday), but after I told him about this recipe and then let him smell the marinade, he quickly decided this sounded and smelled better than freezer pizza, proving that words (and smells) can be just as powerful as pictures.
Thanks go out to a colleague and to the Pioneer Woman for this recipe -- the colleague for introducing me to the Pioneer Woman's website and to the Pioneer Woman for posting her absolutely decadent dish. I've tweaked it enough to make it my own, so I've given it a new name, but wanted to give credit to the original creator. Enjoy!
Nachos with Chipotle Lime Steak

Flank Steak
1 whole Flank Steak
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup lime juice
1 tsp. salt
5 whole canned chipotle peppers (with sauce)
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1 bunch Cilantro, divided

1 red onion, thinly sliced and cut into quarters
1 cup bell pepper, sliced into bite-sized pieces (can use different colors)
1 cup frozen corn
Olive oil (for frying)
Lime tortilla chips
12 ounces Monterey Jack, shredded
Guacamole (optional)
Salsa (optional)
Sour Cream (optional)

1. To prepare the steak: Combine olive oil, lime juice, salt, garlic, chipotle peppers and half bunch of cilantro in a food processor or blender. Blend until totally combined. Place flank steak into a large plastic zip-topped bag. Pour marinade in bag, seal bag and make sure marinade coats the meat. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours, massaging meat and rotating bag every few hours. Remove from fridge two hours before grilling.

2. When ready to make the nachos, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat outdoor grill or indoor grill pan over medium-high heat. Drizzle olive oil on the grill and grill the meat over very medium-high to high heat, about 4 minutes per side or until medium. Remove steak from heat and let rest on cutting board for at least 10 minutes.

3. In a large skillet (or same grill pan as used for the steak), heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat. Add sliced onions, peppers and corn to pan and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until vegetables are somewhat soft and starting to get black bits. Remove from heat and set aside.

4. Slice half of the flank steak into strips against the grain, then chop slices into smaller bites.

5. Arrange tortilla chips on large ovenproof platter (or cookie sheet.) Sprinkle half of the cheese all over the chips. Layer the onion-pepper-corn mixture over the cheese, and then the steak over the peppers. Top with remaining cheese. Place platter in oven for 5 minutes or so, just long enough to melt the cheese (but not burn the chips.)

6. Top with chopped cilantro. Serve immediately with guacamole, salsa and sour cream.

Substitution Suggestions:  Chicken! You simply must try the marinade with chicken and then grill it. Oh. My. Goodness. I thought the steak was fabulous, but then I marinated a piece of chicken and threw it on the grill. It took this recipe to a whole new level.
Now back to the generic substitutions. You can throw in just about any veggie that goes well with a Tex-Mex, fajita-style dish like this. I used a frozen bell pepper mix to cut down on the prep time. There's no reason why sweet onions won't work if you don't have red onions. And for the marinade, you could squeeze fresh limes, but bottled is so much easier.
I'm a recent convert to fresh garlic. I'll never buy the jarred stuff again. Fresh tastes so much better, but if you don't have fresh, jarred will work.
The original recipe called for plain tortilla chips, but I loved the extra zing that came from the lime chips.
I suppose you could use any type of meltable cheese. I like Monterey Jack. Pepper Jack would be very good and add more kick since the dish is not spicy.

Lessons Learned: Don't let the thought of five chipotles scare you. There really is NO HEAT, just flavor in the marinade. I actually went with four chipotles the first time I made this, but upped it to five the second time around.  (I'm so glad I didn't go with three, like I originally planned.) And, I loved using the same grill pan for my veggies. It picked up some of the charred marinade left over from grilling the steak. I may have smoked out my kitchen for a few minutes, but the end result was definitely worth the effort and smoke. If you grill the steak outside, just saute the veggies in a skillet (and add a touch of the marinade to the pan).
The original marinade did not contain any salt, but I think it could have benefited from it, so it's added here.
Don't go strictly by my cooking time for the steak. That's just an estimate. If you like your steak well done, you'll need to leave it on longer. It was a little rare for my family, but the few minutes in the oven to melt the cheese brought it to the medium color I was looking for.
I read a tip in a magazine recently that said it's easier to peel whole cloves of garlic if you place them in a metal bowl, top it with a plate and shake vigorously. I tried it and lo and behold, it really did make them easier to peel. The papers didn't fall off automatically, but they were much easier to peel.
In all, a terrific dish. I think it'll take a few days to finish digesting this (it's very filling), but I look forward to making it again and again. This much I can guarantee -- if you make it for a bunch of hungry guys watching a football game, you will have many new friends.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Spaghetti Bolognese

I've never been a fan of spaghetti, especially spaghetti with a ground beef tomato sauce. But, while I recently went through my ever-growing stack of unread magazines looking for recipes to clip, a pattern emerged. Right now, pasta with meat sauces are very popular. And, bolognese tops that list in pasta sauce popularity. So, with bolognese on the brain, I decided to see what the hype was all about. Is it just glorified spaghetti sauce or is there more to it than that?

It turns out that there's a lot more to it. I've never really been one to voluntarily crack open a jar of sauce and dump it in a pot. It's boring, though I wasn't sure why. After trying this recipe, I understand why there's an order to cooking and why a sauce that is built over a period if time is much better than a sauce in which everything is dumped in together. (OK, so I knew this before, but this recipe really drove home the point.)

I must thank Emeril and the Food Network for this recipe. Though I didn't follow the recipe exactly, the outcome was stellar. Don't be put off by the long ingredient list. With one exception (3/4 cup celery), I already had everything in the pantry or fridge. Below is my adaptation of the original recipe.

Spaghetti Bolognese

4 ounces bacon, diced
1 1/2 cups chopped sweet onions
3/4 cup diced carrots

1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 pound ground beef or ground veal
1/2 pound ground pork
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup red wine
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes and their juice
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 cup beef stock
2 tsp sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp unsalted butter

1 pound spaghetti
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

1. In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring, until browned and the fat is rendered, 4 to 5 minutes.
2. Add the onions, carrots and celery and cook, stirring, until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic, salt, pepper, bay leaves, thyme, oregano, cinnamon, and nutmeg and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds.
3. Add the beef and sausages, and cook, stirring, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Drain extra fat (leaving a little for flavor).
4. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring, to deglaze the pan and remove any browned bits sticking to the bottom of the pan, and until half of the liquid is evaporated, about 2 minutes.
5. Add the tomatoes and their juices, the tomato sauce, beef broth and sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, to keep the sauce from sticking to the bottom of the pan, until the sauce is thickened and flavorful, about 1 1/2 hours.
6. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and return the water to a low boil. Cook, stirring occasionally to prevent the noodles from sticking, until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain in a colander.
7. Add the cream and butter to the simmering tomato sauce, stir well, and simmer for 2 minutes. Discard the bay leaves and adjust the seasoning, to taste. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm until ready to serve.
8. Add the pasta to the sauce, tossing to coat. Add 1/2 cup of the cheese and toss to blend. Divide among pasta bowls and serve with the cheese passed tableside. (Alternatively, toss only the desired portion of pasta with a bit of the sauce at a time in a serving bowl, reserving the remainder for another meal.)

Substitution Suggestions: The original recipe called for a 14-ounce can of sauce. It also called for celery and parsley. I didn't have celery and I forgot the parsley, but no harm done. It was still fabulous. I suppose you could use just one kind of meat, but I like the textural and flavor differences of using two types. And, the bacon is a must! Don't even think about using bacon bits. You need the rendered fat.
I had some caramelized onions left over from something else, so I chopped them up into smaller pieces and tossed them in the pot as part of my 1 1/2 cups of onion.

Lessons Learned: I really didn't have any browned bits at the bottom of my Dutch oven, but that didn't stop the sauce from having a terrific flavor. Even though I didn't add any red pepper, there was a hint of finishing heat at the back of the throat, which was very nice.
I thought it was odd to add cinnamon and nutmeg to the sauce, but don't be afraid. It really adds a beautiful and subtly spicy complexity that will make someone say, "Hmmm, what is it?" without being able to identify it. I probably skimped a little on the nutmeg because a little goes a long way.
The sauce was wonderful before adding the cream, but that little addition took it over the top to decadence. I'm sure the authentic Italian version isn't so rich, but I love what the cream does to the sauce both from visual and taste standpoints.
From start to finish, the recipe took two hours, but most of that time was spent simmering (which should be an occasional bubble and not lots of little bubbles).