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.