Monday, October 25, 2010

Jerk Beef on Sweet Potato Chips

For as much as I cook and bake, I don't get the chance to make too many appetizers. I'm not one to hold a party where I whirl around the room with hors d'oeuvres on a silver platter. And when I'm invited to such a soiree, I usually bring tasty baked goods. On this occasion, though, I really wanted to try something new and different.

Jerk Beef on Sweet Potato Chips
Makes 40 servings. Adapted from Gourmet magazine.

1 beef tenderloin
2 tsp jerk seasoning paste
1 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tbsp cocktail onions, rinsed
1/3 cup cilantro
40 sweet potato chips (or plantain chips)

Quarter beef tenderloin lengthwise and pat dry. Season with 1/4 tsp salt and rub all over with jerk paste.

Heat oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add beaf and sear on all sides, 4-5 minutes total. Remove from pan and let rest on a cutting board for 5 minutes. Cut crosswise into 1/2" slices.

Finely chop onions and cilantro together. Top sweet potato chips with beef, then onion and cilantro. Arrange on a platter and serve.

Jerk Beef on Plantain Chips

These delightful bites were quite a success. The sweet potato provides a sturdy base for the savory piece of beef. The meet is bookended by the vinegary onion and the sweet chip. Plus a little cilantro never hurts. These little mouthfuls have all the flavor components you need for a well-rounded amuse bouche.

Soft Pretzel Kit with Homemade Cheese Sauce

I'm not that into sports, but one reason I do like to go to various games is for the food. Roasted peanuts, popcorn, ice cream, jumbo hot dogs. But one of my all-time favorites is the soft pretzel. Soft, doughy interior with a crispy, buttery exterior, studded with large salt crystals. If only there was a way to make them at home... Enter the Soft Pretzel Kit.

Soft Pretzel Kit

The kit comes with a flour mixture and a packet of salt crystals, so all you have to do is add some water. The dough comes together with the help of some elbow grease.

Pretzel Dough Ball

Then you follow the handy little guide for shaping the dough into pretzels. A little melted butter slathered on top, a liberal sprinkling of the provided salt, and into the oven they go.

Prebaked Pretzels

Tasty Soft Pretzels

To celebrate my first soft pretzels, I decided to go the extra mile make a homemade cheese sauce:

2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1 tsp mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Mix in flour and salt. Stir constantly until the mixture starts to simmer. Slowly pour milk into the mixture. Continue stirring over medium heat until the mixture has thickened. Make sure there are no clumps. Stir in cheese and mustard and continue stirring until cheese is completely melted and the dip is smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve dip warm.

Cheese Sauce

The pretzels turned out great. Not perfectly like the ones at sports games, but they were still really good. And that cheese sauce was awesome. You could almost eat it like a soup, or even drink it because it was so wonderfully cheesy. You could probably decrease the milk content in the sauce if you want it more like the thick, bright yellow nacho cheese you see at convenience stores and wonder if that nuclear color ever exists in nature. All in all, I'll call this pretzel kit a twisted success.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Buried Cherry Cookies

There's nothing like food containing a surprise. Savory items can hold surprises, like a Scotch egg (sausage stuffed with a boiled egg) or a turducken (turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken stuffed with stuffing). Chocolate truffles and cupcakes are the more common confections in which you can hide a little surprise. And what better gift to send someone for their birthday than a delicious treat with something hiding inside.

Buried Cherry Cookies
Makes 42 cookies. From Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook.

10 oz maraschino cherries
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1.5 cups flour
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk

Drain cherries and reserve juice. Halve any large cherries, but leave the rest intact. Beat butter in a standing mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add the sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and 1/4 tsp salt. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl if necessary. Beat in egg and vanilla until combined. Beat in cocoa powder and flour until just incorporated.

Technically a Thumbprint Cookie

Shape dough into 1" balls. Place dough balls about 2" apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Press your thumb into the center of each ball and place a cherry in each center.

Loading Up the Cookies

For the frosting, combine chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk in a small saucepan. Cook, stirring constantly, over low heat until chocolate melts. Stir in 4 tsp of the reserved cherry juice. Spoon 1 tsp frosting over each cherry, spreading to cover the cherry entirely.

Bake in a 350 degree F oven for about 10 minutes or just until edges are firm. Cook on cookie sheet for one minute, then transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

Buried Cherry Cookies

These cookies are an excellent addition to anyone's repertoire and look great on a holiday cookie plate. They are also a delight to make and wonderful to eat. Not only does the fudgy frosting have a light cherry flavor, but then *wham* you bite right into the maraschino cherry surprise in the middle. Don't listen to your parents - go ahead and play with your food.

Penne with Tomato Pesto

I've penned a few pesto posts in the past. The main mantra for making pesto is nut + green or other vegetable + oil = delicious sauce. But I still keep finding surprising combinations for pesto, including corn pesto and Thai (cilantro-peanut). To add to the growing list of pestovations (pesto innovations) is this recipe from Cook's Illustrated.

Pesto alla Trapanese
Makes 4 servings. Adapted from Cook's Illustrated.

1/4 cup slivered almonds
12 oz cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup packed basil leaves
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup olive oil
1 pound penne
1 oz Parmesan cheese, grated

Toast almonds in a small, dry skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until golden and fragrant, 2-4 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

Place almonds, tomatoes, basil, garlic, and 1 tsp salt in a food processor and puree until smooth, about 1 minute. Scrape down sides of bowl and, with the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil. Run for about 30 seconds to thoroughly mix the sauce.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of salted water until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of cooking liquid and drain pasta. Transfer pasta back to pot. Add pesto and Parmesan cheese to pasta. Toss and add pasta water until sauce acquires the desired consistency. Serve immediately with additional Parmesan on the side.

Pesto alla Trapanese

When preparing this dish, I did have my doubts. I thought I didn't have enough sauce or that it would be too plain. But I was quite surprised. This tomato pesto had an amazing flavor. It was so bright and a bit acidic that it went really well with the penne. Normally a bowl of pasta with sauce does not sound like much of a meal, but this pasta was the exception to the rule. There's something about the simplicity of the meal that makes it even more satisfying. Leave it to Cook's Illustrated to find a new twist on pesto.

Fig-Gorgonzola Pizza

Figs are one of the most ephemeral fruits of the summer growing season. For as sad as I am when strawberry season finishes up its few week run, it seems like figs are only around for a few days. I'm often underwhelmed by the ones available at the grocery store. They go moldy within a day or two of purchase. The fruit itself goes from green to ripened to gross within a very short time window. That fact makes it difficult to transport figs very far from their source. The only alternative to planting a fig tree myself is to go to the farmer's market. Once bought, plan on using your figs within a day or so to make sure they have the best flavor and texture. Here's the one recipe I managed to cook up during this year's fig season:

Fig-Gorgonzola Pizza
Makes 4 servings. From Bon Appetit.

1 lb pizza dough
1.5-2 cups Gorgonzola
6 figs, thinly sliced
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar, divided
8 slices prosciutto
1 tbsp olive oil
8 cups arugula

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Sprinkle cornmeal on a large baking sheet. Roll dough out on a floured surface to approximately a 12"x10" rectangle (mine looked more like a triangle, but that's ok). Sprinkle Gorgonzola over dough (use whatever amount you are comfortable with; 2 cups is a pretty intense Gorgonzola flavor). Sprinkle with pepper. Bake pizza until crust is golden brown on the bottom, 15-20 minutes.

Naked Gorgonzola Pizza

Meanwhile, toss figs with 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar in a small bowl and set aside. When pizza is golden brown, immediately drape with prosciutto slices, covering the pizza completely. Arrange fig slices over the pizza. Bake until figs are just heated through, about 1 minute more. Transfer pizza to cutting board.

Pizza Topped with Arugula

Whisk remaining 1 tbsp vinegar and oil in a large bowl. Toss arugula and season with salt and pepper. Mound arugula on top of pizza. Cut into pieces and serve.

Pizza Slice

Dried figs, available year round, are quite delicious and make a lovely accompaniment to salty cheese or even in a sauce for meat. But fresh figs are a different animal (or plant) altogether. They are fresh and fruity with a very particular figgy flavor. Combine this sweetness with some salty Gorgonzola and meaty prosciutto and you've got a winning pizza. And why have a side salad when you can put it right on top of the pizza? The crisp crust forms a great base for all these toppings. And unlike the pizzeria versions, one quarter of this pizza is enough to make a good meal. Or cut it into smaller pieces and serve it as an appetizer. Whichever you choose, enjoy the figs while they last.

Peanut Butter-Filled Chocolate Cupcakes

I love cupcakes. The idea itself is genius. I would like a piece of cake that I can eat with my hands. Wherever, whenever. With a cupcake you are one paper wrapper away from a small indulgence. So, for the hell of it, I decided to open up one of my cupcake books and give this recipe a whirl (or rather, a swirl).

Peanut Butter-Filled Chocolate Cupcakes
Makes 12 cupcakes. From Martha Stewart's Cupcakes

2/3 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
4 oz semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract

Peanut Butter Filling
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line a muffin tin with paper liners. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Put butter and chocolates in a heatproof bowl of a double boiler; stir until melted. Alternatively, microwave butter and chocolates in 10-15 second bursts, stirring in between, until melted. Cool slightly.

Whisk sugar into the chocolate mixture. Add eggs and whisk until mixture is smooth. Stir in vanilla. Add flour mixture and stir just until incorporated.

Swirling the Cupcakes

Prepare peanut butter filling by stirring together all ingredients until smooth. Spoon 2 tbsp chocolate batter into each paper liner, followed by 1 tbsp peanut butter filling. Repeat with another tbsp chocolate batter, and top with 1 tsp filling. Swirl top of cupcake batter and filling with a toothpick.

Bake until a cake tester inserted comes out clean, about 30-40 minutes. Transfer tin to a wire rack to cool completely.

PB-Filled Chocolate Cupcakes

There are two keys to making this recipe work. Firstly, remember that this is a chocolate cupcake filled with peanut butter, not a swirl cupcake. The difference is not much, but the peanut butter filling will not bake into a cake texture. Instead it stays pretty separate from the chocolate cake. Secondly, the directions are written in a very exacting Martha Stewart style. But if you follow them, you'll end up with a tasty end-product. If you're going to indulge, then chocolate and peanut butter is a great way to do it. While chocolate is always a good thing, adding peanut butter makes these cupcakes more sumptuous and rich. You may be glad you only have this mini-cake to eat per serving, because a full-sized cake of this sort would be a meal unto itself.

Greek Turkey Burgers

Over the summer, I had a plethora of cucumbers to use. From my small porch garden, the cucumbers were the most productive this year. And since I can only tolerate so many pickles and salads, it was time to go Greek. One of my favorite Mediterranean sauces is tzatziki, a cucumber-yogurt sauce served on gyros and souvlaki. So, with the help of a Bon Appetit magazine recipe, I decided to make Greek turkey burgers (or in Iron Chef speak "turkey burgers with cucumber 2 ways").

Greek Turkey Burgers
Makes 4 servings. Adapted from Bon Appetit magazine.

1 1/3 lbs ground turkey
4 oz feta
1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp salt
Cooking spray
1/2 cup cucumber, grated
6 oz Greek yogurt
1 tbsp mint, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
4 hamburger buns, split and toasted
Lettuce, for topping
Tomato, sliced, for topping
Cucumber, thinly sliced lengthwise, for topping
Peperoncini, for garnish


Pheta Cheese

For this recipe, I used the "Pheta Cheese" from the local Chapel Hill Creamery. It came in large blocks in a salty brine. It wasn't as soft as some fetas, but it was still very a very tasty cheese. Stir together the turkey, feta, red onion, oregano, lemon zest, and salt, making sure not to overmix. Shape mixture into 4 patties, about 1/2" thick.

Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat and coat with cooking spray. Place burgers on the grill and cook each about 5 minutes per side or until they are done all the way through. Remember, this is poultry and not beef, so there's a fine line between fully cooked (not pink) and dried out.

Stir together cucumber, yogurt, mint, and 1/2 tsp salt in a small bowl. To assemble burgers, spread buns with tzatziki and load with burger and toppings of your choice. Garnish plate with peperoncini. I also prepared some oven roasted potato wedges to serve on the side that I seasoned with salt, pepper, and dried oregano.

Greek Turkey Burgers

I love burgers because they can make for a quick dinner on a busy weekday night. Form 'em, grill 'em and eat 'em. These burgers tasted great without being too greasy. In fact, the yogurt sauce and cucumbers gave them a fresh taste. Feel free to use whatever fresh herbs you want in the tzatziki. The mint in this version is a traditional Greek flavor, but fresh oregano, parsley or thyme could be great. So take a break from the weekly plain cheeseburger and go Greek!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Coconut Cake

Coconut seems to be one of those flavors that someone either loves or hates. I'm partial to almost all flavors, especially in sweets. But I'm still amazed by people who will run for the trashcan when they bite into a coconut truffle from a chocolate sampler. Coconut is a wonderful substance in all its forms, whether it's a pina colada or a macaroon. It has a toasty nuttiness when it has been browned and a sweet chewiness when it has not. It is the perfect companion to fruits, nuts and chocolate.

A newer member of my lab had a birthday recently. She had previously mentioned loving a coconut cake from a Thai restaurant in her home town, so I set out to find a recipe that would make a reasonable facsimile.

Coconut Cake
Makes 8-10 servings. Adapted from Darlene Schmidt.

For the cake
6 eggs
1.5 cups coconut milk (not lite)
7 tbsp sweetened shredded coconut
1 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup butter, melted
2 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
For the icing
3 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 pinch of salt
2 tsp coconut extract
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut, toasted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9" cake pans, line bottoms with parchment and grease parchment.

Stir the coconut into the coconut milk and set aside to soak.

Separate egg whites from yolks. Place the whites in a medium mixing bowl. Beat egg whites with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

Place yolks in a large bowl. Add sugar, salt and melted butter. Beat to a smooth consistency for about 1 minute.

Combine baking powder and flour. Add the flour mixture and coconut mixture to the yolk mixture. Beat 1-2 minutes with an electric mixer until well combined, about 1-2 minutes. Fold in the beaten egg whites into the batter. Pour batter into prepared pans and bake 30-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely.

To make the frosting, prepare a double boiler by placing a medium metal or glass bowl over a pan of simmering water (note - don't let the water touch the bowl). Combine egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar, and salt in the bowl. Start beating this mixture using an electric mixer at low speed. Gradually over 5 minutes, continue to beat while incrementally increasing the speed to high. Add the coconut extract as you move to the high speed and beat to combine. Remove from heat.

To assemble, place the first layer of cake on a serving plate. Top with a generous amount of icing, spreading to the edges. Place second layer on top. Cover the cake with the remaining icing (it doesn't have to be perfect). Lastly, cover the entire cake with the toasted coconut.
Coconut Cake

This cake is quite amazing. It has every form of coconut you could imagine save climbing a tree and chopping down a fresh one. The coconut meat, milk and extract all add layers of flavor and complexity to this very moist cake. The frosting tastes like a light coconut marshmallow and gives the cake a very dreamy quality. Though this cake is not for the coconut haters at your work or among your friends, for us coconut lovers it is a celebration of a delicious tropical "fruit."

NC State Fair 2010

State Fair Menu

It's time for the North Carolina State Fair! Between the State Fair and the Renaissance Fair, fall is one of the best times of the year. Once the weather breaks and the sweltering heat stops, it's time to eat to your heart's content, hit the rides until you feel sick, win some prizes, then start all over again. The newest feature at the website is that you can search for any of the rides/games/food that you want. That way you can build a map of all the places you want to go on your visit. If you are iPhone-inclined, they also have an app for that. Here are my favorite food finds from this year's fair:

Roasted Corn

We started the day light with an ear of roasted corn. The ears are roasted en masse until the husk is charred. They are served up plain or dipped in melted butter. Then you have your choice of various toppings, including but not limited to salt, pepper, lemon-pepper, poultry seasoning, Parmesan cheese, and mayonnaise. The corn tastes great and it may be one of the healthiest items you find at the fair, certainly the only one that came directly off a plant.

Chocolate-covered Bacon

Chocolate-covered bacon was a big hit at last year's fair and it is back and as good as ever. The bacon itself is crisp and salty-sweet. It is dipped in a thick layer of good chocolate, then topped with sprinkles or other decorations. It is a little expensive for a single piece of bacon, but you won't be complaining once you bite through the chocolate shell. Just be sure to get your bacon from Steph's Strawberries as some of the other versions fall short on Steph's level of quality.

Attack of the Giant Gummies!

GGB of Raleigh has their first stand at the fair, selling the world's largest gummies. They are famous for their 5lb gummy bears and now offer a variety of other treats including a 3lb gummy worm that is about 2 feet long, gummy shot glasses, gummy tongues, and smaller 1lb gummy bears on sticks that come in about 10 flavors. Unfortunately, my stomach did not let me try these intriguing confections, but if you can find some friends to share, this would be a great novelty.

Koolaid Pickles

One of the most intriguing new offerings at this year's fair are Koolaid pickles. Before you gag at the thought, hear me out. The vendors take a jar of Mt. Olive bread'n'butter pickles, dump out the brine, and put in some red Koolaid. The outside of the pickles is a bright red color, but the interior of the pickle is that same odd shade of green. I've never been a fan of bread'n'butter pickles, but this version was actually quite tasty. The Koolaid sweetened the pickles up just a tad and made their flavor more interesting. If you're feeling adventurous (which you should be at the fair), buy a set of these pickles and see what you think. If all else fails, you can just throw them at one of the game stalls and see if you win a prize.

Fried Food Fest

State Fairs from Texas to North Carolina are known for bringing the best and worst in fried foods. The Lone Star State takes the cake (or Twinkie) when it comes to fried food. Vendors compete for the best new fried food, inventing such odd offerings as fried Coca Cola, fried beer, and even fried butter. Many of these new ideas get to the NC State Fair, and the popular ones like fried Oreos become permanent parts of the menu.

Chocolate Obsession Funnel Cake

Can a funnel cake be gourmet? Yes, yes it can. Funnel cakes have long been part of fairs. A batter is streamed into fry oil and allowed to cook until a puffed nest forms. Some vendors top them with a thick layer of powdered sugar. But the newest addition to this lineage is the gourmet funnel cake, coming in 6 flavors like apple and chocolate obsession (pictured above), which is a chocolate funnel cake topped with chocolate syrup, chocolate chips, powdered sugar, and whipped cream. It is truly decadent and very difficult to stop eating. One drawback of most funnel cakes is that after a few bites you're pretty much tired of the taste of fried batter, but these gourmet cakes keep you wanting more even after you've cleaned your paper plate.

Fried Chips Ahoy and Honeybun

The newest of the things-you-thought-they-would-never-fry category are the fried Chips Ahoy and the fried Honeybun. The Chips Ahoy, much like the fried Oreo, becomes much softer in the fryer, but it brings a lot less flavor than that chocolate cookie. All you end up with is a piece of fried batter surrounding some chocolate chips. The Honeybun, on the other hand, was marvelous. There is a lot of fried batter to get through with it, so it is best to split this behemoth. The Honeybun is heated in the frying process, making it taste absolutely delicious and wonderfully moist.

Krispie Kreme Bacon Cheeseburger

The last new item that is definitely worth mentioning was by far my favorite food at this year's fair. It is the *brace yourself* Krispie Kreme Bacon Cheeseburger. If it sounds gross, wait for it. Burger + bacon + random unnecessary toppings + cheese + 2 Krispie Kreme donuts = pure bliss. If you've ever had a McGriddle from McDonald's, this monster is very similar. It is mostly sweet with a bit of savory in the middle from the burger and cheese. The bacon unites it all (because let's face it, bacon is magical and can bring people together). Like many foods at the fair, I split this with a group of people, but this was the only food I was sad that I could only eat my share and not the entire thing. This burger was transcendentally wonderful and if you can't get to the fair to have one this year, you should make it at home.

The fair, overall, was a monumental success. Not only am I still an ace at the water-shooting games, but I went home feeling fully satisfied that I had eaten the best of this year's fair. If you live in the area and have time between now and Sunday, go to the fairgrounds. It does not matter if there are throngs of people. All that matters is that you have the chance to enjoy this unique slice of the American lifestyle.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Grilled Shrimp Satay with Peaches

A few weeks ago, when the farmers were selling the last peaches of the year, I decided to take advantage of the waning summer heat and took to the grill to make dinner. These recipes are quick, but they are certainly delicious and perfect for summer's last hurrah.

Grilled Shrimp Satay with Peaches
Makes 4 servings. Recipe from Bon Appetit.

6 tbsp smooth, natural peanut butter
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
3 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp chili paste (or to taste)
9 tbsp peach nectar, divided
3 peaches, pitted and wedged
16 shrimp, peeled and deveined
6 bok choy, halved lengthwise

Prepare grill over medium-high heat. Wisk together peanut butter, dark brown sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, chili paste, and 5 tbsp nectar until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Arrange peaches, shrimp and bok choy on the grill. Brush with 4 tbsp nectar, then brush with 1/4 cup of the sauce. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill until peaches lightly charred, shrimp are opaque and bok choy are tender.

Shrimp-Peach Satay

Mound shrimp, bok choy and peaches on a platter. Drizzle with some sauce and serve with remaining sauce on the side.

I paired this main course with an equally peanut-buttery pasta accompaniment. Too much peanut butter? No such thing!
Nutty Noodles
Makes 4 servings

1/2 pound rice pasta, uncooked
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup water
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp tahini
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1/2 tsp ginger powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 scallion, sliced
1/2 cup peanuts, unsalted, chopped


PB Base

Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan stir together peanut butter and water. Simmer over low heat, stirring constantly, until the sauce is smooth. Stir in soy sauce, tahini, red pepper, ginger, and garlic powder. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.

Nutty Noodles

Drain pasta well, then add to the sauce. Toss pasta in the sauce until it is well coated. Plate pasta and sprinkle with scallions and peanuts.

Grilled Shrimp Satay with Nutty Noodles

What a nutty feast indeed! I will admit that after a while, all of that peanut butter does get to you...after a while. The side of noodles were good and had a different taste from the shrimp. Definitely very nutty with some other minor flavors from the soy and garlic. But the star of this meal was the satay. Adding in the peach flavors to the peanut butter was a great idea and it made the dish taste more complete and interesting. If you can still find some peaches in your area before the winter flavors take over in full, fire up the grill and give this recipe a shot.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Chicken & Sliders Soup

I've never had much interest in making my own stocks before. Chicken stock/broth/bouillon was always something I bought in the store and never really minded. But sometimes in cooking you get the urge to try making something from scratch, if for no other reason than to appreciate how much hard work goes into making a soup from base ingredients. But then there's the question of what to do with the stock once you have it. Many people I've seen and read say you can freeze it in small quantities to use when you please, but I've never been much of a freezer stockpiler. My freezer currently has a loaf of bread (because it usually molds before I finish it), some frozen fruit for smoothies and some coffee. So I wanted to use my stock right away to enjoy the fruits of my labors. Then I remembered a soup that my mom used to make - chicken with sliders. Note: sliders, in this meal, are not miniature burgers, but rather fat, thick noodles that you slurp up with your soup.

Chicken Stock
From Elizabeth's Edible Experience.

2 rotisserie chicken carcasses, picked of meat (set aside), skin and fat
1 large yellow onion, unpeeled, quartered
3 carrots, unpeeled, halved
2 stalks of celery, cut into thirds
2 bay leaves
10 sprigs of parsley
5 sprigs of thyme
1 head of garlic, unpeeled and halved crosswise
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 gallon cold water


Rotisserie Chicken Twins

Chicken Bones

I started with two rotisserie chickens and de-meated them by hand. This is an interesting, messy and slightly gross process. It is interesting observing the structure of the chicken and how all the muscles attach to each other. The best part is letting your fingers roam, searching for pockets of meaty goodness. Get every last bit that you can because this meat will go back into the chicken soup after making the stock.

Stock Ingredients

Place all of the ingredients except the water in a large (8-10 quart) stockpot. The easiest part of this recipe is that each of the ingredients, except the chickens, need only a minimal amount of preparation. The stock is strained at the end, so you don't have to worry about peeling or dicing anything. Just be sure your veggies are free of grit.

Ingredients Taking a Dip

Add 1 gallon of cold water to the stock pot and bring to a boil. This will take some time since most of the ingredients are either at room temperature or cold and the water has to rise from 75 degrees F to 212 degrees F.

Post-Boil Stock

Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 4 hours. In this case, a simmer is heating the stock-to-be such that you see the occasional bubble float to the surface. Do not stir.

First Strain

Strain the contents through a colander placed on top of a large bowl or pot. Remember, unlike cooking most foods, you want to keep the liquid and get rid of the solids. Don't forget and pour your lovely stock down the sink.

Second Strain

Just to be safe, strain the stock again through a fine mesh strainer. You don't want any small bones or inedible bits to get into the final product.

Finished Chicken Stock

Place the stock in a large, sealable container and chill overnight. The next day, remove any surface fat. At this point the stock can be used immediately (after you're done admiring the magic of turning clear water into a golden broth) or you can freeze it in batches for up to 3 months.

Grandma's Chicken & Sliders Soup
Makes about 8 servings

Chicken Soup
Approx. 96 oz of chicken stock (see above)
3 carrots, peeled, large dice
2 celery, peeled, sliced
3 yellow squash, trimmed, diced
1 onion, peeled, large dice
1/2 lb green beans, trimmed, cut into bite-sized pieces
Meat from 1.5-2 rotisserie chickens (see above)
Salt and pepper to taste
Other dried or fresh spices (thyme, rosemary, etc.) to taste
1 cup flour
1 egg
2-3 tbsp milk

Place chicken stock in a large soup pot and bring to a simmer. Put all of the vegetables, chicken and spices in the soup to cook, approximately 15-20 minutes, depending on how many veggies you like in your soup.

Flour in a Pile

For sliders, place flour onto a cutting board in a little mound.

Making Slider Dough

Form a well in the center of the flour pile. Drop the egg into the well.


Mix flour and egg together with a fork. Add enough milk to form a solid dough. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to desired thickness (remember - noodles will plump in the soup) and cut into short, wide strips with a pizza cutter.

Chicken & Sliders Soup

Drop the sliders into the boiling soup one by one so they don't stick together. Cook until they float, about 1-2 minutes.

And there you have it! Scratch-made chicken and sliders soup. The noodles are a little heavy and chewy, adding interest to the light chicken soup. This soup is perfect any time of year because it is versatile enough, light enough and filling enough to satisfy you no matter what the weather is like. The vegetables and rotisserie chicken make the soup taste fresh, adding to the homemade quality.

Pumpkin Cookies

Fall is just around the corner. I can feel it. The weather this weekend is set to be sunny and in the mid-sixties. I'm sure summer is not done, because it so rarely goes out quietly. But the waning supplies of tomatoes and dipping temperatures tell my tongue to yearn for warmer flavors. When one thinks of fall and winter, it's rare that you have a light gazpacho or a glass of lemonade. Instead you want hearty stews and cider laced with cinnamon. While summer does offer the freshest bounty of fruits and veggies, the time between October and March is my favorite in the year because you not only get to put on cozier clothing, but you also get to wrap yourself in the warmth of the heavier spices in your pantry. So let's kick off the season right!

Pumpkin Cookies
Makes 2 dozen

2 cups flour
1 1/3 cups quick-cooking oats
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup apple sauce
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup walnuts, chopped
3/4 cup golden raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl. Feel free to add more spices (allspice, clove, nutmeg, ginger, etc.) to suit your tastes.

In a separate bowl or standing mixer, beat butter, apple sauce and sugars until light and fluffy. Add pumpkin, egg and vanilla, and mix well to incorporate. Add flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix well to combine. Stir in nuts and raisins.

Drop batter by rounded teaspoons onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until a light brown. Cool on wire racks.

Pumpkin Cookies

These cookies turned out very nicely. They have a soft, pillowy texture. Cinnamon always pairs with pumpkin (or any squash) beautifully, and the addition of the mellow golden raisins add chewy bits of extra sweetness. If you wanted to go the extra mile with these cookies, you could easily top them with a maple icing (maple syrup + powdered sugar + milk to desired consistency), but these cookies are perfectly enjoyable on their own. If this is how the season is starting off, this is going to be a delicious fall.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Knead-less Bread

In the back of my mind, I maintain a list of the various culinary skills I want to work on. On the list are learning to make sushi, putting together a good pie/pastry dough, using my smoker, and baking really good bread. This last item came to the forefront of my mind when I stumbled across a Cook's Illustrated recipe I've had for a couple of years. I love Cook's Illustrated because they a) test every component of a recipe to figure out what's important, and b) break down every step to make normally daunting recipes more manageable to the home cook. So here goes my first foray into bread baking.

Bread can be difficult if you don't know what to expect or what you are looking for. And even then, you may just have to accept the dense, flavorless brick that comes out of the oven. But this recipe promises a rustic-style loaf with a lot less work. Just like how stainless steel is not stain-proof (it stains less), this is not quite a no-knead recipe, but rather a knead-less one.

Knead-less Bread
Yields 1 loaf. Recipe from Cook's Illustrated.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp yeast
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup water, at room temperature
1/2 cup mild beer, at room temperature
1 tbsp white vinegar
Cooking spray

Wet & Dry

Whisk together the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. In a small bowl or mixing cup, mix together water, beer and vinegar. Fold the liquid mixture into the flour mixture until the dough comes together. It will look "shaggy" (you'll know it when you see it). Cover the bowl and let the dough sit at room temperature for at least 8 hours and up to 18 hours (this is something that is easy to set up before you go to bed). In lieu of lots of kneading, this recipe just lets the dough rise for longer, allowing the gluten to develop on its own.

Shaggy Dough

Prepare a 10" skillet (size, in this case, does matter) by lining it with an 18" by 12" sheet of parchment and spraying this with cooking spray. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand 10-15 times until it is a smooth ball. Shape the dough by pulling the edges toward the middle. Transfer the dough, seam-side down, to the prepared skillet. Lightly mist the dough with cooking spray and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise at room temperature until it has doubled in size and barely springs back when poked, about 2 hours.

Thirty minutes before you want to start baking, adjust the oven rack to the lowest position (to allow ample room). Place a large Dutch oven with its cover on the rack and preheat everything to 500 degrees F. When I knew I wanted to make this recipe, I kept my eye out for a good quality Dutch oven on sale. Finally, a local kitchen store slashed some of its prices for a summer sale and I knew the universe was telling me that it was bread time.

Risen Dough

Lightly flour the top of the dough and score it with a sharp knife (to release tension). Carefully remove the Dutch oven from the oven and remove the lid. Pick up the parchment and dough and carefully lower them into the pot. Let any excess parchment stick over the sides. Cover the pot and place it back in the oven. Reduce the temperature of the oven to 425 degrees F and bake, covered, for 30 minutes. This first high temperature baking in a covered pot helps to steam the bread and cook it through before you brown the outside in the next step.

Un Beau Boule

Remove the lid of the Dutch oven and continue baking the bread until the center of the loaf registers 210 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer and the crust is golden, about 20-30 minutes more. Carefully remove the bread from the pot and transfer to a wire rack. Cool completely, about 2 hours.

Sliced Beauty

For a total bread newb, this loaf turned out spectacularly. Everything about it was spot on. It was crusty and sturdy on the outside, but the inside was soft, delicate and it tasted bready (knead-less to say, I was happy). I broke out the homemade strawberry from earlier in the summer to celebrate this spectacular achievement. I will admit, the bread did not maintain this beauteous character for more than a couple days before it started to get soft around the edges, but the time we had together was just magical. If, like me, you want to dip your toe into the pool of bread-baking, start with this recipe. Before we know it, we'll be ready for the big plunge into kneaded bread.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pappardelle with Corn Pesto

Corn Soldiers

At the height of the summer corn season, I often feel like I'm up to my ears in ears. Strands of corn silk hide in various corners of my kitchen. Every time I open my CSA box, I'm horrified to see more corn. Just when I get rid of all of my tomatoes and zucchini, armies of husked soldiers descend upon my house. This is when you have to turn to food blogs, websites and magazines for inspiration. Luckily for me, during the height of this corny panic attack, an issue of Bon Appetit arrived at my door telling me, "Everything is going to be alright. We feel your pain and we can help."

Tagliatelle with Corn Pesto
Makes 6 servings. Adapted from Bon Appetit

1 tbsp olive oil
4 slices turkey bacon, sliced in half lengthwise, then crosswise in 1/2" pieces
4 cups corn kernels (about 6 ears-worth of corn)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1.25 tsp salt
3/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/3 cup olive oil
8 oz pappardelle
3/4 cup basil, torn, divided

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook bacon until crisp and brown, then transfer to paper towels. Add corn, garlic, salt, and pepper to pan and saute until corn is tender, but not browned. Reserve 1.5 cups of the corn in a small bowl.

Corn Pesto

Place the remaining corn into a food processor. Add Parmesan and pine nuts. Blend this mixture until it is well combined. Stream in olive oil until the pesto is smooth.

Cook pasta in salted water in a large pot until just al dente. Reserve 1.5 cups of the pasta water and drain the pasta. Add the pasta back into the pot along with pesto, corn, 1/2 cup basil, and bacon. Toss mixture together over medium heat until ingredients are evenly distributed. Add in pasta water, if necessary, 1/4 cup at a time until pasta and sauce are at the desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl and sprinkle with remaining basil and Parmesan to taste.

Pappardelle with Corn Pesto

This is one of the most creative ways I've seen corn used. It could have become cornbread, succotash, corn relish, corn on the cob, or corn chowder, but instead it made a delightfully summery entree. Sauteing the corn caramelizes it a bit and brings out a lovely sweetness. Combine this with the fragrant pine nuts and some salty Parmesan and it gives the pasta a beautiful golden color. The taste was incredible, allowing the corn to shine without making you feel like you just dumped some kernels on some macaroni and called it a day. I think this dish is very elegant with a lot of subtle simplicity that makes it a wonderful treat after a long, hot summer day. And it also goes to show you - you can make pesto out of pretty much anything. Buon appetito!