Monday, July 7, 2014

Ya Ya Liah: Sausage and tomato chowder on rice sorta

Both Gumbo and Jumbalaya require a lot more time and attention to detail than I'm willing to muster.  They also both require bib overalls and a pretty thick accent, Ah Gare-Ohn-tee.  Dangit, now I have to apologize to all of my southern and Louisianan friends.  Is Louisianan a word?  I guess it is, my spell check says so.  Truth be told my biggest crush is on Harry Connick Jr. His NoLa accent isn't as thick now but when I was a kid and he was a young man he could have turned me to butter just by saying Jumbalaya.  There was also that kid from Baton Rouge in college.  His name was Rusty St. Cyr.  I know he was pretty gorgeous but I honestly can't remember exactly what he looked like but his accent was akin to hot salted caramel running down the back of a dripping ice cream cone on the 4th of July.  Plus there's his name!  Could a name be any MORE Bat-On Rouge?  Do I still have to apologize?

I think you get the point that my knowledge of the cultures that gumbo and jumbalaya hail from have surprisingly little to do with their cuisine.  But tonight I had to manage a meal with some Hungarian sausage that had to get cooked, and then tomatoes started rolling around my brain, and then I thought I'd like to make soup but NO, I want to serve it over rice.  It started to sound not quite like jumbalaya and not quite like gumbo.  I'm not a fan of gumbo.  I like the fact that the sauce is a roux thickened sauce and that its served over rice and chock full of tasty sausages, chicken, and/or sea food, but the roux is too dark for me.  I really love jumbalaya but I am pretty good at screwing up rice that isn't cooked in my rice cooker and since Bobby Flay managed to burn his rice and not cook it through at the same time, I certainly wasn't going to be taking any risks.  A sort of very inauthentic hybrid took shape.  I had the sausage, the tomatoes, the roux, the rice, the spices, but I'd do my own thing and I'd call it "Ya Ya Liah (liar)"  Get it?!

I would like to reassert my assertion that this is really not Jumbalaya, Gumbo, Creol, Cajun, Southern, or authentic of anything resembling anything.  It's more like when you see that guy in a car a couple of lanes away in the grocery store that kind of looks like Toby McGuire until you get closer and he looks more like that kid in the Never Ending Story.  Just me?  Ok, carrying on.  

I started by chopping up an onion, dicing a couple of carrots, and dicing up some of those small colored peppers I had in the freezer then sauteing them in some olive oil.
I totally ganked this pic from the internet
Then I threw in the Cajun seasoning, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, and a little salt and pepper and letting it cook on medium low for about a minute.  I added a Tablespoon of butter, let it melt, then put in a couple tablespoons of  flour to create my roux. Then I threw in my sliced sausage.  Upon reflection I really should have cooked my sausage, taken it out, and then started my veg in the same pan.  Lesson learned.   Next it was just a matter of throwing in my diced tomatoes, chicken broth, milk, and testing for seasoning while I let it simmer and cook my rice (in my rice cooker of course).

If you start the rice after the stuff is all in the pot then the sauce should be pleasantly thick by the time the rice is finished.  Serve the Ya Ya over the rice and add some hot sauce if you'd like, and there you go.  

1 lb hungarian sausage or your favorite fresh or smoked sausage sliced thin and cut in half moons
1 medium white onion diced
2 carrots peeled and diced
3 or 4 mini colored peppers, one of each color is nice, seeded and diced
1 Tb Olive Oil
2 Tb Cajun Seasoning 
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional to taste)
1 Tb Butter
2 Tb flour
1 can diced tomatoes
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup whole milk (If you must, walk your own path, even if your path looks like white water.  Just don't expect the same creaminess)
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 cup uncooked rice

In a medium pot heat 2 Tb olive oil over medium high heat.  Add sausage and cook until browned and cooked nearly through if using fresh sausage.  

Lower heat to medium and remove sausage, set aside.  Add onion, carrots, and peppers and cook until onions are translucent, about 5 min.  Add Cajun seasoning, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes.  Cook 1 more minute.  

Add 1 Tb of butter and cook until butter melts then add 2 Tb. flour.  Cook stirring incorporating the flour and then about a minute longer.  You want to cook off the floury taste but don't want to put much color on the flour, a nice pale caramel is about as dark as you want to go.  You might start getting some tasty bits sticking to the bottom of your pan. That's good!  

Bring the heat back up to medium high and deglaze (add) your can of tomatoes scrapping those tasty bits off the bottom of the pan.  Add chicken broth and sausage to the pan.  Bring to a boil stirring frequently, add milk and then lower to a simmer.  Stir occasionally scrapping the bottom to make sure nothing sticks.  

If you're using long grain white rice that isn't parboiled then start it now.  You're rice and Ya Ya will finish about the same time.  If you're using instant - please don't use instant - then let your Ya Ya simmer for about 10 minutes before you start your rice.  How long you simmer it depends on how thick you want it.  It's going to be like a nice thick soup or thin chowder but simmering longer will give you a thicker consistency.  If it gets too thick for you there is no shame in adding more broth or some water.  Just don't let that stuff stick to the bottom and burn and you can let it go for as long as you like.  

Serve over the cooked rice with a shake of Frank's and you're set to go.  

Saturday, June 21, 2014

How to be cheap or Making the Most of a Whole Chicken

A box of chicken broth costs anywhere from a few dollars to 5 bucks if you're fancy.  That means if you spend five bucks on a whole chicken and everything goes horribly wrong and all you end up with is 24 oz. of chicken flavored water, you still came out ahead.  Coming out ahead where my money and my food is concerned is basically how I have to live if I don't want to sustain myself on Ramen and the kindness of other's.  Wait, I kind of do that too.

This process will give you cooked chicken meat and about 48 oz each of chicken broth and chicken stock.

Now, what the heck is the difference between stock and broth?

Broth is basically really flavorful water.  You can add it to nearly anything to get some extra flavor instead of water.  Use it to cook your ramen, rice, spaghetti sauce, anything really.  You can also use it to make sauces and soups.

Stock is richer in texture and has a silky mouth feel.  You will notice that it cools into a gel like substance.  Ok, not gel like, actual gelatin.  It's great to use when you want a rich texture in your sauce, soup, stuffing, dressing (both salad and that thanksgiving kind).  You can also add some water to it and use it in place of broth if you are out of broth.

You're going to start with a whole chicken, and of course it's going to be the cheapest one by the pound.  If you're fussy about organic then go for it but then we can no longer call this post "How to be cheap" but maybe we can call it "How to make buying that organic chicken worth it".  You don't have to worry about buying a roaster, or a boiler, or a broiler, or whatever.

If you just want some chickeny flavored water or stock then you can stop here but that would be silly.  If you have aromatics around you're going to want to add them.  We are talking celery, onion, carrots, dried or fresh herbs such as thyme, parsley, bay leaf, and peppercorns.  As long as you don't go to one extreme or the other amounts don't really matter.  Use the cupped palm of your hand to measure.  

Finally, you're going to need a Slow Cooker.  If you don't have one you will need a large stock pot, but the good news is that it won't take as long.  If you're using a stock pot you'll want to bring it up to a boil then lower it down to a simmer for a couple/few hours.  The stock pot method will result in less but richer liquid at the end so add a bit more water than you would in the slow cooker.  You will also need to skim the foam from the top during the first 30 minutes or so in the stock pot.

I want to reiterate the title of this article: How to be Cheap.  If I were making stock to impress Alton Brown (my BFF) I would likely not try to take this chicken so far, but it's serviceable for my home kitchen.  I can always add flavor at the other end of my cooking process.  This is a two part recipe.  The first is to get your broth and your cooked chicken you can set aside and use for other dishes such as chicken salad, soups, etc.

For the Broth and Chicken:

1 4 LB Whole Chicken
2 large carrots broken into 2 or 3 pieces
2 stalks celery broken into 2 or 3 pieces
1 whole onion cut in half (skin and all)
1 tsp dried thyme or a few springs of fresh thyme
1 tsp dried parsley or a few springs of fresh parsley
1 TB whole peppercorns
1 bay leaf

Thaw your chicken if it's frozen and check the cavity for "innards".  You want to put the innards in your slow cooker but you don't want to cook whatever they're packaged in.  Sometimes they aren't packaged in anything, in which case throw that whole chicken in the slow cooker.

Add the rest of your ingredients to the slow cooker and fill with enough water to cover your chicken.  If it comes too close to the top of your cooker it's ok to put less water in, but I promise it won't overflow.

Cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4-6 hours.

Carefully remove the cooked chicken from the slow cooker at the end of your cooking period and set it in a colander above the slow cooker to allow the juices to run off.  This step prevents you from having to mop up chicken juices from your counter and/or floors. If you have a dog, skip this step.  I'M KIDDING!

Remove the chicken to a large cutting board to cool.  Meanwhile place that colander over a bowl or dish large enough to hold your broth.  If you don't have something large enough you may need to use more than one. If your bowl has a pour spout, all the better.  Pour the contents of the slow cooker (minus the chicken) through the colander or a sieve if you have it, into your container.  Put what you caught in your colander back into your slow cooker.

Now let's take care of that chicken.  Being careful to separate the bones, cartilage, and gooey bits from your chicken meat, remove the meat from the chicken.  At this point I like to keep the dark meat separate from the white meat, and I like to keep the breasts as whole as I can.  Wrap your chicken in saran wrap and aluminum foil, label it, and freeze it if you don't plan to use it right away.

To make the Chicken Stock

Throw everything but the chicken flesh back into the crock pot.  And by everything I mean EVERYTHING: bones, skin, and gooey bits.  I also like to add about a cup or two of the broth back in to the slow cooker to give my stock a bit more flavor.

To the slow cooker add fresh aromatics in the same portions you did with the broth.  If you don't have anymore, don't let it stop you.  You'll just have to add more flavor when you use the stock to cook with later. Fill the slow cooker 1/2 to 3/4 full of water.  The more water you add the less concentrated your stock will be.  Cook for another 8-10 hours.  You really can't overcook it at this point though.

Once it's fully cooked you'll want to drain the stock into a container using a sieve or colander again just as you did the broth and you can discard everything else.

You can store your broth and stock in Freezer Bags or Mason Jars (they freeze well).  I would suggest labeling them with magic marker before adding the broth and stock though.  Greasy and sharpie don't mix.  You will want to freeze this if you don't plan on using it in the next few days.  I would also highly suggest freezing it in portions that are useful to you.  Once it's frozen it's hard to extract a 1/2 cup at a time.  If you tend to use stock or broth in smaller amounts I'd suggest freezing some of it using cheap ice trays.  Simply freeze it in the trays over night and then pop them into a freezer bag for easy access later.

*Thanks to my friend Helen for pictures of the ingredients and process.  And thanks for testing out the post on your own chicken.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A weekend when everyone is Italian: Collinsville Italian Fest

I write this even as I am nearly prostrate on my futon, immobile from a gut full of really unhealthy food.  Once a year the residents of Collinsville Illinois converge on Main Street for a celebration of food, local history, the Italian culture, bad fashion, impromptu reunions, and libations.

I'm the first to admit that I love people but hate gatherings.  The Italian Fest at night is crowded, loud, and drunk.  Basically it's like an Italian Family dinner, it's bellisimo!  I usually swoop in long enough to grab some bagna cauda and swoop out.  This year I had the opportunity to head up there early on the first day and it was wonderful.

My childhood memories of The Italian Fest are mostly from the inside of the kitchen at my church.  For years my church, First Assembly of God in Collinsville, had a booth at The Fest selling "Famous Stuffed Shells".  I have vivid memories of red faced women running a well oiled shell stuffing machine.  Tables lined up with the stuffing being mixed by hand, large tin foil shiny pans coming out of hot ovens, my father loading up the sparkling pans into the church van to shuttle them to the Fest.  Running the van constantly, we could barely keep up with the demand.  It's been over a decade since The Italian Fest was graced with the booth selling the Famous Stuffed Shells.  This year there was another group selling stuffed shells, and they were good, but it's just not the same.

As an adult, I pass up almost every booth and head straight for the bagna cauda.  There are actually a couple of places you can get this pungent garlic and anchovy knock out punch, and by knock out, I mean knock out anyone that comes within a 10 foot radius of you after you've eaten it. The more prominent being the Kiwanis truck.  They serve it up with Napa cabbage leaves and hunks of Italian bread.  The proper way to indulge is to scoop up the oil concoction being sure to dive deep down to the bottom for that flavorful, garlicy, anchovy salted, soot.  Then hold it over the bread to catch any drippings before shoveling the molten hot fondue into your mouth.  The cabbage acts as a great contrast in taste, texture, and temperature.  If you've rationed it right you'll have just enough bread to sop up any remaining oil slicks of pure flavor.

After reading that last bit you have probably planted yourself firmly in one of two camps.  There are only two camps when it comes to this Italian favorite.  The first being those that seek it out like The Lost City of Atlantis.  Its fragrant call a siren drawing you to the cliffs.  The second being those that flee in the other direction at the slightest hint of the pungent smell.  No one sort of thinks that bagna cauda is just ok.  As a child we brought in every New Year at a very Italian friends house.  This was the midnight meal.  Zombies grunting and moaning bending over the pot fighting for a taste huddled in the kitchen.  Then in the furthest corner of the house cowering, the haters, grumbling their disdain.

If you'd like to see which camp you are in you can find the recipe for Bagna Cauda below.  The recipe is thanks to that long time family friend who was the host and chef every New Year's.  To be honest, and I'm sorry mom, but her's is by far the best I've ever had.

If you would like to take your chances on a slightly less risky bet the recipe for First Assembly of God's Famous Stuffed Shells is also below.  Getting my hands on this was not easy but I was finally able to land it thanks to a good friend and long time church Secretary Sandy Snider.

Jan's Bagna Cauda

1 pound butter
1 cup olive oil
1 whole head (yes head.. all the cloves inside one head of garlic) peeled and sliced
6 cans of anchovies

Combine all ingredients and let simmer on low 20-30 minutes until anchovies break down.  Keep heat on low to avoid burning the garlic.  Burnt garlic is bitter and will flavor the entire pot.

Serve with Napa cabbage, Italian bread, and various vegetable.

Famous Stuffed Shells

1 box large pasta shells
1 medium diced onion
1 LB ground beef for red sauce or 1 LB diced chicken for white sauce (honestly, I only remember hamburger no matter the sauce)
1 pkg frozen spinach thawed and drained well or one can of spinach drained well and chopped
2 eggs 
4 or 5 cloves of garlic mashed or diced
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded parmesean cheese

Cook shells in boiling water for 12 minutes with 2 TB of oil (honestly I'd oil them after I cooked them rather than before).  After boiling rinse with cold water and set aside (wow, they are breaking all the rules with this recipe).  

Prepare stuffing:
Saute onion and garlic in skillet but DO NOT BROWN.  Add spinach and eggs stirring and mixing together. Add both cheddar and parmesan cheese and stir until the cheese is stringy and melted.  Remove from heat.  Open the shells and stuff about 1 TB or more inside shell and roll the shell back up and place in deep baking dish.  Make sure all shells are covered in sauce: 

For white sauce:
1 Can cream of mushroom soup and 1 soup can of milk.  

For Red Sauce:
1 31 oz jar of Prego chunky sauce.  Dilute as desired with water.

Cover and bake 350 degrees Farenheit for 40 minutes.  


Happy Butter Day!

What makes a slave eat like a king? Butter
What breaks a fast with bacon and eggs? Butter
What makes a tongue swoon with delight and delish? Butter
What turns flour into a beurre manié? Butter
What makes gravy so creamy and rich? Butter
What makes the French so Frenchity French? Butter
What makes a birthday happier than most?

You guessed it....Butter!

      Oh the delightful wisdom on the French. Those smelly gastronomes might not have the best reputation for hospitality and portion size but they kick epicurean butt despite having their noses pointed skyward. All of the worlds most wonderful things regarding food come from France. Gene, my dear
sweet boyfriend, holds fast to the opinion that the French just take over other words to make them sound fancier "Everything is French!" Well, there is good reason. Their painstaking attention to detail in both ingredients and methodology put them way at the head of the culinary pack. I mean without Mise en Place we would all be running around like Rachel Ray, with a million things balanced on our arms, hoping that our mushrooms don't burn before we get the onions chopped. 

       They also gave us the Statue of Liberty, Béchamel Sauce, Velouté Sauce, Butter Sauces, and darn near every other kind of sauce imaginable. And as Meg Ryan so eloquently pointed out there are 452 official government cheeses of France, how can that be a bad thing (here is
where you all run to youtube to try and find the "Lactose Intolerance" scene, small price to pay I say).

       As a matter of fact you can thank the French for Bobby, Paula, Emeril, Tyler, Rachel, Guy, Alton (swoon), Barefoot, er, I mean Ina, Michael, Cat, Anne, Mario, Duff, Giada, Nigella, and all those Next Food Stars. How is that possible, you ask. The reason is simple, tall, and fell in love with France when her husband was stationed there with U.S. Information Services. Julia Child was one of the first faces that we ever saw cooking in front of us on the tv. As a girl I would open a box of cake mix set out my ingredients, a proper Miise En Place, put on my best high nasal voice and cook that box of cake mix like I was Julia herself.

       With all of my admiration of the woman I never attempted French Cuisine until after I saw
"Julie and Julia", and of course this is where I say that the movie really inspired me. Well, its corny but its true. I asked for and received "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" as a Christmas gift and have made good use of it here and there. When my birthday rolled around my mom asked me what exactly I wanted to do to celebrate.  The first thing I thought of was Julia's classic Boeuf Berrgion. In my family we never just 'make dinner' we have a theme that runs through the food, the table settings, the decor, and the gifts gosh darnit!

      The theme for my birthday dinner was Julie, Jen, and Julia. Julie being my mom by the way. The menu was straight out of Julia's book, the table settings were gorgeous black and white, and the meal cooked by ME.  

      So, here I had my opportunity to show off my cooking skills.... with a classic French dish... that I had never prepared before.... in a really small hot kitchen.... for 20 of my closest friends. I know what you are thinking. You're thinking it all went terribly awry and we had to order pizza for dinner. Admit it, that's exactly what you're thinking. You see the famous scene in the movie where Julie drops the hen and immediately has a 3 year old hissy fit on the floor of her kitchen.  Incidentally this is the one scene that reminded my loving boyfriend of me.  In reality, the exact opposite happened. We did get the kitchen and the entire house extra toasty warm, and my mom's tongs weren't nearly long enough to save me from a few grease splatters while browning the meat, but an hour before my guests were to arrive I was lazing on the couch, in my fancy dress, sipping a cool beverage. The Boeuf was in the oven, the potatoes bolied and foiled, and the peas thawing in preparation... for butter.

       Speaking of butter, I would say that it was certainly the cornerstone of the entire meal, nay, evening. It went in nearly everything I prepared, except the stew meat...that was browned in bacon fat! At the end of the night we did the math and nearly 4LBS of it was used. Caramelized onions and mushrooms.. butter, potatoes with parsley and...butter, green peas in...BUTTER. That doesn't even account for all the butter that my mom used in the desserts, I knew when to turn something over to the master, which included a lemon semi-fredo that will simultaneously stop your heart and send you to heaven.

      The evening was as near perfection as one can come. I have to admit a sense of pride knowing that I pulled off a classic French meal that everyone seemed to enjoy, and I didn't freak out once the entire day. It was incredible to be surrounded by so many people willing to eat my food, love on me, and help me celebrate a pretty blessed life. As I looked at my 94 year old grandmother enjoying her meal, and looking rather spring chicken like, I began to think off all the birthdays I have ahead of me.... despite all the butter.

So without further ado... some yummy pictures of my Happy Butter Day.

Dad's Cranky Face

Everyone knows that if you don't dry the
meat properly it won't brown. Because I was tripling the recipe I used the stack and press method.

When browning anything fat is used to sear and transfer heat quickly. You can use oil, butter, or rendered bacon fat...

Hmmmm....choices, choices. Boeuf Bergionne calls for browning the meat in rendered bacon fat.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Saturday Adventure with Julia

I'm reading a book about a girl who gets the chance to move to France, work in a French bakery, and go to a French pastry school and it's really doing a number on my appetite.  She kept going to these little cafe's and having Cafe Creme's and eating Grougerè's.  What the heck is a Grougerè?!?   I asked Google.

After having satisfied my initial curiosity I consulted my good friend Julia on how I might go about making these Grougerès, but she didn't mention them anywhere in her Mastering the Art of French cooking.  Apparently the star of my book didn't learn her French culinary facts from Julia.  Thankfully I was armed with my Google research and knew that it was basically a cheese puff, think cream puff, but without cream filling and tasting of yummy cheese instead.  A puff with a crisp exterior, a soft airy center, and deceptively light.  Julia had several versions of this pastry that starts with a basic Pâte â Choux.

Pâte â Choux is one of those mystical things that is as simple as breathing but as complex as learning to regulate your breaths during a deep sea dive.  It's basically water, butter, flour, a pinch of salt, and eggs.  You start with a slow boil of water and butter until the butter melts.

The next step sounds so easy unless you don't spend any time at all in the gym.  You dump all the flour in at once and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together and pulls away from the pan.

Initially this is done off the heat with a return to heat at the end.  It is remarkably reminiscent of glue at this point.  After all, you've just got a blob of water and flour.  If you have a strong man in the house this would be the time to employ his biceps   I didn't have a man, I don't need no stinking man!  Whew, I do this 5 days a week and I'll give Linda Hamilton a run for her money.

After phase one of your work out it's time to beat in the eggs.  One at a time is key and your choux should be warm throughout this entire phase so you can't walk away (to rest your arms) but it's got enough residual heat that you don't have to go all Flash Gordon on it.  Add one egg, off heat, beat it in, by hand, with a wooden spoon until it's fully incorporated.

Do this with each egg and keep in mind that they will take longer and longer to incorporate.

     At this point you would add your cheese if you are making cheese puffs.  If you are making sweet puffs a bit of sugar is added to the boiling water.  I added a half and half mixture of Swiss and Parmesan   I added slightly more than the cup Julia called for.  Yes, we ARE on a first name basis.

Add your mixture to a pastry bag.  Oh, you don't have a pastry bag, Mon Dieu! Oh wait, I don't either.  A sturdy zip top bag will do.  I like to put my bag inside a tall glass to make filling it easier.

After I had my bag filled I cut a pretty good sized hole in the corner of my bag because I wanted to make large puffs.  I think next time I'll make little bite sized puffs instead.

Squeeze a rounded dollop on a cookie sheet.  A 2 inch mound for large puffs and a 1 inch mound for small puffs. I didn't have parchment but I wish I did, if you have it, employ it.  I did struggle with getting the choux to detach nicely but a pair of scissors made that much easier.  I ran the blades under water first to prevent sticking.  You will have a little point at the top and you don't want this.  Take a beaten egg and use a pastry brush to both flatten this tip and coat each dollop.  I spaced my puffs about 3 inches apart as they were to double in size but most of that expansion is upward so I think I could have put them a bit closer together, not too much though.

This is where the precision of the French come in.  We are used to recipes that say bake it at this temperature for this long.  Not so, says Julia!  The puffs go into a 425 degree oven for 20 minutes at the top and bottom thirds of the oven (I had to rotate and turn my pans half way as my oven doesn't bake evenly), then knock it down to 375 degrees for 10 minutes, then slit the side and turn the oven off, prop open the door, and let them sit for 10 more minutes.

*note if you are making small puffs omit the step of lowering the oven temperature and cooking for 10 extra minutes and go straight from 425 to piercing with a knife (not a slit as they are smaller) the sides of the puff, turning off the oven, and propping door open.

I'm going to go ahead and admit to you right now that my oven and I aren't speaking today.  She really has no respect for the delicacies of French cooking.  When I find the patience to deal with her again she and I will have a long talk until we come to some kind of agreement on times and temperature.  Moral of the story, don't always trust the recipe.  Get to know your equipment and don't be afraid to experiment, if you don't get a perfect result the first time.

*additional note: My oven and I broke up.  I am now seeing a wonderful second hand but infinitely more agreeable oven.

You can eat these yummy morsels warm right from the pan and let the rest hang out on a cooling rack.  My insides were still a little wet so I made my slits a little bigger, basically cutting them through but leaving top attached to bottom, and put them back in the oven with it off and the door cracked over night.

I give myself a B- on these but I intend to practice with my finicky oven and with my choux paste a bit more with varying sizes and fillings.  I guess that means you have a Choux Part Deux post to look forward to.

The basic recipe is below but the formatting of Julia's recipes in Mastering the Art of French cooking is done in such a wonderful teaching style that I highly recommend picking it up.  You'll find hundreds of other valuable lessons therein.

For Cheese Puffs
1 cup water
3 Ounces (6 Tb or 3/4 stick) butter cut into pieces
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
3/4 Cup All Purpose Flour
4 eggs
1 cup (4 ounces) grated Swiss, or Swiss and Parmesan, cheese
beaten egg

1 1/2 -Quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan
Wooden spoon or wooden spatula
pastry bag with round tip or zip top bag
pastry brush or paint brush
2 buttered baking sheets or baking sheets covered with parchment paper

Bring water to boil with the butter and seasonings (salt and pepper) and boil slowly until the butter has melted.  Meanwhile measure out the flour.

Remove from heat and immediately pour in all the flour at once.  Beat vigorously with a wooden spatula or spoon for several seconds to blend thoroughly.  then beat over moderately high heat for 1 to 2 minutes until mixture leaves the sides of the pan and spoon, forms a mass, and begins to film the bottom of the pan.

Remove saucepan from heat and make a well in the center of the paste with your spoon.  Immediately break an egg into the center of the well.  Beat it into the paste for several seconds until it has absorbed.  Continue with the rest of the eggs, beating them in one by one.  The third and fourth eggs will be absorbed more slowly,  Beat for a moment more to be sure all is well blended and smooth.

Beat the cheese into the warm pâte à choux.  Correct seasoning.  Squeeze into circular mounds 1 inch in diameter and 1/2 inch high. Space 2 inches apart on baking sheet, paint with beaten egg and flatten the top slightly.  Bake in upper and lower thirds of preheated 425 degree oven for about 20 minutes.  The puffs are done when they have doubled in size, are golden brown, and firm and crusty to the touch.  Remove from the oven and pierce the side of each puff with a sharp knife.  Then set in the turned off oven and leave the door ajoar for 10 minutes.  Cool puffs on rack.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Puff the Magic Pancake

Snow days can be a glorious thing but they can also mean being stuck.  Many of us panic and head out the night before an anticipated cataclysmic event, such as a snow fall, to the grocery store for the standard snowpocalypse stock up on bread, eggs, and milk.  For my sister it meant being stuck with all three boys home from school when her oldest had oral surgery scheduled.  For me it meant being stuck with icy hills and a car that doesn't handle great even if the road hazard is a banana peel.  Because of our respective stuck-ness my nephews spent the night last night at the LAST MINUTE.  I cannot tell you how laid back and easy my middle nephew is which makes him the perfect house guest as long as you have Netflix or the Disney Channel.  My youngest nephew could use a full time activity manager.  When he spends the night alone I spend days scouting Pinterest and combing through the remains of my teacher stash in the basement in order to find enough to entertain, engage, and keep him busy.

I did not have that luxury.  I also didn't have the luxury of sleeping in this morning as he was tiptoeing into my bedroom before the sun rose with all the energy and focus of a howler monkey.  I spent the next three hours trying my best to keep him busy and quite so as not to wake his brother. This involved employing him to help me clean, really bad children's programming, and a fun experiment with bio-degradable packing peanuts.  All of that makes a kid hungry and he was finally ready for breakfast.  This was one thing I didn't have to plan.  He made it clear what he wanted the night before: Pancakes!

I don't keep mixes in my house, but I admit using a certain favorite pancake mix.  I haven't wanted or made pancakes in so long and money has been tight so there was no pancake mix in my house.  Thanks mom for the Betty Crocker Cook Book.  Flip to pancakes and there I see it.  Puffed Oven Pancake.  It shouted out to me from a memory.  My boyfriend's cousins enjoy this treat around Christmas time and since I saw a picture of it posted on her facebook profile I'd longed to make it myself but never got around to it.

When I saw how easy and, quite frankly, healthy it was I got fully on board and even managed to convince my very picky nephew that we were going to try something new today.  I think in his mind as long as it was a pancake he was going to be fine.  Even after seeing how simple the recipe was I still couldn't believe the simplicity of the process itself.  It's ease of preparation is directly inverse to it's wow factor. I mean, I literally don't even have to look at the recipe to share it with you.

2 Tb. Butter
3 Eggs
1/2 Cup Flour
1/2 Cup of Milk
1/4 tsp. Salt
Desired toppings

Hardware: 10 inch oven safe pan.  I used my trusty Cast Iron Skillet.

Put your butter in your your pan and place in oven pre-heated to 400 degree F.  As that melts, 3-5 minutes, crack your eggs and whisk them in a medium sized bowl until they are combined.  Dump the rest of the ingredients in there and whisk again until smooth.  At this point your butter should be melted.  Pull the rack your pan is on far enough out to access your pan to pour the mixture into it.  You have to do this as soon as you are done mixing, no standing with this batter.

Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Assemble your audience and prepare to amaze and astound as you bring it out of the oven.

While it is baking you can consider your toppings.  We went with what we had on hand, syrup and powdered sugar.  This is a hearty, protein rich, egg-ey pancake that would be delicious with warmed fruit preserves and freshly whipped cream.  My beau's cousin adorns their with Christmas colored sprinkles!  

To  adapt for individual pancakes omit the butter and spray custard cups (I'm going to say large cupcake cups might work too) with non stick spray.  Prepare your batter, divide among custard cups, Bake at 400 for 20-25 minutes.

Viola!  An impressive breakfast or dessert that you can make with your standard snow day fare.and you don't even need BREAD!  But, the real test is do the nephs like it?  Tell me what YOU think (and ignore the pile of coats and scarves... They're gone now, I promise).

Sunday, August 26, 2012

My Crave: Salsa Fresca and Chips Con Chile and Limon

Lately I've been craving some snacks and dishes from my childhood and for me that means easy, quick, fresh Mexican creations.  While my ability to form memories was barely forming while my family lived and traveled throughout Mexico, the recipes my mother collected became a cornerstone of family meals and quick snacks throughout my lifetime.

The only fair thing to do when one is having a craving is do one's very best to pass the crave along.  To  that end, I'm going to share a couple of my favorite, quick, recipes with you.  Please forgive the lack of pictures but lately I've realized that my desire to have beautiful pictures on my blog posts conflicts directly with my inability to capture decent pictures while I'm chopping, stirring, and being fabulous in the kitchen.

The first snack I am going to share is insanely easy and really not a recipe at all, but that doesn't mean that your mind won't be blown by its perfect friendship of crunch, smokey spice, and tangy tartness.  Are you ready....

1.  Get some plain potato chips, you're favorite kind, but those really crunchy ones are GREAT and stand up well.  I'll admit, I don't really keep chips in my house so when I'm craving this I'll take whatever kind of plain potato chips I can get.  

2.  Cut a wedge of lime and squeeze it over the chips (now you see why those really thick super crunchy ones work so well).

3.  Flip the top on some chili powder and sprinkle liberally over the chips.

4.  Devour

Try this with popcorn too or take a trip to a Mexican grocery store and find a fun seasoning that has already united in holy and tasty matrimony the tangy and the zippy.  Look for anything that says something like "salsa con limon" or "chile con limon" or even... you'll love this "fruit seasoning" yes, this combo is amazing on fruit too!  Is that cray cray or what?  I usually use the brand Tajin but go with your heart. 

You're less likely to have this combo on hand but Citric Acid (vitamin C) and Chili powder can be thrown together in whatever proportions float your raft to keep on hand for cravings. 

Ok, let's move from crunch and spice to spice and lusciousness.  My mom's salsa fresca or pico de gallo is one of those things that seems to be at every family gathering, impromptu or formal.  It usually lasts about 5-10 minutes and is best enjoyed with some really great tortilla chips or any dang thing you want.  I realize I am apologizing a lot today but I don't have specific measurements for you, it would be against the spirit of the dish.  You throw this together out of a desperate attempt to keep your greedy family away from the carne while it finishes roasting.  You know how garlicy, oniony, or spicy you like your food.  Go ahead and boldly create. I'll give you guidelines to make about 3 cups of salsa.

Diced Tomatoes- This is your primary ingredient, what you  should have the most of.  Everything else works to make these better.  I can get about 2-3 cups of salsa if I have a couple pints of cherry or 4-5 roma or 3-4 large beefsteaks.

1 chopped medium or 1/2 large white onion.  If you don't like onions... I'd say get over it, but as an alternative to you changing your lifetime held onion prejudices you can try using dehydrated onions (not my favorite course of action) or grating about half the amount of onions called for.  You will get the necessary flavor components without getting a big bite of onion.

1/2-1 jalapeno minced as small as you can get them.  Go ahead and drag out that fancy food chopper thing you bought at the last in home appliance party.  You'll need it again for the....

2-4 cloves garlic minced.  I like garlic.  I don't understand that it's possible to have too much.  If you aren't using your food chopper try this method:

Roughly chop your garlic with a large chef's knife (buck up camper, YouTube some videos on knife handling and PUT DOWN THE PARING KNIFE).  Pour some (preferably) kosher salt over your little mound of garlic and chop some more.  Let it get messy while you teeter totter the knife back and forth through the garlic. Lay your knife flat and while putting pressure on the blade of the knife press and drag the garlic to turn it into a paste.      

This video might help. In fact, you could have just ignored this whole paragraph and watched the video, but I guess it's too late for that. 
Fresh Cilantro roughly chopped.  Bundle that bunch of cilantro up into a tight little ball and chop away.

Juice of 1/2-1 lime.  A lemon will do in a pinch.

Salt and Pepper to taste

Throw all of that into a bowl and TRY with all of your might to let that refrigerate, and I only say refrigerate because it will be out of site and therefore less of a temptation, for at least 30 minutes. 

Once you taste the magic of this recipe don't feel like it's sacrilege to play with the ingredients.  Throw some cucumbers or black beans or avocado in there.

You might not catch the crave that I have for these childhood food memories but with these two recipes/methods you have some tools that you can twist up and use in as many different ways as you can think of.  Throw that lime and chili powder on some popcorn, you won't regret it.

Love and Deliciousness to all!