Tuesday, April 20, 2010
With just over two months to go until The Wedding Day, things have become a bit crazy around here. Crazy and very distracted. It's really weird to me, because I never used to be a stress eater. In fact, it was just the opposite for years. I could barely eat at all when I was nervous. But this very week, I think I may have consumed my weight in lemon bars. It was an Ina Garten recipe, and I found it on the Food Network. The end result was delicious, but it was a little soupy, to say the least. I was making the bars while in a bit of a rush, so it's highly likely that I did something wrong, though I don't know what.
But today I made something far more successful that also appeals to me in these hectic moments. I'm not sure why, having been born and raised in Pennsylvania, and having lived here nearly my entire life, but I love Southern food. I had a Kentucky Derby party last year, and I want to have another one next year (this year, it's impossible, because of a Wedding Shower. While I'm looking forward to that, it just goes to show how getting married can kind of take over everything).
I have to admit, I don't know if I have ever eaten authentic Soul food. I have been to Pop Eye's once, but I think comparing that to Southern food is nearly as bad as thinking Taco Bell represents the best of Mexican cuisine. I once had barbecue ribs and corn bread from a North Carolina restaurant that was participating in the Pittsburgh rib fest at Heinz field. I thought it was so delicious that I didn't even care that I had the sauce all over my face.
So, usually when I want something close to Southern food, I have to make it myself. I've waxed poetic time and again about these biscuits, and I'm here to do it again. Plus, a little practice makes perfect. I can now bang these guys out in about five minutes.
The last time I attempted fried chicken, I wasn't pleased with the result. So I've given up and used something else to give me the crispy texture I want. Cornflakes. So yes, the recipe that I have for you today is one for cornflake chicken. It's actually quite healthy, and I've added some flavoring to make it "the best chicken you've ever made", according to Sean. It may not be the best chicken you've ever made, but I think it will come close. And I strongly recommend that you serve your chicken with some freshly made biscuits. Because these two things belong together. Which led me to think of this wedding slogan:
"Lauren and Sean ~Good together like chicken and biscuits~" What do you think?
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast
2 cups plain, reduced fat yogurt
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon seasoning salt ( I used Jane's Krazy Mixed Up Seasonings Original Mixed-Up Salt, but Lawry's seasoning salt, or your own proprietary blend would work here too. You want something with a little kick, maybe even just some garlic powder)
3 cups corn flake cereal, placed in a plastic zip top bag and crushed
1-2 tablespoons butter
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. However, if you are baking some biscuits, a hotter oven will work fine. The chicken will just be done faster.
In a small mixing bowl, add the yogurt and stir. And the seasonings and stir again. Taste, and adjust the seasonings. Place the chicken in a small pan or platter. Cover with the yogurt mixture and use a fork to turn the chicken, making sure that each piece is covered with the yogurt marinade. Allow to sit at least thirty minutes. You could also do this step in the morning, or the night before. I use the thirty minutes to work on my biscuits.
Using tongs, place the chicken breasts, one at a time, in the crushed cornflake bag. Seal the bag and move it around to allow the flakes to stick to the chicken. If necessary, use your hands to stick cornflakes onto any places that are bare. Set the chicken aside on a clean plate and continue until all of the pieces are covered with the cornflakes. Discard the flakes and the yogurt. Melt 1-2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet. Add the chicken and allow to brown on each side, over medium heat.
Spray a large glass baking dish with cooking spray. Turn off the heat under the skillet and move the chicken to the pan. Place the pan in the oven and allow to bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or when the meat is cooked through and a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the chicken reads 160 or higher. Remove the pan from the oven and cover with foil. Allow the chicken to rest a few minutes before serving.
Monday, March 29, 2010
It's been a dry month-plus around here in my kitchen. I try recipes with the best of intentions, but there hasn't been anything worth reporting back on. This is my go-to excuse, I know. But I'm being truthful. Then it occurred to me that I always wanted to talk about tarts.
I received a tart pan for Christmas. I've used it to make several really delicious tarts, including this one. One thing that I especially like about this recipe is the technique for making the dough. Making the dough is easy; you can make lots of plain pastry dough, and freeze for up to three months. You can always have it on hand to make a wide variety of recipes. Here's a crash course:
Pastry dough, or pate brisee, can be used to make pies, tarts, quiche, or puff pastry. While there may be some variations, the basic formula is all-purpose flour mixed with a little salt, and then an equal amount (to the flour) of very cold butter (I use frozen) is grated in. Then use very cold water, about a tablespoon at a time, to form the ingredients into a ball. Use only enough water to achieve this. Shape into a ball, then flatten. Freeze or chill, for at least an hour. When you're ready to use the dough, thaw (if needed) and shape.
The technique from here varies, but you will have a delicious, buttery, flaky crust to use for just about anything. And it's so easy. A lot of modern cooks recommend that you use a food processor to do the work, which is fine, but you really don't need anything more than a bowl, your hands, a cheese grater (box or flat), and a freezer. A rolling pin is nice, too, but it's not necessary.
For some variations, you could add sugar, vanilla beans, freshly cracked black pepper, finely grated Parmesan cheese, olive oil, or dried herbs. Not all together, of course. Also, as you'll note in the recipe linked above, the addition of an egg and an egg yolk makes the dough a lot easier to work with, as tart dough can be very crumbly. Omitting the egg and folding the dough over, then rolling it out, chilling, and repeating, results in airy, flaky puff pastry.
The easy part is deciding what to use the dough for. As I said, there are countless ways to use pastry dough. Make a chicken stew, cover with the pastry dough, brush with an egg wash,cut to vent, bake, and you have chicken pot pie. I like to use the scraps for little cookies. I dust them with cinnamon and sugar, roll up, and bake in the oven or toaster oven for 15 minutes. The butter in the dough braises your dish as it bakes, so you'll end up with great, rich flavor, no matter what.
The recipe that I used yesterday would make a beautiful and delicious addition to any Easter table: an almond and apricot tart. I got the recipe from the Food and Wine Magazine website. It involves a lot of work, but I think it was worth it. Fortunately, you can always make the pastry dough for the tart in advance, and then also bake the shell the night before.
Apricot, Almond and Brown Butter Tart
Adapted with revised instructions from Food and Wine
Ingredients for Pastry:
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, chilled if using a food processor, frozen if using a grater
5 tablespoons ice water
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Ingredients for Filling:
3/4 cup slivered almonds
2 cups dry white wine
2 cups dried apricots (10 ounces)
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 vanilla bean—halved lengthwise, seeds scraped and reserved (I strongly recommend using vanilla bean, as it makes great flavor, but an extra 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract would work too)
1 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract or vanilla
Sweetened whipped cream, for serving, or vanilla ice cream, if you're feeling extract decadent
To make the tart shell, mix the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Remove the butter from the freezer and grate using a flat plane or box cheese grater. Add to the bowl, or grate directly over the bowl. Using your hands, crumble the mixture together until it is coarse in texture, or with lumps the size of peas. Add most of the ice water and vanilla extract. Using hands again, shape into a ball. Keep adding ice water by the tablespoon full until the dough forms a ball. Do not use more that 6 or 7 tablespoons of water, and only if absolutely necessary. The mixture may be very crumbly, but just shape it as best you can. If large chunks fall of, slap them back on. Dump the dough onto plastic wrap, flatten and wrap.
Place in the refrigerator to chill for at least an hour. You can keep the dough in the refrigerator for up to a week, and in the freezer, sealed and wrapped well, for about three months. If you are keeping the dough in the refrigerator for more than a few hours, you will need to allow the dough to thaw.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to a 15-inch round, 1/4 inch thick. Transfer the round to a 12-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom; gently press it over the bottom and up the side. Trim any excess. Again if the dough is hard to work with, just be patient. It will turn out fine if you do the patching. Refrigerate the tart shell for at least 20 minutes, until firm.
Line the tart shell with foil and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake for about 50 minutes, until the shell starts to brown around the edges. Remove the foil and weights and bake for about 25 minutes longer, until the shell is cooked through. Transfer to a rack and let cool. You can make the shell a day in advance. If finishing the tart on the same day, lower the oven temperature to 325°.
To make the filling, spread the slivered almonds on a large rimmed baking sheet. Toast in the oven for about 6 minutes (at 325 degrees), until lightly browned. Let cool.
Meanwhile, in a medium nonreactive saucepan, bring the wine to a boil. Add the apricots, cover and simmer over moderate heat until plumped, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.
In a small skillet, cook the butter with the vanilla bean seeds over moderate heat until browned, about 4 minutes.
In a food processor, pulse the toasted and cooled almonds until it forms a meal. Place them in a medium bowl and add the confectioners' sugar, flour, and salt. Stir to combine. Add the eggs and stir until just combined. Add the browned butter and almond/vanilla extract and stir until smooth. There will still be some bumps from the almonds.
Drain the apricots and pat dry. Pour the almond filling into the tart shell. Nestle the apricots into the filling in concentric circles. Bake the tart for about 50 minutes, until the filling is golden brown and set. Transfer to a rack to cool. Cut into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature, dolloped with sweetened whipped cream.
Friday, February 19, 2010
And today, many of our nearest and dearest will be joining us at Sean's friends house for an engagement party! I am so looking forward to that.
4 large eggs, room temperature. To get the eggs to room temperature quickly, I fill a bowl with lukewarm water and place the uncracked eggs in it for at least ten minutes. I find that room temperature eggs really improve a recipe, especially brownies.
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an inch square baking pan or oven proof glass dish, then line with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Do not use wax paper. Grease the liner, and set aside.
If your butter is colder than room temperature, place the stick in a microwave safe bowl or large glass measuring cup and soften it a little in the microwave. It's ok if it starts to melt. Place the chocolate in the bowl with the softened butter and microwave for about 20 seconds at a time, stirring carefully in between. Make sure the chocolate is not scorching. When the butter and chocolate are mostly melted, remove from the microwave and stir until the mixture is smooth. Alternately, use a double boiler over the stove. Allow the chocolate mixture to cool for about 10 to 15 minutes. If the bowl you used to melt your chocolate and butter is not big enough to hold all of the other ingredients too, move your chocolate mixture to a larger bowl.
Stir sugar into the cooled chocolate mixture until combined. At this point, the mixture will be grainy. Whisk in the eggs one at a time, until smooth after each addition. Whisk in vanilla. Gently fold in flour and salt with a wooden spoon.
Pour batter into the prepared pan and smooth top with a spatula. Bake until a cake tester placed in the center of the brownies comes clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.
When cool, run a knife around the sides of the pan. Using the parchment or foil, carefully lift the brownies out of the pan and onto the rack. Brownies can be stored in an air tight container for 3 days.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
I've been more or less stuck in the house since Friday night. This is probably something that many of you can sympathize with. Is anyone else starting to worry that once they do get out and back to real life, they will have become agoraphobic, like a house cat? On Tuesday, I did get to the pet store (for cat food), liquor store (wine is almost a necessity when snow-bound, I find), and Target for groceries, since the Giant Eagle was unbelievably crowded. While perusing the shelves at Target, I was at a bit of a loss, since our Target store doesn't carry fresh vegetables, etc. I'd been planning on stewing some eggplant and making Chicken Masala, but clearly that wasn't going to happen.
When being snow bound, one has nothing if not time and then some more time, so it occurred to me that this would be a good opportunity to make Jim Lahey's No-Knead Pizza Dough. It requires hardly any work, but you do need 12 to 24 hours of rising time. I'd tried the bread on Friday/Saturday, and it was really good, especially for something that I mixed together and plunked in my laundry room to forget about for 18 hours!
I used 1 1/2 cups of all purpose white flour and 1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour for the pizza dough, partially because a lot of people mentioned that the pizza dough was extremely floppy and hard to work with. I allowed my dough to rise for the full 24 hours, in my toasty laundry room, which seems to make a huge difference for rising dough. I had no trouble working with the dough, even when tossing it to make the crust. However, I wasn't too crazy about the strong wheat flavor with the tomato sauce, so next time I think I will use 2 cups of AP flour and 1 cup of wheat flour, or maybe even 2 1/2 cups AP and 1/2 cup wheat.
And there will definitely be a next time. I'd like to use more sophisticated and creative ingredients than a Kraft Italian cheese mix and some Hormel turkey pepperoni. I did, however, make a really good pizza sauce, which can be found in the comments section of my blog here. It's the first comment, and it was added by my sister, Rachel. It was a very easy, delicious sauce, and I'd definitely recommend using it.
Jim Lahey's No-Knead Pizza with a Simple Tomato Sauce
Adapted from Jim Lahey, Co.
Makes four 12-inch pizza crusts, with each crust serving one or two people
3 cups all purpose flour or bread flour, or a combination of all purpose flour and whole wheat flour, plus more for sprinkling
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast (it is important to use instant)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups water
In a large bowl, mix the flour with the yeast and salt. Add the water and stir until blended (the dough will be very sticky). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest for 12 to 24 hours in a warm spot, about 70°.
Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface and lightly sprinkle the top with flour. Fold the dough over on itself once or twice, cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes.
Divide the dough into 4 pieces and shape each piece into a ball. Generously sprinkle a clean cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour and cover the dough balls with it. Let the dough rise for 2 hours.
Stretch or toss the dough into the desired shape, cover with toppings and bake (the pizzas will probably not be a perfect circle, but rather oblong in shape. I baked my pizzas in a 450 degree oven for about 12 minutes each).
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Ok, yes, I love soup. I especially love soup for lunch. There's just so much you can do with the formula of soup, and the leftovers are usually even better than a fresh batch. However, I am a little picky. When I think of soup, I usually am craving some kind of vegetable puree with lots of flavor, preferably complex. I don't much like meat or excessive amounts of cream in my soup, though I'm willing to try almost anything. But as I've said before, I love pureeing soup with my new immersion blender. It's more fun than, say, planning a wedding or doing laundry. Definitely more fun than laundry. So, even if you are sick of hearing me talk about soup, I'm not sick of eating it. And you should definitely try this one. It's perfect for a cold winter's day. It might even be good served cold in the summer, as it's very gazpacho-like.
Roasted Red Pepper and Eggplant Soup
Slightly tweaked from Bon Appetit, March 2001 via Epicurious
This soup is delicious and complex in flavors. It's also pleasantly spicy, but still has a rich and savory flavor. It's a bit labor intensive, so I wasn't initially sure if I wanted to share it with you, but this soup is so wonderfully delicious that I couldn't resist. Just block out a decent amount of time to complete the recipe. After the vegetable roasting, things move on pretty quickly.
1 eggplant, halved
2 red bell peppers
1/8 cup olive oil, plus more for brushing on eggplant
2 small onions, chopped
1 small leek, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced into half moon shapes (white and pale green parts only)
3 large garlic cloves, minced
4 1/4 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth (or vegetable broth, naturally)
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons dried basil
lots of salt and pepper, to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2-3 tablespoons parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 450°F. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Pierce eggplants all over with a fork. Brush the eggplant halves with olive oil and sprinkle salt all over. Place the eggplant cut side down on the baking sheet and roast until tender, about 45 minutes. You could chop and prepare the other vegetables during this time.
When the eggplant is softened and slightly browned, remove from the oven and allow to cool. Remove the peel and discard. This will be easy. Cut eggplants into large pieces. Rinse the eggplant pieces under running water. Drain well and set aside. The roasting, rinsing and draining will remove much of the bitterness found in full-sized eggplants.
Char the bell peppers, whole, in a broiler until blackened on all sides. This may take some patience. Enclose in paper bag 10 minutes. Peel, seed and coarsely chop peppers.
Heat 1/8 cup of olive oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and leek, season to taste with salt and pepper. Sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté 1 minute. Stir in eggplant, peppers, chicken stock, and tomato paste and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer uncovered until vegetables are tender, about 45 minutes. Stir in basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper once again.
Turn off the heat and allow to cool a bit, so you aren't splashed with scalding hot liquid. Place your immersion blender inside the mixture and then turn it on, moving it around slowly, though the blender will do most of the work. When you are satisfied with the puree, turn off the immersion blender and then remove it from the soup. Unplug and set aside.
Alternately, turn off the heat and allow to cool even more, then transfer the soup in batches to a blender or food processor. Be sure not to fill the blender or food processor too much, as hot liquid expands.
After the blending, stir the soup, then add butter and lemon juice; stir over low heat until soup is heated through, about 5 minutes. Add Parmesan all at once and stir. The soup is ready to serve, or pack some for lunch, like me.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
Is it any wonder that I've been craving soups lately? Warming, delicious, and nutritious, they are a great way to get a balanced meal. Especially for lunch, so I've been toting plastic containers of the stuff to work all month. These soups have been delicious and satisfying, and they just get better day after day (which is good, since I make a big pot on Sunday night and then eat it all week).
Unfortunately, I didn't think to take any pictures of the soup. However, both looked pretty much the same: smooth and orange. I recently acquired an immersion blender, and this tool has changed my life, so to speak. You see, I love a good, smooth pureed vegetable soup, but swapping cooked vegetables out to a blender or food processor is slow, annoying, messy, and potentially dangerous, if the liquid expands and you get burned. You can still do it this way, but now I gleefully puree these soups with the push of a button. It's just so satisfying, and I think I may be addicted to using it. I'm even beginning to wonder how I ever functioned without it. And so, without further ado, I offer two tasty and nutritious soup recipes that will make you feel warm and cozy.
Spiced Butternut Squash Soup with an Apple
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics, by Ina Garten, and Orangette
This soup gets a lot of its warm flavor from spices, which isn't to say that it's spicy. It has a savory sweetness, and Sean even thought it smelled a little like maple syrup. I'd recommend using a two or three of these spices, in addition to the curry powder:nutmeg, allspice, mace, or cardomom. Whatever you have available. Mace and cardomom are expensive, so I skipped them. Just be sure to season carefully, or the flavor of the spices could become overwhelming. A day or two after I made this soup, I saw this article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. This version of a butternut squash soup with apple suggests the addition of a sweet potato and apple cider vinegar. I'd like to try that version soon. Plus, they actually show you a picture!
1/4 cup canola oil, or light tasting olive oil (no EVOO here)
2 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into two inch pieces, about 2 cups (I chopped these last to avoid the icky browning)
1 large onion or 2-3 small, peeled and coarsely chopped, about one cup
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1+ quart vegetable stock (or chicken, if that's what you have)
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
Heat oil in your largest pot over medium heat. Add the squash, apples and onion, and stir to coat with the oil. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and transparent, about ten minutes. Stir in the spices and continue to cook until the onion is nicely browned. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Lower the hear to medium-low and allow it to simmer, covered, for 35 minutes, or until the squash is very tender.
Turn off the heat and allow to cool a bit, so you aren't splashed with scalding hot liquid. Place your immersion blender inside the mixture and then turn it on, moving it around slowly, though the blender will do most of the work. When you are satisfied with the puree, turn off the immersion blender and then remove it from the soup. Unplug and set aside. Stir the soup and add salt and pepper, as well as any additional seasonings, to taste. The soup is ready to serve (see below, however).
Alternately, turn off the heat and allow to cool even more, then transfer the soup in batches to a blender or food processor. Be sure not to fill the blender or food processor too much, as hot liquid expands. Place all of the soup back in the pot and reheat, stirring occasionally. You will need a large bowl or another large pot to successfully maneuver this. When the soup is sufficiently warmed, add salt and pepper, adjust the seasonings, and stir again.
This soup becomes significantly better after a day or two. Right after making the soup, I thought it was weak and underwhelming. By Thursday afternoon, it was a rich, complex puree.
Ginger Carrot Soup
Adapted from The San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market Cookbook, by Christopher Hirsheimer and Peggy Knickerbocker.
The end result of this soup is quite spicy. This is a very low-fat soup, with the creaminess coming from the addition of potatoes. I particularly enjoyed this with a piece of whole wheat baguette, buttered and toasted.
3 tablespoons canola oil or olive oil (EVOO would be fine here)
2 large or 4 small onions, chopped
About 5 ounces of fresh ginger root, chopped into six to eight pieces (do not make the ginger too small, as you will be removing later, but you do want to add enough of it, as the ginger is central to the flavor of the soup.)
2 pounds of carrots, trimmed, peeled and chopped
2 or 3 red-skinned potatoes or one russet potato (whatever you have at home), peeled and quartered
Salt and ground pepper
4 cups chicken stock (homemade is always nice!), or vegetable stock
In your largest pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until the onion is soft and translucent, about ten minutes. Add the ginger, carrots and potatoes, season with salt and pepper, and stir. Pour in the stock, raise the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and allow the soup to simmer. You want the carrots to be very soft, and to give the ginger enough time to incorporate its flavor to the soup. Expect this to take about one hour.
When the carrot has softened, turn off the heat and remove the ginger. It's too strong tasting and fibrous to remain in the soup, so it is important to get it all out. Allow to cool a bit, so you aren't splashed with scalding hot liquid. Place your immersion blender inside the mixture and then turn it on, moving it around slowly, though the blender will do most of the work. When you are satisfied with the puree, turn off the immersion blender and then remove it from the soup. Unplug and set aside. Adjust the seasonings. The soup is ready to serve.
Alternately, turn off the heat and allow to cool even more, then transfer the soup in batches to a blender or food processor. Be sure not to fill the blender or food processor too much, as hot liquid expands. Place all of the soup back in the pot and reheat, stirring occasionally. You will need a large bowl or another large pot to successfully maneuver this. When the soup is sufficiently warmed,adjust the seasonings, and stir again.