Archive for February, 2009

Winter Blood Orange Salad


Blood Orange Salad

As I said before, composed salads are really not my strong suit.  I think of salads as a venue for all of my odds-and-ends vegetables – that little strip of red pepper gets a chop, the half of a fennel bulb is sliced thin, and they’re thrown on top of what’s left of my bag of baby spinach.  It is really only in the summer that I take any care with my salads – the time of year when sometimes a leafy bowl of greens is all my stomach can handle.

Yet in the process of “cooking the issue” for Fine Cooking, I was compelled to at least attempt this salad recipe.  I was thrilled to find that I love this dish.  The sweetness of the oranges and the vinaigrette contrasts with the salty parmigiano and the toasty hazelnuts.  This is a perfect salad for a winter get-together — it is bright, colorful, and widely appealing.  I used this salad as a centerpiece for my table, as it seemed prettier to me than any flower arrangement would be!  

Blood Orange and Radicchio Salad with Hazelnuts and Shaved Parmigiano by Joanne Weir for Fine Cooking, Issue 97Blood Orange dressing

(Serves 6)

5 medium blood oranges
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbs. white wine vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium (12-oz.) head radicchio, washed, cored, and cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces (about 5 loosely packed cups)
1 medium (6-oz.) head butter lettuce,washed, cored, and cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces (about 4 loosely packed cups)
3/4 c. blanched hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1-1/2 oz. chunk Parmigiano-Reggiano or aged goat cheese

Finely grate 1 tsp. of zest and then squeeze 2 Tbs. juice from one of the oranges. In a medium bowl, whisk the zest and juice with the olive oil, vinegar, 1/2 tsp. salt, and a few grinds of black pepper.

Using a sharp knife, trim off the peel and white pith from the remaining 4 oranges and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices; remove any seeds.

In a large bowl, toss the radicchio and butter lettuce with the hazelnuts and just enough dressing to lightly coat (about 1/4 cup). Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide the salad among 6 serving plates and top each with 3 or 4 blood orange slices. With a vegetable peeler, shave a few shards of cheese over the top.

Radicchio Blood Orange Salad



February 25, 2009 at 7:59 am 1 comment

Pulled Pork to Feed the Soul

Pulled Pork with Coleslaw

When I began this blog, I never would have characterized my cooking style or culinary repertoire as “comfort food”. That label usually applies to heavy, dense, sugary or greasy bowls of fattening casseroles and excessive desserts. It also applies to macaroni and cheese (check, check), layer cakes (check, check), and stews (check, check, check).  **Sigh**  I give up.  The truth is, I do take comfort (a lot of it!) in the eating and preparing of foods.  I feel just as satisfied watching my family and friends chow down on my latest creations as I do eating them myself, and when I’m feeling frustrated or crazed, an hour or two in the kitchen will always help me decompress.

Another association I regularly make with “Comfort Food” is southern U.S. cooking and the dreaded Paula Deen – from whence comes my aversion to applying the term to my own food.  That woman irks me somethin’ fierce, y’all.  Sorry.  That was uncalled for (in so many ways).

Yet no one can write off southern cuisine wholesale.  That would mean eliminating one of RJ and my favorite dishes of all time – Pulled Pork sandwiches – and I simply cannot support such a sweeping and drastic gesture.  Yet in the South, even, there is some serious debate about the proper way to make pulled pork.  From what I’m told, the Carolinians like their pork cooked only in vinegar (none of that ketchup-y stuff).  Others like the shredded pork swimming in barbecue sauce.  I compensate for my strong preference for the latter by making a very vinegary coleslaw (no mayo) to go on top of the pork in my sandwich.  I guarantee that a bite of this combo will make you swoon, whether you can stand Paula Deen or not.

Old South Pulled Pork on a Bun, from The 150 Best Slow Cooker Recipes by Judith Finlayson

BBQ ingredients(serves 6-8)

1 Tbs. vegetable oil
2 onions, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs. chili powder
1 tsp. cracked black peppercorns
1 c. tomato-based chili sauce (like Heinz)
1/4 c. packed brown sugar
1/4 c. cider vinegar
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. liquid smoke (I always leave this out – up to you)
1 boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat, about 3 lbs.
Kaiser or onion buns, halved and warmed

bbq-sauceIn a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soft. Add garlic, chili powder, and pepper, and cook, stirring, for one minute. Add chili sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and liquid smoke. Stir to combine and bring to a boil. (at this point you can cover and refrigerate sauce overnight or until ready to use — very helpful if planning this recipe for a weeknight).

Place pork in slow cooker stoneware and pour sauce over. Cover and cook on low for 10-12 hours or on high for 6 hours, until pork is falling apart.

Shredded/Pulled PorkTransfer pork to a cutting board and pull the meat apart in shreds, using two forks. [I will usually try to strain off some of the fat from the sauce at this point – depending on if I did a good job trimming the pork, it can get sorta greasy in there]. Return to sauce and keep warm. When ready to serve, spoon shredded pork and sauce over warm buns. Serve with coleslaw.

Katharine’s Carolina Coleslaw

Cider vinegar
Celery Seeds
Vegetable Oil
Bag of prepared coleslaw or 5 cups of shredded cabbage

Mix vinegar (about a 1/2 cup) with sugar (a scant teaspoon), celery seeds (about a teaspoon) and salt (1/4-1/2 teaspoon). Then add about a 1/4 cup of vegetable oil, whisking the whole time. Taste. It should be quite vinegary and a little sweet, and you should be able to taste the celery seeds. Add more oil or other ingredients as necessary until it is to your own preference. Mix dressing with the cabbage slaw (just enough to coat, not soak, the cabbage) and let sit in the fridge for about an hour before serving to let the flavors blend.

Pulled Pork with Coleslaw

February 21, 2009 at 12:08 pm 6 comments

Veal Marsala

Veal Marsala

One of the great things about getting married is the acquisition of all the new family members.  For my part, I gained a mother-in-law, a father-in-law, a brother-in-law, and some very awesome aunt-, uncle-, and cousins-in-law.  Since we’re all now officially family (hence the “in law” part), I am legally justified in adding their secret family recipes to my repertoire.  What’s yours is mine, right?

From what I understand, my father-in-law came into his culinary own later in life.  RJ was astounded the first night we ate dinner at his dad’s house and were served the BEST Chicken Marsala either of us had ever eaten.  When RJ was growing up, his dad was never in the kitchen, and was most excited when “Hit ‘n ‘Hingle” was on the menu (a kid-friendly version of the infamous military meal with the abreviation S.O.S.).  Yet in the past several years he has discovered quite a knack for cuisine – especially sauces.  I have yet to taste his mustardy green peppercorn sauce, but his Madeira gravy is out of this world.

In the past year or so, taking liberties with my new daughter-in-law status, I have hovered over his shoulder on several occasions and taken copious notes about his techniques, sequencing, and secret ingredients.  At long last, I believe I have developed a reconstitution of the Marsala recipe.  I am today testing the limits of familial love and trust by sharing the below dish, but it is so unbelievably good it would be far more criminal not to.  Chip – I love you and hope you will forgive me!

Veal MarsalaVeal Marsala setup
(serves 3)

1/2 c. plus 1 Tbs. flour, separated
1 tsp. dried marjoram
6-8 veal scallops (thinly sliced veal) [can also be made with chicken scallops]
1/4 lb. thinly sliced prosciutto
3 Tbs. butter, separated
5 scallions, thinly sliced
1 1/2 c. sliced or 1 c. chopped cremini mushrooms (optional)
1 c. sweet Marsala wine
3/4 c. chicken or veal stock
1/4 c. heavy cream (optional)
salt & pepper

marsala-meatIn a wide, shallow bowl or pan, whisk together the 1/2 c. flour, marjoram, and salt and pepper to taste. Pat a veal scallop dry with a paper towel and dip in the flour mixture on both sides to cover. Repeat with the rest of the scallops, and set aside. Place a large non-stick skillet, lightly oiled, over medium-high heat until hot. Lay the slices of prosciutto on the pan so they do not touch (this may need to be done in batches). When slices are browned on one side, flip and brown on the other side. Put cooked prosciutto aside on a separate plate.

Add 1 Tbs. butter to the same pan, allow it to melt over high heat, then brown the veal scallops on both sides, approximately 2 minutes per side.

marsala-sauceMelt the remaining butter over medium heat in the same pan used for the meats, then add the white and light green chopped scallions (reserve the dark green parts), stirring to pick up any browned bits. Cook until scallions are softened and fragrant, approximately 4 minutes. At this point, you can also add chopped or sliced mushrooms, cooking until mushroom liquid has evaporated. Sprinkle remaining tablespoon of flour over the scallions (and mushrooms, if using) and stir, cooking, for 1 minute. Pour Marsala into the pan, stirring, until reduced by half and thickened. Pour in the chicken stock, and simmer for 2 minutes. If desired, add the heavy cream at this point, stirring to combine (heavy cream creates a smoother, richer sauce). Salt and pepper to taste – Chip also adds some more dried marjoram at this point. Add the veal back into the pan to rewarm it for a minute or so.

We usually serve the meat and Marsala sauce over egg noodles, using the prosciutto and dark green scallion slices as delicious garnishes.

Creamy Marsala Sauce

February 14, 2009 at 11:24 am 1 comment

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Some recipes, like croissants, are expected to be difficult and involved.  Recipes like those take actual scheduling to tackle – as in, when will I have three straight days in the same kitchen without interruption?  Other recipes such as, um, spaghetti and meatballs, seem so simple as to be almost an afterthought.  In fact, even though I knew that I needed to post this recipe today along with the other Barefoot Bloggers, I figured it would only take a half hour or so to make and photograph, so it was only last night that I began it.  

While spaghetti and meatballs is one of those American classics, it was never something my mother made.  If she had, maybe I would know that this dish takes FOREVER… At least the way Ina makes it.  The meatball combining and forming is not time-consuming, but frying said meatballs (in batches, no less) takes a long while…  Those puppies cook slow over medium-low heat.  Then you make the sauce and cook the meatballs in the sauce for a half hour.  The only thing you can do simultaneously – since Ina insists you use the meatball-browning pan for the sauce – is boil the pasta.

All that being said, the meatballs tasted great.  They had a light texture and a subtle but interesting flavor, led by the addition of nutmeg.  RJ immediately said “Great Meatballs!” – not eloquent or revelatory necessarily, but still sincere and based in experiential expertise.  Not sure I’d take the hour+ on another weeknight to make this dish, however.  

 Spaghetti and Meatballs, from Barefoot Contessa Family Style

(Serves 6)

For the meatballs:
1/2 lb. ground vealSpaghetti and Meatballs - Ingredients
1/2 lb. ground pork
1 lb. ground beef
1 c. fresh white bread crumbs (4 slices, crusts removed)
1/4 c. seasoned dry bread crumbs
2 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 extra-large egg, beaten
Vegetable oil
Olive oil

For the sauce:Spaghetti Sauce
1 Tbs. good olive oil
1 c. chopped yellow onion (1 onion)
1 1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 c. good red wine, such as Chianti
1 (28-ounce) c. crushed tomatoes, or plum tomatoes in puree, chopped
1 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 lbs. spaghetti, cooked according to package directions
Freshly grated Parmesan

MeatballsPlace the ground meats, both bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan, salt, pepper, nutmeg, egg, and 3/4 cup warm water in a bowl. Combine very lightly with a fork. Using your hands, lightly form the mixture into 2-inch meatballs. You will have 14 to 16 meatballs.

Pour equal amounts of vegetable oil and olive oil into a large (12-inch) skillet to a depth of 1/4-inch. Heat the oil. Very carefully, in batches, place the meatballs in the oil and brown them well on all sides over medium-low heat, turning carefully with a spatula or a fork. This should take about 10 minutes for each batch. Don’t crowd the meatballs. Remove the meatballs to a plate covered with paper towels. Discard the oil but don’t clean the pan.

Spaghetti Meatballs

For the sauce, heat the olive oil in the same pan. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the wine and cook on high heat, scraping up all the brown bits in the pan, until almost all the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, salt, and pepper.

Return the meatballs to the sauce, cover, and simmer on the lowest heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through. Serve hot on cooked spaghetti and pass the grated Parmesan.

February 12, 2009 at 9:00 am 8 comments

I Cannot Believe I Did That… Vols. 2&3

Croissants from Scratch
Now, that’s more like it!  Beautiful, flaky croissants – some filled with chocolate or ham and cheese, and others simply plain – all smelling exactly like a French patisserie.  I am immensely proud of the three day creation that is pictured above.  Apparently, when chocolate and pastry are involved, my wariness over cholesterol and saturated fat completely dissipates.  Perhaps I should give up my prejudice towards the bacon explosion and those who love it, and admit that everyone has the right to choose his or her own vices.

While – as you can see – the results above look quite scrumptious, I still question whether they worth the three days of dough making, dough-rolling, and dough manipulating.  The fact that I had the time and the patience to wait for these treats is “I Cannot Believe I Did That, Volume 2”.  We’ll get to Volume 3 after I detail for you the laborious weekend process:

Step 1 — Make the dough by mixing yeast, flour, water, milk, sugar and a bit of butter with your electric mixer dough hook so that it goes from this:

pastry-yeastto this:

pastry doughThe dough was extraordinarily stiff at this point, which worried me, but I haven’t yet gotten to the adding tons and tons of butter stage, so stiffness is to be expected.  The dough rested like this for 8 hours until I took up the butter.  As it turns out, I did not do all of my homework ahead of time, and found out I was a half-stick short of the needed unsalted butter, so I substituted some salted butter (the yellower, softer stuff on the bottom).  I also was out of parchment paper, so used two of my non-stick plastic cutting board mats to pound the sliced butter into a proper butter square:

butter mat

And then placed it in the middle of my rolled-out square dough, and folded up the dough around the butter, like an envelope:

Croissant dough butter block

Then there was a LOT of rolling and folding, rolling and folding, with the purpose of incorporating many thin layers of butter into the dough to create the pockets of air and the chewy texture of the pastry, upon baking.  Fast forward to day 3:

pastry-workoutThe above is a picture of me “waking up the dough”, whereby I tried desperately to roll the dough out as long as possible, without widening it too much.  The only counter in my kitchen long enough to accommodate this ‘wakened’ dough was the bar-height counter that passes over from the kitchen to the dining room.  So I was standing on tip-toes and twisting my upper body in strange directions to complete this step!  Finally, however, I was able to reach the required length, and then I cut notches to divide the dough for the croissants (please ignore the messy dining room table!!):

Croissant pastryI rolled up the croissants as directed, and set them on baking sheets lined (again) with my non-stick plastic cutting board mats, since I still had not had a chance to get to the store for parchment paper.  No matter, these babies needed to proof for 2 hours:

pastry-proofingOnce the croissants had expanded and seemed ready to go, I baked them for the required time, switching the trays from top rack to bottom rack and vice versa, once in the middle of the cooking time.  I made chocolate ones:

Pain au Chocolatand some ham and cheddar ones, just to see what they’d be like:

Ham and CheeseThe results were quite impressive!  Flaky with butter, and a browned exterior that rivaled the products of the finest French pastry chefs!  So, I cannot believe I did it – three days, and a couple of strained biceps, later, I had a slew of fresh croissants that I made all by myself.

Now, for “I Cannot Believe I Did That, Volume 3” — my shame, and my sorrow, and the reason that I truly resent all of the incredible time and effort that went into making these croissants.  The lesson we should learn from ‘Volume 3’ is a simple one: don’t forget to purchase all required ingredients and supplies before starting a recipe.  As a corollary to that rule, do NOT attempt to substitute plastic sheets for parchment paper in all applications:

pastry-carnageI CANNOT BELIEVE I DID THAT!!!

Ruined!Yes – I put the plastic sheets in the oven, completely forgetting that I had used them to proof the croissants, and that I had not replaced them with parchment paper.  Needless to say, we didn’t actually get to enjoy these bad boys.  I sampled a bite or two of pastry off the top, but ended up so afraid that I would kill myself and my husband if we ate the melted plastic that I eventually threw them all out.  Sad…  But don’t let this stop you from giving this recipe a go!  For some great tips, check out Fine Cooking’s website.

Classic Croissants, by Jeffrey Hamelman in Fine Cooking Issue #97

(Yields 15)
For the dough:
1 lb. 2 oz. (4 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour; more for rolling
5 oz. (1/2cup plus 2 Tbs.) cold water
5 oz. (1/2 cup plus 2 Tbs.) cold whole milk
2 oz. (1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs.) granulated sugar
1-1/2 oz. (3 Tbs.) soft unsalted butter
1 Tbs. plus scant 1/2 tsp. instant yeast
2-1/4 tsp. table salt
For the butter layer
10 oz. (1-1/4 cups) cold unsalted butter
For the egg wash
1 large egg

Make the dough
Combine all of the dough ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on low speed for 3 minutes, scraping the sides of the mixing bowl once if necessary. Mix on medium speed for 3 minutes. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured 10-inch pie pan or a dinner plate. Lightly flour the top of the dough and wrap well with plastic so it doesn’t dry out. Refrigerate overnight.

Make the butter layer
The next day, cut the cold butter lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick slabs. Arrange the pieces on a piece of parchment or waxed paper to form a 5- to 6-inch square, cutting the butter crosswise as necessary to fit. Top with another piece of parchment or waxed paper. With a rolling pin, pound the butter with light, even strokes. As the pieces begin to adhere, use more force. Pound the butter until it’s about 7-1/2 inches square and then trim the edges of the butter. Put the trimmings on top of the square and pound them in lightly with the rolling pin. Refrigerate while you roll out the dough.

Laminate the dough
Unwrap and lay the dough on a lightly floured work surface. Roll into a 10-1/2-inch square. Brush excess flour off the dough. Remove the butter from the refrigerator—it should be pliable but cold. If not, refrigerate a bit longer. Unwrap and place the butter on the dough so that the points of the butter square are centered along the sides of the dough. Fold one flap of dough over the butter toward you, stretching it slightly so that the point just reaches the center of the butter. Repeat with the other flaps . Then press the edges together to completely seal the butter inside the dough. (A complete seal ensures butter won’t escape.)

Lightly flour the top and bottom of the dough. With the rolling pin, firmly press the dough to elongate it slightly and then begin rolling instead of pressing, focusing on lengthening rather than widening the dough and keeping the edges straight.

Roll the dough until it’s 8 by 24 inches. If the ends lose their square shape, gently reshape the corners with your hands. Brush any flour off the dough. Pick up one short end of the dough and fold it back over the dough, leaving one-third of the other end of dough exposed. Brush the flour off and then fold the exposed dough over the folded side. Put the dough on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and freeze for 20 minutes to relax and chill the dough.

Repeat the rolling and folding, this time rolling in the direction of the two open ends until the dough is about 8 by 24 inches. Fold the dough in thirds again, as shown in the photo above, brushing off excess flour and turning under any rounded edges or short ends with exposed or smeared layers. Cover and freeze for another 20 minutes.

Give the dough a third rolling and folding. Put the dough on the baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap, tucking the plastic under all four sides. Refrigerate overnight.

Divide the dough
The next day, unwrap and lightly flour the top and bottom of the dough. With the rolling pin, “wake the dough up” by pressing firmly along its length—you don’t want to widen the dough but simply begin to lengthen it with these first strokes. Roll the dough into a long and narrow strip, 8 inches by about 44 inches. If the dough sticks as you roll, sprinkle with flour. Once the dough is about half to two-thirds of its final length, it may start to resist rolling and even shrink back. If this happens, fold the dough in thirds, cover, and refrigerate for about 10 minutes; then unfold the dough and finish rolling. Lift the dough an inch or so off the table at its midpoint and allow it to shrink from both sides—this helps prevent the dough from shrinking when it’s cut. Check that there’s enough excess dough on either end to allow you to trim the ends so they’re straight and the strip of dough is 40 inches long. Trim the dough.

Lay a yardstick or tape measure lengthwise along the top of the dough. With a knife, mark the top of the dough at 5-inch intervals along the length (there will be 7 marks in all). Position the yardstick along the bottom of the dough. Make a mark 2-1/2 inches in from the end of the dough. Make marks at 5-inch intervals from this point all along the bottom of the dough. You’ll have 8 marks that fall halfway between the marks at the top.

Make diagonal cuts by positioning the yardstick at the top corner and the first bottom mark. With a knife or pizza wheel, cut the dough along this line. Move the yardstick to the next set of marks and cut. Repeat until you have cut the dough diagonally at the same angle along its entire length—you’ll have made 8 cuts. Now change the angle of the yardstick to connect the other top corner and bottom mark and cut the dough along this line to make triangles. Repeat along the entire length of dough. You’ll end up with 15 triangles and a small scrap of dough at each end.

Shape the croissants
Using a paring knife or a bench knife, make a 1/2- to 3/4-inch-long notch in the center of the short side of each triangle. The notch helps the rolled croissant curl into a crescent. Hold a dough triangle so that the short notched side is on top and gently elongate to about 10 inches without squeezing or compressing the dough—this step results in more layers and loft.

Lay the croissant on the work surface with the notched side closest to you. With one hand on each side of the notch, begin to roll the dough away from you, towards the pointed end.

Flare your hands outward as you roll so that the “legs” become longer. Press down on the dough with enough force to make the layers stick together, but avoid excess compression, which could smear the layers. Roll the dough all the way down its length until the pointed end of the triangle is directly underneath the croissant. Now bend the two legs towards you to form a tight crescent shape and gently press the tips of the legs together (they’ll come apart while proofing but keep their crescent shape).

Shape the remaining croissants in the same manner, arranging them on two large parchment-lined rimmed baking sheets (8 on one pan and 7 on the other). Keep as much space as possible between them, as they will rise during the final proofing and again when baked.

Proof the croissants
Make the egg wash by whisking the egg with 1 tsp. water in a small bowl until very smooth. Lightly brush it on each croissant.

Refrigerate the remaining egg wash (you’ll need it again). Put the croissants in a draft-free spot at 75° to 80°F. Wherever you proof them, be sure the temperature is not so warm that the butter melts out of the dough. They will take 1-1/2 to 2 hours to fully proof. You’ll know they’re ready if you can see the layers of dough when the croissants are viewed from the side, and if you shake the sheets, the croissants will wiggle. Finally, the croissants will be distinctly larger (though not doubled) than they were when first shaped.

Bake the croissants
Shortly before the croissants are fully proofed, position racks in the top and lower thirds of the oven and heat it to 400°F convection, or 425°F conventional. Brush the croissants with egg wash a second time. Put the sheets in the oven. After 10 minutes, rotate the sheets and swap their positions. Continue baking until the bottoms are an even brown, the tops richly browned, and the edges show signs of coloring, another 8 to 10 minutes. If they appear to be darkening too quickly during baking, lower the oven temperature by 10°F. Let cool on baking sheets on racks.

Make ahead tips
The croissants are best served barely warm. However, they reheat very well, so any that are not eaten right away can be reheated within a day or two in a 350°F oven for about 10 minutes. They can also be wrapped in plastic or aluminum foil and frozen for a month or more. Frozen croissants can be thawed overnight prior to reheating or taken from the freezer directly to the oven, in which case they will need a few minutes more to reheat.

Chocolate Croissants: Chop some good-quality bittersweet chocolate and distribute it along the length of the notched end of the dough triangle after you’ve stretched it—use about 1/2 oz. or 1-1/2 Tbs. for each one. Roll it up just like a plain croissant but without stretching out or bending the legs. Proof and bake the same.

Ham and Cheese Croissants: After stretching but before rolling up each croissant, put a thin layer of sliced ham on the dough at the notched end. Tuck it in if it lies more than a little outside the surface of the dough. Put a layer of thinly sliced or grated cheese—good Cheddar or Gruyère is best—on top of the ham. Without stretching or bending the legs, roll the dough tightly. Proof and bake the same.

February 9, 2009 at 9:00 am 4 comments

I Cannot Believe I Did That… Vol. 1

Bacon Explosion

What do you think when you see the above?  Do you start to gag?  or Does your mouth start to water?  Herein lies the difference between myself and my husband…  He saw the following article in the New York Times, and immediately sent me the link, as did several of my other friends.  I then went to the original source to find out WHY-O-WHY someone came up with this idea.  Of course, I saw the potential fun in the challenge, yet I had a difficult time getting beyond the bacon-on-bacon-on-pork 5000 calorie, 500 fat gram excessiveness.

But I had to weigh my own girlyness against the fact that this was one of the first times RJ was really excited about my having a blog.  The other time was when his very own recipe was featured here on the site.  I had the bacon explosion out of my mind until a trip to the grocery store lead me past a package of uncased sausage meat.  ::Sigh:: the stars were aligned.   I vowed to hold myself to only one pound of bacon, and purchased the pork.

The first step here was to make the bacon weave.  This was my favorite part.  I’ve never made a lattice work pie, or basketweave icing, but bacon I’m familiar with, and the weave I can do:

bacon explosion weaveNext the “recipe” called for a particular brand of barbecue rub (coincidentally, the one the inventors are selling!) so I grabbed one can from a 4-tin spice gift pack which said “pork rib rub” — two out of three ain’t bad!  I sprinkled it over the weave.  May I interject, at this moment, that I might be more embarrassed to have the above weave in my house than that other kind of weave on my head?  Yeah.


So… we’re done with the weave, and then we put sausage on top.  Then we add more bacon.

bacon-with-sausageThen more rub and barbecue sauce.  Intelligent woman that I am, I began this whole process on a sheet of plastic wrap.  Which allowed me to enter a zen state and imagine that I was rolling sushi…

bacon-sushiI got a very tight roll this way, and didn’t bacon-up my cutting board too badly.  The result looked pretty good, we thought:

bacon-ready-to-goThen we put it in the fridge to keep its shape until the next day, Super Bowl Sunday.  Which gave RJ enough time to read through the whole article.  He now wanted a smoker.  Yes, it can also be baked, but RJ hears grill and starts in with the Tim Allen AR, AR, ARRRR.  He ran to Home Depot to buy a smoker box and hickory chips.  We ended up with chips from a Jack Daniels barrel.  Hey, it worked!  After 2 hours, here’s what we ended up with:

bacon-explosionDon’t mind his dopey expression — he’s very VERY excited.  Then, we had to glaze the bacon explosion.  We chose our absolute favorite barbecue sauce, Cincinnati’s own Montgomery Inn.  With a lovely gloss, we began to dig in:

bacon-platedThe taste?  Well, we decided that we didn’t put enough barbecue sauce inside or enough spice rub on the outside.  It basically tasted like pork on pork.  Which some people (RJ) like.  I had a bite, and it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t enough to make me to continue to eat the pork-on-pork!  Whatever, at least I can say I did it – the BACON EXPLOSION! POW! :

Blog Bacon Explosion

February 5, 2009 at 9:57 pm 3 comments

Fried Rice and Shrimp

Crispy Shrimp

I would like to add to my previously mentioned list of food I usually purchase rather than attempt to cook.  Asian food, though a broad category, should certainly be on that list.  I just think that the professionals do a much better job than I ever could, for several reasons: 1) I don’t usually have the right ingredients and end up making odd substitutions like vermouth+sugar for mirin, barbecue sauce+teriyaki sauce+molasses for hoisin, and ground fennel seed for star anise.  When I do buy the occasional jar of Thai fish sauce or black bean paste, it ends up sitting in my fridge for ages until eventually I throw it out.  2) Asian dishes usually (and admirably) involve lots of vegetables.  This poses the recurring problem in my house.  If I buy 5 different vegetables for a stir fry or something, then I use a tiny bit of each since I’m cooking for only one veggie-eater, I end up with a pile of leftover vegetables that I can barely begin to erode before they go bad.  3) I’m no Asian – I’m the whitest white girl eva… so I doubt I would ever make anything authentic or ground breaking in this arena.  4) It is fun to get takeout every once and a while – every cook needs a break!

Now you know all my pathetic reasons for not venturing into the culinary sphere of the Far East.  Unassailable logic, no?  Despite this, it took only one recipe to allay all my fears and negate all my excuses!  I should say, actually, that it is two recipes – though one is decidedly more Asian than the other, they go together so well I am including them both here.

Funny that this ‘Asian’ recipe comes from another stark-white white girl: Ellie Krieger.  As far as Food Network stars go, I would give Ellie a 5 out of 10.  Not as funky/charismatic as Anne Burrell or cute as Danny Boome, but also not as annoying as Paula Deen or Rachael Ray.  I never watch her show, cuz most of the food is whole grains and vegetables which don’t go over so well with RJ.  So imagine my amazement when I see Ellie’s recipe for fried brown rice, chock full of colorful veggies, in my Fine Cooking.  As some of you know, I’m doing the “Cook the Issue” challenge, whereby I have to cook every recipe in Issue #97 – see my work so far by clicking here.  Before I post the recipe, let me tell you how Ellie, with this one dish, addressed all of my issues with both her cooking style and the making of Asian food in general:

1) The recipe does not include any exotic Asian condiments besides soy sauce, which hardly counts, and fresh ginger, which I sometimes buy and happened to have leftover from my marmalade.  The shrimp, which I paired with this rice, required Chinese five-spice powder, but I can buy this in small quantities and not worry about having to toss it within 6 months.

2) Yes, this fried rice uses a lot of vegetables, but get this: it encourages the use of whatever leftover veggies you have lying around.  Think baby carrots that are turning flakey and white on the outside, that random quarter of a red bell pepper you’ve had in a plastic bag since last week’s salad, and residual broccoli stalks.  It also incorporates frozen vegetables like corn and edamame which can obviously keep a lot longer than fresh stuff.

3) I gained confidence starting my venture into Asian cuisine under the tutelage of a woman with skin paler even than my own.

4) Sure is fun getting takeout, but it is also fun to save money and have fun cooking.  I made the full yield of the recipe, and ate the rice for several lunches in the days that followed.

5) This recipe also helped me to get over the whole problem with whole grains in my house.  It requires that the brown rice be cooked in advance and chilled in the fridge before frying.  This means that I can actually justify cooking my brown rice for dinner one night (even though RJ won’t touch the stuff so I’ll have to make him a separate white rice serving) and saving the leftover rice for the next day’s cooking.

Needless to say, the dish was a revelation.  The shrimp, which comes from the same Fine Cooking issue, was simple  to make alongside the fried rice.  They tasted wonderful together!  And I did most of the prep work for both recipes well ahead of time, making the assembly all the easier.  I highly recommend this dinner and the inevitable lunches that will follow unless you have 4 people who love fried rice like you do!

Fried rice aromaticsFive-Treasure Fried Rice, by Ellie Krieger in Fine Cooking issue #97 (serves 4+)

“I first created this recipe as a destination for leftover broccoli stalks, but its easily adaptable, so feel free to substitute other vegetables you might have in the fridge—asparagus, zucchini, peas, mushrooms, bok choy, bean sprouts, and jícama are all possibilities. I love the nutty taste and chewiness of brown rice, and you just can’t argue with its antioxidant power and fiber. My favorite route to brown rice is to order it with Chinese food, but you can certainly cook some up yourself. Either way, bear in mind that the rice has to be well chilled so the starch hardens and makes it fry-able. Use fresh rice and you wind up with a gummy mess.”

Chopped veggie prep2 Tbs. canola oil
1 cup peeled, finely diced broccoli stems (from about 1-1/4 lb. broccoli)
3/4 cup finely diced carrots
3/4 cup finely diced red bell pepper
3/4 cup frozen shelled edamame
3/4 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
4 scallions (both white and green parts), thinly sliced
2 Tbs. finely grated fresh ginger
2 large cloves garlic, minced
4 cups very cold cooked brown rice
3/4 cup finely diced Canadian bacon (4 oz.)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup lower-sodium soy sauce

rice-vegHeat all but 1 tsp. of the oil in a large nonstick skillet or stir-fry pan over medium-high heat. Add the broccoli stems, carrots, and bell pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables begin to soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the edamame and corn and cook until the edamame is thawed, about 1 minute. Add the scallion, ginger, and garlic and cook, stirring, until the raw garlic aroma subsides, about 1 minute. Add the rice and Canadian bacon and cook, stirring, until heated through, 3 to 5 minutes.

Make a 3-inch well in the center of the rice mixture. Add the remaining 1 tsp. oil, then the eggs, and cook, stirring, until the eggs are almost fully scrambled. Stir the eggs into the rice mixture. Stir in the soy sauce and serve.

Fried Rice

Salt-and-Pepper Shrimp with Garlic and Chile, from Fine Cooking issue #97  (serves 4)

Using easy-peel shrimp will speed prep because the shells are slit open and they’ve been deveined.  [This recipe can be prepared as a meal or as a fun appetizer]

Shrimp prep2 Tbs. cornstarch
1 tsp. granulated sugar
Pinch of Chinese five-spice powder
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 serrano chile, thinly sliced into rounds
4 large scallions (green parts only), sliced 1/4 inch thick
1-1/2 lb. large shrimp (26 to 30 per lb.), peeled and deveined, tails left on
3-1/2 Tbs. peanut or canola oil
1 small lime, cut into 4 wedges

In a large bowl, mix the cornstarch, sugar, five-spice powder, 1 tsp. salt, and 1 tsp. pepper. In a small bowl, mix the garlic, chile, and scallions; set aside.

Pat the shrimp dry with paper towels. Line a small baking sheet or large plate with a double layer of paper towels. Add the shrimp to the cornstarch mixture and toss until evenly and thoroughly coated.

Cooked crispy shrimpIn a heavy-duty 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat 1-1/2 Tbs. of the oil over medium-high heat until very hot. Add half of the shrimp in a single layer. Cook without disturbing until deep golden and spotty brown on one side, about 2 minutes. Using tongs, quickly flip each shrimp and continue to cook until the second sides are spotty golden brown, about 1 minute longer. (The shrimp may not be cooked through at this point.) Transfer the shrimp to the prepared sheet. Add another 1 Tbs. of the oil to the skillet and repeat with the remaining shrimp, transferring them to the sheet when done.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining 1 Tbs. oil to the skillet. Add the garlic mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until the chile and scallions are softened andthe garlic is golden and smells toasted, about 1 minute. Return the shrimp to the pan and stir to combine. Serve immediately, with the lime wedges.

February 2, 2009 at 9:47 am 3 comments

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