Saturday, February 27, 2010

Food: Homemade S'mores

We all have the habit of buying items at the grocery store that we really actually could make for ourselves at home. I suppose we could use the excuse that it's a convenience thing, but in most cases it's probably laziness or lack of time or even ignorance. For example, until recently I had no idea I could make graham crackers at home! I hadn't ever thought about it! So...what could be better than making something from scratch that you normally find in a box or a bag at the store?

For Valentine's Day this year I decided instead of a fancy dessert, I wanted to make something nostalgic. So, remembering a s'mores dessert on the menu of a restaurant we recently visited, I chose to make homemade s'mores (OK, so they were only 2/3 homemade, since I didn't want to mess with chocolate this time around). I know some of you may not think of this as a romantic dessert. After all, s'mores are a campfire treat...something you would make with marshmallows you've skewered on an unsterilized branch and held over a smoking fire trying to lightly toast into a beautiful brown but usually torching into a black outer shell instead. All while avoiding mosquitos and trying to catch a glimpse of the stars...and in the end wiping sticky marshmallow goo and melted chocolate off your chin. But trust me, there's something very romantic about making things from scratch. Especially surprising things from scratch...like things you normally buy in a bag or a box and have never truly had "fresh from the oven."

I've been intrigued by the concept of making marshmallows for quite some time now but hadn't been brave enough to try them. But my friend Kippy reassured me they were super easy. So off I went. They are simple, but getting them out of the mixer and into the pan is quite a difficult and sticky process (Or rather, if I'm completely honest, a gigantic heap of gummy chaos). A wet or cooking spray-coated spatula definitely helps to get them out of the bowl and off of the attachment as well as smoothing them out into a rectangular slab. Also, once they're cooled, when cutting, dampen your knife with cooking spray and then coat with the corn starch/powdered sugar mixture. This should help you cut easily through the block of marshmallow rather than having them all stick to the knife.

Graham crackers are even simpler to throw together although the end process of forming the crackers takes a little patience. And if you were wondering what makes up graham cracker flavor, it's honey, dark brown sugar (molasses), and butter. Who knew! Graham dough is super, super easy in a mixer. And I'll admit, this first attempt didn't result in flat rectangles like I had hoped and some of the "stamped" detailing disappeared when I baked them. I suspect I wasn't patient enough in leaving them in the freezer prior to baking and maybe didn't roll them out flat enough. But that sure didn't affect the flavor. They sure did smell and taste like graham...and they were so much better fresh out of the oven rather than slid out of a cardboard box.

I'll have s'more please...






Graham Crackers

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 c whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1 c dark brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t kosher salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 5 T milk
  • 2 T pure vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS

  • Make the dough: Combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off on and off, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together honey, milk, and vanilla extract. Add to the flour mixture and pulse on and off a few times until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky. Lay out a large piece of plastic wrap and dust it lightly with flour, then turn the dough out onto it and pat it into a rectangle about 1-inch thick. Wrap it, then chill it until firm, a couple of hours or overnight.
  • Roll out the "crackers": Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be sticky, so flour as necessary. Use side of the rolling pin to even out the edges of the rectangle. Then cut the rectangle width-wise into several smaller rectangle "crackers."
  • Place the crackers parchment-lined baking sheets. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes in the fridge or 15 to 20 minutes in the freezer. Repeat with the second batch of dough. Finally, gather any scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and re-roll.
  • Adjust the oven rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat the oven to 350°F.
  • Decorate the crackers: Mark a vertical line down the middle of each cracker, being careful not to cut through the dough. Using a toothpick, prick the dough to form two dotted rows about 1/2 inch for each side of the dividing line.
  • Bake for 15 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the touch, rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking.
  • Allow to cool on the cookie sheet for a couple of minutes prior to moving to a cooling rack.
Marshmallows
Adapted from
Epicurious

INGREDIENTS

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 1 cup cold water, divided
  • 3 1/4-ounce envelopes unflavored gelatin
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup corn starch
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
DIRECTIONS
  • Line 13x9x2-inch glass dish with foil. Coat foil lightly with nonstick spray.
  • Pour 1/2 cup cold water into bowl of heavy-duty mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Sprinkle gelatin over water. Let stand until gelatin softens and absorbs water, at least 15 minutes.
  • Combine 2 cups sugar, corn syrup, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup cold water in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over mediumlow heat until sugar dissolves, brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush. Attach candy thermometer to side of pan. Increase heat and bring syrup to boil. Boil, without stirring, until syrup reaches 240°F, about 8 minutes.
  • With mixer running at low speed, slowly pour hot syrup into gelatin mixture in thin stream down side of bowl (avoid pouring syrup onto whisk, as it may splash). Gradually increase speed to high and beat until mixture is very thick and stiff, about 10 minutes. Add vanilla and beat to blend, about 30 seconds longer.
  • You will now have a big sticky mass in the mixing bowl and on the attachment. Using a spatula sprayed with cooking spray, scrape marshmallow mixture into prepared pan (this is the most difficult part of the process...since the marshmallow is very sticky). Smooth the top out with a wet spatula. Let stand uncovered at room temperature until firm, about 4 hours.
  • Stir corn starch and powdered sugar in small bowl to blend. Sift generous dusting of starch-sugar mixture onto large cutting board. Turn marshmallow slab out onto starch-sugar mixture and peel off foil. Spread more starch-sugar mixture over marshmallow slab.
  • Coat large sharp knife (or cookie cutters) with nonstick spray and then starch-sugar mixture. Cut marshmallows into squares or other shapes. Toss each in remaining starch-sugar mixture to coat. Transfer marshmallows to rack, shaking off excess mixture.
  • Store in an airtight container to preserve freshness.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Food: Celery Root, Fennel, and Apple Salad with Dijon Vinaigrette and Hazelnuts

Hearty, crunchy, crisp, slightly sweet, nutty...all words to describe the fabulous salad I made last weekend. I was inspired by Molly's latest creation in Bon Appetit this past month. It sounded unique - besides the fact I had been curious about the ugly looking celery root in my grocery store the past few visits. I did modify the recipe, adding an extra apple (and changing from Gala to my favorite sweet-tart-crisp Pink Lady) and since I didn't have hazelnut oil or feel like driving to a specialty food store to get it, I decided to slightly modify the dressing and added roughly chopped hazelnuts in the salad. Actually I rather liked the crunch, texture and color the hazelnuts provided to the salad...I think the color may have been too monotone without them. It also would be pretty to sprinkle some chopped fennel tops over the dish.

Even though I made this salad on a cold winter day, I think it would be a great hearty salad in the summer since everything in it is cool and juicy. Actually it would make me feel pretty good to have this on a beach day where I wanted something cold, healthy, yet filling. (I'm especially thinking about this seeing all of the snow everyone's been getting over the past week).

Also, to you gardeners out there looking for something that keeps over the winter months (or people who are intrigued by something and end up buying things at the grocery store they don't use right away (myself included)), apparently celery root lasts for several months in the fridge or a cold cellar...so feel free to buy one to have on hand.

Celery Root, Fennel, and Apple Salad with Dijon Vinaigrette & Hazelnuts
Adapted from Bon Appetit (Molly Wizenberg) - February 2010

INGREDIENTS

Vinaigrette
  • 2 T Dijon mustard
  • 2 T fresh lemon juice
  • 1 t garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 c olive oil
Salad
  • 1 celery root, peeled, cut into matchstick-size strips
  • 1 fennel bulb, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced
  • 2 unpeeled Pink Lady apples, cored, cut into strips
  • 1/3 c hazelnuts, roughly chopped
  • Top with freshly shaved Parmesan cheese (MM Tip: Use a veggie peeler to get nice curls of parmesan)
DIRECTIONS
  • For the vinaigrette, whisk together all of the ingredients except the oil in a small bowl. When those are mixed, slowly whisk in the olive oil.
  • Combine all of the salad ingredients in one bowl. Toss with vinaigrette. Top with shaved parmesan.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Food: Chai Spice Cutouts

I didn't get a chance to make cutout cookies for Christmas this year. Or rather, I didn't try to find time...I was a little lazy after hosting Thanksgiving and then being back on the road traveling to Salt Lake City for work. But several months have passed and I'm once again having cravings for something sweet. So it's about time again to start thinking about cookies.

A few weeks ago, I was inspired by an endcap in Target displaying heart shaped cookie cutters, pearl nonpareils, and pink and purple glittered sugar sprinkles. So, I decided I needed to make cutouts for Valentine's Day. Although I do enjoy my mom's traditional sugar cookie recipe, for a holiday about L-O-V-E, I thought these chai-spice cutouts seemed very appropriate. Why? They're warm, spicy, and buttery. (And for those of you who like to sample cookie-dough batter, this stuff is very, very good).

When decorating, feel free to experiment. I've discovered (until I find time to take a professional cookie decorating class) food coloring decorating pens (such as these) are a simple and easy way to decorate cutouts. Just simply ice the cookies with white icing and wait to dry...and then color away! If you have kids (or significant others) helping out, it makes the decorating process really easy and fun. Or, the cookies look pretty lovely just plain...I could see someone dipping half of a cookie in white or dark chocolate and leaving the rest untouched for a pretty presentation on a cookie plate. After all, the little spice bits of the chai shine through and make a rather pleasing picture on their own.





Chai Spice Cutout Cookies

INGREDIENTS
  • 2, chai-spice tea bags
  • 2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1/2 t nutmeg
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 c butter, softened
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 T molasses
DIRECTIONS
  • Remove tea bag contents and discard bags. Combine with the cinnamon and nutmeg and set aside.
  • In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks and molasses.
  • Combine the spice mixture with the flour and add in small parts to the wet egg-sugar-butter mix. Add a little more flour if you feel the dough is still too sticky. (Adding in small amounts prevents spraying flour all over the kitchen)
  • Divide dough in half. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or until easy to handle.
  • Preheat oven to 350. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  • On lightly floured surface, roll half of the dough at a time until 1/4-inch thickness. Cut out with cookie cutters and arrange on the cookie sheets.
  • Bake 15 minutes or until the edges are slightly browned. Cool on the cookie sheets for a couple of minutes before transferring to cooling racks.
  • Decorate with basic powdered sugar icing (1.5 c powdered sugar, 1/2 t vanilla, 4 t milk...more milk as needed to reach desired consistency).

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Food: Meyer Lemon Gnocchi with Chicken and Asparagus

What could be better than soft potato pillows with a hint of citrus? What am I talking about, you ask? Warm potato gnocchi spiked with a hint of Meyer lemon.

If you've only ever had gnocchi out of the box (i.e. dried) or at restaurants who don't make it from scratch, you really, really, really must try the homemade version. Believe me...it's a completely different flavor and texture. There really is no comparison. Also, if you've never cooked with Meyer lemons and wonder what's so special about them...Meyer's are sweeter than regular lemons and have a thinner peel. Also, instead of being yellow they come dressed in a warm, almost egg-yolk hue. They're believed to be a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange (so they get their sweetness and orange coloring from the mandarins).

I've made gnocchi before (For example, here's a sweet potato gnocchi recipe I posted on here last year). But this recipe is slightly different due to Steve Corry's technique for making the dough, which keeps the gnocchi super tender and pillowy. I also love his one-pan technique since it helps cut down on the mess you make on the counter top :)

Besides boiling the dough, this recipe toasts the gnocchi in a pan afterwards. The results are wonderful - crisp, lovely, browned sides reminiscent of a heavenly potato-cake...a light as air dumpling with a slight pan-seared crunch on the outside and soft goodness on the inside.

I did make a few modifications to the original recipe. I cut down the amount of butter and added chicken and asparagus to make a more complete meal. If you're worried about not being delicate enough in your efforts to combine the chicken and asparagus with the tender gnocchi, feel free to grill the chicken breasts whole, cook the asparagus as spears, and serve as three separate items on the plate.

This recipe does have a lot of steps and it is time consuming...but it's well worth it in the end. You do dirty a lot of pans, and I apologize for that. So if you're going to make anything, at least make the gnocchi...chicken and asparagus can be any time :) And, if it helps, you should be able to make the gnocchi dough in advance. Maybe you'll want to make it in the morning and have it ready to go in the refrigerator when you get home from work. That would reduce the workload significantly.


Meyer Lemon Gnocchi with Chicken & Asparagus
Adapted from Food & Wine

SPECIAL TOOLS: Potato Ricer

INGREDIENTS
  • 2 large baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • Zest of 2 Meyer lemons
  • 2 T plus 1 t extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 t salt
  • 3/4 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 c low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces, chilled
  • Juice from 1 Meyer lemon
  • 1/4 c chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, rinsed, patted dry, and cut into 2 inch chunks
  • 1 bunch asparagus, cut into 1 inch pieces
DIRECTIONS
  • In a medium saucepan, cover potatoes with water and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderately high heat until the potatoes are tender, about 8 minutes (MM Tip: Super tender potatoes is key for potato ricer ease of use). Drain the potatoes, return to the pan and shake over medium heat until dry.
  • Working over a large rimmed baking sheet, rice the hot potatoes in an even layer. Whisk the egg yolks, lemon zest, olive oil and 1 t salt in a small bowl and pour over potatoes. Sprinkle the flour over the potatoes and stir gently until a soft dough forms.
  • Gently roll the dough into 4, 1-inch long ropes. Using a sharp knife, cut each rope into 1/2-inch pieces. Roll each piece against the tines of a fork to make ridges. Transfer the gnocchi to another baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to cook.
  • In a large stockpot or French oven, bring the chicken broth to a simmer. Remove from heat and add the butter, a few pieces at a time, until the sauce is creamy. Stir in the lemon juice. Pour into a glass measuring cup and set aside. (Keep this saucepan out for future use).
  • On a plate, season the chicken breast pieces with salt, pepper, and 1 t coriander. Add 1 T vegetable oil to a large, non-stick skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook, turning 1-2 times during cooking process until cooked through. Remove from skillet and add to pot used for chicken broth. Set aside. (You may want to wash/dry the skillet to re-use for toasting the gnocchi).
  • In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook gnocchi until they rise to the surface. Drain and toss with olive oil, and transfer to a baking sheet until cool.
  • In a small skillet, add a couple of tablespoons of water and heat to medium heat. Add the asparagus and cook until just tender. Drain and set aside.
  • In the large, non-stick skillet, add half of the gnocchi and cook in a single layer over high heat until browned on the bottom, about 2 minutes. Transfer to the pan containing the chicken and repeat with the remaining gnocchi.
  • Reheat the sauce, pour it over the gnocchi and chicken, heating the pan over low heat. Gently toss in the asparagus and parsley right before serving (I like using a French oven for this since it keeps the dish nicely heated when on low heat...in case anyone wants a second helping).

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Food: Restaurant Gripes

Why do restaurants keep taking my favorite dish off the menu? Was it something I said? As I started to write below, since I get stuck in a rut and tend to order the same thing when I find a favorite, they (gasp) are forcing me to pick something else on the menu! What horror :) Although, seriously, even though I was able to find other things I like on their menus, I am pretty disappointed not to have the option to order my favorite dish anymore.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Food: Stacked Chicken Enchiladas with Salsa Verde

What can I say, it seems the tuna noodle has broken my opinion about one-dish, baked-in-the-oven meals and now I'm on a casserole kick. I don't think I've told any of you how I happened to stumble over these recipes lately. I'm on a nice vacation from work (i.e. I quit my old job to take a new job and decided to take off about a month in between stints). So I've been getting caught up on things around my house that I have neglected due to massive travel over the past couple of years. And one of those things is getting rid of old magazines and combing through past articles and recipes I've torn out, trying to make some sort of organization out of them. That's how I've managed to make two casseroles in one week. I suppose the recipes and the magazine tear-outs struck me in just the right way. (I promise the photo of this one doesn't do it justice...for some reason the lighting in the kitchen wasn't allowing the camera to pick up the nice green chile bits and the juicy salsa verde.)



Stacked Chicken Enchiladas with Salsa Verde
Adapted from Bon Appetit - June 2007

INGREDIENTS
  • 2 poblano chiles
  • 1 T vegetable oil
  • 12 (5- to 6-inch-diameter) corn tortillas
  • 1.5, 16 oz jars salsa verde (can be found in many Mexican food sections), divided into four equal parts
  • 1 small roasted chicken, skin removed, meat shredded, divided into two equal parts
  • 3/4 cup sour cream, stirred to loosen
  • 6 ounces grated Chihuahua cheese (about 1 1/2 cups packed)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
DIRECTIONS
  • Char chiles in broiler until blackened all over. Enclose in paper bag; let stand 10 minutes. Peel and seed, then cut into 2x1/2-inch strips.
  • Preheat oven to 375°F. Heat medium skillet over medium heat. Brush tortillas with vegetable oil and set aside. Add 1 tortilla to skillet; cook until slightly softened, about 15 seconds per side, turning with tongs. Transfer tortilla to paper towels to drain off any excess oil. Repeat with remaining tortillas.
  • Spread one portion of salsa over bottom of 8x8x2-inch glass baking dish. Arrange 4 tortillas over salsa, covering bottom of dish completely, overlapping slightly, and extending about 1 1/2 inches up sides of dish. Scatter 1/2 of the chicken over tortillas, then half of poblano strips. Spoon another portion of salsa over, spreading evenly. Spoon 1/4 cup sour cream over in small dollops. Cover with 4 tortillas, overlapping slightly. Layer with remaining chicken, remaining poblanos, another portion of salsa, and 1/4 cup sour cream. Cover with remaining 4 tortillas, remaining salsa, and remaining 1/4 cup sour cream. Sprinkle with cheese.
  • Bake casserole until bubbling and cheese is lightly browned, about 35 minutes. Cut into 6 pieces; divide among plates. Sprinkle with cilantro.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Food: Tuna Noodle Casserole

I was in a casserole mood this weekend. I don't know why. After all, they haven't ever really been a part of my menu line-up. I supposed it's since they seem to be too old-school...something a mom in the 60's would have made rather than a modern, self-proclaimed foodie. But, after being re-introduced to a healthier tuna-noodle, one-dish meals may become one of my cold weather staples. I mean, who would turn down something that's rich, hot, and super, super simple. Even though I don't like to admit it, we don't always have time to spend hours on a meal. And although I love tinkering in the kitchen, some days I'm worn out enough that all I want to do is relax and enjoy a meal - without all the prep.

Next time I make this, I'm tempted to make individual casseroles in these Fiesta dishes I'm in love with. They'd make a nice presentation for a home-style dinner party...and look prettier on the table. More on Fiestaware later...


Tuna Noodle Casserole
Adapted from Better Homes & Gardens (May 2008)

INGREDIENTS
  • 1 package egg noodles
  • 3 stalks celery (with tops) chopped
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 2 Tb unsalted butter
  • 2 Tb olive oil
  • 1/4 c flour
  • 3 T dijon mustard
  • 2 c skim or fat-free milk
  • 1, 16 oz package tuna (packed in water)
  • 1/2 jar roasted red peppers, chopped (I like Trader Joes Roasted Pimentos)
  • 1/2 t lemon pepper seasoning
  • Baked Potato Chips (Optional)

DIRECTIONS
  • Preheat oven to 375.
  • Prepare noodles according to package, drain and return to pot, set aside.
  • Cook celery and onion in medium saucepan until slightly tender, stir in flour, mustard, lemon pepper. Add milk and cook until slightly thickened and boiling.
  • Mix sauce, peppers, tuna and noodles in noodle pot. Pour into glass casserole dish (1 1/2 quart) that has been lightly greased.
  • Bake uncovered for 25 minutes.
  • Crumble chips on top and bake for another 5-10 minutes or until heated through.
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