Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cinnamon Banana Bread

Everyone has their own favorite banana bread recipe.  I wanted to add another to your list.  But hear me out, this one is healthy but still feels incredibly indulgent.  I was inspired to bathe a low fat banana bread recipe (adapted from "The Best of Cooking Light") in butter and cinnamon sugar.  The cinnamon sugar idea came from constantly making Amish Friendship Bread (aka Crack Bread--because it's so addictive!) back a few years ago.  I think this banana bread is an excellent substitute for the friendship bread and there's no starter to worry about maintaining! 

Cinnamon Banana Bread
1 cup mashed banana (about 2 medium)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/4  teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar mixed with 2 teaspoons cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine banana, sugars, oil and eggs in a large bowl.  Beat with a mixer on medium speed until smooth.  On a sheet of waxed paper (or in another bowl, I just hate to dirty extra dishes), combine flours, cinnamon, cream of tartar and salt.  Pour into wet ingredients and stir just until combined.  Melt butter and pour about half into a loaf pan.  Spread around so that the entire surface is covered (like greasing the pan).  Pour about half of the cinnamon sugar mixture into the loaf pan and shake around until the buttered surface is covered with the sugar.  Pour batter into loaf pan and smooth out.  Pour remainder of butter over top of banana batter and sprinkle remainder of cinnamon and sugar evenly over the top.  Bake for 45-50 minutes at 350 degrees or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Turn banana bread out onto a cooling rack and allow to cool. 

We especially like it toasted with peanut butter! 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Chicken Wild Rice Casserole

Since we're taking a trip down culinary memory lane, I thought the next post should pay homage to my Minnesota roots.  Wild rice is a proud Minnesota ingredient and I love the nutty taste and chewy texture.  If we're sticking with the Minnesota theme, the next logical jump would mean to assume the recipe would be a casserole (or a "hot dish," you may hear it called) and no "hot dish" would be complete without at least two canned of condensed cream of .... (fill in the blank) soup!  All kidding aside, this is definitely a comforting dish that is perfect for the changing weather (and Minnesotans know comfort food--what else is there to do during the looonnnggg winters???).  
Chicken Wild Rice Casserole
1/2 - 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts
Montreal steak seasoning or salt and pepper
1 cup brown rice
1/2 cup wild rice
3 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon butter
1 chicken bouillon cube
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup reduced fat mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
optional goodies, see notes

Bake chicken seasoned with steak seasoning or salt and pepper at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until juices run clear.  Remove from oven and shred chicken into bite sized pieces.  While chicken is cooking, in a medium pot combine rices, butter and bouillon.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and cook until rice is tender (about 40 minutes).  Or use a rice cooker and set it and forget it! : )
Once rice is cooked through, remove from heat and fluff with fork and allow to stand uncovered to cool a bit.  In a large bowl, thoroughly combine soups, mayonnaise and sour cream.  Add rice and chicken and any optional goodies.  Stir in cheese.  Pour rice mixture into a greased 9x13 pan (or split into two 8x8's for two smaller meals--one for later or to share with a friend!).  Bake at 350 for about 20-30 minutes or until rice is heated through and bubbling.  Top with a sprinkle of more Parmesan cheese for garnish.

Notes: You can substitute two boxed wild rice blend mixes (Rice a Roni or another brand) for the rice and bouillon.  Just prepare according to package directions.  For the picture, I used 1 cup of an unseasoned mix from Trader Joe's (includes parboiled brown rice, black barley and radish seeds) and 1/2 cup of wild rice.

Also, there are lots of really delicious stir in possibilities for this recipe (i.e. "goodies").  Some suggestions, sliced mushrooms, artichoke hearts, diced pimento, canned green beans (rinsed and drained), sliced almonds are just a few...feel free to add and experiment! 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Green Chile Stew and Homemade Tortillas

Growing up, I had the opportunity to live in Albuquerque, NM for a few years.  It was there that I was introduced to green chiles.  They are amazing.  Being rather young (upper elementary school) when we lived there, I don't know if I got to fully appreciate how amazing and unique New Mexico and its cuisine truly is, but one thing that remains distinct in my memory is that in the fall, the air would be perfumed with the scent of roasting chiles. 

Now living in Colorado, we are fortunate to be able to have access to fresh roasted chiles again.  Just recently, a stand (trekking up from the green chile-famed town of Hatch, NM) sprouted up near our house and I knew I had to get some.  Two bushels later, I have ten quart-sized freezer bags of green gold that I will be happily adding to quesadillas, chile relleno casserole, breakfast burritos, soups and more throughout the winter! Here's one of the first green chile recipes I made with my bounty!  We served it with homemade tortillas (well worth the little extra time over packaged!).  Scroll (way down) if you came just for the tortillas...

My box of freshly roasted chiles.  If it says "Hatch," you know it's the real deal!
Green Chile Stew and Homemade Whole Wheat Tortillas
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pound boneless pork loin, trimmed and cut into 1 inch cubes
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons flour
1 medium onion, finely diced
2-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 small tomato, diced
4 cups green chiles, roasted, peeled and seeds removed (see note)
2 cubes chicken bouillon
6 cups water
2 cups pinto beans (canned--drained and rinsed, or homemade--see earlier post on beans and rice)
2 small potatoes, large dice

Season cubed pork with salt and pepper and toss with flour.  In a large pot over medium high heat, brown pork, stirring occasionally to brown on all sides.  Add onion and garlic and allow to cook 2-3 minutes, or until onions are beginning to turn translucent.  Dump in carrot, tomato, green chiles, water and bouillon cubes.  Stir to combine and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 2 hours or until pork is tender and falling apart.  Raise heat to medium and add beans and potatoes.  Simmer about 20 minutes longer or until potatoes are tender.  Feel free to garnish with cheese, sour cream, cilantro, etc. (but I like it just plain!) and serve with tortillas.

Notes on Green Chile:  If there aren't chile roasting stands near you, you can also buy fresh chiles in the grocery store (look for Anaheim peppers near where the jalapenos are kept--they can range in heat, but are generally pretty mild).  To roast them at home, you can put them on the grill or under the broiler, turning occasionally until most all of the skin is blistered and blackened.  Put into a paper grocery sack and allow to steam for at least 30 minutes.  Then, the skins will slip right off.  Make sure to wear gloves when peeling and seeding the chiles (better safe than sorry!).

If you are not as lucky to have access to freshly roasted green chile, don't despair, you can find canned ones in the Latino foods section of the grocery store.  Sometimes, you can also find green chile in the freezer section as well!  Also, the chiles can really range in heat depending on the variety.  We like mild ones (because we like to taste our food and so I don't burn my four year old's socks off), but you can get hotter ones, if you like. 

Finally, if you omit the potato and beans, you roughly have "pork green chile."  You can serve this also as a soup with tortillas or serve over (or in!) burritos.  Delicious!

Homemade Tortillas
(Adapted from Homesick Texan Blog--
2 cups flour (substitute 1 cup whole wheat for all purpose to make whole wheat tortillas)
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup warm milk
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
more flour as needed, for rolling

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine flour, salt and baking powder.  Add oil to warm milk and stir milk mixture into flour mixture until it forms a sticky dough.  Knead a few times in the bowl until dough becomes smooth.  Shape into a big ball, cover with a damp towel and allow to sit covered for 20 minutes.  Remove towel, form dough into small balls (you'll end up 10-12 for approx. 6" tortillas) and lay out on a flat surface.  Recover with towel and allow to rest for about 10 more minutes.  To roll out, scatter some flour on a smooth surface.  Using a rolling pin, roll out one dough ball at a time until as flat as you can make it.  Continue to roll out tortillas, covering them up as you go so that they don't dry out.  To cook, heat a dry skillet over medium high heat.  Once it's hot, lay tortillas, one at a time, on skillet.  Let cook for about 30 seconds to 1 minute, until bubbles start to form on top.  Flip over (there should be brown spots on the bottom of the tortilla) and allow to cook about 30 seconds longer or until starting to blister and brown on the bottom side again.  Watch them closely, they can start to burn quickly! Serve immediately.  We like to spread them with a little bit of butter!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Peanut Sesame Noodles

No pictures, sorry.  And, if I had my druthers, I think I'd rather be posting about dessert right now.  I had a friend write on her blog not too long ago that there are only three things she's serious about--her family, her career and dessert.  To unashamedly steal that, there are three things I am serious about right now: my faith, my family and dessert.  I don't want to admit it, but I fear sugar might have a serious stronghold on me.  Unfortunately, because more important things (like dinner) have been taking up my cooking time (or lack thereof, it feels these days) and I have been making my way through a movie theater sized box of Sugar Babies the last few days, there will be no homemade dessert tonight.  There will most likely be sugary post in the near future, though...

Until then, I wanted to share the unbelievably quick dish we had tonight.  See this as your "Asian noodle dish launching pad" and check out my notes below for additional suggestions to fancy this up a bit!

 Basic Peanut Sesame Noodles
1 package pre-washed, cut broccoli florets (or substitute 3/4-1 pound vegetables of your choice)
1/2-1 package rice vermacelli (or other long pasta--amount depends on how noodle-y you're feeling)
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup fat free sesame soy ginger salad dressing (I used a Trader Joe's brand, but you can use whatever Asian-style dressing you find)

If using rice noodles, pour boiling water over the noodles and allow to soak for just a couple minutes or until very "al dente."  Be careful as rice noodles get mushy very fast!  It's best to drain the water even a moment early if you're in doubt because they'll continue to soften a  bit.  If you're using another kind of pasta, just prepare according to package directions.  Drain water and set aside.
In a saute pan, over high heat, steam broccoli in a small amount of water (1/4-1/2 cup) until crisp-tender (just a couple minutes, you're really just wanting to take the "raw edge" off).  Drain water and add to noodles.
In a microwave-safe dish, melt the peanut butter for about 30 seconds on high heat or until it's easily stirred.  Pour in salad dressing and stir until smooth (you can add a couple tablespoons of water to make it more pourable if needed).  Pour over noodles, tossing to combine.  Serve warm, at room temperature or cold.

Notes: This would be really lovely with a mixture of vegetables (carrots, red bell pepper).  Also, to bulk it up a bit I would suggest adding some cooked (grill or stir fry) chicken, shrimp, pork etc.  Finally, some cilantro or green onion and some crushed peanuts would make for a nice garnish.  Tonight, however, it was just about preparation to tummies asap!  Also, sometime soon I'll post the recipe to make a peanut sauce from scratch (just in case you don't have Asian style salad dressing lying around...)
Off to watch Avatar with my dear husband...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sick Day Chicken Rice Soup

We are coming upon cold and flu season--has it already hit?  It seems like everyone has been sick lately.  With that in mind, I share this recipe.  You can keep it in your back pocket for when the dreaded sicknesses strike (unfortunately, we all know it's not going to if, but when).  This is not Granny's chicken soup.  It hasn't been lovingly tended all day, simmering away.  That said, it is sooo much better than anything coming from a can.  This is the kind of soup recipe that would make Rachael Ray proud.  Quick, efficient, and warming your bones within 30 minutes.  This has become my go-to recipe when illness strikes our house (like last week...thankfully we are all clear and healthy again!).  It's simple enough that it's a cinch to prepare even if you feel under the weather.  If you need something that will sooth a cold or upset tummy and you need it now, here's your soup! 

Sick Day Chicken Rice Soup
4 cups of chicken broth (or 4 cups water plus 4 teaspoons chicken base or bouillon)
1 pound boneless skinless chicken, cut into chunks
1/2 cup white rice (or you can substitute noodles or barley--I'm a big fan of barley)
1-2 carrots, peeled and diced into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup frozen peas
fresh ground black pepper

In a medium pot, bring chicken and broth to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat to medium and simmer until chicken is cooked through (5-10 minutes).  Remove chicken from broth and shred into bite-sized pieces.  Return to pot. Add rice and carrots and simmer until rice is cooked through (about 15 minutes--although if you use barley it will certainly be longer and shorter if you use noodles).  Stir in frozen peas right before serving, they'll thaw immediately and keep their bright green color.  Season to taste with pepper and serve. 

p.s. This would be a no-brainer meal to take to someone else who is sick as well!  Throw in a loaf of bread and you've just become the world's best neighbor. For such little effort, it's a BIG way to show someone you care!

Note: I have come to realize that maybe not everyone knows what chicken base might be.  It is one of my favorite products.  There is a brand called "Better than Bouillon" and it is awesome.  It is sold right near the canned broth.  They have different flavors--beef, chicken, vegetable, etc. and it is concentrated flavor that makes great instant broth and gravy.  I also really like adding a teaspoon to sauces as a quick way to deepen the flavor.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Super Simple Beef Ragu

When I say "ragu," I don't mean the bottled sauce with the gondola on the label, although that should point you in the right direction.  Ragu is just the Italian term for a meat-based sauce that is traditionally served with pasta.  Basically, in this case, it's just browned pieces of steak that are braised in tomatoes and red wine until they're ready to fall apart.  In the spirit of trying to use things out of my pantry (I haven't been "real" grocery shopping since the first of the month), we served it over spaghetti.  If it had been up to me, I think I would have chosen the extra-wide fettuccine, pappardelle, or even polenta (that would be a gluten-free option!), but even on spaghetti, it was pretty darn fantastic.  I am a bit of a pasta snob--I know that it's all just flour and water, but somehow, different shapes taste well, different.  Spaghetti is not one of my favorites, but my boys are traditionalists (when I say we're having spaghetti for dinner, we better have actual spaghetti and not even think of having something crazy like angel hair or penne!).  I do feel like a bit of a winner in that I've been serving them whole grain pasta lately, though (Ronzoni brand is my absolute favorite!). 

This is definitely a recipe to make all day on Sunday and then have ready to heat up on Monday night.  It tastes even better the next day and you'll feel so smart when dinner is finished in the time it takes to boil pasta!  Oh, and a small confession (one I don't recommend, but it worked in a pinch), you know you're scraping the bottom of the pantry barrel when you top your pasta and sauce with Parmesan cheese in the packets leftover from the last time we ordered Domino's...

Super Simple Beef Ragu
1 pound eye of round steak (or any other cheap, meaty cut of beef)
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup red wine (or beef stock)
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 small can tomato sauce
 hot cooked pasta, polenta or rice
Parmesan cheese for serving

Trim beef of any extra fat and cut into large chunks.  Season with salt and pepper.  In a large pot, brown beef pieces in oil over medium high heat.  Let brown for a few minutes undisturbed and then use a fork to flip over and brown the other side.  When beef is deep golden brown on both sides, push over to one side of the pot and add in chopped onion and garlic.  Reduce heat to medium and allow the onions and garlic to sweat a little bit (cook until softened and almost translucent, not browned, reduce heat even lower if they're starting to brown), about 2-3 minutes.  Pour in wine, tomatoes and tomato sauce.  Reduce heat to low and simmer until beef is fall-apart tender (length depends on size of beef pieces, but mine took about 6 hours).  With a fork shred beef into bite-sized chunks.  Serve over hot cooked pasta (or other starch) and top with Parmesan cheese.

p.s. You could also do this in the crock pot...just transfer over to the crock pot at the step where you add all the liquids!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Spinach "Souffle" and Riso Verde

I realized I still had leftover egg whites from the most recent banana cream pie I had made.  If I had been smart and 1) combined the leftover egg whites from all my pie-making escapades last week and 2) had been careful to make sure I didn't get any yolk in one of the batches of egg whites (egg whites won't stiffen up if there's even a smidge of fat--i.e. egg yolk--in them) I would have made an angel food cake.  I adore angel food cake...
That said, with the original egg whites, we just had some very healthy scrambles last week and with the three most recent egg whites, I thought I would try and do a quick, healthy version of Stouffer's frozen spinach souffle.  If I had had more time, I probably would have made the riso verde (see recipe and notes below), but I think this was a pretty good (and guilt-free!) substitute!

Spinach Souffle
(makes about 2 servings, feel free to double all the ingredients except for the egg whites--up that to four--to make a bigger batch)

6 oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and extra water squeezed out
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons half and half
1/4 cup Italian blend shredded cheese
3 egg whites, beaten until stiff
cooking spray
grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Combine spinach, seasonings, half and half and shredded cheese.  Fold in egg whites and transfer mixture to small baking dish coated with cooking spray.  Sprinkle top with grated Parmesan. Bake for about 20-30 minutes or until souffle is browned and no longer "jiggly."
(or, if you're in an even bigger hurry, microwave on high for 2 minutes and then finish off in the oven for about 5 more)

The inspiration for the above recipe was this Riso Verde.  I think the original recipe came from one of my mom's friends.  I loved this as a kid and have recreated it many times since then.  It's very rich and has a lot of room for nutritional improvement (I have experimented quite a bit by reducing the amounts of butter and cheese), but this is pretty close to it's indulgent glory.

Riso Verde (Green Rice)  Serves 6-8

1 8 oz. package frozen chopped spinach thawed and drained (can substitute broccoli, if preferred)
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup chopped parsley
4 cups cooked white rice, cooled
4 oz. grated Parmesan cheese
8 oz. shredded Swiss or Monterrey Jack cheese
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 eggs, separated

Beat egg whites until stiff.  In a separate bowl, stir together egg yolks, cheeses, seasonings, onions and spinach.  Add rice and stir until well-combined.  Fold in egg whites just until combined.  Pour into greased baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes and top is lightly browned.

Monday, September 13, 2010

California Veggie-Cheese Soup

Not sure how it happened, but a stomach bug has felled the three men in my life.  The Baby's mostly recovered, the First Born was incredibly pitiful all day today (got to watch t.v. for twelve hours straight if that gives you any idea!) and the Dear Husband (on his Birthday, no less!) is on his way home early from the Rockies game (I should probably add that I made him go).  Sad.

Probably not the most appetizing way to begin a post, but the point is that I was on my own for dinner tonight.  This means that not much cooking was in order, but a girl still had to eat, right?  I had half a package of California blend veggies left in the fridge from the other day (bought on sale for $.88 at King Soopers last week!) and since I could eat soup every day of the year, I felt it was necessary to turn the rest into soup.  It made enough for one mommy and one baby to end up very satisfied.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that all those veggies in the soup will be giving me all the immunity-boosting powers possible!    

California Veggie-Cheese Soup 
(makes one large or two small servings, feel free to expand proportions as needed)
1/2 of a 1 lb. package of frozen California blend vegetables (Broccoli, Cauliflower and Carrots)
1 cup chicken broth (or 1 cup water and 1 teaspoon chicken base or 1 cube bullion)
2 slices American cheese, torn into pieces (could also use 1/4-1/2 cup cubed Velveeta)
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons half and half
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the vegetables and broth in the microwave or stove top until vegetables are tender.  Using an immersion blender (or a plain old blender), puree soup to desired smoothness (I like a few pieces of vegetables left for texture).  If using a blender, return to pan or microwavable dish.  Add cheese slices, garlic powder, salt pepper and half and half.  Stir to melt cheese and heat more, if necessary. Adjust seasonings as needed.  Easy peas-y.

note: you could also do this soup with just broccoli.  Broccoli cheese soup is actually one of my husband's favorites and gives me sweet memories of when we were first together and I would cook it for him.  Good times.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Chicken Vegetable Saute with Orange Scented Couscous

There has not been very much cooking going on in my house this week.  I think because one of us has had something going on every night--fantasy football drafts, meetings, book club, etc.--it definitely makes me lose my motivation to lovingly create home cooked meals.  I guess all this is to say that one, be encouraged that even someone who enjoys cooking as much as I do go through slumps and two, it definitely gives me a better appreciation for the challenges that a lot of busy families face on a daily basis and is a good opportunity for some better planning.  If I focus on items that come together quickly or take the time to put together some components ahead of time, dinnertime becomes much easier.

On a somewhat related note, something that's been on my mind with all this busyness is (I have to admit) I scoff a little bit when magazine articles or cooking shows advertise that they can feed a family of four for dinner for $10.  I mean, think about it, if you're spending $10 on dinner every night, that's $300 in a month, just for dinner!  Nice idea, but should be easily attainable, don't you think?  With all our packed schedule, one night this week I needed to do something quick.  I picked up a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store for $4.99 along with a loaf of bread for $1.99.  I already had broccoli and sweet potatoes at home (but had gotten the broccoli for $1 and the sweet potatoes for $.99/pound).  After steaming the broccoli and just cooking up the sweet potatoes in the microwave, dinner was done in about ten minutes.  That was convenience food for less than $10...just think what's possible with even a little more planning!  This recipe, Chicken Vegetable Saute with Orange Pine Nut Couscous exactly fits the bill.  It comes together in less than 30 minutes and modify it based on what you have on hand, it is extremely economical.  Use the vegetables in the saute really as more of a guideline and substitute what in on sale or what you have on hand (broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, all would be good--see this as an opportunity to clean out your vegetable drawer).  Also, I really love the added texture of the garbanzo beans and the nuts in the couscous.  Give it a try!

Orange Pine Nut Couscous
1 cup couscous (I like whole wheat because of the higher fiber and protein content)
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon chicken base or bullion (or substitute 3/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth for water)
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon orange rind, grated
1 medium carrot, peeled and grated
1 cup canned chickpeas (aka, garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted (could substitute toasted slivered almonds for an even cheaper option)
1/4 cup dried raisins or dried apricots, snipped into small pieces (optional)
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs of your choice (I used cilantro, but parsley or basil would be nice, too!)

In a medium sauce pan, bring water and chicken base (or broth), butter, orange juice and orange rind to a boil.  Remove from heat and pour couscous, carrot, chick peas, dried fruit and pine nuts into the sauce pan.  Stir well.  Cover and let stand for 5 minutes.  Fluff with fork, stir in fresh hers and serve.
Chicken Vegetable Saute

1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1/2 pound boneless skinless chicken breast (or tenderloins), cut into bite sized pieces
salt and pepper to taste
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
 1/2 cup carrots, cut into matchsticks (baby cut carrots cut into quarters works pretty well)
1 small zucchini, cut into long skinny pieces (matchsticks)
1 cup green beans, broken into about 2" pieces
1/4 cup white wine or chicken broth
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon butter

Directions: In a large skillet over medium-high heat, saute chicken pieces seasoned with salt and pepper in olive oil until cooked through and no longer pink (3-5 minutes).  Remove from heat and set aside.  Add remaining olive oil and saute onion and garlic, stirring frequently until onion starts to become translucent and garlic becomes fragrant (about 1 minute).  Add carrots, zucchini and green beans and continue to saute for a couple more minutes.  Add wine and orange juice and cook for an additional couple of minutes until vegetables are crisp-tender.  Add butter and stir to combine.  Serve over couscous.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Fresh Strawberry Pie and Pastry Cream

A whole world of dessert has been opened to me.  I have learned how to make pastry cream and it is so deceptively easy, I could not believe it.  Here's the story:

Last week, I made a couple of apple pies (the first of the season and it made me so happy!).  I had a lot of leftover pie dough and even more fresh strawberries, so I thought I would put the two together.  In this same time period, I had also read and wanted to try Martha Stewart's recipe for making pastry cream, the amazingly delicious foundation for many a dessert such as cream pies--i.e. Banana and Boston (although Boston Cream Pie is not actually a pie, is it? But I digress...) and fillings for pastries such as cream puffs and Napoleons.  Thus, this pie was born.  After making it, I found that Martha's recipe actually needed a little tweaking for my taste (gasp!).  Since then, I've made another strawberry pie and two banana cream pies (for barbecues over the weekend, of course, we didn't eat all that pie ourselves!) because it's so, so easy!!!
Once you've made the pastry cream, the possibilities are endless. 

Fresh Strawberry Cream Pie
 1 baked pie shell 
1 batch pastry cream
1 quart fresh strawberries, washed and hulls removed
1/2 cup strawberry preserves, melted in the microwave (I used an all-fruit spread)
              To assemble pie, pour pastry cream into pie shell.  Cover with plastic wrap directly against the surface of the cream and allow to fully cool.  Once cooled, assemble strawberries with cut sides down on top of cream.  Drizzle melted preserves over fruit so that it is glazed on top.

Pastry Cream: (makes about 2 cups)
2 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup white granulated sugar, divided
a pinch of salt
3 egg yolks
3 tablespoons corn starch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons butter
Directions: In a medium sauce pan, whisk together 1/4 cup sugar, salt and milk.  Bring milk to a simmer over medium heat.  While milk is heating, in a separate, medium-sized bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until combined.  Then, whisk in cornstarch, one tablespoon at a time until mixture is smooth and light yellow.  Once milk has come to a simmer, add one half cup of milk mixture to egg mixture, pouring very slowly and whisking egg mixture constantly (This is called "Tempering" and is used to bring the egg mixture up to the temperature of the milk without creating scrambled eggs!).  Continue to whisk the rest of the milk mixture in slowly, one half cup full at a time, until both are thoroughly combined.  Pour entire mixture back into the sauce pan and over medium heat, stir constantly until mixture comes to a boil.  Continue to stir until mixture for 1-2 minutes, or until mixture is very thick.  Remove from heat, stir in vanilla extract and butter.  Pour pastry cream into a shallow bowl or prepared pie shell and place a layer of plastic wrap directly against the surface of the custard to prevent forming a skin.  Allow to fully cool in a refrigerator. 

Crust Notes: First of all, if pie crust scares you (and really, it shouldn't, once you get the hang of it, it's really very easy!), but if it does, please feel free to grab the refrigerated kind you can unroll right into the pie pan or find pie shells in the freezer section.  Additionally, this pie would be good with a graham cracker crust if you prefer that instead.  Finally, you can make your own (you can do it!).  Here's my starting recipe.  The thing with pie dough, however, is that the measurements are very approximate.  Depending on the weather, and all sorts of other mystical variables, it's really one (I find) best to go by "feel" (how many scientifically-minded bakers have I just scared?). 

Pie Dough (makes enough for a double crust pie or two single crust pies):
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 heaping Tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup butter flavored shortening
1/2 cup butter (one stick, chilled) 

In a large bowl and using either pastry blender or a fork, mix all ingredients except butter until flour is absorbed into shortening or crumbly, like corn meal.  Cut in butter until it is in pieces the size of small peas and is mixed throughout.  Add ice water in Tablespoon-fulls until dough is able to come together in a large mass (approx. 2-3 Tablespoons, but more if necessary, pie dough really seems to depend on the weather).  Wrap dough in waxed paper and refrigerate until ready to roll out.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  On a smooth, flat surface, sprinkle a decent handful of flour.  Roll out half of pie dough into a large circle (continue to sprinkle with flour if your rolling pin is sticking or you can add more water if it is dry and breaking apart) large enough to cover a pie plate.  Transfer dough into pie plate, trim edges and crimp crust as desired.  Prick entire surface of crust with a fork and bake in 425 degree oven for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.  Allow to fully cool before adding fillings.
 Also, my family really enjoys the leftover scraps of pie dough sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar and baked until it's golden brown and crispy.  

Final Notes: For banana cream pie, slice 1-2 bananas and scatter in bottom of baked pie shell.  Pour cooled pastry cream over bananas (if you get impatient and don't let it cool, your bananas will cook and not be as tasty).  Finally, before serving top with whipped cream or Cool Whip.  Ta da!  Take that, Bakers Square and Village Inn, you ain't got nothing on us now!!!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Grilled Chicken, Corn and Tomatillo Pizza

Hope everyone had a Happy Labor Day!  Just because it's the unofficial end of summer doesn't mean that there isn't more great summer produce to enjoy!

Sweet corn...I don't know if there is anything that sums up late summer better than fresh sweet corn.  Having a husband from Iowa, our household is a bit discerning about our sweet corn consumption (it's supposed to be eaten the day it's picked and preferably purchased from the back of a truck), but right now, with what a bargain ears are in the grocery store, I couldn't resist.  The recipe was inspired by a recipe by Catherine Newman, a contributing writer for the now defunct Wondertime Magazine (RIP, dear, Wondertime...).

Grilled Chicken, Corn and Tomatillo Pizza

1 recipe Pizza Dough (see recipe and notes below)

1/2 cup of Green Salsa (Herdez makes a nice little can)
big handful of cilantro, finely chopped
juice of 1/2 lime
          (stir cilantro and lime juice into salsa and reserve for spreading on the pizza)

1/2 cup leftover grilled chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 ear of sweet corn, kernels removed  (cob reserved for my eight month old's chewing pleasure)
1 1/2-2 cups shredded Colby Jack cheese
chopped cilantro for garnish

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.  When ready to assemble, on a well-floured surface, roll out dough to desired size and thickness.  Transfer to pizza stone or pan sprayed with cooking spray and dusted with cornmeal.  Drizzle 1-2 Tablespoons olive oil around edge of dough and brush over rest of surface.  Top with sauce, chicken, corn and cheese.  Bake at 500 degrees for 9-13 minutes or until golden brown and cheese is bubbly. After pizza is out of oven, garnish with chopped cilantro.

 Notes: Making pizza dough in a food processor or stand mixer is a snap.  If you don't have one, you can certainly combine the ingredients by hand, you'll just have to use some extra elbow grease to knead the dough.  If you like things even easier, you can use a prepared pizza dough from either a grocery store or pizza place.  A friend of ours who is a fireman said they like to ask the grocery store's bakery to sell them the dough used to make French bread (I haven't tried this yet, but I think it's pretty brilliant!).

Dough: makes 1 12-16” pizza, depending on thickness
2-2 1/2 cups flour (can use up to half whole wheat and up to 1/2 cup corn meal)
1 envelope quick rise yeast (or 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon sugar or honey
6-8 oz. warm water (around 110 degrees)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
Optional: 1 tsp. herbs or garlic

    In a glass measuring cup, add yeast and sugar to warm water.  Stir and allow to sit for about 5 minutes to proof (it will grow in volume and be bubbly).  Meanwhile, in a food processor or stand mixer, blend together flour, salt and olive oil (and herbs, if using).  While processor is running, pour in water-yeast mixture and continue to process until a solid ball of dough is formed (you may have to add a little more flour or water).  Allow to run 30 seconds more.  Turn off machine and pull out dough.  Place in a greased bowl and cover with a dish towel or greased plastic wrap.  Allow to sit at least 30 minutes.  Punch down dough and turn in on itself a few times.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding

If you're anything like me, you anything that involves custard is an easy sell (and that's really what bread pudding is, a baked custard with bread in it). It's just one of those food buzz words that makes me immediately think I'll like it. A few more: caramel, goat cheese, spinach, artichoke, portabella mushrooms...(not together, mind you, but certainly any of those ingredients listed on a menu and I'm likely to order).

Anyway, in my constant quest to not let anything go to waste, I used last week's stale Kaiser rolls for this week's dessert (or a rather indulgent breakfast made out of the leftovers--I felt like Bill Cosby rationalizing chocolate cake for breakfast because it has nutritious things like eggs and milk in it. But really, guilt aside, it really is like a big French Toast casserole, so it's perfectly acceptable for this to appear for brunch. You hear that? You have my permission!). It tasted kind of like a chocolate croissant. And that, friends, should probably be added to my list of buzz words!

Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding

About 5 cups leftover, stale bread torn into bite sized pieces (a French-type bread or roll is good)
3 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups milk
1/2-1 cup chocolate chips (depending how chocolate-y you like it--I used a combination of milk chocolate and mini chips)
Whipped cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8x8 casserole dish and set aside.
In a large bowl, thoroughly beat eggs. Whisk in sugar and vanilla. Add milk and whisk until combined. Stir in bread pieces and toss just until bread is soaked through. Add chocolate chips, stir once more and then pour mixture into prepared pan. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes-1 hour, until a knife comes out clean and the bread pudding is golden brown and puffed around the edges. Serve warm, topped with whipped cream (or at room temperature, or cut into slivers directly from the fridge and furtively eaten while still standing in the open fridge).

Note: you can also cover this and refrigerate overnight if you want to make ahead of time for in the morning. Just allow for a longer baking time if it goes into the oven right from the fridge.
Additionally, you can substitute blueberries and cubed cream cheese for the chocolate chips if you'd like to take more of a "breakfast-y," French Toast Casserole approach. In that case, you might want to also cut down on the sugar and pass maple syrup for serving, but that's just me...