Sunday, March 28, 2010

Buttermilk Biscuits

You know how there are just some recipes that even an experienced cook is scared to death of? Well, buttermilk biscuits shouldn't be one of them. Sure, they can be scary - they can turn out like hockey pucks, but if you follow my tips, that won't happen.

So, let's talk a little about these biscuits. Not how to eat them, of course, I'm sure you can come up with some ideas on your own. And, if you can't, they are great with raspberry jam - or even better for a breakfast sandwich with scrambled eggs in them. Lets talk about some tips on how to make them.

One of the most important things you learn quickly about baking is for most, if not all, recipes, temperature is important. Not only what temperature to bake your tasty goods, but the temperature of the ingredients as you are making them. When you are making things like cookies and cakes, you will see that recipes call for room temperature things - room temperature butter, milk, and eggs. The reason is simple - the ingredients mix together much better at room temperature.

For recipes like pie crusts and buttermilk biscuits, you will see the recipe saying cold butter, and cold buttermilk. If you are used to baking cookies, this may seem odd to you. However, there is a simple reason for this - you really don't want your butter fully incorporated into your flour, and you want your flour to not develop too much gluten, which is what happens when you work your dough. You want it mixed in, but you do want little clumps of butter in your biscuits. It helps with the texture of the biscuit. Trust me on this.

The other thing you need to know about biscuit making is don't make the dough perfect. You want to work with the dough as you are mixing things together just enough. Working with your biscuits too much will make them tough. You want to mix the butter into the flour until just small pieces remain, and they are all evenly distributed through the flour.

If you are insecure about making biscuits, the best thing you can do is this: freeze your butter. Then, instead of cutting it into cubes, shred it on a grater - like cheese. It's easier to incorporate into the flour then. All you have to do is stir it around, and you are ready to go. Trust me, they aren't that difficult as long as you don't handle it much, and start with cold cold ingredients, you will be fine. Now, if I can only get over my gnocchi fear...

Buttermilk Biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour (I like unbleached)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons very cold (frozen is preferred) butter, cut into small cubes, or grated
3/4 cup buttermilk, cold

Preheat oven to 450. In a mixing bowl, place the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir together. Add the butter, and mix the ingredients together until the butter is incorporated into the flour and no large pieces remain. While it may be difficult to see, your mixture should look something like mine. I use frozen butter, cut into cubes, and my hands to mix the ingredients together. One little trick I learned doing this is I slowly count to 40 in my head while I'm incorporating the butter. Once I am at 40, I stop.

Add the buttermilk, and stir until just combined. You want the dough to be in one piece, and not too sticky, but have all the flour in the bowl incorporated. If you need a little less or a little more buttermilk, feel free to add it. But, don't stir it too much. If this process takes more than 2 minutes, you are working your dough too much.

Turn out onto a floured surface. Pat into a small round, about 1/2 to 2/3" thick. Cut into rounds with a cookie cutter or a coffee mug, which is what I use - it's the perfect size, and I can always find one. You can gently pat the remaining dough back together to make another biscuit or two, so you don't waste any of that dough.

Place on a greased or sprayed cookie sheet so the biscuits are just touching. Brush with a little melted butter (and you can sprinkle with a little salt if you want) and bake 10-12 minutes, until the tops are golden brown. Remove from the oven and let rest a minute or two (if you can wait that long), and eat warm.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Chicken and Dumplings

One of the ultimate comfort foods. At least for me. There are many ways to get the cooked chicken for this dish. You can boil a whole chicken, or pieces, or you can do like me - use leftovers, or buy a rotisserie chicken and use that. If you are feeding 2 to 3 people, you can use leftovers from a roast chicken or rotisserie chicken for dumplings. I will be posting an easy roast chicken recipe soon, for those that are scared to attempt it on their own!

Chicken and Dumplings

2 cups cooked chicken, shredded
4 cups chicken broth, home made or canned
1/2 t. pepper
1/2 to 1 t. salt, to taste (depending on how salty the chicken broth is)
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped

2 cups flour
1 T. baking powder
1 t. salt
1 cup milk
4 T. melted butter or oil

Combine first six ingredients in a large saucepan, heat to boiling, tasting for seasoning. For the dumplings, combine all dumpling ingredients, and mix until combined. The dumplings should appear wet - if the mix is too dry, add more milk until mixture is the consistency of cooked oatmeal. Drop by tablespoons full on top of slowly boiling broth. Cover pan and cook for 15 minutes. Uncover and cook for 5 more minutes. Serve immediately.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Mango Cheesecake!

Ahh mangoes. Whenever I think about the new eating locally trends, I think of mangoes. Well, and pineapples. Because those are the two things I would miss the most.

I never really thought of trying to make a mango cheesecake until Caleb was telling me he bought one in Singapore, and for some reason, it sounded really good. I normally shy away from baked or cooked fruit, because I don't really like it. But I thought I would try this, because it did sound really good.

After looking at recipes, it seemed like most mango cheesecakes simply add some diced mango or mango puree to a regular cheesecake batter. Since I have a pretty standard recipe I use, I decided to do the same. I chose to use mango puree and top with fresh mangoes before serving, just because I thought pureed mangoes would give a nice overall flavor.

I decided on a vanilla wafer crust because I prefer the taste over graham crackers for more delicately flavored cheesecakes, and thought this may be one. That choice was perfect!

This recipe makes one large 8" cheesecake. If you have the individual pans, you can make a small one as well, which is what I did for pictures. The family loved this recipe, and adding fresh mangoes on top before serving was a great way to add another mango flavor.

Mango Cheesecake

2 cups vanilla wafer cookie crumbs
1/3 cup melted butter
1/3 cup sugar

3 8 oz packages cream cheese
1 1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs, at room temperature
1 t. vanilla
2 cups pureed mango, about 3 mangoes depending on size

Preheat oven to 350. In medium size bowl, combine all the crust ingredients, and pat into an 8" springform pan. The best way to not get the crust too thick where the edges meet the bottom is to use the back of a dry measuring cup to press the crumbs into the pan. Press the crumbs up the edges of the pan about 1 1/2 to 2 inches. Bake for 10 minutes while preparing the filling.

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese with a mixer about 2-3 minutes until just a little bit lighter. Add the sugar, and mix about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, followed by vanilla and the pureed mango. Make sure mixture is well incorporated. Pour on top of prepared crust, and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until only a little of the middle jiggles when you shake the pan. I know this isn't very scientific cooking instructions, but that's what works for me.

Cool for a few hours at room temperature, followed by at least 4 hours in the refrigerator. Serve with any remaining mango puree and sliced mangoes. Ok, so you don't have to leave it so long in the refrigerator, I ate mine after about 1 hour, and it was great, but it is better if you let it rest in the refrigerator a little while, and then just take the chill off before serving.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Soft Pretzels

I love making yeast dough. Maybe because I felt so accomplished the first time I made it, maybe it's the smell as it's baking. I don't know. I just know I would make something with yeast every day if I could.

I decided to start experimenting with soft pretzels because I remember just loving pretzel rolls when I was working in Ohio. It was the first time I had ever seen anything like it, and I just loved them.

My affection for soft pretzels continued while I lived in California - since I was a vegan for a time while I was there, a pretzel was about the only thing I could eat at baseball games. Now, I didn't go to many baseball games - but since I'm not really into the sport, it's all about the green grass and the food when I do go.

Oh, who am I kidding - now I just eat soft pretzels as an excuse to eat tons of yellow mustard. Did you know that putting yellow mustard on a burn will help calm the burn down? Try it sometime, it really does work. Your roommates and/or family will look at you very strangely, however, if you try to put it on a sunburned face though.

I was generally happy with this recipe. However, I caution you - these little suckers like to stick to the pan, so spray generously, or use parchment paper.

Soft Pretzels

1 T. or 1 package active dry yeast
2 cups warm (about 105 degrees) water
2 T. brown sugar
5 1/2 to 6 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt, or 1 T. kosher salt

Poaching liquid:

2 quarts water
1/4 cup baking soda
2 T. brown sugar
1 egg, beaten with 1 t. water
coarse or pretzel salt (or sea salt, which is nice in this recipe)

Mix yeast, water, and sugar together in the bottom of your mixing bowl, and let sit for about 10 minutes, until foamy. Add salt and 4 cups flour, beat until well combined. Add enough of the remaining flour to get a nice, but wet dough (the dough is kind of sticky, but works well). The best way to add enough flour is to add 1/2 cup at a time, mixing after each addition, until the dough isn't sticky to touch.
Knead with dough hook or by hand for about 3 minutes, until slightly smooth and elastic. Put dough in a oiled (I use Pam) bowl, turning to coat the top of the dough with some oil. Cover with a clean towel, and let rise about 1 hour, until dough doubles, and looks like this:

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board, deflating it as you go. Divide the dough into 16 pieces. The easiest way to do this is divide in 1/2, then each piece in 1/2. Do this 2 more times, and you should get 16 fairly evenly sized pieces. Roll the dough into 18" long strips, and shape like a pretzel. Let rise while you work on the rest of the pieces.

Once you have finished shaping the dough, let it rest for about 15 minutes. While it is resting, prepare your cookie sheets by spraying them with cooking spray or using parchment. Prepare your poaching liquid, getting it hot enough to just under a boil. Poach each pretzel 1 minute on each side, putting on prepared baking sheets when each is finished. It's best to do this only three at a time - since they can be a little difficult to turn if there are more in the pan.

Brush each poached pretzel with your egg and water mixture, and top with salt. Bake at 450, for about 12-15 minutes, until golden or dark brown. Let cool or serve warm.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Eatin' of the greens~! (or Happy St. Patrick's Day)

I know, I know, you are probably expecting some green mashed potatoes, or green cheesecake, but I haven't really felt like baking much sweets lately. And, I have been craving vegetables lately...well, and cardamom, but that's another story entirely.

But, it is St. Patrick's Day, and I would be remiss without posting at least one thing green. So, instead of wearing o'the green, we will have an eating o'the greens!

I just love sauteed spinach with ginger. The ginger just adds something that I like when paired with the garlic and lemon. A wonderful, and fairly healthy side dish!

Sauteed Spinach with lemon

1 lb fresh spinach, washed
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. fresh ginger, minced
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
1 t. olive oil
1/2 lemon

Heat olive oil on medium high heat. Add minced ginger and saute one minute. Add garlic immediately followed by spinach, salt, and pepper (in that order). Let the spinach heat 1-2 minutes, until it starts giving off moisture.

Stir until all spinach is sufficiently wilted. I've found this is kind of a personal thing. I like my spinach a little less wilted than the rest of my family, so I take my portion out first.

Serve with fresh squeezed lemon juice. Or, if you prefer, serve with vinegar.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Beautifully fried chicken

Now, I don't know about you, but I eat a lot of chicken. Since I'm trying to improve my diet by not eating so much cheese, chicken seems to be my main go-to protein. I jokingly tell my friends I would be a vegetarian if chicken were a vegetable, and to some extent, that's true.

Now, let me tell you about this chicken. For some reason, I don't care much for brined meats. It's just a personal taste thing. Where most people think it tastes "well seasoned" and juicy, I just think it tastes processed and salty. Yes, I don't eat a lot of salt. I rarely salt my food after cooking, and I have been known to try to wipe the salt off tortilla chips at the local Mexican Restaurant.

So, you will probably not see me brine meats in the near future. However, that doesn't mean I don't love marinade. In my opinion, the best way to fry chicken is to start by letting it soak in buttermilk or a spiced buttermilk mixture overnight in the refrigerator. This gives the chicken a great moistness and tenderness, while not adding the saltiness from a classic brine.

There are also a few other differences in the way I fry chicken than you may be used to. Most traditional breading technique calls for flouring the chicken, dipping it in egg or more buttermilk, followed by more flour. I don't do that. While I like a crispy fried chicken as much as the next person, I think my technique gives just as good a crispy coating without extra breading. Trust me, try it once, you will be convinced.

Crispy Fried Chicken

4 chicken breasts, bone in and skin on, or 2 breasts and 2 leg/thigh pieces
3 cups buttermilk
2 T. seasoning salt (I use Johnny's)
1 T. granulated garlic
1 t. pepper
1/2 cup flour
enough oil for frying (about 1-2 cups, depending on the size of your pan)

Place the chicken in a plastic or glass bowl. Pour the buttermilk over the chicken, making sure the buttermilk coats all pieces thoroughly. Place in the refrigerator for 8-24 hours. If you can, rotate the chicken once or twice.

Place the chicken on a cooling rack set over a baking sheet to drain. Pour 1-2" of oil in your fry pan and put on medium high heat. Ideally, you want your oil to reach about 350 degrees.

After chicken has drained a bit - you want a thin coating of buttermilk on your chicken, but not a lot. Mix garlic, seasoning salt, and pepper together and sprinkle over both sides of the chicken. Heat oven to 350.

When your oil has heated and is shimmering, coat each piece of chicken in flour and fry 3-4 minutes on each side. You will probably have to fry in batches, so don't coat the chicken in flour until you are ready to place it in the oil. The chicken won't be completely cooked, but you finish it in the oven.

Once golden on each side, place all the chicken in the oven for 15-20 minutes until juices run clear, or an instant read thermometer reads about 160.

Let rest for 5 minutes, then enjoy!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

How to chop an onion

I hope to go over some basic skills in my blog. This is my first attempt. Chopping an onion, I must admit, is something I take for granted. It's just something I have been doing for so long, I could probably do it in my sleep. I may not be such a total clutz in my sleep as I am when I'm awake, either.

Be sure to watch your fingers! A few things I have learned along the way are to be sure to curl your fingers under while you chop. It saves a lot of fingernails, to say the least. When you are working with vegetables, one of the most important things you can do is to create a flat surface on the vegetable. You then lay that surface on your cutting board, so what you are cutting is stable, and doesn't move (much).

Once you have a system, chopping an onion is fairly easy. Unfortunately, I have misplaced the first two pictures, so you will just have to use your imagination. The first thing you do is cut off the top and bottom of the onion - just a little bit, to remove the roots and tips. Then, chop the onion in 1/2. Cutting 1/2 at a time is much easier. Remove the onion skin, and you are ready to go.

Place the onion on the cutting board like I have shown. Your goal here is to cut deep cuts into the onion without cutting through the end. Cut every 1/4" until you reach the top. If you accidentally cut through, that's ok, too. You can just go to the next step with 3 pieces of onion instead of 2 halves.

Ok, now on to the next step. Now, turn the onion so the largest cut side is on the cutting board. You want to do the same exact thing to this side you did to the other - make 1/4 to 1/2" cuts along the entire onion.

*Phew* Hardest part is over. The rest is pretty easy. Simply turn the onion and start chopping like I have shown. When you get to the end, just chop the rest up. I usually just chop the ends into smaller pieces.

There you have it! A great way to slice an onion - now go practice. It's almost time for chicken!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Fettuccine Alfredo

I realize now that if you look back on my previous posts, you will start to think that I'm Italian. I wish I were, but sadly, I'm just an American Mutt. That just happens to love Italian food. I used to think it was the garlic, but now I realize it's the pasta.

Which brings me to my post - Fettuccine Alfredo. It's rich, it's creamy, it's the ultimate comfort food. And, it's fairly easy to make. I actually taught a friend of mine to make Alfredo sauce by chatting with him on MSN...and he's a very novice cook! So, if he can do it, so can you!

Fettuccine Alfredo

Difficulty: Easy

4 T. butter
1/4 c. flour
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cup milk
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/2 to 1 t. salt (to taste)
1/3 c. parmesan cheese
1/2 t. white pepper (optional - you can use black pepper too, but I don't like the spots in my sauce)
1 lb. fettuccine

In a large pan, heat water for your fettuccine on high heat. Add a few tablespoons salt to the water.

In a smaller sauce pan, melt the butter on medium heat. Add flour, and stir until combined. Cook for about a minute, until it bubbles like in the picture. This is to cook the floury taste out of your sauce.

Slowly add in milk and cream, whisking constantly. This is the stage where your sauce can get lumpy. If it does, keep on whisking. Add nutmeg and pepper. Continue heating over medium heat until your sauce gets thick and starts to bubble. Add your cheese, while whisking. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

In the time it takes me to make my sauce, my fettuccine is usually finished. If yours isn't, keep your sauce on a low heat while your pasta finishes cooking. Drain pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup pasta water. Put pasta back into your large pasta kettle.

Add sauce to your pasta, gently stirring pasta. If your sauce is too thick, add a few tablespoons of pasta water until the sauce is the desired consistency. For this, I normally use a pair of tongs - they are my go-to utensil of the kitchen.

Serve immediately, with extra parmesan.

I love this pasta...and I'm glad that my nephew Ryan and his girlfriend Taylor do too, since they are the ones that ate most of it! I served mine with a few roast chicken slices on top, and some diced tomatoes. I like diced tomatoes with the alfredo sauce - it gives a bit of acid and contrast to the sauce.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Ravioli's with meat filling

I've had a pasta maker for almost 4 years now - and it has never made it out of the box. It's always one of those things that I want to make, but when I'm hungry and looking for pasta, the dry stuff in the box always looks better at the time.

I was wrong. My first experience with ravioli making was messy, fun, and delicious. The dough was so soft, and just a little sticky, which proved challenging at times...well, mainly those times when I forgot to flour the dough and it stuck to itself.

I used 2 fillings for the ravioli's - the first was the exact same recipe I used for meatballs, the second was a cheese and mushroom filling that would have been much better if I had added the salt, instead of forgetting to put it in. I served it with my spicy marinara sauce, with just a touch of cream...and tons of parmesan.

Ravioli Dough
Difficulty: Medium to hard
3 cups flour
2 eggs
3-4 T. water
1 t. salt
1 T. olive oil

I made my dough in a food processor - so for a food processor add the flour and salt, then add the eggs while the pulsing. Add the olive oil, then the water, 1 T. at a time, until the dough comes together. As soon as the dough comes together, remove from food processor, gently kneed, wrap tightly and place in refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

If you don't have a food processor - On your work surface, place the 3 c. flour and salt. Make a well in the center of the flour. Lightly beat the eggs and olive oil together, and place in the middle of the well. Slowly add flour from the center of the well, working outward, until your dough begins to form. Add water 1 T. at a time until the dough comes together. Gently kneed, wrap tightly, and place in refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

Remove dough from refrigerator and cut into 8 equal pieces. While working with one piece, keep the other 7 covered so they won't dry out. Begin with the pasta machine on setting 1, and work the pasta until it is on level 6 - that's as thin as you want for this dough.

Drop teaspoons of your filling equally spaced on one half of your dough. Brush the dough with water, so it will stick together, then gently fold over the other half of your dough. Gently press each ravioli, making sure no air remains in your ravioli's.

Bring a large pot of water to boil, add your ravioli's, and cook until they float, about 5 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon into your pasta sauce.


Meat Filling -I used the same recipe as I do for meatballs

Mushroom and cheese filling

1/4 pound each crimini and shitake mushrooms
1/4 c. dried porcini mushrooms
1 t. olive oil
1/4 c. parmesan cheese
1/3 c. ricotta cheese
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper

Finely chop mushrooms, and saute in the 1 t. olive oil. Let cool. Add remaining ingredients, and adjust salt and pepper to taste. About 2 t. of this filling is enough for ravioli.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Spicy Marinara Sauce – a great way to serve those meatballs!

Ok, so yesterday we made some meatballs. Good. Today, let’s have some fun with them, and make a spicy marinara sauce and serve them with some pasta!

Spicy marinara Sauce:

1 can Tomato puree

2 cloves garlic, crushed

½ t. salt (to taste)

½ t. pepper

¼ t. red pepper flakes

2 t. Italian seasoning blend (Mixture of Basil and Oregano)

1 T. tomato paste

2 T. red wine, or 1 T. red wine or balsamic vinegar

1 t. sugar

2 t. olive oil

Heat oil on medium heat in a sauce pan. Add pepper, red pepper flakes, and Italian seasoning to the oil, and gently stir for a minute or two. Add remaining ingredients, stirring well. Simmer over low heat for at least 30 minutes, up to 2 hours. Serve over pasta and meatballs.

If you are like me, you will drown your pasta in parmesan cheese, so you can just add some to the sauce and save yourself some of the trouble - this sauce is really fantastic when you add about 1/4 cup parmesan cheese to the mix.

Be very careful with those red pepper flakes. It's very easy to make this just a bit too spicy (at least for me)