Monday, November 29, 2010

Turkey Chili

I'm not a very adventurous cook. That is, I generally follow recipes word-for-word. In the last year or so I've developed sufficient confidence to play around a little. Just a little. I tend to have poor results when I attempt to, say, adapt a 7" tart recipe to a 10" tart. Especially when attempting a new recipe.

This is one recipe, however, that I am willing to play around with: turkey chili. I don't mess with the essential ingredients, but I will add things liberally as necessary. It's a good way to use up those random vegetables that are lying around the kitchen. I tend to have a lot of those. I make a recipe that involves half a red onion and then never find a use for the other half. Or, even worse, I get a tomato and only use a tiny bit. I don't eat tomatoes. Jeff loves them, but he's not home all day like I am so he forgets about what might be lurking at the back of the fridge. A recipe like this, though, allows you to just toss them in. Today, my extras included the last two tomatoes left over from my garden (yes, I know it's after Thanksgiving - they took forever to turn red and I never found a use for them!) and some frozen butternut squash cubes.

Butternut squash cubes? I know you're thinking that sounds weird. I got this from one of the food blogs I follow (I don't remember which). The woman suggested this as a way to slip nutritious vegetables past unsuspecting children. I boiled large chunks of butternut squash until they were soft, pureed them in a blender (with a tiny bit of water for smoothness) and then poured them into ice cube trays. Days later (when I finally got around to it), I turned them out of the trays and put them all in a bit ziplock bag. Now I have them to use all winter, slipping them into sauces and soups almost like vitamin supplements. As of yet, I have only added them to tomato-based sauces. I haven't noticed the flavor at all, although I do think my chili tasted a bit sweeter than usual. It takes an already healthy meal and makes it even healthier!

The greatest thing about this chili, apart from its versatility, is the turkey. I use 94% fat free ground turkey breast. That 6% and 2 tbsp of olive oil is the entire fat content. The rest is just meat, veggies and seasoning. I thought it was a good choice for post-Thanksgiving. I want to try and eat lighter this week.

My favorite way to eat this chili is over white rice with sour cream and Mexican (or sharp cheddar) cheese on top. My second favorite way is with tortilla chips, almost as a dip. Jeff has even rolled it up into a (very messy) sort of wrap using a flour tortilla. Since this recipe makes a pretty healthy amount of chili, you'll have a chance to try it a variety of ways before it runs out.

Turkey Chili
Adapted from Rachel Ray's Get Real Meals.

2 tbsp olive oil  (I generally use light for cooking)
1 lb ground turkey breast  (the original recipe calls for 1 1/4 lbs, but my grocery store only sells it in 1 lb packages)
3 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp grill seasoning
1 tbsp ground cumin
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
dash hot sauce
1 yellow onion, diced into 1" pieces
2 bell peppers, diced into 1" pieces (I like to use two different-colored peppers. A 1" dice leaves fairly large chunks - if that's not to your taste, you can chop them smaller.)
1/2 bottle of beer  (I don't drink, so I don't have a favorite beer to recommend, but I generally go for a medium or light amber variety.)
28 oz can tomato puree
1/2 c BBQ sauce
1 c frozen corn
sour cream and shredded cheese to garnish

Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the oil and heat up. Add the ground turkey. Season with chili, grill seasoning, cumin, Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce. Break up the meat into small crumbles (I chop it with a wooden spoon as I stir). Brown the meat for about 5 minutes.

Add the peppers and onion and cook for another 10 minutes.

Add the beer to deglaze (this may not be necessary - I use a nonstick pot, so very little sticks). Add the tomato puree, BBQ sauce and corn. Stir well to mix. Bring the chili to a bubble and simmer for at least 10 minutes more. (This is a Rachel Ray recipe, so she says this to keep the total time at 30 minutes. In my experience, the longer you cook the chili, the better the flavors blend. I would definitely let it simmer longer if you have the time.) 

Serve topped with sour cream and cheese!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Pie Adventures 2

This post is going to be a bit light on the pictures - I decided not to put the whipped cream on the pie until just before serving, so it is still unfinished. But here's the post about it, at least, for your holiday enjoyment!

. . . . . . .

The other pie I made for this Thanksgiving is a pumpkin cream pie. Like I said in a previous post, I've been baking pumpkin pies for my family's Thanksgiving since middle school. What I didn't say is that my grandmother usually bakes one too. I like my pies better - she's a bit too light on the spices for my taste (though she makes a mean crust! - until recently, I'd always used the frozen ones). So since Grandma is making a normal pumpkin pie anyway, I thought I'd try out a recipe for pumpkin cream pie. I think the lightness of the cream will be a good counterpoint to the over-eating at dinner.

The recipe is pretty simple and the elements I tried were pretty tasty. I was a bit skeptical about the cream. It does call for 1/4 c cornstarch. That's a cup - not a tablespoon or teaspoon. I don't think I've ever encountered a recipe that called for more than a tablespoon of cornstarch! I definitely see the benefit, though - when I started cooking it on the stovetop, it went from a liquid to a solid in just a few whisks. It was like watching instant pudding set as you frantically try to ladle it out in equal measures. It took a thin, milky mixture and converted it into a thick cream. It still needs to set in the refrigerator for several hours, but you get a clear sense of the final product at that point. It was tasty, too. I look forward to tasting the pie in its entirety at Thanksgiving dinner!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Pumpkin Cream Pie
From Martha Stewart Living, November 2010.

Gingersnap crust:
1 1/4 c ground gingersnap cookies (~25 cookies)
2 tbsp sugar
pinch salt
4 tbsp butter, melted and slightly cooled

Pumpkin Cream filling:
2 c whole milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
pinch cloves
1/2 c sugar
pinch salt
4 egg yolks
1/4 c cornstarch
1 1/4 c pumpkin puree (or one 15 oz can)
1 tbsp butter, room temperature
1 1/4 c heavy cream (to whip for topping the pie)
pinch nutmeg (for garnish)

Make the crust:
Preheat oven to 350°. Combine gingersnaps, sugar and pinch of salt in a bowl (I found that the gingersnaps didn't grind as finely as graham crackers might, but were still small enough for a proper crust). Stir in melted butter. Press mixture into the bottom and sides of a 9" pie plate. Refrigerate until set, about 15 minutes. Bake until the crust is golden brown - about 15 minutes (I don't know about golden brown - gingersnaps are dark brown already. It's pretty hard to tell). Set aside to cool.

Make the filling:
Add the milk, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, 1/4 c sugar, and salt to a saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks, cornstarch and 1/4 c sugar in a medium bowl. Once it has simmered, gradually mix 1/2 c of the milk mixture into the yolk mixture, then gradually whisk in the remaining milk mixture. Return the whole mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat for about 2 minutes, whisking constantly (this is where, after a minute or so, it suddenly converted from a liquid to a semi-solid). Remove from heat. Immediately whisk in pumpkin, then butter.

Strain the filling through a fine sieve into a clean bowl. (I could not do this - I poured it all into my mesh strainer and nothing happened. Not sure what kind of strainer the recipe means - it does say "fine," which is what mine is.) Pour filling into gingersnap crust, smoothing with a spatula. Refrigerate until set, at least 4 hours. When ready to serve, top with whipped cream and garnish with a sprinkling of nutmeg.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Pie Adventures 1

Finally! Thanksgiving pie day has arrived! I've been looking forward to this day for weeks now. And I'm sick.

Not very sick, but sick enough to impede my progress and take much of the enjoyment out of baking. Instead of delighting in the process, I spent most of my time wondering how much longer I had to stand up. I took several lying-down breaks, which helped. It is a let-down, though. I think it also took a toll on my final product. Success in baking has a lot to do with the love and care that goes into each recipe. I was not very strong in either of those categories this morning.

It didn't help that I was making these recipes for the first time. Or that I had to meddle a great deal with the first recipe. For a long time I have wanted to try my hand at a cranberry walnut tart. Trader Joe's sells an absolutely delicious one, and I felt that there was no reason why I couldn't make something equally delicious. The recipe I chose is from Food Network. I've done many of their recipes in the past and they're generally successful, so I didn't expect any complications (but then, who ever does?). Two days ago, after having purchased all my ingredients, I realized that the recipe makes a 7" tart. I have a 10" tart pan. I decided to persevere anyway, simply increasing the filling. Have you ever multiplied a recipe by 10/7? It does not result in convenient measurements. 5/7 tsp vanilla? 10/7 eggs?!?! How does one do such things?

In the end, I did a lot of guesswork and approximation with this recipe. The original tart dough recipe ended up being plenty for my 10" tart (enough that I decided to make a 5" pie as well, to use it up). 10/7 worth of the filling seemed a decent amount for the final tart. From that point, the difficulty lay in the cooking itself. 30 minutes at 350° was not sufficient. No part of the filling had set. I checked on it at five minute intervals. Finally, after over 25 more minutes, the middle seemed set. By this point, the edges had gone from golden-brown to just brown. I wouldn't call them burnt, but they are definitely overcooked. In retrospect, I might have increased the temperature to 375° or so to speed it along. Next time I think I'll try that.

Since I had leftover dough (and half an egg as well), I threw together a cute little 5" pie as well. For this, I halved the filling recipe. I ended up baking it for 25 minutes. The center wasn't quite set when I took it out, but I didn't want to overcook it like the other. It turns out that the center crust didn't completely cook through, so it did need a bit longer.

I suppose this should teach me not to try new recipes for special occasions. But they usually work! I tend to be more successful the first time I try a recipe than the second or third times. Maybe the lesson really is to not play around too much with a recipe I'm making for a holiday. Especially if that playing around involves math. I hate math.

I am providing the original recipe, since I had so much trouble with my adaptation. I'll continue this post tomorrow, when I've added the finishing touches to pie #2 . . .

Cranberry Walnut Tart
From Food Network.

Sweet Tart Dough:
1 1/2 c confectioner's sugar
1 1/2 sticks butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 c flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg

Cranberry Walnut Filling:
5 tbsp butter
2 tbsp plus 1 tsp flour
1/3 c brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/3 c dark corn syrup
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 c whole, fresh cranberries
2/3 c walnut pieces

Prepare the dough:
Combine sugar, butter and vanilla extract in the bowl of a stand mixer. Cream the ingredients with a paddle attachment. Add flour and salt and mix until combined. Add egg and mix until just combined. Form a disc out of the dough, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes. Lay slightly chilled dough between sheets of plastic wrap and roll into a circle about 1/8" thick. (I found this dough really easy to work with, perhaps due to the plastic wrap. It rolled out very nicely, without tearing, into a shape that was actually round. It just took a few minutes to get it down to the appropriate thickness.) Remove the top layer of plastic wrap and flip the dough into an ungreased tart pan. Press dough gently into the bottom and sides of the pan. Remove plastic wrap and use a knife to slice off any excess dough. Set aside.

Prepare the filling:
Preheat oven to 350°. Melt the butter and set aside to cool. In a bowl, whisk together flour, brown sugar and cinnamon. Add corn syrup, egg, vanilla and butter, whisking smoothly until well combined. Fold in cranberries and walnuts.

Put the tart together:
Pour the filling into the tart shell and bake approximately 30 minutes, until tart is light brown and filling is set. Cool and remove tart from pan. Serve at room temperature or refrigerate up to one week.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Dinner Roll Saga

I'm trying to learn how to make bread. This is a process that has been going on for about a year now (***correction: Jeff reminds me it's been two, seeing as the picture below is from our apartment - that makes this story even more depressing). The upshot of this seems to be that yeast is not my friend. It's starting to come around and warm up to me, but the relationship can still be a bit rocky.

Last Christmas Two Christmases ago, after returning a duplicate gift, I treated myself to a copy of Rose Levy Beranbaum's Bread Bible. It's a great book. It explains the entire process and then gives very detailed instructions for each recipe. The problem is, when you start out knowing nothing, this sort of format can be a bit overwhelming.

I had problems. Lots of problems. The first recipe I tried was the butter-dipped dinner rolls. Big mistake. It took me a good twelve hours (seriously - I didn't finish until around 1 am after Jeff had gone to bed) and they were little golden-brown rocks. I think we ate them anyway, but it wasn't pretty. I then tried sweet potato bread, to slightly greater success, although it was still tough (nevertheless, I thought it was exciting enough to take a picture). I could not get my dough to rise. On my next attempt - regular white bread - I even let the rising dough sit on a high shelf near a heating vent. Still very little success.

Fast forward many months. I suddenly realized that I was using active dry yeast, rather than the instant yeast these recipes called for. Actually, I knew this all along, but I didn't know what it meant. I went to the grocery store looking for "instant yeast," but only found active dry yeast or bread machine yeast. Since I don't have a bread machine, I assumed active dry was correct (I told you I had no idea what I was doing). And it took me months to even realize that this might be the problem.

Now I understand how that active dry yeast needs proofing. I even remember that proofing involves sugar as well as warm water (yeah, left that out a few times). And since I have an oven with a proofing function, I have a nice, draft-free place to let my dough rise. I have made a few very successful batches of white bread. So the last time I made some, I figured that if I was going to spend most of the day baking, I might as well bake multiple things. So I chose the butter-dipped dinner rolls again.

Epic fail. I have no idea what happened. Truly. I think the dough just gave up. I made two beautiful loaves of white bread and a few dozen flat, tough little bread cookies. Seriously - look at the picture! I really wanted to make dinner rolls for Thanksgiving, to prove to my family that I have conquered bread-making (ok, that's a huge overstatement - I want to at least show them I'm not a total spas). Magic Eight Ball says: outlook not good.

Until, that is, I decided to give up on the Bread Bible (for dinner rolls, at least) and try a different recipe. I have bookmarked dozens of bread recipes from the food blogs I follow. These people seem to bake bread all the time and it works for them! I chose a no-knead dinner roll recipe from Baking Bites. This time I had great success with the rise. Unfortunately, I learned that too much success also equals epic fail. The dough rose like mad. "Let rise for one hour until doubled" ended up being around twenty-eight minutes. If I'd let it rise longer, it would have spilled over the sides of the mixing bowl. When I made the rolls, my bigger baking dish was in the dishwasher, so I went with a slightly smaller version. Obviously, this was not ok:

It looks a little tight but do-able in the first picture, but after the rise . . .  

. . . they totally spilled over the sides. I tried to tuck them back in. More than once, actually - I had preheated the top oven, but with the excessive rise they were too close to the heating element so I had to switch. While I was waiting for the bottom oven to preheat, they managed to rise some more and I had to do the makeshift tuck-in again. Of course, once they were in the oven the spillage continued. The end result is this icky-looking bread monster:

I don't think these are going to be pull-apart in the manner the recipe intended. Still, they taste pretty good. I am definitely encouraged by the result, ugly as it is. I may have to give this another go for Thanksgiving, but I don't think I'm going to tell my family to expect them. I don't want to get their hopes up.  

No-Knead Pull-Apart Dinner Rolls

2 c warm water (100-110°)
5 tsp active dry yeast
1/4 c sugar
5 tbsp butter, melted and cooled + 1 tbsp for topping
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp salt
6 c flour

Pour water into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add yeast and sugar and stir. Let stand for about 5 minutes until the yeast is activated (it will look foamy - you may be able to see it in the picture below).

Add in 5 tbsp cooled butter, eggs and salt and whisk to combine. Add 3 c flour to the bowl. Using a stand mixer with dough hook attachment, mix in the flour on medium speed. Slowly pour in the remaining flour. Once the dough has come together smoothly, continue to knead another 3-5 minutes at medium speed.

Cover the bowl with lightly-greased plastic wrap and set aside to rise until doubled (the recipe says an hour, but mine took less than half that, so keep an eye on it). Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Using a dough scraper or pizza cutter, slice the dough into roughly fifteen equal-sized pieces. (Nicole from Baking Bites suggests slicing it into thirds, then fifths. Handy idea - it worked well for me.) Shape into rolls (I did this by pulling the four corners of each square piece to the bottom and pinching them) and place into three rows of five in a lightly-greased 9x13 baking dish. Cover with lightly-greased plastic wrap and let rise for another 40 minutes. (If your dish is too small, it may end up looking like the picture below!)

Preheat oven to 450°. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until golden-brown on top and hollow-sounding when tapped. Brush the tops with the remaining tbsp of butter. Let cool for 20 minutes before serving.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Best Thing I Ever Cooked: Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

I won't beat around the bush - this recipe is a lot of work. Three hours and fifteen minutes from prep to table. Granted, I did not complete each step in the most efficient manner. I was actually out of milk, and I reached the step that involved it well before Jeff got home from the grocery store, so there was a certain period of inactivity in there. I imagine (if you're not waiting on ingredients) the sauce could be made while the vegetables are roasting. This would reduce the total time considerably.

By the time it was ready, I wasn't even hungry. My legs hurt from standing in the kitchen for so long. My arm ached from whisking the sauce for twelve straight minutes. My kitchen was a disastrous clutter of dirty pots and scattered cutlery.

One bite of that lasagna, and it was all worthwhile. All my tiredness melted away (well . . . it was at least forgotten momentarily). Holy creamy deliciousness, Batman! I had never had a béchamel sauce before. Apparently I had not lived. I still have no idea how milk, flour and butter can create such a taste sensation. I could pour that into a bowl and eat it like soup (until an adult came by and stopped me). Combine that with the roasted vegetables (which I love in any preparation) and it is, as Guy Fieri would say, money. The light sweetness of the squash and sweet potatoes was an excellent compliment to the sauce, and not so overpowering as to render it dessert-like in any way. The red peppers added a nice flavor contrast. The leeks were mild enough to add flavor but not overwhelm the other elements. Upon reflection, I can't say I noticed the cheese very much. But I can't say that I cared, either.

When something is this delicious, who cares how long it takes to make? I plan on doing this recipe again and again and again. Just not on days that I work.

Roasted Vegetable Lasagna
From the Southern Living Farmers Market Cookbook.

1 medium butternut squash (about 2 lbs)
1 small sweet potato, cut into 1/2" cubes
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
3 c sliced leeks (about 4)
1 red bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
4 c milk
4 garlic cloves, halved
3 tbsp butter
1/4 c flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
9 dried precooked lasagna noodles
1 c Asiago cheese, shredded
1 c whipping cream
1 c Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 450°. Microwave squash on high for 2 minutes. (This step scared me - the squash is not pierced or anything. I was afraid I'd have an explosion on my hands. Fortunately, two minutes isn't very long, so the squash, and my microwave, survived intact.) Cut squash in half lengthwise. Scrape out and discard seeds. Peel squash and cut into 1/2" cubes. Put 3 c cubed squash in a large bowl and set aside remaining squash for another day (I had a huge 3 lb 6 oz squash, and 3 c was just about half of it). Add cubed sweet potato and 2 tbsp oil to the bowl and toss. Spread onto a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, combine leeks, bell pepper and 1 tbsp oil in the same bowl and toss. Add to partially-roasted squash mixture, stirring gently. Bake for 20 minutes or until tender, stirring halfway. When the vegetables are finished roasting, return them to the bowl.

While the roasting is going on, combine milk and garlic in a large saucepan and bring just to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. (You do need to watch this carefully - milk goes from simmering to boiling over quite quickly, so I'd advise not leaving the room.) Discard garlic (and any icky milk-skin that might form - you don't want that in the finished product). Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour until smooth and cook 1 minute, whisking constantly. Gradually whisk in warm milk. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, 12-13 minutes or until slightly thickened (mine was very thickened by this point). Remove from heat and stir in salt and pepper. Add to the roasted vegetable mixture, stirring gently.

Spoon 1/3 of vegetable mixture in to a lightly greased 9x13 baking dish. (Try not to sneak too many tastes.) Top with 3 lasagna noodles. Spread half the remaining mixture over the noodles and sprinkle half the Asiago cheese on top. Repeat with next 3 noodles, remaining vegetable mixture and remaining cheese. Break the remaining 3 noodles in half and lay on top of the casserole (this step seemed really weird to me until I realized it breaks it into easy-to-serve portions).

Decrease oven temperature to 350°. Beat cream at a high speed with an electric mixer until soft peaks form (this goes faster if you put the bowl and beaters into the freezer for 10 minutes beforehand). Spread whipped cream over noodles and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. (Since my dish was filled to the brim, I also put it on a rimmed baking sheet, in case of spills. This ended up being an excellent idea.) Uncover and bake 13 minutes more or until golden and bubbly (mine took closer to 18 minutes to get golden-brown on top). Let stand 15 minutes before serving (if you can bear it!).

The directions say it yields 8 servings, but it seemed like 6 to me. But we did eat this as our entree. I assume if you had other things along with it, you might want a smaller portion.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Chunky Banana Bread

Who says you need overripe bananas to make banana bread?

Overripe bananas are not appealing to me. I like my bananas when they're nice and firm. A little green is ok. Brown spots are generally not. When a banana has accrued brown spots I consider it past its prime and won't touch it. Except for baking purposes, that is. But the idea of using a regularly ripe banana for banana bread didn't come from wrestling with my personal food philosophy. It was, like so many other kitchen discoveries, an accident.

The last time I made banana bread, I had two brown, mushy and thoroughly icky bananas to use up. And the recipe called for three. Of course I contemplated reducing all of the ingredients by 1/3, but the idea of calculating out 1 1/3 eggs was not appealing. My eyes wandered over to the bunch of new bananas sitting in the next room. I threw caution to the winds and tossed one into the bowl. Forty minutes later, I found myself with some of the best banana bread I'd ever had!

I think recipes call for overripe bananas because they devolve into a smooth mush without much trouble. The recipe I use, from the superbly creative Alton Brown, calls for using a potato masher to mash the bananas. Even firmer bananas mash down into a decently liquid pulp. Yes, there are some solid chunks left, but that's exactly what made the bread so good! This isn't your typical smooth batter bread - between the chunks of banana and the liberal sprinkling of miniature chocolate chips, it has character. And this character is quickly becoming a staple in my household.

Chunky Banana Bread
Lightly adapted from Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for More Food.

Weights are included with the measures because Alton Brown believes that accurate measurement creates consistency, and weight is the only truly accurate way to measure most ingredients.

3-4 ripe bananas (340 g)
1 c sugar (210 g)
1 2/3 c flour (220 g)
1/3 c oat flour (35 g)  (I had a really hard time getting my hands on this stuff, but I have a suspicion that you can make it by grinding rolled oats to a fine consistency)
1 tsp baking soda (6 g)
1 tsp salt (6 g)
8 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract (6 g)
1 c miniature chocolate chips (to taste, of course - this is a rather liberal amount of chocolate)

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a miniature loaf pan (or a regular-sized one - this will change the baking time). Put bananas and sugar into a large mixing bowl and mash together with a potato masher until smooth. (You'll know when it's smooth - the mixture suddenly gets surprisingly goopy, like in the picture below.)

Combine butter, eggs and extract in a separate bowl, then mix with bananas and sugar. Whisk flours, baking soda and salt in another bowl, then add to the wet mixture. Stir until the batter just comes together. (Do not overmix! This will start to develop the gluten structure of the flour, creating a tougher bread.) Fold in chips.

Pour batter into pan. For mini-loaves, bake for about 30 minutes. For a regular-sized loaf, bake 50 minutes to one hour. Either way, the internal temperature should be 210°. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then move to a wire rack. Cool completely before slicing.

I like doing the mini-loaves because they freeze well. I'll toss about half of them into tupperware and put them into the freezer. I started doing this because they tended to get moldy before we were able to finish a whole batch (a sad side effect of moist baked goods). Freezing them helps ensure they are still good when we want them. It can also be a nice surprise to come upon them in the freezer weeks later!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Apple-Turnip Mashed Potatoes

Yum. This has been a good few days for food. Sundays are football days at our house, and since the Giants were playing at 4, we wanted to keep our dinner menu simple - you know, something that could be put together at halftime. Pizza is always a good, quick option for times like these. We'd gone up to Trader Joe's on Saturday specifically for some pizza dough (and maple creme cookies - they're unbelievably good). For this pizza, I went for the garlic and herb dough. And since Jeff's birthday is tomorrow, I decided to make it a fancy one in his honor. Behold my awesome vegetable arrangement:

Even with the cheese in the way, you can see what a lovely job I did. It's one of the best-looking pizzas I've ever made. My new stove has two ovens, and the smaller top oven ensured that the pizza was close to the heat all around, resulting in a remarkably crispy crust and golden-brown top. I used to have to turn on the broiler to get that effect!

Then there was dessert. Jeff got to request whatever he wanted for his birthday, so, of course, it was peanut butter. A peanut butter pie. I certainly give it props for prettiness, but it's not my favorite recipe ever. The peanut butter cream is great, but the chocolate kisses on top did nothing for me (since they're hard and need to be chewed and the peanut butter is soft and creamy, it's impossible to get both flavors in your mouth at once). And the crust, which is crushed vanilla wafers and roasted peanuts, was overkill. I think it needs a nice layer of some chocolate ganache. When I find the time to attempt that experiment, you'll be sure to get a recipe.

Now, about today's concoction . . . this recipe, though it looks a tad bland sitting there at the top of this post, takes mashed potatoes to a whole new level. The nutritional value of turnips, the tang of buttermilk, the flavor and crunch of bacon, and the sweetness of sauteed apple, all wrapped up in a smooth, creamy side dish. Potatoes have vitamins, too, but something like 90% of those are in the skin (I think I got that tidbit from Alton Brown). When you peel them and mash them up, especially if you add things like butter and cream, you no longer have any semblance of a healthy side dish. I'm hoping the turnips, apples and low-fat buttermilk helped mitigate that in this recipe, because this is something I need to do again. Soon. Perhaps Friday?

Apple-Turnip Mashed Potatoes
From the Southern Living Farmers Market Cookbook, which I wholeheartedly recommend checking out.

2 garlic bulbs
1 tbsp olive oil
1/8 tsp salt
1 lb turnips, peeled and cut into 1" pieces
1 lb Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" pieces
3 bacon slices, cut into 1/4" pieces
2 medium-sized Golden Delicious apples, peeled and chopped
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
3/4 c buttermilk
2 tbsp butter
 salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425°. Cut off the top of each garlic bulb, so that the all the cloves are showing. Place bulbs on a piece of aluminum foil, on a baking sheet. Drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt, and fold the foil to seal. Bake for 30-35 minutes until soft. Let cool for about 15 minutes. Squeeze the pulp from the garlic cloves into a small bowl.

Meanwhile, put the turnips, potatoes and enough salted water to cover in a pot and bring to a boil. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until tender. Drain.

While that is going on, cook the bacon in a medium skillet over medium-high heat 5-6 minutes until crisp. (While there seems to be a lot going on at this point, the only active thing you should be worrying about is the bacon - the garlic, turnips and potatoes can tend to themselves. Just make sure to watch the time.) When the bacon is finished, remove it from the skillet, reserving about 2 tbsp of drippings. Saute the apples in the bacon drippings until tender and lightly browned, about 6 minutes.

Once all the pieces are ready to assemble, combine the apples, turnips, potatoes, roasted garlic and thyme in a large bowl (I like to use the still-hot pot that the potatoes cooked in). Toss in the butter and mash with a potato masher until well blended (the heat from the vegetables should melt the butter fairly quickly). Once the mixture has reached the desired consistency (it's fine if it's still a bit chunky), stir in the buttermilk and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with the crisp bacon just before serving.

The cookbook claims this is about 8 servings. This, of course, depends on how reasonable your idea of a serving is!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Stir-Fried Beef, Broccoli and Yams

What's the difference between a yam and a sweet potato? Is this just a regional thing, or are they really two types of potato? I tend to use the names interchangeably . . . I hope that's ok.

I love Chinese food. (The fake, American version, I mean.) There's something about fried meat in a sticky, sweet sauce that drives my taste buds wild. I used to eat it a lot. The prepared food section at Wegmans has some good stuff. I was also a huge fan of the Trader Joe's frozen meals (spicy orange chicken, anyone?), which I had assumed was the closest I would ever get to making Chinese take-out myself at home.

I was wrong. And it's a good thing I was wrong. I was at the University of Toronto this past summer, and spent a fair bit of time walking through Chinatown to get to other places. I passed a number of Chinese groceries. They are disgusting. (Ok, most of them are disgusting - one of the girls I lived with directed me to one that was satisfactory.) Most of the ones I passed smelled like rotting garbage. I steered clear of even buying vegetables there. I would never have considered buying the meat. A few of the butcher shops had whole chickens hanging by the neck in the windows. That freaked me out. I would never buy that.

Now, I understand this is a cultural thing. I live a fairly sheltered life and am easily grossed out. While I am trying to learn more about where my meat comes from and how the animals are treated, I still prefer a healthy distance between the cute farm animals and the finished product. I can't handle a rack of ribs or a whole raw chicken because I am too keenly reminded of what they used to be. But walking around Toronto's Chinatown led me to realize that, while I would not buy these things as groceries, I don't seem to have a problem eating them once they're fried up and tossed in sauce. The chicken in the window that I shy away from is destined for my Kung Pao!

So it's a good thing we've learned to make some great Chinese dishes at home, where I have control over the ingredients I use. This stir-fried beef, broccoli and yams is probably the best we've tried to date. The cornstarch gets the juices from the beef to thicken into a great sauce. And the yams (or sweet potatoes - whatever) provide a really nice twist on the traditional beef with broccoli, introducing a great new contrast in color, texture and flavor. And it's not very hard to make.

Try it. I hope you're as impressed as we were.

Oh, and here's a shot of some of the awesome stuff we got at the farmer's market this week. Those turnips are destined for something tasty . . .

Stir-Fried Beef, Broccoli and Yams
From Bon Appétit magazine, sometime last year.
1/4 c water
3 tbsp light brown sugar
3 tbsp oyster sauce
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 lb flank steak, cut in half lengthwise, then into 1/4" slices 
1 1/2 tbsp corn starch  (yeah, that's a lot, but it's what gets the sauce to thicken)
2 1/2 tbsp sesame oil, divided
4 c broccoli florets (about 8 oz)
1 yam (about 8 oz), peeled, cut in half lengthwise, then into 1/3" slices (if you do this, you get pretty little half-moons of yam. Since I used a few very tiny yams, I chose to just slice them into rounds)
2 tsp chopped fresh ginger (fresh ginger adds a beautiful kick to the finished product)

Stir the water, sugar, oyster sauce and red pepper in a small bowl until the sugar dissolves. Set the sauce aside. Place the beef in a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add cornstarch and toss to coat well. (Since we used about 1/3 more beef than the recipe called for, we should have used more cornstarch. Our sauce didn't turn out quite as thick as the last few times we'd made this recipe.)

Heat 1 1/2 tbsp oil in large skilled on high. Add beef. Stir fry for about 3 minutes, until no longer pink. Transfer to a clean bowl. In the same skillet, heat 1 tbsp of oil (we decided to use a bit less this time around because there was a fair bit of oil left in the skillet). Add the broccoli, yams and ginger. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, tossing to coat. Add the sauce. Cover, reduce heat to medium-high, and cook for about 5 more minutes, until the vegetables are just tender. (Test one of the larger pieces of yam to be sure.) Return the beef to the skillet. Toss for about another minute until the sauce coats the beef. Serve over rice.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Pan-Roasted Brussels Sprouts

 In my effort to expand my vegetable repertoire, I have found a number of lovely new friends. You've already met cauliflower, who may, in fact, be my soul mate. Brussels sprouts are also on this list.

This shouldn't have come as a surprise to me. My mom loves them and cooked them for many a holiday gathering. Back then I was ambivalent. One again, it took the right preparation to make me see the light. In one of Rachel Ray's cookbooks, I found a recipe for Bacon-Cranberry Brussels Sprouts. Even Jeff (who had been a skeptic) thought they were delicious, despite being made with frozen sprouts. When I discovered the fresh specimens lurking in the vegetable aisle and tried them out, we were really hooked. 

Brussels sprouts are also really cool. I learned this at Trader Joe's last fall, when I saw them being sold on the stalk (before this, I hadn't a clue how they were grown). When I saw stalks of Brussels sprouts come out at the farmers' market a few weeks ago, I knew I had to try them this way.

One of my personal crusades is to reduce the amount of trash I produce. This means I refuse plastic bags as often as possible (even if I don't have my reusable bags, I have two hands and a large purse). This also means I shop for things with the least amount of packaging I can find. My supermarket sells pre-cut butternut squash in plastic containers covered in saran wrap - something I don't really understand. While it is a bit of a chore to cut the rind off, but it is cheaper and better for the environment. The squash goes in my belly and the rind goes into my compost bin, which will support next year's vegetable garden. No waste at all. So Brussels sprouts on the stalk was perfect for me. No more paper container with plastic rubber-banded to the top. Like breaking down squash, it was a bit of work. Each sprout needs to be hacked off the stalk individually. The product was also a mixed bag - mostly really small sprouts, a few supermarket-sized ones, and a bunch of scraggly-looking bits at the bottom. I learned quickly, however, that beneath the scraggly-looking outer leaves were usually perfectly good sprouts. I got much more product than I expected for my $2 - I filled the silver bowl in the picture below. I'd say I got more than in a normal supermarket package. And the stalk? It went to my compost heap to join the rest of the nutrient-rich melange destined for next summer's produce.

Pan-Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens. I think this was one of last year's Thanksgiving recipes.

2 lbs Brussels sprouts, halved
1 tbsp rice oil or olive oil
7 cloves garlic, minced
1 small yellow onion, chopped small (I chopped the onion and garlic together in the food processor)
3 tbsp butter
1/2 bunch fresh thyme (About 10 sprigs - my picture doesn't show nearly enough. I went back to the garden and got more after I read the recipe more closely.)
1 large sprig rosemary, halved
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp sherry or white wine vinegar  (I don't drink, so I found that the sherry didn't have enough time to cook off for my liking, so I went for an even better-tasting option: citrus-flavored balsamic vinegar.)

In a large saucepan, cook the sprouts in lightly salted boiling water for about 3 minutes. Drain and pat dry. (I skipped this step this time around. Drying the sprouts takes time, and if they're not fully dry, the oil splatters. I felt that I could skip it, especially because most of my sprouts were really small. Unfortunately, I was incorrect. Even with a much longer cooking time, some of the sprouts were a bit on the raw side. So I would definitely recommend blanching them according to the original recipe's instructions. In the future, I know I won't cut this corner again.)

Heat a large, flat-bottomed pan on high for 1-2 minutes. Add the oil, garlic and onion. Cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes. Add half the butter. Turn heat to medium-high. Arrange half the sprouts cut-side down in the pan. Add half the rosemary, thyme and salt. Cook 3-4 minutes until browned. Remove from heat and repeat with the other half of the sprouts. When they are done, return everything to the skillet and add sherry/vinegar. (I let mine cook a bit longer together, both because I neglected the blanching step and because I wanted the flavor of the vinegar to really meld with everything else.) Toss until well-combined and serve.