Thursday, March 31, 2011

Double Take: Red Thai Chicken Curry

Anyone out there remember the secret to the awesome bbq in the movie Fried Green Tomatoes? They said, "the secret's in the sauce." This sauce is in no way containing the same "secret ingredient" that the gals used in Fried Green Tomatoes. However, the statement is still true for it. Today's recipe is a fun way to dress up chicken with a flair of Thai style curry. The bonus? You don't have to make the curry paste but you can select a curry paste that suits your family.

Most groceries now have an asian section stocked with a mix of what can be mysterious looking curry pastes.

Curry Paste Comparison by Brand
Thai Kitchen tends to be completely mild.
Patak's has a little heat but is fine for those who like mild sauce at Taco Bell.
Deep Food's brand tends to be similar to Patak's in spice but can leave your kitchen with more residual smell.
Maesri tends to be notably hotter than Patak's and Deep Food's. If you use a whole can for 4 servings, be prepared for some heat.

For any of these, if you want more heat, add chili flakes or chili garlic sauce (aka ugly rooster sauce). This is not the same as Tabasco with garlic. It tends to have a rooster on the front but any Asian chili garlic sauce will work.

Also, you have the option of making your own. Pioneer Woman makes her own. In fact, her recipe is adapted for today's post. Its a great, quick weeknight dinner. It can easily be adapted for anyone's tastes by adjusting vegetables and spice level. The leftovers reheat well too.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Irish Cooking Night: Crockpot Corned Beef

March's cooking night was Irish themed. I was hesitant when selecting the menu. It seems corned beef is more of an Irish peasant food that Americans favor far more than the origin country. Yet, corned beef is Irish. Those at cooking night were all Americans and it was a celebration of Irish food, therefore it fit.

Once decided on corned beef, I got it in my head that I wanted to corn my own. Alton Brown's version took nearly a week. I found a version on food.com submitted by one of my favorite contributors (evelyn/athens) that only took 3 days. Awesome. Then I went to the store. $6 / lb for brisket! I was shocked. It was actually cheaper to get beef that was already corned. I waited a week to check the next week's sale ad. Since it was St. Patrick's Day week, there was a chance. The reality was that the corned beef brisket was dropped further to $3/lb. As an added bonus, they had a low sodium option. I'm not a fan of over salted food so I was instantly drawn to that option. I do want to corn my own but being responsible with spending money was more important than being excited about corning my own beef.

If you're planning a cooking event for 7-8 people, you need a guess at how much meat you need. Most party planning I've seen suggests 6 oz per person. I went with 3.5 lb. It came out perfectly portioned. Again, if you're planning a cooking party, its important to have an idea of time. Corned beef is cooked slowly. It can be cooked on the stovetop or crockpot. With either option, it should be cooked for 4 hours. To me, the crockpot choice became a no-brainer. I feel uncomfortable leaving my house with a stove eye on but not the crockpot. To each their own though.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Daring Baker's Challenge: 1) Sausage and Cheese or 2) Caramel Apple and Pecan Filled Yeasted Coffee Cake

The March 2011 Daring Baker’s Challenge was hosted by Ria of Ria’s Collection and Jamie of Life’s a Feast. Ria and Jamie challenged The Daring Bakers to bake a yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake.


At left, sausage and cheese. At right, caramel apple with pecan. 



My initial reaction:

Is this the same recipe as the Stollen from December?

Answer: No.

            What's the difference?

Answer: This is a light, moist bread with a filling rolled between the layers of bread. Stollen was dense and typically had its flavors incorporated into the dough.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Double Take: Panko Crusted Chicken with Mustard Maple Pan Sauce


As a society, we're pretty visually driven. I'd say its pretty rare to go to a movie without having seen the trailer with key scenes to convince us we need to see this movie. Its similar with books. Imagery in the title or the cover is used to convince us we should read it. I'd like to say I'm immune to that but I'm not. Some of the last few sets of books that I've picked out to read have caught my eye with the cover or title imagery.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Double Take: St. Patrick's Day, Cranberry Tangelo Irish Soda Bread

A Tale of Two Breads




Cranberry Tangelo Irish Soda Bread
(My favorite so far!)


It was the best of breads, it was the worst of breads, it was a bread of genius, and it was a bread of insanity.


Apparently no two Irish soda breads are created equal. I looked at a lot of recipes in which comments ranged from awesome to disappointing and "this is just like my Irish gram's" to "this is nothing like what I grew up with"...all for the same recipe. I'm starting to think there might be more ways to make Irish soda bread than there are to make vegetable soup. I tried two different recipes. To call them different seems an understatement though. They were truly night and day in difference. Oddly I made one exactly per the recipe--completely plain. I also made a variant using cranberries and tangelo zest. For the second recipe, I went straight with the cranberries and tangelo zest. When you find a good thing, you don't toss it. I can assure you, cranberry and tangelo zest in soda bread are a VERY GOOD combination.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Butterscotch Pie

I love pie.

In fact, its probably my favorite type of dessert. (Unless ice cream is a category. Then we might have a draw.) Fillings for pies are so broad that I'd have to say, I don't know that I have a true favorite. Instead I have a list....(I love lists too.) The top three are cherry pie, butterscotch pie, and my mamaw's pecan pie (my Great Aunt Debby makes the same pie...Aunt Debby knew I liked it so much that when I was little she used to make one special for me on occasion when she came into town.) I also love key lime pie, caramel apple, blueberry with a hint of lemon.....ok I have to stop here or I'm going to have to get pie before I can finish this post. Maybe the best part about pie is all the happy things it reminds me of ....

   Aunt Debby or mamaw making pecan pie and how excited I was about the pleasant surprise.

   The first pie I ever made...cherry from the cherry tree that used to be in the orchard below my parent's house,

   Making key lime pie with Mel and learning how much I loved lime flavored things

You get the idea.

Today's butterscotch pie post is by special request and has been delayed more times than I care to admit. The original recipe is from my godmother, Mamaw Nell. However, this recipe came from an old church recipe book. The details were pretty scant and if you'd never made a meringue before you couldn't have from this recipe. I'd made meringue before but not the filling so I followed the filling bit as written but the final result didn't have the deep butterscotch tones that I had looked forward to enjoying. Others enjoyed it greatly but I was pretty disappointed. I'd had this pie when it was great though. I remade it and used what I have learned this past year from making a lot of caramel and butterscotch sauces as well as a fair few meringues to redo the recipe. As they say, the tough part is the details.

The following heavily adapted recipe was definitely what I was looking for in a butterscotch pie. Its creamy with deep butterscotch flavor worthy of savoring each bite. Its perfect for picnics, potlucks, family gatherings, making a weeknight supper special and even for supplying your butterscotch fix for St. Patrick's Day.



Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Strawberry Cheesecake

Once upon a time, there was a graduate student. While working on her master's, she became friends with a postdoc who introduced her to a world of food she'd never heard of and some great traditions. One tradition was making monthly birthday cakes for coworkers in the lab. ...You may be thinking, what you've never heard of a birthday cake. Of course, I had had birthday cakes with family and friends but these were different. Sometimes the cakes were sorts quite different from what I'd grown up eating.

This experience started the ball rolling such that when I started working on my Ph.D, I brought the tradition with me. Each month, I've tried to make a cake that is different...unless of course, one I've already made is requested to be repeated. So far in blogging, I haven't been sharing any of the random desserts I've been preparing. Today, I'm going to start by sharing with the cake I made for the February birthdays this year.

Before getting to cake, there's a little tidbit about the birthday cake selection that might be helpful to know. The only ones who have a choice in the cake (other than the baker) are those with a birthday that month. If someone has a food allergy, I try to accomodate. We had 4 February birthdays but none of the people had a specific request for what they wanted. One particularly requested "no chocolate." We have a faction that loves dense chocolatey desserts so I try to alternate between the chocolatey and the fruity or caramelly to satisfy as best as possible. Last month I made something fruity (the entremet) so I was at a loss. What to do? It hit me that strawberries start coming in season in Florida in February and they usually find their way to North Carolina groceries.

Option 1: I have a well recieved cake that I made up last year that can be made with strawberries or peaches and taste great. I had already gotten a request from the March bday for a repeat of this cake since its her  favorite so I couldn't prepare it.

Option 2: What about a strawberry cheesecake? I'd never made one before but figured, why not?

Strawberry Cheesecake with Strawberry Sauce

Strawberry Swirl Cheesecake (modified from Luverene Dove's post on allrecipes.com)

Equipment list:

(Before you start, I would encourage you to make sure you have or borrow the following. If you live in the South in the U.S., I highly encourage borrowing from a neighbor before running to the store to buy equipment you may not use often. This may sound strange but its a great way to get to know your neighbor and most people are willing to help you.)

1 small food processor or a rubber mallet
1 springform pan (per cheesecake)
1 small sauce pot
1 baking pan (should be just a little larger than your cheesecake pan's base)
1 electric mixer (a hand mixer works just fine)
2 large bowls
1 small bowl


Ingredients:

Crust

1 1/4 c. graham cracker crumbs (one sleeve from a box of graham crackers)
1/4 c. sugar (can reduce to 1/8 c. if you want a less sweet crust but this was tasty as written)
1/3 c. unsalted butter, melted

Strawberry Sauce (goes inside and on top, this is my version)

1 16 oz package of frozen strawberries, thawed (with no added sugar)
1/2 c. of sugar
3 Tbsp of cornstarch
1 Tbsp cold water

Cheesecake Batter

3 (8 oz) packages of cream cheese, softened (You want it just soft enough to be beaten with a mixer.)
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1/4 c. lemon juice
3 large eggs


How To:

1. Break the graham crackers coarse with your hands and toss them in the food processor. Grind to the texture of a loose flour. (Somewhat like cornmeal.)
(If you have no access to a food processor, a rubber mallet will do the job of breaking them up but it will be tough to them as fine. The mallet is more therapeudic than the food processor though and cats don't run from someone using a mallet but they do run from the food processor.)

2. Combine the ground graham crackers, sugar, and butter and stir until all three are evenly distributed. Press the mixture into the springform pan on the bottom and at least halfway up the sides of the pan. Chill the mixture in your refridgerator until ready for use. (Tip: Use a measuring cup with relatively straight sides to help you press in the crust.)

Helpful crust hint: Use a measuring cup to press the graham crust.



3. In a food processor, process the thawed strawberries until they are pureed. Pour the pureed strawberries into a small sauce pan and add 1/2 c. sugar. Bring to a simmer.

4. Dissolve the cornstarch in water and add to the berries and boil about 2 minutes or until the mixture starts to thicken. Then remove from heat.

5. Set aside 1/2 c. of the strawberry mixture and allow to cool. Refrigerate remaining sauce for serving.

6. Preheat oven to 300 F.

7. Beat the cream cheese in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy.

8. Gradually beat in milk. Then add lemon juice and mix well.

9. Add eggs and beat on low speed until just incorporated.

10. Pour half of the cheesecake mixture into the springform pan.

11. Drop half of the reserved 1/2 c. strawberry mixture by 1/2 teaspoonfuls onto the cheesecake mixture in the springform pan. Take a butter knife and slide it around through the strawberry blobs to interconnect them. (No one will see this level but it will help you have a feel for what you want to do to the top.)



12. Carefully spoon the remaining cheesecake mixture on top of the sauce and first cheesecake mixture.

13. Drop the remaining reserved 1/4 c. strawberry mixture by 1/2 teaspoonfuls onto the cheesecake mixture. Take a butter knife and slide it around through the upper layer of the strawberry blobs and cheesecake mixture to interconnect the strawberry blobs.



14. Fill your cake pan 1/2 to 3/4 full with water and place on the lower rack of your oven. (If you pan is big enough you can sit your cheesecake pan into it BUT if you do, wrap the pan with aluminum foil to keep water from coming into the cheesecake. I tend to just use the steam from the pan beneath but the slower heating and cooling of the water bath is said to help prevent cracking. You can cool the cheesecake slowly without cooking it in a pan of water though.)

15. Place your springform in the oven on a rack about halfway up the oven. Bake at 300 F for 45-50 minutes (until the center is almost set).

16. Cool slowly in a turned off oven for an hour or on a wire cooling rack for an hour. I think cracking is less by cooling slowly in the oven but this time I did the wire cooling rack and for this recipe, I didn't have cracking. You can let it cool up to overnight.

17. Place the cheesecake in the fridge to chill at least 4 hours.

18. When ready to serve, slide a knife around the side of the pan to separate the crust from the pan.

19. Remove the sides of the springform.


20. Serve cheesecake with reserved sauce. This yields 12-16 slices.






Reaction:

Everyone really liked it. I made 2 since one can't very reasonably serve 22-24 people. One person said they planned to request this one be made again at a later date. We have a couple "I-don't-like-cooked-fruit" people in the lab. They skipped the sauce and were pleased saying it was a very good cheesecake. Those who tried the sauce (everyone but the no-cooked-fruit people), loved it. One faculty member like the sauce so much that when she finished her cake, she refilled her plate with sauce and ate the sauce plain. Then she offered to finish any leftover uneaten sauce. :) A couple days later I went home for my grandparents' anniversary. My sister loved the sauce and we even ate some on biscuits with a little whipped cream. Mmm.

Aside from taste, I was pleased with the general appearance of the final dessert. My mom (and a few others) said "oh I love the hearts. They're Valentinesy for February." I thought they looked like leaves. I'm sure there's a psychological implication there but I'm not the person to analyze that right now.

DELICIOUS + PRETTY = WINNER in my book. That's all the analysis I really need.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Double Take: Foododelmundo's Perfect Pizza Crust

What makes a pizza perfect? I think everyone might have a slightly different answer. My grandma prefers thin crust. I prefer pan or thick crust. Some folks prefer it stuffed with cheese, others prefer herbs. Some prefer to have a yeasty flavor, some prefer less yeast flavor but all the effects of the yeast. Another important factor is how long you have to wait on the crust to be usable. Its not uncommon to not have a supper plan and have at least one hungry person waiting not so patiently on supper to be done. So whether you like it in a box or with a fox, I can't help. However, if you want a pan/thick crust style pizza made at home in around an hour and a half, I can help you.


Today's recipe comes from foododelmundo which is a blog assembled by a several adult siblings of a family. I think its a pretty awesome way for them to share their family's recipes with each other and all the rest of us too. Mary of foododelmundo.com happened to post this recipe. This pizza crust is not fancy. It is a good basic crust that can allow you to have a base point for adding herbs and cheese and whatnot. It doesn't have a strong yeasty taste. I must admit, I miss that. The lack of the yeasty taste most likely comes from the quick rise time. Alton Brown had an episode of Good Eats (The Dough also Rises) on Pizza dough and said that a slower rise time gave more yeast flavor. However, the first time I made this recipe the dough rose so quickly I put it in the fridge and it ceased to rise. Then it struggled to get to room temp and just didn't produce the desired puffiness. I retried  the recipe allowing it to rise at room temp and it came up beautifully and turned out beautifully. Perhaps if you want more flavor, it would be a good idea to add a heated liquid that added flavor to the crust that served as alternative to tap water. Its just an idea. Another idea is if you want to add herbs, go ahead and add them in the dough when you first mix it. If you forget, sprinkle the herbs on the crust before adding your toppings and voila, flavor!

Today's pizza is just simple ham and pineapple. I cut the recipe in half so I could make one 14" pizza. I used 2 slices of ham, 1/3 jar of pasta sauce, 1 c. of mozzarella, and 1/3 c. pineapple tidbits. I sprinkled fresh rosemary and minced garlic on the crust. Then topped the crust with pasta sauce followed by cheese. I spread the ham and pineapple across the top and baked the pizza for 20 minutes at 425 F.


Before baking


Done in 20 minutes.


Reaction: Fast. Thick. Inexpensive (Ingredients for one 14" pizza cost around $4.50. ) I wish the dough itself had a little more flavor but I would definitely say this is a good recipe. In the future I plan to add oregano, basil, rosemary and more garlic to the dough. Also I might try changing out part of the hot water for some other liquid and seeing how it changes the flavor. Hrmm root beer pizza anyone?

Looking for more weeknight pizza ideas? Check out Mel's post.

What makes your perfect pizza perfect?