Monday, March 28, 2011

Cookies, cream and cheesecake

What is so magical about cookies and cream? It is a delicious combination for ice cream or shakes, but how about cheesecake? This recipe is for an individual serving, but you could easily adjust for an entire cheesecake. It's really easy, and really delicious. If you like oreos and cheesecake, you will be in heaven.
I found this recipe in Martha Stewart's cupcake book, and even though it's not really a cupcake, it is a handheld dessert. It travels well, too, although you should make sure you can keep them cold.
You start by placing an oreo in the bottom of each cupcake liner, make up the cheesecake batter and mixed in more crushed oreos. Bake and chill. Voila. This is great for spring and summer picnics, parties or potlucks because they can be made way in advance. You want to chill them for a few hours, so no last minute prep!

42 Oreo, cream-filled chocolate sandwich cookies, 30 left whole and 12 coarsely chopped (this is one package)
2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
1 cup sour cream
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 275° F. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Place 1 whole Oreo cookie in the bottom of each lined muffin cup.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat cream cheese on medium-high speed until smooth, scraping down sides of the bowl as needed. Gradually add the sugar, and beat until combined. Beat in the vanilla.
Drizzle in eggs, a little at a time, beating to combine and scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add in sour cream and salt, beat to combine. Using a large spatula, fold in the chopped Oreo cookies.
Divide batter evenly among the cookie-filled muffin cups, fill each cup almost to the top. Bake, rotating muffin tins halfway through, until the filling is set, about 22 to 28 minutes. Transfer the muffins tins to a wire rack to cool completely. Refrigerate (in the muffin tins) at least 4 hours (or overnight). Remove from tins just before serving.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Chicken and Peas

I have to say, the weather has been quite strange. One day, it is so warm I think we skipped spring and hit summer, and the next it is chilly and raining! I'm  not complaining- I love the rain. I get this itch when the weather is overcast and it only goes away when I bake something. Today, in celebration of the dismal weather, I made some lovely orange-scented wedding cupcakes. I wanted to make banana bread, but I didn't quite have time. When the weather is like this I also love soups and stews and cassoulets and brewing a fresh pot of coffee at 2:30.
One dish that I really like on days like this I stumbled across in one of my favorite magazines. I often forget about it, then suddenly remember it when I see some lonely frozen peas in the freezer. Its a meal that comes together quickly, with a few ingredients, and gives you time to put together a salad and throw a dessert in the oven. Its perfect for days like this because it is homey, and comforting. It is simple and frank, a bit rustic in its own way. It was also an excuse to use my new dutch oven, even though I really didn't need it for this dish.
It takes about an hour, from start to finish, but a lot of that time it is just bubbling away on the stove, giving you time to sip your coffee and play tetris. Or whatever you do with your free time. I actually used the time to pipe obscene amounts of frosting onto my orange cupcakes.
This recipe calls for chicken thighs, which I suppose could be substituted for another part of a chicken, or pork or beef for that matter. I have been faithful to the thighs. With the skin on. Not what I usually do, but this dish turns out so good I don't want to change it. It also demands peas, which could be swapped for corn, or carrots, but I like peas. Especially in this dish. They are bright and sweet, and add something lovely to the chicken and rice.
An uncommon ingredient listed here is saffron. I happen to have some, so I always put it in. I read reviews by others that said they omitted it, and I suspect that would work out fine.
So, in essence, what I am telling you is feel free to experiment, to change things around, add what you like, and take away what you don't. The basic concept is delicious. But, I would try it this way first. You might decide to stick with it.

Chicken with Peas and Rice
serves 4

1 pound chicken thighs with skin and bone
2 tablespoons unsalted butter,
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup white rice
1 cup chicken broth
3/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
1 cup frozen peas (not thawed)

Pat chicken dry and season with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper (total). Heat butter and oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet (at least 2 inches deep) over medium-high heat until foam subsides, then brown chicken, turning once, about 10 minutes total. Transfer chicken with tongs to a plate.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from skillet. Cook onion and garlic with 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper over medium heat, stirring, until golden, about 6 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add broth, water, saffron, and bay leaf and bring to a full boil. Nestle chicken in rice, keeping as much rice around (rather than under) chicken as possible, and add juices from plate. Simmer, covered tightly with lid, over low heat until chicken is cooked through, rice is tender, and most of liquid is absorbed, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in peas. Cover with the lid and let stand until all of liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Discard bay leaf.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Preserving the Harvest-Beef and Barley Soup

I find that there is something extremely rewarding and comforting about making something completely from scratch. It makes me feel like I have reached back to the time of Laura Ingalls, when life was simple. A time when I believe people led richer, fuller lives. We weren't so bombarded with Who's who, Who's dating who, and Who's in rehab. I believe people were healthier, because their food wasn't in-part or in-whole prepared in a factory and kept fresh by the addition of 23 multi-syllable words that no one really knows the definition of.
There is a certain thrill I get when I whip up a homemade batch of apricot jam and distribute it to friends and family. Or bringing a cake to a bake sale and having people incredulously ask, "You MADE that? Without a mix?" Or the wonderful feeling I get when I pull a warm loaf of 9-grain whole wheat bread out of the oven and slathering it with peanut butter for my little men to enjoy.
As a teenager, I enjoyed making home remedies-tinctures, face creams, teas, and medicines. I foraged for wild herbs and flowers and used them to flavor teas and scent bath salts. I found that some people had the right idea with some of these natural things. I even considered starting an Internet business. That sort of fell to the wayside, but my passion for returning to the simpler ways remained. After I was married, I began trying different things at home. My mom has always been a good cook, and one of her specialties was homemade candy. Watching her make that made me realize that most things we buy in the store can be made at home. I also realized something else-homemade candy was far better than anything we could find in the store. Even candy shops didn't carry things as good as my mom's homemade toffee and fudge.
I also recalled my grandma making homemade jams and jellies, and I never thought of it as being difficult. I think that's the secret to these homemade things. Don't let them intimidate you! This recipe came about from one of these moments of reflection. I have wanted to experiment with canning and storing soups, so one day, I just decided to try it out.

makes 5 32. oz jars

16 cups water
10 tablespoons beef bouillon
4 cups chopped carrots
2 cups chopped green beans
2 potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
three cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup chopped parsley
4 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1 medium yellow onion finely chopped
1 lb pearl barley, washed and picked through
2 tbsp butter

Zucchini, summer squash, peas and corn could also be added in place of any listed vegetables.

Saute carrots and onions in butter for about 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute and additional two minutes. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer. Simmer 35-45 minutes, or until barley is cooked to desired doneness.
This is condensed soup. It should be prepared with additional water. (add 1 jar water for 1 jar soup)
Ladle into prepared canning jars, seal according to canning directions, process with a pressure canner and store.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Booze in my food

I have people, quite often actually, ask me about substituting alcohol in a recipe. It can be done, most of the time, by following a few simple rules. Alcohol enhances different flavors in food, such as tomatoes or other fruits, and can be used to add another dimension to flavorful sauces for meats and fish. It also occurs in desserts or other sweet dishes. At a restaurant where I worked they made a berry dessert by tossing mixed berries with some sugar and champagne. Many times, though, the addition of alcohol is purely because those consuming the food like the flavor. You see this when a recipe calls for a splash of alcohol at the end. It isn't really adding anything but the flavor of that particular alcohol.
As this addition is becoming more popular, the use of more particular alcohols is trending upward. For example, an apple cider brandy, or perhaps a hazelnut liqueur. When recipes call for more specific alcohols, you might have to change your plan a bit.
Ok, first off- always read through your recipe. I know that sounds basic, but I forget to do it sometimes. I am going to make a general guideline for substitutions, and write out some exceptions.
For savory dishes, i.e., main dishes or appetizers, if a recipe calls for hard liquor, like brandy,  you can usually substitute the amount evenly for vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is a good substitute. You generally don't want to use something like balsamic vinegar, because the flavor might overwhelm the dish. But, you might like it.
For wines, you can substitute a small amount of white wine or red wine vinegar. For example, if you are making tomato sauce for spaghetti, and the recipe calls for 1 cup of red wine, add a few tablespoons of red wine vinegar. Taste, and adjust. If you are making a sauce and it seems appropriate, you could substitute an equal amount of chicken or beef stock for the wine called for. In example, a beurre blanc for chicken may call for 1/2 cup white wine, add 1/2 cup chicken stock instead, and reduce your salt. For red wine, add beef stock. You can experiment with adding a hit of vinegar, too.
For desserts or sweet dishes, don't use vinegar. Most of the time you should just omit the alcohol. If it is a baked dish, like a pie or cake, you can add an extract like vanilla, hazelnut or orange. Grand Marnier is an orange-flavored alcohol that you could easily use orange extract for. Unless it calls for a lot. You also might be able to use orange water or orange juice. You get my drift. Use your head and common sense and it should all work out. Frangelico is a hazelnut liqueur. These are popular things that I keep seeing in recipes. If you are making a chocolate sauce that calls for white or red wine, you could probably use apple juice or grape juice, and reduce the sugar a bit.
There is also the increasingly common addition of beer. Unfortunately, I have not experimented very much with this. 'Beer' batter doesn't really need it. You can just skip it. If you are thinking of making a Guinness-less chocolate cake, you may just want to choose another recipe. With the volume it usually calls for, and the yeast reaction you are going to get with your 'reactors' your cake is probably not going to turn out very good.
If its a should probably leave it alone. There are many, many recipes for mixed drinks without alcohol. Get one of those. Many of them are delicious combinations of juice, syrup, soda, fruit, and grenadine. They make a great addition to a party. But don't try to make a virgin version of a drink that is 2/3 alcohol...its not going to work out.
Unsure about a recipe you have? I might be able to help. I have tried a lot of things....some work and some don't.
Bon Appetit

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