Thursday, August 28, 2008

My first homemade tomato sauce

I've known for a long time that I should be making my own tomato sauce. Yet I haven't because the jar is just so convenient. But when Matt requested Chicken Parmesan, I decided it was time.

Both the chicken and the sauce from this recipe tasted fantastic. The one complaint Matt and I had was that there wasn't quite enough sauce. I may have let it simmer too long, I'm not sure. The flavor though, was amazing. My kitchen smelled like an Italian restaurant. And adding the basil I grew from seeds was so rewarding. Especially since I'm a plant killer and the basil is still thriving. (Yay me!)

Chicken Parmesan
Source: Nook & Pantry
4 chicken breasts, sliced or pounded thin
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons flour
1 large egg, beaten
1 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
3/4 cup coarsely grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
16 ounces pasta (Spaghetti or Linguini)

Tomato Sauce
2 - 3 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
2 Tablespoons olive oil
28 oz. can diced tomatoes or whole tomatoes crushed
1 small onion, finely diced
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian herb mix
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup basil leaves (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large saucepan or Dutch oven and add the onions. Cook until the onions are soft and translucent, then add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds to a minute. Add the tomatoes, dried herbs, sugar, black pepper and simmer until the sauce thickens. Salt to taste. Keep warm and set aside.

Begin boiling water for the pasta. Meanwhile, beat the egg, and prepare two trays for the flour and the panko bread crumbs.

Salt and pepper the chicken cutlets. Lightly dredge them in flour, patting off the excess, then dip into the beaten egg, then press and coat both sides with panko. Set aside until all cutlets are breaded.

Preheat broiler (I used my toaster oven). Add your pasta and some salt to the boiling water. Cook the chicken while the pasta is boiling.

Heat 2 tbsp of vegetable oil in a nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Pan fry the chicken cutlets until both sides are golden brown, about 2 - 3 minutes per side.

Transfer the chicken cutlets onto a tray lined with a wire rack. Mix the mozzarella and Parmesan together and cover each cutlet with some cheese. Broil until the cheese is melted and spotty brown.

Meanwhile drain the pasta when it is finished. Roughly chop or tear the basil leaves and stir them into the sauce. Transfer the pasta and chicken to plates and spoon the sauce on top.

I'm sure I'll still turn to the jar once in a while, but I will no longer fear making my own sauce. It's just so much better.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread

To go along with my aforementioned kitchen catastrophe, I made this lovely Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread. While it was delicious and came out perfect, it added to the mess in my kitchen. Luckily, I was not mad at this recipe though and enjoyed it very much.

Due to the CDC's advisory to avoid raw jalapeno peppers, I used canned. I would like to make this again sometime with the fresh peppers the recipe calls for. Also, I might also reduce the amount of cheese because while I love cheese, I felt it overwhelmed the other flavors.

Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread
Source: Barefoot Contessa, as seen on Brown Eyed Baker
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups milk
3 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, plus extra to grease the pan
8 ounces aged extra-sharp Cheddar, grated, divided
1/3 cup chopped scallions, white and green parts, plus extra for garnish, 3 scallions
3 tablespoons seeded and minced fresh jalapeño peppers

Combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the milk, eggs, and butter. With a wooden spoon, stir the wet ingredients into the dry until most of the lumps are dissolved. Don’t overmix! Mix in 2 cups of the grated Cheddar, the scallions and jalapenos, and allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking pan.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and sprinkle with the remaining grated Cheddar and extra chopped scallions. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool and cut into large squares. Serve warm or at room temperature.

On another note, I will be away on vacation for the rest of this week and the beginning of next. But don't worry, you'll still have a new post to read while I'm gone. Look for it on Thursday!

Chiles Rellenos: a kitchen catastrophe

Every once in a while, Matt will request a new dish for me to try making. Recently, he requested I try making Chiles Rellenos.

At first, I thought this was a great idea. I love making (and eating!) Mexican food. So I looked on the Food Network site for a recipe. I chose one, by the fabulous Tyler Florence, and added all the ingredients to my shopping list.

Now I'm not saying this experiment was doomed to fail, but the signs were there early on. The grocery store didn't have any poblanos so I bought the biggest peppers they had (I still don't know what kind they were) and apologized to Matt warning him that these may be hotter or milder than poblanos. Of course he didn't mind and said he'd eat it anyway.

The grocery store also didn't have queso blanco. I substituted another young white cheese and hoped for the best.

At home, I confidently began preparing this dish. I made the picadillo (filling) omitting the almonds and olives (just 'cuz) and set it aside. Then I started preparing the peppers.

I (sadly) have an electric stove/oven and do not own a grill. So getting the skins off of the peppers was tricky, to say the least. I brazenly set them on the burners directly and watched them like a hawk. They quickly went from raw to burnt. I gave up and pulled them off of the heat, plopped them into a bowl and covered with plastic wrap, as instructed by the recipe.

After some time, I attempted to get the skins off, but as you can imagine, they only half came off ... and what a mess! I got off as much as I could, sliced into the peppers and seeded them. Next came the filling.

Since my peppers were (I assume) smaller than poblanos, I had to try really hard to get these peppers stuffed and closed. I did use toothpicks as Florence suggests to hold the peppers closed. Well, as close to closed as I could get them (which in some cases was gaping wide open). I wound up with a lot of filling left over.

So here comes the part I wound up hating the most: frying. I don't own a deep fryer, but who needs one to fry anyway? I just went ahead with a heavy saucier and fried in that. I dipped the chiles in the egg batter by the stem and carefully placed them into the oil one at a time. When it came time to turn them over, I (stupidly) grabbed the stem with my tongs and lifted the chile up. It slipped right out of the tongs and landed with a splat back in the oil splashing me, my stove, the counter and the floor with hot oil. Yeouch! Thanks though to my (super-cool) Jessie Steele apron, I was not burned (much). If you make these, please, for the love of Pete (who is Pete anyway?), do not lift the peppers by the stems after you've put them into the oil!

So now I'm cursing the frakking peppers, the oil and Mr. Florence (like he made me do that). I finished up the peppers, grumbling the whole time, and turned to face my kitchen. This recipe had used every one of my mixing bowls, spoons, spatulas, pots, and pans and left me with a huge mess. Not only that, but it had taken me three hours to prepare, I kid you not!

And now I actually have measuring spoons stuck in my dishwasher. I can't help but wonder if it's time to buy new measuring spoons or a new dishwasher!

By this time, I said screw the sauce and served the naked peppers to Matt. He asked me if I wanted to try a bite and I said, "No. No, I don't. I'm too mad at the stupid recipe." Hehe.

So now I present to you a dish that I will never ever make again, Chiles Rellenos! Attempt at your own risk!

Chiles Rellenos with Picadillo
Source: Tyler Florence
1/2 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 pound ground beef
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh Mexican oregano leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 to 1 cup tomato paste
2 chipotles in adobo sauce
3 to 6 tablespoons golden raisins
3 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 cup pimento stuffed green olives, sliced
1/2 to 1 cup crumbled queso blanco

8 large poblanos
Vegetable oil, for frying
Flour, for dredging
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 eggs, separated
Tomato Ranchero Sauce, recipe follows

To prepare Picadillo: In a large skillet, saute the onion, garlic and bay leaves in oil over moderate heat, stirring, until the onion is softened. Add the beef, and continue to cook until the beef is no longer pink; breaking up any lumps with a wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in oregano, cloves, and cinnamon. Pour out any excess fat and stir in the tomato paste until thoroughly incorporated. Add chipotles, raisins, almonds, and olives; salt to taste. Remove from heat. When mixture is cool, add cheese and mix well.

Char the flesh of the peppers over a gas flame, under a broiler or on a grill. Alternatively, set a rack over an electric burner or use a very hot heavy frying pan. Cook, turning frequently, until the skins are blistered all over. Take care not to overcook and burn right through the pepper. Put peppers in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let sweat for about 10 minutes to loosen the skins. Rub off as much skin as possible and cut a slit along the side of each pepper, keeping the stems and tip intact. Carefully remove the seeds and inner membranes, but do not rinse with water.

Heat 1-inch of oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat until very hot. Place flour in a shallow platter and season with salt and pepper. Beat egg whites until foamy, add a pinch of salt, and whip to stiff peaks. Lightly beat the egg yolks and fold into the whites. Stuff the chiles with picadillo, leaving enough room to close the opening. Overlap the seam slightly and gently squeeze closed. Secure with wooden toothpicks if desired. Pat the peppers dry and lightly coat in the seasoned flour. Pick the chile up by its stem and dip into the egg batter, making sure they are well covered, tap off excess. Fry until evenly browned, about 3 minutes each side. The egg burns easily so take care not to cook too long. Drain on paper towels. To serve, ladle a pool of Tomato Ranchero sauce on plates and set chiles rellenos on top, serve immediately.

Tomato Ranchero Sauce:
28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1/2 onion, roughly chopped
1/2 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
Pinch cumin seeds, toasted
1 garlic clove
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 cup chicken broth
Dash hot red pepper sauce

Combine and puree the tomatoes, onion, cilantro, cumin, and garlic in a food processor.

Heat the oil in a saucepan or skillet and fry the tomato puree over high flame. Add broth, and salt. Simmer for 10 minutes until the sauce thickens slightly and is heated through. If sauce tastes somewhat bitter, add a pinch of sugar. Sprinkle with a dash of hot red pepper sauce. Sauce may be served hot or cold.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Cookie Quest, Part 2

A little while back, I told you about a treasured family recipe, Nana Cookies and my quest to get them right. As you can see, I did it!

While I only remember my grandmother making these, this was actually my great grandmother's recipe. I managed to copy this one down long ago but the last time I made it, they came out all wrong. I was so disappointed! I didn't know what went wrong as I had followed my grandmother's recipe card to the letter (just like she taught me to).

So I e-mailed my mother's cousin to see if she had a copy of the recipe. Indeed she did, hand written by Nana herself (my great grandmother). In comparing the recipes, there was a slight variation that made all the difference. My grandmother's card said shortening while my great grandmother's card said shortening (liquid Crisco). Ah ha! It looks like my grandmother had left the part in parentheses off of her own recipe card. So round two commenced. This time I followed Nana's recipe and voila, they came out beautifully.

The one thing I changed was the baking time. The first batch came out crisp, which is fine if that's what you're looking for. But as I remember them, they're supposed to be soft and chewy. So I consulted Grandma's recipe to see why.

Ahhh, Nana's card says to cook them for 10 minutes but Grandma's says 8. The next batch went in for 8 minutes exactly and, tada, they were perfect ... soft, chewy, spicy ... just like I remember.

I couldn't help but smile as I made these thinking about my grandmother, the woman that taught me so much about baking and life. She was truly an amazing woman and my hero. She always will be.

So this is the part where you get to read the recipe, right? Well, I'm sorry but this one will have to remain a secret. Since it is a family recipe, I think it must stay as such. I will be glad, however, to bake these for my friends and family for years to come. And I hope to one day pass it down to my children and grandchildren just as it has been passed before.

And now my dear readers, what are some of your favorite food memories? Do share!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Glenna's Special Sage & Rosemary Pork

Adding fruit to savory dishes is a great way to enjoy summer's bounty. As someone that is skeptical about pork dishes, I found this to be very tasty. The sauce is flavorful without being overly complex. I would advise you not to substitute light cream or half & half for the heavy cream. It will not be thick enough.

Glenna's Special Sage & Rosemary Pork
This recipe came to me from my co-worker's wife's co-worker, Glenna. Thanks, Glenna!
6 pork chops
2 pears, thickly sliced
Olive oil
Salt and pepper (to taste)
Dried rosemary needles (to taste)
Dried sage leaves (to taste)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup chicken broth

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Sprinkle pork with sage, rosemary, salt and pepper. Put oil in a saute pan and brown both sides of the pork, 2 to 3 minutes each side. Pork will still be uncooked in the middle. Place pork in baking dish and place in oven.

Add pears to the saute pan and saute 3 to 5 minutes. Add pears to the baking dish in the oven on top of the pork chops. Bake until pork reaches 160 degrees, approximately 10 to 20 minutes.

Just before the pork is done, place chicken broth into the saute pan and bring to a boil. Add cream and reduce temperature to low. Don't let it boil over.

When pork is done, remove the baking dish from the oven and spoon the pears into your cream sauce and allow flavors to come together. Place pork on a plate and spoon pears and sauce on top.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Flour tortillas

I'm a total putz.

When I made my shopping list for the week, I totally forgot to add the ingredients for tonight's dinner, burritos! I just happened to have most of the ingredients on hand anyway but without tortillas, it's pretty tough to make burritos.

What's a girl to do? Make your own!

Flour Tortillas
Adapted from: My Wooden Spoon (This recipe makes a lot of tortillas. Next time I'll cut it in half.)
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups hot water

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat together the flour, salt and baking powder (or sift into the mixing bowl). Add the shortening and beat until it is well distributed and the mixture is crumbly. Add the water and continue mixing until the dough is smooth and on the sticky side.

Pinch off bits of dough and roll into golf-ball sized balls. Roll each ball in all-purpose flour. Toss the ball from hand to hand a couple of times to remove excess flour.

On a floured board or countertop, roll each ball into thin rounds. The dough is quite sticky so be sure to flour your rolling pin! As you go, stack the rolled tortillas between sheets of wax paper to keep them from sticking together.

Once you've got all the tortillas rolled out, place them one at a time in a large non-stick or cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Cook until lightly browned, about 1 minute on each side.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

NH Eat Local Week

In honor of NH Eat Local Week, I decided to stop by Lull Farm and buy a bag full of NH-grown peaches.
I had been wanting to use more seasonal produce and now I had my opportunity. So I set off to decide what to make with my little lovelies and settled on a peach crisp.

Peach crisp
Source: Anne Burrell
For the filling:
5 large ripe peaches, pitted and cut into chunks
1 lemon, zested and juiced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup tightly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup golden raisins (I would consider omitting these next time. I felt they were a distraction from the lovely peach flavor and texture.)
Pinch kosher salt

For the topping:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/4 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into pea sized pieces
1/2 cup sliced almonds
Pinch kosher salt
1 to 2 tablespoons cold water

Special equipment: 6 (6-ounce) ramekins (I used 6 5-ounce ramekins and had filling left over. The 5-ounce size was a good single serving size. I think the 6-ounce size might be a tad too big. I put the leftovers into a foil muffin-wrapper-lined muffin pan. These were tough to get out of the pan, but they were cute mini crisps!)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

For the filling:
Toss the peaches in a large bowl with the zest and lemon juice. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir to combine. Divide the filling evenly between the ramekins.

For the topping:
Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor except the water. Pulse until combined, this will take about 30 seconds. Add water, 1 tablespoon at a time until mixture is clumpy but crumbly. (Mine required very little water. Go slow!)

Top each ramekin with the topping. Be sure to loosely sprinkle the topping and not pack it down. (I had a lot of topping left over ... not sure how that happened.)

Place the ramekins on a sheet tray and bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the filling is hot and bubbly and the topping, brown and crispy.

Matt's not a peach fan so he didn't like these as much as I did. He did, however, think the topping was excellent. Serve warm with some vanilla ice cream and you've got a beautiful, summery treat.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Yes, Matt's girlfriend can make stew ...

Matt took these leftovers to work for lunch the day after I made this. As he ate them, a co-worker of his exclaimed, "your girlfriend can make stew?!" Apparently, I've impressed him with this dish!

This recipe is an easy weeknight dinner and a chance to use pearl onions, which Matt has been asking me to do for ages!

Quick Beef Bourguignonne
Source: Real Simple
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/4 pounds sirloin steak, cut into 1-inch pieces
Kosher salt and pepper
1 10-ounce package sliced mushrooms
1 16-ounce package frozen pearl onions
2 cups red wine
1 10.75-ounce can Campbell's Golden Mushroom soup
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped (optional)

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.

Season the steak with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer the steak to a bowl and set aside.

Add the mushrooms and onions to the pan and cook until the liquid has evaporated. Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half, 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in the soup and 1/4 cup water and bring to a boil. Add the steak and juices from the bowl and simmer, 2 minutes.

Divide into individual bowls and sprinkle with the parsley, if using.