Sunday, February 28, 2010

Amy's Nutella Lollipops

Ok, now that I have you attention...  This is a very very technical recipe that requires that you pay very close attention to the details of the recipe if you wish to take on the challenge of recreating my Nutella Lollipops.  If you even think you are not up to this advanced culinary challenge, just turn back now.

1.  Get your jar of Nutella

2.  Open your jar of Nutella

3.  Now is where you have decide on the spoon to best create your desired sized lollipop.  I prefer this long ice tea spoon.

4.  Now CAREFULLY dip your spoon into the Nutella jar and fill the end of the spoon with Nutella without getting any on the rest of the spoon.  Who wants a messy lollipop?

5.  Enjoy your lollipop!

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Chicken in Every Pot

As I posted before, one of my go to blogs is Steamy Kitchen.  She always has recipes with exciting flavors, but explains them in a way that makes the home cook feel at ease tackling even the most elaborate recipes.  One of her recipes Ginger, Coriander, & Orange Braised Chicken is the first one I ever tried.  It not only creates an incredibly flavorful dish - the scent of the ginger, coriander, & orange fills your home.  I had a bunch of odd chicken pieces from a couple of chickens I had practiced my knife skills on.  A little rice with almonds and peas made a nice bed for the chicken.  Whole Foods makes a great fully cooked frozen brown rice, but I didn't have any in the freezer.  Sometimes I'll mix the frozen brown rice with a couple squeezes of an orange & a little zest, mix in some cashews & currants, and then pop it in the oven to heat thru.

Cooking the chicken in my big green dutch oven ensures all the chicken stays nice and moist.  If you don't have a dutch oven, I highly recommend investing in one... a good one.  A good one runs about $120-$200 (depending on size), but they do everything.  Braising meat, making stews & soups, and even bread.  I have a bight green one by Calphalon that is enameled cast iron.  It has since been discontinued.  My next piece will be a Le Creuset... ahhhh Le Creuset, the holy grail of cast iron.

Some people get excited about new electronics and gadgets (dad), others covet jewelry, but I lust after pots, pans, and cutlery (and other kitchen accessories).  The other day walking home from my volunteer gig in South Philly, I stopped in the snow outside one of the shops on Antique Row to stare longingly at an old & obviously well loved set of heavy copper pots.  A single pot with a lid cost between $300-$400.  OY!  I do scoop out thrift shops & discounters in hopes of finding more affordable finds & occasionally come across a real diamond.  Older stuff from the 50's, 60's, & 70's is really built to last.  I got my mom's juicer she got as a wedding shower gift.  It plows thru bags of oranges in minutes.

After a very satisfying dinner, I still have plenty for lunch tomorrow.  I have a couple of projects planned for tomorrow... stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Nom Nom Nom Like A Caveman

I was really focused on making Catlyn something creative & tasty while staying true to her Paleo Diet.  I headed out to Reading Terminal Market nice and early - before the place gets over run with tourists.  I picked up a nice big chicken breast & turkey bacon at Godshall's Poultry and then headed over to Iovine Brother's to check out the fresh produce.  I found some beautiful Rainbow Swiss Chard & Red Peppers.  I stopped off at the Fair Food Farmstand for an apple to snack on on the walk home and saw something I had never seen offered, much less knew were locally produced - Emu Eggs.  Apparently they are only available twice a year.  I may have to come up with something to do with one of those before they are gone.

I relaxed a bit, had lunch, & started prepping the veggies, still not exactly sure what I was going to make.  After rinsing the chard well, I prepped it in the way I learned at a knife skills class I took at Foster's - remove the green leaves by pinching at the base and running my fingers up along the stalk.  Then I sliced up the colorful stalks on the bias and rolled up the greens to give it a quick easy chiffonade (just roll up any flat leaves piled on top of each other then slice pieces off the roll from one end to another).  Next I cut and cleaned the peppers, diced some shallots (which made my nose & eyes run uncontrollably) & ran some almonds thru the food processor till they were a meal consistency.

In to a pan with a little olive oil went some diced turkey bacon.  It gave off a savory smoky smell and almost no fat what-so-ever.  Next the shallots hit the pan with the chard stalks.  After they got soft in went the greens & a touch of water to make steam.  The lid went on and I let the greens steam down while I toasted the almond meal in a dry pan - keep stirring or shaking to keep it from burning.  I took the lid off the greens and in went the almond meal a bit at a time till it bulked it up the way I wanted.  I let it cook thru a bit and turned the burner off with the lid on to cool down.

Next task was roasting the Red Peppers for pesto.  This pesto flavorful and simple (and I have to acknowledge that Harry is the one that use to always make this for Shabbat dinners), but actually roasting the peppers is quite a task with my wee electric oven.  Because there is a thermostat in the oven that makes it kick off when it reaches a certain temperature, even when on broil, I have to leave the door to the oven open to keep the coils going when broiling.  Not only that, but also sit in front of the hot open oven fanning it to keep the thermostat from registering that the oven is "hot enough".  I need to find a better method, but it works and the taste of roasted peppers makes it worth every sweaty minute.  After roasting they go in to a bag to cool off and let the steam go to work.

At this point I realized I was so focused on making something creative with the main dish, I completely forgot about the side dish.  D'OH!  Before deboneing the chicken breast, I grabbed a bag of spinach out of the freezer and hoped it would saute nicely with olive oil and garlic after thawing.  I turned my attention to the chicken and carefully deboned the chicken breast giving me two nice thick breasts for our dinner and some nice chicken tenders for another day.  This is another skill I learned in the Knife Skills class at Foster's - Thanks Chef Corbin!  I do get a charge out of being able to go to the butcher and get whole chickens or whole breasts for a fraction of the cost of the boneless pieces and do it all myself.

The peppers came out of the bag cooled, soft, and juicy.  It was easy to scrape the skin off by running the back of the knife over the charred skin.  I tossed the skinned roasted peppers in the container that came with my Cuisinart Immersion Blender with a drizzle of olive oil.  In a few whirls of the blade and I had a pink, creamy, & flavorful Red Pepper Pesto ready to go.

I sliced a pocket into each chicken breast and got ready to stuff them with the cooled Swiss Chard and Almond meal stuffing.  With a little force I was able to fit all the filling into the chicken.  The stuffed chicken went into the baking dish and covered with Red Pepper Pesto.  While that was cooking away, I turned my overdue attention to the sidedish of sauteed spinach.  Even with plenty of olive oil and garlic, the frozen spinach just couldn't be saved.  The chicken would have to do.

Catlyn arrived and climbed the 6 flights to my apartment (damn the broken elevator!) with a bottle of Smoking Loon in hand... plus some homemade cookies for me.  I opened the bottle and we enjoyed a predinner glass of wine.  The chicken came out smelling and looking yummy (I, of course, forgot to take a photo of the completed meal - D'OH).  We sat back and tucked into our chicken.  It stayed moist and the stuffing was flavorful and filling.  The Red Pepper Pesto gave it just a touch of sweetness.

We enjoyed the wine and chicken while watching the Winter Olympics and making snarky comments (mind you the 6 flights I have to walk until they fix my elevator quickly wind me).  After dinner and relaxing, we checked out the bar at the newly opened Amis.  It's a nice place with an interesting rustic menu.  We enjoyed a couple of well crafted drinks from a friendly bartender.  We discussed cooking and found out she was a photographer looking to do more food photos.  We exchanged information and maybe you'll all be treated to some better photographs soon.  I am sure we'll be headed back there soon to sample some of their foods.  It was a good night with a good friend... who could ask for more.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Challenge

Should I choose to except it... actually I have already offered to on this challenge.

Challenge:  Create a tasty & satisfying Paleo dinner (the "caveman" diet) for Catlyn & me on Saturday night.

No bread, no beans, no starch... OY!  I have made vegetarian meals, vegan meals, and kosher style meals, but this automatically kicks out almost all my favorite foods and a lot of my pantry staples.  I am already coming up with some ideas with my limited allowed foods.  I am pretty confidant that I can make a yummy & filling dinner without destroying her diet plan... I am not responsible for what the drinks & dessert after dinner do to her will power.

Stay tuned for challenge up-dates...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Manna from Heaven

Yesterday I headed out at 8am to go to my weekly volunteer gig at a senior center down in deep South Philly.  I left earlier than I normally would because I knew plenty of a**hats had not made any effort to clear any snow off their sidewalks from either of the past two snowstorms.  Anyone who knows me knows I fall - I fall on ice, I fall in the rain, I fall in the sun... I am a klutz and usually find away to hurt myself in any situation - once bringing home gravel from Pompeii embedded in my hands from skidding down an ancient road.  As soon as the first snow fall hits, I look like a little old lady shuffling carefully and slowly over the uncleared sidewalks.  After finally making it to the bus stop (which was perfectly cleared) and waiting 30 minutes for the bus, a nice man walking by informed me that the bus had been detoured a few blocks down... after walking two more blocks & waiting another 30 minutes I called it a day & went home.  The center understood the transportation issue.

What is better than making some homemade bread when staying in on a cold day.  The manual that came with my beautiful & wonderful KitchenAid stand mixer has some great bread recipes.  The other week I made rye bread.  It was yummy fresh, but even great stale & crusty in the bottom of a bowl of my cabbage potato soup.  This time I decided to try my hand at French bread.

Having a KitchenAid stand mixer really makes short work of mixing and kneading.  Every came together nicely.  The dough was warm and smelt nice & yeasty.  I always concerned with the next step, the first rise.  My apartment is never very warm in the winter (I prefer a cool apartment), so I decided to try a new method.  I got down my big metal bowl and warmed it under hot tap water.  I also turned the oven on 350.  After drying the bowl well, I set the dough in there to rest, covered it, & placed it on the back corner of the stove.  Apparently this extra attention to details was just what the little yeasty bits needed to get going.  In no time the dough was bubbling up to an airy cloud.  Never have I seen any of my doughs rise so beautifully.

Next I shaped it and covered it on the pan for the second rise.  This is where things got questionable.  I peaked under the towel and saw that instead of rising up the dough was spreading out creating two fat French breads connected like those packaged hotdog rolls.  I tried to separate them and started tucking some of the dough back under one of the breads to make it more baguette shaped.  It just looked ugly, very ugly.  I left the other fat bread fat and left them both alone to finish the second rise.

The most important part of a baguette is getting the crust just right.  If you have had good fresh French bread you know what I am talking about.  I had read many tips on how to achieve the elusive perfect crust.  One website I really love, Steamy Kitchen, suggested tossing a 1/2 cup of water onto the floor of my oven and shutting the door quick to trap the steam in the oven.  While I will try almost any recipe she posts and really love her ideas, this just seemed a little questionable to me.  I pictured myself standing in the apartment management office explaining how I broke/shorted out my oven/the building's electricity.  So I went with a different method to create the same affect.  Before popping the tray in the oven, I placed a small dish with warm water in the rack below the rack where I would be cooking the bread.  And boy did it produce steam.  I couldn't capture it with my camera, but steam wafted up from closed oven door as the bread cooked.

With five minutes left in cooking, I pulled the bread out to give it a quick egg white wash and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.  Popped the tray back in to the oven and waited the additional 5 minutes.  It smelt like bread, looked like bread (if not exactly like a couple of baguettes).  I had just enough patience to let it cool enough to handle.  I sliced into my fat loaf thru a wonderfully crusty crust, slathered the steaming slice with butter, and mmmmmmmmmm.... it may not be as good as a real bakery, but not bad for a novice with a lil apartment sized oven.

I do have some ideas for the oddly shaped French bread.  The wider one would be great for a picnic sized pressed sandwich like this.  The one that more closely resembled an actual baguette would also make a great garlic bread slathered and toasted with a fresh garlic butter & maybe some fresh chopped tomatoes.

Click Read More to see the KitchenAid bread recipes I used...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

More Snow Coming!

For all you out here in the NorthEast with me, we have even more snow coming tomorrow evening into the next day.  Here in Philly we have had the snowiest winter on record and every state in the US, except Hawaii, has had some amount of snow this winter.  While we have had only a few days above freezing recently, it is the perfect time to bring out the crockpot.

My mom used the big avocado green crockpot often in our house and now I use my big white one to make a number of slow cooked yummies:  beans, stock, stuffed pepper, stew, & lots more.  I made a great beef stew that fills your home with the smell of simmering tastiness - great to come in to from out of the cold.

First thing I did was brown the meat filling my apartment with the great smell.  You get a better color on the meat if you make sure it's nice and dry.  I mix s&p with some flour, dredge the meat in the flour, and drop it in a nice hot pan with a lil olive oil.  Cook it in batches so you don't crowd the meat or you'll just end up steaming the meat & it will never brown.  Just brown the meat, do not cook it thru.

After you toss the browned meat in the crockpot you'll have a pan of fat, lovely brown bits, & some of the flour that came off the meat with the fat.  DO NOT THROW THIS AWAY!  I cooked some onions in the same pan with all that flavor.  Then opened my last bottle of red wine I got in the Côte d'Azur in Southern France (and giving myself a good reason to go back - as if a reason is needed) and pour in a cup or so into the pan to simmer the onions in.  While the wine was simmering, I cut up some of the freshest looking carrots I have ever had and some potatoes into nice big chunks so they wouldn't just fall apart and disappear during the slow cooking.  With the flour from the meat in the pan, the wine reduction got nice and thick.  Every thing goes into the slow cooker.

I added a couple cans of whole tomatoes hand squished (be careful - I ruined my white tank top when one tomato squirted back at me), some more wine, some pressed garlic, thyme, & a couple bay leafs.  I set the cooker to go low & slow for 8 hours and left the house to run a full day of errands in the bitter cold.  Coming home to the smell of the stew - the tomatoes, wine, thyme & bay - filling my warm apartment was just perfect.  With a little slice of crusty bread at the bottom of the bowl, I ladled the warm thick stew into the bowl.  The meat was so tender that it easily fell apart with a simple twist of the fork.  The potatoes & carrots cooked all the way thru but stayed together.  A perfect stew, in my humble opinion.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Crackers & Hummus

One of my favorite websites is 101 Cookbooks.  Her recipes are usually easy and always tasty.  She also has the same addiction I do, cookbooks.  Some people bring home postcards and trinkets from their travels, I bring home cookbooks (but still have far less than 101).  I have been inspired and made a lot of the goodies on her website.  I rarely follow a recipe to the letter.  What I usually do is look up a number of recipes, pick and choose the parts I like and "frankinstein" a recipe together.  Even recipes from the 101 Cookbooks, which is all vegetarian, I figure a way to slip in some meat.  This has to be the easiest recipe on her site and needs no tweaking - Olive Oil Crackers.

For anyone here on the east coast with me, this is a great recipe to make with kids during this extra snowy winter, especially if you are looking for something non-cookie related to do in the kitchen with kids.  The dough is so simple and easy to make (or make them for someone and they will be totally impressed to learn you made the crackers).  The olive oil makes it very easy to handle and clean up.  Also by following her instructions to cut the into 12 pieces, they are very easy to roll out by hand - even by little hands.  Just be sure to let the dough rest at room temp as it says.  You can make big crackers, small crackers, any shaped crackers (cookie cutters work just fine).  And you can customize the topping to your tastes.

My personal preference is just topping my crackers with cracked pepper & kosher salt.  I've made theses a couple times and have some tips for anyone doing them:
  •  I roll the dough between two pieces of plastic wrap sprinkled lightly with whole wheat flour.
  • After I sprinkle the salt & pepper on, I replace the top plastic sheet and roll the rolling pin back over a couple times lightly.  This way the topping does not come off when moving it to the cookie sheet or cooking.
  • Do not forget to poke the dough with a fork before baking.  You can not over poke it.  This is what keeps it cracker like and not puff up on you.
  • I do not have to add anything to keep them from sticking when I use my silpat.  This is a silicon sheet to lay in the baking sheet - it is simply amazing & I use for nearly everything.
  • Do not do ANYTHING else while these are baking.  It is less than one minute between done & charcoal.  I use a timer.  Five minutes when they first go in.  Then turn the pan & another 2 minutes - but this is MY oven, watch yours closely!
These crackers go great with hummus.  Yes, there are some great hummus's out there in the stores, but it is so simple to make your own... not to mention incredibly cheap.  I bough a brand of tahini that I had never had before and was pretty disappointed when I opened the can.  If something is advertised as tahini, it should be just that - sesame paste and NOTHING else.  This has some additional flavors mixed in.  It's not bad, just not something I would buy again.  Now I know I have to actually read the ingredient list on anything labeled tahini.  All you need to make hummus is a can of chickpeas (or chi chi beans as my grandfather called them), tahini, a lemon, and olive oil.  You can add s&p to taste and any other spices you like (this time I added sweet paprika).  A trick I use to make it the smooth consistency I want without having to go too heavy on the olive oil is to reserve some of the liquid from chickpeas (drain them before tossing them in the processor).  If after drizzling in olive oil while it runs it seems to thick or dry, slowly add some of the liquid.  You'll end up with 3 to 4 times the amount some of those store bought hummus tubs.

So now I can curl up in my apartment all warmed up from my oven and snack on my homemade crackers and hummus while watching the snow fall during the snowiest winter Philly has ever seen.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

It's an honor just to be...

Well I wasn't nominated, but I was asked for 2nds, 3rds, & even some 4ths.

The morning of the competition I got up nice and early to finish the pot pies.  I had planned to do it the evening before, but ended up at a friend's birthday party a little later than planned.  Luckily I did plan for enough in advance to have all the ingredients needed prepped and bagged in the fridge.  While the onions were sweating it out, I was rolling out the pastry dough.  Making a much larger amount of filling than I normally do thru me off with the thickener, but it all came together.  The potatoes finished cooking just as I finished ladling the filling into the steam trays I was using to make the pot pies in so I could easily keep them nice and hot all day in the chafing dish.

This is the difference that makes my pot pie special... who needs more pastry on top?  Mash taters is where it's at!  I top off the savory pie with a creamy rich batch of buttermilk mashed potatoes!  After making the biggest bowl of mashed potatoes I ever had (all 5 pounds of potatoes!), I topped the pies and into the oven they went.  Leaving me just enough time to shower and get ready before my lovely assistant, also known as Catlyn, arrived to help me set up and man my booth.

 After the pies came out of the oven, I slipped them into the pizza delivery bag generously lent to me from Paolo's around the corner.  I think I may eat there too often cause they handed of the bag with a "sure, no problem." and the only question asked was do I needed a bigger one.  Those bags are great and really kept them hot.  So even though I endured a little teasing from Catlyn for packing everything I may need (including two jugs of water for the chafing dish - I didn't want to fight a crowd at the bar just to get water) & wanting to get there early, we were set up, ready, & Bloody Mary's in hand with time to spare.  Slowly thru the day more competitors showed up.  It was a very friendly competition, everyone bringing over their food to the swap with the other cooks.  And most of the food was tasty!  A personal favorite (and grand prize winner) was the bbq pulled pork with homemade corn bread.

I looked up at the door and there they were... my parents.  I have been going to Dirty Frank's ever since I moved to Philly over ten years ago, but never have my parents had the pleasure.  It was great to see them out supporting my entry in The Comfort Food Fest, but I didn't expect for them to stay for any more than an hour.  Some guys cleared a stool at the bar so my parents could sit together right by my booth.  Harold the bartender greeted the warmly.  Although it is a dive, Frank's is always friendly.  While I worked my booth, I could hear my mom laughing and joking with everyone at the bar.  Dad was having a conversation with the older guy Mike who had been chatting Cat & me up earlier.  Every time I looked up, there seemed to be a shot in her and her new friend's hand... which he assured me later was all her doing.  And just to prove that I don't think my Dad can go anywhere without working, he took the donation tub from Harold and went around the bar, getting a donation from EVERYONE!  I think they had a great time and about four hours after showing up, they headed home (before any chance of a parking ticket).

I didn't win, but had a great time.  Lots of people said they enjoyed my turkey pot pie & came back for more.  We served all but about a quarter of the second pot pie.  We enjoyed lots of other food including smoked salmon, pulled pork, mac & cheese, berry pie, & lots lots more.

And watch out for next year's competition... Dad is entering his meatloaf!