Sunday, January 29, 2012

English Muffins

I admit, I made these because there's corn meal on them.  I had hoped the corn tortillas used corn meal, and was rather disappointed that I ended up buying a new pantry ingredient instead.

I've made this recipe from the Bible before, and I remember it striking me that this seemed like an awful lot of work for something you could pick up at the market that was about the same quality.  But English muffins have become rather expensive, unless the store brand is on sale.  One batch of these in the freezer will cost you about a dollar and last for quite a while.  They're also great for an easy snack, and make wonderful  PB&J.

My oven has a proofer setting!  See what happens when you read the manual?  It's also the dehydration setting, and I found the muffins came out a touch dry.  Next time, I'll experiment with leaving a pan of water in there with the dough.  I found a bunch of other features I didn't know about.  What I was really looking for was whether or not I could use oven cleaner on the door of a self-cleaning oven.  Nope.  Gotta clean it the hard way.

2 Tb sugar
*1 Tb yeast (1 package)
1-1/2 C milk
1/4 C butter
5 C flour
1 tsp salt
1 egg
*corn meal
oil for greasing bowl and pan

1.  Warm sugar, milk, and butter to 100º.  Butter does not need to melt.  Stir in yeast and allow to proof, about 5 minutes.

2.  In mixer, stir together 2 C flour and salt.  Add milk mixture and beat into a batter for about 2 minutes. Add egg and 2 C flour and beat into a soft dough.

3.  Turn mixture out onto floured board and knead until almost smooth, about 5 minutes.  Turn into a lightly oiled bowl and allow to rise until doubled, at least 1 hour.

4.  Punch down dough and turn out onto a board.  Let rest for 10 minutes.  Place several tablespoons of corn meal in a pie plate and set out two cookie sheets.

5.  Roll dough 1/2" thick.  Using a 3" round cookie cutter, cut circles out of dough.  Unlike with cookies or pie crust, re-rolling the scraps will not make the dough tougher, but you should let it rest for a few minutes before trying each roll-out.  Coat each circle very well with corn meal, or it will stick to the cookie sheet.  Add more corn meal to pie pan if necessary.  Arrange muffins on cookie sheets about 1" apart and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.

6.  Lightly brush a large skillet with oil and pre-heat over medium.  Transfer circles to skillet so they fit comfortably (I got 6 at a time on mine).  Cook for 6 to 8 minutes, flip, and cook 6 minutes more on the other side.  Both sides should be medium-brown.  Brush pan with more oil and repeat until all muffins are cooked.  Cool muffins on wire rack, and split with a fork or knife before toasting.

Makes 18

Difficulty rating  :-0

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Walnut Cake

There's a lot in the tea book I haven't made.  Generally, it's because they have specific ingredients in them and I didn't plan ahead.  But I did have what I needed for this one, and whipped it up quickly.

Every so often, a recipe in a cookbook is flawed.  You make it exactly how the recipe states, but it doesn't work.  Usually, this is because the book was a collaborative effort and everyone just trusted that the others knew what they were doing.  I have a Post-it in the Bible over the pita bread recipe that warns me not to make it.  Sometimes, there's a typo and an ingredient is accidentally omitted.  Anyway, this so-called cake batter was exceptionally thick and came out of the oven more like a cookie.  At this point, I became determined to fix the cake.  I flipped through the Bible and other recipes in the tea book and wrote a new recipe.  This time, it rose like a cake is supposed to and had the correct consistency.

Fortunately, I have a whole bunch of cute, small cake pans of various sizes.  The 6" uses half the batter of an 8".  When I made Techie Smurf and Writer Smurf's wedding cake, I had to calculate the amount of batter for 6", 10", and 14" pans.  It was the most math I had done in a long time, but the layers came out the same height.  In this case, I decided to do my waistline a favor and make a 1/3 recipe in the 6" pan and just slice it into two thinner layers, rather than bake two very thin 6" and hope I didn't over-bake them.

A huge tip for any frosted cake: bake it the day ahead.  Freeze it.  Defrost it halfway, then slice it into layers if you need to, and frost it before it thaws completely.  This almost eliminates breakage and reduces the crumbs picked up by the spreader.

3/4 C margarine (not butter)
3/4 C sugar
3 eggs
3/4 C milk
*1/2 C chopped walnuts
1/2 tsp vanilla
*1-1/2 C cake flour
2 Tb baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

1.  Cream together sugar and margarine until fluffy.  Add eggs, vanilla, and milk in stages and continue to beat until smooth.

2.  Grease two 8" cake pans, then line bottoms with waxed paper so cake can be easily removed.  Preheat oven to 350º.

3.  Sift together cake flour, baking powder, and salt.  Stir into wet ingredients, then beat until smooth, about 2 minutes.  Fold in chopped walnuts.  Pour batter into two pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean.  Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto cooling rack and remove waxed paper.  Allow to cool thoroughly before frosting or freezing.

Buttercream Icing (Care of Wilton)
1/2 C butter (not margarine)
1/2 C shortening
1 lb powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla (use vanilla powder for a whiter icing)

1.  Cream together butter and shortening.  In stages, whip in powdered sugar and vanilla.  If icing is too stiff, beat in milk one tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is reached.

2.  Place a dab of icing on cake circle.  Trim one cake layer flat if necessary.  Place one layer of cake upside-down on cake circle.  Spoon a generous dollop on top and spread evenly to make filling layer.

3.  Place other layer right-side up on filling.  If you trimmed the layer flat, place it upside-down for easier spreading.  Spoon remaining frosting on top and work around top of cake and down sides.

4.  For smooth, glazed look, refrigerate cake once it's as smooth as you can get it.  Once icing is set, heat offset metal spatula over the stove.  Use flat side of hot spatula to melt the icing slightly into a smooth coating.  It may even sizzle.  Garnish with walnut halves and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes one 8" layer cake

Difficulty rating :)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tostada Appetizers

This is what I did with the corn tortillas.  The advantage of making your own tortillas is that you can make them any size you want.  These were like those little cantina tacos that El Torito makes on Tuesday nights for a dollar, but I got a little more elaborate.

12  4" corn tortillas
1 batch not-refried beans
1 C shredded cheddar cheese
1 C nonfat Greek yogurt
1/4 C chopped green onions
1/2 C diced tomatoes

1.  For soft-taco texture, use freshly cooked tortillas.  For crispy, fry tortillas in 1/4" hot oil for 15 seconds on each side.  Drain on paper towels before using.

2.  On each tortilla, layer 2 Tb warm beans, 1 Tb tomatoes, 2 tsp onions, a generous sprinkle of cheddar cheese, and top with a dollop of yogurt.  Serve before the hot tortillas and beans melt the top layer of yogurt.

3.  Alternatively, make nachos by cutting the tortillas into wedges before frying and arrange with layers of the ingredients.

Makes 12 individual appetizers, or one large nacho platter

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, January 20, 2012

Corn Tortillas

This is one of those things you try to make just to see if you can.  I researched several recipes, because I couldn't believe it was really as easy as the first one made it look.  Yep, three ingredients, and one of them is water.

Masa harina is available in nearly every supermarket now.  It's probably in the Hispanic or International Foods aisle, but some stores include it with the regular flours.  It's about the same thing as finely ground hominy grits, meaning treated with lime to change its chemical structure and nutritional value.  I bought the smallest package, but there's still enough left to experiment with flavored tortillas or attempt tamales.

As for the tortilla press...  I try to adopt Alton Brown's aversion to Unitaskers, unless I know I'll be performing that one task a lot.  I made a mental list of everything I could think of that requires thinly pressing something: tortillas, crust for small pies and tarts, hamantaschen, ravioli, breaking garlic to remove the skins.  I already have ways to do that.  Two pieces of waxed paper and the GH Illustrated for a weight work just fine.

The brand I bought came not only with a tortilla recipe, it came with a chart for various amounts of tortillas, like the chart on the back of an oatmeal canister.  So, here is the 8-tortilla (four serving) version of the recipe.

1 C masa harina flour
2/3 C water
1/8 tsp salt

1.  Stir together masa and salt.  Add water and knead in until mixture forms a thick paste very similar to Play-Doh.  If too dry, add water a tablespoon at a time.

2.  Start to preheat a large, ungreased skillet on medium-high heat.  Form 8 balls out of the dough.

3.  Lay one sheet of waxed paper on the counter.  Place a dough ball in the center.  Top with another piece of waxed paper.  Place the heaviest book you can find on top and press down.  (Or use a tortilla press.  Whatever.)  Remove book and top paper.  You should have a 6" round tortilla.  If it is thicker than a credit card, put the paper back on and press harder.

4.  Carefully transfer tortilla to skillet.  Press the next tortilla while it's cooking.  Cook for about 1 minute on each side, until slightly browned and a little puffy.  Transfer to a plate and cover with a towel to keep warm and moist.  Serve hot.

To make tortilla chips:  Cut a tortilla into 6 wedges and fry in 1/4" of oil until crisp.  Dust with salt or seasonings and serve immediately.

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Othello Cookies

Hi, my name is Lurker Smurf, and I'm a cookie addict.

After having yummies in the house all last month, it's hard to look around and not see anything to munch on.  It doesn't help that my new work schedule allows me to sit down to tea nearly every afternoon.  I finished the last box of last year's Girl Scout cookies.  Now what?

These are an adaptation of the Sponge Drops from The Book of Afternoon Tea.  I named them Othello because they look like the game pieces.  I'm thrilled that I can finally beat the computer on the difficult setting, so I'm celebrating with a batch of cookies.

The best part of these is that you probably have all the ingredients in the house right now.  You don't have any excuses.

1/2 C flour
2 eggs
1/4 C sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla
1 Tb cocoa powder
powdered sugar for icing

1.  Preheat oven to 375º.  Grease two baking sheets and line with waxed paper.

2.  Beat together eggs and sugar until very pale and thick.  You can't make meringue because of the yolks, but see how close you can get.  Beat in vanilla.

3.  Sift flour over whipped eggs and gently fold into a batter.  Spoon half into a pastry bag with a 1/2" round tip.  On one cookie sheet, pipe 18 1-1/2" circles of batter.  Bake for 10 minutes while you're making the other sheet.

4.  Gently fold cocoa powder into remaining batter.  Pipe 18 circles the same size and bake those for 10 minutes.

5.  As the cookies come out of the oven, slide the waxed paper off the baking sheet before it cools and onto a slightly damp dish towel.  This will allow you to peel off the cookies when they are cool.  A silpat is an acceptable alternative.

6.  Whip up a batch of simple icing with 1/2 C powdered sugar and about 2 tsp of water.  Make it as stiff as you can still spread.  Put a dab on the back of every plain cookie, then sandwich with a chocolate cookie.  Allow to rest until glaze hardens, about 1 hour.

Makes 18

Difficulty rating  :)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Tomato and Cheese Bake

I had some fondue cheese left over and decided to overdo the macaroni and cheese concept.  Wait, there is no overdoing when it comes to cheese. :)

2 C small pasta like macaroni, shells, farfalle, or rotelli
1 lb shredded cheese (the fondue was a mix of swiss, colby, and monterey jack)
1 Tb corn starch
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 C white wine
1 C diced tomatoes
1/4 C bread crumbs

1.  In a large pot, boil 2 quarts water.  Cook pasta according to directions, drain, and set aside.

2.  In a different pot, over medium heat, cook shallot and garlic in the wine until soft.  In a bowl, toss cheese with corn starch to coat evenly.  Add cheese and stir in until melted.

3.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Add pasta to cheese and combine.  Pour all into an oven-safe casserole.  Sprinkle top with diced tomatoes.  Scatter top with bread crumbs.

4.  Bake until tomatoes are cooked, the topping is crisp, and everything is bubbling goodness - about 20 minutes.  Serve hot.

Difficulty rating  :)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Meat Cooking Temperatures

This isn't the most difficult lesson in the ServSafe book, but it's the hardest one you actually have to know in the real world.  (The four pages of specific foodborne illnesses, causes, symptoms, and sources is way harder to remember and only really matters if you're a healthcare professional.)  It's the only page in the textbook that I have bookmarked.

What may surprise you is that you don't have to cook a turkey to 185º.  Please, for the love of the bird, don't cook it to 185º.  That's the Butterball people covering their butts.  And you'll see that there is a length of time attached to each temperature.  So, if a roast or bird is going to rest and continue to cook, you can pull it even earlier.  I think I'm posting this not so you'll cook meats long enough, but so that they will not end up overcooked.

  • Poultry (whole and ground): 165º for 15 seconds
  • Stuffing or stuffed meat (including fish): 165º for 15 seconds
  • Soups and casseroles: 165º for 15 seconds
  • Ground mammal or fish: 155º for 15 seconds, 150º for 1 minute, or 145º for 3 minutes
  • Injected or brined meats: 155º for 15 seconds
  • Mammal steaks: 145º for 15 seconds
  • Mammal roasts: 145º for 4 minutes
  • Fish fillets or steaks: 145º for 15 seconds
  • Any meat cooked from raw in the microwave: 165º, and allow to rest for 2 minutes before serving
What these numbers also bring to light is the need for an accurate food thermometer in every kitchen.  You can get a digital one for $10 at Target that will last at least two years unless you drop it in the dish water or give it to one of my co-workers.  Really cool infrared ones that never touch the food will run you considerably higher.  If you don't mind calibrating a thermometer, your basic bi-metallic is the least expensive way to go, and they last the longest.

Think of the temperature list as an excuse to get a new kitchen gadget.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Williamsburg Lodge Corn Chowder

Like the name says, I got this recipe from The Williamsburg Cookbook.  It's rustic, and tastes more like the pork than I thought it would.  I don't have a picture because the contrast wasn't very good.  I should have used the lavender bowls.  Still waiting for someone to comment that I have a seemingly endless variety of dishes and serving platters.  Mom was a hoarder.

One thing I changed was that I puréed the soup before serving.  Not perfectly smooth, just enough that you didn't have to chew the potatoes.  I wanted them in for thickening, but not as a visible ingredient.

I also subbed bacon fat for the salt pork.  Maybe that's why I tasted it.  If you're anti-lard in soups, sub in olive oil.  You'll probably have to add more salt than I did.

3 oz salt pork, cubed
1 large onion, chopped
1 rib of celery, chopped
1-1/2 C potatoes, diced
2 C chicken broth
2 C cream-style corn
2 C milk
1/4 C butter
salt and white pepper to taste

1.  Fry the salt pork until brown.  Add the onion and sauté over medium heat 5 minutes.

2.  Add the celery, potatoes, broth, and 1 C of water and simmer until the potatoes are done.

3.  Add the corn and simmer 5 minutes.  Add the milk and butter and bring to temperature.

4.  Taste and add salt and white pepper as needed.  If desired, purée.  Serve hot.

Serves 6 as an appetizer, 4 for a meal

Difficulty rating  π

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Linguine and Clams

I could have made something super-fancy with the clams from 99 Ranch, but I decided to go with the obvious.  It's also an easy and fast dish.

12 oz steamed clams
8 oz clam juice
1 Tb olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 servings cooked linguine

1.  In a frying pan, sauté garlic in oil 2 minutes.  Add clam juice and clams and cook over medium heat until boiling.

2.  Spoon sauce over pasta and serve hot.

Difficulty rating  π

Monday, January 2, 2012

Welsh Rarebit

OK, so it's just cheese toast.  Really, really, really good cheese toast.  While you might not serve grilled cheese at a luncheon to guests, Welsh rarebit (or rabbit) is an easy treat.

This version is from The Book of Afternoon Tea.

8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
2 Tb butter, softened
1 Tb Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp mustard powder
1 Tb flour
1/4 C beer
4 slices of your favorite savory bread (challah in the photo)
cayenne pepper for garnish

1.  Preheat broiler.  In a bowl, combine all ingredients except bread to make a cheesy paste.

2.  Toast bread lightly.  Spread cheese on top of each slice to make an open-faced sandwich.  Broil until topping is melted, bubbly, and slightly browning.  Dust with cayenne pepper and serve immediately

Difficulty rating  π