Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Rosemary Focaccia with Sea Salt and Cracked Pepper





There's something about focaccia that just makes me feel good inside. It is kind of intimidating to think about making it yourself. How can I produce such exquisite bread at home? The answer is that it is a lot easier than you probably ever thought. You can use this base recipe and top it with a myriad of flavor/topping combinations, or even use it to make a flat bread. I like to sprinkle mine with rosemary, sea salt, and a little cracked pepper. We eat it plain, dip it in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, or even use it to make what we call "FD Sandwiches" because they are fetching delicious! I think by using the word "fetching" I may have just given away the fact that I lived in Utah for 5 years. We just put a little deli sliced lunch meat, cheese, maybe some avocado slices and whatever sauce we're currently fixated on and ta-da...put it on delicious bread and you've got yourself an FD sandwich. I busted these out at Disneyland last week. Take that over-priced park food!


Ingredients

3/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tablespoon yeast
1/2 tablespoon salt
2 tsp sugar
2 1/2 cups flour

cornmeal for dusting
2 tsp olive oil
about 1/2 tsp rosemary
1/4 tsp sea salt
cracked pepper grinder


Instructions

1. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and olive oil in a large mixing bowl or stand mixer. Stir in the salt, sugar, and flour and knead until it forms a nice smooth dough (which should take less than 5 minutes, even when doing it by hand instead of in a mixer). Let rise 1 to 1 1/2 hours. 

2. Dust a pizza peel or wooden cutting board with cornmeal (1 tablespoon perhaps). Shape the risen dough into a ball and flatten it out with your hands, stretching it or rolling it into a nice 8-10 inch in diameter disc. It should only be about 1/2 inch thick. Lay it out on the prepared cornmeal-dusted board.

3. Rub the surface of the dough with 2 tsp olive oil. Use your fingers to poke at the dough creating lots of little divots over the whole disc. Sprinkle rosemary, sea salt, and cracked pepper over the whole thing (or whatever flavor combination you desire).

4. Bake on a pizza stone at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes, until golden brown. Place a shallow pan filled with water in the oven with the bread to create a steam oven (see cooking lesson below). 






The key to making great bakery-style bread at home is all in the method. Bakeries use steam ovens to get that wonderful chewy crust. You can create your own steam oven by placing a shallow pan of water in the oven with your bread. The water will evaporate in the heat, filling your oven with steam.

Using a baking stone or pizza stone is vital to creating both the perfect crust and the perfect crumb. Bakeries use fancy ovens of the masonry variety. See, the oven in your house cooks using radiated (the flame or the electrical elements) and convected heat (the air moving around the oven. A convection oven has fans to assist in the circulation of the air). A masonry oven is able to use conduction on top of convection and radiated heat. Masonry ovens utilize stone, just as their name suggests. Stone retain heat really well. When you put a loaf of bread directly on a hot stone, the stone transfers its heat to the bread through conduction. So when you use a pizza/baking stone, you are literally adding a third heating method into your oven. Isn't that awesome? There's your science lesson for the day!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Food Blogs and the World of Food Porn

I launched this blog several months ago after carefully considering the idea for several years (having kept a personal recipe blog for several years that I only shared with friends and family). I had idealistic hopes and dreams of creating a blog full of quality recipes while sharing techniques to teach and revive the art of home cooking. I was tired of seeing junk recipes on Pinterest. I loathed the popularity of recipes that simply combined several cans of this and that and called it good. I craved quality recipes that helped develop cooking skills and brought restaurant-worthy meals into homes. 

And then I entered the world of professional food blogging.

Where I had envisioned joining the cause to revive the art of cooking, I found out that the art has been shoved aside in favor of food pornography. Just like sexual pornography this world plays on your lusts and visual appetite. Food gets its own implants and cosmetic surgeries. Many times what you see isn't even real. It is injected, plumped, drizzled with glycerin and otherwise staged in a variety of ways. The world of food blogging isn't so much about the food as it is the picture. You don't have to know much about cooking at all, but you do have to know about photography. Have you ever tried a recipe from a blog that just looked completely drool-worthy only to have it turn out tasteless and unappetizing? The problem probably wasn't you. It was the recipe itself! Even if it tastes good, it may look nothing like the recipe. Don't feel bad about that! You are supposed to be a cook, not a food stylist. 

We loved Julia Childs because she taught her viewers how to cook. She didn't try and make us into something we will never be. We are not food porn stars. We are home cooks. We don't need photos of food with elaborate staging. We don't need to see the powdered sugar dusted on the "counter" with the carefully crumpled napkin and the fork carefully tilted and the carefully blurred background elements. I don't need the blond with the face lift, botox, and implants. I don't need food porn. What I crave is food reality. 

Cook with me. I will teach you what I know. I don't know everything, but I do know a lot and I know I can help you on your own journey as a home cook. This blog is a part-time job for me. It is hard to fight against the food porn industry. I am often tempted to join in. If you see me stray, call me out on it. I pledge to bring you real food with quality recipes. I believe in the basics of cooking. I believe in technique. I believe in you.

This is a completely candid shot my husband took of me making a regular Sunday dinner. This is the real stay at home chef.  That is my real kitchen. 

I welcome your comments and thoughts. If you like this idea then join me! Subscribe to this blog, like me on facebook, follow me on pinterest, and follow me on twitter

The Most Amazing Chocolate Cake






I have been searching for a great chocolate cake recipe for years. You see, for my 18th birthday my mom made an amazing chocolate cake. It was perfect. Unfortunately, the recipe didn't seem to survive past that day. It set the bar for chocolate cake in my eyes and I've been on the search for almost a decade for the perfect chocolate cake. I've tried at least a dozen recipes and none of them lived up to my expectations.  Until now. I have found it. My search has ended. I now have THE recipe. If you have ever seen the movie Matilda you will surely remember the scene where the boy is forced to eat the most delicious looking chocolate cake ever. I feel just like that boy when I eat this cake. It is my Matilda chocolate cake for sure. This cake is moist and has the perfect crumb. I cannot imagine making a chocolate cake using any other recipe.  It is so easy to make and puts doctored cake mix recipes to shame. I'm eating a piece of the cake as I'm writing this, drooling all over my keyboard. It is insanely delicious. A decades search was worth the wait. Every...decadent...bite. Who wants cake?



Ingredients

A little unsalted butter and flour for buttering and dusting the cake pans (see cooking lesson below)
3 cups all-purpose flour 
3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (the better quality chocolate you use the better it will taste)
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 cups warm water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract


Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Butter three 9-inch cake rounds. Dust with flour and tap out the excess. (see cooking lesson below)

3. Mix together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a stand mixer using a low speed until combined.

4. Add eggs, buttermilk, warm water, oil, and vanilla. Beat on a medium speed until smooth. This should take just a couple of minutes.

5. Divide batter among the three pans. I found that it took just over 3 cups of the batter to divide it evenly.

6. Bake for 30-35 minutes until the cake meets the toothpick test (stick a toothpick in and it comes out clean).

7. Cool on wire racks for 15 minutes and then turn out the cakes onto the racks and allow to cool completely.

8. Frost with your favorite frosting and enjoy! And because I know you are going to ask, I used the recipe found HERE and doubled it. 




For today's Tip Tuesday I'm bringing you how to dust a cake pan.

When making cakes from scratch, the best way to keep them from sticking is to butter your pan and dust it with flour. It is super easy, but in case you've never done it I've created a picture tutorial for you. Just take a dab of butter, smear it around the pan, throw some flour in and slide it around to cover all the butter, tap out the excess and you are done!







Friday, February 22, 2013

Braided Sweet Potato Bread


Bread so soft and sweet
Melt in my mouth as I chew
I love to eat bread.

Yes, I wrote a haiku about my bread. The rain was pouring outside. I was snuggled up in a blanket eating moist and tender bread and it all just felt right. The bread has sweet potatoes in it which means it is healthy right? In the mixed up rules of my mind it is always healthy if it has a fruit or veggie in it. I know you are thinking, "um, what about apple pie?" Well, I will tell you that apple pie is more of a side dish or snack than a dessert because it has apples of course. Desserts are the things where nothing in it has any redeemable nutritional value (though sometimes you'll catch me telling you that at least a dessert is dark chocolate so it is healthy). I think this all stems from a childhood dillusion where I was convinced that Ovaltine was healthy. My world was shattered when my husband pointed to the ingredient list on the can. I digress. Back to the bread. I love this bread. A lot of sweet potato bread recipes are quick breads (like banana bread). This one is different. It is like a really moist roll. My kids also think it is awesome because they get to eat orange bread. 


Ingredients

2 1/2 tsp yeast
2 tablespoons warm water
1 cup cooked and mashed sweet potato
1/3 cup warm milk
1/4 cup butter
1 egg
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3 to 3 1/2 cups flour

1 egg + 1 tablespoon water


Instructions

(I'm running old school lately since my stand mixer motor burnt out. You can always just do this in a stand mixer, or put all the ingredients directly into a bread maker. Don't bake it in the bread maker, but you can let it do all the mixing and rising)

1. Dissolve the yeast into the water in a small cup or bowl.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the sweet potato, milk, butter, egg, brown sugar and salt. Mix it until it is well combined. 

3. Stir in the yeast mixture and half of the flour. Mix it until the flour is well incorporated.

4. Continue to add flour 1/2 cup at a time until a nice, soft dough forms.

5. Knead the dough for 5 minutes or so until is smooth and elastic. Place in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let rise about 1 hour. 

6. Divide the risen dough into thirds. Roll out each third into a long snake or rope (about 18 inches long). Lay the 3 ropes next to each other on a lightly greased baking sheet. One one end of the rope, pinch the 3 strands together and begin to braid. When you've braided the whole thing, pinch the remaining ends together.

7. Cover and let rise another 30 minutes or so. Brush the braided dough with an egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water). 

8. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. 








Thursday, February 21, 2013

Cinnamon Spiced Pea and Carrot Soup with Cinnamon Croutons



Are you ready for a gourmet soup to spice up your winter? I've got some great gourmet soup recipes in line for you. It's all about ingredients you know presented in flavors you didn't know were possible. This soup is a great example of that concept. The ingredient list is simple. You will be familiar with each ingredient, but the combination will intrigue your taste buds, opening them up to a whole new flavor combination. This particular recipe comes from renowned chef Hubert Keller who made this soup on an episode of Top Chef Masters. He made his in a dorm room. I've translated his recipe into a home cook friendly version. It's actually really simple to make it, but the flavors are complex.


Ingredients

4 tablespoons butter
1 white onion, diced
8 carrots, peeled and diced
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 1/2 cup frozen peas
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 tsp pepper
1 cup whipping cream


Instructions

1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Once melted, increase the heat to medium-high and saute the onion and carrot for about 5 minutes. Add in the parsley, cinnamon, sugar, salt, and pepper. 

2. Pour in 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 20 minutes, until vegetables are tender. 

3. Add in the peas and cook for another 5 minutes. 

4. In a small bowl, whip the whipping cream using a hand mixer. Continue to whip until soft peaks form which will take 7-10 minutes. 

5. Serve the soup in a bowl and top with a spoonful of whipped cream and a few cinnamon croutons (see below). 






Making croutons is super easy. You just take some bread, cut it into cubes, drizzle a little olive oil and seasoning, and toast under a broiler. 

To make cinnamon croutons I took some slices of grain-packed wheat bread (it is what I had lying around). I cut it into squares and put it on a baking sheet. I whisked about a tablespoon of cinnamon into maybe 1/4 cup of olive oil and drizzled it over the cubed bread. I slid the baking sheet into the oven under the broiler. I kept an eye on them as they toasted to make sure they didn't burn. It took about 7 minutes until they were nice and crispy. 





Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Chipotle Black Bean Burgers


We eat a lot of meatless meals around here. We're not vegetarians, we just eat meat sparingly. As a bonus, it also saves us money. And when we do eat meat, we're able to afford higher quality cuts from more sustainable-friendly sources. Black bean burgers, when done right, are fabulous in place of their ground beef cousins. As I was making these I had a dishwasher repair man fixing a leak. He asked what I was making and when I told him they were black bean burgers he was surprised. "Wow, they actually look AND smell great!" I chuckled. I ate one for lunch that was just the plain burger, a little cheese and honey mustard and that's it. It was delicious! The burger has so much flavor itself that any toppings are just a bonus. The patties freeze really well and it isn't much more effort to make extra and pop them in the freezer. Give them a try on homemade buns for a truly special treat. 


Makes 1 dozen patties

Ingredients

6 cups black beans, drained and rinsed
1 red onion, chopped
1/2 can chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, minced
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 cup corn kernels (thawed if from frozen)
1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs
3 eggs


Instructions

1. Mash the black beans in a large mixing bowl. Alternatively, you can mash them in a food processor, but by hand with a masher or a fork works just fine.

2. Stir in the chopped onion, minced chipotle, minced garlic, cumin, salt, and pepper. Stir until well combined.

3. Stir in the panko, corn, and eggs until well combined.

4. Use your hands to form 12 patties. 

5. When ready to cook you have several options. 

     a. Heat a lightly oiled skillet to medium high heat. Cook for 5 minutes on each side.
     b. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 5 minutes each side.
     c. Cook on an outdoor grill for 5 minutes each side.

If cooking from frozen, add a couple minutes to the cooking time.


Cooking beans is super easy and super cheap. Black beans are the favorite bean in our household. Rinse the beans before cooking and pick out any weird looking ones. I fill up my crockpot 2/3 of the way with beans and then fill to the top with water. Throw in a teaspoon or two of salt. It takes about 6-8 hours on high for them to get soft. I then freeze them in 2 cup increments (because that is the same size as a can of beans). 

You've probably heard that you need to soak beans before cooking. This is a debated topic in culinary circles. The official position of the Culinary Institute of America is that it can be done either with soaking or without. Soaking definitely decreases the cooking time on the beans. There are other reported benefits to soaking your beans like decreasing gas and increasing nutrient retention. If you want to try soaking, then soak them overnight or up to 24 hours. Drain and rinse before cooking. Cooking time in a crockpot with soaked beans would be about 4 hours on high. Ultimately, you can cook your beans without soaking them with no problems. The choice is up to you!









Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Homemade Hamburger Buns




This week for Tip Tuesday I'm sharing with you my recipe for homemade hamburger buns. I don't know how much they cost to make, but it would definitely be counted in pennies and nickels. Not only are they incredibly cheap, they also taste better! Seriously, a burger with these buns? Wowzers! You'll feel like you are eating a restaurant burger and I'm not talking Carls Jr. I'm talking one of those fancy gourmet burger bars that are all the rage. Your tip of the day is that homemade hamburger buns will elevate your burgers to a place called nirvana my friend. There's nothing quite like a good burger between a nice homemade bun. Try these buns with my delicious chipotle black bean burger. Mmmmm!


Ingredients

1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup water
1 cup milk
2 1/2 tsp instant dry yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 1/2 cups flour
1 egg + 1 tablespoon water


Instructions

1. In a small saucepan over low heat melt the butter. Once the butter is completely melted stir in the water and milk. Let it get luke warm and remove from heat. You will need it to be warm enough to activate your yeast, but not hot enough to kill it. Between 90 and 110 degrees. I like to stay towards the low end of that range.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the yeast, sugar, salt and about 2 cups of the flour. Stir in the liquid mixture until well combined. Add in the remaining flour 1/2 cup - 1 cup at a time, kneading it into the dough as you go. Once all the flour has been added in, knead for another 5 minutes or so. The dough should be nice and smooth.

ALTERNATIVELY, just throw it all together in stand mixer or bread machine and let it do the work. My kitchen aid is currently dead (I literally wore it out, how cool is that?) so I'm doing things the old fashioned way. 

3. Let rise 1 hour. 

4. Divide into 12 balls. Press each ball between your hands to flatten. The dough will spring back a bit giving you about a 1/2-inch disc. Place the disc onto a lightly greased baking sheet. 

5. Whisk together the egg and 1 tablespoon water to form an egg wash. Brush the tops of the discs. This will give them a nice shiny brown finish.

6. Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 12 minutes, until lightly browned. 


Friday, February 15, 2013

Roasted Sweet Corn Guacamole



I live near several large avocado farms. They just scream "make guacamole!" to me. Seriously, they sell them at their stands 25 for $5. How can you resist a price like that? I went to Chili's a few weeks ago with some friends for a little Girl's Night Out. I ordered some roasted corn guacamole and it really hit the spot for a late night snack post watching the depressing movie Les Miserables. I replicated the guac at home the other night and, once again, it really hit the spot and I wasn't even depressed this time! I couldn't help myself come lunch time the next day and made a quesadilla just so I could have a vehicle to transport the guacamole to my mouth. Simple, delicious, and great for a variety of purposes. Enjoy those avocados! And if you ever make your way down to San Diego County, make sure you find one of these amazing farm stands and buy avocados on the cheap.



Ingredients

2 medium avocados
1 roma tomato
1 clove garlic
1 serrano pepper
1 lime
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup sweet corn kernels


Instructions


1. On a griddle roast the tomato, garlic, and pepper until the skins are blackened. Remove the skins on the tomato and pepper. The garlic will roast faster so you'll want to take it off first. 

2. In a food processor, puree the garlic, pepper, and tomato. Add in the avocado, cilantro, lime juice, and salt. Pulse until well combined, but still chunky.


3. Either use leftover roasted corn, or roast your corn kernels quickly in a small skillet over high heat. Once they begin to brown remove and stir into guacamole.



Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day Menu - A Menu for a Romantic Meal





Start of your meal with the aphrodisiac power of mushrooms.

Next enjoy your hearty New York Strip Steak with a side of Honey Roasted Potatoes and Fresh Green Beans


Finish the night with this luscious homemade chocolate pudding.


Happy Valentine's Day!



Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Honey Roasted Potatoes


This is my hands-down favorite way to cook potatoes. I find the potatoes addicting. They are sweet, they are salty, and they have those punches of flavor from the mustard and onion. Even when I think that I'm not really in the mood, I end up eating a huge serving. It is super easy to make and leaves you plenty of time to prep a main dish. I usually serve these potatoes along side a nice steak. A few years ago I made a huge Valentine's Day dinner for a number of friends and their husbands. These potatoes were definitely on the menu!


Ingredients


1 lb red potatoes, cubed

1 small white onion, diced
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1/2 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp salt
1 pinch pepper


Instructions


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 9x13 baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.


2. Spread out the cubed potatoes in the pan in a single layer.


3. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add in the onions and saute for about 3 minutes. Add in the honey, mustard, salt, pepper and stir to combine. 


4. Drizzle the butter mixture over the potatoes. 


5. Bake for about 35 minutes until potatoes are cooked through. Actual baking time will depend on how big you cut your potato pieces.



Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tip Tuesday: Pan Roasted Mushrooms

I'm a mushroom lover. I mean it. I'm a sucker for them. Mushrooms often lack proper cooking technique resulting in slimy textured little things. The key to pan roasting mushrooms is to cook them at a high eat in olive oil.

1. Heat olive oil in skillet to medium-high heat. The oil should be sizzling hot.

2. Clean the mushrooms and trim if needed. Put in the hot pan cap side down and don't touch them. Season with a little salt and pepper.

3. After 2-3 minutes flip the mushrooms over and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Done.

It is an easy, fast process that results in a mushroom that is crispy on the outside, tender on the inside. No slime, no mush, just mushroom goodness. The same principle applies to sliced mushrooms. They should be cooked fairly quickly at a high temperature.


Monday, February 11, 2013

Olive Oil Green Beans with Salt and Pepper



It may seem like such a simple concept, but these green beans make for an awesome side dish. Olive oil is used as a healthy fat, and the simple additions of salt and pepper bring out the flavor of the green beans for a side dish that is sure to please. I'm a mom which means that easy comes in handy. It doesn't always take a complicated recipe to make great dishes, especially when it comes to fresh fruits and vegetables. My little kiddos gobble these green beans right up!


Ingredients

1 lb fresh green beans, trimmed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper


Instructions

1. Steam green beans in a steamer pot for about 15 minutes until desired tenderness is reached.

2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place the green beans in the skillet and season with salt and pepper. Saute the green beans in the olive oil for about 5 minutes.



Steamers come in handy in the kitchen. It allows you to cook vegetables (and other things) in a pot without losing any flavor or nutrients to a liquid. If you don't have a steamer pot, you can replicate the steamer by putting enough water in a pot to just barely cover the bottom. Add in your veggies, put on the lid to the pot, and bring the water to a boil. Once it begins to boil, reduce the heat to a simmer. The water in the bottom of the pan will provide enough steam to cook the veggies. You will lose some flavor and nutrients from the veggies that are actually sitting in the water, but the loss will be minimized.


Friday, February 8, 2013

New York Strip Steak topped with Garlic Butter



I may have a lot of vegetarian and vegan recipes under my belt, but I still love me a good steak. There is no reason why a restaurant cooks a better steak than you except that they just know how. With practice you'll find that YOU can actually cook a better steak than most restaurants! You can cook an amazing steak with nothing more than meat, salt, pepper, and a grill. It all comes down to cooking technique, and quality of the beef. See my cooking lesson below to learn a couple of the secrets to making a great steak. In the meantime, enjoy this delicious recipe for a great rubbed steak with garlic butter. 


Ingredients


1 tsp sea salt

1/2 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp onion powder
2 New York Strip Steaks
2 tsp olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 garlic clove, minced


Instructions


1. Remove steaks from refrigerator and any packaging. Rub each side with the olive oil to coat. 


2. Combine the salt, pepper, and onion powder in a small bowl. Rub both sides of each steak with the rub mixture. Let steaks sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before cooking. 


3. Cook steaks on a hot grill until desired done-ness is achieved. 


4. While the steaks are cooking, whip the butter with the minced garlic. When the steaks are removed from the grill, immediately top with 1 tablespoon of the butter mixture and allow the steaks to rest 10 minutes before cutting into them.




Get ready because I'm about to bust out a couple secrets to a great steak!

Grades of Steak

There are three grades of steak that you will find in a US supermarket: Select, Choice, and Prime. Select is generally the grade of sale-priced, or advertised meat. If it is choice grade, it will be advertised as such. Select grade is just above what the USDA deems edible. So if you buy Select grade meat, don't be surprised when it isn't that great. It will always be worth it to pay the extra money per pound for the Choice grade. If your supermarket carries Prime grade, lucky you! 

Lesson: Only buy Choice or Prime Grade steaks. 



Levels of Doneness


Whether you like your steak bleeding on the plate, or dry as a bone, this steak doneness chart should help you out. The chef's standard level of doneness is medium-rare. At this point it won't be bleeding, but will be tender, juicy, and if you do it just right the steak will melt in your mouth. With practice you can tell how cooked a steak is just by feel alone. Every steak has a different cooking time due to varying thicknesses of the cuts. Be wary following anything that tells you a cooking time rather than a temperature. 





Thursday, February 7, 2013

Chocolate Pudding From Scratch




Pudding may seem like a simple treat, especially if you are used to the boxed kind (which I admittedly love!). When made from scratch, though, it brings out this decadence that makes it a sensual, aphrodisiac-inducing dessert. Perfect for the end of a romantic meal and the start (or end) of a romantic evening. It is made ahead which means there's no rush or dessert preparation, simply enjoy it whenever you are ready for that decadent mouthful of pure dark chocolate bliss. Wow, I think I'm blushing. Is it hot in here? Enjoy this recipe before I write a romance novel! 



Ingredients


2 tablespoons butter

4 tsp cornstarch
2 cups heavy whipping cream
4 tablespoons sugar
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips


Instructions


1. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Once completely melted, add in the cornstarch and whisk until cornstarch is well combined.


2. Whisk in the heavy whipping cream, and sugar. Stir continually while slowly increasing the heat to medium-high. 


3. Bring to a boil and immediately remove from heat. Stir in the chocolate chips until completely melted. Pour into serving glasses.


4. Let cool in the refrigerator until and serve when completely cooled through and set, at least an hour. 




When it comes to heating milk, gentle and slow is the way to go. If milk gets too much heat, or heats to quickly it can scorch. Yes, you can burn milk and it is pretty gross. Stirring constantly helps prevent scorching because it keeps the liquid flowing so that none of it should be touching the sides of the pan long enough for scorching to occur. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Chipotle, Black Bean, and Sweet Potato Burritos




Sweet potato burritos sound so weird, but they are addictively amazing. I've been eating them for years and they are totally delicious. In this recipe I utilize the smokiness of the chipotle which complements the sweetness of the sweet potatoes and the saltiness of the black beans. Sweet, salty, and smoky. Yum! And, hello, the cheese! These are great for a freezable lunch and just need to be popped in the microwave for a minute or two for reheating. I usually serve it with a side of sour cream, though I just was eating one with some guacamole and...wow. Enjoy this wonderful meatless meal!


Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans black beans (rinsed and drained)
1/2 can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped
2 tsp cumin
 4 cups cooked and mashed sweet potatoes (I just cut mine into chunks and steam or boil for about 15 minutes until soft)
8 flour tortillas (10 inch)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese


Instructions

1. In a skillet over medium-high heat, saute the onion in olive oil for about 7 minutes, until soft. Add in the minced garlic, chipotle peppers, and cumin and saute for about another minute to release the flavors. Remove from heat and stir in the black beans and set aside. 

2. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray.

3. Assemble your burritos by first putting on a scoop of sweet potatoes down the center, then a nice helping of the beans, then a fistful of cheese. Fold burrito style. Place the assembled burritos on the baking sheet and spray the tops with a little nonstick spray to help the tortillas get a nice golden crunch.

4. Bake in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes.







Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Tip Tuesday: Making Out-of-Season Strawberries Sweet and Crunchless





It is the middle of winter and you see those strawberries on sale. You know they are out of season, but it's a good deal and you are dying for spring so you buy them anyway only to be disappointed by their flavorless crunch. I feel you. I live in Southern California and drive by strawberry fields several times a week. I know they aren't in season! And yet I still find myself buying those imported Mexico strawberries that were picked completely green. They will never live up to those fresh, melt-in-your-mouth things we call strawberries straight from the garden.


So, now Valentine's Day is approaching and you get all excited for those chocolate covered strawberries. And then you take a bite: CRUNCH! All the love leaves my mouth when that happens.

Well, I've got a secret to share with you. See, the only way I like can stand out-of-season strawberries is slicing them up and putting sugar on them. The sugar breaks down the flesh of the berry, softening it up, and adding sweetness. If you do this with seasonal strawberries they turn quite mushy fairly quickly. Not so with out-of-season strawberries. That sugar needs more time to break down the crunch. You can slice and sugar your strawberries and let them sit for about an hour. But what about whole strawberries? Well, I did some experimenting and the same principle applies! Just coat your strawberry with sugar and let it sit for an hour. Rinse the sugar off before eating whole or dipping in chocolate for your sweetheart!

Ta-da!


Monday, February 4, 2013

Cilantro-Lime Chicken Quesadillas




When I was in college I used to frequent a quaint little restaurant called Guru's that served these great cilantro-lime quesadillas. Over the years I've come up with my own version that is quick, and wonderfully tasty. Stuffed with chicken breast, monterey jack cheese, onions, and flavored with cilantro and lime, it makes for a mouth-watering quesadilla. The tortillas are seasoned themselves with a little season salt that balances out the acidity of the lime, and makes for an overall amazing bite. Serve with a little sour cream on the side. Enjoy!


Ingredients

1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, halved and sliced
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 lime, juiced
8 tortillas
2 cups mozzarella cheese
Season Salt
Non-stick cooking spray


Instructions

1. Pound out the chicken breast a little so that it is more even in thickness. Season both sides of the chicken breast with cumin, salt, and pepper.

2. Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Swirl the olive oil around to coat the pan and place the chicken into the skillet, watch out for oil splatter, and cook 5-8 minutes per side (depending on the thickness). Set aside to rest for about 10 minutes before slicing it into 1/4 inch thick strips.

3. Wipe out the skillet and reheat another tablespoon of olive oil and saute your onions in it for about 8 minutes. Remove into a small bowl and add in cilantro and lime juice.

4. Heat a cast iron skillet (or just the heaviest you've got) to medium heat. Assemble your tortillas by placing 1/4 cup cheese on a tortilla, topping with 1/4 of the onion mixture, laying 1/4 of the chicken strips on top of that, topping with another 1/4 cup of cheese, and finally sandwiching it all with another tortilla on top. Assemble 4 huge quesadillas.

5. Carefully slide your quesadilla into the heated skillet. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Before flipping, spray the top tortilla lightly with non-stick cooking spray and immediately sprinkle with a little season salt. Flip it over and cook the other side for another 2-3 minutes until all the cheese is melted through. You can quickly spray the now-showing tortilla and sprinkle with more season salt, but be sure to flip it over and sear it really quick on the pan for added crispness.



How to pan-fry a chicken breast:

Chicken breast dries out easily, especially when it is boneless and skinless. But let's face it, that is what a lot of us are eating nowadays. When cooking chicken breast over a direct source of heat, like a skillet, it will help tremendously if the breast is of a more even thickness. I often just use the bottom of my hand, right where that nice big bone is that connects to your wrist, and pound my chicken breast with it until that big, thick end, is a more even thickness with the thinner side. You could also use a meat mallet, or other hard object. Once even, you can cook it over medium-high heat in olive oil as in the above recipe.

How do you know when your chicken breast is cooked through? Overcooking your breast leads to try, chewy meat. You could use a meat thermometer for perfect accuracy, cut into it and let all of the juices run out (drying it out in the process), or I like to just use the finger test. Press the thickest part of your breast with two fingers. If it is firm and springs back a little, it is most likely done. If you are new to the finger test, try it early on in the cooking process when you know it isn't done so you can feel the softness of the meat. You'll be able to feel the difference once it is cooked through.

Allow your breast to rest for at least 5 minutes before serving or cutting into it. During the resting process it will continue cooking and the juices will be evenly drawn back into the meat.

Ta-da! Enjoy your juicy chicken breast!


Friday, February 1, 2013

Baked Mexican Egg rolls with Cilantro-Lime Crema




I love egg rolls because you can put tons of different flavor combinations in them for any number of tasty surprises. I was invited to a party where each guest was supposed to bring a Mexican dish. Potluck Mexican food is not my forte and I wondered what I could bring to feed a crowd that was also a finger food. I decided to go for egg rolls and came up with this wonderful little creation. They are almost like little burritos filled with chorizo, chipotle peppers, refried beans, queso fresco, and cilantro. They were devoured quickly at the party! I baked mine both because it is a bit healthier, and because it held up better for the conditions of the party. These can easily be fried for what I'm sure is an even tastier treat. Let's face it, almost everything is better fried! These egg rolls can be frozen for later use. Simply pop them in the freezer after being filled and add 5 minutes to the baking time. Serve with this wonderful cilantro-lime crema sauce for an additional pop of flavor.


Ingredients

1 package of egg roll wrappers (24)
1 can refried beans
1 log of beef chorizo
1 onion, diced
1/2 can chipotle peppers, drained and chopped
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 block queso fresco, crumbled
2 cups shredded cabbage

1/2 cup crema (mexican sour cream)
1 lime, juiced
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1/4 tsp salt


Instructions

1. Saute chorizo over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes. Add in the oniones and saute for about 5 minutes more. Remove from pan and put in a mixing bowl.

2. Add the refried beans and chipotle peppers to the mixing bowl and stir to combine.

3. Layer your egg roll fillings onto your egg roll wrapper: cabbage, bean mixture, cheese, then cilantro. Roll (see cooking lesson below).

4. At this point you could deep fry them in hot oil. To bake: Line up filled egg rolls on a lightly greased baking sheet. Spray the tops with cooking spray. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes until they are nicely browned.

5. For the cilantro-lime crema, combine the crema, lime juice, cilantro and salt. Whisk to combine.



 How to fold an egg roll in one easy picture tutorial:


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