January 29, 2010

Lemon Drop Cupcakes

3/4 cup sour cream, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup lemon juice (about 1 large lemon's worth)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, at room temperature
zest of 2 large lemons

ethereal lemon frosting

Preheat oven to 350. Grease or line 12 wells in a cupcake pan. Whisk together the dry ingredients. Set aside. Mix together the oil, zest, sour cream, lemon juice and eggs. Slowly add the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly. Fill 2/3 of the way full. Bake for 15 minutes or until a toothpick in the center of the center cupcake comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack before icing.

My thoughts:
These are the best lemon cupcakes (or even cake) I've ever had. They strike the perfect balance between tart and sweet. I normally generally make butter based cupcakes but I decided to make these with oil because that give the cupcakes a lighter, fluffier more cake mix-like texture and since I was making these for a friend's party where some cake mix lovers might be lurking. Which isn't to say that these cupcakes taste like they came from a mix at all-no fake lemon flavor or chemicals here-but they do have a chiffon like texture that I find that people who are not used to denser, buttery homemade cupcakes prefer. They garnered rave reviews at the party. I loved them too, they had lots of bright lemony flavor that was perfect for a lighter cupcake.

January 27, 2010

Ethereal Lemon Frosting

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
4 egg whites
pinch salt
zest one lemon

yellow food coloring, if desired

In a medium saucepan, bring sugar, zest and lemon juice to a boil, stirring occasionally. Continue to boil until it reaches soft ball stage (when a drop of the syrup forms a soft ball when dropped in cool water) while continuing to stir occasionally. Meanwhile, beat the egg whites and salt to soft peaks. Keep the mixer running (you need a stand mixer or a friend to complete this next step) while you strain a continuous stream of the molten syrup into the egg whites. Add the food dye. Beat for about 5 minutes or until the frosting is fluffy, glossy and cool. Frost cooled cake.
My thoughts:
I love this frosting! Citrus is at its peak during the winter and I love taking advantage of that and making some really citrus packed recipes. This frosting is light and fluffy-almost marshmallowy- but has a strong, true lemon flavor. Sort of like a lemon meringue pie in frosting form. It is perfect on lemon cupcakes or even plain vanilla.

January 25, 2010

Spaghetti with Sopressata Sauce and Chicken Meatballs

for the meatballs:
1 lb ground chicken
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, grated
1/3 cup bread crumbs
1 tablespoon minced basil
1 tablespoon minced Italian parsley
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 egg

for the sauce:
1 onion, chopped
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 oz finely chopped thin cut sopressata
30 oz canned diced tomatoes
28 oz canned crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon minced Italian parsley
1 tablespoon minced basil
1 tablespoon minced oregano
1 tablespoon olive oil

to serve:
1 lb spaghetti, cooked to package instructions

Start the sauce first. Heat the olive oil in a medium sized saucepan. Add the sopressata, shallot, onion and garlic. Saute until the onions are softened. Add the remaining sauce ingredients. Cook, stirring occasionally.

In a medium sized bowl, add all of the meatball ingredients. With a gentle hand, combine all ingredients and form into 1 to 2 inch meatballs. Place on a (oiled or nonstick) broiler pan and broil for about 5 minutes or until just starting to brown. Add to the sauce. Continue to cook until the meatballs are fully cooked and most of the liquid has been cooked out of the sauce. Serve over hot spaghetti.

My thoughts:
My husband has a tendency to go a little crazy at our local Italian shop. For some reason, every time he picks up ingredients for panini, he overbuys the sopressata. It is a pretty strongly flavored sausage so you only need a couple of slices on a sandwich so we always end up with lots leftover. Sopressata is generally served in sandwiches or on crackers but we had so much of it, I didn't see any reason not to use in a pasta sauce. I hate to waste food and couldn't really see the point in buying new Italian meats to accompany it on still more sandwiches when I had some good Italian canned tomatoes and pasta in the cabinet. I noticed I had a pound of ground chicken in the fridge that was nearing the expiry date so the idea of a sopressata-tomato sauce with meatballs was born. I really liked how it came out; the sauce was rich and spicy. Chicken meatballs, while generally tasty, aren't always the most exciting thing in the world but when mixed with this sauce they really come alive. Using chicken also kept the dish from being overwhelmingly heavy despite the bits of sausage in the sauce. Beef would have been pushing it over the edge I think.

The leftovers were exceptional, both the pasta and the meatballs absorb some of the sauce and the whole thing reheats really well. I let it sit out about 15 minutes before reheating so the meatballs weren't quite so cold going in. Is there anything worse than mushy pasta and meatballs that are still cold inside?

January 22, 2010

Chipotle-Pomegrante Barbecue Sauce

1 shallot
1 clove garlic
2 chipotle chiles in adobo
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup pomegranate arils
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons mesquite liquid smoke
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt

Place all ingredients EXCEPT the arils into a blender. Plus until smooth. Pour into a small pan and simmer until slightly reduced. Stir in the arils.

My thoughts:
I came up with this recipe because I really wanted to make a barbecue sauce that featured an winter-appropriate ingredient. So many barbecue sauces seem so summery that they seem out of place in January. Pomegranates are only available here during the colder months and I like to pick some up whenever I see them. Their tangy tartness pairs wonderfully with meat, especially pork. I love this sauce on pulled pork sandwiches or in any recipe that calls for barbecue sauce. The texture isn't strictly traditional thanks to the arils but they provide a delicious burst of flavor.

January 20, 2010

Sweet Dumpling & Delicata Squash Chili

1 sweet dumpling squash, peeled and cubed
1 delicata squash, peeled and cubed
30 oz canned dark red kidney beans, drained
30 oz canned fire roasted diced tomatoes
2 oz rye (optional)
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 jalapeno peppers, diced
1 cubanelle pepper, diced
1 onion, chopped
1 shallot, minced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 jarred fire roasted pepper, minced
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon hickory liquid smoke
1 teaspoon hot paprika
1 teaspoon ground cayenne
1 teaspoon ground chipotle
1 teaspoon ground jalapeno
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon roasted ground cumin

Place all ingredients in 4 or 6 quart slow cooker and gently stir to evenly distribute the spices and squash. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. Stir prior to serving.

Yield: 8 servings

Note: I like to put the spices in the (covered) slow cooker overnight, chop up the onion, shallot, garlic, peppers, squash and celery and place them in an airtight container in the refrigerator overnight. For a vegetarian/vegan chili like this one I have been known to refrigerate the wetter ingredients like jarred pepper, tomatoes, beans, Worcestershire sauce, and liquid smoke in a separate container overnight as well. In the morning, I just have to stir everything together in the slow cooker and turn it on.

My thoughts:
It may be the dead of winter here in Baltimore and nothing is growing locally but it is still easy to find local squash in area stores. We actually have some that we had bought back around Halloween that is still perfectly fine, winter squash can be stored very successfully for months if kept in a cool, dry spot. Delicata and Sweet Dumpling squash both have a fine texture and relatively thin skin which makes them a perfect choice for chili; they are easy to peel and cube. They are also sweeter and milder than a lot of other winter squashes which make them a perfect foil for the spices.

January 18, 2010

Rachel's Ultimate Chicken Pot Pie

3 cups cubed, cooked chicken breast
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 3/4 cup milk
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup peeled, diced Klondike Goldust potatoes
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup peeled, cubed rutabaga
1/8 cup dried porcini mushrooms
2 carrots, cut into coins
2 stalks celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 parsnips, cut into coins
1 onion, diced
1 shallot, minced
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
1 tablespoon minced dill (or sage)
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
1 bay leaf
1 egg, beaten
freshly ground black pepper

puff pastry (if using defrosted frozen, you will only need one sheet)

Preheat oven to 350. Rehydrate the mushrooms in hot water. Drain, dice and set aside. Melt the butter in a large skillet with high sides, a large saucepan or a stove top and oven safe 2 quart casserole. Add the onion, garlic, shallot, celery, carrots, potatoes and rutabaga. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent. Stir in the flour and cook for one to two minutes. Add the milk, bay leaf, and stock. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid reduces and thickens a bit, about 10-15 minutes. Fish out the bay leaf. Add the chicken, mushrooms, peas, herbs and spices. Stir to evenly distribute all ingredients. Cook for 2 minutes. If you reduced the liquid too much and it now looks dry, add a bit of white wine or the water leftover from re-hydrating the mushrooms or broth to the mixture. Divide into 6 10 oz ramekins or pour into a 2 quart casserole dish. Leave only about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of room at the top.

Top with a layer of puff pastry. Pierce with a knife. Brush with egg. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbly.

My thoughts:
I never gave pot pies much thought until I had a really good one with puff pastry and a hint of truffle at a restuarant this winter. I liked the lack of a bottom crust and while there were not quite enough vegetables for my taste, it was saucy but not soupy or too rich.

After that meal, I kept the idea of making a puff pastry topped pot pie in the back of my mind. Roasters went on sale this week so I roasted one for dinner with an eye on having lots of leftovers so I could make a pot pie later in the week.

The leftover meat was really flavorful and juicy so I knew it would make a great pot pie. With such a simple dish, you really need to use flavorful ingredients to avoid blandness. I added a lot of fresh winter friendly vegetables to make it an even more encompassing one dish meal.

Using puff pastry makes the dish much quicker to make than using a traditional homemade pastry crust and I like the texture contrast between the flaky crust and the creamy filling. Matt chopped up the rutabaga, parsnip, onion, shallot, garlic, carrot and celery the night before and we refrigerated them overnight in an air tight container which really speed up the process when I went to actually make the dish. Of course I had already roasted, cubed and measured the chicken earlier in the week. I am glad I took the time to assemble the ingredients because I ended up with a totally delicious meal that required little effort. It really was the ultimate chicken pot pie.

Bonus recipe: my secret for easy, juicy roasted chicken. Preheat oven to 325. Rub a 5-8 lb roasting chicken with olive oil. Sprinkle liberally with Montreal Steak Seasoning (also available generically as "Canadian" Seasoning but I like McCormick's because you can buy it in very large shaker containers). Roast until the chicken is fully cooked. Allow the chicken to cool until it can be handled. Dust off most of the spices and discard the skin. Remove the meat. I like to cube it and store white and dark meat separately.

January 15, 2010

Spicy Herbed Breakfast Sausage

1 to 1 1/4 pound ground pork
1 shallot, grated
1 1/2 teaspoons sage
1 1/2 teaspoons thyme
1 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon crushed rosemary
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground mustard
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon allspice

Place all ingredients in a medium bowl. Mix thoroughly to combine. If you have the time, refrigerate the mixture for a bit or up to overnight. Form into small, flat patties. Cook in a nonstick skillet, turning once halfway through the cooking time. Cover briefly if your patties are rather thick to insure that they cook all the way through.

My thoughts:
It always amazes me how easy it is to make breakfast sausage patties that taste so much fresher and better than store bought. The spices are ones that most cooks would always have on hand and of course, ground pork is readily available. I like to stock up on ground pork (or grind my own) and freeze it in 1 lb portions for future use, it freezes really well and defrosts overnight in the refrigerator.

In this part of the country I find that sausage links are more popular (if you order sausage in a restuarant, links are almost always automatically served) but patties are much simpler (no casings!) to make at home and are just as tasty. I like to make the mixture and form it into patties the day before so I can just pop them in the skillet in the morning.

Note: Normally I wouldn't add sugar to a savory dish but in this instance, it really is needed. Leaving it out results in a patty that is more like a spicy burger than a breakfast sausage. The sugar is what makes it taste like it is for breakfast. Who knew?

January 13, 2010

Seafood Gumbo

1/4 cup butter OR bacon fat
1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning
2 teaspoons thyme
1 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon hot paprika
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 cubanelle peppers, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped
2 quarts seafood or chicken stock
4 andouille sausages, sliced into coins
1 lb okra, sliced into coins
1 lb peeled shrimp
1 lb catfish, cut into nuggets
1 lb shucked oysters (with liquid)

cooked white rice to serve
file powder, optional

Over medium heat, cook the flour, spices and butter/bacon fat together, whisking pretty often until it turns brown but doesn't burn. Add the onions, garlic and peppers and saute until starting to soften. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Add the sausage and okra. Cook for 30 minutes. Add the shrimp and catfish. Cook until they are almost cooked through then add the oysters in their liquid. Cook until the oysters are cooked through. Serve over rice.
My thoughts:
I have to say, I make pretty good Cajun food. When my husband brought home a bunch of seafood with an eye on making gumbo, he suggested I make the roux and take a more supervisory role for the rest. Fine with me! I make my roux over a lower heat than I've seen called for in cookbooks which makes the process much less fraught but yields the same results in just slightly more time. I also like to add the spices to the flour which makes them nice and toasty tasting. Beyond that I don't get too fancy; cubanelle peppers instead of bell (bell peppers are so insipid) and a jalapeno thrown in for extra spice. Since it is a month with an "r" in it, local oysters were a natural fit as was my favorite catfish. Rounding it out is shrimp but I bet crawfish or even (for an extra luxe touch) chunks of lobster would be great. This is my favorite kind of gumbo, homey and comforting but the seafood makes it seem special. It is also surprisingly quick to make which makes it a great choice for a weekday meal.

January 08, 2010

Homemade TV Dinner: Turkey with Cornbread Dressing, Peas & Sweet Potatoes

for the turkey & gravy
1 lb turkey breast cutlets (4 slices)
1 cup chicken or turkey stock
2 tablespoons white or rose wine (optional)
1 tablespoon butter PLUS some for the pan
1 tablespoon flour

for the dressing
1 1/2 cup crumbled cornbread
1 cup chicken or turkey stock
1/3 cup diced celery
1/3 cup diced onion
1 1/2 tablespoons sage
1 tablespoon butter

1 baked sweet potato, mashed
frozen peas (do not defrost)
4 pats cold butter

Preheat oven to 350. In a small skillet, melt the butter. Add the onions and celery and cook over low heat until the onions are soft and translucent but not browned. In a small bowl, mix together the onion and celery with the rest of the stuffing ingredients. Divide evenly between two plates. Spread until it creates a flat surface to place the turkey on.

In a nonstick skillet, quickly brown each cutlet on both sides in butter. The turkey does not have to be cooked all the way through. Place two cutlets over the stuffing on each plate in the largest well. Add the tablespoon of butter and flour and cook until it turns a nutty brown. Add the stock, spices and wine and cook, whisking occasionally, until it thickens and reduces a bit. Divide evenly over the turkey.

Fill the other two wells with frozen peas and mashed sweet potato. Cover tightly in foil and bake for 15 minutes or until the meal is piping hot and the turkey is cooked through. Top the sweet potato and peas with generous pats of butter.

Serves 2, easily doubled.

Notes: To save time, I baked the potato the day before I made the TV dinners and scooped it (still cold) into the well and then mashed it with a fork.

If you don't have an oven safe divided dish, any oven safe plate or even a pie plate would work. I used oven safe ceramic divided plates that I bought at Crate &a Barrel years ago. I found ones that look similar (identical?) for sale here.

My thoughts:
As I mentioned in my piece for the Kitchn about our New Year's Eve retro dinner and movie marathon, the 1950s were a wasteland when it came to home cooked food. There was a major push towards convenience cooking that was partially due to innovations on freezing and packaging techniques. It was just so modern to serve your family a frozen meal or shelf stable product, just think of all the time, fuss and mess you were saving yourself from! So this year, I decided to recreate some prefab products using real ingredients.

Swanson introduced the first truly successful complete frozen dinner and coined the term "TV dinner" in the early 1950s. The first dinner was turkey with turkey gravy, mashed sweet potatoes and peas. It was a huge success and was associated with a large print and television campaign. Other varieties soon followed but it wasn't until 1960 the four part divided tray (and dessert) was introduced.

Now, it has been some years since I've eaten a frozen meal but I have to say, this is much better than any frozen meal could hope to be; the homemade turkey, gravy and stuffing is simple but very flavorful. Perfect for a weeknight dinner in front of the TV.

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January 06, 2010

Monte Cristo Sandwiches

1 1/4 cup milk
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg

12 slices thin white sandwich bread, crusts removed
1/3 lb sliced smoked ham
1/3 lb sliced turkey
8 slices Swiss cheese
Dijon mustard

butter for the pan
berry jam
confectioners' sugar

Whisk together the batter ingredients. Set aside. Place four slices of bread on a clean surface. Spread a thin layer of mustard on each. Layer with a slice of Swiss and top with a few slices of turkey. Top with a slice of bread.

Spread with a thin layer of mustard, top with a few slices of ham and then top with a slice of cheese and the remaining slices of bread. Melt butter in a skillet. Pour the batter in a shallow bowl and dip each side of the sandwich in batter. Cook one at a time, covering briefly if needed to cook the sandwich through. Cook one side then carefully flip the sandwich using tongs and cook until golden. Use the tongs to hold the sandwich vertically and cook each side.

Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar and serve with jam to dip.

My thoughts:
No one seems sure exactly how or why Monte Cristo sandwiches got their name but it seems like they were the result of some club sandwich evolution crossed with the Croque Monsieur . They were first mentioned the Brown Derby Cookbook published in 1949 but they reached their national peak of popularity in the 1950s. Some restaurant chains deep fry their Monte Cristo sandwiches but early recipes call for pan frying in butter which is not only easier to do at home, is really tasty. Oddly, I wasn't able to find a authentic recipe that actually included a recipe for the batter (even the 1949 Brown Derby version just calls for dipping the sandwich in a "light egg batter") so I came up with a batter that was a little thinner than pancake batter but more substantial than dipping it in egg and milk as I would for French toast. Early recipes also call for buttering the bread on each side. I opted to use mustard instead which would hold the sandwich together as well as butter while cutting down a bit on the over the top richness. It also added a sharp flavor that was welcome.

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January 04, 2010

Retro Ranch Dressing

1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon minced parsley
2 teaspoons minced chives
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons minced dill
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder

Whisk together all ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour before serving or overnight.

My thoughts:
Every year we have a decade themed movie marathon and eat food that was either introduced during that decade or that was very popular. You can read more about it here. This year we watched movies from the 1950s so I made '50s food. Normally I only make snacks and dinner but this year my husband took off work and I made a '50s lunch to eat while we watched The Blob. Ranch dressing is one of the (food) inventions of the 1950s that remains the most popular today. A variation on classic buttermilk dressings, the dressing was very popular with diners at Steve and Gayle Henson's California dude ranch during the 1950s. It became so popular, the ranch stopped making any other kinds of salad dressing for their guests. The owners of the ranch eventually started selling a herb mix so their customers could make the dressing at home by simply adding buttermilk and mayo. The couple sold their company in 1972 and since then, the dressing has evolved to the shelf stable bottles and add just add milk dry mixes sold today. While the store bought stuff is convenient, as is true with so many packaged foods, the homemade version is so much tastier! Luckily it only takes a few minutes make and keeps for up to a week in the refrigerator. I love the fresh taste it gets from the mix of spices and herbs and how creamy it tastes even if made with lighter mayonnaise and low fat buttermilk.