Saturday, January 30, 2010

Grilled Baby Pizzas - or (like Mario), say Pizzameobas!

I'm pretty serious about kids in the kitchen. I teach mine the real stuff - how to use a knife, how flour works, why yeast makes things rise - but I'm also very careful. I have a strip of painter's tape across the floor - that's the Zone. If they just don't need to be there, I tell them to step out of the Zone. This is certainly a case of Kids in the Zone. Once the elements are together - get them in it. Depending on their ages and maturity level, they can work their own pizza doughs, throw it on the grill, put together their toppings - whatever they are old enough for - you make the adult call. But I love this combo - each element is simple and easy, the pizzas are fresh and delicious, and the kids are all happy! What's not to love?

See Blog entries for Perfect Pizza Sauce and Pizza Dough

1 recipe Pizza Dough
1 recipe Perfect Pizza Sauce
1 lb mozzarella cheese, grated
Several large sprigs of fresh basil, picked but with the leaves whole
Any toppings you wish - we stick to classic Pizza Margarita most of the time, but I'm not above smacking some pig on that pizza. Pepperoni, sausage, olives, onion, peppers - just keep the toppings sparse, and you're Golden. If they're too heavy, you've got Deep Dish Chicago Style - lovely in itself - but not suited for this.

  1. I divide the Pizza Dough recipe into six pieces - I have four kids, and one is 12 - so four of us get one each, and the 12 year old gets two. That recipe doubles easily - so make a second batch if you need to. If you break out the rolling pin, and roll each piece to about 1/4 inch, you'll get crispy, thin crust pizzas. If you smack it out by hand you'll get chewier, thicker crusts. Either way you'll get 'amoebas'. Love it.
  2. Stick each pizza crust on a hot grill - 400F to 450F. Let it cook for two minutes, or until you see bubbles form and the edges puff. Flip the dough and cook another two minutes. The dough at this point should be firm enough to handle toppings. 
  3. Pull off the grill. Top with sauce, mozzarella cheese to your liking, and a few torn basil leaves. 
  4. Put back on the grill. Turn temperature to low, or put on the slow part of a charcoal grill. Close the lid, and give the pizzas about five-six minutes, or until cheese melts.
  5. About halfway through, give each pizza a sprinkle of Parmesan, and close the grill lid again. This should satisfy your urge to open the grill to check. Don't do it again - if you really have a slow/low grill, you're OK. Leave it.
  6. At the end of the five minutes - check. You should have melted cheese and crispy edges. If not - give it another minute.
  7. That's it - serve it immediately. If you're at my house - the kiddos will be lined up at the grill with their plates looking like Charles Dicken's characters.

Perfect Pizza Sauce

4-5 cloves of garlic, minced very finely
1 tsp olive oil
1 29 oz can tomato sauce
1 6 oz can tomato paste
1 Tbl dried basil
1 tsp salt, grey salt if you have it
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

  1. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and saute until fragrant, about two minutes.
  2. Add remaining ingredients, bring to a bare simmer and allow to cook for 20 minutes. Stir frequently - tomatoes contain a lot of natural sugars and it will scorch if the heat is too high or if it's not stirred.
  3. Remove from heat, and allow to cool at least slightly before use. Or cover, and keep in the fridge for about a week.
See blog entries also for Grilled Baby Pizzas, Pizzamoebas and Pizza Dough. This recipe makes enough for two each of those.

Pizza Dough

1 cup warm water
1 Tbl or 1 packet dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus a bit more for oiling the bowl
3 cups flour (this might take a bit more or a bit less)
2 tsp salt, grey salt if you have it

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, stir together yeast, warm water and sugar. Allow to proof (that means sit!) for about 5-10 minutes. You should be able to smell the yeast.
  2. Add the olive oil, flour and salt. With the dough hook, mix for a minute or two. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and mix another minute. Look at the texture - if the dough looks wet, add a little more flour - 1/4 cup at a time and continue mixing. Don't forget to keep the bowl scraped down.
  3. Once the dough comes together, knead with the dough hook for about six-seven minutes. Dough should be very smooth and very elastic, and the bowl should look nearly clean. 
  4. Hold the dough in one hand, and add about a teaspoon or two of olive oil to the boil. Put the dough back in the bowl, turning it to oil all sides. Cover the bowl with a clean towel, and set in a warm spot for about 45 minutes to an hour, or until doubled in size.
  5. Punch down dough, and roll out to desired size. This makes a pretty big pizza - or my preference - cut dough into six pieces, roll into small circles and grill.
If you make the smaller ones, roll them pretty flat for a thin crust that gets lovely and crispy on the grill. or simply smack it flat for a thicker, chewier crust.
    Also see blog posts for Perfect Pizza Sauce and Grilled Baby Pizzas

    Egg Salad

    I make lunch for my brothers and dad several times a week. My dad has finally learned to make requests - this one was one of his first. I hadn't even thought about egg salad in years - since my granny made it when I was little. It took a little tinkering - but this is very close to hers, if not an exact copy. This makes a very small batch - I think it's best when it's had an hour to chill, but no longer than a few hours old. If you pop this on toasted bread with a slice or two of bacon you'll be anybody's favorite.

    4 lg 7 minute eggs (hard boiled), cooled and chopped
    1/3 cup mayo
    1 tsp spicy brown mustard
    1/4 cup celery, minced
    2 green onions, minced
    pinch garlic salt
    1 1/2 tsp fresh parsley, minced
    1/2 tsp salt
    freshly cracked black pepper
    dash hot sauce (optional)

    1. Stir together all ingredients except eggs until well blended.
    2. Add eggs and blend carefully - you don't want to break up the eggs too much or you'll have mush.
    3. Chill for an hour to let the flavors blend. Serve on toasted bread - whole wheat is nice. Garnish with chives, parsley - or bacon!

    Creamy Sherried Mushroom Bisque

    This is cream of mushroom soup of mythic stature. Bisques are traditionally creamy and seafood based - broths that are created from the shells of lobster, shrimp or crawdads - which extracts every speck of flavor and results in a soup that seems to be the essence of the shellfish.

    That's what this did - and I think the idea could be translated to other things as well. I use nearly the same technique for the Cream of Broccoli my middle son asks for all the time. This is thick and satisfying - and easy - enough to make for comfort on a cold day. But it's also something that could easily dress up for company.

    1 lb assorted mushrooms, (I used button and crimini) cleaned and sliced*
    1 small yellow onion, diced
    1 tsp bacon fat
    1 qt chicken broth
    5-6 sprigs of fresh thyme
    1 bay leaf
    2 tsp salt
    1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
    1 cup heavy cream

    For the garnish: (optional)
    Reserve 3-4 mushrooms, sliced
    1 tsp olive oil
    1 tsp butter

    1. In a large Dutch oven, heat the bacon fat, and add onion. Saute about five minutes, or until beginning to soften and fragrant. Add mushrooms, and saute another two or three minutes. 
    2. Add broth, thyme, bay and salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered and stirring occasionally for an hour. The broth will reduce by about half. 
    3. If you wish to make the toasted mushrooms for the garnish, heat butter and olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. When butter is foamy, add a few sliced mushrooms. Do not let them touch. Cook on one side for five minutes or so, until the mushroom is golden brown and toasted. Turn once, and cook the second side. Work in batches so as not to crowd the pan or the mushrooms will not get the beautiful golden crust. As they finish, set them aside, and repeat until the little batch is finished.
    4. When the broth is reduced, add heavy cream. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Allow bisque to heat through, but don't allow it to boil at this point.
    5. To serve, ladle into bowls, and top with a few of the toasted mushrooms.

    *Don't ever wash fresh mushrooms in water. Mushrooms that you'll find in the grocery store are cultivated in a sterile medium - not the stuff of legend. Mushrooms are like sponges - which is nice because they soak up whatever flavors you put with them. But they'll also soak up water if you wash them. So simply dampen a paper towel and give them the brush off.

    Orange Chicken

    This is one of those ubiquitous Chinese restaurant dishes. I think that there may be a federal law somewhere that American Chinese restaurants have to have an Orange Chicken on the menu. 

    It's also one of those things that when it's good it's terrific. And when it's bad it's just plain nasty. I don't like nasty. Makes my children say "ewwww yuck" and then they're in trouble.

    What you're really after - with several American Chinese dishes - is the sauce. I imagine some restaurants have vats of crispy chicken sitting around, which are sauced differently depending on the dish you order. The chicken here is the same one used for Sweet and Sour Chicken, and for General Tso's get the picture. It's also the same technique you use for pork or shrimp, and a few beef dishes. It's the sauce that makes the difference. You can make the chicken ahead if you like - it reheats in the sauce. Get the technique down and you're Bombshell.

    This looks like a ton of ingredients - don't be daunted. It's three steps, true. But once you've got your three elements together, it's like many Asian dishes.  It comes together in moments.

    Finally - traditional Orange Chicken doesn't have veggies - I added them for a couple of reasons. It's a great way to stretch the dish. I also take any chance I get to sneak veggies into my kids - especially ones that are 'masked'. It helps them get used to the flavor when they wouldn't otherwise be thrilled. Feel free to leave the onion and pepper out - but frankly, I think it's a lovely addition.

    Crispy Chicken:

    2 lbs chicken - white or dark, your choice, cubed
    1 egg
    1 Tbl salt
    1 tsp black pepper
    1/2 cup cornstarch
    1/3 cup flour
    oil for frying - about a cup


    1 1/2 Tbl ginger, minced
    2 tsp garlic, minced
    1/2 tsp hot chili*
    1 yellow onion, sliced thinly
    1 medium green bell pepper, sliced thinly
    1 Tbl rice wine vinegar
    1/4 cup sake or white wine 
    1 Tbl sesame oil

    1 1/2 Tbl soy sauce
    2 Tbl water
    1/4 cup sugar
    1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
    1 Tbl cornstarch
    zest of 1 small orange 
    garnish - the segmented orange, sliced green onion, cilantro leaves

    1. Make the chicken:heat oil to 350F. 
    2. In a small bowl, toss the chicken with the salt and pepper. Dredge in the egg, then the flour.
    3. Fry a few pieces at a time until crispy, but be careful not to overcook. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate and set aside.
    4. Mix together all the ingredients of the sauce, and set aside.
    5. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet or wok over medium high heat. Add sliced onion, bell pepper, garlic and ginger. Stir fry for a couple of minutes, or just until the vegetables barely begin to soften. You want them to still have some crispness in the final dish, so don't overcook them here. Add chili, rice wine vinegar, sake and sesame oil. Stir fry just one more minute.
    6. Add chicken back to the skillet and toss well to combine with the vegetables. 
    7. Whisk the sauce well, and add to skillet. It will thicken and turn glossy as soon as it begins to simmer. Remove from heat and serve immediately (or the chicken will get soggy and that's not luscious).

    *Use Thai chili powder if possible, or a couple of fresh Thai chilies. Or a dash of cayenne and a pinch of red pepper flakes. The trick is to get a touch of heat without interfering with the flavor base of the orange sauce. As always, feel free to leave the heat out entirely as well.

    Larb Gai - Spicy Chicken with Lime

     I first encountered this dish at Surin West, in Birmingham, Alabama. Someone had to talk me into trying it - I was new to Thai food, and the description just didn't catch my attention. I owe her a huge favor - this is an incredible blend of flavors. Lime, chili and mint - dang. It's just good. I love it with fresh cabbage - the way I first had it. Everywhere else I've tried it, it's served with dark lettuces - red leaf or green leaf. My preference is the cabbage - such a lovely crunch against the softer filling.

    You can also do this with finely sliced flank steak, or with ground pork. I think this would be delicious made with used tires. Don't be intimidated by the roasted rice powder thing - it's easier than it looks, and it really makes a difference in the dish.

    2 Tbl roasted rice powder OR
    1/3 cup raw rice
    1 1/2 lb ground chicken
    1/2 cup red onion, thinly sliced

    1/2 tsp hot chili powder*
    1 1/2 Tbl fish sauce
    1/3 cup fresh lime juice
    1 tsp lime zest
    2 Tbl green onions, including tops, sliced
    3 Tbl mint leaves (leave them whole)
    1 Tbl olive oil
    Fresh cabbage or lettuce 

    1. To make the rice powder, heat a dry skillet over medium heat. Add the raw rice, and simply toast it, stirring frequently, until it's dark brown (but not burned!) and very fragrant. Dump it in a food processor and process until you have a coarse powder. It should smell very nutty and 'ricey'.
    2. Add oil to the skillet or wok, and over medium high heat, saute chicken, breaking it up into the smallest possible pieces. Cook only until just barely done. Remove to a platter and reserve. 
    3. To the same hot skillet, add red onion, fish sauce, lime juice and zest, and chili powder. Saute very briefly, just to very slightly soften the onion. Add chicken back to the pan with any collected juices. Stir well to combine. Bring the chicken back up to temperature, and cook for just another minute or two. The mixture should be incredibly fragrant. 
    4. Pull from the heat, and mix in green onions and the fresh mint leaves. Transfer to a platter.
    5. Serve this with fresh cabbage or lettuce for wrapping up spoonfuls of the larb gai. Mmmmm....

    *If you have it or can get it, try the Thai red chili powder. It's fabulous. If you don't or can't get it, use a dash of cayenne pepper, and a couple of pinches of crushed red pepper flakes. Or mince a little jalapeno into it. I've done all three. Or if you don't want heat leave it out entirely. The flavor of this dish pops either way.

    Green Eville Chili

    I love chili - all kinds. It's hard to get a bad bowl of chili. At the same time - it's not always easy to get a great bowl of chili. I have two or three kinds of red chili that I make - and they're all good. But it's only recently that I began playing around with the other colors - mainly white and green. My friend Shane made a comment a few weeks ago about a GreenEville chili - playing on the name of our hometown and wanting some Evil heat. This one doesn't have the heat (unless you pop in the optional peppers), but I wanted to go running out in the street with this stuff, just to show it off. It's amazing. It tastes like a fajita in a bowl - and that can only be good. I mean - wow. The coolest thing about this chili is that even with no heat - the way I made it here - it's just fabulous. And the heat is easy to adjust to your preference, while keeping the great flavor.

    1 lb pork loin, cubed
    1 15 oz can navy beans, drained and rinsed
    1 15 oz can pigeon peas, drained and rinsed
    16 oz jar green taco sauce, or salsa verde*
    1 bell pepper, diced
    1 large yellow onion, diced
    2 anaheim peppers, diced and seeded
    2 jalapenos, seeded and minced (this is VERY optional)**
    1 1.12 oz package fajita seasoning
    1 can tomatillos, chopped
    3-4 cloves garlic, minced
    1/4 cup fresh lime juice
    1/4 cup fresh cilantro, minced
    2-3 cups chicken broth
    1 Tbl olive oil
    Sour cream
    1. In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, saute the pork until just barely beginning to brown. Add onion, garlic and diced peppers. Cook for about five minutes, or until vegetables are beginning to release fragrance, but are still crisp.
    2. Add tomatillos, navy beans and pigeon peas. Add enough chicken broth to the pot to just cover everything and bring to a simmer.
    3. Add fajita seasoning, stir well. Cover pot and allow to simmer for about 1/2 hour.
    4. Add lime juice and cilantro, and stir well. Serve with a dab of sour cream. I also served it with a fresh tortillas and some Spanish rice I smacked out - quick and yummy.

    *You can get this stuff in mild, medium and hot, just like the more traditional salsa. Which one you choose is up to you - I used mild, and even my Dad and five year old loved it.
    ** Use less or none if you don't want heat. Or do what I often do in my house - since I have both heat-haters and heat-chasers. Put all ingredients in the pot and stir to combine. The divide the batch in two. Keep one mild, and add the jalapenos to the second. Simmer both batches as normal. Just don't mix them up and everybody is happy!

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010

    Mongolian Beef

    My two older boys adore Mongolian Beef - it's also one of the things that Ricky craved when he went through chemo. I had to learn how to make it - picking up 4-6 orders a day for a month just wasn't in the budget.

    I came up with a pretty good approximation - at least according to my perfect oldest son. ;-)

    1 1/2 lbs flank steak

    1/2 cup sake or dry white wine, divided

    3/4 cup soy sauce, divided

    4 Tbl cornstarch, divided

    3 Tbl sesame oil

    2 Tbl black vinegar

    1/3 cup chicken broth

    1/2 can bamboo shoots, sliced

    1 can water chestnuts, sliced

    1 bell pepper, diced

    1 large yellow onion, sliced thin

    2 Tbl grated ginger

    3 cloves garlic, minced

    2/3 cup brown sugar

    1 Tbl olive oil

    Siracha to taste 

    2 thinly sliced green onions

    2 Tbl minced cilantro

    1. Slice beef thinly, making sure to go against the grain. Usually this means starting at the narrower end.
    2. Make the marinade for the beef by combining 1/4 cup sake, 1/4 cup soy sauce, and 1 Tbl cornstarch. Pour over sliced beef and toss to coat. Stash beef in the fridge for 1/2 hour.
    3. In a small mixing bowl or measuring cup, make the sauce by whisking together remaining sake, soy sauce, cornstarch, sesame oil, black vinegar, remaining broth and brown sugar. Set aside.
    4. In a large skillet or wok over medium high heat, stir fry beef in half the olive oil until just barely done, about 5 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
    5. To the hot skillet, add olive oil, and saute pepper and onion for about 3 minutes, or just until they begin to release their fragrance. Add ginger and garlic, and stir fry another 2-3 minutes. Toss in the bamboo shoots and water chestnuts, and saute just until hot through. Return beef to the pan, and again saute just until hot through.
    6. Whisk together sauce ingredients again immediately before use, as the cornstarch settles. Pour sauce over beef mixture in pan, and bring just to a simmer. Sauce will thicken and turn glossy. Top with green onion and cilantro. Serve immediately.

        Sweet and Sour Cucumber Salad

        There was a restaurant in Seattle called Wild Ginger - that is where I first encountered a sweet, sour and spicy pickle. They were served at the satay bar, and the flavor complimented the savory foods so well. I fell in love - and had to try to mimic it. When I make this for my dad I skip the red pepper entirely, otherwise I pop it in. Allow it to marinate for at least an hour, and it's Bombshell. This one is extremely fast, very simple, and flat out delicious.

        3 large cucumbers, partially peeled, thinly sliced on the bias
        1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
        1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
        3 Tbl sugar
        1/4-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes - optional
        1 tsp soy sauce
        1 Tbl fresh cilantro, mined

        1. Whisk together sugar, vinegar, red pepper and soy sauce. Whisk well to combine. Pour dressing over remaining ingredients, and chill well before serving.

        Scotch Eggs

        The idea behind Scotch eggs makes me insane. Apparently it's the ultimate Scottish pub food. Daggone. It should be. Hard boiled eggs wrapped in sausage, breaded and deep fried. An Evil Culinary Genius came up with that.
        Since I live in East Tennessee, and this area was settled by a bunch of Scots-Irish - no wonder we share the tendency to drop any dang thing we come across into a deep fryer. Preferably with pig involved.
        I screwed up about forty nine thousand of these before I got the 'tricks' down. Once I figured those out - it's easy as all get out. But you do have to follow some rules. What you end up with is amazing - crunchy/crisp on the outside, and inside is a creamy, buttery tasting egg with a perfect yolk. Wow. Granted - you won't eat these every day. Think of them as the ultimate food for the big game - so maybe once a year. But you WILL look forward to that day ---
        I'm leaving the directions 'loose'. This is more a technique than a recipe. That way you make 2 - or 2000.
        Soft boiled eggs - I found a 4 minute egg to be perfect for the finished product
        Loose sausage - I got mine from our local butcher 
        panko bread crumbs
        oil for frying - deep enough to cover egg completely

        Preheat oil to 350F.
        For each egg - soft boil an egg. Bring water to a hard simmer, submerge a room temperature egg for exactly four minutes, then pull it and let it cool back to room temperature. Carefully peel egg - it will be soft and squishy because the yolk is not set. This is a good thing, although you'll have to be delicate. If I can you can - I'm the biggest klutz on earth and I did it. Just think about handling something exquisitely fragile.
        Starting with about 1/4 cup or so of sausage, form the thinnest layer possible, packing it tightly around the egg. I said tightly, but remember the yolk is not set - so it is easy to 'pop' the egg at this point. Maybe firmly is a better word - delicate yet firm. Like handling a kid. 
        Cover the egg completely with the sausage, working carefully. Once no egg white is visible, roll egg in panko, patting the panko into the sausage. 
        Drop panko covered egg into hot oil. I literally timed 8-9 to get mine just right. I gave each thinly covered-breaded egg exactly five minutes. This allowed the panko to develop the loveliest crust, while cooking the sausage through perfectly, yet not messing up the beautifully soft yolk in the center. If you need to,  if your eggs just aren't cooking correctly - preheat your oven to 350F, and pop your fried eggs into the hot oven - straight from the fryer - for about ten minutes to finish. Or if you're obsessed like I am, tinker with your time until the egg comes out perfectly crispy outside, with the sausage done completely and the egg still lovely, buttery and the yolk soft.
        Frankly - my picture isn't enough. This is the epitome of dishes that define my food philosophy. I'd rather have one every six months to a year and have it perfect, than have one every day and have it mediocre. 

        Tuesday, January 26, 2010

        Black Pepper/Parmesan Biscuits

        Black pepper is dynamite. Only do this is if you can use freshly cracked black pepper. I use a good bit - a teaspoon for this amount of dough is a lot. Frankly I think it could go more - but feel free to use half as much if you need to.

        1 cup baking mix
        1/2 cup buttermilk
        1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
        1/2 cup Parmesan
        1/4 tsp garlic powder
        pinch of salt
        2 Tbl melted butter

        1. Preheat oven to 400F.
        2. Mix all ingredients together just until combined and dough is moist. I use a 2 Tbl size ice-cream scoop to drop the biscuits onto a buttered baking sheet. This makes 12 perfectly sized little biscuits. Brush the tops of the biscuits lightly with melted butter.
        3. Bake for 14 minutes, or just until beginning to get golden on top. Brush again with melted butter as soon as they come out, and serve warm.

        Chicken with Green Goddess Aioli

        Anybody else remember the Green Goddess dressing thingy from the 70's? Or the version served for years here in Greeneville at Augustino's?   I do - I loved the name of the dressing when I was little, although I honestly don't remember eating it.   I know my mom made it though - and I wanted to be a goddess. My favorite color was and is green. So there.

        My dad mentioned it to me last summer - and I played around until I came up with this version. I have had a few bottled versions over the years - and found them all bland and tasteless.  Frankly it's quicker, easier, tastier and cheaper to make it at home.

        Strangely enough, Daddy can barely handle black pepper, but he doesn't seem to think anything ever has too much garlic. This one is heavy on the garlic - but feel free to cut it down to suit your taste.

        3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
        1 cup panko bread crumbs
        1 cup buttermilk
        3 Tbl SOS, divided (see blog entry for SOS)
        1 1/2 Tb olive oil

        1 cup Mayo - (homemade or not)
        1/2 cup sour cream
        1 tsp lemon juice

        2 cloves garlic, minced
        3 Tbl chives, minced
        1/4 cup parsley, minced
        salt and pepper to taste

        1. Put half the SOS in a small mixing bowl with buttermilk. Add chicken pieces, and mix well. Refrigerate for at least 1/2 hour or up to overnight.
        2. In the meantime, in the bowl of a food processor or a blender, combine all the ingredients for Green Goddess dressing, and process until well combined. Refrigerate until needed. 
        3. Put remainder of SOS in a pie plate or flat dish with panko breadcrumbs and mix well. Drain chicken from buttermilk, shaking excess off. Dip in panko, coating well, and place on a rack to dry for a few minutes. This allows the crust to set.
        4. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. When hot, pan fry chicken. Work in batches so you don't crowd the pan - you want a nice crispy crust. These should only take about four minutes per side. 
        5. Serve with the Green Goddess dressing! That's it!

        Monday, January 25, 2010

        Fastest Tomato Soup in the South

        This came about because I screwed something up. I normally buy diced tomatoes in the monster 6 lb cans - and I grabbed tomato sauce by mistake. So I had acres of it to use up. I'm glad! This is lovely - and takes only a couple of minutes to throw together. And my children - who normally despise most things tomato if it's not on spaghetti - loved it. It's pretty, rich and very, very satisfying.

        3 large cans tomato sauce
        1/2 box chicken broth
        1 medium yellow onion, diced
        2 cloves garlic, minced
        1 1/5 tsp kosher salt
        1 Tbl Italian seasoning
        3 large sprigs of fresh thyme
        freshly cracked black pepper to taste
        1/2 cup heavy cream
        sour cream, freshly minced parsley and basil to garnish
        2 tsp olive oil

        1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and saute for 5 minutes, or until fragrant and translucent.
        2. Add tomato sauce, chicken broth, salt, Italian seasoning, thyme and pepper. Bring to a bare simmer, and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes, for flavors to meld.
        3. Add cream to pot, serve well and serve.
        4. Dollop with sour cream, parsley, and basil. 

        Sunday, January 24, 2010

        Steak au Poivre

        4 6-8 oz filets, or 4 12 oz ribeyes - something nice
        1/4 cup peppercorns, black or black with pink and green
        1 1 shot bottle of cognac, or 1/4 cup, divided
        1 cup heavy cream
        1 Tbl butter
        1 Tbl olive oil

        1. Place the peppercorns in a plastic bag, and crack them well with a mallet, or the bottom of a cast iron skillet. A rolling pin works too. If all you have is black peppercorns, that's great - it's yummy. But if you have a mix of different kinds of peppercorns, give it a try. It's great both ways.
        2. Place the cracked peppercorns in a pie plate, and press both sides of each steak into the pepper. You have to love pepper to love this dish - but you don't want a two inch thick layer of pepper on each side of the steak. On the other hand, Poivre means pepper - and you'll be surprised at how mild that much pepper is. So give each side of each steak a good layer and then press the peppercorns into the meat and set aside while you prep your pan. See the video on Steak au Poivre for step by step instructions.
        3. Over medium to medium high heat, heat olive oil and butter, just until the butter barely begins to color.
        4. Add steaks to hot pan - being careful not to crowd the pan. The steaks need clearance on all sides - for two reasons. You don't want to drop the temperature of your pan too much by adding too much cooler food to it at once. Neither do you want the food too close together, otherwise you'll steam your steaks. Ewwwww. You want the crust the higher heat will produce. If you have to do two batches - do it.
        5. Cook the steaks for 3-5 minutes per side - depending on how thick they are. In the video mine were about 3/4 of an inch thick, and it was three minutes per side. Flip them once and only once, then don't touch!
        6. When the second side has cooked, remove the steaks to a plate, cover with foil, and pretend they don't exist while you make your sauce.
        7. Turn the heat on the pan down just a bit - to medium. Pull the pan off the heat. Add all but 1 Tbl of the cognac to the pan, and with a long match flame the pan (I use a torch). When the flame subsides, add the cream, stirring well to get the fond (crusty brown stuff) up off the bottom of the pan. Bring the sauce to a simmer, and allow it to reduce by about half, stirring occasionally. It will thicken beautifully. When it will cling to the back of a spoon - it's ready. Add the last little bit of cognac to the sauce and stir to combine.
        8. Add the steaks and any juices collected on the plate to the sauce, turning to coat, then transfer to serving plates. Top each steak with a few spoonfuls of the sauce, or pass it at the table.Or pretend there isn't any more and drink it all yourself.

          Blueberry Stickies - Sweet Rolls or Buns

          Check out the blog entry for Almost The Club Orange Rolls. This is a variation that I developed from the basic sour cream sweet dough. Living in the Pacific Northwest for years, I literally had all the blueberries I could handle. I used to make this with fresh berries, and make my own blueberry syrup for the glaze.

          Here in East Tennessee a single blueberry costs approximately the same as a gallon of gasoline. I still have a blueberry fetish though. Enter canned pie filling. And y'all have to admit - that stuff just tastes good. My middle son requests it as a treat and will eat it plain with a spoon. Not that I would ever do something like that. You’ll end up with a lot of glaze – you could make half this amount if you wanted to. Or you could pour it over pancakes, French toast, a biscuit, dab it behind your ears….you know.

          When I was little, the lady who worked as a cook for my grandparents would make a cinnamon 'sticky' from leftover biscuit dough. This reminds me of those stickies - with a twist. So these are Blueberry Stickies!

          2 1/2 Tbl yeast - approximately 1 envelope
          1/3 cup warm water
          1 cup sour cream
          1 cup sugar, divided
          2 eggs
          1 pinch salt
          4 cups all purpose flour
          1 stick butter, melted and divided
          1 can of blueberry pie filling, drained, but syrup reserved
          Zest from 1 large lemon
          1 cup confectioners sugar
          1 large lemon, juiced and zested
          2 cups of confectioner's sugar

          1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, put the yeast and warm water. Stir to combine and allow yeast to proof (sit) for a couple of minutes. Add 1/2 of the melted butter, sour cream, 1/2 cup of the sugar, eggs and salt. Add flour and mix well - you'll have a very soft dough - it'll be a little sticky.
          2. Oil the inside of a large mixing bowl. Turn the dough out into this bowl, turning to oil all of it. Set it in a warm place, cover with a tea towel and allow to rise. Give it about an 1.5 to 2 hours - it will not quite double in size.
          3. When dough has risen, mix together remaining butter, sugar, drained blueberries and lemon zest.
          4. Preheat oven to 275F. Punch down dough. Turn onto a lightly floured surface. Knead 8-10 times until very smooth. Divide into four equal portions. Roll out each section until very thin, trying to keep as much to a rectangle as possible. Dough should be a lovely soft stretchy texture. When about 1/4 of an inch thick, spread a thin layer of the blueberry mixture evenly over the surface.
          5. Starting at one shorter end, roll the dough up jelly-roll style. Cut each roll into 1 inch pieces. Place on a greased cookie sheet, or on a Silpat. Allow to rest for about 15 minutes.
          6. Bake rolls for about 20 minutes. You only want the faintest hint of golden - this is not a time when golden brown means yummy. These are very light and delicate.
          7. Let rolls cool for just a couple of minutes, then drizzle with the glaze. They're great cold, but warm they are heavenly.

          Crispy Potato Pancakes with Sour Cream

          No kidding - this is the first recipe I ever developed on my own. I was 7. That's how early my food obsession began.

          I can't begin to tell you what I was thinking when I came up with this; that was a looooong time ago. But I have made them for years and years - and constantly get requests to make them again. There are several dishes that these pancakes aren't quite - hashbrowns, German pancakes, latkes. These are none of them.   Crunchy outside, soft inside, sour cream on top - what they ARE is just plain good. You can even throw leftovers in the toaster oven for a minute and they're good all over again.

          4-5 large russet potatoes, skin on, grated
          1 medium yellow onion, grated
          1 egg, beaten slightly
          3 Tbl flour
          2 Tbl SOS (see blog entry for SOS)
          oil for frying
          Sour cream to top the pancakes

          1. In a large skillet, heat oil to the depth of about 1/4 of an inch over medium high heat.
          2.  In a large mixing bowl combine first five ingredients and mix very well. Using approximately 1/4 cup drop large spoonfuls of the potato mixture into the hot oil and pat the potato until it forms a little patty, and it's rather flat. Mine always seem to be much more oval than round - but nobody cares. Repeat until your pan is full - 3-4 pancakes at a time. Don't overcrowd your pan.
          3. Fry on the first side until you can see the potato bits at the edges of the pancake turning a rich golden brown. Depending on the heat of your oil, the size of your pan and the size of your pancake this could be five-ten minutes. Flip and give the second side about five minutes - again - golden brown and beautiful is what you're looking for - so however long that takes in your world.
          4. Repeat until you've worked through the entire batch. When each pancake comes out, transfer it to a rack or paper towel lined plate, then to a warm platter in a slow (125F) oven.
          5. To serve, top each pancake with a dab of sour cream.

          Two Good Bluberry Pancakes with Maple Butter

          Blueberry pancakes are just the yummiest thing. That's all there is to it.

          When I started working on a recipe for them, I kept coming up with great pancakes, but frankly they were way too involved for a busy morning. I have children to get out the door by 7:00 - much as I love to cook, I am just not going to be whipping egg whites to fold into anything at that time of day; I don't care how good they are.

          What I need (and what I often do) is a simple recipe that's easy to remember, just like the roll dough I like to use for lots of things (see blog entry for 123 Rolls). I played with this until it was all '2s', except for the melted butter, and even that has a 2 in it. So here it is - fast, easy and luscious homemade blueberry pancakes.

          2 cups flour
          2 tsp baking soda, scant
          2 tsp baking powder, scant
          pinch of salt
          2 cups buttermilk
          2 eggs
          1/2 stick melted butter
          extra butter for brushing the griddle
          2 cups blueberries - frozen are just fine


          1 cup maple syrup - try the real thing - it's amazing
          1/2 stick butter
          1/2 cup blueberries

          1. Preheat a griddle or large non-stick skillet to medium high. I use an electric griddle set to 350F.
          2. In a large mixing bowl whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt until well combined. 
          3. In a liquid measuring cup melt 1/2 stick butter in microwave. Add 1 cup buttermilk, and crack the egg into the butter/buttermilk mixture. Whisk to combine.
          4. Add buttermilk mixture to flour and whisk well. You don't want to overmix it or your pancakes won't be light and fluffy. But the thing about lumpy batter is a bunch of baloney. Do you want a mouthful of uncooked flour when you eat your pancake? Then you don't want big lumps. Get rid of them.*
          5. Using a pastry brush, brush a scant layer of butter over the surface of the griddle. Using a small ladle (I use an ice cream scoop) so that the pancakes are all the same size, pour equal amounts of batter onto the hot surface. Give the pancakes about two minutes, then scatter a handful of blueberries over the top. Cook for another couple of minutes on this first side, or until you can see the edges of the pancake beginning to crisp, and the bubbles on top have formed and begun to pop.
          6. Flip - ONCE! Don't go acting like you work at Waffle House. Flip it once, then don't touch it. Give it two minutes and pop it on a warm platter. You can cook the entire batch and put them in a very slow (125F) oven until ready to serve.
          7. While the pancakes are cooking, warm the syrup and butter until melted in a small saucepan.Immediately before serving, toss in the remaining blueberries so they just warm through.
          8. To serve - simply stack as many pancakes as you like, and drizzle the top with a ladlefull of the maple butter.

          *As your batter rests, the flour will absorb more of the liquid. That's a good thing - the pancakes will be more tender. The BEST way - although I often don't do this - is to barely mix together your batter, then let it rest in the fridge for about a half an hour or so. Many of your lumps will take care of themselves, and the pancakes will be tender and fluffy inside. 

          Saturday, January 23, 2010

          Whammin' Country Ham Jammin' Burgers

          1 1/4 lbs ground beef
          1/2 Tbl Worcestershire sauce
          1/2 Tbl hot sauce
          1/2 Tbl Italian seasoning
          1/2 Tbl salt
          1 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
          6 slices of good sharp cheddar
          1/2 cup Country Ham Jam *see blog entry
          mayo, lettuce, onion and tomato for dressing
          a loaf of unsliced sandwich bread, cut into 12 thick "Texas Toast" type pieces

          1. Mix first six ingredients in a large mixing bowl until just combined. Don't over mix or the burgers will be tough.
          2. Divide beef into 6 patties. Make an indentation in the middle of each patty - this keeps it from poufing up and turning into a meatball on the grill.
          3. Grill patties to desired doneness - here that means medium rare. So I give the first side six minutes on a medium grill (cover closed), then flip for another five minutes. For medium add two minutes per side. Only flip once and don't you dare squish your burgers with the spatula. I don't care how much you like the sizzle. What you're hearing is all the yummy juices hitting the flames and disappearing. It's the sound of a hockey puck about to go on your bun. Stop it.
          4. Once the burgers are on the second side, spoon divided amounts of the Country Ham jam on top - a tablespoon or two. A minute before you pull them, add a slice of cheese to each. That lets everything meld together in goody lusciousness.
          5. While the burgers are grilling, prep your bread. You can use plain burger buns, but honestly, grilled fat slices of white bread are better. There's nothing to it. When the burgers are done, pull them to a platter to rest. Simply pop the bread on the grill for a minute or two each side. 
          6. To finish the burgers, simply top a slice of bread with some mayonnaise, lettuce, thinly sliced and a slice of tomato. Don't go crazy with the toppings - the country ham will take the place of  both bacon and pickles - it's got a fabulous salty-tangy flavor.
          Beware - roll up your sleeves. This burger is purposefully designed to have juice running off your chin and down your elbows. Give yourself napkins - and clearance.

          Almost Birmingham's THE Club Orange Luncheon Rolls

          If you have ever been to The Club (pronounced THE Club, not The CLUB) in Birmingham, Alabama at lunch, you've probably encountered an absolutely phenomenal little orange roll in the bread basket. My Daddy took us there for years, and those rolls made me crazy. When I was little I remember trying to hide them in my lap so I could sneak extra home.

          I screwed up more variations of these rolls than I could remember before I ran across a recipe for a sour cream based yeast roll. Redemption! The other two elements eluded me a while longer, then I broke the coconut code. Muhahahaha! I'm an evil culinary genius!!!!

          I wanted to blog these rolls, and I thought I'd include a picture of The Club in the blog. Well danged if the recipe for the real thing isn't all over the daggone place. It's even been in the Birmingham News. For some reason that made me furious - although I will say I started trying to copycat these well before I could search online for everything under the sun. And I never found a picture of The Club I liked.

          These are not actually a perfect imitation. Mine are just a bit sweeter, and more orange intense. Although I never thought I'd say it - I like mine better. I've also discovered several variations in the flavor base along the way that take the same basic dough, and go all over with flavor combination. I'll get those up next - 'cause 24 of these last about 13.267 seconds.

          2 1/2 Tbl yeast - approximately 1 envelope
          1/3 cup warm water
          1 stick butter, melted and divided
          1 cup sour cream
          1 cup sugar, divided
          2 eggs
          1 pinch salt
          4 cups all purpose flour
          1 cup flaked coconut
          2 Tbl grated orange rind, divided
          1 cup confectioners sugar
          1 Tbs grated orange rind
          2 Tbs orange juice
          1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, put the yeast and warm water. Stir to combine and allow yeast to proof (sit) for a couple of minutes. Add 5 Tbl of the melted butter, sour cream, 1/2 cup of the sugar, eggs and salt. Add flour and mix well - you'll have a very soft dough - it'll be a little sticky.
          2. Oil the inside of a large mixing bowl. Turn the dough out into this bowl, turning to oil all of it. Set it in a warm place, cover with a tea towel and allow to rise. Give it about an 1.5 to 2 hours - it will not quite double in size.
          3. When dough has doubled, mix together remaining butter, sugar and orange zest. Pulse coconut in the bowl of a food processor until fine. You don't have to, but I think the texture is much nicer. Add coconut to the sugar and butter and mix well.
          4. Preheat oven to 275F. Punch down dough. Turn onto a lightly floured surface. Knead 8-10 times until very smooth. Divide into four equal portions. Roll out each section until very thin, trying to keep as much to a rectangle as possible. Dough should be a lovely soft stretchy texture. When about 1/4 of an inch thick, spread a thin layer of the sugar/coconut mixture evenly over the surface.
          5. Starting at one shorter end, roll the dough up jelly-roll style. Cut each roll into 1 inch pieces. Place on a greased cookie sheet, or on a Silpat. Allow to rest for about 15 minutes. I actually got distracted (imagine that!) and mine sat there about 40 minutes this last time. Didn't matter.
          6.  Bake rolls for about 20 minutes. You only want the faintest hint of golden - this is not a time when golden brown means yummy. These are very light and delicate.
          7. Let rolls cool for just a couple of minutes, then drizzle with the glaze. They're great cold, but warm they are heavenly.

          Lambie's Bow Tie Bakeoff

          My daughter, whose nickname is "Lambie" helped me come up with this one. I was impressed - it's delicious! Even better than that - it really fast, and the kid's loved it. 

          1 lb ground beef
          1 small yellow onion, diced
          1 rib celery, diced
          1 small bell pepper, diced
          3 large cloves garlic, minced
          4 large tomatoes, diced and seeded
          2 sprigs fresh thyme
          1 cup sour cream
          1 cup half and half
          1 Tbl SOS (see blog entry for SOS)
          1 4 ounce can mushroom bits and pieces, drained
          2 Tbl tomato paste
          1 1/2 cups shredded Pepper Jack cheese
          2 cups shredded cheddar
          1 can vegetable juice
          1 1 lb box of bowtie pasta

          1. Prepare pasta according to package directions. Preheat oven to 350.
          2. Over medium heat in a very large skillet, brown ground beef. Drain fat.* Add thyme, celery, onion and pepper and saute until fragrant, about 6-8 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook another 3-4 minutes. Add sour cream, half and half, SOS, mushrooms, and tomato paste, and vegetable juice. Stir very well to combine. Add all of the Pepper Jack cheese and half the cheddar, stirring well. Remove from heat.
          3. In a large casserole, combine pasta and beef mixture. Top with remaining cheddar cheese. 
          4. Bake covered for 1/2 hour, then remove cover and continue for another 15 minutes, until hot and bubbly throughout, and cheese is melted and gooey.

            *If you are using browned ground beef with very intensely flavored ingredients, try this trick. Under extremely hot running water, drain the cooked ground beef into a small strainer. This will remove almost all of the fat, and you'll never taste the difference. Very sneaky.

            Friday, January 22, 2010

            Kung Pao - or Kelly's Bang Pow Princess Chicken

            Kung Pao or Princess Chicken is the first Chinese food I remember eating. Daddy would take my sister and I to a place near the mall in Birmingham, Alabama when we were little. I adored it - crunchy and spicy, with that luscious sauce - it became my standard order no matter where I went or to where I traveled.

            I think I've had every cruddy Kung Pao chicken served in the US. I got lucky with my first exposure - if I had had most Kung Pao dishes I've had since then, I probably never would have eaten it again. Either so fiery it's painful - and still not tasting like much - or made mostly of celery - which is cheap, and therefore used as a filler in a lot of restaurants - or simply insipid with no flavor - this beautiful little dish has been sorely abused.

            I wanted the real thing - and I'm rather proud of the fact that this is. Especially since Kung Pao is an absolute favorite of my sister - it's really her thing. When trying to name this my five year old - trying to say 'kung pao' - came up with "Kelly's Bang Pow Chicken". This takes as well to chicken, pork or shrimp. I'm sure beef would work too - I just haven't tried it yet. It is absurdly easy, and requires very little in the way of specialty items. Even those are easily substitutable, I listed my favorite replacement ingredients, so you have no excuse not to try this one!.

            1 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or breast, shrimp, pork - the prep is the same), diced
            1 medium yellow onion, large dice
            1 green or red bell pepper - large dice
            1 rib of celery - sliced on the bias
            3-4 green onions, sliced on the bias
            2-3 cloves garlic, minced
            1 cup of plain peanuts - or cashews are even better if you have them
            1/4 cup sake or white wine - I often use Pinot Gris or Chardonnay
            2 Tbl soy sauce - I use low-sodium when I can find it
            1/2 Tbl black vinegar, or rice wine vinegar is acceptable
            1 tsp fish sauce - you can leave this out altogether, although I do like the depth of flavor it gives
            2 Tbl sesame oil
            2 Tbl cornstarch
            1/2 cup chicken broth
            1 Tbl olive oil
            Hot Sauce - I LOVE Siracha - a very spicy hot sauce I find even in my local grocery. I love it because a little packs a huge punch, and the flavor profile is just right for this dish. Add it at the end - so everybody's happy with how spicy their own portion is.

            1. Place two bowls on the counter - one in which to mix your marinade, and one for your sauce. In the first bowl place 2 Tbl sake, 1/2 Tbl soy sauce, 1 tsp vinegar, and 1 tsp cornstarch. Whisk well, and pour over chicken. Cover and allow to refrigerate for 1/2 hour.
            2. In the second bowl, combine remaining sake, soy sauce and black vinegar, fish sauce, sesame oil, remaining cornstarch and chicken broth. Whisk together and set aside.
            3. Heat a very large skillet or wok over very high heat. Add half of olive oil to pan, and toss in the marinaded chicken. Stir fry for a couple of minutes, until meat is just barely cooked through. Do not finish the cooking at this point, or it will be overcooked later. When opaque, remove from pan.
            4. Add remaining olive oil to pan and toss in onion, pepper and celery. Stir fry for about two minutes, and add garlic. Continue to stir fry until the vegetables are crisp-tender, about five minutes.
            5. Add the chicken back to the pan, and stir-fry together with vegetables, for about two minutes.
            6. Whisk together sauce ingredients, and pour these on top of the chicken, making sure to scrape the fond (fond means the sticky brown bits on the bottom of the skillet) up and stirring it into the sauce as it thickens. Add nuts and green onions and remove from heat.
            Serve with Siracha or other hot sauce.

            I almost always serve it with Fried Rice for Midnight (see blog entry), especially since they have so many similar ingredients - it's easy to line the stuff up on the counter and pop it into whatever pan it goes in.

            Fried Rice for Midnight

            My oldest son has leukemia, and during the first portion of his treatment he was on rather large doses of steroids. This meant his appetite was also unbelievable, but because of the chemo if he could manage to get something down he would crave very specific things. It was odd - but I did everything I could to manage what he could eat.

            He went through a fried rice phase (and fajitas, and Thai soup and Pho and omelettes and tacos get the idea) - it lasted almost a month. No kidding - I made fried rice 6-8 times a day (often in the middle of the night!) for a month. If it can put it into rice (and even if it SHOULDN'T go in rice!) - I gave it a try - in an effort to make sure that it was just exactly right. I have 10-12 different distinct dishes that came out of that - but this is the very quickest and easiest. It's named because it's easy enough to crank out in ten minutes at midnight when your eyes are only half open and your kid's trying to convince you he's starving to death.

            Anytime I make rice I double up to have extra on hand. If you find Jasmine or Asian rice - great! Most of the time all I can get is plain old white rice. It's still good. We still often keep cold rice in the fridge, and we crank this out for either a quick after school snack or an easy supper (with chicken or pork thrown in) every week or two.

            And by the way - he's in full remission -he can make his own great Fried Rice (at) Midnight now - and often does!

            3 cups cold cooked rice (it does HAVE to be cold)
            2-3 green onions, minced
            2 eggs, lightly beaten
            1 Tbl soy sauce
            1/2 Tbl black vinegar (rice wine is ok - but black is better)
            1 tsp fish sauce (skip it if you can't find it - but we like it)
            1 tbl sesame oil
            1/4 cup minced cilantro - optional
            Siracha hot sauce - to taste - optional
            1 Tbl olive oil

            1. Over medium high heat in a large skillet or wok, heat olive oil. Add beaten egg. Allow to cook on one side for about a minute or until set. Flip. Cook for just a few seconds - you should see it puff visibly. (If it doesn't - who cares?). Remove from pan.
            2. Add rice to pan. Fry for about a minute. Add onion. Give the rice a good stir and let fry for about two minutes total.
            3. Add soy sauce, vinegar and fish sauce to the pan. Continue to stir fry for about another minute. Add cooked egg to the pan and break it up into pieces as you continue to stir fry for a final minute or so. Stir in cilantro and remove from heat.
            4. Remove to a platter, and drizzle with sesame oil.

            Tuesday, January 19, 2010

            Butter Pecan/Banana Crepes

            I started craving crepes this week. (A crepe is nothing but a very thin pancake). Not sure why - except I think every one on Food Network did a variation, from the contestants on "Worst Cooks in America" to Tyler and Bobby.  Crepes are one of those dishes that I actually approached with a tad of trepidation (until now!), and it's all my brother's fault.

            I first tried to make them when I was in high school - maybe fourteen years old. I actually made manicotti - a crepe variation that is close to an Italian pasta. Let me just say it was not a roaring success. I really didn't know what a manicotti or crepe either one was, so I didn't quite get that mine were not fabulous. Until I looked out the kitchen window and saw my brother throwing a few frisbee style across the yard to our incredibly fat mutt - the one that ate everything and looked like a full tick about to pop.  The dog was returning them to my brother.

            I had another massive failure in college - this time destroying every piece of equipment in the kitchen and requiring two days of clean up.  I quit trying - assigning crepes to the realm of things just not worth making - like croissants say.

            I decided to give it another go - mainly because I haven't been grocery shopping and I'm now down to very little to play with. I also hate, hate, hate thinking a dish has 'gotten' me. Like hell. I did my standard method search online - what I always do when looking up a new trick or technique. I found the same base recipe everywhere - a little milk, flour, water and either salt and sugar. However, the technique was all over the place. I saw all kinds of pans, none of which I had, calls for a huge temperature range, and preaching on all kinds of no-nos. Hmmm. I don't think so.

            As far as the filling - (wow, am I telling on myself in this post) - when I was little my poor mother and granny let me cook and experiment to my heart's content. I had  nothing to go on but an occasional high-end meal curtesy of my Daddy, the knowlege of my mama and granny, and the handful of cookbooks in the Greene County Library. I was constantly coming across things I wanted to make, yet had no idea of what they really were. Not that it stopped me. I'd happily swing into the kitchen with big plans and vague ideas.

            Such was the case with Bananas Foster. The real thing was invented at Brennan's in New Orleans in the 50's. When I was about 12 years old I heard of Bananas Foster somewhere (I read incessantly), and decided to make it. Unfortunately, there was no recipe in the library, and Mama wasn't sure what went in it. I decided for some reason that it involved caramel and pecans (no), ice cream (yes) and bananas (yes again.) I missed every other major ingredient. However, this is what I came up with, and frankly, I'm rather glad. I used the base stuff I invented at 12 to do the butter pecan sauce for this filling. I've had Bananas Foster since, and it's a delightful, ethereal thing. This is the country cousin of Bananas Foster. Call it Bananas Franklin. Brennen named his after a friend - I'll do the same after a few of mine.

            So I did what I normally did. I thought through the ingredients going into the finished product, thought about what I wanted to end up with and did my own thing. I used Alton Brown's excellent recipe as a jumping off point. Here's how to do it...
            For the crepes...

            3/4 cup of whole milk (I actually used a mix of half and half and skim milk)
            1 cup flour
            1 pinch salt
            2 eggs
            1/2 cup water
            2-3 tbl butter
            3 tbl sugar
            1/2 tsp vanilla

            For the filling....

            2 sticks butter
            2 2/3 cups light brown sugar
            1 1/2 cups pecans - I had whole and thought they were pretty, but chopped would be fine
            2 tbl corn syrup
            3-4 bananas, diced
            1 tbl vanilla
            2 tbl Grand Marnier
            1/4 cup cream or half and half

            1. In the bowl of a mixer, food processor or blender, mix together milk, flour, salt, eggs, sugar and vanilla. Blend, process or whisk to combine well, then park it in the fridge for at least half an hour, and up to two days. Don't skip this - it allows the flour to absorb the liquid, and your crepes will be easier to handle.

            2. Every recipe I read called for a small nonstick pan. I don't have one. I have a small standard skillet - a 10 inch. Not a non-stick, not an omelette pan, not a saucier. Just a skillet. Eggs can be cranky, but I figured what would work for an omelette would work for a crepe - and I was right. Keep the pan on medium low heat, and make sure it's brushed well with butter from a basting brush, including the corners and up the edges. You want the thinnest possible layer of butter on the pan. The butter should just foam.

            3. I do have an odd 1/5 cup measure - it came in a set and is almost useless. But it turned out to be the perfect size for this. So a very scant 1/4 would work just as well. You want only enough batter to give a very thin coat on the skillet. You'll need to work quickly - but only at this one point. And it's not even tricky after the first one. Scoop up your measure full of batter, and take the handle of the skillet in one hand. Holding the skillet at a slight angle, pour in the batter at one edge, and immediately swirl the skillet so that a very thin, even coat covers the bottom. This sounds difficult - it's not!

            4. Be prepared to mess up the first couple, until you figure out just how much batter works with your own pan. Once you got that down, you can crank these out like crazy.  Many of the recipes I saw called for flipping the crepes in a matter of seconds. This may be because they all called for non-stick pans, and probably used a higher cooking temperature, and the crepes set more quickly. We're keeping it low and slow, so we have time to operate. The crepes cook for a couple of minutes on the first side. Just like a plain ol' pancake, they'll bubble slightly, and turn dry. Gently ease the edges with a spatula, shake the pan, and flip it over. Give it a minute on the second side. When you shake the pan and it moves - it's ready. It tells on itself. Turn it onto a rack or paper towel, and repeat.

            5. Mine didn't last long enough for this, but apparently they'll keep in the fridge for several days, or freeze for a couple of months. Just reheat in a slow oven (that's mountain talk for a low-temperature oven - about 200) for a few minutes.

            Make the Bananas Franklin:
            3-4 bananas, diced
            1 tbl vanilla
            2 tbl Grand Marnier
            1/4 cup cream or half and half

            1. This makes a ton - enough for all 12 crepes I made above to have a generous amount of filling, with sauce over the top and more on ice cream. If you're stingy, cut it in half.
            2.  In a large skillet, melt together butter and brown sugar, stirring well to combine. Bring mixture up to a simmer. Add pecans and corn syrup, and simmer for about 3-4 minutes. Sauce should be nearly smooth, and shiny at this point. Add bananas and cook for just another minute or two - they'll nearly melt into the sauce. Pull from heat and add vanilla, Grand Marnier and half and half. Stir well to combine. The sauce should be silky and seriously decadent.

            To assemble the crepes, place a couple tablespoons of the pecan/banana mixture on one quarter of a crepe, and fold over into little triangles. I seperate the solids some at this point, letting the pecans and bananas dominate the center of the crepe, and using the saucy part to drizzle over the top of the crepe triangle, and again a little over any ice cream that might find its way mysteriously on top of the crepe.

            Saturday, January 16, 2010

            Baby Eggs Florentine On the Go

             I always have bags of baby spinach around. It's one of my favorite ingredients. I also love baked eggs - and of course spinach and Parmesan is a classic combo. I'm also a fanatic about my children getting a solid breakfast - so I make these up the night before, bake them in the morning and breakfast is done for me.

            6 very think slices deli ham
            6 eggs
            1 tbl butter
            6 tbl half and half
            3 tbl Parmesan
            kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
            1/4 cup minced onion
            1/2 bag fresh baby spinach

            1. Line six muffin tins with muffin cups - you can use paper ones, but if you have the metallic muffin cups these little eggs become very portable. Preheat oven to 350F.
            2. Line each muffin cup with a slice of ham, tucking to make a pocket.
            3. Over medium heat, melt butter in a large skillet. Add fresh spinach, tossing to combine. Give spinach a touch of salt and pepper, and stir until well wilted.
            4. Divide spinach equally among muffin cups.
            5. Carefully crack an egg into each cup. Top each egg with a Tbl of half and half, a tsp of Parmesan, and just a touch of salt and pepper.
            6. Bake for 17 minutes or until whites are set and yolk still soft.

            These actually are good to 'go' - once cooled just a tad, I've handed them out in the car on the way to school.  Even better, you can assemble them the night before and pop them in the oven the next morning. Just add a couple of minutes bake time to account for them being more chilled. Finally - these are pretty and tasty enough for a special brunch or breakfast, and the do-ahead nature is a great party trick.

            Bladen's Raisin Bread Banana Muffins

            Raisin Bran Banana Muffins

            My son loves raisin bran with bananas, so I developed this muffin to mimic his favorite flavors. This recipe tosses together quickly, and isn't hard at all.

            2 cups bran cereal flakes
            1 cup buttermilk
            1-2 mashed bananas
            1 egg
            2/3 cup brown sugar
            1 teaspoon vanilla
            1 cup flour
            1 teaspoon baking soda
            1 teaspoon baking powder
            1/2 teaspoon salt
            1 cup raisins

            Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper cups, or grease tins with cooking spray.
            Mix together raisin bran cereal and buttermilk. Set aside for a few minutes, until the cereal absorbs the buttermilk (or most of it).
            Mix together the flour, soda, baking powder and salt. Add the raisin bran/buttermilk mixture. Mix together mashed bananas (1 banana if large, two if small, about 1 cup or so); egg, brown sugar and vanilla. Add banana mixture to the flour, and toss ingredients together just until moistened. Add about 1/3 cup batter to each muffin cup - an ice cream scoop is wonderful for getting even amounts.
            Bake for 20 minutes, or until tops are deep golden brown.

            Friday, January 15, 2010

            Itty Bitty Baby Burger Bites

            I saw a pictures of little tiny burgers on the cover of a Taste of Home magazine while in the checkout of the grocery store. What an adorable idea! I love tiny things anyway - and this just pulled my chain big time. Full kudos to Taste of Home for the original idea - but this is my checkout line interpretation of their photo. I love these for several reasons. I feed people daily who range in age from 1 year to grown ups. The small children ADORE these. One is perfect for an entree. My brothers can eat about 43 each. So everyone is happy.

            The only specialty equipment here is some sort of measure - I used a 1 1/2 inch biscuit cutter - to measure out the beef patties, the bread rounds and cheese. If you run out out of bread ends, just use bread. No one will complain. This way they all stacked prettily. You can adapt this to any size measure you have - a 1/4 measuring cup works pretty well too.

            1 lb ground beef
            1 tsp Worchestershire sauce
            1 tsp hot sauce
            1 tsp Italian seasoning
            1 tsp salt
            1/2 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
            16 bread 'ends'
            8 slices, cheddar cheese
            4 tbl Mayonnaise
            Thinly sliced onion, tomato, pickles, and lettuce.
            Makes 8-12, depending on the size of your measure. I made 10 from 1 lb of ground beef. Add I ate all the extra bits and pieces and was very happy to do so.

            1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, place ground beef, Worchestershire sauce, hot sauce, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Mix until just combined. Don't over mix or burgers will be tough!
            2. Find your measure - anything round and small. Divide your burger mix into 8-12 pieces. The only reason it's important to measure is because you want your little ingredients to all match. So if your burger patties are 1 1/2 inches in diameter, use the same measure to cut the cheese slices and bread ends.  All you're after is consistency in size so the finished burger stacks prettily. So size matters - but only kinda.
            3. On a medium grill or a skillet set over medium heat, cook burgers on first side about six minutes.
            4. Allow burgers to cook on second side for two minutes. Add cut cheese slices to top of burger and cook for another two minutes.
            5. Place patties on 'buns' and top as desired - 

            For the 'buns' - I used a 1 1/2 inch biscuit cutter to cut the ends of bread - Taste of Home used this idea and it was brilliant. Just save the ends from loaves of bread in the freezer. Once you have enough, cut them with a biscuit cutter.

            Critter Concession Mac and Cheese

            Mmmm - macaroni and cheese. The existense of macaroni and cheese is proof that God loves us.

            When living in Seattle there were two different specialty cheese shops very close to my house, and a gourmet market with an amazing cheese department. I was in love with the cheesemongers. They let you taste - as many as you asked for! They also would pull little 'bites' of very high end cheeses and package them. Just enough to take home and taste - enough to get to know some beautiful cheeses from all over the world. I encountered Emmentaler and Gruyere, Smoked Cheddar, goat and sheep's cheeses, Feta, Maytag Blue, Irish cheddar, true Roquefort, Beecham and on two absolutely unforgettable occasions - true English Stilton. OMG. Even my children would ask for 'stinky cheese' - knowing aroma meant flavor to-die-for. We'd buy beautiful apples or pears, stand in the kitchen and devour them all.

            I quite often ended up with tiny little amounts of several cheeses. What to do? Mac and Cheese! I came up with really unbelievable combinations. I loved using bow tie pasta, farafelle, rotini or whole wheats, with fabulous Bechamels using bleus, Gruyeres, the Swiss beauties....if I could melt it, it was fair game. I used hams, bacon, shellfish, chicken, spinach, fennel, apples - any and all kinds of additions. It was rare that something wasn't fabulous. With great ingredients and simple prep it's hard to go wrong.

            Except with my kids. The critters - those cute little noses? Up in the air. No deal. You know what they wanted? The blue box. Really? REALLY?

            Most of the time they're pretty spoiled - they're used to fresh food prepared quickly and well. But that damned blue box.... 

            This is my 'concession' mac and cheese. I wanted to control the contents, and make it edible for adults. The flavor profile is close enough to the box stuff that they're happy, but comfy enough for adults to love the homemade comfort-food aspect. Rich and delicious, the ham makes it main dish. Give it a big green salad, and you're Golden!

            1 lb elbow macaroni, cooked and drained
            12 ounces Sharp Cheddar, grated
            12 ounces Velveeta, broken into small pieces
            1 stick butter, plus two tablespoons, divided
            1/2 cup whole wheat flour (all purpose is ok if you have it)
            1/2 cup grated yellow onion
            3 cups whole milk
            1 cup half and half
            1 cup chopped ham
            1 tbl hot sauce
            1 tbl Worchestershire
            1 1/2 tsp dried mustard
            1 tbl salt
            2 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
            2 cups fresh bread crumbs

            1. Prep macaroni according to package directions. Preheat oven to 350F.
            2. While water is boiling and macaroni is cooking, make the Bechamel sauce. Melt the stick of butter in a large skillet or dutch oven over medium heat. Add flour and whisk to combine well. Allow to cook for a couple of minutes. This gets rid of the 'floury' flavor. Add onion, and while stirring, cook another minute or two.
            3. Add half and half and milk to flour mixture, whisking constantly to avoid lumps, and stirring until smooth. Add grated cheeses, and bring just under a simmer. Add ham, hot sauce, Worchestershire, mustard and salt and pepper. 
            4. Don't allow mixture to boil, but do bring to a bare simmer. All you're looking for is the tiniest movement on the surface. Stir well to combine, taste to adjust for seasoning. Re-season as necessary. Remove from heat.
            5. Place cooked and drained macaroni in a 9x13 inch casserole dish. Pour cheese mixture over the top and sitr gently.
            6. Melt remaining two tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan, and add fresh breadcrumbs. Stir to combine. Spread  buttered breadcrumbs over top of macaroni and cheese mixture.
            7. Bake at 350F for 44 minutes, until bubbly through and golden brown and beautiful on top.