Monday, December 31, 2012

Aarti Sequeira: Smoky Spinach Artichoke Dip

I used to sneer down my nose at dip.  I mean, it's just about the easiest, laziest thing you can provide at a party.  For the most part.  How many times have you gone to someone's house only to see them crack open a can of bean dip or a jar of queso?  If they do manage to put some effort in, it's usually only the effort of mixing onion soup mix into sour cream.  The making of a quality dip is certainly a lost art.

Probably one of my favorite combinations is spinach and artichokes.  Put those two in a creamy mixture, and I'm hooked.  But I could never seem to find a recipe for a spinach artichoke dip that had.....oomph.  They all kinda fell flat.  At least until I found this beauty.  Great flavor, lots of creaminess, and warm to boot.

Smoky Spinach Artichoke Dip

8 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 (12-ounce) bag frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and chopped into bite-size chunks
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup grated smoked Gouda cheese
½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon whole coriander seeds
½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream
4 ounces cream cheese

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, combine the spinach, artichoke hearts, ½ cup Parmesan, Gouda, mozzarella, garlic, red pepper flakes, coriander seeds, mayonnaise, sour cream, and cream cheese and mix until combined.  Pour into a baking dish, top with the remaining 2 tablespoons of Parmesan, and bake until the edges are bubbly and light golden brown, about 25 minutes.

Allow the dip to cool slightly before serving with chips.

Makes 6 servings

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Bon Appétit: Scalloped Potatoes with Three Cheeses

It seems like food gets really complicated during the holidays.  You eat things that you would never have the rest of the year.  Some because they would take forever to make, some because they cost too much to make.  After all of the wild foods, something simple and comforting can really soothe the soul.  Something like scalloped potatoes.

If you're going to do cheese and potatoes, you have to do it the right way.  That way is cooking it low and slow until the potatoes are super tender and the tons of cheese is a little browned on top.  Then you spoon that creamy beauty onto your plate and enjoy.

Scalloped Potatoes with Three Cheeses

¾ cup (6 ounces) grated sharp Cheddar cheese
¾ cup (6 ounces) grated Comté cheese
⅓ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into ¼-inch thick rounds
1½ teaspoons salt
¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup finely chopped onion
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
1½ cups whole milk

Preheat the oven to 400°F.  Lightly butter a 2-quart casserole dish.  Mix the cheeses in a small bowl.

Arrange a third of the potatoes in the baking dish, overlapping slightly.  Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon black pepper.  Sprinkle half of the onion over the potatoes, then one tablespoon of flour.  Dot with a third of the butter.  Sprinkle a third of the cheese mixture over the butter.  Repeat twice, reserving the cheese on the last layer.

Bring the milk to a simmer in a medium saucepan.  Set the casserole dish on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, then pour the milk over the potatoes.  Cover the baking dish tightly with foil.  Bake for one hour.  Uncover the dish and sprinkle the potatoes with the reserved cheese.  Bake uncovered until the potatoes are tender and the cheese is deep golden brown, about 45 minutes longer.  Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Makes 6 servings

Friday, December 28, 2012

Ladurée: Macarons Amande et Chocolat (Almond and Chocolate Macarons)

Every year when it comes to cookie time, I flip through my recipes and groan at the old standbys.  I loved those darn cookies when I was a kid, but many years later, I need something new to happen.  And since everywhere I look people are making macarons, I figured it was time for me to join the party.

I have a fancy little book that came wrapped in tissue paper and stored in its own box.  It's from the Ladurée bakery in Paris, famous all over the world for their macarons.  I figured that would be an excellent place to start.  Plus, I had never used the darn thing, and it certainly cost enough.

I have to say, this was certainly an all-afternoon project.  And the darn things are so fussy and delicate that you have to be incredibly careful and patient.  At one point I wasn't even sure that they had turned out since the meringue shells were crunchy, but once you add the filling and let them sit overnight, you get the beautiful tender macarons you expected.

Macarons Amande
Adapted from Ladurée: Sucre, the Recipes by Philippe Andrieu

2¾ cups plus 1 tablespoon ground almonds (almond flour)
2 cups plus 1 tablespoon confectioner's sugar
6 egg whites plus ½ egg white
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Combine the ground almonds and confectioner's sugar in a food processor and pulse to obtain a fine powder.  Sift or strain through a sieve to remove any lumps.

In a clean, dry bowl, whisk the 6 egg whites to a foam.  Once they are frothy, add a third of the granulated sugar and whip until sugar is dissolved; add another third of the granulated sugar and whip for another minute; finally add the remaining granulated sugar and whip for 1 more minute.  Using a rubber spatula, delicately fold the sifted mixture of ground almonds and confectioner's sugar into the whipped egg whites.  In a separate bowl, beat the remaining ½ egg white until just frothy.  Then add to the final mixture, folding gently to slightly loosen the batter.

Transfer mixture to the piping bag fitted with a plain tip.  On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, pipe small macaron rounds 1¼ to 1½ inches in diameter.  Lightly tap the sheet so the macarons spread fully.

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

Allow the macarons to sit uncovered for 10 minutes and then place in the oven.  Bake for approximately 15 minutes until they form a slight crust.

Remove baking sheet from the oven, and with a small glass, carefully pour a tiny amount of water in between the sheet and the parchment paper (lift the paper ever so slightly corner by corner).  The moisture and steam that result from the water on the hot baking sheet will allow the macarons to peel off more easily once they are cool.  Do not pour too much water as this could cause the macarons to become soggy.  Allow to cool completely.

Remove half of the macaron shells and place them upside down on a plate.  Fill with chocolate ganache.

Makes approximately 50 macarons

Macarons Chocolat
Adapted from Ladurée: Sucre, the Recipes

2¾ cups plus 1 tablespoon ground almonds (almond flour)
2 cups plus 1 tablespoon confectioner's sugar
2¾ tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 ounces chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids)
6 egg whites plus ½ egg white
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Combine the ground almonds, confectioner's sugar, and cocoa powder in a food processor and pulse to obtain a fine powder.  Sift or strain through a sieve to remove any lumps.  Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water or in the microwave oven until it is lukewarm.

In a clean, dry bowl, whisk the 6 egg whites to a foam.  Once they are frothy, add a third of the granulated sugar and whip until sugar is dissolved; add another third of the granulated sugar and whip for another minute; finally add the remaining granulated sugar and whip for 1 more minute.  Pour the melted chocolate over the whipped egg whites.  Using a rubber spatula, roughly incorporate the chocolate, and then immediately and delicately fold the sifted mixture of ground almonds, confectioner's sugar, and cocoa powder into the chocolate and whipped egg white mixture.  In a separate bowl, beat the remaining ½ egg white until just frothy.  Then add to the final mixture, folding gently to slightly loosen the batter.

Transfer mixture to the piping bag fitted with a plain tip.  On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, pipe small macaron rounds 1¼ to 1½ inches in diameter.  Lightly tap the sheet so the macarons spread fully.

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

Allow the macarons to sit uncovered for 10 minutes and then place in the oven.  Bake for approximately 15 minutes until they form a slight crust.

Remove baking sheet from the oven, and with a small glass, carefully pour a tiny amount of water in between the sheet and the parchment paper (lift the paper ever so slightly corner by corner).  The moisture and steam that result from the water on the hot baking sheet will allow the macarons to peel off more easily once they are cool.  Do not pour too much water as this could cause the macarons to become soggy.  Allow to cool completely.

Remove half of the macaron shells and place them upside down on a plate.  Fill with chocolate ganache and raspberry jam.

Makes approximately 50 macarons

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Gourmet: Pecan Streusel Apple Pie

When I went to Cracker Barrel recently with my parents, I had a slice of the most amazing pie.  It was an apple pie with a pecan streusel topping.  Served hot with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, it was just about as good as apple pie gets.  Only problem?  It's strictly a seasonal item and there is nowhere to get the recipe.  Restaurants really seem to enjoy taunting their patrons.

Well, I dug around on the internet for quite a while until I could find a recipe that looked like it might even be an approximation of the delicious dessert I remembered.  I had to make a few changes to get the pie the way I wanted it, but it turned out magnificently.  This is my new go-to apple pie recipe.

Just a note: it will look like you have ten tons of apple slices in this pie.  It scared me, too.  Just mound them up the best you can and throw that bad boy in the oven.  They'll all cook down pretty well, and you can redistribute a bit when you put the topping on.  And do not, absolutely DO NOT, cut this pie until it cools.  You will have a puddle running in the pan and on your plate, and that is very sad.

Pecan Streusel Apple Pie
Adapted from Gourmet magazine, January 1996

For pastry dough:
1½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
1 stick (½ cup) plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
4 to 6 tablespoons ice water

For topping:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ cup chopped pecans

For filling:
3 pounds Golden Delicious or Jonagold apples (about 6 medium)
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

To make pastry dough:
In a large bowl with a pastry blender or in a food processor blend or pulse together flour, sugar, salt, and butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 2 tablespoons ice water and toss with a fork or pulse until incorporated. Add enough remaining ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing or pulsing to incorporate, until mixture begins to form a dough. On a work surface smear dough in 3 or 4 forward motions with heel of hand to slightly develop gluten in flour and make dough easier to work with. Form dough into a ball and flatten to form a 1-inch-thick disk. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill 30 minutes.

To make topping:
In a small bowl with your fingertips blend butter, brown sugar, and flour until smooth and blend in nuts. Chill topping, covered.

To make filling:
Peel and core apples. Cut apples into ½-inch wedges and in a bowl toss with remaining filling ingredients to coat.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

On a lightly floured surface roll out dough into a 15-inch round (about ⅛-inch thick) and fold into quarters for ease of handling. Unfold dough in a well-seasoned 10-inch cast-iron skillet or 10-inch deep-dish (1½-quart) pie plate, easing to fit and letting dough overhang rim of skillet or pie plate. Spoon filling into shell and fold pastry overhang over filling, leaving center uncovered. Bake pie in middle of oven 1 hour (pie will not be completely cooked) and remove from oven.

Crumble topping over center of pie, breaking up any large chunks. Brush crust with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake pie in middle of oven 30 minutes more, or until crust is golden and filling is bubbling. Cool pie on a rack.

Serve pie warm or at room temperature with ice cream.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Kokkari: Dolmades (Stuffed Grape Leaves with Rice, Zucchini, and Herbs)

I haven't been eating Greek food for very long.  I don't think I even really knew what it was until I was in college.  But as soon as I put some moussaka in my mouth, I knew it was meant to be.  The beautiful flavors of the Mediterranean (tomatoes, oregano, olives, lamb) just waiting for me.

The thing that I absolutely love the most when I visit a Greek restaurant are the stuffed grape leaves.  There's just something about the rice and ground lamb hiding inside a tender leaf smothered in lemon sauce that hits all the right notes for me.  But I always figured that it would be a restaurant-only treat.  Everyone knows that nothing tastes the same when you make it at home.  Unless you get a cookbook from a Greek restaurant named Kokkari.

I got this cookbook on a bit of a whim, assuming that the recipes would be to difficult to bother with, but this recipe turns out the most succulent little grape leaves I've had in a while.  They are definitely quite a bit of work, I won't lie, but they more than make up for it.  And the recipe makes enough for an entire Christmas party.  Unless you start sneaking a taste long beforehand as you hunker over the kitchen sink.

Domades (Stuffed Grape Leaves with Rice, Zucchini, and Herbs)
From Kokkari: Contemporary Greek Flavors by Erik Cosselmon

One jar (16-ounce) preserved grape leaves
¾ cup plus ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups finely diced onion
2 cups Uncle Ben's converted rice (not Minute Rice or instant rice)
½ cup peeled, seeded, and diced plum tomato
2 cups packed coarsely shredded zucchini
½ cup chopped fresh dill, plus 2 sprigs
½ cup chopped fresh mint
¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
⅓ cup plus ½ cup fresh lemon juice, plus 2 slices lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large pot of boiling water, blanch the grape leaves for 5 minutes, then drain.  Place in ice water to cool quickly, then drain again.  This blanching removes excess salt.  Cut away the leaf stems.  Set aside 48 to 54 of the best-looking grape leaves for the dolmades; reserve the rest for lining the cooking pot.

In a large pot, heat the ¾ cup olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring, until translucent, about 3 minutes.  Add the rice and stir to coat evenly with the oil.  Continue cooking until the rice is hot, about 2 minutes.  Add 2 cups of water and boil briskly, stirring often, until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid and the oil begins to rise to the surface, about 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat.  (The rice will still be undercooked.)  Stir in the tomato, zucchini, chopped dill, mint, and parsley.  Add the ⅓ cup lemon juice, 2 teaspoons salt, and pepper to taste.  Set aside until the rice is cool enough to handle.

Line the bottom of a large pot with 2 layers of the reserved leftover grape leaves to keep the dolmades from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Arrange the remaining leaves on the counter, a dozen at a time, with the shiny side down and the stem end toward you.  Stir the rice filling to redistribute the oil, then put 2 tablespoons filling at the base of each leaf in a loose log shape about 2 inches long and 1 inch wide.  Fold the base of each leaf over the filling, tucking it into a tight log shape, then fold in the sides.  Continue rolling away from you, as if rolling a burrito, to create a package shaped like a short, thick cigar.  Arrange the dolmades, seam side down, side by side in the prepared pot, packing them tightly.  You should be able to fit about 30 on the bottom; make a second layer with the remaining dolmades.

Combine the ½ cup olive oil and the ½ cup lemon juice and pour over the dolmades.  Stir 1 teaspoon salt into 1½ cups water and pour over the dolmades; add more water if needed to come just to the tops.  Top with the lemon slices and dill sprigs.  Place an inverted heavy plate inside the pot to weight the dolmades, then set the pot over high heat.  When the liquid comes to a boil, adjust the heat to maintain a steady simmer.  Cook until the liquid has reduced to the level of the plate, about 45 minutes.  Remove from the heat and let cool until the dolmades are just warm and have absorbed the remaining liquid.  Remove the plate.

Serve the dolmades warm or at room temperature, or cover and refrigerate them for up to 1 week.  Bring to room temperature before serving.

Makes 4 to 4½ dozen dolmades

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Bouchon: Applewood Smoked Bacon Macaroni Gratin

I have hated macaroni and cheese my entire life.  All we ever had growing up was that radioactive yellow stuff from the box, and I despised every bite.  I really thought I was just a weird mac and cheese hating person.  Turns out I just hate fake cheese.

I was feeling particularly ill today, and the only thing I could think of that would make me feel the slightest bit better was if I had a spoonful of melty cheese to put in my mouth.  Yes, I sometimes have these thoughts.  It seemed a bit uncivilized to just shovel some melted goo down my throat, so I figured that some pasta would make a nice vehicle for it.

At this point I was stuck, randomly wandering the internet looking for inspiration, when I came across another blog with a beautiful picture of macaroni and cheese.  And the blogger had used Thomas Keller's Bouchon cookbook.  Which was also sitting on my own cookbook shelf.  And who can I trust more than Thomas Keller to deliver a stunning macaroni and cheese?  No one.

Applewood Smoked Bacon Macaroni Gratin
Adapted from Bouchon by Thomas Keller

4 ounces applewood smoked bacon, cut into batons
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large shallot, finely chopped
¼ cup flour
2⅔ cups whole milk
1⅓ cup heavy cream
1½ teaspoons salt
1 bay leaf
4 cloves
Pinch white pepper
3 ounces Comté cheese
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon white truffle oil (optional)
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
8 ounces cavatappi, cooked to al dente in salted water
2 tablespoons grated Parmegiano-Reggiano
¼ cup panko

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat until brown.  Using a slotted spoon, remove to a plate lined with paper towels.  Set aside.

Add butter to the bacon fat left in the skillet.  Lower the heat to medium.  When the butter is melted, add the shallot.  Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the shallot is translucent.  Sprinkle with the flour.  Allow the roux to cook for a minute or two, but do not let it burn or brown.  Slowly whisk in the milk and heavy cream.  Bring the mixture to a simmer and add the salt, bay leaf, cloves, and white pepper.  Lower the heat to medium low and continue to stir until the mixture thickens.

Remove the bay leaf and cloves; discard.  Add the Comte cheese, thyme, truffle oil, and nutmeg.  Stir until the cheese is completely melted.  Fold in the cooked cavatappi.  Pour the mixture into a large casserole dish.  Sprinkle with Parmegiano-Reggiano and panko.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly.  Set the oven to broil and cook until the top is  browned.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bean and Ham Soup

My mom has several recipes that aren't written down anywhere except in her neurons.  Since she only makes these recipes about once a year, it's been a bit of a chore to try and get some notes down.  She's also really bad about making the recipes and then telling me about it.

This soup only makes an appearance when it's cold and when there's the remains of a ham sitting in the fridge.  Which means we get this around Thanksgiving or Easter.  Unless a rogue ham makes an appearance at dinner one night.  Luckily the stars aligned, I got notes on the soup, and managed to wrangle some out of my dad's hands for a picture.

This soup means cold weather to me, and I could eat about a gallon at a sitting.  My mom doesn't know where she got the recipe from originally, so to me it has always just been My Mom's Soup.  My mom's soup that causes extreme family discord as we all try and knock each other down to get the last bowlful.

Bean and Ham Soup

1 pound dry navy or Great Northern beans
1 meaty ham bone (leftover from a cooked butt-portion ham)
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon salt
6 peppercorns
1 medium onion, sliced
3 small carrots, sliced
3 small potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 (14½-ounce) can diced tomatoes, including liquid
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Rinse the dry beans and pick out any bad ones.  Soak the beans overnight in enough water to cover about an inch over the level of the beans.

Empty the beans and water into a colander; rinse the beans under fresh water.  Put the beans in a large pot and cover with water, about halfway up the side of the pot.  Add the ham bone, bay leaf, salt, and peppercorns.  Cover and simmer for 1 hour.

Add the tomatoes; cook for an additional ½ hour.  Add the onion, carrots, and potatoes.  Remove the ham bone and cut off small chunks of ham and return the meat to the pot.  If the beans are still relatively whole, mash the beans slightly.  Season with salt and pepper.  Continue to cook for an additional 30 to 45 minutes or until carrots and potatoes are soft.

Makes 8 servings

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Authentic Suburban Gourmet: Toasted Coconut Marshmallows

As I was happily pinning along the other day, I happened upon an idea that really struck me.  Instead of an advent calendar, you actually do something fun each day of December leading up to Christmas.  Things like driving around to look at lights or eating dinner by candlelight on the longest night of the year.  This kind of incredibly cheesy stuff is right up my alley.  So of course I immediately had to copy out everything and plan what I was going to do every day.

One of the ideas on the list was to make marshmallows from scratch.  I'd never made them before, and all I could think of was the giant sticky mess they would probably make.  But then I came across another pin, for a coconut version.  And who is going to turn down coconut marshmallows??  Not this girl.

Were they sticky?  You bet.  Were they messy?  You bet.  Were they absolutely fabulous, doing a dance in my mouth?  You bet.

Toasted Coconut Marshmallows
From Authentic Suburban Gourmet blog

4 cups finely shredded sweetened coconut
3 envelopes unflavored gelatin
¾ cup water
2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Toast coconut on a baking sheet in the oven, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 7 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cool.  Break into smaller bits with your hands.

Lightly oil a 9-inch square baking pan.  Sprinkle the bottom with ½ cup toasted coconut.

Sprinkle the gelatin over ½ cup of water in the bowl of an electric mixer and let soften while you make the syrup.

Combine the sugar, corn syrup, remaining ¼ cup water, and salt in a 1- to 2-quart heavy saucepan and heat over low heat, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved.  Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Insert a candy thermometer into the syrup and boil, without stirring, until it registers 240°F.  Remove from the heat and let stand until the bubbles reside.

With the mixer set at low speed, pour the hot syrup into the gelatin in a thin stream down the side of the bowl.  Increase the speed to high and beat until very thick, about 15 to 20 minutes.  Add the vanilla extract and beat for 1 minute more.

Spoon the marshmallow mixture over the toasted coconut in the baking pan and press evenly with dampened fingertips to smooth the top (it will be very sticky).  Sprinkle the top evenly with ½ cup toasted coconut.  Let stand, uncovered at room temperature, until firm, about 2 hours.

Unmold the marshmallow block onto a cutting board.  Cut into 1-inch squares and cover the sides with the remaining toasted coconut.  Store in an airtight container.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Just a Taste: Mongolian Beef

I have been spending way too much time on Pinterest.  Everything they say is true: it will suck you in and then you'll look up three hours later and wonder where your evening went.  Or lunch time.  Or weekend.  Whatever the case may be.  And for me, Pinterest is like a giant cookbook with everyone posting what they love the most.  So of course I can spend more time than is reasonable digging through everything that people are cooking.  Even the knock-off stuff that I normally stay a million miles away from.

When I saw Mongolian Beef (just like P.F.Chang's!!), I decided it looked easy enough for me to give it go.  Certainly not traditional, and probably not even the same stuff you get in a US restaurant (just like P.F.Chang's!!), but I'm all about easy dinners lately.  And I like it when I have 90% of the ingredients in my kitchen before I even find the recipe.

The beef itself is velveted, a technique that gives a very light coating of cornstarch to the meat before it is fried, and this also helps with the thickening of the sauce once you get to that part.  So far so good.  Fresh ginger and garlic are both good, and we have the soy sauce and brown sugar that was expected.  Check and check.  Everything whips up pretty quickly, the beef is tender and yummy, but oh........that sauce.  Such a one-note song.  I'm all about easy, but not at the expense of flavor.  Something is very much missing here.  Chilis?  Oyster sauce?  I would definitely tweak it before going through another pound of flank steak, but if you're a fan of bland, this may be right up your alley.

Mongolian Beef
From Just a Taste blog

½ cup plus 2 teaspoons vegetable oil, divided use
½ teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
½ cup soy sauce
½ cup water
 cup dark brown sugar
1 pound flank steak
¼ cup cornstarch
3 scallions, green parts only, sliced diagonally into 1-inch pieces

Heat 2 teaspoon vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat.  Add the ginger and garlic and saute until golden, about 2 minutes.  Add the soy sauce and water, stirring to combine.  Stir in the brown sugar and increase the heat to medium.  Bring the sauce to a boil for 3 minutes.  Remove the sauce from the heat and set aside.

Slice the flank steak against the grain into ¼-inch slices, then toss it with the cornstarch.  Shake off any excess cornstarch and allow the steak to rest for 10 minutes.

Place a large saute pan or wok over medium-high heat and add ½ cup vegetable oil.  Once the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the beef to the pan and saute for 2 minutes until it is seared on all sides but barely cooked in the center.  Remove the steak from the pan with a slotted spoon and transfer the meat to a paper-towel lined plate.  Discard any excess oil.

Place the saute pan or wok back over medium heat.  Add the prepared sauce to the hot pan, bring the sauce to a boil, then add the cooked steak and boil, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.  Add the scallions, stirring to combine.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Southern Living: King Ranch Chicken Casserole

This may be my favorite casserole.  It's spicy and creamy and chickeny.  Okay, so chickeny probably isn't a word.  But this casserole is really, really good.  How could it not be covered in that much cheese?  And if you make it pretty spicy, make sure you have sour cream on hand for fire extinguishing duty.

King Ranch Chicken Casserole
Adapted from Southern Living magazine, November 2000

1½ pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large onion, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 (10¾-ounce) can cream of mushroom soup
1 (10¾-ounce) can cream of chicken soup
1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes and green chiles, drained
1 teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12 (6-inch) corn tortillas
2 cups (8 ounces) grated sharp Cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Sauté chicken, onion, and bell pepper in hot oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat for 7 to 10 minutes, or until tender.  Stir in next 7 ingredients; remove from heat.

Cut each tortilla into four wedges. Create a thin layer of chicken mixture in the bottom of a lightly-greased 13x9-inch baking dish.  Layer 24 tortilla wedges over the chicken sauce, then top with ⅔ cup cheese.  Top with half of remaining chicken mixture, remaining 24 tortilla wedges, and another ⅔ cup cheese.  Top with remaining chicken mixture and then remaining cheese.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until bubbly and the cheese is melted and starting to brown.

Note: Freeze casserole for up to 1 month, if desired.  Thaw in refrigerator overnight, and bake as directed.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Mexican Hot Chocolate

I've been having some trouble getting in the mood for Christmas this year.  I blame it on the fact that we keep hitting 80 degrees here in Texas.  That's enough to make a grinch out of anyone.  I mean, Christmas is supposed to be cold and snowy and a lot like England, right?  Part of my plan to get myself in the mood was to follow a list of activities.  Christmas activities.  Things like decorating and wrapping presents and listening to bad Christmas carol remakes.  But I also planned to make some real hot chocolate.  And now that I live in Texas, real hot chocolate is spiced Mexican hot chocolate.

Mexican Hot Chocolate

2 cups whole milk
4 tablespoons hot chocolate mix (such as Ghirardelli)
 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of chipotle chile powder
Pinch of ground nutmeg
2 drops almond extract
2 drops vanilla extract

Whisk together all ingredients in a pan on the stove over medium heat until it's steaming, and then pour it into a mug.  Top with a marshmallow.  Okay, to be honest, you top it with one marshmallow when people are looking and then pop two more on when their backs are turned.

1 delicious mug of hot chocolate

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Gourmet: Arroz con Pollo (Rice with Chicken)

I haven't been very cultural lately.  I blame it on Thanksgiving.  I should actually be more worried about the fact that I haven't been very Christmasy yet, but I blame that on the fact that it's 80 degrees out.  Yes, 80 degrees in DECEMBER.  I have a feeling I'm going to be a scrooge this year unless the temperature starts dropping.  But tonight I decided to make something that goes right along with the warm weather: a Cuban dish.  Very cultural.

Okay, so it's just chicken and rice.  At least let me pretend I'm being worldly.  I mean, the thing even has olives in it.  And saffron.  That's different, right?  And no, I did not use the recipe from Tastes Like Cuba where he calls for cream of mushroom soup.  Really.  See?  At least I went the extra step and used a recipe from Gourmet magazine.  You're welcome.

Arroz con Pollo (Rice with Chicken)
Adapted from Gourmet magazine, September 2003

6 large garlic cloves, minced, divided
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1½ teaspoons salt
¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (3- to 4-pound) whole chicken, cut into 8 to 10 pieces
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 medium onions, chopped
2 green bell peppers, cut into 2-inch long strips
¼ teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
¼ cup dry white wine
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons salt
1 bay leaf
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes, including juice
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups long-grain white rice
1 cup frozen baby peas (not thawed)
½ cup small pimiento-stuffed green olives, rinsed
¼ cup drained chopped bottled pimientos, rinsed

Combine 3 minced garlic cloves, orange juice, lime juice, salt and pepper.  Pour over the chicken pieces in a large Ziploc bag.  Toss the chicken in the marinade and refrigerate for 1 hour, turning after half an hour.

Transfer the chicken to paper towels, reserving the marinade.  Pat the chicken pieces dry.  Heat the oil and butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, then brown the chicken pieces in 2 or 3 batches, without crowding, turning occasionally, about 6 minutes per batch.  Transfer the browned chicken to a plate, reserving the fat in the pot.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Sauté the remaining 3 minced garlic cloves, onion, and green pepper in the fat from the chicken over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally and scraping up the brown bits from the chicken, until the vegetables are softened, about 6 to 8 minutes.

While the vegetables cook, heat the saffron in a dry small skillet over low heat, shaking the skillet, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add the wine and bring to a simmer, then remove from the heat.

Add the cumin, smoked paprika, and salt to the vegetables and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, for another 2 minutes.  Stir in the saffron mixture, bay leaf, tomatoes (including juice), broth, and reserved marinade.  Bring to a boil.  Add all the chicken except for the breast pieces, skin side up, and simmer gently, covered, over low heat for 10 minutes.  Stir in the rice, then add the breast pieces, skin side up, and arrange the chicken in one layer.  Return to a simmer.

Cover the pot tightly, then transfer to the oven and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove the pot from the oven, and scatter the peas, olives, and pimientos over the rice and chicken (do not stir).  Return the pot to the oven for another 10 to 20 minutes, or until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid.  Discard the bay leaf and serve.

Makes 4 to 5 servings

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Double Chocolate Cherry Walnut Bread

Sometimes you just need chocolate.  Sometimes you're sick of having laryngitis for three days and having to gesticulate to communicate at the grocery store.  Sometimes you just want to hide out in your apartment until your voice comes back and nurse yourself with something sinful.  My sometime is now.

When my mom gave me a bag of dried cherries, I of course did what every other obsessive compulsive cook does: I immediately started thinking of a way to use them.  I could have done a cherry sauce with pork, I guess, but I really wanted something sweet.  Something evil.  Something that would make me forget that I couldn't communicate with the world in general.  So I started digging up quick bread recipes, and after much fiddling and referring to the Ratios of Baking (thank you Michael Ruhlman), I came up with a halfway decent recipe.  Okay, it's better than halfway decent.  I had to stop myself from going into the kitchen and swiping slices.  You know, where you cut a tiny slice, and you tell yourself that's it, but then you're back 10 minutes later, cutting another tiny slice?  Busted.

Double Chocolate Cherry Walnut Bread

½ cup dried tart cherries
2 tablespoons kirschwasser
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup mini chocolate chips
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
½ cup chopped black walnuts (or regular walnuts)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Butter a 9x5-inch loaf pan.

In a small bowl, soak the dried cherries in kirschwasser for 20 minutes.  Chop the cherries and reserve the soaking liquid.  In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Mix ½ cup of the flour mixture with the chocolate chips in a second small bowl.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar.  Add the vanilla and mix well.  Mix in the eggs, one at a time, until combined.  Mix in ½ of the flour mixture, then the milk, then the remaining flour mixture.  With a rubber spatula, scrape the bowl, and then fold in the chocolate chips (coated in flour) and the walnuts.  Fold in the cherries and the soaking liquid.

Bake the loaf for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Makes 1 loaf, about 12 servings