28 January 2008

Daring Bakers: Lemon Meringue Pie

This being my first month as a Daring Baker, I am in no way ashamed to admit that until I found out what the challenge for the month was, I was... not quite terrified, but more than slightly apprehensive. So, when I found out that the recipe for this month, hosted by Jen at The Canadian Baker, was Lemon Meringue Pie, I heaved a huge sigh of relief. Then I started reading the recipe. Pie crust - I can do that. Meringue - I can do that. Lemon curd - tasty. Oh. My. God. I have to temper eggs. The last time I tried to temper eggs, it was for vanilla ice cream. The result: light, fluffly, vanilla-speckled scrambled eggs. But, I am happy to report, my fear has been conquered. I am overjoyed. I have been an egg-tempering machine lately.

Six hours later (including waiting time), with my arms about to fall off, I pulled this pie out of the oven. I could barely contain myself enough to take a picture. After about 10 minutes of staring at it, drooling, I decided that I wanted some. Now. If it was horrendously hideous after I cut into it warm, I would make another one. Luckily, it wasn't.

How did it taste? Good enough to make me proclaim that "this could possibly be the yummiest thing I've ever eaten" and for my father, who adores lemon meringue pie, to call it the best he's ever had.

You can find the recipe for the pie at Culinary Concoctions by Peabody.

25 January 2008

Slow Cooker Shredded Pork

I have something of a love-hate relationship with pork. While I love just about any cured pork product you can name - pancetta, bacon, salame, prosciutto - I don't care for pork chops, pork loin, or the ilk - and I only like pork ribs or pork shoulder (usually) smoked and smothered in barbeque sauce. However, at a relatively recent lunch, I tried a bite of my boyfriend's shredded pork, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I liked it. So, after several attempts and frantic searches for ingredients and substitutions, here is my version - it turns out juicy, tender and extremely flavorful. For those of you who have ever eaten at a Chipotle burrito restaurant, this is very similar to their carnitas.

Slow Cooker Shredded Pork

1 pork shoulder, at least 3 pounds and small enough to fit in your slow cooker
Salt and freshly ground pepper
olive oil
2 onions, roughly chopped
1 head garlic, cloves separated, crushed and peeled
2-3 bay leaves
1-2 tablespoons dried thyme leaves
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/2 cup gin

1. Trim the pork shoulder of fat and season with salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet with enough olive oil to just cover the bottom, and sear the pork on all sides. Transfer to the slow cooker.
2. Scatter the onions, garlic, bay, thyme, peppercorns, and sea salt around the pork shoulder. Pour over the gin, and then add enough water to cover the pork. Cook on low for 8-10 hours.
3. Remove the pork from the slow cooker to a cutting board. Using two forks, shred the meat. This should be very easy. Transfer to a serving dish and ladle 1-2 cups of the liquid from the slow cooker over the pork. This will keep it moist and add more flavor.

- I've done this with fresh thyme as well, and found that it was just too much trouble to pull the leaves off an entire bunch of thyme. It's easier just to use dried, and the flavor difference is almost non-existent.
- The gin is a substitute for juniper berries, which I couldn't find. If you have juniper berries, you could use them - 1-2 teaspoons should be plenty.

Currently, I'm reading... Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott

23 January 2008

Chicken and Artichoke Stew

I have a love/hate relationship with Artichokes. On one hand, they're tasty. On another, I just don't care for the texture of an artichoke heart sitting on my plate. So I can handle them roasted (which is incredibly tasty, by the way) or in some kind of larger dish. This is an example of the latter. More specifically, a stew.

Chicken and Artichoke Stew

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
freshly grated pepper
1 teaspoon dried sage
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup white wine
2 cups chicken stock
1 can artichoke hearts
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup water
1 cup cream
1/2 cup parmesan

1. Cut the chicken breasts into bite size pieces. Mix together the flour, salt, pepper and sage, and dredge the chicken, coating lightly. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the olive oil into the butter. Brown the chicken on both sides.
2. Add the onion and saute until beginning to brown. Add the garlic, then turn off the heat and add the wine, stock, and artichoke hearts. Turn the flame back on and stew over low heat for 1 hour.
3. Make a slurry of the 2 tablespoons flour and the water (I use a cocktail shaker to do this), and stir in to the stew. Once the stew comes back up to a simmer, stir in the cream and the parmesan. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

- While you could certainly serve this by itself, I serve it over rice.
- You could certainly use chicken thighs or other meat if you like.
- If using fresh artichokes, you need about 6 hearts.

Currently, I'm reading...
The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova.

18 January 2008

Pork Dumplings, Asian-Style

Until a few days ago, I had never worked with wonton skins. I had just barely worked with ground pork. When I put the two together, I came up with these dumplings. I can't say that they're authentic, but they are very tasty - better, I think, that any take-out I've had. They're also remarkably easy to make, considering how difficult I expected them to be. It is time consuming, though - the recipe makes a lot of dumplings.

Asian Flavored Pork Dumplings

1/2 pound ground pork
1 clove garlic, grated
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 inch lemongrass, finely chopped
1-2 teaspoons lime juice
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
Salt and freshly grated pepper
1-2 teaspoons stir-fry sauce
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
40-50 wonton wrappers
vegetable or other light oil
chicken stock

1. Using your hands, mix the pork, garlic, inger, lemongrass, lime juice, soy sauce, stir-fry sauce and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Cover the wonton skins with a wet paper towel while working to prevent them drying out. To assemble the wontons, you'll need some water in a cup or bowl that you can easily dip your finger into.
3. Put a 1/2 teaspoon of the pork mixture into the center of a wonton wrapper. Lightly wet two sides of the wrapper with water, and fold in half diagonally to make a triangle. There are three ways to shape the wontons: you can leave them in a triangle, or you can make two crimps on each of the two sides of the triangle to make a diamond-like shape, or you can bring two of the corners (the two on either side of the crease) together in the center of the bundle. This makes a purse-like shape.
4. Repeat with the rest of the wontons, placing the finished ones on a sheet pan under a damp paper towel.
5. To cook the wontons, very lightly oil a large non-stick skillet. Place over medium-high heat. Put as many wontons as you can into the pan - I never had a problem with over-crowding. Brown on both sides (it takes less than a minute), then pour chicken stock into the pan carefully, until it reaches about half-way up the wontons. Boil until the chicken stock is gone. Move the wontons into a oven-safe dish and keep in the oven on 'warm' until the rest of the wontons are done. Wipe out the skillet between batches.

Today, I'm reading... On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan.

15 January 2008

Basic French Bread

With the weather here in Maryland getting steadily colder, the time has definitely arrived for comfort food, and I don't think that there's anything more comforting than freshly baked bread, warm out of the oven. This particular bread is quite well worth making even if only for the smell that permeates through the house while it's baking. Unfortunately, this loaf disappeared so quickly that I don't even have enough to serve with dinner tonight - and even worse, I'm out of yeast until tomorrow!

Basic French Bread

5 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
5 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 teaspooons good-quality salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups warm water (105-115F)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
cornmeal for dusting
1 egg (or 1 egg white)
1 tablespoon water

1. Combine 2 cups of the flour, the yeast, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the dough hook attachment, work in the water slowly. Don't be alarmed if it doesn't come together - it won't until you add the rest of the flour.
2. Add the butter, and the remaining flour, one cup at a time. Mix on low speed until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and forms a ball. Turn out onto a floured board and knead for 8-10 minutes, until smooth, homogeneous and elastic. If needed, work in more flour to made the dough easier to work with if it is too sticky.
3. Form the dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 1-2 hours.
4. Take the dough out of the bowl and lightly punch it down. Form into a loaf (or two, if you prefer. Place on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal, cover and let rise until nearly doubled again, 30 minutes to an hour.
5. When the dough has risen, preheat the oven to 375F. Whisk together the egg and water, and brush liberally over the loaf. Using a sharp knife, slash the top of the loaf in about 3-inch intervals.
6. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, checking occasionally to make sure that the top isn't browning too much. If it is, cover with aluminum foil.

- This is particularly delicious served with a garlic and olive oil dip - mince 3-4 cloves of garlic, and combine with a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes and a teaspoon or so of dried parsley (you could also use a tablespoon of chopped fresh). Place in a bowl and pour over a 1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil. This can be used immediately, but it improves as it sits. I like to sit it on top of the oven while the bread is baking to infuse.

I just finished reading... The Road, by Cormac McCarthy.

11 January 2008

Challah, Adopt-a-Blogger Style

Since last February, I have been searching for a surprisingly elusive Challah recipe. Nothing particularly fancy, nothing particularly out-of-the-ordinary, just an absolutely wonderful recipe. So, imagine my delight when Kristen from Dine and Dish let me know that my more experienced match-up for her Adopt-A-Blogger event was Nabeela, of Trial and Error, who had recently posted a wonderfully delicious sounding Challah recipe! Needless to say, I was in my kitchen kneading away within an hour. The results were fantastic.

This is, by far, the best Challah that I have ever had, let alone the best that I have ever made. I've been throwing a few slices in the microwave for about half a minute every morning, then slathering them with butter for breakfast. I can't wait to try Nabeela's recipe for Challah French Toast with Caramelized Pear Sauce this weekend!

Now, I hope you'll all forgive me for not re-posting the recipe but a) whenever possible, I don't like to post recipes from other bloggers when I can link to them and help them out a bit and b) you really should check out Trial And Error for yourselves. There is a good deal more than Challah there, and I think you'll all enjoy the visit.

Currently, I'm reading... The Other Boleyn Girl, by Phillippa Gregory.

09 January 2008

Tilapia with Pureed Chickpeas and Olive Relish

Being, as I am, quite the fan of black olives (and, for that matter, any kind of olive) I could never quite put my finger on why I have never been able to find a tapenade that I particularly cared for. So, when I made this olive relish and looked up "tapenade" to ensure that I didn't make myself look like an idiot by calling it tapenade, imagine my surprise to find out that tapenade must contain capers. That explains so much. I don't like capers. So, this olive relish isn't tapenade. It doesn't have any capers. But it is very tasty.

This dish is deceptively filling. I figured that I would need a snack later in the evening, but this kept me going until it was time for bed, which was a pleasant surprise. So, if you're looking for a great meat and potatoes alternative, this is it.

Olive Relish (Not Tapenade)

1 can black olives
2-3 cloves garlic
large pinch kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon or so freshly ground pepper
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon good-quality balsamic vinegar

1. Finely chop the olives. Mince the garlic, then sprinkle it with the salt and use the side of your knife to make a paste out of the garlic. This takes a little time. If you want a smoother texture, transfer the olives and garlic to a mortar and pestle and mash as much as desired.
2. Stir in the pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. You can use it immediately, but the flavor improves as it sits.

Roasted Garlic Chickpea Puree

1 head garlic
olive oil
1 can chickpeas
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Cut the top off the head of garlic, exposing the cloves. Drizzle with olive oil and wrap in aluminum foil. Place in an oven-safe dish and roast for 45 minutes. Let cool enough to handle.
2. Squeeze the garlic out of the papery skin in a blender carafe or food processor. Add the chickpeas, olive oil and chicken stock, and puree. Tranfer to a medium saucepan.
3. Add the butter and warm over medium-low heat until heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pan-Seared Tilapia

2 Tilapia fillets (or other flaky white fish)
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper

1. Rinse and dry the Tilapia and check over for bones. Heat the olive oil in a large non-stick skillet.
2. Season the fish liberally with salt and pepper. Place in the skillet and sear for 2-3 minutes on each side, until no longer translucent and the fish flakes easily with a fork.

To Serve: Spoon half of the chickpea puree onto the middle of the plate. Lay the fish about halfway over the chickpeas, and top with a spoonful of the olive relish.

06 January 2008

Weekend Herb Blogging: Edamame

The host of this week's Weekend Herb Blogging is Kalyn.

Edamame is the green, not-yet-hardened soybean. It is harvested between the time it becomes ripe and the time that it begins to harden. Hardened soybeans are used to produce most familiar soy applications. While edamame began as the term for the bean itself, through common use it has transformed into a name for the dish comprised of boiled soybeans with salt. Here, however, I am using it to refer to the soybeans.

Soybeans are generally accepted as a complete protein, however, there is some debate among scientists. However, they do contain many of the amino acids (if not all) that the human body cannot produce on its own. They are also believed to help prevent colon cancer.

I have never been able to get my hands on fresh edamame here in Maryland, so I'll be using frozen, which can be found with a little searching around. Being familiar with the boiled-in-the-pod with salt edamame, I wanted to do something a little different and a little more complex, but that still showcased the flavor of the edamame first and foremost. I think this dish fits the bill quite nicely.

Roasted Salt and Pepper Edamame

1 bag frozen edamame, out of the pod
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1. In a baking dish, spread the edamame to ensure that they will be no thicker than a double layer in the dish. Preheat the oven to 350F.
2. Use your fingertips to thoroughly toss the edamame with the oil, salt and pepper. Spread evenly once coated.
3. Roast for 20-30 minutes. Can be served warm or cooled.

- It is not necessary to thaw the edamame, although it will result in crispier beans.
- You could add almost any flavoring you like, and kosher salt and be substituted for the sea salt if you don't have sea salt on hand.

05 January 2008

Homemade Chicken Stock

Remember I told you in this post that I had an ulterior motive? This is it. I figured that as much as I say "chicken stock (preferably homemade or low-sodium)" I should at some point post about homemade chicken stock. It's not scary. Really, it's not. I thought it was, but it's just a little time-consuming - and even that isn't really active time. You just have to be around the general area of the kitchen for a few hours.

Homemade Chicken Stock

Bones from 1 Chicken
Approx. 4 celery ribs
Approx. 4 carrots
1 onion
Approx. 4 cloves of garlic
2 bay leaves
About 2 teaspoons whole peppercorns

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Pick as much meat as possible off the chicken bones. Wash the celery and carrots well. Cut them into pieces about the size of baby carrots. Cut the onion in half (you can peel it if you want to, but you don't have to). Pop the garlic out of it's papery skin.
2. Place everything but the bay leaves, peppercorns and water into a baking dish. bake for 20-30 minutes, until the kitchen smells delicious.
3. Transfer the contents of the baking dish to a large stockpot. Add the bay leaves and peppercorns. Add enough water to cover.
4. Cook over low heat (the stock shouldn't come to a boil) for at least four hours. Every half an hour or so, check on it and use a shallow-bowled spoon to skim off any scum or fat that has collected on the top.
5. When the stock is done, cover the pot and let it cool. Remove the bones and the large pieces of vegetables from the pot. Strain the stock through a mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth. Refrigerate or freeze until ready to use.

- This is not a scientific process. Cook the chicken stock until you think it's ready. The longer it cooks, the richer it will be and the darker the color will be. But it's all a matter of personal taste.
- Don't go out and buy cheesecloth just for this. I use old t-shirts that would otherwise get thrown away (clean, obviously). I just get them wet first so they don't get saturated with stock and drip all over the counter.
- You can adjust the seasoning however you like. This is just a basic recipe.
- For fish stock, substitute fish head and bones and such. For beef stock, use beef bones. For shrimp stock, use shrimp shells and tails. For vegetable stock, use vegetables. You get the idea.

04 January 2008

Simple and Juicy Roast Chicken

I'm a relatively firm believer in going into the New Year in the way that you hope to spend the New Year, in so much as you can control. So this year, I am making a real effort to be the best possible person I can be for the month of January, hoping that maybe it'll stick. It may be futile, but I don't make resolutions, so I think it's a good compromise. So, in a storm of domesticity that I hope will be one of the new-and-improved elements of life that will catch on, I decided to roast a chicken. Why roast a chicken? Well, I'll tell you all about that in my next post. I do admit that I had an ulterior motive.

This was my first time roasting a chicken that did not come with one of those pop-out thermometers, which I always listened to (blasphemy, I know). So I had to break out my meat thermometer - my meat thermometer and I are actually quite good friends and it was delighted to be put to a new use - and think about how much I should cook the chicken. The result was a chicken so juicy that we could barely carve it.

Simply Roasted Chicken

1 whole chicken
1 stick of butter
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and Pepper

1. Melt the stick of butter and rinse the chicken. Remove the giblets. Preheat the oven to 450F.
2. Drizzle the chicken with the olive oil. Using a pastry brush or a basting brush, brush the chicken with about 2/3 of the butter. Sprinkle liberally with the salt and pepper.
3. Stick a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the chicken breast, being careful not to hit the bone. Place in a deep baking dish or roasting pan. Cook for about 20 minutes at 450F.
4. Remove from the oven and decrease the temperature to 350F. Brush with the remaining butter. Fill the pan with 1-2 inches of water. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and return to the oven. Cook for about an hour, until the internal temperature of the chicken is 165F.

- You could leave the chicken in at 450F for up to 30 minutes for a crispier skin.
- Essentially any spices or herbs can be used to season the chicken, and onions, garlic, herbs and citrus give fantastic flavor if you stuff them in the cavity. Because of my ulterior motive, I wanted to keep this chicken simple.
- You can cut down on or eliminate the butter for a healthier chicken.
- To make a gravy, judge the amount of liquid in the bottom of the pan, and make a roux using the same amount in tablespoons of butter and flour as you have cups of liquid. For example, if you think you have about 2 cups of liquid, melt two tablespoons of butter, then stir in two tablespoons of flour. Cook for about a minute to remove the raw taste from the flour. Very carefully pour the liquid from the chicken into the roux, whisking constantly. Bring up to a simmer and season to taste.

I just finished reading... The Mother Tongue, by Bill Bryson.