Monday, December 26, 2011

Finnish Mustard

It's no secret how much I love mustard.  Over the past three years I've pretty much professed my undying love for the golden-hued sauce of joy.  So, it should come as no surprise that I chose Tessa Kiros' Finnish Mustard to top my Christmas ham.  We all know that ham just begs for mustard.  They belong together.  Kinda like peanut butter and jelly. 

Finnish Mustard
Adapted from Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros
Makes 1-1/3 cups

Tessa says, "We almost always had a jar of this in the house:  my mother loves her mustard.  This is wonderful - so quick to make and it will keep well for a few weeks in a glass jar in the fridge.  You could find it becomes essential for cold meat sandwiches or roast ham and with smoked sausages and gravlax.  I imagine it would be nice with any mustard powder you use, but this is the way my mother always makes it."

1/3 cup hot English mustard powder 
1/2 cup superfine sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
juice of half a lemon

Mix the mustard powder, sugar, and salt together in a bowl, squashing out the lumps with a wooden spoon.  Put in a small saucepan over low heat with the cream, oil, vinegar, and lemon juice, and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Cook for 7 to 8 minutes, stirring often, then remove from the heat when it darkens and thickens.  Stir now and then while it cools and then pour into glass jars.  Store it in two shorter jars rather tha a tall jar where it will be difficult to reach the last bit of mustard with a spoon,  Keep in the fridge.
Theme: Winter Wonderland

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

I wanted to take this opportunity to wish all of you a Very Merry Christmas! I hope you have a safe, healthy, and happy holiday.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Unique and Delicious Banana Bread

You know how you make a recipe with no intention at all of posting it and sharing it?  That's the case with this recipe.  I'd been craving banana bread and I had plenty of ripe bananas on my hands so I set about making Tessa's recipe for banana bread. 

I noticed a few unique things while making the bread.  First, the recipe didn't call for any white sugar, only brown sugar.  Second, the recipe called for mixing the baking soda into the warm milk...something I'd never heard of at all.  I wondered if Tessa's variations would yield any differences in the final product and boy did they ever.  This is probably the best looking banana bread I've ever made.  It rose wonderfully in the oven.  Not only was this a good looking loaf of bread, it was utterly delicious.  Everyone who tried this bread ended up exclaiming "Wow, that is some great banana bread."  They all had two slices, myself included. 

If you're a fan of banana bread or if you have ripe bananas on your hands, then I really urge you to try this recipe.  It's tender, fragrant with spices, and just plain fantastic when served warm with a little butter.  This will be my new go to banana bread recipe.

Banana Bread
Adapted from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros
Serves 10 or so

Tessa says, "This is my schoolfriend Alexia's recipe:  Her mom was a fantastic cook and she always made this.  It is a healthy snack or breakfast and an excellent way to use up bananas that otherwise might be on their way out.  I always end up making this because bananas in my house just never keep the pale waxy complexion that they have in the shops.  For some reason, they start deteriorating the minute they come home with me.  You can add some chopped walnuts or hazelnuts, too, and some cinnamon.  Serve it on its own, or even lightly buttered and with your favorite jam."

1/4 pound plus 1 tablespoon butter
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
3 or 4 medium ripe bananas, mashed
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
salt (a good pinch)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
4 tablespoons warm milk

Preheat the oven to 350F and butter a 12 by 4-inch loaf pan.

Cream the butter and sugar until smooth and then whisk in the mashed bananas.  Add the eggs, vanilla, cinnamon, and a pinch of so of salt and whisk in well.  Sieve the flour and baking powder and beat until smooth.  Mix the baking soda into the milk and stir into the batter.

Scrape the mixture into the panand bake for about 50 minutes, until the bread is crusty on the top and a skewer poked into the middle comes out clean.  Turn out onto a rack to cool

Serve warm or cold, plain or toasted with butter, but allow to cool completely before storing in an airtight container, where it will keep well for several days.

Note: I mixed the batter for the bread by hand in a mixing bowl.  I did not use any type of mixer at all.
Theme: Holiday Goodies

Monday, December 19, 2011

Southern Living's Cover Recipe: King Ranch Chicken Mac and Cheese

There are exceptions to every rule.  Take this macaroni and cheese for example.  It contains Velveeta and a can of cream of chicken soup, neither one of those ingredients are something I normally buy or cook with.  But, and this is a big but, this macaroni recipe was the cover recipe of Southern Living's new January issue and it totally stole my heart as soon as I saw it.  I immediately added the ingredients to my grocery list and resolved to make it.

When I came home from the grocery store it was too dark to make this dish (gotta keep the pictures in mind).  So, I set about making it the very next day and I was so pleased.  The macaroni is extremely creamy, quite spicy (from the chiles and added spices), and very substantial with the added chicken.  It was easy to put together and I think it looks stunning served in a cast iron skillet.  If you want to indulge yourself I say go for it.  There are definitely worse things you can put in your mouth.  As for me, I'm sure I'll be fighting myself to keep from making this again.  It was so worth it!

King Ranch Chicken Mac and Cheese
Adapted from Southern Living January 2012 Issue
Serves 6

1/2 (16 oz. pkg) pasta cooked al dente (I used shells)
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 (10 oz. ) can diced tomatoes and green chiles (a can of Rotel works great)
1 (8 oz.) Velveeta, cubed
3 cups chopped cooked chicken
1 (10 3/4 oz) can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup sour cream (I used 1/2 cup milk)
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1-1/2 cups (6 oz.) shredded Cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350F.  Prepare pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add onion and bell pepper, and saute 5 minutes or until tender.  Stir in tomatoes and green chiles and cubed Velveeta; cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes o until cheese melts.  Stir in chicken, next 4 ingredients, and hot cooked pasta until blended.  Spoon mixture into a lightly greased 10-inch cast-iron skillet or 11 x 7 inch baking dish; sprinkle with shredded Cheddar cheese.

Bake at 350F for 25 to 30 minutes or until bubbly.

I'm not being compensated or encouraged to say this, but I want to take this opportunity to mention that the January issue of Southern Living is a real winner.  It's loaded with all kinds of comfort food dishes and I've bookmarked so many to try (most of them do not call for Velveeta or canned soups).  My Mom actually stole my copy and took it to work to make copies.  Definitely take a few minutes to look through it when you're at the grocery.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

An Ina Garten Breakfast

This morning was cause for a celebration.  No more work for my husband.  No more school for the kids.  No more hectic running around to concerts, school parties, or even shopping malls.  A couple weeks of downtime is just what we need right now.  So, to settle in for a nice break I made Ina's Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuits, as well as her Country French Omelet.  It was a little more laborious than my normal weekend breakfast, but also a little more special....and well worth it.

Ina's Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuits are really fluffy and fantastic, with lots of flaky layers and great cheddar flavor, but they are really huge.  Instead of making 8 larger than life biscuits you could easily make 16 regular-sized biscuits (especially if you're serving children and other small eaters).  

Note:  The directions below indicate to make your biscuit dough with a mixer.  I've never heard of making biscuit dough in the mixer so I chose to make the dough by hand, cutting the butter in with a pastry blender, being careful not to overmix, and making sure my dough (mainly the butter) stayed cold.  I've included Ina's directions below for those who feel more comfortable with a mixer.
Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuits
Adapted from Back To Basics by Ina Garten
Serves 8 (or can easily be cut to serve 16)

All-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced
1/2 cup cold buttermilk, shaken (I used whole milk with great results)
1 cold extra-large egg
1 cup grated extra-sharp Cheddar 
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water or milk

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Place 2 cups of flour, the baking powder, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  With the mixer on low, add the butter and mix until the butter is the size of peas.

Combine the buttermilk and egg in a small glass measuring cup and beat lightly with a fork.  With the mixer still on low, quickly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and mix only until moistened.  In a small bowl, mix the Cheddar with a small handful of flour and, with the mixer still on low, add the cheese to the dough.  Mix only until roughly combined.

Dump out onto a well-floured board and knead lightly about six times.  Roll the dough out to a rectangle 5 x 10 inches.  With a sharp, floured knife, cut the dough lengthwise in half and then across in quarters, making 8 rough rectangles.  Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (I didn't use parchment.  I just buttered my baking pan).  Brush the tops with the egg wash, sprinkle with sea salt, and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the tops are browned and the biscuits are cooked through.  Serve hot or warm. 

Country French Omelet
Adapted from Back to Basics by Ina Garten
Ina says this serves 2 (it could easily serve 4)

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup (1-inch-diced) unpeeled Yukon Gold potatoes
salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 extra-large eggs
3 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon fresh chopped chives

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Heat the olive oil in a 10-inch ovenproof omelet pan over medium heat.  Add the bacon and cook for 3-5 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is browned but not crisp.  Take the bacon out of the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside on a plate.

Place the potatoes in the pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Continue to cook over medium-low heat for 8- 10 minutes or until very tender and browned, tossing occasionally to brown evenly.  Remove with a slotted spoon to the same plate with the bacon.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, beat the eggs, milk, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper together with a fork.  After the potatoes are removed, pour the fat out of the pan and discard.  Add the butter, lower the heat to low, and pour the eggs into the hot pan.  Sprinkle the bacon, potatoes, and chives evenly over the top and place the pan in the oven for about 8 minutes, just until the eggs are set.  Slide onto a plate, divide in half (or fourths), and serve hot.
Here's to lots of lazy days!!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Garlic and Black Pepper Broccoli Gratin

I love broccoli.  My husband and kids....not so much. I normally get upset when my family refuses to eat certain foods, but in the case of broccoli....I don't mind at all.  That bubbly, cheesy, golden gratin up there was all mine. It sure is nice not to share sometimes.

In my opinion, broccoli calls for garlic so I took a basic recipe for broccoli gratin and added lots of garlic and of black pepper.  I love potatoes and all, but this broccoli gratin really blows any potato gratin out of the water.  I enjoyed  this 10 times better than your traditional au gratin potatoes. I think this would be a terrific holiday side dish.              

Garlic and Black Pepper Broccoli Gratin
Adapted from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros
Serves 4

Garlic & Black Pepper Bechamel Sauce:
3-1/2 tablespoons butter
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups milk, warmed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, plus more for topping

4-1/2 cups broccoli florets

Preheat the oven to 350F and grease a 4-cup shallow ovenproof dish that is suitable to take directly to the table.  To make the bechamel, melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat.  Add in the minced garlic and cook for about 1 minute.  Whisk in the flour and cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, then begin adding the warm milk.  It will be immediately absorbed, so work quickly, whisking with one hand while adding ladlefuls of milk with the other.  When the sauce seems to be smooth and not too stiff, add salt and pepper, and continue cooking even after it comes to a boil, for 5 minutes or so, mixing all the time.  It should be a very thick and smooth sauce.  Take the sauce off the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese (reserving some or grating extra for the top).  Set sauce aside.

Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil, and cook the broccoli for a few minutes until it has softened a little but is still bright green.  Lift broccoli out with a slotted spoon, letting the water drain off, and put it in the baking dish.  (Save the broccoli water for cooking rice or pasta, or adding to a roast instead of water).

Place the sauce over the broccoli, leaving some florets still showing.  Top with additional Parmesan cheese, and a little more black pepper.  Bake for about 30 minutes and then serve hot.  If necessary, broil for a minute or two to lightly brown the top.

Theme: Potluck

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Kokkinisto (Reddened)

 This recipe, otherwise known as Kokkinsto or Reddened, is a fantastic Greek version of Pot Roast that is flavored with red onion, red wine, tomatoes and a pinch of cinnamon. It is simply outstanding.  Quite possibly one of my favorite Tessa Kiros recipes that I've tried so far.  Of course, I will tell you that I'm really partial to any variation of pot roast, so I'm probably a bit biased.  

There are a few things that set this dish apart from your standard pot roast.  First, the roast is cut into 6 slices and each slice is browned until golden.  I gotta say it.  This is brilliant.  Instead of browning and seasoning an entire roast, you brown and season each individual slice resulting in perfectly seasoned meat.  Additionally, each slice held up to the cooking and made for a really nice presentation when serving.  No worries about trying to slice a roast afterwards! 

Next up is the red wine and tomatoes.  They create a deep rich flavor and after cooking away in the oven for 3 hours the tomatoes get all jammy.  Lastly, is the cinnamon.  It's just a pinch, but just enough to deepen the flavor and contribute some complexity to the dish.  We're talking flavorful, tender, and deeply satisfying.  And, to top it all off, Tessa suggests serving the roast with pasta or french fries, which is definitely a break from the standard mashed potatoes.

So, if you're looking for a different way to serve up roast this season then I highly suggest making this recipe.  It's fantastic!  A huge thanks to my friend Michelle of Ms. en Place for pointing this recipe out.
  Kokkinisto (Reddened)
Adapted from Food From Many Greek Kitchens by Tessa Kiros
Serves 4-6

Tessa says, "This is called Reddened because, quite simply, the meat is cooked in a tomato sauce.  Simple meats like this with tomato, and the lemonato on the opposite page, are very popular standard food in Greece.  They would be served with some pasta on the side, or with french fries, which I love.  The fries in Greece often get an unusual sprinkling of cheese, which is wonderful and casual."

6 tablespoons olive oil
6 (9-ounce) slices beef for stewing (I used a 4lb. chuck roast)
1 large red onion, chopped
1/2 cup red wine
14 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (I used about 1/4 teaspoon)
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
freshly ground black pepper
3 thyme sprigs 

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven and fry the beef until deep golden on both sides.  Salt each side as it's done.  Remove the beef and set aside.  Add the rest of the olive oil (3 tablespoons) and saute the onion until softened.  Add the wine and cook until it has almost evaporated.  Add the crushed tomatoes and the paste, the cinnamon and parsley, and season with a little salt and black pepper.  Bring to a boil and simmer for a few minutes, smoothing out any big bits of tomato with a wooden spoon.  Scrape over the beef.  Fill the tomato can with water and add this to the pot. Add the thyme, cover with the lid and bake for about 2 hours, turning the meat a couple of times.  Add an extra 1/2 cup of water, then bake for 30 minutes more.  At the end of this time, the beef should be very tender and the sauce thick and jammy but abundant.  If necessary, add a little hot water toward the end.  Remove from the oven and serve.

Note:  I cooked my roast for 2 hours covered and realized that the sauce wasn't getting as jammy as I'd like it to.  I removed the lid and cooked it for at least another hour and the sauce did achieve a jam-like consistency.  Next time I might cook the roast uncovered for the entire time and see what happens.

Theme: A Study in Scarlet

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Throwdown: Smothered Pork Chops

My husband has quite a few favorite dishes, but his all-time favorite meal is pork chops with macaroni and cheese.  He's told me several times this meal would be his last supper.  So, when I saw this recipe for Smothered Pork Chops in the latest Food Network magazine I knew I had to try it. 

After a day of working outside in the cold I decided to indulge my husband with a Smothered Pork Chop Dinner.  I bought four 1" - 1&1/2" thick cut pork chops. Upon looking at the sheer size of my pork chops I started to question cooking them on the stovetop as the recipe suggested.  That's when the idea for a Throwdown came to mind.  I immediately decided to cook two chops on the stovetop simmered in the gravy and two chops seared stovetop and pan roasted in the oven.

Pork Chops Cooked Stovetop:  A little softer and paler in color. Completely smothered in gravy.
   Smothered Pork Chops
Pan Roasted vs. Cooked Stovetop
Adapted from Food Network Magazine December 2011 Issue
Serves 4

4 bone-in center cut pork chops (about 1 inch thick)
Kosher salt
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large onion, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped (I omitted this)
1-1/2 cups chicken broth
2/3 cup buttermilk (I used regular milk)

If pan roasting chops preheat oven to 350F.

Sprinkle the pork chops all over with salt and the Cajun seasoning.  Pour the flour into a shallow bowl.  Dredge the chops in the flour, turning to coat, and tap off any excess.  Reserve the remaining flour.  

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the chops; cook until browned, 2-3 minutes per side.  Transfer to a plate. 

Add the butter, onion, thyme, and a pinch of salt to the skillet.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes.  Add 2 tablespoons of the reserved flour to the skillet and cook, stirring, 1 minute.  Add the chicken broth, bring to a boil and cook until reduced by one-third, about 2 minutes.

If cooking pork chops on the stovetop (in the gravy): Add the buttermilk (or regular milk) and return the chops to the skillet.  Bring the sauce to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium low and cook until the sauce is thickened and the chops are just cooked through, 10-12 minutes. 

If pan roasting the pork chops:  Continue to make the gravy by adding the buttermilk (or regular milk) to the pan you seared the chops in.  You will need another oven safe pan to pan roast the chops in (preferably cast iron).  Season the oven safe pan with about 1- 2 teaspoons of olive oil, add the pork chops, and place in the oven (uncovered) for about 30 minutes.  Remove from the skillet, top with the gravy, and serve.
Pan Roated Pork Chops: Slightly golden and seared on the edges with crispy bits.  Not completely smothered, but instead topped with gravy.

The Results:  I definitely think the pan roasted version of these pork chops was superior for several reasons.  The pan roasted pork chops had slightly seared golden brown edges and we really loved topping them with the gravy instead of having the pork chop swimming in the gravy.  Pan Roasting the pork chops was easier, took only 30 minutes, and the pan was much easier to clean up.  I also think when you pan roast you lock in the moisture and end up with a juicier end product.  I personally find that I'm much less likely to overcook my meat when I pan roast as opposed to other methods. 
The stovetop version tasted very similar and was really delicious.  However, since the pork chops were cooked in the gravy they didn't have as much texture.  Additionally, cooking the pork chops on the stovetop took about 45 minutes to an hour (much longer than the pan roasted version) and cleaning the pan was just about impossible. 
Both versions were delicious, but we did prefer the pan roasted version and would alter the recipe to make them this way again.  

Which one do you think you would prefer?