Sunday, June 24, 2012

Cooking Challenge Week 25 - Regional - Pasties

They're huge, and they're delicious.  I'd never had one before, but who could turn down a giant butter pie crust filled with meat, potato, and onion?

I browsed through quite a few traditional recipes, both "originals" from Cornwall and the UP versions (that's Upper Peninsula to you non-Michiganders), and--surprise, surprise--none of them agreed on what was the true pasty.

So having absorbed all this pasty knowledge, I winged it based on what I like.

Avrienne's Pasties from the Thumb
  • 1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
  • half of a large onion, chopped
  • 2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 pie crusts (I recommend this recipe, it's my favorite)
  • milk
Make your pie crusts.  Most recipes call for the dough to chill before rolling out--that would be the time to chop the veggies and make the filling.

Also, preheat your oven to 400 F.

Crumble the ground beef into a large bowl, then add the onion and potatoes.  Season well with salt and pepper, then mix thoroughly with your hands.  Pat the mixture down firmly in the bowl, and divide in half with a knife.  (This will make sense in a minute here, I promise.)

(Wash your beefy hands!)

Roll out one of the pie crusts in a circle.  You're shooting for about 1/4" thick and hopefully at least 10" in diameter.  Take half of the beef mixture (which should mostly come out in one piece if you packed it well!) and place it on one side of the pie crust.  Fold the other side over to cover and seal well around the edge.  Transfer to a lightly-greased baking sheet.

Repeat with the other crust and the rest of the beef mixture.  Slash a few vents in the top of each, then brush the tops with a little milk.  Bake for 45 minutes, until the crusts are golden brown and the filling cooked through.  Cut in half to serve, unless you're actually a coal miner and need a whole one to yourself!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Baking Challenge Week 24 - Alcohol - Rum Raisin Oatmeal Cookies

Okay, so I'm very late posting this.  I made the cookies last Saturday and meant to post them Sunday, then forgot.  And then there was the massive heat wave that sapped my will to do anything, no matter how minor.

They look unimpressive, I'll admit.  And I'm not going to share this recipe, because I'm not happy with it. Why?

A few years back we tried the Good Eats Oatiest Oatmeal Cookies Ever, and sadly, were mostly unimpressed.  I love GE, and 95% or more of my recipe attempts have turned out anywhere from fine to fantastic.  But it turns out that replacing your standard gluten-forming wheat flour with home-ground oat flour gives you the thinnest, crispiest, crumbliest rendition of an oatmeal cookie that ever there was.  We were disappointed.

The one thing the recipe got right--soak your raisins in rum!!!

Remembering that, I tried a different oatmeal cookie recipe and just tweaked it with the soaking.  However, where in the first recipe there wasn't enough flour for the oats (having none at all), this one has way too much.  Can you even see the oats in those cookies?  Only barely.

My ideal oatmeal cookie is moist, chewy, and packed full of oats to just short of the point where there wouldn't be enough gluten to bind the cookie together and make it stable.  Neither recipe gave me this.

But if you have a favorite recipe?  Just use that but soak your raisins in rum for half an hour or so first!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Cooking Challenge Week 24 - Berries - Raspberry Sausage and Cheese Grits

Having no fresh berries of any kind on sale last week, I resorted to raspberry preserves to make this wonderful recipe, which sounds a little strange but tastes fantastic.  My only change is to leave out the mushrooms, and only because I generally like mushroom flavor but not texture--I think this is fine with just the onion.  Also, I've made this with before with kielbasa, smoked pork sausage, and this time smoked turkey, and they're all just fine; anything with a good strong flavor that will balance the sweet preserves.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Neglected Cookbook Project: Gingery Chickpea Curry

This is from the very first cookbook on Indian cuisine that I ever got, the day after my first Indian meal.  I was in England, visiting my husband while he was doing his Master's over there, and he took me out to this charming curry house down the street from his flat.  The next day, I found Recipes from the Indian Spice Trail at a used bookstore two streets over.  I browsed through while I was there, but we had a lot going on, so it was on the flight home that I read most of it.

It's an odd and fascinating blend of travelogue and cookbook, being a companion piece to a BBC radio series.  Being a sort of journey-through-food, the recipes are divided by region and often subdivided further by ingredient, focusing on the handful of predominant flavors of the area.  This means I usually start hunting in the index when I want to make something with a specific ingredient (like this week, when red bell peppers were on sale and I really wanted to use them in a curry), which is not my normal method of finding recipes, so that may be, in part, why I don't use this book nearly as often as it deserves.  Until now, I really had only made one recipe from it, a cinnamon-scented caramelized rice that can be tricky to pull off without burning, but goes so, so well with super-spicy curries.  I haven't made it for a while, I should really make it again soon....

This recipe starts out as a side dish without any red pepper in it at all, but one of the variations recommends stuffing the chickpeas inside peppers and baking them.  From there it wasn't much of a stretch to simply include it in the curry to begin with, very similar to my bean and broccoli curry, which was so good I made a second batch that same week just to freeze for later.

One note: while I cook most of my own beans from dry, I don't have an inexpensive source for dried chickpeas, which is why I use canned here.  If you're cooking them yourself (which I highly recommend you do, if you can) the steps remain basically the same, you just leave out the bell pepper and dramatically lengthen the cook time from twenty minutes to whatever your brand of dried chickpeas recommends.  The original recipe assumed dried and says 1-3 hours, depending on brand, and suggests canned as a time-saver. Throw in the bell pepper for the last 20-30 minutes and you're good to go!

Gingery Chickpea Curry
  • 3 15-oz cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
  • 1 large red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 to 3 inch piece ginger, skinned and minced finely, divided
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced finely, divided
  • 2-4 thin green chillies, half left whole but slit, half seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 large onion, finely sliced
  • 2 tbsp ghee or butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
  • salt to taste
Combine the chickpeas and bell pepper in a large saucepan, and add just enough water to cover.  Stir in half of the minced ginger, half the minced garlic, and the slit chillies.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the ghee or butter in a skillet and fry the onion until soft and golden (which should take just as long as the simmer, I won't lie and say you can caramelize onions in 5 minutes like so many recipes do.)  Add the rest of the ginger and garlic, and the cumin seeds.  Fry another minute or so until the garlic is fragrant and the cumin seeds start to pop.  Stir this mixture into the chickpeas.

If a lot of water is left, remove some of it now; then mash some of the chickpeas against the side of the pan to thicken what's left.  Stir in the undrained tomatoes and heat through.  Season to taste, and serve with plain boiled rice.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Baking Challenge - Week 23 - Copycat - Faux Lofthouse Sugar Cookies

My apologies for the sub-par picture, it's the only one I have.  I made these right before we went away for the weekend, and getting the blog post up properly didn't happen, with all the packing and cleaning and getting out of work late on Friday.

But you can see everything I wanted to discuss in this one picture, at least.  In the introduction thread for the week's theme, someone posted this recipe and I knew I had to do it.  The secret ingredient compared to a more standard sugar cookie seems to be sour cream, which I had, though only enough for a half batch--but that's fine, since the full recipe makes 5 1/2 dozen!  My half batch got me 3 dozen easily.

However, when I read through the recipe, the baking time and temperature seemed suspect.  I've never seen a sugar cookie of any sort baked at 425 F, especially trying to imitate the soft, pale Lofthouse cookies.  So I baked my first batch at 400 F instead, for 7 minutes, and those are the ones on the upper left--quite golden.  I dialed back to 375 F (which is the same temperature as my family's secret sugar cookie recipe, so I was fine with that) and reduced the time to 6 1/2 minutes, just to be safe...and those came out perfect.

The frosting seemed just right, and of course you have to douse them in sprinkles.  I found multicolored flower sprinkles, so I went with green frosting for a garden theme.

I will definitely be making these again.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Cooking Challenge Week 23 - 20 Minutes or Less - 18-Minute Pasta with Sausage and Peppers

Not the fanciest thing, I know, but it's hard to beat for filling, delicious, and fast.

I set the timer for 20 minutes and got to work.
  1. Set the water on to boil.
  2. Started 3/4-lb. of bulk hot Italian sausage browning in a saucepan.  This has to be good sausage, folks.  Lots of the flavor that will eventually be in the sauce starts here.  My local grocery chain does their own sausage, which is invariably high-quality and delicious.
  3. Chopped one small onion and one medium green bell pepper, and added them to the sausage when it was mostly browned.
  4. Stir, stir, cook, wait for the water to boil.
  5. At 11 minutes left, the water was boiling, so I added half a pound of rotini, which needed to cook for 7 minutes.  A little early, perhaps, but I wanted to be sure I'd have time to assemble.
  6. Back to the sauce--time to add a 15-oz can of tomato sauce.  Not jarred spaghetti sauce, thank you, but the plain stuff that lives next to the other canned tomatoes.  Remember that I said it should be good sausage?
  7. I'm not above nudging my sauce with herbs, though.  In went a little basil, oregano, and mint.  Yes, mint.  Don't look at me like that, it really adds something, and it won't taste like toothpaste, I promise.
  8. While the pasta was cooking and the sauce was simmering, I realized I had a good three minutes with nothing to do, and remembered a wedge of Asiago in the fridge, which promptly became friends with my micrograter.
  9. Drained the pasta, tossed with the sauce, and boom! Done at 18 minutes.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Baking Challenge Week 22 - Pastry - Lemon Curd Rolls

They were supposed to be custard rolls, from one of my lovely British baking books, but my custard, while tasty, didn't thicken properly.  I'm not entirely sure why, and I'm trying to come up with another use for it.  I could use it as is just fine as a sauce, but then I'd need to make something for it to be a sauce for....would a flour-thickened custard make terrible ice cream, do you think?  Might be my best option.

Anyway, when it became obvious the custard wouldn't do, I got out the rest of the lemon curd from my cookie tarts a few weeks ago and filled the filo with that, instead.  It worked fine, tasted great, and (as filo is wont to do) went incredibly soggy overnight, so I'm glad I only made six.

No recipe this time, though, because it's a hodge-podge that probably isn't worth the trouble to recreate.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Cooking Challenge Week 22 - Tarts - Bacon and Red Pepper Quiche

I will jump at any excuse I can to make quiche, although I'm still working on getting my pie crusts to be pretty, as you can plainly see.

In past pastry posts, I've linked to a good shortening-based pie crust recipe; but this time, I was out of shortening.  I did have five sticks of butter in the freezer (buy butter on sale and freeze it!), so I tried smitten kitchen's all-butter crust.  I have to say, it was a lot easier to handle than my previous pie crusts, so I think I might very well be a butter convert now...

If the flavor profile here looks familiar, it is.  What can I say, they're delicious together!  I left out the onion here, though, because my bell pepper was huuuuuge and I didn't want the egg filling to overflow. 

Bacon and Red Pepper Quiche
(makes 2 9-inch tarts)
  • 2 pie crusts from your preferred recipe
  • 6 strips thick-cut bacon
  • 1 large red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 cup Mexican-blend shredded cheese (cheddar would also be lovely)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • salt and pepper
Make your pie crusts.  While the dough is firming up in the fridge, proceed with the filling.

Also, get your oven preheating to 400 F.

Chop the bacon into 1 1/2" inch pieces.   Cook over medium heat until done but not super-crispy; remove bacon pieces with a slotted spoon or spatula as they look done, so none overcook while the others are finishing. Drain on a paper-towel-lined plate, and set aside.

When all the bacon is out, throw in the bell pepper and cook over low heat until tender, stirring often.  I like a little bit of char on mine, so I turned up the heat to medium-high for the last minute, but that's purely optional.

As the red pepper is cooking, roll out your two pie crusts and get them into your pie pans.  Dock well and blind-bake (ie, line with parchment or foil and fill with dried beans or pie weights) for 12 minutes.  Remove from the oven, carefully lift out the foil and let your weights cool off somewhere. 

Turn the oven down to 350 F.  (Do not forget this step!)

Divide the bacon, bell pepper, and cheese evenly between the two crusts.

In a small bowl (or preferably, a 4-cup liquid measuring cup, for easier pouring) whisk the eggs until well-blended.  Add the sour cream and whisk until there are no lumps; finally add the milk and whisk until smooth.  Season well with salt and pepper.

Divide the egg mixture between the two crusts and bake 30-35 minutes, until the edges are browned and the filling is set.  Allow to cool on wire racks 10 minutes before serving (for hot) or longer to nearly room temperature, which is quite nice on a hot summer night like tonight.

Refrigerate leftovers.  Also, this freezes incredibly well; I often freeze the second quiche whole.  To reheat from frozen, bake at 350 F for 25 to 30 minutes, covering the edge of the crust with foil if necessary to prevent over-browning.