Friday, August 31, 2012

Cooking Challenge Week 33 - Turn Something Boring into Something Great - Chipotle Mac 'n' Cheese

I think this might be the worst picture in the history of my blog, but, I realized, just as I was about to reheat the last chunk of leftovers for breakfast, that I hadn't gotten a picture.  If I were a pretentious artist, this would be titled "Spicy, 4:30 am."  So yeah, very little effort went into this awful picture.

But the dish? Not awful in the slightest.  In fact, it's the best non-standard mac 'n' cheese I've ever had.  Which is why it immediately came to mind for this challenge.

Here's the recipe, which, of course, I highly recommend you try.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Baking Challenge Week 33 (Almost Caught Up!) - Vegetables - Carrot Muffins

So good, they get a real beauty shot.  I'm serious.  These muffins are amazing.

It took me twenty minutes to grate the carrots for this on my crappy little hand grater, and the whole time, I was trying not to skin my knuckles and thinking, "These better be worth it."

They are.  I would make them again in a heartbeat, even at the risk of knuckle damage.

And next time, I think I'll put streusel on top.  Or add walnuts.  Or both!

Carrot Muffins
(adapted from Complete Baking)
  • 3/4 cup margarine, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1/2 lb. carrots, peeled and finely grated
  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
Preheat oven to 350 F.  Grease a 12-cup muffin tin, or use liners.

Cream together the margarine and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and water and blend well.

Stir in the carrots.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt.  Gradually blend into the carrot mixture.

Spoon into the prepared tray, filling cups almost to the top.  Bake 25-30 minutes, until tops spring back when touched lightly (or when a tester inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.)  Let stand ten minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Cooking Challenge Week 32 (Late!) - Corn - Corn Chowder with Smoked Sausage and Pasta

Since I'm trying desperately to catch up to the current challenge, I'm going to keep this one short and sweet.  It's not the most attractive soup to try to photograph (pale yellow and fleshy pink?) but it's soooo tasty.

Let's get to that recipe, shall we?

Corn Chowder with Smoked Sausage and Pasta
(adapted from The Cook's Encyclopaedia of Soup)
  • 1 small green bell pepper
  • 1 pound potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 2 cups canned or frozen corn kernels
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup small pasta shapes (I used penne because I had it, but I'd recommend something smaller)
  • 4 oz smoked sausage, sliced
  • oil
Seed and finely dice the green pepper.  In a small bowl, cover with boiling water and leave to stand for 2 minutes.  Drain and rinse.

Put the potatoes in a saucepan with the corn, onion, celery, green pepper, and chicken stock.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover, and simmer 20 minutes or until all the vegetables are tender.

Add the milk, and season with salt and pepper.  Carefully puree half the soup in a blender and return to the pan, stirring to mix well with the remaining soup.  (Alternately, do what I did and use a hand blender to whiz the soup in the pan until it's partially pureed.  It's a lot safer, and it means fewer dishes to wash.)

Add the pasta and simmer for 10 minutes, until the pasta is al dente.  (Adjust this to the cook time of your specific pasta, if necessary.)

Meanwhile, heat a little oil in a small saucepan and fry the smoked sausage quickly until warmed through and lightly browned, 2-3 minutes.  Stir into the soup, and serve.

Baking Challenge Week 32 (Late!) - Color - Lemon Pinwheels Fail

I've mentioned before that icebox cookies are hit or miss with me, I think.  At least I feel like I've said that.  I've certainly thought it.

Inspired by my success with yesterday's Thin Mint-alikes, I decided to try another icebox cookie, lemon pinwheels.  In theory, they were supposed to be a jelly-roll assembly of yellow (lemon-flavored) and plain (vanilla-flavored) dough, sliced into beautiful spirals.

Well, first of all, the dough seemed to be entirely the wrong consistency, all sticky and unmanageable.  I double-checked that I'd followed the recipe accurately (and I had), so when I started kneading the lemon extract and yellow food coloring into the first half of the dough, I just added more flour as I kneaded to make it firmer.  It worked, up to a point.

Then I looked at my yellow and plain doughs, and realized that there was very little contrast.  Since color is the point of the challenge, I decided to add red coloring to my "plain" dough, which needed to be kneaded (ha!) anyway, since I had to get more flour worked into it to match the yellow dough.

Then I started rolling them out.  Major fail.  All that stickiness reasserted itself the second I started rolling.  Nowhere in the recipe did it mention chilling the dough before assembly (only after), but it seriously would have helped.  I might have even been able to save the dough by chilling it at this point, but I was so frustrated with it that into the trash it went.

I am back on the fence about the usefulness of icebox cookies.  While it's fantastic that I still have half my Thin Mint dough in my freezer to slice and bake as desired, more than half of the recipes I've tried have been utterly wasted by the intransigence of the dough.  It seems like I should have better success with them than I do....

Baking Challenge Week 31 (Late!) - Frozen - Faux Thin Mints

Several people did cookie-ice-cream sandwiches for the frozen challenge, and that's a great idea, but I didn't particularly want to.  Neither did I want to go to all the effort again to make an ice cream cake, delicious as it was.

So I said to myself, what baked good do I regularly eat frozen?

Thin Mints.

If you've never stuck your Thin Mints in the freezer and eaten them straight out of it, do it next year.  I swear, they taste so much mintier!

So I found a recipe and went to it.  I made two changes:  one, I used a few drops of peppermint oil instead of the mint extract, because that's what I had on hand.  And two, I skipped the chocolate coating, since I lacked chocolate squares, and many of the reviewers seemed to have issues with it.  Plus, I'm not exactly great in the coating-something department.

While they're not exactly like Thin Mints, they're certainly close enough--I'm having no problems eating them, straight out of the freezer.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Cooking Challenge Week 31 (Late!) - Broiling - Molettes

Tasty and easy!

Time for a procedural recipe, this doesn't need things like measurements and quantities.

Start with crusty finger rolls, or, in my case, hot dog buns.  The buns were really a little too delicate for this treatment, but my bakery hadn't made any hoagie rolls that day, which would have been better.

Brush them with a little bit of softened butter and broil until lightly browned and crispy--don't let them go too far at this point, since they'll be going back under.

Spread some refried beans on there...

...and then top with some shredded cheese.  I had sharp cheddar, but mild cheddar or any Mexican-style blend would also be good.

Pop them back under the broiler until the cheese is melted and the beans are warmed through.

This is the salsa I made for the molettes.  You certainly don't have to make homemade salsa, though, just use your favorite jarred stuff if you like.

Top with generous amounts of salsa and eat!  Setting aside the time that making the salsa took, I had these done in less than ten minutes, making them a great quick meal.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Baking Challenge Week 30 (Late!) - Sweet Breads - Lemon Walnut Bread

I'm no stranger to sweet breads--I adore cinnamon rolls, for starters, and make them as often as I can find an excuse.  Muffins of all descriptions, fruit loaves, sticky buns, I love them so.

But as usual, when faced with a theme I'm very familiar with, I said to myself, "Find a new recipe."

I leafed through my go-to baking books and found Lemon Walnut Tea Bread, looked at the ingredient list, added a lemon to my grocery list (can you believe I had walnuts lying around, begging for a purpose?) and, later in the day, started baking.

Notice how I said I didn't actually read the recipe?  Because I didn't.

Despite being in the "Buns and Tea Breads" section of the cookbook, despite being loaf-shaped from baking in a loaf tin, it's a sponge cake.  After all the struggle I went through with my failed petit fours I don't think I'm going to forget learning to make sponge cake.

My cookbook tricked me!

Lemon Walnut "Bread"
(adapted from Complete Baking)
  • 4 oz (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 3.5 oz sugar
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature, separated
  • grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
  • 7.5 oz all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 4 fl oz (1/2 cup) milk
  • 2 oz chopped walnuts
  • 1/8 tsp salt
Preheat oven to 350 F.  Grease a 9x5 loaf pan.

In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the egg yolks and mix well, then add the lemon rind and juice.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour and the baking powder.

Blend the flour mixture into the butter mixture in three batches, alternating with the milk (ie, flour, milk, flour, milk, flour.)  Fold in the walnuts.

In yet another bowl, beat the egg whites and salt until stiff peaks form.  Using a spatula (not the mixer!) fold the egg whites into the batter until the mixture is just uniformly blended.

Spread evenly in the prepared pan and bake 45-50 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.  Let cool 5 minutes in the pan before turning out to cool completely on a wire rack.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Cooking Challenge Week 30 (Late!) - Burgers - Burger Trio

Yes, I'm aware there's four burgers, not three, but two of them are made the same way.

All the burgers have Spicy Montreal Steak Seasoning worked into the meat before cooking.  This, in my husband's family, has become a verb:  "Do you want me to Montreal your burgers?"  (Hint:  "No" is never the right answer.)  Also, all four got sharp cheddar cheese on top after flipping.

My burger, on the right, is topped with diced red onions and green peppers.  When I saw how they went all over the place, I put them on the bottom bun of one of my husband's burgers, instead of on top, which made for easier eating.

Hubby's burger #2 was sprinkled liberally with cherry hot sauce.

Burger #3 has stone-ground mustard on the bottom bun and got a sunny-side-up egg on top.

And yes, we ate them with top buns.  But how would you see all the lovely variety if I'd taken the picture that way?

Cooking Challenge Week 29 (Late!) - Inspired by a Color - Burritos Blanco

They were supposed to be Burritos Verde, really, but both of my green elements turned out not-so-green.

They're made from chopped cooked chicken tossed with this fantastic tomatillo sauce, and cilantro-lime rice.  And they're delcious, even if they're not very green!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Baking Challenge Week 29 (Late!) - Summer - Nectarine Almond Tart

I was never much of a pie lover growing up.  The texture of most cooked fruits really put me off--to this day, I still can't abide applesauce.  Chocolate cream pie?  Sure.  Blueberry or cherry or peach?  No, thank you.

But tastes change, and I'm making up for lost time.  What says "summer" as much as a seasonal fruit pie?

I looked at a lot of recipes in my favorite baking books, and one stood out above the rest as unusual (and knowing that nectarines were on sale this week, timely.)  It's an almond cream base with sliced nectarines arrayed on top.

But I'm not sharing the recipe...because it turned out a little weird.

The almond "cream" had a very strange, grainy texture.  The blanched almonds got ground finely with flour (to keep it from becoming almond butter, I'd wager) and added to a creamed butter/sugar/egg mix.  But creaming butter and sugar together incorporates a lot of air pockets (usually that's the point!) so the whole thing is grainy and fluffy at the same time.  Very, very strange.

I will say this, though.  We're eating it anyway, because nectarine + almond = awesome.  I had no idea!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Baking Challenge Week 28 (Late!) - South American - Marraquetas

From this recipe.  There's nothing wrong with them, but aside from the shape, they're incredibly basic, and a little boring.

Though my husband did walk into the kitchen and say, "Why are the rolls undergoing mitosis?"

We had them with some broccoli cheese soup, and all was well, but I doubt I'll be making these again.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Cooking Challenge Week 28 (Late!) - Citrus - Jalapeno Sorbet

Best. Sorbet. Ever.

I'm no stranger to heat in my food, and my husband revels in it.  So when I found a chilli sorbet recipe in The Ice Cream Book, I knew I would try it someday.  Lemon-lime sorbet studded with bits of red chilli?  Sign me up!

Of course, the week I wanted to, there were none of the specified red chillis to be found at my grocery.  So I came home with a jalapeno instead.  Not that I minded.

Lots and lots of the flavor of the jalapeno came through, but basically none of the heat--not surprising, since I deseeded it.  Who wants seeds in their sorbet?  But that makes me curious to try this again with a habanero, which has a lovely fruity flavor but more heat than I can really deal with in most other forms.  (My husband's favorite commercial salsa is Mrs. Renfro's Habanero Salsa, which I think smells lovely, but tastes like I licked brimstone.)

Jalapeno Sorbet
  • 1 jalapeno, deseeded and chopped fine
  • finely grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • finely grated zest and juice of 2 limes
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 cups water
Combine the jalapeno, lemon and lime zest, sugar, and water in a small saucepan.  Heat gently and stir while the sugar dissolves.  Bring to a boil, then simmer 2 minutes without stirring.  Allow to cool.

Stir in the lemon and lime juices.

If using an ice cream maker:  Refrigerate the mixture for one to two hours before freezing, following the general directions given for your model.  (I churned mine for about 25 minutes to soft-serve consistency before transferring it to the freezer, but of course your mileage may vary.)

To make by hand:  Pour the mixture into the large shallow pan and freeze until partially frozen, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.  Beat with a hand mixer to break up chunks and work in some air.  Return to freezer for another hour.  Beat again, freeze another hour, then beat one final time.  Transfer to an airtight container and freeze until firm.

In both cases, soften in the refrigerator 20 minutes or so before serving.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Baking Challenge Week 27 (Late!) - Tarts - Blueberry Galette

My parents are having us over to dinner this week--they're providing the steaks and the beer, and I'm responsible for the potato salad.  Because I needed to cross the W27 challenge off my list, I'm bringing a dessert too!

I even managed to take pictures during the process so I could do a pictorial recipe.  Haven't seen one of those here in a while, have you?  (/pats self on back)

Blueberry Galette
  • 1 pie crust (use your favorite recipe or buy one!)
  • 6 lemon creme sandwich cookies
  • 1 pint blueberries
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 egg
 First thing's first--wash your blueberries and allow them to dry on paper towels while getting everything else ready.  Not pictured:  Preheat your oven to 375 F; line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper; roll out your pie crust to at least 11" in diameter.

These are the cookies I opted to use.  Doing my research for this challenge, some (but certainly not all) galette recipes use frangipane or crushed cookies on the bottom to absorb the juices of the fruit.  Because blueberries are gooey in the extreme, I thought this was a good plan, and I had these around.  Vanilla creme would be good too, I'd expect.

Take your six cookies and chop them roughly...

...then scatter them on your pie crust that you'd already laid out on your baking sheet even though I didn't specifically tell you to!  It's hard to see in the photo, but I lightly pressed the rim of my 9" pie tin into the dough as a guide--strictly optional for a neater tart.

Combine the blueberries, sugar, and cornstarch in a small bowl and toss to coat the berries.

Spread that over the cookie bits.  You can see there's a bit of loose sugar, and that's okay, the juices from the blueberries as they cook down will take care of it nicely.

Fold up the edges to cover the filling.  You can be as neat-and-fancy or as rough-and-rustic as you like here.  I went super-basic.

Beat the egg in a small bowl and brush over the top of the crust.  Bake 30-40 minutes, until the filling is nice and juicy, and the crust is golden brown.

I'm so pleased that I only had one tiny leak!

Cooking Challenge Week 27 (Late!) - BBQ - Slow-Cooker Pulled Chicken

Not going to set the culinary world on fire with this one, am I.  But something that's both tasty and easy has its place!

All I did was throw four chicken thighs in my slow cooker with about 3/4 cup bottled bbq sauce--in this case, Sweet Baby Ray's Hickory & Brown Sugar.  Cook all day, de-bone and shred, serve on buns from your favorite local bakery (I love mine so much!) and add a little tater salad to your plate, and that's it, the lazy woman's barbeque.