Easter Strawberry Dessert

Strawberries are ridiculously cheap around here now, so I bought a whole bunch of them over the weekend.  This was one of the ways we dreamed up to use them all. 

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The photo’s not the greatest, but you get the idea.  I used Jacques Pepin’s (one of my cooking superheroes) Biscuit Roule recipe (see below) for the sponge cake part, and then threw some cream cheese, fresh berries, sugar and lemon juice in a food processor to make the filling.  I threw on some halved fresh strawberries and dotted it with vanilla whipped cream et voila. 

Honestly, the cake is the hardest part, and it’s not really that tough.  It will look like you put far more effort into it that it actually takes.

Rolled Cake (Biscuit Roule)

  • 3 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter

Set oven to 350 degrees.  Combine eggs, egg yolk, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer or another stainless steel bowl.  Set the mixer on high and beat egg mixture for 5 to 6 minutes.  It should almost triple in volume and become pale yellow.  Sift the flour into the egg mixture and fold together, being careful not to deflate the eggs.  Fold in the melted butter.

Take a sheet pan and line it with parchment paper.  Grease paper with butter, then dust flour over the butter.  Shake off excess flour.  Spread the batter evenly over the parchment paper, trying to maintain a rectangular shape.  Bake for 8-10 minutes.

When the edges are barely brown, remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes.  Remove the parchment paper to a cooling rack and let cool to lukewarm.  Then put another piece of parchment paper on the top of the cake and flip over.  Carefully peel the parchment paper from the bottom of the cake.  Then roll the cake up like a jelly roll between the two pieces of paper.  Wrap the whole thing up in plastic wrap until you’re ready to fill it.

If I wasn’t such a slacker, I would put up some pictures of this…the words make it sound harder than it is.

My First Step

I love food.  You know I love food.  There are few things that can get me as fired up as food.  I could talk about it for hours.  I love technology too, but with technology, I don’t get the creative buzz that cooking gives me.  So recently, I’ve been trying to think of ways to connect more with that side of my brain and last night I actually took the first step.

I had the chance to make a three course meal for my brother and his wife for his birthday.  I think it turned out really well and I definitely had a lot of fun.  So much so that I’ve actually set up several more dates to do the same for some of my friends.  I’ll keep you posted. 

So here’s the menu from last night:

  • Roasted Shrimp Cocktail with Chili Cocktail Sauce
  • Pork Medallions with Mushroom Balsamic Reduction
  • Potato Gratin
  • Caramelized Corn with Thyme
  • Apple Cranberry Pastry with Cinnamon Cream

I’m an idiot for not taking any pictures, as it was a thing of beauty.  Anyway, here are the recipes, you’ll just have to use your imagination on how fantastic they looked.

Roasted Shrimp Cocktail

I stole this from Ina Garten.  A lot of times, the shrimp is boiled and that leaches away the flavor of the shrimp.  Roasting, on the other hand, concentrates flavor.

  • 1 lb of large (16/20) shrimp, the freshest you can find
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher Salt
  • Fresh Ground Black Pepper

Peel and devein the shrimp.  Toss them in a little olive oil and then spread them out on a baking sheet.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then roast in a 400 degree oven for eight to ten minutes.  The great thing about shrimp is that it tells you when it’s done by turning pink. 

Remove from the oven and then put in a bowl of ice to chill.  Serve with lemon wedges and this fantastic cocktail sauce:

Chili Cocktail Sauce

  • 1/4 cup of chili sauce
  • 1/4 cup of ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons of prepared horseradish
  • 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper sauce (I like Frank’s)
  • a squeeze of fresh lemon juice

Mix it all up and serve.

Pork Tenderloin Medallions with Mushroom Balsamic Reduction

  • Pork Tenderloin (I usually figure 1 tenderloin for every 2 people.  You do the math.)
  • Kosher Salt
  • Fresh Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 cup of Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1 medium shallot, chopped fine
  • 1/2 pound of sliced mushrooms (any mushroom is fine)
  • 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter

First you want to put the vinegar into a small sauce pan over medium heat and cook it until it’s reduced by half.  When there’s about half a cup left and it’s syrupy, remove from heat and let it cool off.  Set it aside and we’ll come back to it at the end.

Next you want to trim the fat and silverskin from the tenderloin(s).  Then you want to slice across the tenderloin to make about two inch thick disks until you get to the “tail” end of the tenderloin.  Cut the tail almost in half long ways and then fold it along the cut.  It should be about the same thickness as your disks.

Sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper, then get out your heavy skillet.  Heat the skillet over medium high heat, then add a couple of tablespoons of canola or vegetable oil.  When the oil shimmers, put the meat in the skillet, but be careful not to crowd the pan.  (If you need to, cook the meat in batches.)  It’s important to leave the meat alone while it cooks.  Don’t move it around because that will prevent the nice browning that we want.  After five or six minutes, take a pair of tongs and flip the meat and cook for another four or five minutes.  We’re looking for about 140 degree internal temperature.  Remove the meat to a plate and allow to rest while making the pan sauce.

In the same skillet, add a tablespoon of butter, the shallot, and the mushroom.  Cook until the mushrooms turn golden brown, about six or seven minutes.  Add the vinegar reduction, and scrape up all of the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Take the pan off the heat and then add the other tablespoon of butter and swirl around until melted.  Taste the sauce and adjust salt/pepper as desired.  Pour the pan sauce over the meat and serve.

Caramelized Corn with Fresh Thyme

  • 1 package of frozen corn, defrosted (My favorite is Birdseye White and Gold Sweet Corn)
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • Kosher Salt
  • Fresh Ground Black Pepper

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat.  Add butter and when it stops foaming, add corn.  Without stirring, let corn cook until you start to see some color on the kernels, five or six minutes.  Stir the corn once, and let the color continue to develop for another couple of minutes.  Add thyme, then salt and pepper to taste.  Serve immediately.

Apple Cranberry Pastry

  • 1 sheet of Puff Pastry, defrosted
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and diced
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons dried cranberries
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon of orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • 1 egg, beaten with a little water

Heat oven to 400 degrees. 

In a small saucepan, combine apples, sugar, cranberries, cinnamon, orange zest and juice.  Over medium heat, cook for 5 or 6 minutes, until the apples soften just a bit. 

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.  Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of sugar on the parchment, then lay out the puff pastry sheet on the sugar, pressing the dough a little to make the sugar stick.  Cut puff pastry into four equal squares.  Fill each square with a tablespoon or so of apple filling.  Brush the edges of the pastry with beaten egg, then fold diagonally and seal the edges with a fork.  Brush the tops of the pastry with beaten egg and then sprinkle a little more sugar on the tops of the pastry. 

Bake for eight or ten minutes, until the pastry is a deep golden brown.  Let cool and serve with cinnamon whipped cream.

Cinnamon Whipped Cream

  • 1/2 cup of heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

In a medium bowl, add cream and whip for a minute or so with a whisk or hand mixer.  Add sugar and cinnamon, and then resume whipping until the cream stiffens and holds its shape nicely. 

Bring on the Spring Salad

It’s freaking freezing outside.  Literally.  It’s like fifteen degrees outside.  That’s not at all normal for my usually temperate state.  The schools were closed before the first snowflake even hit the ground, which is funny to me. 

Anyway, I’m ready for spring.  I know winter barely started, but I have been thinking about all the great things to eat in the spring and summer time.  When I saw this quick and simple salad full of summer-y things, I had to try it out.  Like those Vikings (or whoever they were) lighting candles and sticking them on trees to bring back the sun, this was my hurry up summer offering.

Pasta Caprese Salad

  • 1 pound tubular pasta (like penne)
  • 3 of the best tomatoes you can possibly find – seriously, pull out all the stops and get the best you can (in a pinch, a pint of grape tomatoes will do, just halve them)
  • 1/2 pound of fresh mozzarella (Belgioso is a brand that has worked pretty well for me)
  • Large bunch of fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1/4 cup good quality olive oil
  • 1 small shallot, chopped fine (don’t fear the shallot.  it’s just a small mild onion, trust me)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced fine
  • Salt
  • Crushed Red Pepper
  • About a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice

Put on your water to boil for the pasta.  (Remember to salt the water after it comes to a boil)  Chop your mozzarella into bite sized pieces and then put them in a single layer on a plate and put it in the freezer for about 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together olive oil, shallots, garlic, about 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper and about a tablespoon of lemon juice.  Then, chop the tomatoes into bite sized pieces, and add to dressing.  Let the tomatoes marinate while the pasta finishes cooking.

When the pasta is cooked, drain and add to the tomato/dressing mixture.  Add the basil and chilled mozzarella pieces and toss until combined.  Taste it and adjust seasonings as needed.  Serve warm.

, January 8, 2010. Category: Pasta.

It’s FINALLY Here. So Now What?

I absolutely LOVE Thanksgiving.  Preparing this meal is something I look forward to all year long.  Don’t get me wrong, I like Christmas, but I particularly like this time of year to re-focus on all of the things we have to be thankful for.  For me the list has always been long and I am excited to share this time with my family and friends.

For some reason this year several people who will be making this spread for the first time have come to ask my advice, so I know that many will be stressing out over this meal.  To help out, I am going to post my menu for this year and give you the recipes.  This will be a monster of a post, but hopefully it will give you some inspiration for your own meal. 

The Side Shows

Mashed Potatoes

I always have to start here.  This is a must have for me, one of those things that define this meal to me.  I use Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and large diced which I boil until easily pierced with a fork.  Drain the potatoes and then take heavy cream and steam it (or heat it in the microwave).  Melt some unsalted butter (and I do mean butter, none of this fake crap – it’s Thanksgiving for cryin’ out loud) and then mash the potatoes a bit.  Pour in some hot cream and some butter, while whisking the mixture.  Add cream and butter until it gets to the consistency you like, then add salt and pepper.  You really can’t mess this one up.

Gravy

Gravy is one of those things that seems to strike fear into the hearts of many cooks.  Everyone has experienced the lumpy, floury, greasy failures that I think cause this fear.  Gravy doesn’t have to be hard, though.  You are going to get a fantastic flavor boost for free from the turkey drippings, so all you have to do is to get a good consistency to work with.  For me, a nice blond roux is the perfect start.  I usually sauté some onions in a decent amount of butter because I like the flavor that they bring to the party.  Then add about 1/2 cup of flour (sifting the flour into the pan helps reduce lumps) and cook it for 2 or 3 minutes.  Then add some hot chicken stock and whisk until it gets to a thick consistency.  When your turkey is done, strain out the drippings into a large glass measuring cup and allow the fat to separate out.  Skim off all of the fat and then whisk the remainder into the gravy.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Sweet Potato Casserole

No marshmallows in this one, sorry.  It’s full of butter and sugar, so quit your whining.  This one is best started the day before.  Bake 3 or 4 large sweet potatoes until they’re completely soft.  Let them cool.  Peel them and then put the insides into a large bowl.  Beat in about a cup of sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, 2 eggs, 3 tablespoons melted butter, 1/2 cup milk and a tsp of vanilla.  In a separate bowl, combine 3 tablespoons butter, a cup of brown sugar, 1/3 cup flour.  Once it’s all mixed up put this mixture on top of the sweet potatoes and then bake at 350 for 30 minutes or so.

Green Beans Almondine

I vacillate between this one and the green bean casserole (with homemade mushroom cream sauce and fried onions, of course).  My problem is that oven time is at a premium on Thanksgiving day as I only have a single oven, which is a sad thing indeed.  So I go with this simple skillet preparation instead.  I take a couple of pounds of fresh green beans with the ends trimmed and cut them in half for easier sautéing.  I boil them in salted water for a couple of minutes, then drain the hot water and dump the beans into an ice water bath to stop the cooking and prevent them from turning an ugly gray.  I then heat a heavy skillet over medium heat and drop a few tablespoons of butter into it.  Once the butter melts, add a minced shallot (or onion or garlic even) and cook for a minute or so.  Add the beans and toss to heat and coat.  Add sliced almonds and cook for another few minutes, then add salt and pepper to taste. 

Caramelized Corn and Mint

Every year, I do an experimental recipe.  Some times it works out, sometimes not.  My only requirement is that I’ve never tried to cook it before.  This year I was reading a food blog which I had never cooked anything from – The Wednesday Chef – and she really sold this recipe, so there you have it.

Dinner Rolls

This is one is from Cook’s Illustrated.  I am not the greatest baker, so I pretty much follow this one as written.

  • 1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon water (12 1/2 ounces), room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 3 cups plus 1 tablespoon bread flour (16 1/2 ounces), plus extra for forming rolls
  • 3 tablespoons whole wheat flour (about 1 ounce)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt

Whisk water, yeast, and honey in bowl of stand mixer until well combined, making sure no honey sticks to bottom of bowl. Add flours and mix on low speed with dough hook until cohesive dough is formed, about 3 minutes. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature 30 minutes.

Remove plastic wrap and evenly sprinkle salt over dough. Knead on low speed (speed 2 on KitchenAid) 5 minutes. (If dough creeps up attachment, stop mixer and scrape down using well-floured hands or greased spatula.) Increase speed to medium and continue to knead until dough is smooth and slightly tacky, about 1 minute. If dough is very sticky, add 1 to 2 tablespoons flour and continue mixing 1 minute. Lightly spray 2-quart bowl with nonstick cooking spray; transfer dough to bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let dough rise in warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Fold dough over itself; rotate bowl quarter turn and fold again. Rotate bowl again and fold once more. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise 30 minutes. Repeat folding, replace plastic wrap, and let dough rise until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes. Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Transfer dough to floured work surface, sprinkle top with more flour. Using bench scraper, cut dough in half and gently stretch each half into 16-inch cylinders. Divide each cylinder into quarters, then each quarter into 2 pieces (you should have 16 pieces total), and dust top of each piece with more flour. With floured hands, gently pick up each piece and roll in palms to coat with flour, shaking off excess, and place in prepared cake pan. Arrange 8 dough pieces in each cake pan, placing one piece in middle and others around it, with long side of each piece running from center of pan to edge and making sure cut-side faces up. Loosely cover cake pans with plastic wrap and let rolls rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes (dough is ready when it springs back slowly when pressed lightly with finger). Thirty minutes before baking, adjust rack to middle position and heat oven to 500 degrees.

Remove plastic wrap from cake pans, spray rolls lightly with water, and place in oven. Bake 10 minutes until tops of rolls are brown; remove from oven. Reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees; using kitchen towels or oven mitts, invert rolls from both cake pans onto rimmed baking sheet. When rolls are cool enough to handle, turn right-side up, pull apart, and space evenly on baking sheet. Continue to bake until rolls develop deep golden brown crust and sound hollow when tapped on bottom, 10 to 15 minutes; rotating baking sheet halfway through baking time. Transfer rolls to wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.

 

Orange Cranberry Sauce

This is another one to make the day before.  First, use a microplane or zester and get all of the zest off of one orange.  Then finish peeling off the pith and chop the orange into pieces (remove any seeds).  Take a couple of packages of fresh cranberries, put them in a sauce pan and add 1/2 cup of sugar, the chopped orange and a cinnamon stick.  Simmer all of this together until the cranberries start bursting and the sauce thickens.  Then mix in the zest and add a little freshly grated nutmeg.  Let cool and put it in the refrigerator, overnight if possible.

 

The Main Event

Turkey

I have nothing against ham.  Or beef.  Or pork.  I am truly an equal opportunity glutton.  For Thanksgiving for me, though, it has to be turkey.  Look at this bad boy from a few years ago:

DSC01118Turkey is pretty simple really.  I soak mine in brine for a couple of days before hand.  I get a cooler, put the defrosted bird in it.  I try to guess how much water it will take to completely cover the bird (usually 4-6 gallons) and then I dissolve 1 cup of kosher salt per gallon of water, a couple of cups of brown sugar, a palm full of whole allspice, 4 or 5 dried bay leaves, 2 or 3 palms full of whole black peppercorns in a gallon or so of water.  I pour this mixture along with the rest of the cold water over the bird, and then add a bag of ice.  Let it sit in the brine for 24-48 hours and then take it out and rinse it off. 

Then take the bird and put it on a roasting rack inside a deep pan.  Let it sit in the refrigerator overnight.  On Thanksgiving morning, melt a couple of tablespoons of butter and brush the bird all over with it.  Then sprinkle on kosher salt and pepper.  Take some chopped onion, celery and carrot and some fresh thyme and put some inside the cavity of the turkey and the rest in the bottom of the roasting pan.  Also, add about a cup of water to the bottom of the pan.  Roast the turkey, breast side down at 400 degrees for an hour or so.  Then flip the bird with one wing up, baste it and roast for about 15 or 20 minutes.  Then flip the bird to the other wing baste it and roast for 15 minutes.  Then flip the breast side up baste it again, and roast until the breast gets to 160 degrees or so (start checking after 30 minutes or so).  Take the bird out and let it rest for 10 minutes or so, then it’s ready to carve.

The After Party

Pumpkin Mousse Parfait

I really like Ina Garten.  She is very classy and yet down to earth.  This recipe is from one of her cookbooks and I don’t really change anything about it.  It’s fantastic!

Apple Pie

My wife is actually the pie maker in our house.  She does a spectacular job and this is her recipe for a most excellent apple pie.

  • ½ cup plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup packed light brown sugar
  • ¼ tsp table salt
  • 1 tbsp juice and ½ tsp grated zest from 1 lemon
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 ½ lbs firm tart apples (about 5 medium), peeled and cut into ¼ inch thick slices
  • 2 ½ lbs firm sweet apples (about 5 medium), peeled and cut into ¼ inch thick slices
  • Mix ½ cup sugar, brown sugar, salt, zest, and cinnamon in large bowl.

Add apples and toss to combine. Transfer apples to dutch oven (do not wash bowl) and cook, covered, over medium heat, stirring frequently, until apples are tender when poked with fork but still hold their shape, 15 to 20 minutes. (Apples and juices should gently simmer during cooking). Transfer apples and juices to rimmed baking sheet and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. While apples cool, adjust oven rack to lowest position, place empty rimmed baking sheet on rack, and heat oven to 425 degrees.

Remove 1 disk of dough from refrigerator and roll out between 2 large sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap to 12 inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick. (If dough becomes soft and/or sticky, return to refrigerator until firm.) Remove parchment from one side of dough with one hand while pressing into plate bottom with other hand. Leave dough that overhangs plate in place; refrigerate until dough is firm, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, roll second disk of dough between 2 large sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap to 12 inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick. Refrigerate, leaving dough between parchment sheets, until firm, about 30 minutes.

Set large colander over now-empty bowl; transfer cooled apples to colander. Shake colander to drain off as much juice as possible (cooked apples should measure about 8 cups); discard juice. Transfer apples to dough lined pie plate; sprinkle with lemon juice.

Remove parchment from one side of remaining dough and flip dough onto apples; peel off second piece of parchment. Pinch edges of top and bottom dough rounds firmly together. Cut four 2 inch slits in top of dough. Brush surface with beaten egg white and sprinkle evenly with remaining teaspoon sugar.

Set pie on preheated baking sheet; bake until crust is dark golden brown, 45 to 55 minutes. Transfer pie to wire rack and cool at least 1 ½ hours. Cut into wedges and serve.

Who Needs Hawaii?!

No, No No.  I was JUST KIDDING, HONEY!  Remember you said they were awesome.  My son and I were debating about what to make for dessert and so I started listing all the things we had in the pantry to work with.  We had coconut, white and bittersweet chocolate, and coconut milk.  He won’t eat coconut, but he thought it was a good idea to make truffles.  I should listen to that kid more often.

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Macadamia Coconut Truffles

  • 1 cup Sweetened Coconut Flakes
  • 4 ounces White Chocolate (I like Ghiradelli bars, not chips)
  • 1/2 cup Unsweetened Coconut Milk
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 8 ounces Semi-Sweet Chocolate (Milk is ok too.)
  • 1/2 cup Chopped Roasted Macadamia Nuts (If you want them)

Break up the white chocolate into small pieces and put into a medium sized microwave safe bowl.  Zap it for 30 seconds at a time, stirring until melted.  Add coconut, sugar, and coconut milk, stir until combined,  Put coconut mixture into the freezer for around 30 minutes. 

Break up the chocolate and melt in the microwave, once again for 30 seconds at a time.  Once it’s completely melted, let cool for 5 minutes or so (who has time to temper the chocolate?).  Take the coconut mixture out of the freezer and use a small ice cream scoop or melon baller to form the insides of the truffles.  Drop them one by one into the melted chocolate and roll them around until completely covered on all sides.  Put the truffles onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  If you’re going to use the macadamia nuts, sprinkle them over the tops.

Let truffles cool for at least 30 minutes (try your best) and the chocolate hardens and turns shiny.  Enjoy them!!

Lame Cop Out

This is like a lamer version of those sit com clip shows.  You know, the ones where they string together a bunch of old episodes so they don’t have to actually write/shoot a new episode.  This is lamer because I’m not even using my own clips. 

**(Obviously, Simpsons episodes would be exempt from my comments)

Anyway, good food is good food, no matter who’s recipe it is.  Everyone who’s read this blog (all three of you) knows that I like to take recipes and change them around and make them more agreeable to my family.  Sometimes, though I come across such good ones that I can’t bring myself to mess with them.

One of the MANY food blogs that I read is Prudence Pennywise.  Before anyone says anything, YES, I think she lives in Utah, and NO I didn’t know that when I started reading it.  She posts some very interesting recipes, though, one of which is the Summer Thyme Corn Chowder that is the subject of this post.  It was OUTSTANDING.  My wife hates almost all soup (I know, I love her anyway though), and she really liked it also.

Another food blogger that I like a lot is Smitten Kitchen.  Her recipes are great, she has an entertaining writing style and I am terminally jealous of her photography skills.  She posted a recipe for Cheese Straws back in June that was delicious and paired up very nicely with the soup. 

Check them out, try them and as always, let me know what you think!

An Apple, a Wonton, and some Vanilla Ice Cream Walk into a Bar…

A few weeks ago I made egg rolls and I ended up with a bunch of extra wonton wrappers.  I decided to cut them into strips and fry them plain just to see what would happen.  They turned out great.  After just a couple of minutes, they were golden brown and crispy.  We drizzled honey on some of them and my wife tossed some others in cinnamon and sugar and they were a hit with everyone. 

The cinnamon and sugar one was the one that got us thinking about pairing up with apples and ice cream.  Let me know what you think of this one!

Caramel Apple Sundae

For the apples:

  • 4 granny smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced (sweet apples don’t work as well for this)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups apple juice
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon orange oil (or 1/2 teaspoon orange zest)
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons cold water

Heat a heavy deep skillet or dutch oven over medium high heat.  Melt the butter, then add the apples and cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.  Then add the rest of the ingredients and stir until mixed well.  Reduce heat to medium low, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes more, until the apples are fork tender.  Mix the cornstarch and water in a small bowl, then add to the apple mixture, stirring until it’s thick and smooth.

For the wontons, just take ordinary wonton wrappers and cut them into interesting shapes (go nuts) and fry them for 30 seconds or so on each side in hot oil.  Drain on paper towels.

For the caramel sauce:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup cream (heated in the microwave)

This is really easy to do, but BE CAREFUL.  The sugar will get “boiling lava” hot, and can be very dangerous if you come into contact with it.  (That’s a quote from my wife.)  As a matter of fact, go read David Lebovitz’s How to Make the Perfect Caramel before you start.  Go on, no cheating.  We’ll be here when you get back.

Get your heaviest skillet or pan out and make sure that it is very clean.  Then put the sugar in an even layer over the bottom and set it over high heat.  Get a wooden spoon out and when about 25% of the sugar has melted, gently start mixing the solid sugar bits together.  When the caramel starts smoking (it will, don’t panic) you want to wait just a minute or so past that, then add the cream slowly while stirring constantly.  Be careful as you add it because it will bubble up (remember that it’s lava) and if it hardens up in places, just keep stirring.  Take it off the heat when it gets to a nice even consistency.  If it’s too thick you can add another 1/4 cup of cream.

To bring it all together, get a nice scoop of good vanilla ice cream, surround it with the apples, then drizzle the caramel sauce over a couple of the wontons and garnish with them.  Everyone will love it, trust me.

I Must Have Been Mexicano in a Former Life

Some of my favorite foods are from there.  One of the best friends I’ve ever had is of similar origin.  (Don’t ask him to speak Spanish though.)  I love traveling there, I love the history, I love the language, I love George Lopez’s stand-up (the stand-up mind you, not that crappy Nickelodeon stuff)…  I could go on.

File:Flag of Mexico.png

I’ve mentioned Rick Bayless before (he’s one of my culinary heroes) and how my most excellent wife and I used to watch his PBS series on Saturday mornings.  He’s the one that led me to start deconstructing all of those fantastic Mexican dishes that I love so much.  That was about ten years ago, and this was one of the first things I did on my own to fight the evil forces pre-packaged mixes, sauces, and chips that plague our modern diet. 

Anyway, I wouldn’t exactly call this authentic (Rick, forgive me for mentioning your name in the same post as this recipe), but it is tasty and quick and my kids even like it.

 

Ground Beef Tacos

  • 1 pound ground beef (I like 90/10 or Ground Sirloin for this)
  • 1 small onion finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic finely minced
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste (double concentrated if you can find it)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 10-12 corn tortillas or taco shells from a box
  • lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, sour cream or whatever else you like on your tacos

In a heavy skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of oil until it shimmers.  Add onion and sauté until the onions start to soften, about 3 minutes.  Add ground beef and brown for 5 to 6 more minutes, then add garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes longer.  Drain excess fat from the skillet.

Return skillet to heat and add the water, tomato paste and spices.  Mix until combined, then heat over medium-low for another few minutes. 

If you’re using taco shells from a box (I’m not judging) then you can serve now,  If you’re making some from corn tortillas, just heat about 1” of oil in another skillet until it’s hot and fold the tortilla like a taco shell.  Using tongs to keep the shape, drop it into the oil and fry for 2 to 3 minutes and then remove and drain on paper towels.  Serve hot.

A Turkey Is NOT A Cow

I have no idea why people think that ground turkey is a substitute for ground beef.  Sure, with enough salt, Worcestershire, tomato paste or soy sauce you can make turkey an approximation of beef, but it just strikes me as…wrong.  I get the whole less red meat/lower fat/don’t kill the cute animals thing.  (Not that I understand it, but I hear you talking…)  Why not let turkey taste like turkey? 

My dear wife wanted turkey meatloaf.  We have tried turkey meatloaf recipes in the past and that’s largely what produced the above tirade.  So I thought I’d take another path and try to work with the flavor of the turkey instead of trying to make it into something that it’s not.  Instead of bludgeoning the delicate flavor of the turkey meat into submission with umami ridden flavors, I thought why not use the tried and true flavors that everyone raves about at thanksgiving.  (Don’t worry, November will be here before you know it.  I will rock your world.)  So I started with some turkey friendly aromatics, carrots, onions and celery.  I added some ground thyme – always a winner with poultry, and then a touch of butter and garlic.

The feedback from my favorite testers was it’s really good, but the carrots were too much.  (That was a winner in my book – this is a tough crowd).  As always, you be the judge.

Thanksgiving Turkey Meatloaf

  • 1 pound ground turkey – preferably white meat
  • 1 medium white onion, diced fine
  • 2 medium celery stalks, diced fine
  • 1 small carrot, diced fine (or 1/2 of a medium one)
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 medium clove garlic, smashed and minced fine
  • 1 large egg
  • 6 saltines, pulverized into fine crumbs or 1/3 cup of bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons Heinz chili sauce (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 

Heat canola oil in heavy skillet or saute pan over medium high.  Add the onion, celery, carrot, thyme, and bay.  After 5 or 6 minutes, add salt, pepper, butter and garlic.  Heat for 2 or 3 more minutes, until the butter is melted, remove the bay leaf.  Scrape out the skillet into a medium bowl. 

Add the turkey, egg, and cracker (bread) crumbs to the vegetable mixture.  Mix well to combine then transfer meat into a loaf pan or baking dish.  Form the loaf shape that you want in the pan.

If you want this to be more of a traditional meatloaf you can mix the ketchup, chili sauce and sugar and spread it over the top of the loaf.  It’s just fine if you leave that out though. 

Bake for 35-40 minutes or to an internal temperature of 160 degrees.  Remove from oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes or so before cutting.

More Fruitiness…

I love the transition between the seasons.  Spring to Summer (along with Fall to Winter) are my favorites, because that’s when the menus really change.  All of a sudden you see ramps (which are a kind of wild leek) in the farmers market and everyone is cooking with berries and making lighter dishes.

For me, that idea of lighter goes all the way to the dessert course.  Ordinarily I am a huge fan of ultra rich desserts in which chocolate (the darker the better) plays at least an ensemble role.  Summer comes around, though and all of a sudden I’m thinking about fruit salsa and strawberry trifle and one of my all time favorites, fruit pizza!

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I came up with this in one of my horrible moments of realization that I committed to bring something in for an office party and totally forgot about it until 10pm the night before.  As you can imagine, it’s VERY simple and quick.  The results were unanimously approved though!

Fruit Pizza

  • 1 tube of sugar cookie dough
  • 8 ounces of softened cream cheese
  • 8 ounces of marshmallow cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (ok, ok, go ahead and use the cheap stuff if you want…I give you permission)
  • 4 or 5 varieties of fresh fruit, cut into bite sized pieces (get the best quality and most ripe produce you can find)
  • 2-3 tablespoons sugar

Roll out the sugar cookie dough until it’s about 1/4 inch thick.  If needed, trim the dough down to fit in the bottom of  a greased 11”x13” pan.  Bake as (more or less) directed by the instructions on the package.  Start looking at it a couple minutes before it’s supposed to be done.  You don’t want to over bake this.  When the dough is a nice golden brown, remove to a wire rack and cool to room temperature.

Spread cut fruit out on a large cutting board or half sheet pan and sprinkle with sugar.  Let it set while the crust cools.  This will both draw out some of the moisture and add sweetness.

Mix cream cheese, marshmallow cream and vanilla until combined and smooth.  When crust is room temperature, spread the cream mixture evenly over the top.  Finally, arrange the cut fruit pieces artistically over the top of the cream.  Serve immediately or refrigerate.