Archive for April, 2009

Banana Bread

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

Everyone knows that over-ripe bananas mean banana bread. So when I found myself with an apartment full of guests and several over-ripe bananas, I decided to throw some together last weekend. And it was pretty near close to perfect, if I do say so myself. It made the whole place smell amazing!

Banana Bread
adapted from Molly Wizenberg’s “A Homemade Life”

  • 6 Tbs unsalted butter (I used salted, because that’s what we keep on hand).
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cps mashed bananas (from about 3 large ripe bananas)
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup walnut halves

1. Preheat the oven to 350.

2. Line a loaf pan (9 X 5 inches) with parchment paper

3. Now take your butter, put it in a skillet or a small pot and melt it on a relatively low heat.

4. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, the sugar, the baking soda, the salt, the ginger and the cinnamon.

5. In the bowl of a stand mixer, with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs lightly. Add the mashed banana, the buttermilk, the cooled butter, and vanilla and stir to mix well.

6.  Pour the banana mixture into the flour mixture and stir gently with a rubber spatula until it’s just combined (don’t overmix). Gently stir in the walnuts. Now scrape it into the prepared loaf pan.

7. Bake it in the oven for about an hour and 15 minutes until a tester comes clean.

8. Cool the loaf in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes then let it rest on a cooling rack until completely cooled. If you can. 🙂

Fried Macaroni & Cheese

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Is there anything worse for you than Fried Macaroni & Cheese?

I thought not.

But like so many other things that are terrible for you… it’s one of the most delicious!

If you’ve never had Fried Mac & Cheese, you’re missing out. The first time I tried it was at The Cheesecake Factory with my mom. It was so good as an appetizer that we skipped the entrees! I’ve also had it at TGIFriday’s. What’s different about making it at home is that when you control the ingredients–using olive oil to fry, and a homemade Mac & Cheese with real cheese (not OrangyProcessedCheeseFood)–the result is so much tastier than anything a chain restaurant can dream of serving.

This version has a light, crispy crunch on the outside, while the middle comes together as a warm, gooey, cheesy center. I’ve seen it served with marinara sauce for dipping, but if you start with awesome Mac & Cheese, I think a sprinkle of crunchy sea salt over the finished product is all you need.

Fried Macaroni & Cheese

  • leftovers from your favorite baked macaroni & cheese recipe, chilled overnight. (I used the leftovers from this delicious spin on traditional mac & cheese.)
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup panko Japanese-style breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour for dredging
  • salt & pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil, for frying

1. Slice the macaroni & cheese into 1-inch thick slices. Keep chilled until ready to use.

2. Heat a 1/2 inch layer of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat, until the surface shimmer. You want the oil to be hot enough to crisp the mac & cheese, but you don’t want the oil to smoke.

3. Place the flour in a shallow dish and sprinkle with salt & pepper. In a second dish, lightly beat two eggs together. In a third dish, combine the panko and parmesan cheese.

4. Dredge two slices of the mac & cheese in flour and shake off the excess. Next, dip the slices of mac & cheese in the eggs, and then finally in the panko/parmesan mixture.

5. When the oil is ready, carefully place the breaded macaroni & cheese slices in the skillet and fry until golden brown on each side, about 2 minutes per side. Remove from the pan to a plate lined with paper towels. While hot, lightly sprinkle with salt (preferably flaked sea salt). Cover with a loosely-tented piece of foil to keep the fried slices warm while you continue cooking the rest of the macaroni & cheese.

Note:  We chilled our leftover macaroni & cheese in a plastic container shaped like a loaf of bread, which made it easier to slice evenly. We’ll be making this again for sure…probably any time we have leftover Mac & Cheese!

Macaroni and Four Cheeses with Apples and Bacon Breadcrumbs

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

This was a fun one for me. You guys have caught onto the fact that I’m a Top Chef fan, right?

Of course you have.

Well, my all-time favorite Top Chef is Stephanie Izard. She’s talented, but also gracious and humble. I was really excited to see her win the title, and David and I are looking forward to checking out her restaurant when it opens up. She’s a Chicago girl, after all!

Last weekend, David pointed out Stephanie’s website to me, and it took me about a minute and a half to decide to make this Macaroni & Cheese dish. I sent David on a shopping trip for ingredients almost immediately.

We were not disappointed. The apples added a unique flavor to the traditional Mac & Cheese, but were a welcome touch of sweetness in a sea of creamy, salty cheese sauce. I skipped the ham, since David isn’t a fan. Though I can see how it would be a good addition, I can’t say that I missed it. (I did decide to double the bacon and add half to the breadcrumbs and the other half right into the macaroni & cheese). This dish was heavy enough to stand alone as a meal, even without the meat. If you want to add them, it would be good with either ham or grilled chicken, though.

Macaroni and Four Cheeses with Apples and Bacon Breadcrumbs
Adapted from www.stephanieizard.com

  • 3 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup unsalted butter (I used salted butter–no problems)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 4 cups ciabatta cubes (about 6 ounces of ciabatta bread, cubed)
  • 1 small onion, halved
  • 6 cups whole milk (we keep 1% on hand, so I used 5 1/2 cups of 1% milk with a 1/2 of heavy cream…worked out just fine!)
  • 8 ounces bacon (6-8 strips), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 Fuji apples, peeled, cored, cubed (we had Honeycrisp on hand)
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 pound conchiglie pasta (I used a different shape that we had on hand, anything that’s going to catch the sauce is good)
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 4 ounces aged cheddar (1 cup grated)
  • 6 ounces whole milk mozzarella (1 1/2 cup grated)
  • 4 ounces smoked gouda (1 cup grated)
  • 4 ounces havarti (1 cup grated)
Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 375° F.

Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large Dutch oven or saucepot over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, steeping in the butter for about 1 minute, until the garlic is soft and fragrant. Remove from the heat and add the bread cubes to the pot, tossing to coat them in the garlic butter. Spread the butter-coated cubes across a baking sheet and transfer to the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, until the bread is very crisp. Remove from the oven and cool completely.

Put the onion and the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring the milk to a bare simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching the bottom.

While the milk simmers, return the Dutch oven to the stove over medium heat. When the pot is hot again, add the bacon pieces and render until crispy. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside with the cooling bread cubes. Add the apples to the hot fat in the pan, sautéing for 1-2 minutes, until the apples are just soft (not mushy). Remove the apples with a slotted spoon to a large mixing bowl. Add the vinegar and toss to coat.

Put the cooled bread cubes and bacon in a food processor and pulse several times to form bread crumbs.

Cook the macaroni to al dente, according to the package directions.

As the pasta cooks, melt the remaining 1/4 cup of butter in the Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the flour over the melted butter and whisk together, forming a thick paste, or a roux. Let the roux cook for a minute or so, until it begins to smell nutty. Strain the milk and discard the onion. Slowly add the hot milk to the roux, about 1/2-1 cup at a time, whisking well to avoid lumps. Continue incorporating the milk until a thick sauce forms. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for about 5 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of mozzarella and add the rest of the cheese to the sauce, stirring as it melts.

When the pasta is done, strain it and add it to the cheese sauce along with the apple mixture. Stir to combine all of the ingredients and pour into a 13×9-inch baking dish. Cover the macaroni and cheese with the bacon breadcrumbs and scatter the reserved 1/2 cup of mozzarella on top. Put the dish on a baking sheet and transfer to the oven. Broil the top until the breadcrumbs are golden and the cheese is bubbly.

(Serve immediately or hold in a 300° F oven for about 30 minutes).

Note: Love, love, loved this! When I finished the sauce and moved it to the baking dish, I was concerned that the cheese sauce was a little on the thin side. It thickened in the pan to a perfect consistency. Even better, the chilled leftovers set up so well that David suggested I make Fried Macaroni & Cheese, which is what we did with the leftovers. Come back tomorrow for the recipe!

Chosen again for Photograzing

Monday, April 27th, 2009

The folks at Serious Eats’ Photograzing liked my potica pictures. Can’t blame them…I really wish we still had some around! All this writing about it has me wanting to make it again. 🙂

potica-photograzing

I’ve been adopted!

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Kristen at Dine and Dish organizes an event called Adopt-A-Blogger, in which new, baby bloggers have the chance to be “adopted” by more experienced food bloggers, who then can teach them a little more about this whole food blogging thing.

adoptablogger3button3

I think this quote from Kristen sums up the whole thing quite nicely:

“Having a mentor to turn to when you want to learn something new, improve upon what you are currently doing, or just share an experience with someone is so important. That is why I created Adopt a Blogger in the first place a few years ago. It seemed like so many of us had talent and skills we could share with others, but there wasn’t any formal way for us to do that.”

I’m excited to be taking part in the third round of Adopt-A-Blogger.

My “blog mom” is Dianne at Dianne’s Dishes. She has been fantastic so far, and I’m looking forward to getting to know her more in the coming weeks. (By the way, she’s got a pretty tasty-looking 10 Minute Tomato Soup recipe up today that’s got me craving grilled cheese sandwiches!) I also received a lovely comment from Ingrid at Baseball, Baking, & Books. She was adopted by Dianne the last time around, so I guess that makes her my “blog sister.” Thanks to both Dianne and Ingrid for being so friendly and welcoming!

And if you happened to come here by way of Dianne’s blog, welcome! I hope you like what you see.

Cooking Light’s Sweet & Sour Chicken

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

I really, really enjoyed this Sweet & Sour Chicken recipe, and so did Leah and David. The sauce made with pineapple juice was much tastier than any sweet and sour sauce I’ve had at home. The water chestnuts and bell pepper added a satisfying crunch to the mixture, but the pineapple chunks were my favorite. This was very good with canned pineapple, but I imagine fresh pineapple could take it to a whole new level. I think I’ll try that next time.

Sweet & Sour Chicken
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine

  • 1  tablespoon  olive oil
  • 1  tablespoon  bottled minced garlic
  • 1  teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1/4  teaspoon  crushed red pepper
  • 1 1/2  pounds  skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3/4  cup  chopped onion
  • 1/2  cup  chopped red bell pepper
  • 1 small can sliced water chestnuts, drained
  • 1  (15 1/4-ounce) can pineapple chunks in juice, undrained
  • 1/3  cup  reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 2  tablespoons  rice vinegar
  • 1 1/2  tablespoons  cornstarch
  • 2  teaspoons  brown sugar
  • 1/4  cup  dry-roasted chopped cashews
  • 1 batch of prepared Baked Brown Rice, recipe follows

Directions

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic, ginger, red pepper, and chicken to pan; sauté 5 minutes or until chicken is done. Remove chicken mixture from pan; set aside.

Add onion, celery, water chestnuts, and bell pepper to pan, and sauté 4 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain pineapple, reserving 1/2 cup juice. Add 1 cup pineapple chunks to pan; cook 30 seconds. Reserve remaining pineapple for another use. Combine the reserved 1/2 cup juice, soy sauce, vinegar, cornstarch, and sugar in a bowl, stirring with a whisk until smooth.

Return chicken mixture to pan. Stir in juice mixture; bring to boil. Cook 1 minute. Sprinkle with cashews. Serve over rice.

Note: Sweet & Sour Chicken is one of my favorite Chinese dishes to order. Normally, the take-out version is made by deep frying the chunks of chicken in a thick batter before adding them to a thick, syrupy sauce. Though this dish was a little different than that version, I didn’t miss the breading one bit. I will definitely make this one again.

Alton Brown’s Baked Brown Rice

This is by far the easiest and best brown rice recipe I’ve come across. It’s literally fool-proof, and after you taste the chewy, nutty texture, you’ll never go back to Minute Rice again.

  • 1 1/2 cups brown rice, medium or short grain
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Place the rice into an 8-inch square glass baking dish.
  • Bring the water, butter, and salt just to a boil in a kettle or covered saucepan. Once the water boils, pour it over the rice, stir to combine, and cover the dish tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 1 hour.
  • After 1 hour, remove cover and fluff the rice with a fork. Serve immediately.

Cheesy Chicken & Broccoli Rice Casserole

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

This one is not for my mother. In fact, she should probably just stop reading. She doesn’t eat broccoli, and she doesn’t eat casseroles, and so she’s not going to like the rest of this post very much.

But for everyone else, this is a quick, tasty casserole. Very easy to put together, and pretty tasty. With brown rice and lower fat cheese soup, it’s also a pretty healthy alternative to the normal cheesy broccoli casserole. The layer of stuffing on top adds a nice balance of flavors, seals in the moisture, and also gets just a bit crispy.

Cheesy Chicken & Broccoli Rice Casserole

  • 2 cups instant brown rice (I used Minute Rice), prepared without butter
  • 1 can 98% Fat Free Broccoli Cheddar Soup
  • 2 cups cooked chicken chunks
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 package green giant broccoli with cheese sauce
  • 1/4 cup finely shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 box StoveTop stuffing, prepared with water only
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 2 quart casserole with non-stick cooking spray.

2. Prepare instant rice according to package directions, omitting fat. Set aside. Microwave broccoli & cheese sauce according to package directions. Set aside. Prepare package of StoveTop stuffing, with water only (omitting the fat).

3. In a medium skillet, saute onions and celery with the olive oil, until tender. Add the rice, soup, package of broccoli & cheese, and shredded cheese and stir to combine. Transfer to the prepared baking dish and bake for about 30 minutes.

4. Remove the dish from the oven and spread the StoveTop mixture across the top of the casserole. Return to the oven and bake for another 20-25 minutes, or until heated through completely. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Note: I only used half a can of soup, but I think it would’ve been better with the whole can, so I’d recommend that. This wasn’t anyhting too special, but I’d probably make it again.

Potica

Friday, April 24th, 2009

Potica is a traditional Slovenian pastry made with flaky dough and a sweet nut filling. You might be wondering what I’m doing making Potica, which is a reasonable question.

I suppose it started with my mom, who loves the stuff. It’s not exactly easy to find in stores, so she was always estatic to find someone had brought it to work for a holiday treat or for sale at a baked goods table at some event.

Then there’s my husband. He goes crazy for Potica. Both sides of his family make it, he grew up eating it…and for about as long as I’ve been cooking with him, he’s wanted me to learn how to make it. My standard response was that we didn’t have the counterspace, and while that used to be true, it’s not any longer. So it was time to learn to make Potica.

David was happy to organize the event, by purchasing a not-so-subtle three pounds of walnuts from Costco, and inviting his mom over to teach me. So it came to be that Dave’s mom came over a couple of weeks ago, with well-used loaf pans and a couple of worn, aged recipe cards (one for the dough, one for the filling).

She maintains that the recipe is not enough–you need to be taught to make this tricky pastry, and I certainly understand her point. For one, the recipe is an old family affair that involves measurements like “enough milk” and “just enough flour.” For two, it really was tricky work, stretching the dough so super thin. (Literally, thin enough to read a newspaper through!). No rolling pin will get you to dough that thin, it’s got to be done by hand. I was very grateful to have an experienced player in the kitchen, let me tell you.

Was it worth it, in the end? I have to say yes. For one, it’s a favorite of David’s, along with my mom and my granny, three people I love very deeply. And the look on my mom’s face when she realized what I was handing her was priceless. I also enjoyed hearing how much Granny liked it. In some ways, I’m not looking forward to the work that the next batch will require, but at the same time, I’m looking forward to making a batch on my own.

Plus, since David ran out last week, I expect I’ll be seeing another not-so-subtle bag of walnuts from Costco any time now.

Potica (Walnut Pastry)
Makes 4 large rolls

For the Filling:

  • 3 sticks butter
  • 1 cup honey
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 to 2 cups of milk, divided
  • 2 lbs ground walnuts (I ground them using the fine plate on our Food Grinder attachment for the KitchenAid mixer).

For the Dough:

  • 12 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 2 sticks margarine (melted)
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs, well-beaten
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1  packet of dry active yeast, or the equivalent

1. In a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and add honey, sugar, and salt.

2. Beat the eggs with 1/2 cup milk and add to the nut mixture.

3. Add more milk, a little at a time, until the nut paste is smooth enough to spread. You’ll probably need about a cup of milk, but it could be more.

4. Cook for 15 minutes over medium heat, stirring constantly to avoid the paste sticking to the bottom. Let stand for at least an hour at room temperature while preparing the potica dough.

5. To make the dough, heat margarine, sugar, and salt together in a small saucepan pan over medium-low heat.

6. Beat the 4 eggs with 1 cup of milk. Add a small amount of the margarine mixture to the beaten eggs and whisk to slowly raise the temperature of the eggs. Remove from heat and add the egg mixture to the margarine in the sauce pan. Whisk constantly to keep the eggs from curdling. Set aside, away from heat, and allow to rest until the mixture is cool to the touch.

7. Dissolve yeast  in 1/2 cup of warm water with a teaspoon of sugar. Stir into milk mixture.

8. Add 6 cups of flour to the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment. Add the milk/yeast mixture and mix until just combined. Fit your mixer with a dough hook, and mix on high.

9. Add additional flour about a cup at a time as the dough hook begins to shape the dough. When the dough is a smooth ball, but still sticky to the touch, turn the dough out onto a counter covered with flour.

10. Knead the dough, adding flour as necessary, until smooth. Place the dough in a bowl,  cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place to give the dough a chance to rise. Let rise for about an hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.

12. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

11. Divide the dough into four equal pieces. Working with one piece at a time, work to roll and stretch the dough to a rectangle, about 1/16th of an inch thick. Work carefully so as not to put holes in the dough. When the dough is thin enough it will be almost translucent. Carefully spread with one quarter of the nut mixture, and carefully roll up the dough. Place on a baking sheet, covered with a towel, and allow to rise for at least 10-15 more minutes. Repeat until all four rolls have been made.

7. Place each roll on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. You can put two rolls on one full size baking sheet, but be sure to leave space between them. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 1 hour, until the dough is golden brown and the filling is set. The roll will be firm to the touch when the potica is done.

8. Allow to cool completely before slicing into 1 inch thick slices to serve. Potica rolls stay fresh for about a week if wrapped well, but can be frozen as well.


Top Chef Masters begins June 10th

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Top Chef is coming back this summer–with a twist!

The first season of Top Chef Masters begins June 10th (just in time for my birthday!) From BravoTV.com:

Top Chef Masters will pit 24 world-renowned chefs against each other and see how well they fare in the tried and true format of Top Chef. In each episode, money will be at stake for the chefs, with the winners of eliminations being awarded cash donations for their charities. The first six episodes will consist of four chefs competing against each other to name one winner.  The six winners of each episode will then meet up for the final four weeks when one person will get eliminated each episode until the finale where one winner is crowned Top Chef Master. The winning chef will receive $100,000 for the charity of their choice.

This looks to be a pretty great spin on the Top Chef formula, and it’s kind of fun to see several previous guest judges on the list of competitors. There are some pretty big names there. I love to see what the culinary world’s newbies can come up with on Top Chef, so I think watching these proven, fantastic, respected chefs compete should be very interesting. And after last season’s uninspired bunch of cheftestants, I think it will be good for the Top Chef franchise to showcase some truly amazing food for a change.

Deviled Eggs with Bacon

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

I can’t pretend to believe that I’m the first one to come up with this concept. It seems like a natural progression to me. Bacon and eggs? How easy is that? Still, I’m 99.9% sure that I had never eaten a deviled egg flavored with bacon before.

In a roundabout way, it was kind of my Aunt Cheryl’s potato salad that inspired these eggs. Her American style potato salad gets a sweet taste from the sweet pickles she uses, and a salty crunch from bacon. That’s roughly what I was trying to recreate with these deviled eggs. Plus, everything is better with bacon, right?

Deviled Eggs with Bacon
Serves 6

  • 3 tablespoons yellow mustard
  • 1 teaspoons smoked paprika, plus additional for garnish
  • 6 pieces thick-cut bacon
  • 12 eggs
  • A few dashes hot sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 tablespoons miracle whip
  • 1/2 teaspoon BaconSalt (optional)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Put the eggs in a saucepan, fill it halfway with cold water and set over high heat.

2. When the water boils, turn off the heat, place a lid on the pot and let sit 10 minutes. Place the pot of cooked eggs in the sink and run some cold water over the eggs until both the water and the pan feel cool. When the eggs are cool enough to handle, take them out of the water, roll each egg on a work surface to crack the shell and carefully peel off the eggshells.

3. While the eggs are cooking, place a medium-size skillet over medium heat. Cook the bacon in the pan until crispy and golden brown. Remove the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Once cool, break two slices into 6 large-ish pieces each for a garnish. Chop the remaining bacon into very small pieces and reserve.

4. Slice each egg in half longways, and scoop the yolks out into a medium bowl. Place the egg white shells onto a plate for filling, with the holes pointing up.

5. Break the yolks up a little bit using a fork. Add in the chopped bacon, smoked paprika, mustard, sugar, hot sauce and mayo, and stir until the yolks have been smoothed out. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

6. Fill the eggs. If you don’t have a pastry bag, you can make your own by spooning the egg mixture into a Ziploc bag and squishing it all into one of the bottom corners. Snip off a small triangle from the bottom of the filled bag and squeeze out a bit of yolk mixture into each of the egg whites. Once all eggs are filled, dust them with a little of the smoked paprika and top each egg half with one of the reserved pieces of bacon, for an extra crunch.

Note: Miracle Whip is sweeter than regular mayonnaise, so if you use plain mayo instead, you might need a bit more sugar.

If you’ve never had Bacon Salt before, it’s exactly what it sounds like–a salty spice blend that adds the smoky taste of bacon. I like it on popcorn, scrambled eggs, and, obviously, deviled eggs. I’ve heard (though not seen) that it’s available on the shelves of Meijer stores, but we bought ours online.