Monday, January 30, 2012

Slow Cooker Kalua Pork

Aloha!  We are well in winter's grasp.  The cold bores on the soul, even as the days began to slowly lengthening again.  To combat the winter blues, Ross and I hosted a luau for several friends and co-workers.  The center piece to most Luaus is a succulent pig, wrapped in ti leaf, buried in an underground oven and roasted for several hours.  The ground is far to frozen for us to make our own imu, and ti leaf is hard to come by in Minneapolis, but I was pleased to find both slow cooker and oven roasted versions of this Hawaiian treat.

Adapted from various sources

The Ingredients:
6 lb pork shoulder roast (butt roast)
1  to 1 1/2 Tbsp liquid smoke
1 1/2 Tbsp Hawaiian black (lava) or red (alaea) sea salt

The Process:
Pierce the roast all over with a sharp knife tip.  Rub with salt.  Place in a 6 qt slow cooker and drizzle with liquid smoke.  Cover and cook for 16 to 20 hours, turning once.

To prepare for serving, remove the roast from the slow cooker to a large serving bowl.  Using two forks, shred the meat.  Add enough of the cooking liquid to moisten the meat.

The Review:
For several hours, my entire house smelled like Hilshire Farms L'tle Smokies.  Over time the smell diminished to a meaty aura that permeated the kitchen walls.

Of all of the dishes served at the Luau, this smokey, tender pork was the star.  After 12 hours the meat was already falling apart at the slightest touch.  At 16 it was succulent beyond belief.  The liquid smoke did an amazing job at simulating the smokey flavor of the traditional ipa...though nothing can truly replace that earth smoked taste.

No additional seasoning was needed, though a squirt of sriracha found its way onto a few plates.  Six pounds went a long way...feeding nearly fourteen people in all with a good bit for leftovers.  When the ground thaws we may consider digging a pit in the backyard and hosting a traditional luau.  But in the meantime, this was a wonderful substitute.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Spinach Quinoa Salad with Roasted Garlic and Cumin

 I have been itching to saute a large batch of spinach with a handful of roasted garlic as of late.  But on chilly, snowy days such as today, a plate full of savory greens, no matter how fresh and well-seasoned, just does not seem hearty enough.  But combined with quinoa?

Enter dinner...

and lunch for the next few days.

The recipe is my own

serve 4

The Ingredients:
1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
1 1/2 cups water or vegetable stock
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 serrano pepper, seeded and minced
8 oz portabello, shiitake or button mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1/2 bulb roasted garlic (about1/4 - 1/3 cup mashed)
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp dry white wine
1 large bunch of spinach, rinsed and woody stems removed
1 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste

The Process:
In a medium saucepan over medium high heat, add the quinoa and water.  Bring to a gentle boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cover.  Continue to simmer for 30-35 minutes or until the quinoa is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat.  Add the onion and Serrano pepper and sautee until the onion softens and becomes translucent, about 5-8 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and lemon juice and roasted garlic; sautee until the mushrooms are tender.  

Lower the heat and add the spinach along with the white wine.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the spinach begins to wilt.  Add the cooked quinoa and cumin.  Stir until well combined.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve warm.

The Review:
Slowly but surely I am beginning to find my way around with this amazing grain.  Overall, I feel the flavor combination was missing something, though I cannot quite place my finger on it.  The roasted garlic adds a sweetness with a hint of savory.  The wilted spinach and snappy quinoa play well off of each others' textures.  The cumin and serrano pepper lend a lovely, but not overwhelming heat.  The The mushrooms ground the dish with an earthy depth and the lemon and wine lend just enough tartness to tie the dish together.  So what's missing?  Probably a pungent, crumbly cheese like feta or blue.

Even with that missing note, I look forward to eating this for lunch over the next day or two.  I hope it is as wonderful after a day in the fridge as it was fresh from the skillet.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Goat Cheese with Roasted Garlic and Herbs


Not too long ago I discovered our local grocer had begun carrying goat milk for a local farm.  Bolstered by my successful attempt at paneer last year, I felt confident in my foray into this herbed, spreadable cheese.  You will be amazed at how simple it really it.

The recipe is my own. 

Yields about 3/4 to 1 cup

The Ingredients:
1 qt goat milk (whole preferred)
1 - 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1-2 cloves roasted garlic
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp Herbes de provence
 2 tsp combination of fresh savory, basil rosemary, fennel, lavender and thyme
The Process:
Line a sieve with several layers of cheesecloth. Set aside the sieve in a clean dry sink.

Pour the goat milk into a large heavy bottomed saucepan.  Slowly heat over medium high heat until the milk reaches a gentle simmer.  Using a candy thermometer, continue to heat the milk until it reaches about 180 degrees.  Remove the pan from the heat. Add the lemon juice slowly, one tbsp at a time. The milk will begin to form a curdle and separate from the whey. Using a wooden spoon, stir the mixture until all of the milk has curdled, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Pour the mixture into the cheesecloth-lined sieve to drain off the whey. When the cheese has cooled (about 20 minutes), tie the corners of the cheesecloth around the handle of a wooden spoon and suspend over a pot or the sink for about an hour, allowing any remaining whey to drain.

Spoon the soft cheese onto a clean cutting board or large plate.  Gentle fold in the mashed, roasted garlic, salt and herbs.  Alter seasonings to taste.

Serve immediately or store in an air tight container in the fridge for up to a week.

The Review:
This cheese may not be the creamy decadence you find at your cheese monger, but hey!  You made it yourself!   I kept the garlic and herbs on the low end to allow the pungency of the goat cheese to really shine through.  And shine it did!  While I couldn't even get Ross to try the spreadable bliss, a friend who had never tried goat cheese was smitten with the smooth texture and mellow herb spiked flavor.  The roasted garlic added a sweet complexity without overpowering (I limited myself to one fat, caramelize clove), and the menagerie or herbs danced across the tongue.  I would highly recommend using fresh herbs as the dried variation can lend a gritty mouth-feel until given enough time to soften from the moisture of the cheese...but by that time the creaminess of the cheese itself has already begun to diminish.  This is a dish best served within hours after making.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Homemade Toffee

Thank you, Audra, for sharing this family recipe!  Toffee has long been one of my favorite sweets.  Especially when coated in chocolate.  As a belated holiday treat, I made up a batch of this to share with my family in Madison.

Adapted from Audra's recipe at the Baker Chick

Yields: toffee for days, but still never quite enough...

The Ingredients:
1 lb butter, unsalted
2 cups dark brown sugar
1 1/2 lb. confectioner's chocolate
1/2 - 3/4 cup blanched almonds, ground

The Process:
Line a rimmed cookie sheet with foil or parchment paper.  Set aside.

In large saucepan, combine butter and brown sugar.   Mix using a wooden spoon until the sugar dissolves.  Stir occasionally (not often...just enough to keep the sugar from burning) until the syrup reaches just over 275 on a candy thermometer. Keep the syrup at 275 for about a minute longer. Pour immediately into cookie sheet. Gently shake the sheet to spread the toffee evenly over the entire surface.

After cooling slightly blot with a paper towel to pick up any excess oil.

Meanwhile melt half of the chocolate in a double boiler over medium heat or in the microwave in a microwave safe bowl for 30 seconds to a minute at a time until smooth and fluid

Pour the chocolate over hardened syrup. Spread evenly over the surface and sprinkle with half of the ground almonds.

Cool until chocolate is firm, flip and repeat the process on the other side.  Break into pieces to serve.

The Review:
Holy cow, why have I never made this sooner!   With toffee like this, I may never touch a heath bar again.  Buttery ad sweet.  Smooth chocolate paired with the snap of the toffee.  And aside from the wait time as the chocolate set up, the candy went together without any hassle.  Pure heaven!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Peppermint Bark

Happy belated holidays! Given our family's conflicting schedules our holiday gatherings tend to be a bit belated.  To get back in the holiday spirit I turned a nostalgic peppermint treat that seems to have made a come back.

adapted from...really? I need a recipe to melt chocolate and layer chocolate?

yields about 3lbs

The Ingredients:
1 1/2 lbs milk chocolate
1 1/2 lbs white chocolate or white confectioner's coating
2 tsp canola oil
2 tsp peppermint extract
crushed peppermints (about 20 mini candy canes)

The Process:
Prepare a rimmed baking sheet by lining with parchment paper or aluminum foil.  Smooth out any wrinkles and set aside.

Coarsely chop the milk chocolate and add to a double boiler placed over medium low heat.  Stir frequently.  As the chocolate begins to melt, stir in 1 tsp of canola oil (the oil can be omitted.  It is added to help the chocolate maintain an appealing luster after it hardens, in lieu of attempting to temper the chocolate.  More experienced candy makers may choose to temper instead).  Continue to stir frequently until chocolate is melted and smooth.  Pour the chocolate into the prepared baking sheet and gently spread with a spatula.  Gently shake the sheet to smooth. Cool at room temperature or refrigerate until completely hardened, about 1 hour.
Place the white chocolate and the remaining 1 teaspoon canola oil in a double boiler over medium low heat, stirring frequently until smooth. When the chocolate is melted, stir in the peppermint extract.  Ladle or pour the white chocolate directly over the semisweet chocolate layer; spread evenly and spread quickly.  The white chocolate will begin to melt the chocolate underneath.  Shake the pan gentle to help distribute the layers.  Sprinkle the crushed candy over the top and gently press into the soft white chocolate surface. Refrigerate until completely hardened. Remove from pan; break into small pieces to serve. 

The Review:
The quality of the chocolate makes all of the difference.  You can use white confectioner's coating for the top layer, but the result will be more waxen and sickly sweet.  I usually despise white chocolate, and find the only thing that makes it palatable is the cocoa butter.  White confectioner's glaze, while an inexpensive alternative, does not have said cocoa butter...but to each their own.  There is something incredibly nostalgic about using Ambrosia chocolate.  Maybe it's a Milwaukee thing...

Regardless of what chocolate you choose, when mixing chocolate and peppermint you really cannot go wrong.  Some people swear by round peppermints often offered with the check at restaurants as their crushed candy preference.  My peppermint candy of choice is Spanlger's mini candy canes.  

Regardless, the little bit I had set aside for us to not give away as gifts was consumed in a heartbeat.  With the simplicity of the recipe, I'll be sure to  make this again next year.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Miso Carrot Soup with Sesame Oil

Thank you Smitten Kitchen, for bring this warm beam of sunshine to our cold, snowy corner!  When I first saw this recipe posted about a week ago I knew I had a use for the miso hiding among the other containers towards the back of my fridge.  Poor miso, you deserve so much more attention from us.

Soup is such a quintessential winter food, and this recipe has the benefit of not begin weighted down by heavy creams or a lot of butter.  The ginger and carrot is truly allowed to shine through.  And the bright orange color is a cheery reminder of the warmer days to come.  Ah, winters in Minnesota...

Adapted from Deb's Smitten Kitchen

The Ingredients:
2 Tbsp olive or grapeseed oil
2 lbs carrots, peeled, thinly sliced
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 - 6 garlic cloves, minced
1- 2 Tbsp finely chopped or grated ginger
4 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup white miso paste, or more to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Drizzle of toasted sesame oil
2 scallions, thinly sliced

The Process:
Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add carrots, onion and garlic.  Sauté until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the broth and ginger. Cover and simmer until carrots are tender stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.

Puree soup in batches in blender, or all at once with an immersion blender. In a small bowl, whisk together the miso an a half-cup of the soup. Stir the mixture back into the pot of soup. Taste the soup and season with salt, pepper or additional miso to taste.

Ladle into bowls and garnish each with a drizzle of sesame oil and small mound of scallions.

The Review:
This is a soup I could eat for days.  I followed a suggestion on Smitten Kitchen that the ginger could easily be doubled.  I did so.  The result was bright and biting.  The fresh ginger danced across the palate playing with the sweetness of the carrot.  Havign doubled the ginger, I should have increased the miso as well...the deep earthly flavor was barley present, but grounded the soup well.

I loved how incredibly light the flavors were.  No heavy creams or a lot of butter to weigh the dish down.  I suppose it would have froze well.  But honestly I couldn't tell you. We had polished it off by the second day.

And the sesame oil and scallion garnish?  It will make your soul sing.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Blueberry Buttermilk Waffles

I appear to be on a waffle kick recently.  Perhaps the rarity of two lazy Sundays in a row with my husband are to blame.  It's not often both of us are off of work in the morning together.

So far every waffle I've attempted has been a wonderful success. Why stop now?  This recipe offers a completely different base than the previous waffles I've tried. Fresh blueberries are the featured star.  Oh you taunt with thoughts of summer warmth when the weather outside lingers around 13 degrees...

adapted from Nicole's' recipe at Baking Bites

yields 6-8 Belgian style waffles (depending on the iron used)

The Ingredients:
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 large eggs, separated
2 tsp vanilla extract
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup fresh blueberries

The Process:
Preheat oven to 250 and warm up the waffle iron.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. In a medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk, egg yolks, vanilla and melted butter until smooth. Pour into dry ingredients and whisk until well combined.

In a separate mixing bowl with an electric beater, or by hand with a strong wrist action, whisk the egg whites until they hold soft peaks.  Fold the whites gently into the waffle batter, until just combined.  Do not over mix!  The batter should retain as much air as possible from the whites.

Gently stir in blueberries. Allow batter to rest for 5-10 minutes.

Brush or mist the waffle iron lightly with oil and spoon batter into waffle iron, spreading quickly with a spatula to cover the entire griddle surface (amount varies depending on waffle iron, mine uses just over 1/2 a cup). Cook according to iron manufacturer’s instructions.

Transfer waffles to rack in oven to keep warm and crisp. Make more waffles in same manner.

Serve warm, garnished with additional blueberries and topped with powder sugar or syrup 

The Review: 
Another successful waffle! And quite a bit different from the previous waffle recipes I've tried recently.  The batter was very thick and a bit sponge-like, making it tricky to spread over the griddle.  For those with in interest in chemistry in the kitchen, this is a good recipe to try.  You can see the effects of baking soda, baking powder and buttermilk...acids and bases...bubbling up to make the batter dense, yet air. The reaction accounts for the spongy look of the batter.

The batter was a good indication of how the waffles would turn out.  The waffles were light, but the texture much denser than both the pumpkin and plain waffles.  Also, the extra moisture added as the blueberries burst opened and steamed up the griddle prevented the beautifully crisp outer layer I adore on my waffles.  But i doubt there is anyway around that when you use fresh fruits to cook.  Beautiful purple juices sputtered and dripped over the side of the iron as the blueberries swelled and burst, sizzling away on the hot surface.  Be prepared for extra clean up!

But the flavors were divine...just sweet enough to compliment the blueberries, with just a hint of vanilla.  A hint of buttery flavor.  A burst of alternating tart and sweet berries...

I could get used to a Sunday morning waffle tradition...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sunday Morning Waffles

Not too long ago we purchased a waffle iron for a beer and waffles gathering.  Since then the iron has been put to little use.  In an effort to change that I began plowing through blog post after blog post and recipe after recipe in attempts to find the perfect waffle recipe.  I delved into comments to glean little tips and modifications to others' recipes.

I think I've arrived at the nearly perfect least for my taste.  Your preferences may vary.

These waffles are crisp on the outside and light as air on the inside.  They have just enough sugar and cinnamon to justify eating them without any fruit, syrups or other toppings, but they are just sweetly spiced enough to compliment instead of competing with any toppings that are added.  And most people should have all of the ingredients on hand on any given Sunday morning.


adapted from all that the world wide web has to offer.

yields 8 waffles

The Ingredients:
2 eggs, separated
1 3/4 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 Tbsp sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
4 tsp baking powder

The Process:
Preheat oven to 250 and warm up the waffle iron.

In a medium bowl whisk together the egg yolks, milk, vanilla, oil, and sugar until well combined.  Adding the flour a little at a time, stir until smooth.  Add salt, cinnamon and baking powder.

In a separate mixing bowl with an electric beater, or by hand with a strong wrist action, whisk the egg whites until they hold soft peaks.  Fold the whites gently into the waffle batter, until just combined.  Do not over mix!  The batter should retain as much air as possible from the whites.

Brush or mist the waffle iron lightly with oil and spoon batter into waffle iron, spreading quickly with a spatula to cover the entire griddle surface (amount varies depending on waffle iron, mine uses just over 1/2 a cup). Cook according to iron manufacturer’s instructions.

Transfer waffles to rack in oven to keep warm and crisp. Make more waffles in same manner.

The Review:
What I truly adored about this recipe, aside from the quintessential waffle texture and flavor, was how the recipe walked the line between the more intensive and ingredient-laden waffles, such as the pumpkin version I tried a few months back, and the simplistic milk, flour, baking powder, egg versions.  This recipe does take an extra step, but trust me...beating the egg whites separately and carefully folding them into the batter makes a world of difference.  This recipe works well without this step as well...just beat the whole egg into the batter from the beginning.  But a heavier waffle will result.  A wonderful waffle, yes, but not the crisp and airy creation the beaten egg whites offer.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Gingered Pork and Pineapple

Another chilly January day and little desire to lift a finger to cook.  Once again our slow cooker comes to the rescue.  After the enormous crown roast we tackled during Christmas, one would think we'd be tired of pork by now.  And to a point we can only reheat leftovers with BBQ sauce, or fry the meat up with chili and onion so many times.  In a departure from BBQ sandwiches and spicy fajitas, may I present gingered pork with pineapple.

This sweet Asian-inspired dish shares similar flavors with the Chinese take-out  favorite: sweet and sour pork.  Only without the soggy  breading were force ourselves to endure when the delivery person finally arrives. 

adapted from BHG's Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes

serves 6-8

The Ingredients:
2 lbs boneless pork shoulder
2 Tbsp cooking oil
3/4 cup chicken broth
3 Tbsp quick-cooking tapioca
3 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
3 Tbsp oyster sauce
1 inch fresh ginger, finely minced
1 - 15 oz can pineapple chunks, juice reserved
4 medium carrots, cut into 1/2- inch slices
1 large onion, cut into 1 - inch pieces
1 - 8 oz can slice water chestnuts, drained
1 1/2 cups fresh snow pea pods
3 cups hot cooked rice

The Process:
Trim the fat from the pork.  Cut the pork into 1 - inch pieces.  In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the pork and brown.  Drain off fat, remove from heat and set aside.

In a 4 qt slow cooker, combine the broth, tapioca, soy sauce, oyster sauce, ginger and pineapple juice reserved from the can of pineapple chunks.  Add carrots, onion and pork.  Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or high for 3 to 4 hours.

Prior to serving, if using the low setting turn up to high.  Stir in pineapple chunks and pea pods.  Cover and cook an additional 10 to 15 minutes or until pea pods are tender-crisp.  Serve over warm rice.

The Review:
This dish was surprisingly reminiscent of La Choy's canned chow a good way...and without the crispy noodles.  The sauce had a lovely suggestion of sweetness without being cloying.  The pork,  though a tad dry (in a slow cooker...imagine that) practically fell apart.  The carrots offered a soft bite to compliment the snow peas pleasant crunch.  Despite having almost tripled the amount of ginger from the cookbook's original recipe, the zesty flavor was increbily mellow, verging on undetectable.  Though that could be the remnants of my cold limiting my palate.  Despite that, our entire kitchen was perfumed in its spicy aroma though.

I'd imagine this dish would work equally as well with chicken.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Seafood Enchiladas

 Once in a blue moon I'll find myself in a Mexican restaurant (granted, often as far from "Mexican" as Minnesota is from our Southern border).  On these rare occasions I'll find my hopes raised at the thought of a tortilla wrapped around succulent little bits of shrimp, crustaceans and mollusks in a creamy sauce.  Inevitably those hopes are dashed as my fork pries out flakes of imitation crab and bits of anemic shrimp, with little else.

These enchiladas are a step in the right direction.  The end result is directly related to the quality and variety of seafood you put into them.  I opted for crab, shrimp, scallops and john dory fillets.  But salmon. lobster and many other varieties of flaky fish would serve nicely.

adapted from a recipe at Betty Crocker

serves 4-6

The Ingredients:

2 Tbsp butter
1 medium onion, chopped 
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups chicken, fish or vegetable stock
8 oz sour cream
1 1/2 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend (monterey jack, cheddar, queso quesadilla and asadero)
1 can (4.5 oz)  chopped green chiles, undrained
8 oz small scallops, raw
8 oz salad shrimp, raw
2  fillets john dory or other firm white fish, raw
1/2 cup crab meat, cooked and flaked or 2 - 6 oz cans, drained
8 - 8 inch flour tortillas
Diced tomato, avocado and cilantro for garnish

The Process:
Preheat oven to 350.

In 2-quart saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and saute for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring frequently, until softened. Stir in flour and stir until blended with butter. Add broth and heat to boiling, stirring frequently to remove any lumps.  Reduce heat to a simmer.  Add scallops, shrimp and fish fillets and poach until the fish begins to flake and the shrimp and scallops turn opaque, about 5 minutes.  Remove the seafood to a medium bowl and cover to keep warm.
Add sour cream to the saucepan and cook about 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until sauce is thickened. Remove from heat. Stir in cheese until melted. Stir in chiles.

In 13x9-inch (3-quart) glass baking dish, spoon 1 cup of the cheese sauce over bottom. Set aside.

Add 1 cup of the cheese sauce to the reserved seafood. Stir to combine, gently breaking up the fish fillets.  Add the crab meat and stir to combine.  Spoon about 1/2 cup seafood mixture onto each tortilla. Roll up tortillas; place seam sides down on sauce in the baking dish. Pour remaining sauce over enchiladas.

Cover baking dish with foil. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until bubbly.  Serve warm with tomatoes, avocado and cilantro.

The Review:
These enchiladas were a wonderful change of pace from the underwhelming varieties sold at tex-mex chains, as well as a richer alternative to the tried-and-true ground beef versions smoothered in a tomato based sauce.  Ross opined that, well incredibly good, these are a little too rich to replace our favorite beef and garlic ones when an enchilada craving hits.

The sauce was rich and mild, with a lovely seafood flavor due to using the base being used to poach the seafood.  During the cooking process, I sampled the sauce throughout and was in love with its velvety texture and subtle heat from the canned chilies.  So it was a bit of a surprise that the seafood flavors dominated the end result, almost completely masking the chilies.   A second can of chilies or hotter variety may be called for next time around, should I want a peppier sauce.

Two enchiladas easily provided four gut stuffing entrees. But given how rich these plump enchiladas are, served up with rice and a salad I'm sure you could stretch the serving size to eight people. 

Monday, January 2, 2012

Hot Toddy

I seem to be ushering in the New Year with an awful head cold.  The last few nights of sleep of been more like fitful naps interspersed with an inability to breathe, a stiff neck and a scratchy throat.  While modern medicine has blessed us with a plethora of cough syrup, decongestants, expectorant and pain killers, nothing quite beats the hot toddy when it comes to easing the suffering. 

the recipe is my own, based on a preferance for whiskey and a favorite ginger honey cold concotion

yields about 4 servings

The Ingredients:
3 cups water
l lemon, washed and sliced
3-4  inch length of ginger root, peeled and minced
1/4 cup of honey, plus extra to taste
2 inch piece of cinnamon
10-12 whole cloves
8 oz whiskey

The Process:
In medium saucepan, combine the water, lemon, ginger, honey, cinnamon and cloves.  Bring water to a gentle boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes (or longer for a stronger flavor).

To serve pour 2 oz of whiskey in four mugs.  Add about 3/4 of a cup of the lemon-ginger tea.  Sweeten with additional honey to taste.  Serve piping hot with a lemon wedge.

The Review:
At the moment, my nose doesn't feel as raw, nor my throat as sore, so something must be true of the healing powers of ginger, lemon and honey. Ginger has a history of treating medical ailments, from settling stomachs, to easing sore throats.  It supposedly has anti-inflammatory and immune system boosting properties that make it especially helpful in warding off the common cold.  Honey's anti-septic qualities (among other benefits) help ward off bacteria while it soothes, in addition to sweetening you concation.  The lemon adds a boost of vitamin c along with its antibacterial, antiviral, and immune-boosting powers.  And the whiskey?  Well, when you're stressed out and aching all over, a little bit of booze can go a long way to relaxing you...long as you don't over do it.

The steam helps clear the nose while sipping on the hot concoction.  The spices are always a joy to inhale when your sense of smell comes back around.

Use a favorite whiskey.  But even without the alcohol, this hot drink goes a long way to soothe mind and body.

Sticky Buns

I have been promising Ross a batch of sticky buns for quite some time now.  What better way to ring in the New Year than by biting into a warm cinnamon-y bun for breakfast.  Unfortunately, the previous night's revelry and the yeast's stubbornness meant we weren't able to enjoy the buns until almost five in the afternoon.  But it was still a wonderful treat to mark our snowy new year.

And if you have a moment...take peek at a lovely sweets blog I was recently introduced to:
Sweet as Sugar Cookies

adapted from The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart

makes 8 to 12 large or 12 to 16 smaller buns

The Ingredients:
6 1/2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
5 1/2 Tbsp shortening or unsalted butter at room temperature
1 large egg
1 tsp lemon zest
3 1/2 cups unbleached bread or all purpose flour
2 tsp instant yeast
1 1/8 to 1 1/4 cups whole milk or butter milk, at room temperature
1/2 cup cinnamon sugar (6 1/2 Tbsp sugar + 1 1/2 Tbsp cinnamon)

Caramel glaze
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/4 granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp orange, lemon, or vanilla extract

 crushed walnuts or pecans (optional)

The Process:
*In his book, Reinhart goes into amazing depth about what each ingredient does as well as what happens during every step of the bread making process. It is certainly worth while reading, but is a bit too much info for a single recipe.*

Cream together the sugar, salt and shortening on medium-high speed in an electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or by hand with a large metal spoon). Whip in the egg and lemon zest until smooth. Then add the flour, yeast, and milk. Mix on low speed (or stir by hand) until the dough forms a ball. Switch to a dough hook and increase speed to medium, mixing for approximately 10 minutes (or knead by hand for 12 to 15 minutes), or until the dough is silky and supple, tacky but not sticky. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

Ferment at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the dough double in size.

Meanwhile prepare the caramel glaze.  In a medium bowl cream together the butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and salt for about two minutes.  Add the corn syrup and extract of your choice.  Continue to cream by hand or with an electric mixer for an additional five minutes, or until light and fluffy.

Coat the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch baking dish (with sides at least 1 1/2 inch high) with a 1/4-inch layer of the caramel glaze.  Sprinkle the glaze with nuts, if desired.  Set aside.

Once the dough has doubled in size, mist the counter with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin, lightly dusting the top of the dough with flour to keep it from sticking to the pin. Roll it into a rectangle about 2/3 inch thick and 14 inches wide by 12 inches long for large buns, or 18 inches wide by 9 inches wide for small buns. Don't roll out the dough too thin, or the finished buns will be tough and chewy rather than soft and plump. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the surface of the dough and roll the dough up into a cigar-shaped log, creating a cinnamon-sugar spiral as you roll. Will the seam side down, cut the dough into 8 to 12 even pieces each about 1 3/4 inched thick for large buns; or 12 to 16 pieces each 1 1/4 inch thick for smaller buns.

Place the buns approximately 1/2 inch apart on top of the prepared caramel glaze . Mist the dough with spray oil and cove loosely with plastic wrap.

Proof at room temperature for 75 to 90 minutes, or until the pieces have grown into one another and have nearly doubled in size.

Bake the sticky buns for 30 to 40 minutes or until golden brown.  Remember that with sticky buns the tops will become the bottoms, so they may appear darker when done to ensure that the underside is fully baked.  

Cool the buns in the pan for about 10 minutes and then remove them by flipping them over onto another pan.  Carefully scoop any caramel remaining in the pan onto the sticky buns.  Wait at least 20 minutes before serving.

The Review:
It appears my kitchen is just too cold in the winter to properly proof bread dough.  After about an hour and a half of the dough's first fermentation, it had barely grown at all.  I mixed up a little of the yeast remaining in the envelope in water water with a bit of sugar to see if it was still viable.  It frothed up after 5 minutes or so, as it is expected to.  So, my sleepy single celled organisms must have been just a bit too cold to do their work.  I shifted the bowl of dough to the top of the fridge...the warmest spot in the room.  After an additional half an hour, the dough had finally shown some growth, but not the doubled mass I needed.  So into the slightly warmed oven for almost another hour...and finally the sticky bun dough was ready to roll out...

That was a frustrating realization.  The sticky buns still turned out absolutely amazing, but due to the trouble with rising, the end result was a bit more crumbing than the light, pillowy cinnamon buns I had made last year using the same dough recipe.  Amazing how much a variable such as proofing time and temperature can affect the final product!

The dough, though not as airy as expected, had the same wonderfully sweet, rich and clean flavor I fondly remembered from the cinnamon buns.  The little bit a lemon zest adds quite a bit of depth to the dough!  The caramel glaze melted, bubbled and boiled while baking...slowly converting from the buttery sugar spread to the wonderfully sticky goo coating the buns.  The glaze was pleasantly sticky without wearing out your jaw with chewing. 

Once I figure out the sweet spot in my cold winter kitchen to proof future doughs, I'll be making these more regularly.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Looking Back, Moving Forward

Thank you for following me through the first year of this blog!  The goal set last January to try one hundred new recipes was exceeded.  The plum pudding marked the 102nd recipe tried in 2011.

Looking back to some of our favorites:
Clafouti in any form
Cinnamon Buns
Black Bean Brownies
Parsnip and Chickpea Indian Stew
Paalak Paneer
Cranberry Phyllo Baskets
Chicken Skewers with Tarragon Pistachio Pesto
Butternut Squash Stuffed with apple and pork
Pumpkin waffles
Souffle stuffed chicken
Chili-mango chicken

I had very few mis-steps, but nothing that cannot be improved upon:
Baked Samosas
Hazelnut pesto
Shrimp Jalfrezi
Gingered Chicken Breast
Hearty Fish Chowder
Miso Glazed Eggplant
Quinoa with Currents Dill and Zucchini

So what do I have to look forward to now?  I know full well that 100 recipes is an easily surmountable goal, even with the tight work schedule I faced from October to December.

But rather than try to increase the number of new things to try, I'm going to up the ante by focusing on a few specific sub-goals.

This new year will bring with it 12 breads.  I've had a lot of success with quick breads: carrot cakes, banana breads, muffins and the like.  However, yeast is still something that throws me for a loop once and again. The year kicks off with a variation on the cinnamon bun tried last year. From there I'll move on to white, wheat, rye, sourdoughs and the like...hopefully finishing out the year with a successful attempt at my mother-in-laws challah bread.

Sauces will also make a larger appearance this year.  I use sauce broadly to include any flavor enhancing condiments from gravy to creams to mustard to chutneys.  On my list to try are wine reductions, hollandaise, aioli, bechamel and bearnaise.

One other treat to look forward to towards the end of January and beginning February...a plethora of Hawaiian classics including spam mususbi, slow cooker Kalua pork, huli huli chicken, huapia, poke and chicken long rice.

Please continue to stop by.  Let me know what your favorites dishes were this past year; and if you have any recipes you think I must try!

Until the first recipe of the new year, for auld lang syne and a happy new year!