Monday, October 31, 2011

Pumpkin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Muffins

Song Pairing:
You Really Got A Hold On Me by She & Him
I know Smokey Robinson wrote and performed the song.  The Beatles also performed it.  But I fell in love with Zooey Deschanel's voice (the She in She & Him) the minute I heard her sing in the movie "Elf."  And when they covered the song on their first album, Volume One, I was smitten!  As I was when I first created this recipe!

This recipe does have a hold on me since, to my most closest calculations, I have made this recipe more than any other recipe in my entire life - even more than the granola!  It's quick and easy and so good!  I have carted these muffins all over the world when I have traveled - both for snacks and a quick breakfast.  Almost every word of the song could apply to these muffins.  Except the "hold me, squeeze me" parts.  Don't want them to do that, really.

When my "baby" started first grade I started college.  I can't say I went "back" to college because you can't go back to somewhere you've never been.  I married very young and, at the time, we could only afford to send one of us to school.  Since I didn't really have a clear picture of what I wanted to study, and my husband did, we decided that he would be the one to go.  No regrets on my part.  It's a decision that worked well for us.  When children came along we were both absolutely certain that we would do whatever we could so that I could stay home with them.  Again - no regrets - loved it all. 

But, then, I started thinking that I would like to write - study English.  And when that window opened I climbed right on through and ended up on the campus of Weber State University.  I was what they called a "non-traditional" student.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that I wasn't the only one of those!  It took eight years for me to get my Associates, working around everyone's schedule.  But, seriously, I couldn't have done it without the help of my children - tutoring me in the math I'd forgotten, taking on their own laundry, and being guinea pigs in projects.

Often, on the way home from class, I'd stop at a bakery and get one of their Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins.  You'd also get a free slice of fresh bread with any purchase.  Carb heaven!  I knew that once I got home I'd only have a couple of hours to get a head start on my reading before the kids started coming through the door, ready to share their day with me - my favorite part of my day!  So as I'd drive home I'd pick that muffin apart, licking my fingers and cursing the fact that I'd dropped the napkin just out of reach - again.
I loved how the chocolate chips, although still in their original shape, would instantly turn to pools of chocolate when they hit my mouth.  And, if a piece of chocolate should be anything, a liquid, velvety pool is it!  The pumpkin flavor was hearty, the overall texture of the muffin was a little dry but, when you have all those pools of chocolate running around it doesn't really make you all that sad.  Its crowning glory, however, was that the bottom was just as delightful as the top.  It was 100% satisfaction!

The down side?  They weren't exactly cheap - and they were enormously large.  So I got to thinking that maybe I could make these puppies. This was no easy feat since I was in my "I hate to cook, bake, grill, and I'd-rather-eat-out-every-meal" days.  I wasn't the most successful person in the kitchen.  I had a few "go to" dishes but, mostly, being in the kitchen was torture.  It took about a month to talk myself into seriously trying.

Well, I nailed the recipe on my first try.  It was sheer luck!  I simply modified a pumpkin bread recipe I had stashed away.  It's been sweet pumpkin bliss ever since. 

I like to make them in both sizes, but mostly I make the mini size, with no paper liners.  They are just perfect for quick pick-me-ups.  I trick myself into thinking I'm having three muffins for breakfast when, in fact, those three minis probably are less than one regular-sized muffin.  I also found paper muffin cups that don't require a muffin tin - just line a regular sheet tray with them and bake away!  They peel away better, too.  When I know I'm giving them as gifts I'll often use those because they are just a little fancier than regular paper muffin cups.  Another bonus to this recipe is that I don't have to haul out a mixer for it.  It goes together so easily I can mix it by hand.

About a year after I started making my own, I stopped back into that store for one of theirs - the one that started it all.  I was so happy to discover that mine were actually better.  Go figure!

Pumpkin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Muffins
Printable Recipe Card
2 eggs
1/4 c. water
1 - 14 oz. can pumpkin
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 3/4 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. cinnamon
3/4 t. salt
1 c. chocolate chips
1 c. rolled oats

Graham cracker topping:
1 c. graham cracker crumbs
1/4 c. melted butter
2 T. sugar

Preheat oven to 350.

Place the eggs, water, pumpkin puree, vegetable oil, and sugar in a bowl and stir until well combined. 

In another bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.  Add to the wet ingredients.  Make a couple stirs and when wet and dry ingredients start to come together, add the chocolate chips and oats.  Continue to stir just until they are combined.  Fill cups about 3/4 full. 

If you'd like to add a topping for texture, mix the graham cracker crumbs with the melted butter and sugar and sprinkle over the top.  I think some chopped toasted nuts (pecans or walnuts) would be a delicious addition as well.

Bake as follows:
Regular-sized muffins - 30 - 35 minutes
Mini-sized muffins - 20 minutes

A toothpick should come out clean when inserted into the center

Let cool - if you can wait...  Then repeat the process over and over and over again for years to come.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Brookies Gone Wild

Song Pairing:
Make Up Your Mind by Theory of A Deadman
The recipe today can't make up it's mind if it's a cookie or a brownie.  It's both, really.  And each part can stand on it's own.  But why would they do that when they're so good together?  I imagine the layers fighting amongst themselves - one threatening to split and go their own way and return to their "solo" career.  But, in the end, them being together proves that the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts.  And I want to be a part of anything that good!  This song is about that same struggle - people talking about breaking up but ultimately staying together - Brookie Love.

Have you ever set out to do a task, only to get distracted by another task along the way? That's kind of what happened to me and how I arrived at today's post.

My friend and I got together a few weeks ago to work on a knitting project.  She had some questions and I was there to sort of help her out.  We made a morning out of it - knitting away, solving the world's problems - the usual.  When it was time for lunch we agreed to go check out the new bistro in town.

I love discovering new places to eat! 

Everything on the menu sounded tantalizing but we finally made our selections and we weren't disappointed.  For having only been open two days I thought they were operating marvelously.  Dishes were cleared and then the server had the nerve to ask that question. The "would you ladies like some dessert?" question.  I had already decided I was NOT going to have dessert. I was being a "good" girl.  So, of course, when they asked I said, "Heck, yes, I would!" So much for steely determination.

As we looked over the dessert menu I pretty much wanted one of everything. But that would be silly, right? Don't worry! I chose only one and we shared - and by shared I mean I had 3/4 and she had the rest.  And that's actually where real the story begins.

It was a s'mores inspired dessert - graham cracker crust bottom, brownie layer, chocolate ganache layer, topped with toasted marshmallows.  Soooo good!  I knew right away I had to find a way to make it myself and put my own spin on it.  But, what would I do?  I know - I would add nuts to the crust and I could put coconut in it somewhere, too. I'd put another layer in there - maybe a cookie layer. Hey - even better, I'll use cookie crumbs instead of graham cracker crumbs! No! I'll just make the bottom layer the cookie layer! No grahams at all! I really liked that idea! A cookie crust, a brownie layer, the ganache and then the toasted marshmallow.

But that's not a s'more anymore!  A s'more really needs to have the elements of the traditional cookout goodie - grahams, chocolate, and marshmallow! It is written somewhere - I'm sure!

I was really in love with my idea, though, and figured I'd have to just come up with a name for my new creation. A cookie and a brownie - let's see - I'll call it a brookie! That's it! I'm so clever!  And then I googled it - to see if anyone else could have possibly been as clever as I. Uh, yeah. Many people had been just that clever. Oh well, so I didn't "invent" the brookie. But I do make mine differently than most so that's something! Most have the brownie layer on the bottom and crumble the cookie dough on top.  And they don't add ganache and marshmallows.  That's just me - any reason to get more ganache into my body.

Before we get started I'm going to have to make a disclaimer on this one. These are addictive. As you take the last bite you will be sad, and you'll be thinking that "if you just had one more bite" you'd be good.  But more leads to more - and that's the only connection to a s'more, folks!  During my trial run I ended up having to throw most of them away. They were so dang good I could not pass them on the counter and not eat one - even with my steely determination! Finally, in frustration with myself, I picked up the plate, walked over to the trash and in they went. I had already determined that my recipe not only worked, it was delicious! No need to keep torturing myself. I think you'll agree.

If you end up with leftover cookie dough or brownie batter, just freeze it. I'd scoop the cookie dough into balls the size you need first and then freeze them, wrapped well. That way you'll have some on hand to make a batch up quickly when you want to give a treat to a neighbor or friend as a "thank you," "get better," or "way to go!" gift.

Brookies makes about 24
Printable Recipe Card
Cookie Layer:
1 c. unsalted butter (227 g)
2 c. brown sugar (440 g)
3 T. milk (45 g)
1 1/2 T. almond extract
2 eggs
3 c. flour (375 g)
1 1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. baking soda
8 oz. mini chocolate chip morsels

Cream butter and sugar together well until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, making sure each one is incorporated before adding the next.  Add the milk and almond extract and mix.  Combine the flour, salt, and baking soda in another bowl, whisking to be sure they are well combined.  Add the dry ingredients all at once to the wet and stir just until combined.  As soon as the flour starts to blend with the wet ingredients, add the mini morsels.  When all is combined, set aside.

Brownie Layer:
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate squares
1 c. unsalted butter (227 g)
4 eggs
2 c. sugar (400 g)
1 1/2 t. vanilla extract or coffee-flavored syrup (i.e. Torani's)
1 c. flour (125 g)

Melt the chocolate square and the butter in a pan over medium heat or in a bowl in the microwave, stirring every 20 seconds, until just melted.  Stir in the sugar and mix until well blended.  Add the eggs and extract or flavoring and stir until incorporated.  Stir the flour in and stir until just mixed.

Ganache Layer:
1 lb. chocolate chips
2 c. heavy cream

Place the chocolate chips or chopped chocolate in a glass or metal bowl with plenty of room for stirring.

Heat the cream in a pan over medium heat until it just starts to simmer.  Don't go too far.  Nothing likes to boil up and out of the pan faster than dairy!  Just bring it to a simmer.

Pour the cream over the chocolate and let it sit for one minute.  After a minute, stir until all the cream and chocolate are blended together and it has a smooth and satiny sheen. 

1 lb. mini-marshmallows

You will also need cupcake liners and a muffin tin.

Preheat oven to 350.

Line the muffin tin with the cupcake liners.  Place a generous tablespoon of cookie dough in each cup.  Using the bottom of a glass that's the same size as the bottom of the cup, squish the dough down so it is evenly spread across the bottom.  Spray the bottom of the glass with cooking spray to keep it from sticking.

Bake cookie layer 5 min. and tap tray on counter when you take them from the oven to sink the dough back down.

Add about 3 T. of brownie batter over the cookie layer.  The heat from the cookie dough will help the batter spread out evenly.  What you're looking for is leaving about 1/2  inch of space on top for the ganache.  I pour in the batter until I have that much head space on top.  Bake for 6 min., turn the pans, and bake 6 min. more.  If you insert a toothpick in the center it should come out clean.  Cool.  You can remove the brookies from the muffin tin in their liners at this point.  Add the layer of ganache almost to the top. Top with some Marshmallows.  Toast under the broiler, keeping a very close eye.  Don't be tempted to walk away! Once they are toasted golden you can chill them to help set the ganache.  Serve at room temperature.  If this is your first brookie, please pull up a chair and give yourself time to enjoy.

Monday, October 24, 2011

My "Apple" Love

Song Pairing:
Before It's Too Late by The Goo Goo Dolls
I had a heck of a time choosing a song to go with this post.  You know how sometimes you can't find the right words?  Well, this time the words are there - but the music has escaped me.  Hasn't anyone written a song about the indomitable spirit of those really cool people who blaze the way and make life easier and better for the rest of us?  If they have I can't seem to put my finger on it right now - but The Goo Goo Dolls do a good job here.  I'm sure something will come to me later - something I'll smack my forehead over for it's obviousness.  For now, remember that "the risk that might break you is the one that would save, a life you don't live is still lost."  Here's to those who think outside the box.

My computer used to make me feel dumb.  It used to leave me frustrated that I didn't know it's language.  It expected me to be scientific and be able to reduce everything I needed to do down to a mathematical equation.  I couldn't.  I got by alright - but I clearly worked for the computer, not the other way around.

But Steve Jobs changed all that.  He brought Apple off the back burner and started giving us products that made me feel smart - nay, brilliant!

It all started when I purchased a third generation iPod.  I dazzled my husband with the speed at which I was able to create and burn CDs.  My iPod didn't skip during exercising either.  Next thing I knew, he had one of his own.  

Then came the Mac.  It took terms like "crash" and "booted off" out of my vocabulary - except when I was talking to my husband about his PC.  He eventually got a Mac as well.

My fascination with Apple products has become a passion.  Obsession is what many people would say but, so be it.  I embrace my "Apple" love.  Never before has any company made products that fit my life better than Apple.  There was no learning curve - my Mac and I knew each other from the get-go.  My Mac thinks like me and that makes me feel unstoppable.  I get ideas.  I feel empowered that I have a means to take those ideas and bring them to fruition.   

Apple has bridged the gap between science and the arts.  Once thought to be two different spectrums - right-brained vs. left-brained - creativity now has more backbone and science is more hip.  

The passing of Steve Jobs has left a little piece of my heart aching.  I didn't know him personally but I could swear he knew me.  Call him visionary, call him genius, but I shall call him mentor.  He was a champion of intuition and trusted in the human ability to obtain out-of-this-world goals.  He didn't talk down to me - he had faith that, given the chance, I'd know what to do.  How blessed we all are for his efforts.  

In honor of Mr. Jobs' passing I made an apple pie.  It's not a typical apple pie.  It has bits of genius in it - just like Jobs.  Bits of genius that taste remarkably like candied ginger- probably because it is candied ginger.  So, there you are, enjoying your comfort food and every now and then you get a zing - a spark - like a great idea when it pops into your head.  And, what's up with the cheese heart?  I grew up in Pennsylvania and the saying there goes "Apple pie without cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze."  I would never serve Steve Jobs anything less than the absolute ultimate version of something.  He certainly gave us his best.

Apple Ginger Pie
printable recipe
For the filling:
6 apples, I like to use a variety
3/4 - 1 c. sugar
3 T. all-purpose flour
1 t. cinnamon
dash salt
1/3 c. chopped candied ginger, I find mine in the natural foods section of my grocery store 
2 T. butter, cut into teaspoon-sized pieces

Peel, core, and slice into even sized slices.  If the sizes of the slices are the same they will all cook and be done at the same time!  If you're feeling silly, take a picture of that single strand of peel, like this:

Combine all the filling ingredients except the butter in a large bowl and toss to coat the apple slices evenly.  (You can skip the candied ginger and the ginger reduction if you wish.)  Let sit while you make the dough.

For the dough: (this makes enough for two single-crust pies or a double-crust pie)
Printable Recipe Card
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. salt
1 T. sugar (I leave this out if it's a savory pie, like a quiche)
2/3 c. fat, chilled - use your preference or a combination of fats, i.e. butter, shortening, or lard
5 - 7 T. very cold water

Use a bowl that gives you ample room to work.  Add the flour, salt, and sugar to the bowl and stir well.  I use my pastry blender since I'll be using it to work in the fat.

Next add the chilled fats, starting with them in chunks about the size of a pat of butter.  

Use the pastry blender to break them down and work them in to the dry ingredients.  DO NOT OVERWORK!  You will end up with cardboard.  Work until the pieces resemble marbles and peas.  

You want chunks of fat remaining.  Why?  Science lesson time!  When you eventually cook the pie, those chunks of fat will melt and let off steam.  That steam will create a pocket in the dough.  All those pockets are what give you a flaky crust.  And a flaky crust is a beautiful thing.  Work quickly so the fat doesn't melt before you want it to.  The dough will not be pretty at this stage.  It'll look kind of raggy.

Wrap it in plastic wrap and chill it for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400.

After the dough is chilled, divide it in not quite even halves and roll the slightly larger half out into a circle that's about 2 - 3 inches larger than the pie plate (hold the pie plate over the dough to get an idea if you're at the right size yet.  Line the pie plate with the dough and, using kitchen scissors or a knife, trim the dough evenly so it extends past the rim of the plate by about an inch.  Fill the crust with the apple filling.  Place 6 dots of butter about the size of a teaspoon around the top of the filling.  Roll out the smaller half and carefully center over the filling.  Trim the dough so it just meets the rim.  Fold the outer dough up and over the top crust, lightly pressing to seal.  Use a fork to press the two crusts together or use your fingers and do a zig-zag crimp to seal all the way around.  Use a sharp knife and cut steam vents into the top of the pie.  These can be just slits or you can cut designs.  I'm usually in such a hurry for pie that I don't get fancy - I just cut evenly spaced slits.  But today I took the time to attempt a cut-out of the Apple logo.  

I did this while the top crust dough was still on the counter after rolling it out, but before placing it on top.  Brush the top of the pie with cream and dust with caster/superfine sugar.  Bake at 400 degrees for about 50 minutes.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Potions and Elixirs

Song Pairing:
Black Water by The Doobie Brothers
I'm definitely going for a setting here with my song choice.  The Doobies are paying homage to the Mississippi River and it suits my post today so well.  You see, we'll be making "reductions" today which can very much be likened to potions - secret potions if you so desire.  Black Water always makes me think of taking a leg off The Big Muddy and boating back into the bayous of Mississippi.  In my mind I can picture the shacks in subdued lighting - shadows all around - and maybe some old crone whipping up a batch of some odd elixir that'll cure some lover's straying eye . . . or make someone's eye stray your way.  I can't promise any magic of that sort with these concoctions but I'm pretty sure they're "gonna make everything all right."  Grab your raft, take a big breath, and exhale real slow - and catch that slow current and let's get the pots a-bubblin'.

When we were first married and scraping to make ends meet I used to take an apple that had gone mealy and some leftover orange rinds and put them in a little sauce pan.  I'd add water to cover the ingredients and sprinkle in some cinnamon.  I used to bring it to a boil and then turn the heat down way low and let it simmer for the better part of the afternoon.  My home smelled divine - like we lived inside of an apple pie!  We couldn't afford air fresheners or candles, but I loved the whole aromatherapy experience.  I found out in culinary school that I was actually on the road to making a sauce known as a "reduction.'

A reduction is a process where you take a liquid and boil it until it has become half or less of it's original volume.  You usually have some sort of aromatic, such as a spice or herb, with it.  The thing to keep in mind, though, when choosing which liquid to use is that, whatever flavor it has normally, will be intensified.  For example, liquids with bitter tendencies will only get even more bitter - tart flavors may become sour.  Be sure to taste along the way to decide if you need to add a sweetener.  Give it a stir now and then to make sure nothing is staking a claim on the bottom of your pan.  Another thing to keep in mind is that as it cools it will thicken even more.  What I do to be sure I don't end up with a tar pit of a mess is to ladle a small portion of the mixture into a dish and stick it in the freezer for a quick cool down.  If it's not quite thick enough, I cook longer.  If it's become thicker than I want I just add back a little more liquid.  When it's reduced to the consistency you want, strain it and then pour it into a shallow bowl and chill, uncovered.  When fully cooled, put in a container and store it in the refrigerator.

So what will you do with your reductions?  You'll use your "potions" to flavor dishes and knock the socks off your family and guests - that's what!  You can stir them into casseroles, incorporate them into sauces for meats or use as is.  They can be drizzled over desserts or stirred in to soups.  Whisk them in to vinaigrettes or use to flavor batters.  Once you have an arsenal of flavors on hand you'll never lack for flavor in your dishes.  I have a shelf on the door of my fridge dedicated to reductions and flavored simple syrups - potations which are ready at a moment's notice to help me add some "wow" to my meals.

Here are some ideas I came up with for reductions:

Apple Cider Reduction

4 c. apple cider or apple juice
1 c. white wine
1 orange
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
1 T. whole cloves
1/4 c. sugar

 This is the one that got the whole reduction ball rolling for me.  True confessions time - I will, on occasion, open my fridge and pour me a teaspoon of this stuff, just because it tastes soooo good!  Use it on pork, chicken, ice cream, pie, or even in salad dressing.  Or just as is!

Ginger, Apple, & Cinnamon

24 oz. ginger ale
1 apple, cut into fourths - no need to core
1 cinnamon stick
3 T. honey

I have this thing for ginger.  It started a couple years ago when I found a recipe for bread that used candied ginger.  It's been an addiction since.  So, as I was contemplating all the liquids I could use for this post, ginger ale suddenly popped into my head.  And being ginger and all, well, it just refused to leave until I could figure it out.  I consulted my Flavor Bible - no, there really is such a thing, I'm not making it up - I saw it recommended apples and the rest of the concoction just sort of fell in to place.  Heads up - this elixir has some bite!  In a nice way!  That ginger kinda sneaks up and gives you a little kick!

Orange Cranberry Clove

2 c. orange juice
1 c. cranberry juice
1 T. whole cloves
3 T. honey

Two of the happiest flavors to ever get along are orange and cranberry!  What a burst of tang they pack!  I kept my eye on this one as it brewed, just to make sure it didn't start going sour.  If you feel yours is becoming too tart, just add some sugar.  I realized, a little too late, that fresh cranberries in this would be awesome!  It's what I will be doing next time - add about half a bag, I think.  This is going to be drizzled over scones, ice cream, or maybe some chicken in an asian-inspired meal.  It could also add some interest to a breakfast smoothie!  Yum!

Pineapple, Coconut, Vanilla with Banana

46 oz. pineapple juice
13.5 oz. coconut milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped - add seeds and pod
4 oz. banana liqueur
3 T. sugar

I think I almost started to get the shakes as this recipe came together.  I spotted the pineapple juice on the grocery shelf and thought, "I wonder. . . ."  So I brought it home and started thinking about all the wonderful food profiles that would pair well with pineapple.  This was totally a pantry-inspired creation.  I saw that I had a can of coconut milk.  Yes - that would pair well.  As I looked up from the shelf with the coconut milk, I was staring straight at my vials of vanilla beans.  Why, yes - I think I'll take that as well!  I turned to leave and noticed the banana liqueur way back in the corner.  Huh.  I'll throw some of that in there, too!  This ended up being one of my happiest results of the day!  You can imagine how good this smelled.  This might be a teaspoon taster as well.  I'll be using it for desserts, of course, but I'm eager to try it on some fish.  I'm formulating a plan that involves dusting with coconut flour . . .
If you look close you can see the beautiful vanilla beans.  They've settled towards the bottom so you're going to want to be sure to stir this up before you use it!

Apricot with Cardamom and Peppercorns
Printable Recipe Card

46 oz. apricot nectar
1 t. peppercorns
2 t. cardamom
2 T. sugar

This was another Flavor Bible exploration.  I really wanted to try something different - maybe even a little nutty.  When I saw it suggested black peppercorns as a pairing for apricot, I figured that that might be considered a little nutty - so in it went!  In addition to my new fixation on ginger is cardamom.  Love the floral notes it brings without tasting perfumey.  I was very interested to see how it would go up again the pepper.  It's wonderful!  I can see this as a savory as well as a sweet dish enhancer.   Maybe with a steak . . .

Prunes with Cinnamon & Rum
Printable Recipe Card

2 c. prune juice
4 oz. rum
1 cinnamon stick, broke in half
3 T. sugar

I got soooo excited to make this one I forgot to get the before "ingredients" shot so you just have the after picture to gaze at.  But I'm thinking you all probably know what prune juice looks like, right?  This one ended up being my hands-down-all-time favorite of the day.  Whodathunk?!  Prunes!!!  Well, folks, don't just saunter on by those bottles of prune juice next time you're at the grocery store.  Grab one!  Take it home!  Throw it in a pot with the other ingredients listed above - or come up with your own "go withs."  Cook it down until it's about a third of what it was.  You will be licking your chops!  Say - that's a great idea - pork chops with this stuff!  But what came to my mind first is - "I can't wait to make Kahlua pork again because this stuff is going to be drizzled ALL over it!"

"By the hand, take me by the hand, pretty mama
Come and dance with your daddy all night long!"

Monday, October 17, 2011

Let's Get Fresh . . . Pasta!

Song Pairing:
Ballads and Blues by Miles Davis

It's time for one of those songs that make you feel brilliant yet calm - slows you down so you can enjoy the experience of what you are about to do.  In truth, one song won't do.   I don't want to scare you - but you're probably going to need a playlist for this - an entire album even.  And Miles Davis is my first choice.  This just happens to be one of my favorites of his - but if you have another Miles Davis - go ahead and use it.  Listening to Davis always shows just how smart you are.  And making your own pasta isn't difficult at all - but it makes you look like a genius!

The moment I knew I had to learn to make fresh pasta was while sitting on our hotel's terrace, gazing out at Lake Como and the twinkling lights of Bellagio and Menaggio across the water.  We decided to dine "in" at the hotel on our first night in Italy.  It was so romantic - a train ride into the mountains from Milan, passing quaint little villages along the way, an easy stroll from the station down the hill to Albergo Olivedo, which sat right across from the ferry dock.  Even the karaoke night entertainment from the nearby park where locals sang their hearts out in broken English to American pop songs couldn't dispel the unmistakable fact that we were in one of God's own masterpieces.  They brought out our dinners 
and we tasted and - 
this is where you insert that sound of a record player's needle being drug across the vinyl.   
I wanted to shout - while standing on my chair - fork raised in the air!  
"What the heck!  This is amazing!"     
Forget about the mountains and the lake!  In this dish before me were all my hopes and dreams and desires of food that I have ever had!  And if that wasn't enough, my husband had me taste his ravioli.  I felt every bone in my body melt.  I stared intently at his bowl of pillows of cheeses, lightly coated with fine olive oil and butter, ribbons of sage and a light sprinkling of parmesan.  It was simple.  Sheer simplicity - where everything I had been learning in culinary school had come together in one dish.  Quality fresh local ingredients, handled with respect and care in a thoughtful presentation - you will never be disappointed.  Not disappointed?  How about "you will be transformed!"

A few months later, after all my internships were over and I was officially out of school, I set about teaching myself to make fresh pasta.  I had watched a chef from one of my internships make it and asked enough questions to get a good idea of technique.  I had watched shows on the Food Network and the Cooking Channel.  I discovered different recipes for dough, noting which would work best with each type of pasta.  I felt like I was ready to give it a "crank." 

I purchased a hand-cranked pasta machine and a few attachments for different shaped noodles.  My first attempt was . . . awesome!  Why had I waited so long?  I had scared myself into thinking it was going to be this big ordeal when, in fact, it wasn't!  Yes, it took time.  But, if I made it an activity of sorts, dedicated this time as "pasta production time," much like I had "knitting time", or "reading time", or "laundry time" - then it would be perfectly acceptable to take an hour and make some pasta.  I could leave it in sheets and freeze it for future use, or cut it into noodles and freeze, or store in the fridge, or even just cook it right then!  Really - this investment of time was speedily gaining merit if I could produce pasta as I had had it in Varenna - and everywhere else I went in Italy.

I want you, dear reader, to enjoy the wonder of fresh pasta as well.  So let's get going.  Don't start the music yet, though.  I'll let you know when to cue in Miles.  The real action starts after the dough has chilled for half an hour.  Do I hear a "why do I have to do that?"  It's to let the gluten relax.  Otherwise it'll be fighting you like a teenager about curfew! 

3 eggs
2 c. flour
1/2 t. kosher salt
1 t. extra-virgin olive oil

Place ingredients into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until it starts to come together. 

 Notice that it will look rather rough and raggy.  That's ok.

Lightly flour the counter top or a cutting board and empty the contents of the bowl.  Lightly knead a few times just to fully bring ingredients together to form a small ball.  

Cover well with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.  You can also freeze it at this point for further work another time.

If you are using a pasta machine, clamp it to the counter top and lightly dust with flour.  Open the feed to the widest setting, usually "1."  Also flour the counter around your work area.

Prepare 5 or 6 pieces of parchment paper to hold your sheets of pasta if you aren't going to cut them into noodles and/or use them right away.  Cut your 12 1/4" X 16 1/2" parchment paper in half, lengthwise, and lightly spray both sides.  As I finish my sheets of pasta I lay them on the paper and stack them.  Build the stack sitting on a sheet tray or box for support.  When I'm finished I double-wrap the whole thing very well.  You can use these sheets to make lasagna or ravioli.

If rolling by hand, flour your work surface.

After 30 minutes, remove the dough from the refrigerator and unwrap.  Divide in half and keep the half you're not using wrapped so it doesn't dry out. 

Start your music!

Flatten the dough with your hand until it is about 1/4 inch thick so it will fit into the opening of the machine.  Crank it through. 

 Fold both ends in towards the middle and roll again.

Keep doing this until you get a nice rectangular shape, taking care to keep the machine dusted with flour so things don't start sticking.  As you work the dough you will notice that the "ragginess" goes away and the dough starts becoming rather attractive!

Continue feeding the dough through the shoot while gradually reducing the size of the opening.  I usually find that the smaller it gets the less feeds you need at each setting.  Thus, by the time you're at a "5" and higher, you will only be feeding it through once at each setting.

 Note - do not pull on the dough as it comes out.  Let it come to you.  When the dough gets too long for you to handle easily, simply cut it in half and work one half at a time.  You can reroll scraps if you keep them moist.

 When it's to the thickness you want (usually around a "7" on my machine), lay it on the parchment paper.  Continue until all dough has been rolled.  I tend to like to freeze it at this point.  It can be made into anything at this point.  Want some fresh pasta but not sure yet what you're going to do with it?  Freeze it in sheets.  You can always cut it into noodles later.  I do trim the sheets of pasta up a bit, keeping in mind the size of the pan I use for lasagna.

I decided to turn this batch into fettuccine and pappardelle noodles.  I don't have a pappardelle cutter but they are so wide I just used a pizza cutter and hand cut them.

 When I cut my dough into noodles I like to hang them to dry on 3/8" dowels I've cut to fit on the lip inside the hood vent over my stove.

I can then bag them and freeze them or keep in the refrigerator for several (10) days.  You can also just plop them into well-salted boiling water fresh from the cutting, without drying, if you like.  Pasta is so easy to get along with!  Remember, though, that fresh pasta cooks in a fraction of the time that the dried product you get at the grocery store cooks.  Plan on 3 - 4 minutes for fresh.

Variations:  add 1/4 cup of chopped fresh herbs such as basil, oregano, or rosemary to the eggs before you add them to the processor bowl.  Sun-dried tomatoes will also create a wonderful pasta.

If you time it right, about the time "It Never Entered My Mind" starts playing, someone will come into your kitchen, twirl you into their arms and dance you around the kitchen!  You ARE that brilliant, you know!  Seriously, though, if you're sweetheart likes to cook, I highly recommend a stay-at-home date night making pasta together!

Some of these noodles are going to have a rendezvous with that Avocado and Arugula Pesto I made a couple weeks ago!


Thursday, October 13, 2011

"Yes, And I Feel Fine"

Song Pairing:
Something In the Way She Moves by James Taylor
There are few things in this world more soothing and appealing than James Taylor singing . . . anything.  Anything at all.  He and his guitar can melt away the chaos of modern living and, wherever you are when you hear it, becomes a far away meadow.  He sings of simple settings and simple truths.  Sometimes these simple truths are hard to hear and understand.  But he has taken the time to find the words and the music to make it all palatable, pulling our heartstrings to where they should be.  He's a lyrical storyteller and I can't get enough of him.  In just a few notes of intro "I feel fine."  I'm sure you feel the same way.

Simple and comforting - much like the staff of life.  The world around, nothing speaks of home and comfort more than fresh-baked bread.  Each culture has their version.  Today I'm sharing just one of my family's favorites.  

Oh - the ultimate reason I chose this song today?  It's one of my daughter's favorites and today is her birthday!

Several years ago I wasn't feeling well and a friend brought dinner in to my family.  Sweet, right?  Well, she is a very sweet lady and we really appreciated it!  My friend, however, wasn't happy with the results of the rolls she brought and returned later that week with a "proper" bread offering.  The most delectable loaf of rye bread I had ever tasted!  I feel bad that she felt bad about her original offering, but, let's face it - if it's the catalyst behind getting this bread into my life, maybe I don't feel so bad after all!

I sliced up the loaf and served it with dinner that night.  I could see my daughter (yes, the birthday daughter) give her initial appraisal of the bread.  It wasn't white or even off-white.  It was quite dark.  This is the daughter who had rather particular tastes when it came to food.  Most of my children were pretty good eaters but I'm pretty sure she had the longest list of grievances.  She would cut through the kitchen while I was making dinner just to ascertain whether or not I was putting "fungus" (her affectionate term for mushrooms) into the meal - again.  Each child was allowed one food that they did not have to eat - she chose peas.  There was no way I was going to get peas into that girl.  So be it.

Back to the bread.  It was passed around the table and, surprisingly, she took some.  If I had known the relationship that was to develop between her and this bread I would have grabbed the camera for it was love at first bite.  I was astonished!!  I was pleased!!  I needed to get this recipe - and fast!!!

I asked my friend and she was happy to share.  But she would like to "show" me how to make it - and since it took a bit of time to do so, with it having three risings and all, why didn't I come over and we'd make an afternoon of it.  I love a gal that can turn any opportunity into a girls "time out!"  She chose some great chick flicks to watch during the risings and she showed me the way to rye heaven!

Over the years this has become this daughter's "home" food.  She is now grown into a beautiful woman, a mother herself.  I love her more than shrimp and pesto and chocolate ganache!  (She will understand these units of 'love' measure.)  Although she lives over 600 miles away, I am making this rye bread for her special day because it helps me feel close to her - a wish my heart whispers daily.  I think she's a brilliant writer and she's wise beyond her years, this daughter of mine.  I am constantly surprised by the wisdom she has to offer her old mum.  Indeed - "If I'm feeling down and blue or troubled by some foolish game she always seems to make me change my mind."  Happy birthday, B.  Love you so much!

 Marbled Rye Bread
printable recipe
1 T. yeast
1/2 c. warm water

1/3 c. vegetable oil
2 c. rye flour
3/4 c. molasses
2 t. salt
2 c. very hot water

6 c. all-purpose white flour

* (for marbled rye) 2 T. Caramel color powder + 2 T. rye flour

In a small bowl, mix the yeast and water and set aside.

In a large mixer bowl, mix together the oil, rye flour, molasses, salt, and hot water.  Add the yeast mixture and 3 cups of the white flour.  Mix well.  Slowly add the rest of the white flour and let the mixer knead for 7 minutes with a dough hook.  The dough will be quite sticky to the touch.

Spray a large bowl with cooking spray and turn the dough out into the bowl and give it a turn to coat the whole ball of dough.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until double.

Empty the dough out of the bowl to deflate it, ball it back up and return to the bowl for a second rising - covered.

Note:  if you do not wish to make a marbled rye, you can skip the rest of the instructions and merely form the dough into 2 - 3 balls, make three slits across the top of the dough, cover and let rise until double.  Bake and cool as described below.

For marbled rye:
Mix the final 2 T. of caramel color powder and the 2 T. of rye flour together.

After the second rising, divide the dough in half and knead the caramel color/rye flour mixture into one of the halves.  This will give the dough the darker color.  You can use the machine to do it - which is probably the wisest course since the coloring tends to be a bit messy.

Lightly flour a large surface with flour and roll out the uncolored half of dough into a rectangle that's about 10X18.  When the color has been kneaded into the other half, roll it out into a rectangle the same size as the other half of dough.  Carefully place one on top of the other.

Starting along the long edges, tightly roll up the layered doughs together - keeping it tight as you go.  When it's completely rolled up, pinch the seams together and roll so the seam is on the bottom.  Use a bench scraper or knife and divide the roll in half.  Take the ends of the rolls and slightly fold them to the bottom.  Place in sprayed loaf pans, seam side down.  Cover with sprayed plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until almost double.

Preheat the oven to 350.  When risen, carefully remove plastic wrap and bake for 30 minutes.  Let cool, in the pans, on a rack for 15 minutes.  Remove from pans and let cool completely on wire racks.  Wrap in plastic when cool.

Monday, October 10, 2011

"Pork, Mother!"

Song Pairing:
Anything But Ordinary by Avril Lavigne
Pork tenderloin, like chicken breasts, gets a bad rap sometimes.  I have heard them called 'boring' and 'plain.'  I prefer to look at them as a blank canvas - the best of blank canvases, that is.  They let the creativity rest within my own imagination to bring out all their hidden secrets - and, as a chef, I like that!  

On the surface, I think I would be called "ordinary."  I've been a stay-at-home mom for most of my adult life - and gladly so!  I sew, I quilt, I knit, I read.  Boring?  Maybe, to some.  But my two youngest daughters chose this particular song as my "theme"song a few years back.  They know firsthand how "outside-the-box" I can be!  I'm sure they'd say "out of my mind" but, hey, I'm telling this story!  I love the song and it's part of the cool down on one of my workout playlists.  I'm usually pretty stoked on adrenaline by then so I like to belt it out along with Avril - which is cool because I'm alone - at home.  It's not so cool, however, when I'm traveling and working out in the hotel fitness center and, for a brief moment, forget I'm not alone with my iPod.  I can just hear those people saying, "You should have heard this lady suddenly sing out 'is it enoooouuuugh!' today in the hotel gym!"  BTW - those gym towels are not just for wiping away the sweat.  They also do a great job of hiding your face!  Ahem - let's talk pork tenderloin . . . 

Ok - movie fans!  Who can name the movie from which I plucked the quote for the title of my post today?  Leave your guess in the comment section and you will win --- the heartfelt feeling of knowing that you love the same movies I do!  Just kidding!  Actually, I wish I could send you a pork tenderloin as a prize, but how about a CD of the soundtrack of the movie?  Start guessing!  The soundtrack goes out to the first one to guess it right!

Autumn is here.  It started sneaking around in the shadows about a month ago.  I  happened to look out my kitchen window and, way in the backyard by my garden, I could see a single branch where the leaves had yellowed.  Sigh.  Summer was going to be over soon and I was not happy about it.  Truth be known, I was downright ornery about it.  I love heat and sunshine - therefore, I love summer.

And then I made stuffed pork tenderloin.  And I got to thinking about all the fabulous foods that come with the cooler temperatures.  And, gradually, I began to embrace the new season to come.  I wore long pants one day, but kept the sandals.  The next week, it was raining so I added closed-toe shoes - my favorite pair of clogs which I found in the Netherlands about nine years ago.  I attended a local high school football game one evening which required me to break out a light jacket.  None of these items has made their way back to the back of the closet yet.  But, that's ok.  I'm having fantasies of bottling applesauce and grape juice and braising pork shoulder.  What I probably need to do to completely "fall" into fall is have a good run through a pile of leaves.  I'm calculating that to still be about three weeks away.  In the meantime, I'm going to be roasting things - like pork tenderloin - and turning them into extra-ordinary meals.  "I wanna taste it!  Don't wanna waste it awaaaay!"

Prosciutto-Wrapped Stuffed Pork Tenderloin
Printable Recipe Card
1 pork tenderloin - I mostly use the ones in the vacuum-packed packages in the meat case - there are often 2 loins in the package.  They are small so use both!

1/2 loaf of bread, cubed
1/2 onion, diced
1 t. extra virgin olive oil
1 stalk celery, diced
1 carrot, shredded
1 apple, diced
1/2 - 1 c. chicken stock
1 t. poultry seasoning
1/2 t. cumin
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
2 packages of prosciutto

Preheat oven to 350.

Tenderloin prep:
Trim any silver skin and visible fat on the tenderloin.  Cut your tenderloin to lay flat so you can roll it up after the stuffing has been spread over it.  I like to use my boning knife, which is very sharp, and work slowly so I make it as even as possible.  To direct my knife cuts I like to envision the tenderloin as if it were a jelly roll and I have to uncoil it.  I find a starting point and, using the tip of my knife, make long but shallow cuts along the length, freeing about a 1/4 inch edge.  Then, as I turn the tenderloin I continually follow this around the perimeter of the tenderloin until I have "uncoiled" the roll.  If you're having a hard time visualizing this, I found this demo you could watch.  Sorry about the commercials!  Once I have my tenderloin laid out, I like to cover it with plastic wrap and use my meat mallet to gently pound it out to make sure it's even.  Go easy!  Then I season it with salt and pepper.

Stuffing prep:
Cube the bread.  You can toast it in the oven it you'd like.  I didn't and it worked just fine.  Using different kinds of breads can add some wonderful variety.  Place the cubes in a mixing bowl and season with the salt, pepper, poultry seasoning, and cumin.

Heat the oil in a sauté pan over medium high heat and add the onions and celery and cook until softened - about 5 minutes.  Add the carrots and cook for another minute.  Remove from heat and add to the bowl with the bread.  Add the apples and toss well.  Add the stock, starting with the half cup and add more if you need to coat the bread more.

Separate the prosciutto slices and lay out on a cutting board.  Lay the "unrolled" pork tenderloin out and spread the filling evenly out over the open surface.  Take one long edge and begin to roll up, tucking in stuffing if it falls out the side.  Secure with toothpicks once it's rolled up if it makes it easier to handle while you put on the prosciutto.  Wrap prosciutto slices around the outside of the rolled tenderloin, smoothing ends down.  Place in a baking dish.

Place in oven and roast, uncovered, for an hour.  Brush top with juices in the pan and roast for another 10 minutes.

Remove from pan and let rest for about 10 minutes.  Slice into 1/2 inch slices, on the diagonal.

Each loin serves 3 - 4 people.  If you use a larger loin, double the stuffing ingredients.

Note - the stuffing recipe is a basic and pared down version.  You could do all sorts of variations with this.  Use your favorite or take mine and jazz it up with all sorts of things - citrus zest, raisins, dried cranberries or fruits of any kind, nuts, cheeses, vegetables.  Use other starches beside bread - cook rice, potatoes, etc.  It's your canvas - let your mind be an artist!

If you're interested in the sauce I used - stick around!  If not - see you next time!

Apple Cider Beurre Manie
Printable Recipe Card
The title makes it sound difficult and fancy - but only because there's french words in it.  Simply put, it's an apple cider reduction which was thickened with a little butter and flour.

2 cups apple cider
1/2 cup of white wine
2 T. butter
2 T. flour

Place in saute pan and cook over medium high heat until it is thicker and reduced to half.  On a small plate, place 2 T. cold butter and 2 T. flour.  Use a fork and mash the two together until combined.  When the liquid is reduced, use the fork and add the "beurre manie" to the reduction and stir.  Sauce will become thick and glossy.  Remove from heat, season with salt, and drizzle over roast.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Pesto Passion

Song Pairing:
Days Go By by Dirty Vegas
I love the funk and groove of this song - not to mention the cool video that went with it.  In my mind, I dance just like that guy.  But the reactions of onlookers when I do dance, and by onlookers I mean my children, I'm thinking that my moves don't quite come across the same way his does!  The funk and groove of this song has me thinking about today's recipe.  If ever a food had a funk and groove - this one does!  By my own daughter's account, I was (am) obsessed with this song.  And it's the same with this pesto sauce.  Days go by and still I think of - Avocado and Arugula Pesto!  I think you will, too!

The painters showed up a little earlier than I thought they would to paint the outside of the house.  I had a huge bush of basil up next to the house that needed to be picked before they started spraying.  I dropped what I was doing and ran out and started cutting it down.  With my daughter's help, the next thing I knew I had lovely scented fingertips and this:

 A huge bowl of basil!

And this is where I start to get excited.  I love pesto.  

It's such a small thing but it adds flavor and beauty in everything it touches.  It goes with every meal.  It's a lovely note on an egg sandwich.  Just a tablespoon or two added to a steaming bowl of pasta negates the need for anything more - other than a light sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan.  It dresses up fish and chicken in high enough fashion for the most important of guests.  Pesto is a hard worker - yet you don't have to work hard to get it.

But then - this past summer I watched one of my favorite shows with one of my favorite chefs, Giada.  Yeah - we're on first-name basis (I wish.)  She showed me (and a million other people) how to make pesto out of these ingredients -

 Which is amazing because I simply ADORE arugula!  And avocados!  And in a few short minutes you have this!

It also uses basil but not as much as in a regular pesto recipe.  Also, there's no oil!  You use the fat from the avocados to get the creamy texture.  Toasted almonds are substituted in place of the fattier pine nuts.  Now - I haven't sat down and done the nutritional profile on this yet but, in my mind, it's sounding healthier, right?  At least that's what I'm telling myself.  

The thing with pestos are that a little goes a long way.  And the same is true of this pesto recipe.  It packs a powerful punch of flavor.  Giada's recipe calls for a pound of pasta for this quantity of sauce, but I think you could easily double the amount of pasta using the single amount of pesto and have plenty to coat those noodles.  

Actually - what I like to do is make up the pesto and keep it in an airtight tub in the fridge with a piece of plastic wrap pressed to the surface to keep it from oxidizing.  (If you forget, it's ok.  Just give it a stir.  Just like with regular pesto, the top goes brown but underneath it's still that vibrant green.)  

For a quick lunch I'll cook some pasta, put a dollop of pesto on the noodles fresh from the pan, toss to coat and I'm ready to eat!  Add some pesto to mayo for your sandwiches and you'll be thinking you're in a fancy bistro!  I intend on finding as many creative ways to sneak this green goodness into as many things as I can! I'll give you an update as my investigations continue.  But, for now, I'm going to get my funk and groove going, clear the dance floor - aka my kitchen - and make up as much Arugula and Avocado Pesto as I can from my mondo bowl of basil. 

Avocado and Arugula Pesto
Printable Recipe Card
2 medium avocados, halved, peeled, and scooped
3 c. baby arugula leaves (3 oz.) I find mine in the specialty lettuce section of the produce department
1 packed cup of fresh basil leaves
3 T. fresh lime juice (about 2 limes - but PLEASE measure!  Some limes are juicier than others and too much lime juice overshadows the other flavors)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. black pepper
1/2 c. sliced almonds, toasted
1 c. grated Parmesan (optional)

Toast the almonds in a saute pan - WATCH CLOSELY!  Remove from heat as soon as you start to get that toasty aroma.  Slice them right in to a cool dish.  If they stay in the pan they'll keep cooking and be burnt before you know it.  If you burn them, start over.  There's no saving it and the flavor will permeate the dish.

Into the bowl of a food processor, fitted with a blade, place all the ingredients, except the Parmesan.  It'll be tight quarters but relax - it'll all be fine once you press that "on" button.  Blend, stopping to scrape down the sides once or twice, until it's well blended.  Make sure there's no lumps of garlic hanging out somewhere.  Scrape into a bowl, cover with plastic touching surface, put on airtight lid and refrigerate.  You can also freeze it in either freezer bags, ice cube trays (pop out and store in baggies when frozen) or freezer tubs.

NOTE:  I say that the Parmesan is optional only because we have folks watching their waists around here.  The sauce, without it, is fine.  I just like to give others a chance to control at least that part of their meal!