Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Two Experiments: Pizza Roll and Raspberry-Oat Bars

Experiment #1. So, every now and then an idea pops into my head, and I just have to try it. I had two ideas recently that I decided to go with, and they both turned out so good, I thought I would share, after a long hiatus with the blog.

First, my wife Susan bought a whole bunch of meat for me to play Iron Chef with. One of the items was 2 pounds of ground beef. Hmmm…what to do with that? At first, I thought I would make a simple Bolognese sauce and then layer it in a lasagna. But, I needed celery, carrot, and onion for a mirepoix, and the rules state that I can only use what is in the house. And then it just hit me…roll up the burger in a pizza crust, jellyroll style, put some cheese on top, and bake it. It sounded really intriguing, so I decided to go for it (after waffling a bit with the lasagna idea some more). After talking with Susan, I made some changes to the basic idea…I decided to brown the burger a bit with some onion and garlic to make sure the burger got done, and to drain a bit of the fat, if necessary. I also decided to add some leftover pizza sauce to give it a bit more flavor and to make sure it wasn’t too dry. So, I made a pizza dough:

4 cups King Arthur Bread Flour

1 package rapid rise yeast

2 tsp kosher salt

3 tbsp olive oil

1 ¾ cup warm water

I put the first 3 ingredients in my food processor (with the plastic blade) and pulse to mix. I put the olive oil into a measuring cup, and then add the warm water. I turn on the food processor, and then slowly but steadily add the water. I only use the machine to bring the dough together, and then pull it out. Ideally, the dough will be a bit sticky, so you’ll want some flour on your hands and counter. I kneaded the dough for about 1 minute or so, and then put it into an oiled bowl, wrapped with plastic wrap, and then placed in my warmed oven to rise for a couple of hours.

When the dough was close to doubled in size, I browned my burger with 3 cloves of minced garlic and ½ of a chopped red onion (found in the bowels of our veggie drawer in the fridge). I also grabbed the tomato sauce that was left over from pizza on Friday night. This was about half a recipe of my sauce, which is this:

1 15-oz can tomato sauce
1 6-oz can tomato paste
1-2 tsp onion powder
1-2 tsp garlic salt
2 tsp oregano
2-3 tsp basil

Honestly, I just eyeball the last 4 ingredients, so I’m not totally sure on the amounts. Anyway, I put all of the above into a small sauce pan, stir or whisk it together, and then let it simmer on the stove for about 20 minutes. I had about half of that recipe left for this particular experiment, so I just used what I had, and it turned out to be perfect.

When the dough was ready, I pulled it out, kneaded it on a floured surface, and then began rolling it out. I rolled out the whole thing until it was about ¼” thick or so. Then I used a spatula to spread the tomato sauce out over the dough, except for about 1-2 inches near the edges. I evenly spread the burger mixture on the tomato sauce, covered that with parmesan cheese, and topped it all with grated mozzarella cheese. The really tricky part came next…I grabbed the edge of the dough, and very slowly and very carefully began to roll. It is absolutely critical that you start this on a fairly well floured work surface, or you will be screwed at this point. However, I was able to roll the whole thing up like a jelly roll, and then sealed the ends and the seam where the roll came together. I placed the whole thing on a buttered, rimmed baking sheet, and baked it for an hour at 400, or until the top was nicely browned. I let it cool for a while, and then sliced it and served…it turned out great, with the dough being done all the way through.

Experiment #2. So, this one had been percolating for some time, and decided that Monday afternoon was a good day to give it a shot. I had gotten home early from work and needed something to do (just ask Susan), and so decided to give this a whirl. My idea had been to combine butter, rolled oats, and brown sugar in my stand mixer, put half of the mixture in the bottom of a baking dish, add a layer of raspberry jam, add the rest of the mix, and bake.

Having no idea if that would actually work or not, I decided to check some recipes for oatmeal bars or oatmeal cookies. Based on what I found, I decided to modify my idea a bit, and add some other ingredients. So, here is what I did:

1 ¾ stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
2 cups flour
1 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
3 tsp baking powder
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup chocolate chips
1 ½ cups chopped pecans
1 9-oz jar Smucker’s seedless raspberry jam

I put the first 3 ingredients into my Kitchenaid stand mixer and mixed with the beater. When that was mixed, I added the 3 eggs, and mixed those, then added the flour, and mixed that in as well. I added the milk, mixed that in, and then added the next 3 ingredients. I then added the oats, chips, and pecans, and finished the batter. I added half of the mixture to a buttered (sides and bottom ) 9x13 pyrex baking dish, spread the jam over the top, and then spooned the rest of the mixture over the top of the jam. I baked at 350 for an hour, let it cool for a bit, and served it warm. It was really good, but would have been fantastic with vanilla ice cream. I put it in the fridge, and today it is just as good chilled (which definitely helped it set so that you can actually cut it into bars). One day I’m going to try my original, simpler idea, but this turned out really nice.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Always Have A Backup Plan

So, the other night, I decided I was going to get nutty with coconut. I’d been thinking about something Indianish…some nice, creamy coconut milk, some shredded coconut for flavor, a bit of cilantro, some spice, maybe some nuts…I was in total experiment mode.

Susan threw me for a bit of loop by bringing home a whole coconut. Crikeys…what the crap was I supposed to do with that? But, I like a good challenge, so I read up on coconut smashing in “How to Cook Everything” by Mark Bittman (a wonderful bible of cooking…this could really suffice as your only cookbook). As dinner time neared, I wrapped my coconut in three Target bags, and whapped the crap out of it on my concrete stoop. This worked like a champ; the coconut was in several manageable pieces.

I took it inside, and scraped some of the remaining brown stuff off the flesh, and then took a small nibble to check out the flavor. It was…bitter and nasty. There seemed to be very little actual coconut flavor, and a very bitter aftertaste. Now I was in a bit of a quandary…what do I do now? I thought about how to salvage the situation as I tossed hunks of coconut flesh into my Cuisinart, specifically, about a recipe for an Indian dish called Chicken Khorma. I fished around in my pantry for some sultanas that I knew I had, so that I could add a bit of flavor and some sweetness to balance the bitterness. But the sultanas were in a single mass; they had obviously been in there awhile. How long I wasn’t sure, so I broke off a bit and tasted them, and nearly gagged. The date on the box? Sometime in 2008. I just about gagged as I spit what was in my mouth into the trash, followed by the rest of the nearly fossilized sultanas.

I grabbed a newer box of regular raisins, and threw some in there. Remembering how bitter the coconut was, I tossed in some more. To this I added some dry-toasted nuts, some cilantro, a can of coconut milk, cilantro, and a jalapeno. I whirled it all up and tasted it. It was….well, it was weird. It definitely wasn’t good. It had this overly sweet (too many damn raisins!), nutty, slightly bitter aftertaste thing going. I asked Susan to taste it, who immediately became silent. Normally, if she likes something, the feedback is immediate; if she doesn’t like it, she takes a bit longer as she tries to formulate an answer. She looked at me with a bit of a grimace. I knew I was screwed.

However, I did have a backup plan. I had gotten a big tub of plain yogurt that day at the store since I was making homemade naan to go with the dish. So, as Susan dumped the nasty coconut mess down the drain, I quickly formulated a new plan. I minced about 1 ½ inches of fresh ginger, along with 3-4 cloves of garlic. I melted 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet, and once that was bubbling, I fried my spices (2 teaspoons each of Penzey’s Vindaloo powder, Garam Masala, and medium Chile powder). After that became wonderfully fragrant, I added the garlic and ginger, and sautéed that for about 5 minutes. Then I added two medium chopped onions, and sautéed those for about 10 minutes until they were translucent. To this I threw in about 2.2 pounds of cubed boneless, skinless, chicken thighs, and sautéed those for a while. Once those had browned a bit, I tossed in about 1 ½ cups of the plain yogurt, stirred, and let simmer for about 30 minutes to let the sauce thicken. I served it over plain white rice with hot, fresh naan…fantastic.

So, although my original plan went in the crapper (literally), I think dinner turned out pretty darn well.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Chicken Two Ways

This weekend was Battle Chicken at the Raihala household. Susan bought a smallish roaster, and also not quite 2 pounds of chicken breasts. How to create two totally different meals out of the same meat? Hmmm…

Almost immediately, I decided I was going to do a riff on a recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, “French Farmhouse Cookbook” by Susan Loomis. If you are new to French cooking, and want to give it a go, get yourself this cookbook. I have used it more than any other cookbook I own in the last 5 years or so. It is absolutely wonderful.

My plan was to make a simple pizza crust dough, and wrap the whole chicken in it, along with sautéed leeks on the bottom, and bacon on top to provide some more flavor for the bread wrapping. I made the pizza dough and got it rising, and then I started the chicken by browning it in a large sauce pan in a bit of olive oil to render some of the fat and to brown the skin. I chopped 4 leeks and got those sautéing in olive oil as well.

When the pizza dough was ready after a rise of about 2 hours, I took it out of the bowl and rolled it out big enough to wrap around the whole chicken. I put the leeks on the dough, and then placed the chicken on the leeks. I put the bacon on the breast of the chicken, and then pulled the dough around the chicken and sealed it. I was really proud of how it was looking, and took some pictures. Then everything went south on me in a big way.

I started to pick up the chicken to place it in a baking dish, and noticed to my horror that the dough was sticking steadfastly to the counter. I gently tried to pull the dough-wrapped chicken up, and instantly ripped the bottom off, with hot leeks spilling all over my counter. After some R-rated commentary on my part, I did my best to get my temper back in check, and threw the chicken in the pan, sans the bottom part of the dough. I pushed the dough and leeks on the counter top, and threw that on top of the chicken, and threw the whole thing into the oven.

I decided to throw myself into the accompanying salad. I had gotten some nice baby spinach at the grocery store, so I wanted to do something with that. I dry-toasted almonds, pecans, and walnuts until the almonds were turning a nice brown on the outside, and then threw them into my Cuisinart mini-prep and chopped them until they were not totally minced into sawdust, but a bit bigger. I put the nuts on the spinach, then whisked together some walnut oil and balsamic vinegar. I poured that on the salad, and then put on some parmesan cheese. The salad turned out quite nice, although I did get a bit carried away with the amount of nuts I put on the salads.

The chicken itself turned out pretty darn good, if not very pretty. The meat was super moist after having cooked inside the dough, and the bread surrounding the chicken was delectable, with flavors of leek, chicken, and bacon.

On Sunday, I needed to do something with the chicken breasts. I had decided I was going to do something Indianish with them…something spicy and creamy with rice. I put a chopped jalapeno, a bunch of cilantro (about a cup and a half), a bunch of mint (about ½ a cup), 3 garlic cloves, an inch of peeled ginger, ½ cup of almonds, and two roma tomatoes into my Cuisinart and pureed the whole mess. It looked a lot like pesto, so I added a cup of plain yogurt, and blended that until it was smooth.

I grabbed my biggest skillet, and begin sautéing the chicken breast (that I had cubed) in some butter. I let that cook for a while, and then added one large chopped onion, a pound of quartered little red potatoes, and one red pepper. I let that cook for a bit, and then added a can of coconut milk and the pureed sauce from the Cuisinart. I threw in 2 teaspoons of Vindaloo seasoning (from Penzeys) and let that simmer for a while. After about 20 minutes I tasted the sauce, which was a little bland, so tossed in some salt and another 2 teaspoons of the Vindaloo seasoning (I had intended on also using some Garam Masala, but a alas, I was out). I kept simmering that until the sauce thickened nicely, and then served it over rice with homemade naan.

It all turned out pretty good. Not too hot; just enough spice to keep it interesting, and nice creamy sauce to go with the rice. It wasn’t exactly what I was going for, but then, I’m not exactly sure what I was aiming at, anyway. Maybe some chopped tomatoes should have in with the onions and peppers. I was also thinking that perhaps just a hint of ancho or chipotle chile powder could have given it a hint of smoke and spice; a little Indian-Southwestern fusion. Maybe next time….

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Battle: Cooking Light!

So, last Sunday, I decided I’d cook something light, since I’m normally a bit heavy-handed when it comes to oil, butter, and fat, and I was already making a fairly heavy dish with pork on Saturday night. I figured I’d do something with fish…some nice light filets. While at the grocery story some nice catfish filets caught my eye…yes, that will do, I thought. Maybe my spicy sweet potatoes would go nicely…and a spicy pecan topping on the catfish…yes, that would do the trick…it was all coming together nicely.

I sautéed the sweet potatoes in butter, brown sugar, cayenne pepper, and ancho chile powder, with a hit of sea salt. I fried the pecan topping in butter and ancho chile powder. I sautéed the catfish in, you guessed, it butter. It was all incredible tasting, but even I felt a bit nasty after eating it. My wife sat back after the meal and proclaimed that I simply couldn’t cook “light,” that I was simply incapable. Here is the actual conversation, as she captured it in her blog, “Questioning My Intelligence” (the “me” being my wife Susan):

Me: George, you are incapable of cooking light.

George: Yes, I can!

Me: No, you can NOT.

George: Nonsense. You’re only saying that because I never have. Name that movie I’m paraphrasing.

Me: Princess Bride, of course. And that’s my point. You’ve never done it because you’re not capable.

George: I’ve just never tried to cook light. I’ve tried to cook delicious. Besides, beans and rice was my idea.

Me: That’s not cooking. That’s making rice, heating up canned beans, and mixing them together. The recipes you invent are never light. Besides, I’m always the one fixing beans and rice, not you.

George: I made light oatmeal cookies when we lived in Boise.

Me: Yes, I suppose you did. [Note: We left Boise in 2000.] But you are not capable of cooking a light meal.

George: You are trying to use reverse psychology on me. You’re challenging me.

Me: No. I truly believe you are simply incapable of cooking light.

George: I made you a delicious salad a few months back.

Me: It was wilted with bacon fat, had a pound of crumbled bacon on it, and an egg fried in bacon fat. NOT light.

George: You are evil. I’m going to make you eat turkey. Next weekend, you’re eating light. I don’t know how, but I’m going to do it.

Me: No, you won’t.

George: Yes, I will. How many meals have to be light? Just one? Surely just one. One would prove you wrong.

Me: True. But you can’t do it.

George: Yes, I will. But just once, to prove you wrong.

And so the challenge was on. I, of course, was not about to take this sitting down. I would make her eat crow if I had to boil a chicken breast and serve it plain over white rice. But, the key was to make something delicious and light at the same time.

I hit upon the idea of grilling or broiling some chicken breasts, making a mole sauce, and serving the chicken over rice, with slices of fresh avocado and tomatoes on top. The only problem was, I had no real idea how to make a mole sauce. So I grabbed Mark Bittman’s “The Best Recipes in the World,” and looked up chicken with mole. Turned out he has two recipes, one with a mole sauce made with chocolate and pepitas, and another with just almonds. Hmmm….I wanted to use chocolate to make my sauce rich, yet light (if I could), but the almonds sounded really good, too.

I decided to make a hybrid of the two recipes. It turned out my wife had bought some chicken thighs (boneless, skinless, I thought, so still good for “light”), but I got a couple more packages since the recipe called for a 3-4 pound chicken. I browned the chicken thighs in olive oil, and then sautéed onion, garlic, and cilantro in the left over oil and chicken fat. My wife had suggested removing the skin from the chicken thighs, but in my heart I knew that the skin would add some nice depth of flavor to the sauce. So much for lightness….sigh…my wife smirked knowingly.

After the onions had softened, I put the chicken back in the pot, and added some cinnamon, thyme, tomatoes, and chicken broth to cover. Meanwhile, I toasted a cup of blanched almonds, a chipotle chile, and two ancho chiles in a dry skillet. When those where nice and toasty (the almonds turning a light brown on the sides and chiles were making popping noises), I tossed those in the pot and let it all simmer for about 40 minutes. Once the chicken was nicely tender, I removed it and put the pot on highish heat to reduce the sauce a bit. I tossed in one ounce of unsweetened chocolate and let that melt, and let it reduce a bit more. Once the sauce was nicely thickened, I pulled out my hand mixer and pureed everything, and then tossed the chicken back in the pot. I served it over rice, with a touch of sour cream (light, natch), and it was, dare I say, fantastically good. But not light. Dang. Round one to Susan….I went for full flavor over light, and while I wasn’t too broken up about it since it had turned out so nice, I was still a bit annoyed that I hadn’t proven her wrong…I was capable of cooking light and delicious!

So, today, it was back to square one in the cooking light battle. For tonight, I had a nice lean piece of London Broil and some asparagus, so I decided to try and make a light stir fry. I sliced the beef really thin and trimmed all the fat, and marinated it in black bean garlic sauce, red garlic chile paste, sriracha sauce, teriyaki, and soy sauce. I let that sit for about 45 minutes while I got the rest of the dinner going.

I took two bunches of scallions, minced 5 cloves of garlic, and minced an inch and half piece of ginger (peeled and minced), and sautéed that in two tablespoons of oil (one each of canola and peanut), along with a couple pinches of red pepper flakes. I then took 1 bunch of asparagus (woody stems snapped off, and sliced into 2” pieces) and added it to the wok, and stir fried that until the asparagus was getting tender. I then added the meat mixture, and let that cook for a while.

After about 10 minutes, the meat had released a fair amount of moisture, so I added some pre-cooked linguini noodles to the wok, and added another tablespoon each of the black bean garlic sauce and the red garlic chile paste. I let that all simmer for about 20 minutes until the noodles were nice and hot and had absorbed the meat juices and the added sauce and paste.

To cut to the chase, it turned out quite nice, with the only fat added being the initial two tablespoons of oil (and that was for 1.5 pounds of meat and a bunch of asparagus). I didn’t think it would be enough, but it really was…it didn’t need any more oil at all. The end result was a very nice dish that wasn’t overly oily. I’m not sure I would characterize it as “light,” but it wasn’t fatty and it was very tasty. Susan declared that I was capable of cooking light, so round 2 went to me!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Green Pork Masala Korma

For Sunday's dinner, I decided to do something with an inexpensive pork roast.  I picked up a large Boston Butt, and as I wandered the aisles of my favorite grocery store, I started to think about an Indian dish I had made with cilantro, mint, and jalapeno.  That sounded good, so I grabbed those items, plus a couple cans of coconut milk.

On Sunday, I cubed the pork fairly large (2" cubes) and browned it in several batches.  Meanwhile, I took the mint, cilantro, 4 garlic cloves, a jalapeno, the juice from one lemon, and pureed that in my food processor.  After the meat was browned, I fried my spices:  Garam Masala, cardomom, cinnamon, and some Vindaloo powder.  Next came the pureed cilantro and mint mixture, and I sauteed that for a while.  I threw in the meat and the coconut milk, and then decided that a some nutty flavor would also be nice.  I washed the food processor, and then put in about a cup of cashews and a cup of plain yogurt.  I processed that, and threw it in the pot.

I let the pork simmer for a couple of hours, and made some Naan to go with the dinner.  I used a bit more yogurt than the recipe calls for, because I like the flavor of the Naan with the extra yogurt.  The dough was nice and soft, and rose nicely.  I changed tactics with my Naan this time, though, by deciding to cook it on a pre-heated stone (500F for 30 minutes) instead of on a buttered cookie sheet.  I also rolled it out a bit thinner than I normally do.

The pork masala korma was very nice...although I was hoping that the pork would have been a bit more tender than it was.  Maybe another hour would have made it spoon tender.  The naan turned out very nice, with a bit of crispiness that is normally not there.  The cashew/yogurt mixture gave it a nice nutty flavor that went well with the mint/cilantro/jalapeno puree. 

Battle Bell Pepper...and the winner is...the salad??!!

So, I hit my favorite market in Springboro, Ohio, and try to figure out what I'm cooking for the weekend.  I had pretty much decided that for Battle Bell Pepper I would make a couple of dishes...a pasta dish and a roasted red pepper coulis on some chicken, but then I thought about what I would cook on Sunday.  I decided to do a tart on Saturday, and cook something with more meat on Sunday. 

So, I headed to the meat department to see what they had for Sunday, and saw a beautiful Boston Butt roast.  I grabbed that, not really knowing what to do with it, and decided to go with a tart for Saturday night.  I had most of the ingredients I needed for the tart, but I realized that I needed something to go with it...a nice spinach salad, perhaps?

A spinach salad sounded good, but a wilted spinach salad sounded even better.  I went to the meat counter and got a 1/4 pound of bacon to go with it, with some other thoughts starting to coalesce about that salad. 

I got home, and sliced thin 1 1/2 large onions and 4 bell peppers.  I put those in a large skillet with a 1/8 cup olive oil, tossed the mixture to coat everything with the olive oil, and then covered to start the cooking process.  I also made the dough for the tart shell, and let that rest on the counter.  With that done, I let the onions and peppers cook until thoroughly caramelized, and then pre-baked the tart crust.

As the onions and peppers were cooking, I mixed together some ricotta, goat cheese, and parmesan cheese for coating the tart shell.  When the tart shell came out of the oven, I let it cool a bit, and then covered the tart with the cheese, and then put the onions and peppers on top of that.  I threw on some cubed pepperoni for some spiciness, sprinkled on some more parmesan cheese, and then covered the whole thing with another piece of pastry dough.  I popped that in the oven, and then turned to the salad.

I hard cooked some eggs, washed the spinach and chopped the bacon.  I popped the bacon into a skillet and let that start to cook and render the fat.  When the bacon was done, I turned down the heat, spooned out the bacon, and then threw in a handful of pecans.  I dusted those with some Chipotle chile powder, and let the pecans saute for a while.  Meanwhile, I took one other red pepper, and minced it. 

I filled some large pasta bowls with the spinach, and then poured the pecan and hot bacon fat on top.  I threw on some minced hard cooked egg, the minced red pepper, and a splash of balsamic vinegar.  I tossed all that, and served it while it was nice and hot.

So, to make a long story short, Susan loved the salad.  It really was good...too good, really.  It was a meal in and of itself.  That salad along with a baguette and some really good butter would have been plenty for dinner.  But, I had worked hard on the tart, so I insisted that we have at least a bit of it.  I really liked it, but Susan was right...it was very dense and rich.  It would have been good by itself, but following a wilted spinach salad, it was just a little too much.

So there you have it....the salad that was little more than an afterthought turned out to be a bigger hit than the main course!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Battle Bell Peppers!

So this weekend, the secret ingredient for my challenge is:  Bell Peppers!  Susan got me 3 peppers, an orange, a red, and a yellow bell pepper.  The possibilities are endless, but already, I've got some ideas. 

I have always loved roasted bell peppers, so I'm thinking of roasting the red pepper, then putting it into the food processor with some garlic and olive oil, and making a sort of roasted pepper coulis.  I bet that would go great over some sauteed chicken thighs.  I could even put the coulis in the pan I cooked the chicken in, and make a nice pan sauce.  But what to do with the other peppers?  I'm betting those would be awesome cooked down with some onion in olive oil and oregano, until they were nicely caramelized, then served over pasta with ricotta and parmesan cheese.  Or, I could serve that over polenta.  There's also this recipe in Lynn Rosetta Kasper's "The Italian Country Table" that has this great recipe that I've always wanted to try involving braised peppers with pork and polenta.

Or, maybe I could caramelize the peppers and onions, then pile them on top of the ricotta cheese in a tart shell, and make a pepper tart. 

Dang, this is gonna be harder than I thought...

More tomorrow after I cook something.