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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Polenta, a Third Way: Slow-cooker Method

I love polenta so much I've already posted a couple of recipes for it. I prefer it to pasta. A cook can be negligent while cooking this recipe since it only needs to be stirred a couple of times. It's my new favorite method.


Polenta, a Third Way: Slow-cooker Method

Cooking in a slow-cooker is not quite as predictable as cooking in an oven. Mine will be different than yours. The first time you make this start checking to see if much of the water has been absorbed before the 2-hour point. If it has go ahead and stir it and finish cooking as directed. 

Adapted from:  The Mediterranean Slow Cooker by Michele Scicolone
Serves 6-8

3 c water
2 c chicken broth, vegetable broth, or more water
1 c coarsely ground yellow cornmeal or cornmeal for polenta, not instant
1/2-1 teas salt
1 T unsalted butter
1/2 c grated Parmegianno-Regianno
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Stir the water, broth, cornmeal, and salt together in a slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for around 2 hours. In my slow cooker, it takes only 90-100 minutes. (Watch it carefully until you've learned how your slow cooker behaves.) Stir well, cover, and cook on low for 30-60 minutes more or until the polenta is thick. I used the warm setting for the final hour.

When the polenta is thick and creamy, stir in the butter and the cheese and stir until melted and well combined. Serve immediately.

Creamy Chard

Hell's Backbone Grill is, apparently, an excellent place to eat. It's located in the tiny town of Boulder, Utah near the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. I used to go through this town on fishing trips with my parents when I was a child. I have only one memory of the town:  my toddler brother had his stomach pumped after he found a bottle of baby aspirin in the car (prior to the advent of child proof lids).

Tom and Sol went to Hell's Backbone Grill this past summer to celebrate their one year anniversary. Likely their memories are better than mine. They kindly gave me a cookbook by the owners/chefs. It's a beauty and if this recipe is any indication, it is full of good tasting recipes.

This treatment of a humble vegetable can be enjoyed in celebratory meals like Thanksgiving dinner.


Creamy Chard

Adapted from:  With a Measure of Grace:  The Story and Recipes of a Small Town Restaurant by Blake Spalding and Jennifer Castle

Serves:  6

1 1/2 T butter
1 c diced onion
1 teas minced garlic
1 pound Swiss chard, cleaned and chopped into thin ribbons (you can include tender parts of stems)
1 1/2 c heavy cream
1/2 c grated Parmesan
1 c bread crumbs (the restaurant uses biscuit crumbs; I've used fresh bread spun in a blender)
1 1/2 T chopped fresh tarragon or 1 teas dried
3/4 teas salt, or to taste
1/2 teas freshly ground pepper, or to taste

Melt butter in a pan large enough to fit all the chard. Add the onions and cook until soft and starting to color. Add garlic and stir for 30-60 seconds. Add the chopped chard and the cream and stir everything together. Bring to a simmer and lower heat if necessary to keep it slowly cooking for about 5 minutes. Add the grated cheese and bread crumbs, tarragon, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. The thickness of the dish can be modified by adding some milk or cream a little at a time.

Cook on low for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the chard is tender and the mixture has a thick, creamy texture. If needed, adjust the salt and pepper and serve.Note:
Don't use a full cup of panko bread crumbs; it requires much more cream to moisturize the crumbs and even then, it seems that the chard is secondary to the gloppy bread. It's not nearly as good as using soft bread crumbs.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Millionaire Shortbread

In time for holiday cooking, "Cook's Illustrated Magazine" recently published a recipe that I tested and tasted last spring. I became acquainted with this cookie in 1977 during my first trip to Ireland where Leon served his LDS mission. Some of his favorite friends were the McKennas in Bangor, Northern Ireland. Molly McKenna served us a cookie called "Fudge Bars," chocolate and caramel on shortbread.  She shared a recipe with me but I didn't cook it since I couldn't find an ingredient:  Lyle's Golden Syrup (a sugar byproduct which is currently more available in the States). Ultimately, I lost her hand written recipe. The cookie was a favorite in my memory so I've been thrilled to know of a published recipe using ingredients easily found in U. S. supermarkets.

Making the caramel layer can be an adventure in candy making even though the magazine's instructions are pretty straightforward. If you live at higher altitudes, cooking the caramel becomes problematic. Since Betsy and I live at a slightly under 5000 feet, we can not successfully make this recipe as it is written. I am posting this recipe for those of us that live between 4000 to 5000 feet elevation but will tell you what to do if you live at lower or higher altitudes.

Do give this a try, even if you feel a little nervous. It's worth it and the recipe will be a great addition to your holiday repertoire.


Millionaire Shortbread Bars (Irish Fudge Bars) High Altitude Version

Serves:  30-40 depending on how you cut them


2 1/2 c flour
1/2 granulated sugar
3/4 teas salt
16 T unsalted butter, melted


1 (14-oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1 c packed brown sugar
1/2 heavy cream
1/2 c corn syrup 
8 T unsalted butter


8 oz. bittersweet chocolate (6 oz. chopped, 2 oz. grated)

For the crust:  

Use foil to make a sling for a 9X13 pan: use two sheets folded to fit and laid perpendicular to each other, leaving the excess foil hanging over the edges of the pan. Make sure the foil is flush to the corners and flat against the bottom. 

Combine the flour, sugar, and salt and add melted butter. Stir well until all the flour is moistened. Spread the dough evenly across the bottom of the prepared pan. Press the dough with your hands or the bottom of a measuring cup until it is an even thickness. Pierce the dough with a fork at 1-inch intervals. Place in oven at lower-middle height and bake about 25-30 minutes until lightly golden and firm to the touch. Remove and place on a wire rack. Use a metal spatula to press on the surface of the crust while it is warm, making it easier to cut when cool. Let sit as it cools to just warm, 20 minutes at least.

For the filling (for different altitudes see below):

Mix all the ingredients together in a heavy bottomed, large saucepan. Over medium heat, cook while stirring frequently. Using a thermometer, either candy or instant-read, to test the temperature and cook until it reaches 226-229F (at 5000 feet elevation). When the caramel layer reaches your target temperature, carefully pour it over the crust and using a rubber spatula or an offset spatula, spread it to an even thickness. This mixture is very hot and could burn badly if it lands on you. Let the bars cool completely, at least 1 1/2 hours.

For the chocolate top:

Place the chopped chocolate in a small glass bowl and microwave at 50 percent power for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring every 15 seconds. The chocolate should be melted but not much warmer than body temperature. Stir in the grated chocolate and keep stirring until smooth. If it doesn't melt, you can return it to the microwave for 5 seconds at a time to finish. Stir well and spread the chocolate over the caramel layer. Place in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes until the chocolate is solidified but just barely.

Use the foil sling to lift the shortbread out of the pan. Place on a cutting board, removing the foil. Use a serrated knife to cut. I cut mine into squares. Cook's Illustrated cuts theirs into long, thin strips. 

The cookies can be stored at room temperature for up to a week. It is wise to use parchment in between any layers in your storage container.

Caramel Layer at Varying Altitudes

The only change required for this recipe is the target temperature for cooking the caramel. The original recipe calls for cooking the caramel layer to 236-239F

Atmospheric pressure is lower at higher elevations and it affects baking and candy making. If we ignore this difference our efforts will be disappointing. In this recipe the caramel will be too moist or too chewy if you cook it to the wrong temperature. Since boiling takes place at a lower temperature at high altitudes the target temperature must be lower too. But knowing just what temperature can be difficult. 

Several years ago Betsy and I attended a high altitude cooking class taught by Romina Rasmussen, chef and owner of Les Madeleines Patisserie and Cafe in Salt Lake City, one of the most helpful classes I've ever attended. Romina is a trustworthy resource so I spoke with her last summer and she told me that even a couple of degrees off in caramel making can make for an undesirable end result. She recommends boiling water the very day you are going to cook the caramel (apparently atmospheric conditions can affect candy, too). Test the temperature at which the water boils and subtract that amount from sea level boiling point, 212F. Then subtract the difference from the original recipe and you will have your target temperature.  Here's an example:

Sea level boiling point:  212F
Subtract your boiling temperature:  ___________ (at my 5000 ft it is 202F)
Equals:________ (10 degrees for me)

Original recipe target temperature:  236F-239F
Subtract the difference between two boiling temps:  _________ (10 degrees)
Equals: your target temperature (for me it is 226F-229F)

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Spanish Rice Casserole

Although this is no gourmet dish, it's fast and it makes for a nice weeknight meal. The casserole can be served with a vegetable on the side to round out your plate; it's also nice with warmed tortillas. Michael likes to use the casserole itself as a burrito or taco filling (as did my brothers).

This recipe was given to my mom decades ago by a friend from K. I. Sawyer Air Force Base. It was a family favorite from the first time she cooked it. The speedy preparation made it a frequent dinner during the years when teens were in the house. I like it for the same reasons--and also, it's a crowd pleaser. I will often turn to this recipe when I'm taking a meal to another family.

Note from Colette:

I've just finished reading a book titled A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression.
A paragraph in the book made me wonder if this recipe has its roots in Depression-era Michigan. I think it certainly possible: "A dish called 'Spanish Rice' (many dishes were identified as Spanish simply because they contained tomatoes) was a popular casserole made with fried ham, bacon or salt pork, chopped onion, tomato, diced bell pepper, and boiled rice, all combined and baked or warmed on the stove top." Although this recipe contains ground beef I imagine the ingredient was added when it became convenient and affordable. 


Spanish Rice Casserole

Source: Debbie Wade, an old friend my mom knew in Michigan

1 lb ground beef
1/2 c onion, chopped
1 c uncooked white rice
2/3 c green pepper, chopped
1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes (original recipe used stewed)
2 c water
1 teas chili powder
1/2 teas oregano leaves
1 teas salt
1/8 teas pepper
1/3 c cooked ham or 5 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

If you're using bacon, cook it in a skillet and then spoon off all but 1 T bacon fat. Cook ground beef and onion together, in the bacon fat. (If you're using ham, just cook the beef and onion together using a vegetable oil spray to coat the pan.) Drain fat, if necessary, and stir in other ingredients. Heat to boiling; reduce heat, cover and simmer. Stir occasionally. Cook about 30 minutes until water is absorbed.