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Saturday, March 16, 2019

Kenji's Easy Butter Pie Crust

Last week, for Pi day, my department at work held a pie party, celebrating the end of a long, time-intensive project. I've never managed a pie for Pi day, but I decided this would be the year. And I was desperately avoiding a trip to the store, so ended up looking for all butter pie crust recipes. I've wanted a good one for a while, due to flavor and also a desire to avoid partially hydrogenated oils. This recipe lived up to the "easy" in its name, both in mixing and rolling, and it was definitely flaky and butter-flavored. You can see that it was popular, too!



pie crust cookies, of course

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Kenji's Easy Butter Pie Crust


Source: Serious Eats https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2011/07/easy-pie-dough-recipe.html
Also, check out the step-by-step pictures here: https://www.seriouseats.com/2015/10/how-to-make-pie-dough-step-by-step-slideshow.html. They helped me figure out when to stop the food processor.

Yields two crusts

2 1/2 c all purpose flour
2 T sugar
1 teas kosher salt
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cold
6 T cold water

Add the sugar, salt, and 1 3/4 c flour to a food processor bowl, and pulse a couple of times to combine.

Cut the butter into 1/4-inch pats and then add to the food processor. Use a number of short pulses until the dough starts to form clumps and the flour has been incorporated entirely. The original recipe said about 25 pulses; I did at least 50 because my dough wasn't clumping yet. Redistribute the dough in the processor, then add the remaining 3/4 c flour. Pulse a few times until the dough is broken up.

Place the dough in a bowl, and sprinkle with water. Fold and press with a rubber spatula, until it all comes together in a ball. Divide the ball in two and form disks from the two pieces. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours before rolling.

Grandma Betty's Rhubarb Crunch

Spring is around the corner--I have rhubarb leaves breaking through the soil.


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Grandma Betty's Rhubarb Crunch 


Adapted from my mom's recipe
Yield: an 8X8 pan

1 1/4 pd rhubarb, cut into half-inch pieces (about 5 1/2-6 cups)
1 c old fashioned oatmeal
1 c flour (I like to use wheat but you can use all-purpose)
1 c brown sugar
1/2 c salted butter
1/4 c granulated sugar
1 teas cinnamon
1 T water
1/4-1/2 c chopped nuts

Preheat the oven to 350F. 

Mix oatmeal, flour, and brown sugar in a bowl and cut in butter until crumbly. (I like to grate frozen butter into these ingredients). Pat 1/2 of the mixture into the bottom of the 8X8 pan that has been buttered. Add sliced rhubarb to pan and top it with the granulated sugar, cinnamon, and water. (If you prefer you can mix the sugar and cinnamon together before sprinkling it over the rhubarb.) Mix the chopped nuts into the remaining crumble mixture and spread over the sugared rhubarb.

Place in the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes. Rotate the pan at about the halfway point and check it at about 35 minutes to ensure the crumble topping isn't scorching (if it is, top it loosely with a sheet of aluminum foil). Use a fork to test that the rhubarb is tender. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Eat as is or serve with ice cream, whipped cream, Greek yogurt, or pour some unsweetened cream over the top. 

Note: The original recipe calls for 1/2 c granulated sugar. This is just too sweet for me, but if you find rhubarb overly tart, you may want to use that amount of sugar.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

One-pot Black-eyed Pea and Sausage Soup with Kale

I'm a fan of black-eyed peas and have them in the shell stage in my freezer most of the time. I've not cooked this recipe using the dried legume but I trust the source of this recipe.

Black-eyed peas are delicious with pork and with greens. This soup would be great with any green but spinach (unless you add it at the last minute) so if you don't have kale you can use chard or collard greens. Chard will take less time to cook than kale so add it later.



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One-pot Black-eyed Pea and Sausage Soup with Kale


Adapted from: seriouseats.com
Serves: 6

1 T oil, olive or vegetable
12 oz andouille sausage, cut into quarter inch slices (or another sausage if this is too hot)
6 oz salt pork or slab bacon (or regular if that's what you have) cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large leek,white and pale green parts only, cleaned and finely chopped (about 1 1/2 c)
1 large onion, finely diced (about 1 1/2 c)
2 ribs celery, finely diced (about 1 c)
1 large green bell pepper, finely chopped (about 1 c)
1 jalapeno pepper, minced (optional or to taste)
1/2 teas red pepper flakes (optional, depending on spiciness of sausage)
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced (or minced in a garlic press, if you're in a hurry)
1 pd dried black-eyed peas
2 quarts low-sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
1 bunch kale, stems removed and leaves roughly chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 c apple cider vinegar
chopped parsley, as a garnish, (optional)

In a Dutch oven heat the oil over medium heat. Stir in sausage and salt pork and cook until browned. Add leeks, onion, celery, green pepper, jalapeno (if using), red pepper flakes, and garlic. Cook about 10 minutes, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the Dutch oven.

Add the black-eyed peas, chicken broth, and bay leaves and a bit of salt and pepper (you can add more later--remember the sausage, salt pork, and broth are all salted). Cover the black-eyed peas with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat but keep simmering until the black-eyed peas are tender, 45-75 minutes. This will depend on the size of the peas and their age. When the peas are getting close (try one--you should have some resistance but nothing hard) add the kale and cover until it has wilted--you might have to do this in batches. Cook until the kale is tender and the black-eyed peas are done.

Stir in the vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper if needed. This can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.

If you use black-eyed peas in the shell stage, they will only need 35-45 minutes of cooking so you may want to add the kale a little sooner. 

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Oranges in Caramel Sauce





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Oranges in Caramel Sauce

Serves 8 and can be easily halved

8-9 oranges, navel or cara cara oranges or a combination, blood oranges make a nice visual contrast
1 c granulated sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
2 T butter

Juice 2 of the oranges to yield 3/4 c of juice. I'd advise straining orange pulp out especially if you use cara cara oranges which tend to leave a lot of pulp behind  If this reduces the amount of juice you have left, squeeze some more and add another orange for slicing.

Cut the ends off the remaining oranges and stand each orange on end and cut off the peels and pith. You may notice from the photo that I only peeled mine because the white edges of the oranges don't bother me and I wanted to preserve as much of each orange as possible. Slice the oranges thinly and lay them overlapping somewhat in a 9X13 pan or casserole dish. 

In a medium saucepan combine the sugar, 1/4 c of the orange juice and the cinnamon sticks. Over medium-high heat bring this to a boil and cook, swirling the pan occasionally. The sugar will begin to color around the edges. The bubbling sugar will change from frothy and thin to shiny and thick. At this point reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the mixture is coppery-brown in color, swirling often.

Off heat add the butter and stir constantly until melted. Splash a small amount of the remaining juice in and stir until smooth. The mixture will bubble and steam when the juice joins the caramel. Add the rest of the juice and whisk until completely mixed in. If the caramel sticks to the pan and separates, return it to the heat and simmer until the hard, toffee-like caramel dissolves. When smooth, pour the sauce evenly over the oranges and cover the dish. Place in the fridge for 3 hours.

I like serving this with plain Greek yogurt but you might like it with some ricotta cheese or even vanilla ice cream. 

Note:

I had some trouble with crystallization when I made this. I'm not sure whether it was caused by altitude or weather, but each can impact candy making (and caramel is candy). I added extra juice earlier than called for and cooked it until it was fully caramel colored. I used a small strainer to pour the sauce through to catch any sugar lumps that hadn't fully dissolved. 

Smoky Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili




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Smoky Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili


Serves: 8

This is a vegan chili but I cooked up a little chorizo as an add-in for meat eaters. It is yummy either way.

1 T oil
2 c chopped onion, about 2 medium onions
4 c cubed sweet potatoes (3/4-inch), about 1 1/4 pds
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 chipotle en adobo, finely chopped, or to taste
1 T ancho chile powder
2 teas ground cumin
1/2 teas smoked paprika
1 (14.5 oz) can tomatoes, diced or whole and crushed before adding
3 1/2 c cooked black beans, rinsed and drained if from cans (about 2 1/4 15.5 oz. cans)
1 1/2 c homemade or purchased vegetable broth
1/2 teas salt
1 avocado, for garnish, optional
1/4 c snipped chives, for garnish optional

Start heating the oil over medium heat and add the onions once it shimmers. Stir frequently and allow onions to cook until translucent and tender. Add the sweet potatoes and the garlic and cook until the sweet potatoes are beginning to get soft, about 10 minutes. Add the chipotle en adobo, ancho chile powder, cumin, and smoked paprika. Stir constantly while the spices become fragrant and mixed in, about a minute.

Add the tomatoes, beans, and broth and raise the heat to medium-high until it comes to a boil. Then reduce the heat and simmer slowly uncovered. Stir occasionally until the sweet potatoes are tender, about 30-35 minutes. If you want to change the consistency, add more broth.

Stir in the salt and taste and adjust.

Serve topped with chopped avocados and chives.

Notes:

You can find chipotle en adobo in many supermarkets these days; otherwise it's available in a Mexican market.

I made this with home cooked beans and since I used aromatics (carrot, onion, celery, garlic) while cooking the beans, I used bean broth instead of vegetable broth.

Canned diced tomatoes usually have calcium chloride added which keeps them in a consistent diced state and they don't break down with cooking. It's a matter of preference whether you use them. If you like your tomatoes to dissipate in a soup or stew, break or crush whole tomatoes but if you like chunks of tomatoes in your dish, use the diced version.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies (with altitude adjustments)

Betsy and I went through a couple of weeks of concentrated chocolate chip cookie baking last December when she gave a presentation on high altitude baking. This is my current favorite recipe; plus these cookies already have a history.

During the holiday season, Betsy had to do without a refrigerator and freezer for a few weeks. I mailed Betsy a couple dozen cookies without high altitude adjustment so attendees could compare them to modified cookies. To protect their freshness they needed to be stored frozen but with no space at home Betsy used the freezer at the church right next door. This was a mistake because the bulk of the cookies disappeared before Betsy's presentation. Happy holidays for someone! I imagine the cookies tasted so good to the 'testers' that they couldn't stop at just one. These are hard to resist!


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Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies (with altitude adjustments)    


Source:  Cooksillustrated.com
Yield: 16 large cookies

Changes needed for altitudes of 4000-5500 feet above sea level:

add 1 T flour
reduce baking soda to 1/4 teas
reduce granulated sugar by 1 T




1 3/4 c flour
1/2 teas baking soda
14 T unsalted butter (1 3/4 sticks)
1/2 c sugar
3/4 c packed dark brown sugar
1 teas table salt
2 teas vanilla
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 c semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 c chopped and toasted pecans or walnuts, optional

Preheat the oven to 375F with the rack in the middle position. Place parchment paper on 2 baking sheets (18X12). (You may use smaller sheets but will need to bake in more batches.)

In a medium bowl, mix the flour and soda together and set aside.

In a 10-inch skillet (avoid non-stick since it makes it hard to monitor browning) heat 10 tablespoons of butter until melted. Swirling the pan constantly, continue to cook until the butter has browned to a dark golden brown color with a nutty smell. Remove from the heat and using a heat resistant rubber spatula, place the browned butter into a large bowl. Stir the remaining butter into the melted butter and stir it until it has melted completely.

To the bowl containing the butter, add both sugars, salt, and vanilla. Stir until well mixed. Add the egg and yolk and whisk until there are no sugar lumps visible. Allow this mixture to stand for 3 minutes, then whisk it for 30 seconds. Repeat the process of resting and whisking twice more until the mixture is glossy, smooth, and thick. (Don't skip this step; it will allow more of the sugar to dissolve before mixing other ingredients in which improves flavor and texture.)

Stir the flour mixture into the sugar mixture using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon just until combined. Add the chocolate chips and nuts (if using) stirring just enough to ensure they are evenly distributed in the dough. This should also ensure no pockets of flour remain.

Divide the dough using a #24 cookie scoop, if you have one, or into portions of about 3 tablespoons (try a scant quarter cup). Place them on the baking sheets, 8 balls per sheet. Bake one sheet at a time for about 10-14 minutes (it's easy to misjudge cooking times with two in the oven and end up with some overcooked cookies).

Note:
You may make these smaller if you wish but modify the cooking time.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Skillet Macaroni and Cheese

Although we already have a good mac and cheese recipe in our collection, I'm going to include this one, too. I like the idea of an almost one pan meal (depends on if you want to count supplementary bowls) and I like that this cooks on the stove-top.


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Skillet Macaroni and Cheese                     


Source:  Cook's Country Magazine
Serves: 4-6

2 T unsalted butter
2 slices sandwich bread pulsed in food processor until coarsely ground to equal 2 c crumbs

salt and pepper

3 3/4 c water, plus more if needed
1 (12-oz) can evaporated milk, divided
3 c elbow macaroni
1 teas cornstarch
2  teas hot sauce, or to taste
3 c shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 c shredded Monterey Jack cheese

In a 12-inch skillet melt butter over medium-high and add bread crumbs, 1/4 teas salt and 1/4 teas pepper. Cook and stir frequently until the crumbs are deep golden brown. Move to a bowl and let rest.

Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel. Replace on stove at medium-high heat. To the skillet add the water, 1 1/4 c of the evaporated milk, and 1/2 teas salt and bring it to a simmer. Add the macaroni, stir. Cook until macaroni is al dente remembering to stir often. 

In a small bowl mix the cornstarch with the remaining evaporated milk and stir in the hot sauce. Stir this mix into the skillet and continue to simmer until the sauce has thickened slightly, about a minute. Remove from heat and stir the cheeses in, one handful at a time, adding water if needed to adjust the thickness of the sauce. Sprinkle with the bread crumbs and serve.

Note:

Because of all the cheese, I believe the amounts of salt called for in cooking may be reduced somewhat.

Also, you could tempt fate and use salted butter on the bread crumbs which would save a step. 

This was plenty cheesy for me, but I realized I used extra sharp cheese which is stronger in flavor. It will be fine if you use what is called for. 

Monday, February 11, 2019

Peruvian Roasted Chicken with Spicy Cilantro Sauce

This creamy sauce is quite beautiful and ensures a tasty chicken meal. The marinade and sauce take a bit of time to pull together and you have to allow time for marinating, but cooking the chicken is straight forward and easy.

The original recipe offers substitutes items fairly often found in home kitchens and I followed those suggestions. I didn't want to wait until I could find new ingredients online and wait for delivery. The results were excellent.


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Peruvian Roasted Chicken with Spicy Cilantro Sauce


Adapted from NYTimes Cooking
Serves 4

This can be cooked as either two halves of a chicken or as chicken pieces. I chose to cook pieces and found that when I removed the breast pieces from the oven earlier than the thighs and legs, as advised, the sauce burned on the pan. To avoid the burned mess and smoke, I advise cooking the chicken on two quarter sheet pans (or two cake pans would work) placing the brown meat on one and the breasts and the wings (if you use them) on another. This way, you can place the breasts in the oven 10 minutes after the brown pieces so that everything finishes up at approximately the same time. Additionally, the juice that is released by the chicken as it cooks is very tasty and it is a shame to let it burn away when it would be better to drizzle it on the pieces of chicken just before serving.

For the marinade:

6 cloves of garlic, minced
3 T soy sauce
1 T aji amarillo or another chile paste such as sriracha
1 T lime juice
1 teas aji panca paste or 1 teas pasilla chile powder (I used ground dried mild Hatch chile)
1 teas Dijon mustard
1 teas ground cumin
1 teas freshly ground pepper
1/2 teas table salt

In a large bowl or storage container mix the ingredients above.

For the chicken:

1 (3 1/2-4 1/2 pound chicken) halved or one chicken cut into pieces (I recommend the larger size or you'll have left over sauce)

Place chicken halves or pieces in the bowl or container. Turn until all pieces have been coated with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 2-12 hours. 

For the sauce:

If you are at all spicy-hot averse, mix the sauce with small amounts of chile and chile paste and taste it after blending. You can always add more jalapeno if you want.

1 cup cilantro, leaves and tender stems
jalapenos, seeded and diced (up to 3-4 but I used just half of one)
1/4 c crumbled feta cheese
1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped or sliced
1 1/2 teas lime juice, more to taste
2 teas chopped fresh oregano or basil (or 1 teas of dried oregano)
1/2 teas salt
1/2 teas Dijon mustard
1/2 T aji amarillo or other chile paste (see above)
1/2 teas honey or sugar or agave syrup
1/2 teas cumin
1/2 c olive oil

Place all ingredients except for olive oil in a blender container and run the blender until everything is fairly finely chopped. Scrape the sides. Drizzle the oil through the blender opening while the machine is running until everything is emulsified. Scrape the sides again and run the blender a while to get everything as smooth as possible. Stop the blender and taste the sauce; add more chile, salt, and/or lime juice, if desired. Store in fridge until serving time.

Cooking the chicken:

the marinated chicken
olive oil for drizzling as needed

Heat the oven to 450 F. Take the chicken out of the marinade and blot with paper towels to dry the pieces somewhat. Arrange the chicken skin-side up on an oiled rimmed baking sheet (or two quarter sheets as suggested above). Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and place in the oven. Chicken halves can be roasted for 35-45 minutes (check with an instant read thermometer if you want to be sure it's done; 160F for white pieces and 165F for brown meat). For chicken pieces the brown meat should be done after 35-45 minutes and the white meat after 25-35. I found that both white and brown were much past the target temperatures in the time recommended but they remained tender. Consider my above suggestion and place the white meat in the oven 10 minutes later than the brown since they can overcook and become badly dry. Remove from the oven and allow to sit under loose foil for 5-10 minutes.

Serve the chicken with sauce to pass.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies

A slight bitterness (from the sesame paste) contrasts with the deep chocolate--possibly a more grown-up rendition of this perennial favorite. They also posses an airy crispness at the edge while the middle is chewy.




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Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies


Adapted from: New York Times Cooking
Yield: depends on the size you make them--my cookie scoop yielded 24

Adjustments for baking at altitudes of approximately 4000-6000 feet:

subtract 1 T sugar
add 1 1/2 T flour
use 1/4 teas baking soda
add a second teas vanilla


4 oz unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 c tahini (sesame paste), well stirred and at room temperature
1 c light brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 egg yolk, at room temperature
1 teas vanilla extract
1 c plus 2 T unbleached flour
1/2 teas baking soda
1/2 teas baking powder
1/2 teas kosher salt
1 c bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips

With a paddle attachment of a stand mixer on medium speed cream butter, tahini, and sugar until fluffy. If you have a Bosch mixer use the cookie attachments. It may take up to 5 minutes. Add the egg and yolk, and vanilla and continue mixing for another 5 minutes at a medium speed.

Mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and whisk together. Add this mixture to the butter/egg mixture until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips by hand using a rubber spatula. This batter will be quite soft; don't worry, chilling will make it so you can handle it. Refrigerate for 12 hours at least which will ensure tender cookies.

Heat the oven to 325F and use parchment paper or a silicone mat to line a baking sheet. Use a scoop or spoon to form dough into balls and place on the baking sheet with 3 inches between balls so they can spread. Bake 13-16 minutes until barely golden brown around the edges. The center will be pale in the middle.  Allow to cool on a rack for 20 minutes.

Notes:

You may wonder if the extra 2 T flour is an altitude adjustment since you've seen those from time to time in our recipes. But in this instance the original sea-level recipe calls for a cup as well as 2 tablespoons. For altitude I've added even more, see above.

The original recipe is for a salted cookie. You may find that appealing--I do too, but I'm trying to limit salt intake. The cookies are great without the topping. However, if you wish, sprinkle the cookies with a flaky salt just as they come out of the oven.

You can find tahini in most supermarkets these days.


Monday, January 28, 2019

Why You Eat What You Eat

Part of the reason I love to cook is that the results, in addition to providing sustenance and tasting delicious, can mean so much, as we have recently highlighted. I was on a nonfiction kick last year in my reading, and over the summer I read Why You Eat What You Eat: The Science Behind Our Relationship With Food by Rachel Herz. It's a fascinating and illuminating discussion; Herz describes what we know from scientific studies and offers brief advice on how to apply this knowledge to enhance our eating, our health, and our relationship to food. I especially enjoyed the sections on how our brains associate emotion with food and how much the sense of smell affects our enjoyment of food.

The last paragraph (spoiler alert!) sums up the complexity of food nicely:

"Food nourishes the body and the soul, and knowing how to get the most from our senses and our mind while eating makes it all that it can be. Food is an aesthetic immersion, whether you turn a salad into a Kandinsky painting or not. Food connects us to our past, to other people, to the world, and to ourselves. Food is memory, celebration, identity, conversation, emotion, glory, pleasure, pain, fear, disgust, comfort, and guilt. Food is aromatic, salty, sour, sweet, bitter, savory, tingly, hot and cold. Food is flavor and savor, art and sight, sound and music, texture and design, words and poetry, divine and decadent. Food is love and food is life. And knowledge of how our mind and body are affected by our food choices, and how our senses and psychology alter our experience of food and the consequences of eating, is power."

Monday, January 14, 2019

Kielbasa and Cabbage Skillet

Cabbage has a constant presence in my fridge these days. Its long shelf life enables pantry meals like this one. It works well for my family, as it is easy to deconstruct into both low carb and kid-friendly meals. Maybe someday my boys will see the appeal of cabbage and onions, but until then they can eat the potatoes and sausage.



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Kielbasa and Cabbage Skillet


 Minimally adapted from Good Fast Eats by Amy Flanagan

1/2 lb red potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 T olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
1 14-oz cooked polska kielbasa, cut in half lengthwise, then cut into 2-inch pieces
1 small head cabbage, core removed, coarsely chopped (about 6 cups)
1 large onion, chopped into 1-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, mined
1/2 teas salt
1/2 teas black pepper
2 teas rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 teas Dijon mustard

Preheat oven to 400F. Toss potatoes with 1/2 T olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast on a baking sheet for 18-20 minutes.

Heat the remaining 1 T olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the kielbasa and cook for 1 minute without stirring; then stir occasionally for 3 minutes or so. Transfer to a plate with a slotted spoon, leaving as much of the fat and oil as you can in the pan.

Add the cabbage, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper to the skillet. Stir to combine and cook for 8-10 minutes. Mix in the vinegar and mustard; add the sausage back to the pan and cook for another couple of minutes. Toss in the roasted potatoes and enjoy!

Note: The original recipe called for new potatoes, but these aren't always easy to come by so I usually make them with red potatoes. Also I don't weigh them, because I have kids who will eat just potatoes so I cook enough potatoes to feed all six of us, and then add the desired amount to each grown-up's serving.


Saturday, January 5, 2019

Chocolate Sour Cream Bundt Cake

This was a good use for excess sour cream almost at its expiration date before a long trip.  Since a whole bundt cake is a bit much for this household to manage, I cut the cake in half and froze it for a month. It thawed beautifully. I'm not sure I would top with a glaze before freezing, however.


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Chocolate Sour Cream Bundt Cake


Source:  Cook's Illustrated Magazine
Serves: 12-14

For altitudes of around 4000 ft to 6000 ft make the following changes:
2 T less sugar
2 T more flour
3/4 teas soda ( I may try less next time)

This time I didn't have enough regular cocoa so I used about 1/3 of the amount in Dutch processed. This may have affected how the soda reacted.

I found my kitchen was so cool the chocolate sour cream mixture started to set up while I was gathering and mixing other ingredients.

It seems the cocoa/butter coating of the pan was able to sit quite awhile without any trouble. I would extend it even higher in the pan since the batter filled the entire pan.

Recipe:

pan coating (cake release):

1 T butter, melted
1 T cocoa

Mix together in a small bowl. With a pastry brush, brush all of the interior of a standard bundt pan (12-cup). If the mixture becomes cool and thick, heat it again in the microwave for a 10 seconds or so. Inspect the pan (especially if it has a dark coating) to make sure that the mixture covers all the of the surface. I used all of the mixture.

Preheat the oven to 350F with the rack at the lower third of the oven.

For the cake, first step:

3/4 c natural cocoa (avoid Dutch processed because of the reduction of alkali)
6 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 teas instant espresso powder
3/4 c boiling water
1 c sour cream at room temperature

Combine the first 3 ingredients in a medium size bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Stir until smooth and well combined. Allow to cool to room temperature. Then stir the sour cream into the chocolate mixture ensuring no white streaks remain. This will look a lot like a bowl of frosting.

For the cake, subsequent steps:

1 3/4 c all purpose flour
1 teas table salt
1 teas baking soda
12 T (1 1/2 sticks) butter at room temperature
2 c packed light brown sugar
1 T vanilla extract
5 large eggs at room temperature

Mix the flour, salt and baking soda in a small bowl. Place the butter, brown sugar, and vanilla in a stand mixer and using the paddle attachment, mix at medium to medium-high speed for 5 minutes or so until creamed. Scrape the sides and add the eggs one at a time. Scrape the sides after adding 2 eggs and again when finished. Don't worry if the batter appears curdled or separated.

Combining the elements:

At medium low speed add about a third of the flour mixture and half the chocolate mixture and mix just until incorporated. Scrape sides of the bowl and add another third of the flour mixture and the remaining half of the chocolate mixture. Mix until incorporated. Stir in the last third of the flour mixture just until combined. Scrape sides and mix on medium-low until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds. Place the batter in the prepared pan taking care not to leave batter on the inner sides of the pan above the level of the batter. (I found the batter came close to filling my pan.)

Place the filled cake pan into the oven and bake for 50 minutes. Test that cake is done with only a few crumbs remaining on the testing skewer. Remove from the oven and allow to sit in the pan for 10 minutes. Invert the pan onto a cooling rack covered with parchment paper. Allow to cool for at least 3 hours.

Top with any assortment of garnishes--powdered sugar, a glaze, or ganache. Serve as is, or with fruit and whipped cream or with ice cream.


Spiced Shepherd's Pie

A couple of decades ago when I began reading cook books for entertainment, I found this in one  of the few volumes available at the NATO support unit library near our home in Belgium. It became staple family fare until our nest emptied. I still love what once seemed an unusual spice combination.



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Spiced Shepherd's Pie


Although the recipe calls for using a baking dish, I imagine it could be baked in the skillet, as long as it is oven safe. When the meat is done, spread it out and top with the potatoes and place in the oven. This would save some clean up.

Serves: 8-10

For potato topping:

3 1/2-4 pds of potatoes (I choose the larger amount)
1 T butter
1/2 teas salt
1/4 teas pepper 
1/2 c crumbled feta cheese (or sour cream or Greek yogurt or a chunk of cream cheese)

For the meat layer:

1 pd ground beef or lamb 
1 c chopped onion
1 c chopped celery, optional 
1 minced garlic clove
1 teas dried mint
1 teas cinnamon
1/2 teas allspice
1/4 teas pepper
1 14.5 oz can whole tomatoes, slightly blended
3/4 teas salt

Spray a 9X13 or 10X13 pan with cooking spray and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350F.

Peel and cut potatoes into chunks and cook in water over medium heat until tender.

In the meantime brown the beef (or lamb), onion, and celery in a 12-inch skillet on medium heat. If your meat is very lean, you may want to add a tablespoon of vegetable oil. When the meat is cooking and onions and celery are softened, add the garlic, mint, cinnamon, allspice, and pepper and cook and stir for a minute until fragrant. Add tomatoes along with the salt. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook 10-15 minutes until the tomatoes have broken down somewhat. Transfer the mixture to the baking dish (or individual 16-oz  ramekins). 

When potatoes are cooked, drain them but leave a couple tablespoons of cooking water in the bottom of the pan. Add the butter, salt, pepper, and feta cheese and mash the potatoes by hand or with a hand mixer. Continue until they are fluffy and light. Evenly spread the mashed potatoes on top of the meat mixture.

Place baking pan or ramekins in oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until you can see the meat mixture bubbling at the edges and the potatoes have started to brown. Remove from oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes or so before serving.

This can easily be halved especially if you substitute a 8-oz can tomato sauce for the tomatoes.