Sunday, April 13, 2014

Braciole: The best Italian dish you've never had!

Braciole! Excuse the sloppy presentation, but in the interest
of authenticity, libations may have been a factor ;)
While everyone else was busy eating their tough, bland cuts of rump roast for Sunday dinner, those of us who grew up poor were dining on soft, tender succulent pot roast. Chuck is the most flavorful cut of beef, but it requires long, slow cooking. The Italians shorten the cooking time by slicing the chuck roast into strips, then pounding the heck out of them. They up the ante by smearing them with a paste rub (usually made of pine nuts, parsley, Parmesan cheese and garlic), then rolling them up, searing them, covering with tomato sauce and baking like little pot roasts. (In Italian, they call them "involtini", meaning little bundles. "Braciole" is an American-Italian word.)

This dish is something that an Italian family would put on the stove (or in the oven) to cook all day. They'd also throw meatballs or extra cuts of pork into it and the resulting meaty, tomato deliciousness would be served on pasta. It's not a fancy dish, it's a peasant dish. Who knew the peasants ate so well?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tender Beef Brisket


So tender, it's falling apart!

Nothing says Texas like a delicious smoked beef brisket. The problem is, so many have trouble getting it right. It often ends up between charcoal and beef jerky. Chances are, if you're reading this right now, that's why you're here.

Well I am here to tell you, my friends, you too can have mouth watering delicious beef brisket that'll make you never want to eat it from a restaurant again. I'm talking about the kind of beef brisket you could eat with a cheap plastic fork.

I come from a long line of serious BBQ smokers. We do not play. My family would wake up at 3am to begin building a fire. Now days, that's really just way too much work. There are simpler ways to get a delicious brisket.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

How to Make Yogurt (Regular, Greek and Frozen)

Yogurt with honey and grapes, my favorite! Notice that I didn't
even bother to drain off all the whey so my yogurt is a little
thin which is exactly how I like it.
I make yogurt once a week and I eat a bowl of it every day for breakfast. I love it. :) It helps my tummy work properly and I save a ton of money buy making it myself. It also allows me to avoid all the artificial flavors and sweeteners that are in them.


What I really love about homemade yogurt is the rich creamy texture. The yogurts sold in America (even the organic varieties) have starch or other thickeners that give them a pasty texture. It reminds me of eating glue which I gave up in the 3rd grade. Or by high school. I'm not telling. :) But the point is... I like it to be creamy and not chocked full of funky stuff I can't pronounce. Also, I like to have control over how tangy it is. If I'm using it with fruit or sprinkling powdered sugar or honey in it, I like it tangy. But if I'm going to make frozen yogurt out of it, I prefer it to be very bland so that it's a terrific neutral base. (Store bought yogurt is too tangy and pasty to make frozen yogurt out of.)

The best part is that it's so simple! The only special equipment you need is a thermometer and a heating pad that doesn't automatically cycle off. (I got mine at CVS drug store for $8.99.)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Chewy Cinnamon-roll Sugar cookies

Cinnamon-roll cookies, anyone?

"Judge not a cookie by how it tastes out of the oven, judge it by how it tastes the next day... or the day after that." - Me

These cookies have an amazing moist chewy texture that lasts for days. The best part is how simple they are - you don't even need a mixer. New Years Resolutions? Pffffft. It's been two weeks. That is sooooo old news. :P

This recipe was adapted from the America's Test Kitchen recipe for chewy sugar cookies. I've included both versions for you.

Ingredients:
  • 11.25 oz all-purpose flour (about 2 1/4 cups)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp regular salt
  • 10 1/2 ounces white granulated sugar
  • 2 ounces cream cheese
  • 3/4 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
    For coating the cookies:
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon*
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (these cookies will over-brown on Silpat).
  3. Mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together well in a medium bowl and set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, place sugars in bowl and cut the cream cheese into small pieces and place on top of the sugar.
  5. Melt the butter in microwave and while still hot, pour over cream cheese. Whisk well to combine.
    Pouring in the hot butter (I didn't have enough white sugar,
    so I replaced part of it with brown this time, but the cookie
    texture is better with white.)
  6. Add the egg and whisk to combine.
  7. Add the oil, milk and vanilla extra and whisk to combine.
  8. Using a spatula or large spoon, fold in the flour until combined.
    Adding the flour
  9. Mix the 1/3 cup sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.
  10. Scoop using a 2 tbsp cookie scoop (#40) or a tablespoon. Gently roll into a ball and then roll around in the sugar mixture to coat.
  11. Place on the trays until all cookies are rolled.
  12. Use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to gently flatten the cookies until just larger than the measure cup. (The measuring cup is 2" across which is why it's perfect for this. The cookies should be the perfect thickness when smashed this way.)
    Smash the cookies be just larger than the width of the cup
  13. Sprinkle the remaining rolling sugar evenly on top of the cookies (there should be only about 2 tsp leftover)
  14. Bake one tray at a time for 7 minutes, then rotate and bake for 4 minutes longer.
  15. Cool on the tray for 5 minutes before moving to a rack to cool completely.
* There are all kinds of things you can do with this. Instead of cinnamon, you could use orange, lemon zest or even use vanilla sugar instead of regular sugar. (To make vanilla sugar, just scrape the insides of a vanilla bean into the sugar, keep in a tightly sealed container for 24 to 48 hours for the vanilla to permeate the sugar.)

Monday, January 6, 2014

Dark-Chocolate Rolled Cookies

Ice cream is optional ;)
Ok - who'm I kidding? Ice cream is never optional. :) I was originally looking for a delicious sugar cookie recipe when someone on ChowHound shared this chocolate rolled cookie recipe with me. These are fantastic! (and even better when you make them into ice cream sandwiches, which is what I suspect they were originally intended for).

One of the things I really like about this recipe is how easy they are to roll out. After chilling, if you let the dough come back to room temp they are so easy to roll out. Since you roll them between two pieces of parchment paper, you don't even need any flour so there's no mess to clean up!

They have a very dark chocolate taste, like the outside of an Oreo, so they really need milk or ice cream to balance them. If you're a dark chocolate lover, this is the cookie for you.

Ingredients:
  • 375 grams all purpose flour (or 3 cups properly measured)
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 300 grams white sugar (1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 tsp instant coffee powder (you won't taste the coffee, but it really intensifies the chocolate!)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
Directions:
  1. Whisk flour, salt and baking powder then set aside.
  2. On medium speed, cream butter for 1 minute, then add sugar and coffee powder and cream for another 3 minutes.
  3. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  4. Add vanilla and cocoa, beating until completely mixed.
  5. Reduce speed to low and begin adding in flour mixture until incorporated. This should not take more than a minute. Don't overmix or the cookies will be tough.
  6. Scrape into a ball in the bowl, press plastic wrap on top and chill for at least one hour.
    
    Form into mound in center of bowl, cover with plastic wrap
  7. Preheat oven to 350F.
  8. Roll to about 1/8" between two pieces of parchment paper.
  9. Cut your shapes with cookie cutters, pull away the extra dough and slide the entire peach of parchment paper right onto your baking tray. That way, you don't have to fool around with trying to keep their shapes perfect. (You can also just cut the dough into squares or triangles, but if you're planning to make ice cream sandwiches you'll want to make sure they're all the same size and shape.)
    
    Using the two sheets of parchment paper
    makes rolling these out a breeze!
  10. Bake on silpat or parchment for 8 to 11 minutes. If making ice cream sandwiches, you'll want them to be on the software side so you may want to stop at 7 or 8 minutes. (When they're crispy, they taste just like Oreos... so um... some scraps could end up in your shake or whatever. Just sayin'!)
  11. Cool 5 minutes, then move to a wire rack to finish cooling completely.
    
    Waiting for them to cool is the hardest part!
    
    Delicious with or without ice cream!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Rum Irish Cream

This is amazing on the rocks!

So let's just say you don't like egg nog... or perhaps homemade egg nog is out of your comfort zone because it contains raw eggs. Who doesn't like Irish cream? Nobody, that's who.

I call this "Rum Irish Cream" because it's the same recipe for making Irish Cream, but it uses rum instead of irish whiskey. I guess technically it would be called "Rum Cream", but then people would be like - what the heck is that?

I first heard about the recipe for homemade Irish Cream from my friend over at ScrapingtheBowl.com who discovered this while perusing DesignSponge.com. He loved it and that was good enough for me! Except, I don't really like Irish whiskey so I make it with rum or bourbon.

I changed the recipe slightly in that I wait to add the vanilla and almond extracts until the end because I want to make sure the flavors still have a presence even with the liquor.

Note of warning though - it's delicious and it will make you drunk, so you may need to keep an eye on Nana! ;)


All this will come together to make magic!

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup strong coffee (it really enhances the chocolate flavor and believe it or not, you won't taste the coffee in the end)
  • 1 tbsp dark cocoa
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 cups rum (or bourbon)
Directions:
  1. Put the coffee, cocoa, sugar and honey in a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium heat.
  2. Reduce heat to low and add the cream.
  3. Simmer over low heat for 20 minutes until mixture begins to thicken, whisking frequently.
    
    When it begins to bubble up and you can't whisk it down,
    it's ready!
  4. Remove from heat and whisk in extracts and sweetened condensed milk.
  5. Once all are mixed well, whisk in the rum (or bourbon).
  6. Serve chilled. (I think it tastes best directly over ice)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Ham logic


This post is about what I call "ham logic". Food is truly a science, not an art.

Along those lines... I once heard a story about a recently married woman who made an Easter ham. When she brought it to the table he stared at it, puzzled, because she'd cut off both ends of the ham.

"Why did you cut off the ends?" he asked.

"I don't know, that's the way my mother taught me. It has something to do with getting a good crust I think. That's just how it's done. " she said.

A few days later while talking to her mother she asked, "why do you cut the ends off the ham?"

Her mother said, "I don't know. That's how your grandmother always did it. I think it has something to do with letting the heat cook it evenly or something like that. I'll call and ask her."

So her mother called her grandmother who promptly tells her that she had to cut the ends off because her oven was too small to hold an entire ham.

Ham Logic.

And this, my friends, is how food myths are formed. Never accept them as fact because "that's just how it's done". Try to understand the science instead.