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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Like Ice Cream? Like Creme Eggs? Then Combine the Two!



The older I get, the more I realize that tastes do indeed change with age. Tomatoes were something I couldn't stand when I was a teen; now I will happily consume a punnet of red cherry toms as a snack. Goat cheese, olives, avocado - all things that now are must-haves for me, but which I once couldn't stand to be near.

My palate has also moved away from sweets toward a preference for savory. With a choice between a hunk of cheese and a piece of candy, the cheese would win nine out of ten times.

But I still occasionally get cravings for sweets and when I do, there are usually only two things that can ease the yearning: Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and good chocolate. Oh, and Culver's frozen custard. But that's not a sweet, right? It's an essential calcium fix!

Now our good friends the Blyths, like us, have adventurous palates. We've all lived in Japan. We've all traveled extensively. And we all have enjoyed the food wherever we go. So when we get together, we usually do something fun with food - anything from salsa tastings to Thanksgiving-themed pizza to the oddest combinations we can find. Last week, since we were getting together over Easter, the theme was set for a good old-fashioned candy binge. There was a spiral ham and some marvellous cheese, but the highlight of the table was dishes piled high with malted robin's eggs, candy floss, marshmallows, and more.... which is how we learned just how much our tastes had changed. It didn't take very long for us to all feel the effects of so much sugar (although I did reason that alternating with chunks of cheese was an excellent method of cutting the effects).

But we still had my contribution for the evening.

I have mentioned before the wonderful Christmas gift from my mother, My Cuisinart ice cream maker is a dream. Within 20 minutes, I have soft-serve ice cream and it makes just the right amount for a small household. So without further ado, I give you...

Chocolate Creme Egg Ice Cream

3 1/2 cups whipping cream
1/4 cup good quality cocoa powder
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbs agave nectar
pinch salt
4 tsp flour
4 oz milk chocolate chips
8 oz mini Creme Eggs, chopped up
1 tsp vanilla extract

Over a low heat, combine 2 cups cream, the cocoa, sugar, agave and salt. Add the chocolate chips and half of the mini eggs. Continue stirring over a low to medium heat, taking care not to let the mixture scorch. Stir until the chocolate has completely melted. Remove from the heat.

Mix a little of the remaining cream with the flour. Add this, along with the rest of the cream and the vanilla to the melted chocolate mix and stir well.

Put into a freezer bag and leave to cool in the fridge for a couple of hours, resisting the urge to drink it down now!

Once it has cooled, pour into your Cuisinart ice cream maker and run the machine for about 20 minutes. Pour in the rest of the chopped mini eggs and run for one or two more minutes so that they are nicely mixed in.

Now you have nice soft-serve ice cream, but I like to put mine in a Rubbermaid (BPA-free) container and leave in the freezer for another few hours to firm up a bit more.


The resulting ice cream is thick, rich, and oh so chocolatey!

Sadly, hubby and I spent much of Sunday recovering from the after-effects of our candy binge - once the sugar high had worn off, we were little better than extras from The Walking Dead. From now on, I'll enjoy my sweet stuff in moderation... and ice cream.


Monday, March 2, 2015

Turkey Spinach Loaf and Banana Bread Pudding

Bananas Foster Bread Pudding

After a hectic month of being on a film set, I am back home and caught up enough to be able to spend some time in the kitchen again. (One of the things I miss most when I'm away from home is cooking in my own kitchen.)

By Friday, I was caught up on sleep, work, laundry, and grocery shopping to get me to the stove!

Whenever I have ground turkey handy, I always seem to end up making some sort of turkey burgers. Now don't get me wrong, a nicely spiced turkey burger with some roasted red peppers and melted Provolone is all well and good, but sometimes you want something else. While hubby loves meatloaf, I am no always as enamored and I was craving spinach. I could chop the spinach into the ground turkey but that always feels like a cheat to get other people to eat it. I like my spinach loud and proud. So why not a type of meaty Swiss roll creation, with spinach wrapped inside?



Turkey-Spinach Roll

1 1/4 lbs ground turkey (or beef)
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 egg
salt and pepper
bag baby spinach
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
2 cloves garlic
Italian seasoning
pizza sauce
2 slices Provolone

You could use frozen spinach for this if you prefer, but I always find it to have a rather unpleasant chemically aftertaste.
First things first. Find a cookie/baking tray and line it with parchment paper. You don't want a huge tray. I think mine was about 11x14.
In a large bowl, mix together the ground turkey, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, egg, and some Italian seasonings of your choice. Dump the turkey mixture on the parchment paper and, using your hands, spread out to cover the tray.
If you are using frozen spinach, skip the next step, but I am assuming you are using fresh, in which case... Place the spinach (about 10 oz) in a large pan with the crushed garlic, seasonings, and about 1 tbs water. Cover and leave over a low heat until the spinach has wilted. Leave the spinach to cool and drain it in a sieve to remove some of the liquid.
While your spinach is cooling, preheat the oven to 350F.
Squeeze any remaining liquid from the spinach and spread it over the turkey mixture, leaving some space at either edge. Sprinkle the grated Parmesan over the spinach.
Use the parchment paper as a guide to help you roll it up, as you would a Swiss roll.
Carefully transfer to a baking rack and cook over a baking sheet at 350F for 50 minutes.
When the roll is cooked, spread a few tablespoons of pizza sauce over the top, followed by the slices of Provolone. Return to the oven for 10 minutes or until the cheese in melty and bubbling.


Serve with additional warmed sauce.

Is it a meatloaf? A pizza without dough?
Your guess is as good as mine but there were no complaints from either of us.

The bread pudding for dessert came about because I had a lot of bread left over from various shooting days (PBJ being a popular on-set snack). My ever brilliant mum suggested making bread pudding and so I ended up making two batches of this, one as a surprise for my father-in-law.

Not a bad surprise to come home to.

You can find the recipe for this Bananas Foster Bread Pudding over at the Brown Eyed Baker.

If you're not a fan of rum, leave it out of the sauce or just use a smaller amount and some vanilla extract. Personally, I'm loving the rum.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Beef Shanks and Red Cabbage

Occasionally I'll find myself in the grocery store staring at something and thinking, "I've never used one of those before. I must have it." It's how I came to try Buddha's Hand and chicken livers. Most often, this happens as I'm browsing the meat department.

So that's how I came home recently with a bag of beef shanks.

If you're not familiar with them, here's one of the thick slices of shank I prepared. Notice the large bone running through it, along with the lines of muscle. This is not a piece of beef that you can throw in a skillet for a few minutes and enjoy.
This is a tough piece of meat, but that doesn't mean you can't cook it into something deliciously tender.

The secret to a good beef shank is slow cooking, giving the meat and tissue a chance to soften and break down. Slow cooking also allows the marrow in the center of that bone to break down and add an extra dimension of meaty tastiness to your dish. It is perfect when served with mashed potatoes and red cabbage, as below:


You don't need a whole heap of ingredients to make this dish but you do need plenty of time (slow-cooker) and some preparation.

Slow-Cooked Beef Shanks
The following amounts made enough for the two of us to enjoy dinner two days in a row, plus some left for me to enjoy on the third day.

2 lbs beef shank
salt and pepper
oil of your choice, personally I like a little coconut, bacon grease, or good old butter
a head of garlic, chopped
2 onions, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
1 bay leaf
herbs of your choice - I used oregano
1 bottle red wine
4 cups beef broth
2 tbs balsamic vinegar
about 6 oz mushrooms

Grab your cast iron skillet and heat it over a fairly high heat. Add a little oil. When the oil is hot, add your beef shanks, sprinkled with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Sear the shanks until nicely browned on each side.


They'll look pretty tasty at this point but remember what I said - this is a tough meat and needs more cooking. 
Put the browned shanks in your slow cooker.
In the same skillet, lower the heat and cook the garlic, onion, and celery until it's softened and golden. Add the herbs, along with the broth and wine. I had a box of Cabernet handy and used some of that. Bring the liquid to a boil and simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Pour it over the meat, add a splash of balsamic, and leave to cook in the slow cooker, on LOW for about 8 hours. 
When there was about an hour left, I sauteed some mushrooms and added them in for a bit of extra flavor, not that the meat needs it.
I mentioned that I served this with mashed potatoes and red cabbage, so let's talk a little about the cabbage.
Red cabbage is a truly under-rated and highly mistreated vegetable.
It adds a fabulous crunch and color to dishes. I first encountered it while I was working in Bavaria. We would cook it in apple juice with juniper berries. 
Sadly, people had a tendency to boil it until it takes on a most unappetizing grey hue. No wonder no one wants to eat it then!
Don't mistreat your cabbage. First, don't boil it. Why this obsession with boiling vegetables until they are mush? Simply chop it up and braise it on the stove top with a little butter, seasoning, red wine or water, and caraway seed (if that is to your liking). But also add a splash of vinegar. The acid in the vinegar will help it keep its color. Apple cider, red wine, balsamic - whatever you like - just add a tablespoon or two.

So now you have beautifully colored red cabbage, with the most tender meat. What more could you ask for?




Saturday, January 31, 2015

A Tasty January Round-Up

Given that the month has flown by, and I have not blogged at all, I decided to do a round-up of some of my favorite foodie news from this month.

1. Siggi's yogurt. (Full Disclosure: I am a Siggi's brand ambassador which means I do get free yogurt. However, I became one because I love the yogurt so much.) 

I'm kind of picky when it comes to yogurt. I like my yogurt in the morning for breakfast, I but I don't want a ton of added sugars and colorings. If you read the ingredient lists of some yogurts, you'll be absolutely horrified. As a result, I have a few specific brands that I stick to, and Siggi's is my latest discovery.

Siggi's is an Icelandic-style yogurt, made in a dairy up in New York state. I know - you've had Greek yogurt; you may have even had Australian yogurt; so what the heck is Icelandic yogurt? Skyr, as it is known to those in the know, is a very thick, strained yogurt. It is high in protein, low in sugar, from happy hormone-free cows, and free of any artificial additives. It also comes in a great range of flavors, including vanilla, coconut, blueberry, and more. I'm hoping to convince my local store manager to start stocking some of the more unusual flavors so I can give them a try. Mango-Jalapeno anyone?

Now because it is so thick and quite tart, it is not for everyone. I've had some friends who love Greek yogurt try this and find it not to their liking at all. But it is now a regular in my fridge. 

I've also discovered it is useful in cooking too. Its super-thick consistency makes it a perfect substitute for sour cream. I recently used the vanilla when making sugar cookies, and can you imagine the mango-jalapeno in tacos? (Can you tell I really want to try that flavor?)

I have a bunch of coupons, so if you have seen this in your local store and want to give it a try for free, drop me a line and I'll mail you a coupon. 

2. Ice-cream. I may have to try some Siggi's in my next batch of ice-cream. Years ago, my in-laws bought us an ice-cream maker, but it was huge. We never used it because we could never justify the time and effort needed, messing with ice and rock salt, let alone the 5 quarts of ice cream it would make for just two of us. 



Then one of my friends told me about her awesome new machine from Cuisinart. Simple to use, with soft-serve ice cream in 15-20 minutes, and it makes up to 1.5 quarts. My wonderful mum bought me one for Christmas and this week I made my first batch - vanilla with a few leftover spoonfuls of chocolate Nutella ganache from a baking project. It made just the right amount for the two of us to indulge two evenings in a row. The flavor was wonderful - a delicate hint of chocolate and hazelnut in vanilla. Thick, creamy, and so easy to make. Expect more ice cream recipes in the coming months!

3. Butternut+maple+bacon=delicious! 

A recipe for a yummy evening risotto with a perhaps-unexpected flavor combination. I came across a recipe for farotto from Bob's Red Mill, but fancied a more straightforward risotto. No pics, but here's the recipe and I highly recommend it.

1 cup Arborio rice
4-5 cups chicken broth (Luckily, I had roasted a chicken just a few days earlier and had saved the carcass to make my own broth.)
3 slices bacon, chopped
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup onion, diced
1 clove garlic
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups butternut squash, cubed (If you like, you can roast this in advance and toss in at the end, but I added mine raw to cook with the rice.)
3 tbs maple syrup
salt and pepper

Fry the bacon pieces until crisp. Remove from the pan, but keep the bacon fat in the pan and add the butter. Once the butter is melted, add the onion and saute for a few minutes. Add the garlic, nutmeg, and rice and stir for a minute or so. Add the white wine and simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated.
Add the squash and a few ladlefuls of the broth. Continue to simmer, adding more broth as needed. 
Once the rice and squash are cooked to the consistency of your liking, stir in the bacon and maple syrup.
Season with the salt and pepper. 
If you like, you can also add some parmesan.

So that's it for this month. Hopefully, you won't have to wait until the end of February for my next post, especially since I'm planning something awesome with beef shanks tomorrow. On the other hand, I will be involved in making a movie, so I can't make any promises!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

It's Made of What?! Potato Candy.


If you've never heard of potato candy, read on.
And if your notion of potato candy is actually something that contains no potato at all, but is simply a mixture of cream cheese and sugar, you've been fooled!
Yes, this is REAL potato candy, featuring REAL potato.

WARNING: It also contains a lot of sugar. A whole lot. Enough to make me shriek in horror when I first came across the recipe. 

Potato candy is a favorite with my husband's family when the holidays roll around, and it seems to be that way for a good number of people I've met from Eastern Kentucky. Their eyes light up when they see it, and they burst into tales of childhoods past, and the beloved candy their granny would make.

Some know it as pinwheel candy, some as peanut butter roll. But make no mistake... it's potato candy!

The origins of the recipe seem to be lost in time. While researching A Culinary History of Kentucky, I came across many recollections of it, but no real clue as to when it was first created. There are many mentions of it being popular during the Depression era, and that may indeed be true; it does, after all, require few ingredients, although I wonder about the availability of sugar in such quantities. Why a potato? It provides enough starch and liquid to bind the sugar.

Whatever its origin, potato candy is sure to be a hit at your Christmas party, and I can guarantee no-one will guess its vegetable ingredient.

Potato Candy

1 small potato
approximately 2 lbs powdered sugar
peanut butter

Also make sure you have some waxed paper before you begin.

The amount of sugar you need will depend upon the size of your potato, but I found I needed a (gasp!) full 2-lb bag for one potato.

Peel your potato and boil until soft. Drain off the water. Put the potato in a bowl and mash with a fork.

See, I told you there was a potato in this candy!
To the bowl, add about half of your sugar. Adding it all at once is too difficult to mix, but you can add smaller amounts at a time, if you like.


Using either a fork or a spatula, begin mixing the potato and the sugar. It will quickly turn into a liquidy mix as the starches in the potato break down and combine with the sugar.


Keep mixing and adding more powdered sugar until you have a stiff, sticky dough. At this point, you are ready to move on to the rolling-out stage.

I use a piece of waxed paper on my kitchen surface to help with clean up. Sprinkle the paper with more sugar, put the dough on the paper, and then sprinkle with more sugar. If you are tempted to skip the additional sugar, don't. As I mentioned, the dough is sticky and difficult to work with so it will make your life easier.

Roll the dough to a thickness of about a quarter inch.

My dough actually looks pretty good here!
Now is time for the filling.
Spread a nice thick layer of creamy peanut butter over the rolled-out dough.


Now carefully roll the dough up, as if you were making a Swiss roll. If you can make it nice and round, great. If not, don't worry. Mine was less than round, but hey, we're going for rustic!

Now roll it up in the waxed paper. This will help it keep its shape, and prevent it from hardening too much.

I cut the roll in half for ease of movement. Place the roll(s) in a Ziploc bag, and put in the fridge to set for about 3 hours. When you are ready to eat it, simply slice into rounds and you're ready to go.

Be warned though - this candy does not like room temperature. I was originally told that you have to make this on the day you plan to eat it or it will become too hard and dry. I have found that is not the case IF you keep it wrapped in waxed paper inside a sealed bag in the fridge.

I also attempted a twist on this with some peppermint potato candy. For this, I split the mashed potato in half. Mix half with powdered sugar as above. Mix the other half with powdered sugar but also add some red food coloring and peppermint extract. After rolling out the white base, spread the peppermint filling and roll as per usual.

Both of these were a hit at last night's Holiday Food with Kentucky Authors event at Joseph-Beth in Lexington.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

I Like Big Butts!

Don't worry, I'm not about to torture your ears with my rap skills (or lack thereof). The butt I'm talking about is a beautiful 8lb Boston Butt. Love me some pork!

As it happens, despite Sir Mix-a-Lot's love of the derriere, Boston Butt is not from that end of the pig. It is from the shoulder end of the pig, so don't go confusing your butt and your rump (which is where your ham comes from).

And here ends today's pig anatomy class!

If you're like me, you tend to get into a rut when you're shopping for meat and fish. I tend to buy the same things - chicken thighs, pork loin, etc. I am trying to break that habit by buying some different cuts and whatever I find among the shelves at my local meat department. Just wait until I get to the turkey necks and pig feet!

So when I came across large Boston Butts, I decided that I could cook one up and it would feed the two of us for quite some time.

Since I plan to use it in a variety of meals, I decided to keep the actual cooking quite simple: a salt rub and a long, slow roast in the oven. It's incredibly easy, and even the novice cook needn't be intimidated by this roast. You cannot go wrong!

First score the fatty outer layer if you want some good crackling. Then rub some salt into the skin and down into those cracks.


Preheat your oven to 425F.

Place the pork in a roasting tin, fatty side up.

Put it in the preheated oven and cook for 30-40 minutes.

When you go back to the oven, you will already be able to smell that wonderful roasting pork aroma. After about 30 minutes, the fatty skin should have started to crackle up.
Now we don't want to keep it at this temperature because remember - we're going for the SLOW roast. Covered the joint with some foil and return to the oven. Lower the heat to 325F and leave it for the rest of the day.

If at this point you are panicking - "What does she mean? How long?" - relax.
As I mentioned before, you really can't go wrong with this. The only way to mess it up is to undercook the pork.

Here's the pork, after a few hours of cooking. It's starting to crisp up but we want to leave it a few hours more.

My joint was just under 8lbs and I left it slow roasting for about 6 hours. Adjust accordingly, based upon the size of your butt (the pork - let's not get personal here!), but leave it for at least 4 hours.

Now we want some good gravy to go with our roast pork and so I followed Jamie Oliver's method.

Take the foil off, and add to the roasting pan a bulb of garlic, a couple of red onions (peeled and halved), a couple of carrots (halved), a few pieces of celery, and some bay leaves. Those veggies will mix with the fat and cook down to release their flavors for a nice rich sauce.

Put the pork and veggies back in the oven for another hour.

When the hour is up, remove the pork and cover it with foil. That gives the meat time to rest, and will keep it warm while you make your gravy. Put the roasting pan on top of the stove, and over a burner, add 2 1/2 cups of water or veggie stock. Bring it to a boil and keep stirring so you get those burnt bits that have stuck to the pan. Simmer for a while so that all the flavors can come together. Then strain through a sieve, and you've got your gravy, full of meat juices and veggie goodness.

The pork will just fall apart which is just how you want it. I served ours with roast carrots and taters. Here it is before we added the gravy:


Just look at that golden crispy crackling and moist, fall-off-the-bone meat.

Now obviously we did not eat the entire 8lb butt last night.
I used a fork to remove all the meat from the bone. Once it was cooled, I put it in freezer bags by the pound. We have plenty of pork, which I will now use for future roast dinners, tacos, pulled pork sandwiches, etc. And because I didn't use anything beyond salt when roasting, I've got flexibility when I use it.

 So there you go - the easiest way to roast pork. Don't be afraid of buying large cuts of meat next time you see a great deal in your meat department. But do be prepared for the scent - after roasting all day, I can still smell pork all around the house, even on my clothes.

It was worth it!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Do I Have to Share? Plum and Apple Cake

Last week being so cold and grey definitely kicked my SAD into gear. I didn't want to go out or see anyone.

But I did want to bake. And when I did, it was so good, I didn't want to share...which is how hubby and I ended up with a whole cake at home as opposed to our usual pattern of we eat a piece and he takes the rest to work. (Sorry to any of his co-workers who are reading this!)

Plum and Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting
(adapted from a recipe from King Arthur Flour)

When I started out, this was going to be a simple apple cake, but then I found a can of plums in the kitchen cupboard, and I'm ashamed to say I'm not sure how long they'd been there. Time to use them up.

Cake:

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 2/3 cups sugar
2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (since that is what I found first in my spice cabinet. Apple pie spice, cinnamon, etc - all fine)
3 medium eggs (courtesy of the happy chickens owned by hubby's fab co-worker Tami)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 can plums
3 cups apple (if you don't have any plums, just use extra apple, or pear, or whatever takes your fancy)

Look at that frosting. 

Frosting:
7 tbs unsalted butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 salt
1/4 cup milk
2 1/4 cups powdered sugar
3/4 tsp vanilla extract

Drain the can of plums and mash them carefully with a fork, removing any pits.
Using your handy-dandy apple gizmo, peel, core and slice the apples, and then chop or break the slices into chunks.

Preheat the oven to 325F.

Easiest cake recipe in the world: put all the ingredients in a bowl and mix.
Spread mix in 9 x 13 pan and bake for 45 minutes.

Remove from oven and let it cool. I know it's tempting to try a bit now but wait.

Once it's cool, make the frosting by melting the butter, brown sugar, and salt in a pan until everything has melted together. Add the milk and bring to the boil. Remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool for about 10 minutes.

Stir in the powdered sugar and vanilla, adding more sugar if needed.

Spread over the cake.

Eat cake. At this point, you realize that gooey frosting and appley goodness greatly reduce your desire to share cake. Instead, you will enjoy cake for the next few days until there is just one piece left and you still haven't taken any pictures. So grab your camera and hurriedly take a pic of the final piece before it disappears into kitchen memory (aka belly). Promise to self that you will share and take better pictures next time.

Last piece of cake