Friday, December 17, 2010

Sort-of Swedish Meatballs

Once upon a time, a long time ago in an apartment just across town, I attempted to make meatballs for the first time.  I didn't have a recipe. I had a package of ground beef and a friend with an idea for dinner by my side.  We rolled the meat into balls and put them in a hot frying pan.  We stood there, poking at the meatballs, wondering how in the world would we know when they were done?

Then I rolled one, and it was burned. Then another and another, all burned. We laughed at our mistake and tried to eat the unburned half of the meatballs with spaghetti sauce from a jar and slightly overcooked pasta.

But it was still OK.  I had to learn somehow.  Cooking is about doing it.  Pick something, come up with a way to cook it, then give it a taste.

Since then, I have figured out how to cook meatballs without burning them into little briquettes. I got a recipe from a real cookbook and tried it. Then I made it again with a little change.  Then again with another little change. Over and over until I found something I liked that I could recreate regularly.

I have mentioned that I'm allergic to mushrooms, so eating out has a few disadvantages.  I'm wary of anything with sauce. I have to make those kinds of things at home to be safe. Swedish meatballs is one of those questionable dishes. Are they sneaking mushrooms in? Some places do, some don't.

I called this recipe "Sort-Of Swedish" for a reason. I'm not following a traditional recipe all that well. I don't want nutmeg in my meatballs.  I like garlic salt so I add that. Sometimes, they brown the meatballs and then simmer them in beef stock or some other liquid.  I don't do that. So to be honest and fair, I have taken a few liberties that suits me and my family. But that is what cooking is all about. Make what you like. 

So try it out. Eat it. Tweak it. Enjoy your creation.

Ingredients for meatballs
1 egg, beaten
3/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs (garlic herb is good)
1/4 cup milk
1 lb ground beef
1 shallot, finely minced
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon butter
black pepper, salt, and garlic salt to taste

Ingredients for gravy
1 shallot, minced
3 Tablespoons flour
3 cups milk
1 teaspoon beef bouillon granules
black pepper, salt, seasoned salt to taste

1. Combine egg, bread crumbs, and the 1/4 cup milk. Mix until uniform.  Add the meat, one minced shallot, and season with ground black pepper and garlic salt to taste. Use your hands to thoroughly mix.

2. Using damp hands, roll into balls about walnut size.

3. Heat a large frying pan with the olive oil and 1 T. butter until sizzling.  Add the meatballs. I like to start in one area of the pan and work clockwise around the outer edge then into the center.  Usually by the time all the balls are in the pan, I start turning the first ones, working in the same order as they were placed.

4. Cook the meatballs until they are evenly browned and pink juices no longer ooze out when you press down on the meatball. Don't smash them, just a light poke will do to test them.  Transfer finished balls to a warm serving plate and cover with foil, or place the entire plate in a warm oven while you make the pan gravy.

5.  Using the same pan and the meatball drippings, add the other minced shallot.  If your pan is dry, add some extra butter, 1 or 2 Tablespoons.  Cook shallots until they begin to brown and soften.

6. Add the flour and mix well. Let the mixture cook about 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

7. Add the milk and bouillon granules. Stir or whisk constantly while you bring it up to a low boil. Simmer until thickened to your liking.  Taste to check the seasoning. You may want to add additional salt and pepper.

8. Serve with egg noodles cooked according to package instructions.  I like to make a little heap of noodles, add 4 or 5 meatballs and pour the gravy over it all.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Pear Apple Pie

 Yesterday, I made pie. I was so excited to bake! I had some nice firm D'anjou pears just waiting to get eaten somehow. It didn't take much deliberation to decide upon a pie.

The last time I made pie, the kids were excited too. Yesterday was an off day for them. Eric was completely uninterested in it. Even after I tried to make it sound different and fun by calling it "pear-ple" he was not into pie.

Some days are that way. Anyhow, the pie turned out nicely. However, I have a distinct lack of photo evidence. I will admit to digging out the video camera in an attempt to cook and video. This is actually harder than it sounds and I will require a filming assistant (probably Justin) if this is going to become a regular feature. Let me just say for today, for this recipe, no video will be appearing. At least the concept of video cooking is now on my radar.

You can refer to some of the other photos from other recipes, Rhubarb Strawberry Pie or Apple Crisp, if you need to see assembly example photos.

3 firm pears
2-3 apples
juice of 1/2 lemon
3 Tablespoons flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
a dash of ground nutmeg
a dash of ground cloves
Pie Dough for double crust
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon milk

1. Peel, core and slice your apples and pears to about 1/4 inch. Place in a large mixing bowl and squeeze lemon juice over all. Mix up. This keeps the fruit from becoming a really unattrative brown.

2. Combine the brown sugar, flour, salt, and spices in a small bowl. Sprinkle over fruit and mix well so all pieces have a sugar-spice coating.

3. Prepare pie dough. Line bottom of 9 inch pie plate with first rolled out circle of dough. Fill with fruit. Place second rolled out dough circle on top. Press down gently on top of fruit to conform dough to the filling.

4. Trim excess dough to the edge of the pie plate and seal edges by pressing with your fingers. Make a few slices on top for vents. I usually make a star shape.

5. Brush milk on top crust. Sprinkle with sugar.

6. Bake in a preheated 425F oven for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 375F for another 40-45 minutes or until filling is bubbly and hot and crust is nicely browned.

Note: If the edges begin to brown too quickly, cover with a small strip of foil.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Turkey Tetrazini

This year, Thanksgiving was fairly quiet. Justin's mom was the only guest we had.  With that in mind, we kept the big feast pretty small. I actually did not make a pie. I had lots of good ingredients for a couple of pies, but we decided that was too much for us.  We ended up buying a few loaves of pumpkin bread from House of Bread and some of Starbuck's holiday gingerbread.

I had to make the basic Roast Turkey, and at 11.5 lbs, we thought it was small.  Trust me, that is still a lot of bird. It took about 3 1/2 hours at 325F. I fixed my Turkey Stock so I could make Turkey Gravy and Turkey Giblet Dressing and made sure I had enough stock to have some left for tetrazini. The only thing I did different was add parsley to the stock and the dressing.  I also made Michel's Cran-Raspberry Mousse. I also happened to get some really good rolls from House of Bread.

Thanksgiving Eve Dinner, I didn't even bother to get out the good china or serving bowls.

Tonight, I fixed up a dish of tetrazini.  It's one of my long-time favorites and it's something we only make during the holiday season with leftover turkey.  One Christmas, I made it with leftover roast chicken and it was very tasty, but I was looking for that turkey flavor. If you prefer chicken, then I think this is a dish you would enjoy.

8 oz spaghetti (about half of a box)
2 Tablespoons butter
1/4 cup diced onion or shallot
2 Tablespoons flour
1 can evaporated milk (or 1 3/4 cups regular milk)
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1 cube chicken bouillon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup shredded cheese, Colby-Jack is my favorite
3 cups diced leftover Roast Turkey
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Boil spaghetti according the package instructions.

2. In a frying pan, saute the onions in the butter until translucent. 

3. Add flour to the onions.  Mix and let cook about 1-2 minutes.

4. Add milk and whisk until smooth.  Add spices, bouillon, and cheese to hot sauce. Mix well. Thin with stock.

5. In large casserole dish, combine the drained spaghetti, diced turkey and sauce.  Toss well then lightly press into the dish. Sprinkle top of the casserole with Parmesan.

6.   Bake about 20-25 minutes in a preheated 425F oven until it's bubbly and the top is brown.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Trying new things

I know it has been a few weeks since I have posted any recipes.  I've been working on some new things.  I'm not completely sold on them yet so no sharing until they are perfect.

I have been messing with oven roast veggies. Potatoes, parsnips, onions.  I think I'm getting close to something. And carrots with honey or maple sauce. I wolfed down the leftovers of those a few nights ago.

Another other tasty thing in the works has been a pan seared filet mignon with a cabernet reduction.  I'm not completely in love with the wine reduction, so I have to tweak the herbage.  Also, I think next time I will fry the shallots to make them crispy and not include them in the wine sauce.  I think they would be better as a garnish.

I have also been on a cupcake mission. I made yet another batch of cupcakes yesterday containing yummy Negra Modelo beer and chocolate.  I almost have them rising well (you know high altidue makes things rise funny so it take a bit of work to get pretty cakes here) and in a moment of inspiration, discovered that clementines really compliment the cake.

One more idea in cupcake-land I have involves Meyer lemons.  I found some at Scolari's this weekend. I have been searching everywhere for a month for those little buggers.  My next batch of cupcakes will be something lemony, still contemplating what I can do to make them unique and incredible.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Mango Salsa

Some days, I get tired of eating regular salsa. You know, the kind with tomatoes. I'm also not a huge fan of cilantro. A tiny bit is OK, but too much tastes weird to me.  (I know this could be considered a "defect" of my taste buds. Or a defect in my brain processing taste-bud information.  Whatever.)  Anyhow, I decided that mango salsa would be a really easy alternative to normal salsa.

I went pretty mild with batch, but you could amp it up with more onion, more pepper, and switch the herbs.  I used mint so it was much fruitier and more refreshing than the typical cilantro bite. Also, the heat in peppers comes from the inner membrane and seeds.  Remove all that to keep it mild, or leave it in for some fire.

1 ripe mango, peeled and diced
1 green jalapeno pepper, ribs and seeds removed
1/2 cup diced red onion
2 sprigs of mint, stems removed and finely chopped
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
sprinkle of salt

1. Combine all the ingredients.  Toss well. Let rest in the fridge, covered, about 2 hours for the best flavor.

2. Serve with tortilla chips for a snack or top a grilled chicken breast for a colorful entree.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Chile Rellenos

Recently a coworker brought in some beautiful peppers.  As soon as I saw them, I knew they'd be prefect for chile rellenos.  I snatched up four of the little darlings and immediately started to plan dinner.

For this batch, I went with just cheese because I didn't have any leftover meat to add to the stuffing.  But, that is definitely a good idea, if you were curious. Quite a while ago, I went to a Mexican restaurant (which now happens to be out of business) and they had some really good chile rellenos. You could get them stuffed with chicken and  cheese. One was very filling, so it didn't take much to make a satisfying meal.

However, since said restaurant is now shuttered, I've had to attempt things at home.  These were slightly more work than I would normally devote to week-night dinner. I have to say, the pepper prep work was a bit tedious, so make sure you have the time and energy to devote to handling them. And my house smelled like frying oil for a couple days after making these. (I seriously cleaned too!) If that doesn't bother you, then you will probably love this recipe. If you're on the other end of the spectrum, you might want to keep going out to eat in search of the best relleno.

4 mild long green peppers
3 eggs, separated
1 Tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces Monterey Jack, Queso Fresco, or a combination, sliced into long sticks
2/3 cup flour for dredging
oil for frying

1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Dunk the peppers in for about a minute, just until the skin starts to loosen. Remove and set aside.

2. I have a gas cooktop, so I fire-roasted the peppers until the skin was mostly charred. You may need to do this part in the oven, under the broiler if you have an electric cooktop, or outside on the BBQ.

3. Place the charred peppers in a gallon size zip-top baggie with damp paper towels and let rest about 10 minutes.

4. Now, remove the peppers and carefully rub the charred skin off. You want to remove as much skin as possible without piercing the flesh. The flesh will be very soft and pliable.

5. Cut a slit down one side of the pepper, start at the top and go to about an inch from the bottom. Using a spoon, scoop out the seeds and ribbing membrane.

6. Place about 2 ounces of cheese inside the pepper and secure it shut with a toothpick or two.

7.  Beat the egg whites until fluffy and stiff.  In a separate bowl, mix the yolks with the salt and flour.  Fold this into the whites, trying to not totally deflate the whipped whites.

8.  Heat the oil in a frying pan, about 1 inch deep, to about 375F. 

9. Dip the peppers into the dredging flour.  Coat well. Then, dip it into the egg batter, try to coat it evenly. This was messy. Tongs lost grip so I ended up with my hands in the batter.

10. Fry the pepper in hot oil about 2 minutes, start with the seam side down so hopefully the cheese doesn't melt and ooze out into the frying oil. Turn over so the seam is up and fry another 2 minutes or until you reach your desired brownness.

11. Transfer pepper to a paper-towel-lined plate to cool and drain about 2 minutes before serving.

12. Serve with a red sauce poured over top (like an enchilada sauce or other red chile sauce you like) and sour cream. Of course, adding the usual rice and refried beans, makes this a nice meal. I made some Quesadillas as an appetizer for this meal.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Apple Crisp

One of my hubby's coworkers asked for a good apple crisp recipe and this is it. I'm not one to toot my own horn, but I am tooting it a little, and very softly, so I don't want anyone getting any attitude. I think it turned out great.  The apples were tangy and covered in sticky sweet cinnamon-y goo syrup. I had mine with vanilla ice cream, Justin had his alone.  I liked the ice cream as a contrast to the warmth and the sweet-tang of the apples.

I'm not a huge fan of apple desserts any more.  So to get me to actually like cooked apples with cinnamon, it has to be pretty damn good. And yes, I like this or I wouldn't post it.

4 firm and sour apples, peeled, cored, and sliced (Granny Smith, or Golden Delicious if you want a milder apple)
1 Tablespoon flour
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon lemon juice or a generous sprinkling of Fruit-Fresh
1 stick butter (8 Tablespoons)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
a sprinkle of salt

1. Combine the sliced apples with the 1 T. flour, 2/3 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp. cinnamon, and lemon juice. Toss well so each piece of apple is coated with the sugary mixture.

2. Spread the apples in a 8 or 9 inch square baking dish.

3. Combine the remaining ingredients.  Either pulse them in a food processor or manually mix them using a pastry blender utensil until evenly sandy and lumpy.

4. Spread the butter-oat-sugar topping over the apples in the dish. Press it down a bit to get the best contact with the apples.

5. Bake in a 400F preheated oven about 20-25 minutes. Topping should be golden brown and toasty, edges should be crisp, while the apples should be tender and juicy.  Let it cool a bit.  Serve with some vanilla ice cream. This will make 9 servings.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sneaky Tip #7 - Piping Help

Quite a while ago, I bought a cake decorating kit. It came with interchangeable tips and a screw-down adaptor to fit it to a disposable plastic piping bag.

Have you looked at how expensive those disposable bags are?

Well, I needed multiple colors.  I got out the old reusable piping set I got from Mom and then I got out a bunch of freezer zip-top baggies to use with the newer interchangeable set.

It's very easy to take scissors, trim off about 1/8 inch from the corner tip of a baggie, add the screw-down adaptor and tip.  Then you fill it with frosting and zip it shut.

I especially like being able to close the top because I usually have issues keeping the reusable piping bag rolled shut, so when I'm not careful, icing goes out the top and over my hands. Yes, I will admit to being somewhat messy. It happens to the best of us.

The zip-top baggie trick also works well if you have really thin icing and need it to write.  Just fill baggie with thin icing (or chocolate syrup), trim the tiniest amount off the corner and use it to pipe your lettering or detail. No fancy tip attachment needed for this trick!

Piece o' cake! Or cookie, if you're going that route.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Devil's Food Chocolate Cake with Honey Buttercream

Haley, my daughter, turned 2 last weekend.  My baby angel is growing before my eyes into a big girl, into a toddler full of attitude. She has a inherited a few of Mommy's attitude traits, like the hand on one hip, the way she points her finger and hollers "No, no, no!" and the way she naturally wallops other kids.  After discussion with other family members and friends, we have determined that this little apple had not fallen far from the tree.

I put Haley in a Tinkerbell costume for fun for a little while, just to play, after a morning shower. She let me fix her hair.  I put it up in pigtails.  I like how she tries to say "pretty."  It comes out more like "pree" and she will pat her hair or whatever she's trying to show you that is pretty.

We had a small party at home. Before guests arrived, I changed her into her party dress. Then she didn't want her silver party shoes any more. She wanted the pink Ugg-style boots.  I figured she can wear whatever. It's her birthday, after all. And she loves shoes. She loves to pick out her shoes for preschool and will get very upset if I offer the same pair two days in a row.

Justin's Grandmother Rose, my parents, cousin Joani and her kids, and one friend and her kids were there with us for the party. It was sure cute when Eric ran to answer the door when Billie, Luka and Juno arrived. The boys pressed their faces up to the sidelight window and giggled. They immediately ran off to play.

We all enjoyed the fresh air and decent weather. The kids played outside on the playground. Haley found a few strawberries tucked away under the leaves in the garden. Mom helped pick them and clean them so she could have a little treat. Justin and I grilled some chicken, burgers, and hot dogs. Then we served up some baked beans, watermelon, Frog's Eye Salad, and chips. And let me just complain for a moment. I went to three different grocery stores looking for multicolored marshmallows. Seriously, I thought they'd have something besides all regular white marshmallows. Seasonal things? Hello? So to make it cute, I used mini star pasta instead of acini de pepe to go with the plain marshmallows.

Anyhow, lunch was good. The adults sat at the regular patio tables. The kiddos were super cute sitting at the new kid-size picnic table we built.  Justin and I worked very hard to build their table.  Justin did most of the wood cutting, I sanded, we cooperated for assembly, then I stained. It turned out great!

We called everyone inside to sing Happy Birthday and serve the cake. I think I did a great job with her cake. (Because I am an awesome mom who likes making fufu fancy things!) The finished cake was very cute.

Haley had a little trouble blowing out the candles. She kept puffing out her nose, so the candles barely flickered. It was pretty funny. I handed out cake slices. Everyone dug in and got good and sugared up. Now, I also made a few cupcakes and frosted them with chocolate buttercream.  For some reason, everyone wanted the big bee and flower cake.

Next, Haley opened presents. We gave her a Jessie cowgirl doll from Toy Story. She hugged and kissed her the rest of the day, and even napped with her and the purple unicorn Pillow Pet that Grandma Michel sent. It was a good day.

for the Chocolate Cake (high altitude recipe)
1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
2 eggs
2 3/4 cups cake flour
1 cup cocoa powder
1/ 2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 1/4 cups buttermilk

for the Chocolate Cake
1. Cream together the butter, flavoring extracts, and sugar. Beat until lightened in color and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well.

2. In a separate bowl, combine the cake flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix well.

3.  Add about 1/2 cup of the flour-cocoa mixture to the butter mixture and mix well,  Add 1/2 cup buttermilk and mix.  Continue alternating additions of cocoa-flour and buttermilk until all is blended in well. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat one more minute so it's mixed well.

4. Grease and flour your pans, or use the Baker's Joy nonstick cooking spray with flour, and pour the batter in evenly.  This is enough for 3 9-inch round pans or about 3 dozen cupcakes. (I like to use cupcake liners because they are cute.)

5. Bake in a preheated 375F oven until the cakes pass the toothpick test.  Cool in the pan about 2 minutes and then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

6. Baking times:
    Cupcakes: 15-19 minutes, mine took 17 minutes.
    6 inch round: 26-30 minutes, mine took 28 minutes.
    9 inch round: 28-32 minutes, mine took 30 minutes.

Note: For high altitude bakers, I have already adjusted this recipe to work at altitude. Reno is about 4700 feet elevation.  I generally decrease the leavening agent by a quarter and increase flour by 1/4 cup.  Low altitude bakers will probably want to add 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda and decrease the flour by 1/4 cup.  Also, I typically use aluminum cake pans because they make a better edge than other materials.  If you are concerned about aluminum and its relationship to Alzheimer's disease, don't keep the cake in the pan.

for the Honey Buttercream Frosting
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup shortening
4 cups powdered sugar
3 Tablespoons honey
2 Tablespoons milk

for the frosting
1. Cream together the butter and shortening.

2. Add sugar in one-cup additions and scrape sides well.

3. Add the honey, beat well and scrape the sides to incorporate thoroughly.

4. Thin with 2 tablespoons milk. Beat until quite fluffy and smooth. Yield at this point should be approximately 3 to 4 cups.

Note:  For a more subtle honey flavor, you may want to use only 2 Tablespoons of honey.  This recipe makes frosting that will spread well with an offset metal spatula.  However, if you want to be able to pipe it for decorations, you will need to thin it with additional milk.  Add about 2 Tablespoons more of milk and then test the consistency.

I bought some Wilton Gum Paste Mix and made the bees, flowers, and the big pink "2" a few days in advance. Saturday afternoon, I baked the cakes then wrapped them up in plastic and popped them in the fridge overnight. First thing Sunday, I started making the frosting, then assembled and decorated the cake all before my folks arrived.  I piped some beehives with chocolate frosting, stuck the bees here and there and even legibly piped "Happy Birthday Haley" on the side.

These are the gum paste items in progress. First, I made "petals" for the sunflower top, then bees, roses, and a pink number 2.

To decorate the cake, I covered the larger 9-inch layer with the white honey buttercream,  then added the 6-inch layer. I frosted it and the added the sunflower petals. I used extra honey buttercream to help hold the petals in place. I made the petals shiny by just wetting my finger and wiping it over each piece to remove the excess powdered sugar.  I let them dry completely before using on the cake to prevent color bleeding.

I made some chocolate buttercream for the fine piping. I made little dots on top of the sunflower and used it to also pipe the words and beehives.