Saturday, June 30, 2012

Anaheim Chile Frittata with Sweet Potato Fries

Ben has done some very successful gardening this year!  He experimented with container grown pepper plants and his latest "harvest" included some wonderful Anaheim peppers.  They are similar to the "Hatch" chiles from New Mexico, but a bit smaller.  I like to use them because they have great pepper flavor, but aren't as hot as some varieties. 
Sweet potato fries are fun to make and since they are sweet potatoes AND you cook them in the oven, you can feel very virtuous eating them! 
Frittatas are one of those quick, easy, substitute-whatever-you-have type dishes.  I prefer cooking them to omelets because it's easier to get them done evenly without some places drying out while others are still runny.  If you don't want to roast and peel fresh chiles, you can substitute canned ones.  If you do roast your own though, your house will smell like a fall day in Santa Fe where green chiles are being roasted outside all over town.  That's a welcome image amidst a San Antonio summer!

Anaheim Chile Frittata
4 Anaheim chiles (each about 5" long)
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
5 large eggs, beaten with about 1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup grated Cheddar cheese
olive oil
To roast the chiles:  Wash them and place on a piece of aluminium foil on a cookie sheet.  Place under the broiler, set on "HI", at the level closest to the heat.  Keep the oven door adjar and roast them until they are blistered and blackened all over, turning as necessary.  Take the cookie sheet out of the broiler and fold the foil carefully over the chiles to seal them in.  Allow them to steam this way for 10 minutes.  Open the foil and let them cool down.  The skin will peel off easily and you can slit them open to remove the stem, seeds, and membranes.  The seeds are the hottest part so keep some of them if you like things really spicy!  I rinse mine under running water to remove all the seeds.  Some chefs think this is blasphemy, but I've seen other chefs do it, so I think it's no big deal!
Dice the chiles into about 1/4" pieces and set aside.
In a small, nonstick frying pan (about 7 inches across), pour about 2 Tbl. olive oil around the pan.  Saute the onions slowly over medium-low heat until they are golden and soft.  You don't have to stand over them if your heat is low enough.  Just go away and stir them now and then.  Add the chiles and about 1/4 tsp. salt. Stir to mix.  Set the heat to low.
Add the beaten eggs.  Let the mixture just sit for about 1/2 minute, then use a fork or spoon to lift the cooked edges of the frittata and let the uncooked egg run into it's place.  Cover the mixture with the cheese.  Put a lid on the pan (I just put a plate over it) and leave the whole thing alone again for about 2 minutes.  Put the pan under the broiler and watch carefully.  You'll see it puff up a little, brown in places, and it will seem set and not runny anywhere.  Remove the frittata from the broiler.  Run a spatula around the edge and remove to a plate to serve, cut in wedges.  Serves 2 generously. 
Note:  You can also cut the frittata into small squares, put a toothpick into each one and serve as a "tapa" like the Spanish potato and egg tortilla.  Served this way, for some reason, it seems very wonderful and extraordinary with a glass of wine!
Sweet Potato Fries
2 small sweet potatoes, washed well (I don't peel them, but you can if you want)
olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. granulated garlic
1 tsp. ground pasilla pepper (or mild chile powder)
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.  Preheat the oven to 425F. Mix the salt, garlic, and pasilla pepper in a small bowl.
Cut the sweet potatoes into whatever shape you want, circles, wedges, or fries. Don't make them too thick though (not much thicker than 1/3" anywhere) or they won't crisp very well. Put the sweet potatoes into a pile in the middle of the sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil, then sprinkle with the seasoning and toss them around with your hands to coat everything well. Spread them out into a single layer. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until crisp and cooked through.



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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

BACON-- " Mental Health Food" !

No modern day nutritionist would claim bacon is good for you. It's high in fat and sodium; sometimes it contains preservatives.  It doesn't have any vitamins or minerals to speak of.  It's just not a health food.  Still, is that altogether really true?  Have you been in the presence of anyone when they're eating a slice of crisply prepared, smokey bacon?  They're always smiling and saying, "Yummm!"  Have you ever been a guest in someone's home and woken to the aroma of cooking bacon?  Instantly, you feel welcome!  You're a special guest and someone wants you to come down and join them for bacon!  When you're at your mom's or your grandmother's and they're cooking bacon, does that revive the cozy, homey feelings of camp outs, Saturday morning cartoons, and those special mornings when everyone was home and no one had to rush off to anything?  Bacon may not be such a treat for the body, but I contend that it is a treat for the mind-- a mental health food!  Try to be in a grumpy mood while eating bacon! 
If you are ever asked to bring a "finger food" to a party, something with bacon is almost a sure success, especially if there will be guy guests!  I know people that won't touch pork, but make an exception for bacon.  Many bacon based appetizers call for wrapping it around a piece of chicken, dates, or water chestnuts.  The hard part is cooking the bacon to crispy goodness without burning, overcooking, or undercooking the other component!  One easy way to make bacon into a party food is to make "bacon crisps".   This is a simple recipe that involves dipping the bacon in a seasoned liquid mixture, coating it in crumbs and baking until it is a spicey, smokey, crispy strip of (mentally) healthy goodness!  I adapted this recipe from one I found in an old community type cookbook; I changed the instructions and experimented with ingredient proportions.  It's delicious, and if you have leftovers (unlikely), you can refrigerate them and re-heat in the oven the next day!

Bacon Crisps
1 lb. medium sliced bacon
1 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 eggs
2 cups cracker crumbs (buy them, grind in a food processor, or crush crackers in a plastic bag)
"old school" salt and pepper (the already finely ground kind)

Preheat the oven to 350F.
Slice the bacon strips crosswise into thirds.  Get out a sheet pan or a shallow baking dish and spray with PAM.
Mix the mustard and cayenne together and then add the eggs in a shallow bowl.  Mix everything up well.  Put the cracker crumbs in another shallow bowl.
Dip a slice of bacon into the egg mixture, then drag it through the cracker crumbs on both sides.  Lay out on the sheet pan and repeat with all the slices.  You can put them close together, but not touching.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until very crisp and pleasantly browned.  Turn them over halfway through the cooking time.  It's easy to flip them over with two forks.  The total cooking time varies a bit depending on the thickness of the bacon.  When they come out of the oven, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then remove to paper towels to drain.  Place on a platter and serve warm or at room temperature.  If you have to do another batch, be sure to drain off any fat left in the sheet pan from the first batch.  Store leftovers in the fridge!

Monday, June 11, 2012

"Special No. 3A" Shrimp with Black Bean and Garlic Sauce

Have you ever noticed how organized the typical Chinese restaurant is?  You can rush in, order your "Special No. 3A" or whatever, and instantly you, the kitchen, waitstaff, and cashier are on the same page!  You're soon presented with your cute little box and there's dinner!  It's wonderfully efficient!
Chinese food is fun, relatively inexpensive, and most of the time very tasty!  However, I've found that now with so many great condiments in the ordinary grocery store, you can make some great "take out" style dishes at home!  They are super quick, very economical, and you get to control what's in there-- or not in there (MSG!).  I figured out that it takes at least 40 minutes from the time you place your Chinese food order to the time your family is eating.  It takes less than 20 minutes to put the dish pictured here, Shrimp with Black Bean Garlic Sauce, together.  The Black Bean Garlic Sauce shown above is a terrific product!  It is tasty, contains no artificial ingredients, and cost only $2.40 at my local store.  It seasons 5-6 lbs. of protein (shrimp, chicken, beef, pork, tofu, etc.), which is at least as many family sized meals.  The sauce is very salty, so it's not good if you're watching that, but otherwise it is a wholesome product.
This is so easy, it's hardly a "recipe", but if you like the "Chicken or Shrimp with Black Bean and Garlic Sauce" that is the staple of many Chinese menus, I think you'll love this recipe!  If you want to serve it with rice, make that beforehand.  Add a few fortune cookies, and it's a party! 
Shrimp (or whatever) with Black Bean and Garlic Sauce (Serves 3-4)
1 lb. cleaned shrimp without tails (or sliced chicken breast, beef, pork or cubed tofu)
1 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced
3 green onions sliced diagonally (use most of the green part also)
1 large carrot, sliced diagonally into thin slices
2 stalks celery sliced diagonally
1/2 can sliced water chestnuts (use the other half tomorrow in a salad!)
1 Tbl. cooking oil
3 Tb. Black bean and garlic sauce
Heat the oil in a large, non-stick skillet.  If you have a wok, you can use it, but it's not necessary.  If you're using chicken, beef, or pork, add it to the oil and cook until almost done.  Add the veggies and cook 2-3 more minutes until the veggies are crisp-tender.  If you're using shrimp or tofu, cook the veggies first for 2 minutes, then add the shrimp and cook until it is opaque throughout and pink.  If you're using tofu, add the tofu at the last and just heat through.  Stir gently or the tofu will break up too much.
Off the heat, add the black bean garlic sauce and stir well to mix.  Put back on the heat and stir until everything is coated and glazed with the sauce.  Serve immediately.
Note:  Of course, you can use any vegetables you like or have on hand.  Be sure to cut them up into about the same size so that they cook evenly. 

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Saturday, June 2, 2012

"No Recipe" Bread

 Bread baking has become a very serious business.  Recently, in Saveur magazine, beautiful artisanal breads were featured on the cover and detailed instructions were written so that we may duplicate these wonders at home.  They all look terrific, and I'm sure it would be fun to spend two days (yes, most of the recipes take two full days) learning and following these methods that should result in just about the best bread you've ever tasted-- it better be for two day's efforts!  Also, if you live near any of the terrific bakeries reviewed in the article, buying and sampling the different breads would also be a lovely experience! 
So, okay, but who really can spend two days making a loaf of bread even if they wanted to?  But, if you've ever made your own bread, you know the fabulous, yeasty aroma that fills your house like nothing else and the feeling of happy satisfaction when you pull your browned beauties from the oven.  That's not even mentioning the rave reviews from your family!  Being thankful for "our daily bread" isn't just a saying!  I know, bread has fallen out of favor in the diets of a lot of people, but as with everything, it's about moderation and balance.  Throwing in some whole grain flours doesn't hurt too in terms of taste and nutrition points!
Here's something different that I've found after many years of experimenting with home bread making.  If you want to turn out really tasty bread that's great for everyday use like toast and sandwiches, the most practical thing to do is make it without a recipe.  That allows you to use what you have (as long as you have yeast, salt, flour and water-- you're in business!), it makes the process go really quick, you don't mess up the kitchen hardly at all, and the actual prep time is very short.  I've used this "no recipe" method many times and it's always resulted in loaves better than I've made with recipes.  I think it's mostly because flour is very different from day to day depending on the humidity.  This "lazy" method is heresy to true bakers, and I've left out a lot of steps that are usually part of bread making, so apologies to them!  But once I heard Julia Child say that it was better to use a frozen pie crust to make a quiche than to not try to make one at all, and I guess this bread method is kind of the same philosophy.  You'll make your own bread a lot more often if it's easy, quick, and still tastes good! 
You need a stand mixer, but if you have a food processor, you can probably use that.  If you don't have either, you can do the whole process by hand, but it would take longer, so I'm not sure you'd gain too much time-wise.  You would still get the yummy reward, however!
This "method" seems like a lot to read, but the actual "doing" doesn't take long at all.  Julia Child also said to go play tennis while you're waiting for bread dough to rise! 
"No Recipe" Bread
Here's what you need:
Equipment-- Stand mixer, rubber spatula or scraper, parchment paper, cookie sheet, baking stone or loaf pans (depending on what shape you make the bread), tea towel
Flour-- White, whole wheat, whatever flour you like, but I always use at least a little white flour to make the dough more pliable and the bread less coarse.  Some flours, like rice flour, don't contain gluten, so they won't work all by themselves unless you use a gluten free bread recipe.
Yeast-- I like to use Fleischmann's Rapid Rise, but any packaged yeast is fine.
Liquid-- Water, milk, buttermilk, etc.; this is where I usually just use whatever I have, but keep in mind that fat is what makes bread soft, rich, and moist.  If you want a drier, peasant-style bread to serve with soups, stews, or pasta, use water. 
Salt-- Kosher or sea salt, necessary in all breads
Sweetener-- sugar, molasses, honey, I've tried all of these and they are all good.  You have to use something though because that's the "food" for the yeast to get going.
Options-- eggs, melted butter, chopped nuts, herbs.  Eggs and melted butter increase the richness of the dough.  They are good additions for homey dinner rolls or for sweet breads.  Chopped nuts are good in savory or sweet breads.  One of my favorite combinations is whole wheat and white flour, walnuts, and molasses.  Herbs are wonderful additions to all types of bread and can be added to sweet or savory ones also.  Add nuts and herbs at the last part of mixing the dough.
Get started!  Here's how I made the bread in the photo, but the fun is in the experimenting.  Unless your bread just plain doesn't rise, there are hardly any complete failures with bread.  Some experiments will taste better than others, but they are almost always edible!  If your bread doesn't rise (usually because the yeast is too old or the liquid was too hot) and you've made a "door stop" (which I have done a few times!), well, bread ingredients are not expensive for the most part, and you'll have more experience! :)
Put the paddle attachment on the stand mixer.  Add one package yeast and about 1/2 cup warm water (Don't bother with a thermometer, sprinkle a drop on the inside of your wrist.  If it feels neither hot nor cold, it's good!  Error on the side of too cold rather than too hot if you're unsure.)  Add some of your chosen sweetener (at least a tablespoon).  I used honey in this bread. Mix well and then go away for 15 minutes. 
When you come back, the surface of the mixture should have lots of bubbles.  If it doesn't, something's wrong (yeast is too old or water was too hot) and you should either start over or find something else to do today). 
Microwave about 1.5 cups of the liquid you are using (I used whole milk this time) until it's just "not cold".  Use the same wrist test mentioned previously.  Pour into the mixing bowl and mix well. 
Now add about a cup of flour and turn the mixer to low.  Keep adding flour until you have a thick batter.  Keep mixing until it looks smooth.  Add at least 1 teaspoon of salt, but sometimes I add up to two teaspoons.  Add more flour (if you're using two kinds, add the other type now) and keep beating until the dough is sticky and looks stretchy.  Switch to the dough hook attachment.  Add whichever flour you want and keep mixing until the dough is smooth looking and comes away cleanly from the sides of the bowl.  Stop every now and then to scrape the sides of the bowl to make sure everything is mixing well.  Be careful to not add too much flour.  Error on the side of too sticky rather than too stiff.  Allow the dough hook to knead the dough for about a minute at this point.  Lift up the dough hook and scrape the dough back into the bowl.  Remove the bowl and cover it with some plastic wrap or waxed paper, then drape a tea towel over it.  Put the dough somewhere warm-ish.  In some weather, if the car is parked in the sun, it's just the right place for the dough to rise!  Otherwise, a room that's at least around 75F is good.  
Go do something for about 1.5 hours. 
When you come back, your bread dough will have risen at least double and it will be very exciting!  Put a little flour on the tea towel that was covering the bowl.  Then put a little sprinkling of flour in the middle of the dough and punch it down right through the middle.  Pull out the dough onto the tea towel and push it around and fold it over a few times, kneading it. 
Now you can shape your loaves however you want.  You can make two balls of dough for round loaves (that's what I did in the photo), or put it into 2 greased loaf pans, make little balls for rolls (put them in a greased 13x9 pan about an inch apart), or whatever.  If you make "free form" loaves, put them on a parchment lined cookie sheet or baking stone.  Cover with the tea towel and place in the warm room again for 30-45 minutes or until the dough is risen to about double.
Preheat the oven to 350F.  You can brush the bread with olive oil or melted butter if you want, but it's not necessary.  Make gashes in the dough with a super sharp knife (slide it lightly across the loaf) if you like that look.  I'm sure it's done for a real reason, but I'm not sure what that is.  Maybe to allow the dough to rise up in the oven more?  Bake for around 30-40 minutes-- it depends what shape you made.  The bread is done when it is nicely brown and smells wonderful.  Also, if you tap it, it sounds hollow.  Cool on a rack.  Try to wait until it's cooled a little before slicing it!  Yay!

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