Sunday, July 29, 2012

English Gingercake

 You might have noticed from some of my older posts that one of my hobbies is to collect antique cookbooks.  I love to try to re-create "heritage" recipes.  It's fun to taste foods that were enjoyed years ago, and sometimes you discover something wonderful! 
I have a friend from England that celebrated a birthday recently, and I wanted to present her with some kind of English goodie.  Then I remembered a cookbook of English desserts that I purchased from an antique store.  It was published over 50 years ago, and the recipes are very traditional.  I'd never made anything from it, but here was my chance!  At one time my friend had mentioned the "gingercakes" that she had enjoyed in England on something called "Guy Fawkes Day".  Anyway, so I checked, and Constance Chambers, the author of my "Book of English Desserts", had included no less than three recipes for a gingercake of some sort.  There was the "Gingercake", the "Ginger Round", and, sounding somewhat less appetizing, the "Ginger Slab".   After studying them all,  I chose to make the gingercake, since that sounded most like the one my friend had remembered so fondly. 
English recipes use different types of baking "tins", ounces and pounds for measuring, "gas marks" for oven temperatures, and in this case, a very English product, "Lyle's Golden Syrup".   Are you familiar with this interesting stuff?  It is a common ingredient in a lot of English cooking and is kind of a thicker, richer version of corn syrup, or a lighter version of molasses.  It's "fun" to work with because it comes in just a plain, widemouth jar and trying to dispense it, measure it, and pour it into your mixing bowl is one sticky challenge! 
After some necessary American adjustments to the recipe, the gingercake turned out to be easy to make and delicious!  It had a moist, dense texture-- kind of like pound cake, but lighter, and the topping was a crunchy, spicy, chewy combination of sugar and glace' (candied) ginger.  Served with a cup of tea, this might be just the thing to get you in the mood for the London Olympics! 
English Gingercake (you'll need a kitchen scale or balance to do the measuring)
1/2 lb. flour
1.5 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 stick butter
1/4 lb. sugar
1/4 lb. Lyle's Golden Syrup
2 eggs, beaten
1 heaping tsp. ground ginger
1 oz. candied ginger, cut into thin slivers
Extra sugar for dusting the top of the cake
1.  Grease or use PAM on an 8-inch square baking pan.  Or do the same to two 6-inch round pans.  Heat the oven to 325F. 
2.  Melt the syrup, butter, and sugar in a saucepan that will be big enough to hold all the ingredients.  Heat just until the butter melts and incorporates with the syrup and sugar-- don't boil.
3.  Add the beaten eggs to the melted mixture and beat well.  Add the flour and ground ginger and beat all together, but don't overmix.
4.  Pour into the prepared pan, dust the top with sugar generously, and place the thinly cut ginger over it.
5.  Bake for about 1 hour (about 40 minutes for the individual pans), or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out cleanly.
Allow to cool before slicing, or serve warm.  Whipped cream is a nice addition!

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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Asian Chicken Tacos--Guest Blog!

How fun for me to have a "guest blogger" this time, and how even more special that it's my daughter, Marie!  Recently married, Marie has enjoyed her own culinary journey over the last few months.  She's becoming an accomplished cook very quickly!  I'd like to say I taught her everything she knows, but Marie has her own style and adventurous spirit that I'm excited to get to share with you all!

Are you ever at a loss for what to cook for dinner? At any given time, I have a list of recipes I want to try and a Pinterest board full of ideas, but for some reason none of them sounded appealing yesterday. It has been HOT here in Dallas this week, so I wanted something light and refreshing that would still satisfy my hungry husband. With a somewhat hectic schedule, I needed something I could prep ahead of time and assemble in less than 2 minutes when it was time for dinner. No wonder I couldn’t decide what to make…
I came across a delicious sounding recipe from Ina Garten (all hail): Ahi Tuna rolls (like lobster rolls, but with seared tuna and an Asian-inspired vinaigrette rather than the mayo mix). While they looked and sounded delicious, we are on a budget here in our little kitchen and I just couldn’t get down with the thought of putting a $30 piece of fish into a hot dog bun. SO, I mixed and matched (a LOT) and made something work for us! And guess what – Miles declared that this is his new favorite meal! That’s good enough for me.
Here’s where it all goes down (told you it was a little kitchen):

Asian Chicken Tacos
-for the tacos-
2 cooked chicken breasts (I just used rotisserie chicken)
1 avocado
about ¼ of a finely chopped red onion
½  of a fresh jalapeno, finely chopped
1 Tbl. toasted white sesame seeds
¼ cup chopped cilantro
corn or flour tortillas

-for the vinaigrette-
2 Tbl. olive oil
½ tsp. wasabi powder
1 tsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. Tabasco
juice of 2 limes
zest of 1 lime
salt and pepper to taste

Warm tortillas in the oven, wrapped in foil for 20 minutes at 350F. While they are warming, get going with everything else!

Shred the chicken breasts using 2 forks and set aside into a bowl.

Next, make the vinaigrette simply by whisking together all of the ingredients. Be careful not to over salt – the soy sauce has a lot of salt already (even the low sodium kind!) so make sure you don’t overdo it.

Pour the vinaigrette over the chicken mixture just enough to dress it, reserving the remaining for later use. (I had it on a salad today and it was yum!)

In a small saucepan, toss the sesame seeds in to lightly toast them on medium heat. No exact science here – they will become fragrant and lightly brown when they’re ready (mine took about 8 minutes).

While the sesame seeds are toasting, dice the avocado into big chunks and GENTLY fold it into the chicken mixture. You want the avocado to stay in those big chunks and not turn in to guacamole, so, gently!

Time to assemble! Spoon the chicken mixture into a warm tortilla and top with sesame seeds and cilantro. As my inspiration for this dish would say, how easy is that?

These tacos disappeared so quickly that I had to take an action shot off Miles’s plate.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Local Peaches French Dessert!

It's peach season right now in San Antonio!  They are in the grocery stores, Farmer's Markets, and along roadside stands.  I used to be a bit snobby about the wonderful peaches we grew in Colorado.  Orchards were a regular industry there, and all summer and through the fall we had incomparable (we thought!) apricots, cherries, peaches, pears, and apples.  Sometimes, when we get to take a trip back there in summer, it is such a treat to enjoy those luscious fruits again.  They taste even better than we remember! 
Texas peaches are a bit smaller than Colorado peaches and their texture is a little different.  They are wonderfully tasty though, and I think even better than Colorado peaches in baked items.  Maybe that's why peach cobbler is so popular here! 
     The other "event" at my house these days (with Ben) is the big bicycle race in France, "le Tour" !  Ha!  Well, a bicycle race isn't my idea of exciting spectator sport, but I have to admit that it is very fun to watch the gorgeous French scenery go by as they cycle throughout the country.  The people along the roadsides are crazy, and that's rather amusing also! 
     Anyway, so, inspired by our lovely local peaches and the French countryside, I decided to try making a French peach clafoutis.  Traditionally, this dessert is made with sweet cherries, but there are all kinds of variations and this is my take on it.  A clafoutis is super easy to make and is a recipe that probably won't require a trip to the grocery store because the ingredients are very basic.  It bakes up into a kind of cakey-custard surrounding the juicy peaches.  I like to serve it barely warm or cold.  Ben likes it for breakfast the next morning!  A sprinkle of powdered sugar is traditional right before serving.  Bon appetit!

Peach Clafoutis (serves 6)
1 lb. small, ripe peaches, peeled (see note), and halved
3 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 tsp. almond extract
1/2 cup flour
1-1/4 cup whole milk
butter, softened

Preheat the oven to 350F.
Use some softened butter to coat a 9-inch, deep pie plate generously.  Place the peach halves, cut side down, in the pie plate. 
Beat the eggs until foamy (I use the whip attachment on the stand mixer, but any kind of mixer will work), then add the sugar and beat until light (around a minute).  Add the salt and almond extract and continue beating.  Add the flour and beat again until everything is well incorporated,  then pour in the milk and beat until blended.  Pour over the peaches and bake for 1 hour.  It should be puffy, browned, and set.  A knife inserted in the center area (between the peaches) should come out clean. 
Allow the clafoutis to cool and serve with a sprinkle of powdered sugar.

Note:  To peel peaches, place them in briskly boiling water for 30-40 seconds.  Remove to a colander.  Use a knife to start, but the peels will pull off easily.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Pancetta and Bay Scallop Risotto

 I love to cook Italian food!  More than any others, it seems that Italian cooks know how to make something truly extraordinary from the ordinary.  Italian cooking methods can be so economical.  Some recipes really do make "something from nothing"! Risotto is a perfect example.  Simple ingredients such as rice, broth, butter, and cheese combine to make a saucey, creamy mixture that almost everyone loves!  Sometimes, the investment for making something from nothing is attention, and that's the case with risotto.  It really takes only 20 minutes from start to finish, but you have to "be there" for it all the way.  But, this attention has a tasty payoff!  Risotto costs very little in ingredients (unless you want to top it off with truffles!), but the sum is defintely bigger than its parts!  The moist, rich texture combined with the slight bite of the al dente rice is terrific enough to be the main course (in America), or it can be a most wonderful side dish that elevates whatever it's next to on the plate to a "company" meal. 
Just about anything can be added to risotto:  vegetables, meats, seafoods, and all sorts of combinations.  It's delicious plain, with just butter and parmesan cheese added at the end.  This time, there were fresh looking bay scallops at the market, but they were rather pricey.  The nice thing about a risotto though, is a small amount of something can be made into a meal, so I bought some.  Scallops, like a lot of things, taste great when paired with pancetta and again, a little goes a long way.  I picked up a small amount and headed home with my treasures.
Now, here's the thing.  You are going to be stirring and tending the risotto for 20 minutes, but it's so good, the rest of your meal can, and should, be extremely simple.  I served mine with some toasted bread and sliced, summer tomatoes with a little sprinkling of basil.  Whatever you decide to serve, make it before you start the risotto.  Once your rice is at the perfect point, you'll want to serve it asap!
Here's the other thing-- the secret!  While everyone is admiring your cooking dedication, standing over a hot stove to provide a delicious treat for them, what you really have is 20 minutes to think, daydream, sing, work out a physics problem, or whatever-- all to yourself!  Someone else needs to watch the baby, feed the dog, help with homework, vacuum....-- you're busy with the risotto!  Once your family has had your wonderful dish, they'll treat this responsibility with great respect and there you are-- stirring away at your stove at the most hum-drum, "boring" activity, while your mind slips away peacefully to.... "Italia!" :)

Pancetta and Bay Scallop Risotto (serves 4 generously as a main dish, recipe can be halved)

1 cup chicken broth combined with 4 cups water
2 Tbl. finely chopped onion
2 thick slices pancetta (tell the deli guy #10 slice-- it's about 1/3 inch), diced
3/4-1 lb. bay scallops, patted dry with paper towels
2 Tbl. vegetable oil
1.5 cup raw Italian Arborio rice (there are other risotto rices that are fine-- this is the most common in my grocery store)
*1/2 rounded cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbl. butter
salt and pepper

Put the diluted chicken broth in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer on the stove.  In a non-stick frying pan,  pour in the 2 Tbl. oil, and cook the pancetta with medium heat until it has released some of its fat and has taken on a little bit of color.  Remove the pancetta to a small dish and set aside.  Drop in the scallops, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and saute until just translucent.  They will release quite a bit of liquid-- it's okay.  Take out the scallops and put the pancetta back in the pan (use the same dish for the scallops).  Add the onion and the rice and stir around with the pancetta for a minute or two.  The rice will absorb the scallop liquid.
Now, comes the fun part!  Ladle in about 1/2 cup of the simmering chicken broth into the pan.  Look at the clock or set a timer because it will probably take 20 minutes for your risotto to be perfectly al dente.  Stir the mixture gently around, making sure you get to the edges of the pan and keep everything moving.  The heat should be a low-medium so that everything is simmering gently.  As the broth gets absorbed, add more and stir gently.  When you've used up the broth, add the liquid in the dish that has collected from the scallops.  You should keep the mixture moist and creamy at all times.  If you run out of liquid, you can add warm water, but don't add too much liquid at the end.  Your finished product should be soft and creamy, but not runny.  You should be able to eat it with a fork.  Anyway, when there are about 3 minutes to go, taste a couple grains to make sure they are cooked enough-- they should be firm to the bite, but not hard at all in the middle.  If you're at that stage, add the scallops, stir for a minute, then add the cheese and butter, stirring well.  Taste for seasoning.  Serve immediately!

*Traditionally, no Italian recipe would include cheese with seafood.  However,  I've found that it is particularly delicious in this dish and adds a lot to it's overall taste.  I justify it because the dish also contains pancetta, which is almost always combined with cheese.  But really, there aren't any risotto police-- at least not in the USA!  

Friday, July 6, 2012

Bison Burgers and Pie


Have you ever eaten a bison burger?  More and more people are enjoying this delicious, vitamin-rich, low-fat meat now!  Did you know that there is actually a difference between bison and buffalo?  I didn't, but I read up a little on bison and one thing I came across was this:

"The scientific name of the bison is "Bison bison" (Genus species). However, the bison is not a "true" buffalo scientifically speaking. There are at least 2 true buffalo which include the African Cape Buffalo and the Asian Water Buffalo.
Many people in the bison industry package the meat they sell as "bison" so customers know for sure they are getting bison and not water buffalo."

Huh.  I have to admit that it is somehow more appealing to think of the noble, American plains bison rather than the gangly, rather clumsy-looking water buffalo.  "What's for dinner?"  "Tatonka!" (Native American name for bison)-- sounds so much cooler than, "Water buffalo!"  Egads! 
Anyway, July 4th is a must-grill day, so bison burgers were on the menu.  I also starting thinking about a very delicious cheeseburger we enjoyed in Dallas at a restaurant called "The Grape".  My daughter and son-in-law introduced us to this wonderful place and we've had some terrific meals there!  Their cheeseburger (not bison) has white cheddar cheese, bacon, and a homemade pickle along with the usual veggies served on the side for options.  The homemade pickle was integral to the total yummy experience, so I wanted to do that, plus everyone knows the bun is super important also.  So, what-- need to make the buns and the pickles, plus dessert?!  AND Ben wants to take the bicycles out for a couple hours!  Okay!
For dessert,  I made one of my daughter's favorites, the cool, creamy, buttermilk pie.  It is super easy and comes together quickly, but the taste is wonderful-- rich, yet refreshing at the same time.  Don't worry, it doesn't taste anything like straight buttermilk-- yuck!  The night before, I had mixed up the dough for some molasses cookies and then just baked them all the next morning.  The spicy, sugar coated cookies go well with the smooth buttermilk pie!  Lemon, strawberry, or orange ice cream also complements it, as does a luscious dollop of softly whipped cream......
This sounds like a LOT of work, and way too much fuss for a menu featuring "hamburgers", but really, all the efforts are in little starts and stops.  The total time doesn't add up to much and in between you're doing other fun things like bicycling, reading, or playing with your dog! 
I'll post the cookie recipe soon!  This might be enough for now-- :)

NOTE:  When cooking the bison burgers, I make three patties per pound of meat and season with a good amount of salt and pepper.  Grill the burgers slowly-- the meat is very lean and will scorch if the heat is too high.  This also keeps them from drying out.

Homemade Burger BunsI used the "No Recipe Bread" method (previous post) using 1 Tbl. of sugar, white flour, 1 egg, salt, and 2 cups of warmed buttermilk.  After the rising process, separate the dough into 12 portions and form into flat dough patties (about 1/2 inch thick).  The easiest way to do this is to make round dough balls and press them down.  Place on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Allow to rise 30-40 minutes.  Brush with butter and sprinkle with coarse salt, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, or nothing!  Bake at 375F for about 30 minutes, until golden brown.  Cool, split, and serve!

Homemade Super Quick Pickles
Note:  These are fresh, tangy, "pickles" that are stored in the refrigerator, but are NOT the preserved, stablized, heat processed type.  Real home canned pickles are wonderful, but you must use an exact recipe and method from a source like the "Ball" canning company (they make the jars).
5 or 6 small pickling cucumbers, scrubbed clean and sliced lengthwise into about 1/4" slices
1/4 cup Kosher salt
1 Tbl. sugar
1/4 cup white vinegar
5 or so whole black peppercorns
1 or 2 tsp. coriander seeds, pickling spice, chopped fresh dill, or any type of herb or spice you like
3 cups water
Put the cucumber slices in a bowl big enough to hold them without going over the top.  Boil all the other ingredients together for 1 minute, then pour over the slices.  All the cucumbers should be submerged in the liquid.  If not, put a small, clean plate on them and weight them down with a canned good of some sort.  Place in the refrigerator for as long as you have-- at least a couple hours, but a day is better.  They are fine in the refrigerator for a couple days, but tend to lose their crisp texture after that.

Buttermilk Pie
1,  9-inch, unbaked pie shell
1 stick butter
1.5 cups sugar
3 Tbl. flour
3 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. lemon juice
dash of salt
grated nutmeg, optional
Preheat the oven to 350F.  Cream the butter and sugar together.  Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.  Don't worry if it looks "curdled".  Pour into the pie shell, sprinkle with nutmeg if using, and bake for 50-60 minutes or until browned and set in the center.
After cooling, store in the fridge until serving time.  I usually take it out about 30 minutes before serving.  Refrigerate leftovers.