Friday, May 31, 2013

Three Years of Blogging Foodie Fun!

Three years ago today I started this blog. (You can read post #1 here.) I was a food writer totally embedded into the New Hampshire and New England food scene. My favorite restaurants knew me by name, I knew where to buy the best pastries, and I had my favorite farm stands and food shops. Plus, I had made life-long friends I would terribly miss. All of which added up to my being very nervous about moving halfway across the country.

Life has changed a lot in three years. Now I have a new husband (and last name to go with him), a downtown apartment home in Topeka, and new important people in my life. I also have my favorite area restaurants, food shops, and farmer's markets. That's one of the nice things about the foodie can always find someone to talk with about food.

I was excited three years ago at all of the possibilities my new life would offer. Turns out, those possibilities went beyond my wildest dreams. Yes, I miss New England from time to time. But I adore my city home on the prairie.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars

There is one candy The Picky Eater and I agree on—Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. We buy the mini ones and keep them in a 1930s refrigerator-ware dish made by The Hall China Company for Westinghouse.  However, these little bites of chocolate-peanut butter goodness don’t stay around our house for long. 

Last week, Mary of the One Perfect Bite blog posted a recipe for Reese’s-Like Peanut Butter Bars. This is one of my favorite food blogs, so needless to say, I immediately printed out the recipe and started assembling the ingredients.

These treats are scrumptious! Since the recipe calls for graham cracker crumbs and chocolate, I added some mini-marshmallows on top of half the recipe for s’mores-like flavor. The Picky Eater loved the non-marshmallow ones—he gave them his famous three-thumbs-up! (So good he needs another thumb. He’s so cute.) Now we have a new candy for our vintage dish.

You can find the recipe here, and be sure to check our more of Mary’s delicious creations.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Brined Pork Chops

Do you smell it? Each evening, the aroma of grills cooking delicious things wafts through the windows of our van as I ride along for the first few stops on the Picky Eater’s courier route. To me, those tantalizing smells are the true signal that summer is fast approaching.

Unfortunately, we live in a downtown apartment with no outdoor space. Any grilling I do is inside on the
George Foreman grill, but I keep stopping in stores to stare at the cast iron grill pans. I see one coming to my kitchen in the near future. (This picture is part of the scenery we see on the route. Isn't Kansas beautiful!)

I've read for some time about how brining is a good way to prepare meat for the grill, especially pork. The salt in the brine not only helps to draw flavors into the meat, but it also keeps the moisture inside as the meat cooks.

I found this recipe for brined pork chops in Taste of the Midwest by Dan Kaercher. The seasonings were perfect for pork. Since I was using bone-in chops, I decided to fry them in a cast iron skillet instead of cooking on the Foreman grill.

The chops were delicious. Even the Picky Eater loved them, asking, “Can we have these again?”

You bet we will!

One tip about this recipe: Be sure to use kosher salt. Regular table salt will make the chops too salty to eat.  Also, don’t brine the chops for more than 4 hours, for the same reason.

Brined Pork Chops
Adapted from Taste of the Midwest by Dan Kaercher

8 cups water
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds, coarsely crushed
1 1/2 teaspoons whole cloves, coarsely crushed
1 1/2 teaspoons whole allspice, coarsely crushed
1 1/2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns, coarsely crushed
3 bay leaves
4 bone-in pork chops, about 1-inch thick
Flour, for dusting
2 to 3 teaspoons oil, for frying

To make the brine: Combine the water, kosher salt, brown sugar and spices in a large saucepan. (I crushed the spices with my meat mallet, but you can also use the bottom of a saucepan or small skillet. Just push until you hear the spices crack.) Stir over medium-high heat until the mixture comes almost to a boil and the salt and sugar are dissolved. Cool the mixture to room temperature, and then cover and place in the refrigerator to chill, at least 2 hours.

To make the chops: Put the pork chops into the brine solution. Cover and place back into the refrigerator to chill for 2 to 4 hours. (Do not go over 4 hours.) Make sure the brine completely covers the meat. (You can do this in a zippered plastic bag or a bowl.)

Remove the chops from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. Allow the chop to sit out for 30 minutes to come to room temperature.

Place the oil in a skillet (I used cast iron) and preheat over medium heat. Dip the chops into flour to coat, making sure to shake off any excess. Place in the skillet and cook for 7 to 10 minutes per side, or until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.

To grill, preheat the grill. Reduce the grill to medium heat and cook the chops over indirect heat. (The burners under the chops are off, but the ones to the side are on.) Cover the grill and cook for 35 to 40 minutes, turning the chops halfway through the cooking time.  

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Angel Food Cake for Mother's Day

I was excited when Mom requested an angel food cake for Mother’s Day. (It doesn't take a lot to make a food writer happy!) She had given me a 10-inch tube pan last year, and while I’d used it for a couple of recipes, I’d always wanted to try an angel food cake.

Now the cake is this summer’s go-to dessert!

For some reason, I thought angel food cakes were hard to make. Silly me! They’re not difficult at all, as long as you keep a few pointers in mind.

First, if you don’t have a tube pan with a removable bottom, I suggest you get one. Since angel food cakes must be baked in an ungreased pan so the cake can cling to the sides as it rises, a removable bottom will save you a lot of headaches when it comes time to take the cake out of the pan. However, if you don’t have one, don’t let that stop you. Just line the bottom with parchment paper before you add the batter.

The key to a great angel food cake is in how you whip the egg whites—soft and fluffy, but not stiff.  The cream of tarter in the recipe will help stabilize the egg whites, making your job a bit easier. Also, have the whites at almost room temperature (60 to 70 degrees) before whipping.

Another key is to cool the cake upside down. Some tube pans have little metal “feet” to hold them up, but you can also invert the pan and prop it on the neck of a bottle or an inverted funnel while the cake cool. Just don’t try to remove the cake from the pan for at least 1 1/2 hours.   

This angel food cake turned out light, moist, and delicious! However, it did look a little lopsided thanks to one side getting a bit squished during the trip from Kansas to Missouri. We topped each piece with sliced strawberries in sugar (the frozen kind found at the grocery store, per Mom’s request) and fresh whipped cream. (Here's Mom with her cake. I did see her munching on a plain, hand-held slice, too. Why not? It was her day!)

The best thing about this cake, besides being fat-free, is the variety of toppings you can serve with it. Fruits, flavored glazes, frosting…just use your imagination.

Next time, the only thing I would change, besides squishing the cake in transport, will be to add the optional almond extract. Mom noticed it was missing. Now I have an excuse to make it again…and again…and again.

Angel Cake
Adapted from Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker

1 cup sifted cake flour (sift the flour before you measure)
1 1/2 cup sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups egg whites (between 10 and 12 eggs, depending on the size)
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional)

Separate you egg whites and set aside so they come to room temperature (between 60 and 70 degrees.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Have at the ready a 10-inch ungreased tube pan. If your pan doesn't have a removable bottom, line the bottom with parchment paper.

Sift together the cake flour, 3/4 cup sugar, and salt, three times. (Yes, three times! You want everything light and airy.) Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or a large bowl if you’re using a hand mixer, place the egg whites, water, lemon
juice , cream of tarter and flavorings. Beat on low speed for 1 minute to combine, and then increase the speed to medium high and beat until the mixture is a foam that holds a soft shape when you lift the beaters and has increased in volume 4 to 5 times, which takes about 3 to 5 minutes. (Mine took 4 minutes.)

Continue to beat on medium-high speed while adding the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar, one tablespoon at a time, for 2 to 3 minutes. At this point the mixture should hold soft, glossy peaks that bend over at the top when you left out the beaters. (Do not beat until stiff!) You want a mixture that holds a shape but can still be poured into a cake pan.

Remove the bowl from the stand mixer. Sift a fine layer of the flour mixture, 1/4 cup at a time, over the top of the egg mixture. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the flour until it is just combined. Continue to gently add the flour 1/4 cup at a time until it is all incorporated. Don’t stir or mix the batter…just keep folding until there are no traces of the flour left.

Pour the batter into the tube pan. Spread the top gently to level, and then run a thin metal spatula through the batter to release any large air bubbles. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes. (Mine took 35.)

Remove the cake pan from the oven and cool the cake in the pan, upside down, for 1 1/2 hours to keep the cake from collapsing. Some pans have little metal feet to hold it upside down, but if not, just place the center of the tube pan onto the neck of a bottle or an upside down funnel to hold the cake while it cools.

To remove the cake from the pan, slide a thin knife between the cake and the pan to help it release, both the outside edge and the inner tube. With a removable bottom, you should now be able to lift the cake out of the pan. Then just slide the knife between the cake and the bottom to remove completely. (If the tube pan doesn't have a removable bottom, just turn the pan over and gently tap until the cake comes out.)

Allow the cake to cool completely before wrapping or frosting. If stored in an air-tight container (or wrapped in plastic wrap) the cake should stay moist and fresh for 2 to 3 days. When serving, cut the cake with a serrated knife in a gentle sawing motion.   

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Minute Steaks and Skillet-Roasted Chicken for Two

Have you ever watched “America’s Test Kitchen” on PBS? I've been a fan for years. Filmed in a 2,500-square-foot-kitchen in Cambridge, Massachusetts, this is where the delicious recipes for Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country magazines are created, as well as the ones for the television program.

What I love about this television show and the magazines is how the folks in the test kitchen try out every imaginable recipe for a dish until they develop what they feel is the perfect one. They also test kitchen equipment and ingredients to find the best taste, performance, and value. Since the magazines do not contain advertising, I feel secure that I'm getting an honest opinion.

For a food writer, the Test Kitchen’s efforts are priceless. While I will test different ways to create a recipe, their work often points me in the right direction and saves me a lot of time. Sometimes I think their final recipe is a little too complicated, but not often. And I may change ingredients or steps from time to time, but their basic ideas offer a sound foundation from where to start.

Recently, I was thrilled to receive the America’s Test Kitchen book Cooking for Two 2013. It’s perfect for my household, which consists of The Picky Eater and me. Plus, each recipe includes the detailed explanation as to how it was created. I immediately started flagging recipes to try.

Here are the first two, both of which were hits in our house:

First, I made the Weeknight Roast Chicken, which is done in a skillet and only takes an hour! Instead of making the sauce in the recipe, I made gravy in the skillet.

I loved it! The meat was moist and the skin nicely browned. The Picky Eater liked it, but he wanted the meat to be more fall-off-the-bone. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to try it again!

Next, I made the Minute Steaks with Garlic-Parsley Butter…except mine had garlic-rosemary butter since I was out of fresh parsley. 

The recipe called for spreading the just-cooked steaks with a compound butter, but instead I melted the compound butter in the still-hot skillet to get any left behind steak flavor and cook the garlic just a bit. Since the Picky Eater doesn't like garlic, I left his steak plain and he topped it with his favorite sauce—ketchup. I, however, happily poured the melted butter over my serving.

We both loved this one! The Picky Eater has already requested we have it again. (He said, “I give it three thumbs up and I only have two thumbs!” Sometimes he can be a little silly, but he’s cute.)

I can’t wait to try more recipes in this cookbook. I’m just getting started!

Weeknight Roast Chicken
Adapted from Cooking for Two 2013 by the Editors of America’s Test Kitchen

1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 (3- to 3 1/2-pound) whole chicken, giblets removed
1 tablespoon olive oil

Place a 12-inch oven-safe skillet (I used cast iron) into the oven on a rack place in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

In a small dish, mix together the salt and pepper. Dry the chicken with paper towels, and then rub the entire bird with olive oil. Next rub the salt/pepper mixture all over the chicken. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the back.

When the oven and skillet are preheated, place the chicken into the skillet. Roast in the oven for 25 to 35 minutes, or until the breast meat reaches 120 degrees and the thighs reach 135 degrees. Turn the oven off—yes, you turn off the oven!—leaving the chicken inside for another 25 to 35 minutes, until the breast reaches 160 degrees and the thighs reach 175 degrees. Remove the chicken to a cutting board and allow to rest for 20 minutes before carving.

Minute Steaks with Garlic-Rosemary Butter
Adapted from Cooking for Two 2013 by the Editors of America’s Test Kitchen

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon dried ground rosemary or 3/4 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 (6-ounce) cubed steaks
2 tablespoons oil

In a small dish, mix together the butter, rosemary, garlic and Worcestershire sauce until combined. Set aside.

Place the flour into a shallow dish. Pour the oil into a 12-inch non-stick skillet (I used cast iron) and heat over medium-high heat until the oil just begins to smoke. Pat the steaks dry with paper towels, season with salt and pepper, and then coat with the flour, being sure to shake off the excess.

Fry the steaks on one side until they reach a deep brown, about 3 minutes. Turn the steaks and continue to cook for an additional 1 to 3 minutes. Remove the steaks to serving plates.

Turn off the heat under the skillet and pour any excess fat. Add the butter to the skillet and cook until just melted, scraping any steak bits off the bottom. Pour the melted butter over the steaks and serve.