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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Beignets! (pronounced "ben-YAYZ")

What's for breakfast on a Sunday morning?


Beignets.  From left to right: vanilla sugar,
cinnamon sugar, powdered sugar shaken in
a paper bag and sprinkled powdered sugar.
Most of us don't live in New Orleans so we can't just get up and run to Cafe Du Monde and grab some of their wonderful beignets. There are probably people reading this that don't even know what a beignet is (it's kind of like a French doughnut).  For those of us that HAVE been to New Orleans, if you're anything like me, the word "beignet" conjures up images of sitting in a bustling cafe with these magical little pieces of pastry covered with powdered sugar and a cup of cafe au lait (well, if you're me, it's a cup of tea).

I just found out that my brother and sister-in-law are heading to New Orleans soon and that's what brought these memories back.  I LOVED the beignets served at Cafe Du Monde.  Since I wasn't the one heading there anytime soon, I decided to make my own - and since I was making my own anyway, I added a couple of minor twists to the recipes I was able to find online.  It evidently worked since all three of us in the house loved them (and my sixteen year old had never heard of a beignet either).

So - here goes...and enjoy!!

  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg, room temperature and beaten
  • 2 Tbsp butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 4 cup bread flour or all purpose flour
  • 3 tsp instant active dry yeast
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract (or another extract that you like, orange, lemon, etc. This is optional and was NOT in the recipe I found online but in my opinion it added to the flavor considerably)
  • vegetable oil for cooking: use enough oil to completely cover beignets when frying
  • powdered sugar for dusting

  1. Pour the lukewarm water into a small bowl. Stir one teaspoon of the sugar into the water until it dissolves.  Pour the yeast into the water and stir well.  Let sit for about 5 minutes.
  2. Combine the butter, sugar, salt and extract (if using) in a large bowl. Pour the boiling water over the butter mixture and then stir in the evaporated milk. Wait for the mixture to cool down until it is lukewarm. Then, add the yeast and water mixture and beaten egg.
  3. Slowly mix in the flour until the dough forms a ball. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for three or four hours.
  4. Take the cold dough out of the refrigerator and roll it out to 1/8 - 1/4 inch thick. Cut the rolled out dough into strips 2 to 3-inches wide, then cut again in the opposite direction and at an angle, making diamond shapes.  Alternatively, you can cut them into squares, then cut the squares at an angle to form a triangle (this is what I did - and I used a pizza cutter which made it very simple).
  5. Heat your oil for frying in a heavy pan over medium-high heat to 360 degree F (180 degrees C).
  6. Slide a few pieces of the cut dough slowly into the oil to avoid splattering and deep fry until they puff up and are golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes (they will need to be turned half way through - if the oil is too hot they will cook too fast and turn a deep brown outside before they are done on the inside - I know this from experience!). 
  7. Carefully remove onto a rack with paper towels underneath and allow to cool until you can handle them. 
  8. Either sprinkle liberally with powdered sugar, or place in a clean paper bag with confectioners' sugar and shake gently until covered generously.  I tried both ways - it depends on your taste.  Obviously the paper bag route is very simple but will result in a lot more sugar and therefore a much sweeter beignet.
I also tried something different that I didn't see in the beignets I tried in New Orleans. In addition to powdered sugar, I tried sprinkling them with cinnamon sugar and vanilla sugar* (not all at once - three different variations).  The vanilla sugar edged the others for favorite in our house but not by much.  Everyone seemed to like all of the variations.

*I had never tried (or even heard of) vanilla sugar until five or six years ago.  If you've never tried it, it's well worth the investment to either make your own or pick some up (Penzey's Spices carries it and there are many other places you can find it on the internet).  

If you want to make it yourself, you simply need to get some vanilla beans and cover them with sugar and let sit.  That's it.  In a couple of weeks you'll have vanilla sugar.  If you wait longer, the flavor will get stronger.  You can also take the beans and grind them up in a food processor until they are very fine and add them to the sugar.  I've seen it both ways and like it both ways.  In any case, whether you buy it or make your own, you owe it to yourself to try it.  I don't drink coffee but I know people that swear by using it in place of sugar in regular coffee.  I use it in place of regular sugar in many recipes but the best and simplest use I've tried is sprinkling it on a humble piece of buttered toast.






Sunday, June 16, 2013

Baked Cod with a Lemon/Garlic/Parsley Breading

Can you trust a non-seafood eater with making seafood?


Today is Father's Day and I wanted a steak.  Not just any steak, but a BIG RIBEYE steak.  Unfortunately, that's not what my son and wife wanted.  They wanted seafood, so being the nice guy that I am, I had them choose and made them what they wanted.  The wife had lobster and the son chose cod.

Well, according to my son and my wife, this was good stuff.  I can't really tell you since I don't eat anything that swims but I know they love it so I don't mind cooking it.

Since I don't eat it I don't have many recipes up my sleeve for seafood and had to resort to getting a basic idea of what to do - then let my own thoughts take over from there.  You be the judge!

Baked Cod with a Lemon/Garlic/Parsley Breading

1 1/2 cups plain breadcrumbs (I make breadcrumbs frequently from old bread to have on hand when needed, but store-bought would work just fine)
1/2 cup fresh parsley
1 lemon, zest of
4 (6 -8 ounce) cod fish fillets
garlic infused olive oil (if you don't have infused oil, plain oil will work)
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 400°F 

Line your pan with aluminum foil and lightly brush with olive oil, or use a bit of cooking spray.

Combine parsley, garlic and lemon zest on the cutting board. Finely chop, then combine with the breadcrumbs in a pie plate.

Rinse the cod filets with water and pat dry.  

Dip filets into milk.  

Press filets into the crumb mixture (both sides).  

Spray (or lightly drizzle) filets with garlic infused olive oil on both sides (you can use any kind of infused oil you'd like or plain olive oil if you prefer).   

Place fillets in baking dish.  Bake until firm, about 12-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. 

Serve with lemon wedges.

That's it - pretty simple.  Like I said, I can't vouch for it since I don't eat it but it made the other two pretty happy and a dad can't ask for much more than that!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Polenta with a Creamy Marsala sauce - and it's vegetarian!!

Today's recipe?  Polenta with a creamy marsala sauce - and it's vegetarian!!


Well, until this week I didn't really even know what polenta was.  I had heard of it but that's about it.

We were watching, "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" on Monday night and they were making polenta.  Since I had never tried it I was very curious.  That's when I noticed that my wife was drooling and I decided I needed to try it whether it was something I liked or not (I live by the philosophy that having a happy wife makes my life MUCH better).

First, for those (like me) that aren't familiar with polenta, it's basically a form of ground corn (the term polenta can mean the ground meal itself or the actual cooked food) mixed with water or stock and made into a porridge that can be eaten directly, or baked, fried or grilled.  In my mind at least, it's not that different than an Italian version of grits which explains why my wife was drooling - she loves grits.

This is the recipe I came up with.  Like most of the things I make, it's an amalgam of what I find when I look up recipes, what I have on hand (or am able to find in the store) and what my own sense of taste tells me I'll like.  There are two parts to it:  the polenta itself and the sauce.

For the Polenta:

8 cups water
1 tablespoon coarse salt
2 1/2 cups polenta (cornmeal)
1 stick butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup grated Parmesan-Romano
1 tsp rosemary powder (optional)
1 quart peanut oil, for frying (or whatever oil you prefer)

Bring the water and salt to a boil in a large heavy stockpot. 
Remove the pot from heat and slowly add the polenta so that it doesn't get lumpy, beating constantly.
Continue to add the polenta slowly, until it's all incorporated. 
Return the pot to the stove and bring to low simmer. 
Continue cooking for about 40 minutes, stirring constantly. 
Polenta will be done when it cleanly pulls away from the sides of the pot (this is the first time I've made this - and it did NOT pull away from the side of the pot.  It did however get so thick that my wrist got an incredible workout). 
Stir in the butter, heavy cream, cheese and rosemary if you're using it. 
Once combined, carefully pour the polenta onto a large sheet pan (12 by 18-inch). Spread it out evenly and let it cool completely until firm to the touch, about 1 1/2 hours (you can make this the day before and just keep it in the refrigerator)

For the sauce:

1/4 stick butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 tablespoon chopped fresh garlic
1 cup small diced portobello mushrooms
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup dry Marsala wine
4 cups heavy cream

In a large saute pan over high heat, add the butter, olive oil, onion, chopped garlic, mushrooms, and salt and pepper, to taste. 
Stirring occasionally, let it cook until the water from the mushrooms has been released and evaporated and the onions have turned translucent (about five minutes).  
Add the Marsala wine and stir until the wine is incorporated.  
Add the cream, reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking until the cream is reduced by half and has a thick consistency. 
Remove from the heat and keep covered. Set aside.

Heat the peanut oil over high heat in a large deep pot or a deep-fryer. 
Meanwhile, slice the cooled polenta into desired size and shape. 
Once the oil has reached frying temperature, add the polenta, in batches, and deep-fry until golden brown.

Arrange the polenta on serving plates and spoon the desired amount of sauce over the top.   

Trust me, the polenta is best when it's still hot - the crunch on the outside and creaminess inside is incredible!

For the record, I loved it as did my wife, the 16 year old and our dinner guest.  It's going to become a regular at our house!

Please leave any comments to let me know what you think.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Shepherd's Pie (even a Vegetarian version!)

I made smaller versions to freeze.  One row is vegetarian,
the other is hamburger.  Can you tell the difference?
I'd like to start by saying that I grew up in the Midwest and had never even HEARD of Shepherd's Pie until I moved to New England, so I came to this party a bit late - and when I've had it other places, it's typically dry.

I don't like dry food.

I don't do dry food.

Being that I'm from the Midwest and we have gravy with everything, I decided that I wanted my Shepherd's Pie to reflect that - and to NOT be dry.

I also don't care much for bland, boring flavors. I like unusual flavor combinations, even in something as "down home" (just not where I grew up) as Shepherd's Pie. You'll see that I use curry in my Shepherd's Pie. If you/your family don't like curry (and no, curry does NOT have to be hot - I don't care for spicy food, although if you do, you can certainly use the hot curry that's available. I use the "sweet mild curry" from Penzey's Spices), feel free to substitute a seasoning that you DO like.  I can tell you that the curry flavor is unusual enough in shepherd's pie that people typically can't identify exactly what the flavor is, but without exception everyone I've served it to loves it and asks me if I'll make it for them again.

I really cook from the recipe book in my head - so the measurements here are the best I can do. I do a LOT of taste it, season it and repeat until it gets to the flavor I like. I also very rarely measure anything when I'm cooking (baking being the exception) so trying to write something down that I make up in my head as I go along takes some effort. I have to try to remember what I did as I went along and when your memory is as poor as mine, that's a difficult thing to do.

So, let me apologize in advance for any of my measurements that are off, but here goes:

Ingredients

(serves 8 - did I mention I grew up in a large family?)
  • 2 pounds ground beef (for a vegetarian version, use Morningstar Farm's Crumbles instead)
  • 10 medium potatoes (russett, white, or yukon gold depending upon preference)
  • 1 can corn
  • 2 cans creamed corn
    The vegetarian version with the corn added.  This
    time I roasted the corn on the grill first, then cut it
    off to put over the Crumbles.  More work, but the
    taste makes it worth it!
  • 1 medium diced onion
  • 1 stick butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 tbsp Kitchen Bouquet (yes, this is vegetarian)
  • milk
  • garlic powder
  • curry (if you don't like curry, substitute a spice you do like i.e., rosemary, thyme, oregano, etc.)
  • salt
  • pepper
  • Shredded cheddar cheese (optional)

Directions

  1. This dish can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator until ready to bake. IF you are planning on eating right after making it, preheat the oven to 350 now.
  2. Peel, dice and boil the potatoes. When they are fork tender, strain them (keep the water from the potatoes and set aside).
  3. Cut the butter up and add to the potatoes along with salt and pepper. Start mashing them and slowly add milk until they are the consistency you want (you're simply making mashed potatoes after all, and no, I have no idea how much milk, salt or pepper to add. I've been making mashed potatoes since I was about eight and I just add the milk and seasonings until it looks/tastes right). Set aside the mashed potatoes for later.
  4. Dice the onion.
  5. Brown the hamburger (or the Crumbles). Add the diced onion about halfway through. Season with garlic powder, salt, pepper and curry. I taste it until it reaches the flavor I want. I truly don't know how much curry I add, but I believe it's about a tablespoon. If you want a stronger flavor, use more, for a lighter flavor, use less. Let your taste buds be your guide. Learn to trust them!
  6. Strain the hamburger. Keep the grease that comes off of the hamburger (this is what I use as a base for the gravy - if you're using Crumbles, obviously skip this section)
  7. Put the hamburger grease back in the skillet. Heat it up and add two tablespoons of flour (could be more or less depending upon how much grease you have). The grease/flour mixture will get very pasty. 
  8. If I'm making a vegetarian version, I typically will use the "Better than Bouillon" vegetable or mushroom base, a little bit of water and use that as the basis for the gravy.
  9. Start adding the water from the potatoes to the pan, a little at a time (over medium high heat) and KEEP STIRRING (note the caps - very important). At first, the flour mixture in the pan will absorb all of the water, but eventually, you will reach a point where the mixture will thin out. Once that happens, just keep stirring until it thickens again to be the consistency you want for gravy. At this point, I add the Kitchen Bouquet/Gravy Master. You can also add some garlic powder/curry/other spices until you have the flavor you prefer. You may want to strain the gravy also, depending entirely upon whether it's lumpy or not; and if this bothers you.
  10. Add the gravy to the browned hamburger/crumbles. You may not want to add all of it, depending upon how much you have. I like to add enough to make it very moist, but NOT soupy at all.
  11. Pour the hamburger/gravy mixture into the bottom of a 13 x 9 pan and spread until it's evenly covered.
  12. Open the cans of corn and combine them. Spread the corn mixture on top of the hamburger/crumbles mixture until it's evenly covered.
  13. Spread the mashed potatoes over the corn until evenly covered.
  14. Cover with foil. At this point, you can store in the refrigerator until you're ready to bake it or bake it right away (it will last 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator like this so if you want to make it ahead of time, you can).
  15. Preheat oven to 350.
  16. Bake for one hour, covered. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes. I like to sprinkle shredded cheese over the top when I remove the foil (alternately, you could put shredded cheese in the mashed potatoes when you make them and have it melt as it bakes).

Serve with some kind of crusty bread and butter (I usually bake my own or get the garlic ciabatta from our local grocery store) and a salad.

The finished version topped with shredded cheese.

Homemade Vanilla (or Chocolate!) Pudding

First recipe!!  Pudding?  Yes, pudding.


I gave a lot of thought to what the first recipe I post here should be.  I came up with something that has been a standard in my family for a very long time - and has the benefit of being incredibly versatile.

Pudding.

Yes, pudding.  I know, anyone under 30 has probably never even had homemade pudding - the jello stuff in a box is all they know.

The real thing is SO much better...and not much more effort.  

This recipe goes back to my grandmother and my mother - with a special thanks to my brother Larry who made it a LOT when we were kids.  This recipe is for the basic vanilla but with a little effort can be turned into many different varieties (as kids, the simplest was either slicing bananas for banana pudding or adding cocoa powder for chocolate pudding).

Basic Vanilla Pudding

1 cup flour
2 cup sugar
4 cup milk

To add after it thickens:
2 eggs
1/2 stick butter
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Mix the dry ingredients with the milk.

Cook over medium heat until desired consistency stirring constantly.

When desired consistency has been reached, remove from heat.  Add some of the pudding mixture into beaten eggs and stir to mix well.  Put the egg mixture back in with the rest of the pudding and mix well.  Add butter and vanilla and mix well.

You can easily alter this recipe for whatever you'd like.  We add about 5 tbsp of cocoa to make chocolate pudding (add it to the flour and sugar).  Lately I've also added a chopped up Lindt dark chocolate bar to make it have more of the dark chocolate flavor I've come to love.

If you want to make a pie, simply add a tiny bit more flour and about a half cup less of milk to get a thicker consistency then fill the pie shell.  This works well if you line the shell with bananas and then add vanilla pudding or just add the chocolate pudding for an awesome chocolate pie.  I've made a chocolate-peanut butter-banana pie by lining the shell with bananas, heating up some peanut butter and pouring it on top of that, then adding chocolate pudding and refrigerating.  That particular pie was gone within about ten minutes of serving it.  I've also made butterscotch pudding by following the same basic recipe.  

My tastes have also changed some lately so the last couple of times I've made this I've used less sugar to make it not quite as sweet.  The most important thing with this recipe (in my book, with cooking in general) is to NOT be afraid to try something different!!!  Experiment - the worst you can do is not like it and start again...and that's half the fun.