Friday, January 30, 2015

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

From time to time, it's near impossible to find a loaf of wheat bread. It's one of those things like butter that will disappear from grocery shelves for a bit. I decided it might be high time for me to try making my own loaves using this recipe

Local honey and Fermipan yeast

While the directions call for putting the water into the bowl of a standing mixer and sprinkling the yeast over top, I prefer doing it in a measuring cup and adding the honey. This way I can ensure the yeast proofs.

As the yeast proofs away, I put the milk and oil in the bowl of the stand mixture...

...and measure out the all-purpose flour. Here in Belize, I use Bebe Agua.

The proofed yeast gets poured into the mixing bowl that has the milk/oil mixture.

Then the all purpose flour gets added to the mix and using the dough hook, everything gets a quick mix.

In the meantime, the whole wheat flour gets measured. As an aside, this is the only wheat flour I've found in Corozal. It works just fine, but it would be fun to source other brands and see how they do.

The wheat flour gets dumped into the bowl and the dough hook gets put to work again to create a shaggy dough.

This all sits, undisturbed, for 20 minutes to let the flour absorb the liquids.

When the time is up, the dough hook goes to work again to knead the dough for about 8 minutes. 

What you get is a lovely ball of dough that is just a bit tacky.

I divide the dough in half and put each piece in lightly oiled bowls.

After covering the bowls with plastic wrap, I put them in my unheated oven for about an hour. This keeps them out of any drafts.

When doubled in bulk, the dough gets turned out on a lightly floured board, shaped into loaves, and placed in their pans that have been coated with cooking spray.

Now it's time for their second rise. I put a dampened tea towel over the pans and put them back in the unheated oven for about 30 minutes.

Here they are after the second proof:

I use a serrated knife to make a slit down the middle, then pop the pans into a pre-heated 425 degree oven.

As soon as I shut the oven door, the heat gets lowered to 375 degrees.

After baking for about 30 minutes, this is what you get:

The result? Using this recipe I may never buy whole wheat bread again. There's a slightly sweet taste and the crumb/density is perfect for sandwiches. And when slices are toasted? Oh man, it just seems to bring out all the flavors.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Honey Fried Chicken and Amish Potato Salad

This chicken recipe uses a cornstarch batter and the chicken is fried twice. Instead of fried chicken that has a thick crust, the cornstarch lets the fried skin be the star. Once the frying process is complete, the chicken is drizzled in a honey/hot sauce glaze. We loved this! 

As far as the potato salad? I would definitely rank this one as a hit. Using sour cream instead of mayo added a great tang. Because we like more crunch in this type of dish, I would do a bigger dice on the celery next time. I only used about half of the dressing, but if you like your potato salad looser, then pour it all on.

Chicken Pot Pie

Chicken pot pie is a comfort food you can count on year round. I dug out this recipe from Anne Burrell and set to work. 

The first thing that needed to be done was to make the pastry for the pot pies.

First I cut up a stick of butter and 8 ounces of cream cheese.

That got added to the 1 1/2 cups of flour and a pinch of salt standing by in the food processor.

Everything got pulsed together until the dough started coming together. I added a couple of tablespoons of cold water and one egg yolk, and pulsed some more.

The dough got turned out on some flour, was kneaded briefly and formed into a ball.

I covered it with plastic wrap and popped it into the fridge until I was ready to use it later in the day.

Next it was time to work on the pot pie filling. The recipe calls for chicken legs and thighs, but I used only thighs because...well, I could, and I think they taste better than legs. But hey, use whatever parts of the chicken that float your boat.

Then it was on to prepping the veggies.

Carrots, onions, and celery all got a good chop, and some garlic was minced too.

All but the garlic was tossed into a large pot, seasoned with some salt, and left to saute over medium heat for about 7 minutes.

The house was starting to smell wonderful. 

Once the veggies had softened, I added the garlic and let that do its thing for a couple of minutes. Then I nestled the thighs on top and poured some chicken stock, which I had made the day before, over everything.

The stock was brought up to a boil, then reduced to a simmer and was left to bubble gently away for 30 minutes.

At this point in Anne's recipe, it calls to roast off some butternut squash. However, I gave this step a pass because (a) we're not particularly fond of butternut squash, and (b) there wasn't any at the market even if we did like it. That being said, I have roasted off potatoes to add when making this dish before and it adds a nice component. But this time, I just skipped this element altogether.

Anyway, back to the chicken that had been simmering away. Now that it was done, I removed the chicken and veggies to separate bowls and set the stock aside.

When the chicken was cool enough to handle, I took the meat off the bones and added it into the veggie mixture. Now at this point, you're supposed to add some chopped haricots verts. And as lovely as those might be, I went with their pedestrian cousin, the regular old green bean.

Time now to make the gravy. I love gravy of just about any sort, but this one is one of my favorites.

Step One: make a roux.

After whisking together 4 tablespoons of melted butter and 4 tablespoons of flour, it was time for Step Two -- adding the reserved stock. This got ladled in a bit at a time, until everything was incorporated and smooth.

The gravy was brought up to a boil, then reduced to a simmer, and left to bubble away for about 20 minutes. You want to be sure to stir it on a regular basis, otherwise an icky film will develop on the top.

With the gravy done, I added the chicken/veggie mix into it and let it all warm together over low heat.

We're into the final stretch!

While the gravy was simmering away, I had removed the pastry dough from the fridge to let it come to room temperature.

As I was only going to be making two pot pies for this go round, I cut the dough in half and put the portion I didn't need back in the fridge. I'll use it later in the week when we have leftovers.

I rolled the dough out on a floured surface...

...and cut out two lids for the ramekins I was using for the filling. The edges of the ramekins got brushed with an egg wash, then the lids got put on top, some vents were made, and the lids were brushed with more of the egg wash.

The pot pies were popped into a pre-heated 375 degree oven and left to bake for about 30 minutes.

As far as I'm concerned, this is a nice warm hug in a bowl and the perfect thing to chase away the blues of a bunch of rainy days (or snowy ones depending on where you live). As soon as you dip your fork or spoon into the crust, it flakes oh-so-nicely and bits get worked into the chicken and gravy. And the filling? Oh my. It's sooooo good. The dark meat of the thighs adds an element of richness to the gravy that makes you want to gobble it all up. Actually, the filling would stand fine all on its own as a stew, if you aren't inclined to make the pastry.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Filipino Chicken Adobo

One of the cooking shows I like to watch is  America's Test Kitchen (ATK). Aired on most PBS channels, this is what I think cooking shows should be all about -- the techniques and science that go into making a meal. And while the show's host does do an occasional stunt or two to make a point, you won't find the celebrity chef showboating that seems to be all the rage these days. Yeah, I sound like a crankypants, old thing, but when the Food Network ditched chefs like Sara Moulton and brought in twits like Sandra Lee, well, let's just say the craftsmanship of cooking was singing its swan song on that particular TV channel.

In any case, the ATK is hugely informative, provides good product reviews for kitchen equipment and ingredients, and any recipes I've made from their show or cookbooks have been on the money.

Case in point: this recipe for Filipino Chicken Adobo. For starters, I thought, like I suppose many people did, that "adobo" meant a spicy, red, chili-based sauce. And while it can be that, it's also much more. Here's what ATK has to say on the subject:

"While many Americans think of “adobo” as the tomato-based sauce packed in cans with chipotle chiles, the most basic definition of the word is “sauce” or “seasoning.” The Spanish term originally referred to a vinegar- or chile-based sauce or paste that was added to meat as a preservative. Over time, the term came to apply to similar dishes in Latin American and Filipino cuisines. In the Philippines, where adobo is considered the country’s national dish, it’s a braise commonly prepared with chicken or pork. Vinegar and soy sauce (acetic acid and salt are natural preservers) flavored with aromatics like garlic, bay leaves, and black pepper serve as the braising liquid. The tangy cooking liquid is then reduced to make a sauce, and the dish is served with steamed white rice."

The other thing I found interesting was how the chicken was cooked, but more on that in a minute. First let's take a look at the ingredients:

Ummmm, chicken (surprise!) -- specifically bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs.

The rest of the cast and crew:

Please welcome 3/4 cup cider vinegar, eight peeled garlic cloves, four bay leaves, two teaspoons of black pepper, and a partridge in a pear tree. Okay, so maybe not that last one.

But wait! There's more! You'll also need 1/3 cup of soy sauce, which will serve as a marinade for the chicken thighs.

Let those babies soak up that marinade for 30 to 60 minutes in the fridge.

Now here comes the interesting (well, at least I thought it was interesting) way to cook the chicken.

Remove the thighs from the marinade (don't toss the marinade; you'll need it in just a bit), and place the thighs skin side down into a unheated pan.

I know! How weird not to preheat the pan. It was explained on the show that this technique is like when you are rendering fat from bacon. Start with a cold pan. Anyhoo, with the thighs in a cold pan, crank the heat up to medium-high. You're looking to sear the skin, which should take about 7 to 10 minutes.

In the meantime, whisk together the coconut milk, vinegar, garlic, bay leaves, pepper, and soy sauce.

Once the thighs are brown, remove them from the pan and discard the fat in the skillet. Then you'll put the thighs back in the pan, skin side down, and add the coconut milk concoction you just whisked together.

Bring everything up to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

Then flip the chicken over and continue to cook for about 15 minutes. When done, remove the thighs to a plate and tent loosely with foil.

Pick out the bay leaves from the coconut mixture and skim off any fat from the surface. Cook the liquid over medium-high heat until the sauce thickens (about 5 to 7 minutes).

It's time to plate!

I made some white rice while the chicken was simmering and while the sauce reduced, David knocked out some steamed broccoli. 
The taste. Oh my, the taste. The skin on the the chicken had a beautiful caramelization and the meat was just as juicy as could be. And while I was afraid that the eight cloves of garlic would overwhelm the dish, they mellowed out big time. But the sauce was the hands-down winner. It was slightly tangy from the soy sauce, had a nice little pop from the cider, but all balanced out with the coconut milk. 

Without a doubt, this recipe has a home run, and I would highly recommend giving it a go yourselves. You won't regret it for one little second.

P.S. If you are on Facebook, you might want to check the America's Test Kitchen page and "like" it. By doing so, you'll receive feeds on all kinds of helpful tips, demos, and recipes.

P.P.S. This post is in no way a paid endorsement; just passing on, what I think, is a great resource.

Ginger Soy Vegetable Lo Mein

This is a recipe from Mmm, Taste This that I tagged to my Facebook timeline. Gave it a whirl and it was awesome on a number of fronts. To start, the taste was great. Between the spices and various Asian sauces, it all came together for multiple flavor levels.

Another thing I loved about this dish is that it comes together so quickly. Because this
 is essentially a stir-fry, as long as you have all the prep done before you heat the oil in the pan, you can have this on the table in about 30 minutes or less. 

And let's talk about versatility. While I used carrots, broccoli, and onions, you can use pretty much any veg hanging out in the fridge looking for a home. Have some shrimp or chicken you want to use? Throw it in; it will taste fabulous. 

This is another recipe where the end result is way better than take-out.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Poached Pork Tenderloin with Sicilian Potatoes Gratin and Steamed Broccoli

Looking for something different for dinner? Maybe something a bit fancier, but doesn't take all day to cook? How about some pork tenderloin? 

The most favorite way I know to prepare this lovely piece of meat is: poaching it. Sounds kinda' crazy, huh? But it really works, and you will be amazed at how tender the tenderloin is. Seriously. I promise.

I mean, look at this plate:

Aren't you tempted, just even a little bit, to take a bite? Yup, I thought you would want to. Here's how it all came together, courtesy of one of the most beautiful and fun cookbooks I know of:

The photography will blow you away, and you will discover all kinds of cool things to do with ingredients that will have you running to the store in no time flat.

For this recipe, first, get yourself a pork tenderloin. I bought mine at Frank's, right here in town.

Trim off any excess fat and any traces of silver skin.

Next, heat some olive oil and butter on medium high heat in a skillet large enough to hold the pork.

Place the pork in the skillet and roll it around to get a good sear on all sides.

Remove the pan from the heat and let the pork cool enough so you can handle it. Then rub about a teaspoon of honey and 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon all over the loin.

With that seasoning done, wrap the pork in a length of plastic wrap, tie off each end, and trim any excess plastic.

Next I place the wrapped loin in a zippered plastic bag, making sure I remove as much air as possible.

While this step isn't mentioned in the recipe, I have found this makes life easier later on in the poaching process.

Now place the wrapped pork in the fridge for about eight hours.

Once the pork has finished marinating, fill a pot that's big enough to accommodate the wrapped pork with water. Heat the water to 140 degrees. Needless to say, popping some type of thermometer in the water is advisable to know when you've reached the desired temperature.

Place the double-wrapped pork into the water.

Having made this recipe a few times when we were in the States, I found that putting some sort of weight on the wrapped pork will keep it below the water level during the poaching step. In this case, I used a heavy metal spoon, but use whatever device works for you.

It's at this stage that the zipped bag makes your life easier. The reason? I found that putting the pork -- only encased in the plastic wrap -- had a tendency to develop some leaks, which let that lovely marinade escape. The extra layer of the bag eliminates that problem.

Now you're going to let this baby poach for about an hour. Keep a close eye on the temperature. If it starts going above 140 degrees, pop a couple of ice cubes into the pot to bring the temperature down.

While my tenderloin was taking its nice warm bath, I worked on the potatoes.

Take a couple of russet potatoes and slice them thin, thin, thin. I mean like really thin.

Coat whatever dish you will be using with olive oil and put an overlapping layer of your skinny potato slices. Then sprinkle some capers and Parmesan cheese, then drizzle the layer with olive oil.

Repeat these steps until your dish is filled to the tippy top, and sprinkle the top layer with more cheese. Pour some chicken stock over the layers, and gently press down to compress all those yummy bits.

Cover the dish with aluminium foil and place in a pre-heated 350-degree oven for an hour. Presuming that the potatoes are fork tender at that point, remove the foil and continue baking for about another 15 minutes or until the cheese on the top has melted.

Now back to the pork. After it has poached for an hour, open the zip bag and take the pork's temperature. You want it to be at 140 degrees. If it's not quite there yet, reseal the bag and place it back in the water bath until done.

Once you've reached the Nirvana state of 140 degrees, remove it from the water, unwrap the pork, sear it one last time (just like you did the first time around), loosely tent it, and let it sit for about 10 minutes.

As an aside, if you're juggling a bunch of sides to go with your meal, the pork can sit in the poaching water -- with the heat turned off -- for up to about two hours.

The only thing that was left to do was steam the broccoli, which I asked David to do. You know me, it's a vegetable. I'd rather spend my time on the protein and starch.

Anyhow, when all was ready, we come full circle to our opening shot:

To finish the plate, I drizzled some balsamic vinegar over the pork. If you have the time, it's even more wonderful if you reduce the vinegar until it becomes a glaze. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough vinegar on hand to pull that off this go round.

The bottom line is that this pork -- while taking a bit of planning -- is moist, tender, heavenly, and any other succulent word that comes to your mind. And the potatoes? Oh my. You get the salty taste from the capers and cheese, and the creaminess of those spuds. Oh, and I guess I should throw a bone to the broccoli. It was steamed perfectly, so that it still had a bit of firmness to it. And I have to admit that the green element on the plate did look pretty. I, of course, did the noble thing and gave half mine to David.

To sum up -- if you're looking for a new and different way to prepare your next pork tenderloin, give poaching a try. You probably won't go back to any other methods you've used.

Chicken Enchiladas

This recipe is an old favorite of ours – chicken enchiladas. 

Now in the past, I would have relied on canned enchilada sauce, but that’s not something I could find here in Corozal. So off I went to the Internet to find out how to make my own. Not surprisingly, there are a ton of recipes out there, and after sifting through a bunch, I decided to use bits and pieces of recipes I liked that would work with the ingredients I had on hand.

So mis amigos, let’s see how it all played out.

First I combined 3 Tablespoons of vegetable oil and 1 Tablespoon of flour to make a roux:

Once that got stirred around for a couple of minutes, I added 1/4 cup of chili powder. Yes, I said 1/4 cup:

Now, I will admit that I was initially a teeny bit hesitant about the quantity. I mean, would my lips end up falling off from the heat? Would my taste buds be scarred for life? But I decided to be brave and work with it.
After the chili powder got stirred around and cooked in the roux for about 30 seconds, I added 2 cups of homemade chicken stock, 8 ounces of tomato sauce...

...about 8 ounces of tomato paste, 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, 1 teaspoon of cumin, and about 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
Now at this point, any cocinero (chef) worth her salt, would give the mixture a taste. I did and...well I'll warn you that it will seem a bit harsh, and it will need some more salt. But have faith and bring the whole shebang to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, and let it cook for about 20 minutes.

Now when you taste it, you'll be saying Hola Amante! The flavors should have all melded together to make this deliciousness. There will be warm undertones from the chili powder, but not much heat. It actually reminded me of more of a mole sauce. Your lips and taste buds will not fall off or be damaged in any way. Instead, they will thank you.
With the enchilada sauce now taken care of, I could get busy making the rest of the dish, with a helping hand from David.
But first, let me introduce our enchilada fillings:

Say hello to shredded chicken, sauteed onions, sliced black olives, and shredded cheddar.
I ladled some of that sauce into my baking dish and spread it around.

I also poured a teeny bit into a warm saute pan and began to heat up our tortillas, which one by one, I handed off to David.

He piled on the fillings... 

 ...then rolled up each tortilla and placed them in the baking dish.

But wait! We can't leave them naked! Oh no, sir. We need to cover them up with lots of lovely things, like more enchilada sauce, more olives, and of course, more cheese.

I popped the baking dish into a pre-heated 450-degree oven for about 20 minutes. When done, oh my!

Serious taste -- gooey cheese, that warm and inviting sauce, the chicken, the olives. They all came together. And you know what? Even if I can eventually find canned enchilada sauce here, I doubt if I would buy it when I can make my own (which tastes way better, if I say so myself).

Buen Provecho!