Saturday, March 5, 2016

Meatball Subs with Caramelized Onions on Torpedo Rolls

I don't know about any of you, but sometimes I get such a craving for certain foods and will do just about anything to make the meal a reality.

Case in point -- I really, really, really was in the mood for a meatball sub. I generally am not a huge fan of meatballs, but something about the idea of some juicy meatballs, cheese, tomato sauce, served on a great roll was stuck in my mind.

And while making the meatballs and sauce didn't pose a problem, the rolls did. You see, there are very few places here in Corozal that carry the type of rolls needed for this type of sandwich. I wanted something that wasn't too soft, something that had some toothsome quality. So what did I do? Made my own.

I selected this recipe for topedo rolls (courtesy of One Perfect Bite), as they seemed to be just what I was looking for.


With the roll situation under control, I turned my attention to the meatballs. I decided to try this recipe (courtesy of Smitten Kitchen). 

As you will note in the recipe, any ground meat can be used. I opted for ground chicken, mostly to achieve a moist and juicy meatball. 

After combining the ground chicken with the various herbs, spices, egg, and bread crumbs, I formed the meatballs and set them aside.

I caramelized some onions and warmed up some homemade tomato sauce that I had in the fridge.

The meatballs were browned and simmered in the tomato sauce.

Ready for assembly:


The rolls have just the right ratio of chewiness and stood up well to the sauce and meatballs. The browned exterior of the meatballs offered a wonderful taste and texture, with the insides being oh-so-juicy. 

Craving taken care of and there's the bonus of now having a tried and true sandwich roll that I can whip out in the future. Sweet!



Deviled Chicken Thighs

The number of recipes that are available online to prepare chicken thighs just amazes me. And if I have my way, I will make as many of them as I can. Why? Because we love that part of the bird, and I firmly believe a good meal that contains chicken thighs puts everything back to rights...or close to it.

This was the latest way I made them for dinner (courtesy of the New York Times).


I first pre-heated the broiler, set to high. The thighs were seasoned with salt and pepper on both sides. When the broiler was ready, in went the chicken, skin side up. 

While they broiled away for about five minutes, I mixed together some Dijon mustard, minced scallions, and a pinch of cayenne pepper.

When the chicken skin was golden brown from the broiler, I removed the pan and turned over the thighs. The mustard mixture was spread on the underside of the thighs, then the pan was popped back under the broiler for about five minutes.

The thighs were then removed from the broiler, turned skin-side up, and the remaining mustard mix was brushed on the tops. Back under the broiler for almost five minutes. I tested the internal temp of the thighs and it was a steady 160 degrees. Perfect.

Now for the taste -- in a word, divine. The skin was crispy and the tang of the Dijon mustard came shining through, but not so much to overwhelm the chicken. The meat was moist and juicy, making almost it's own sauce that was absorbed into the basmati rice I served the chicken on.

This is definitely a recipe I will be making again, while continuing my quest for other chicken thigh recipes.








Creamy Ricotta Spaghetti

While I love spending hours in the kitchen, there are some days that there's so much going on that a quick and easy dinner is the way to go.

I recently gave this recipe a try (courtesy of delish). The idea of using ricotta as a sauce intrigued me.


There are only three steps to this recipe. 

First cook the spaghetti and reserve one cup of the pasta water before draining.

Next, saute some garlic and stir in the ricotta, some of the pasta water, and a bit of lime zest. The recipe calls for lemon zest, but that fruit isn't readily available here. Limes, on the other hand, we have by the boatload.

Finally, add the pasta to the sauce and give it a mix so all the spaghetti is coated.

I garnished our plates with a bit of crushed red pepper and chopped basil. Overall, we thought the dish was okay, but not great. The ricotta worked well as the sauce, but it just felt like something was missing from a flavor standpoint.

A number of days later, I made this again. But this time, I added some chopped tomatoes and crispy bacon. That did the trick! Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture. But imagine a forkful of pasta, drenched in the creamy ricotta sauce, the burst of tomato goodness, and the salty crunch of bacon bits all in one bite. it was delicious. 

I think this is a good, basic recipe that can be a vehicle for almost anything you might have hanging out in your fridge, looking for a home. Have leftover chicken bits? Broccoli? Throw 'em in there and in 20 minutes you can have dinner on the table.









Sunday, February 14, 2016

Croissants

I can still vividly recall sitting in a bistro in Paris and biting into a freshly made croissant. I also remember how I groaned with delight after taking my first bite. That crispy, flaky outer layer and all those light and airy butter layers on the inside. It was heavenly.

A couple of weeks ago, I made crescent rolls. Having had success with them, and knowing that the overall technique was similar for croissants, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and give them a go.

Now while there may be some similarities in how the two rolls are made, like layering butter, folding the dough, making triangles, etc., croissants are way more time consuming and persnickety. The recipe I used (courtesy of Fine Cooking) is four pages long and a three day affair. 

I had been forewarned by others who had made croissants that they swore to never make them again, due to the time commitment and challenge of keeping the dough really, really, really cold. Factor in that I was going to attempt this while living in a tropical location, and I probably should have backed away. But no, it was just too tempting of a challenge to not try.

So if you have the time and inclination, follow me around the kitchen for The Great Croissant Challenge.

Day 1 - Make Dough

This was an easy step. All that needed to be done was to combine flour, cold water, cold milk, some sugar, a few tablespoons of softened butter, instant yeast, and salt. 

The dough was mixed on low speed in my stand mixer for three minutes, then on medium speed for three minutes. 

All the ingredients came together into a beautiful, silken ball of dough. 


Per the recipe, I transferred the dough to a lightly floured plate, sprinkled some flour on the top, wrapped it tight with plastic wrap and refrigerated the dough overnight.

As I said, easy-peasy, so far.

Day 2 - Make Butter Layer

Knowing from the recipe of what was in store for this day, I enlisted David's assistance at various points.

The first thing that needed to be done was to cut 10 ounces of butter into 1/2 inch slabs to form a 5 to 6 inch square. The butter square was placed on and covered with parchment paper, then whacked with the rolling pin so the butter slabs would adhere.





Once done, the butter layer was put in the fridge, while we tackled the dough that was made the day before.

Laminating the Dough

The dough was unwrapped and rolled into a 10 1/2 inch square. The butter layer was placed on top of the dough so that the points of the butter were centered along the sides of the dough.

The dough flaps were then folded over.



The edges of the dough were pressed together to make a tight seal, so the butter wouldn't escape.

Using the rolling pin, the dough was pressed to make it a bit longer initially, then rolled some more until it was 8 by 24 inches.

When we reached the desired length, the dough was folded over so there were three layers.


The buttery dough was put on a baking sheet, covered with plastic wrap, and placed in the freezer, along with the aluminium rolling pin, for 20 minutes. It was a good time to take a quick break on the porch.

Once the allotted time was up, the dough and rolling pin were taken out of the freezer. The whole rolling out to 8 by 24 inches, folding the dough into thirds, and freezing happened two more times.

It's at this juncture that I should mention that as the dough is really cold (a good thing), it's also very stiff. That means you really need to exert pressure while rolling to get the dough to the right length. Needless to say, your arms, shoulders, and neck muscles get a workout. And when you have skinny, chicken-like arms like me, well, let's just say that Ibuprofen was my good friend later that day.

After all the rolling and folding was done, the dough was put back on the baking sheet, covered with plastic wrap, and popped into the fridge overnight.

Day Three - Divide the Dough

I was feeling fairly confident at the end of Day Two and even started envisioning the delivery of awesome croissants to our friends, not to mention wolfing down one or five on my own. But before that dream could become a reality, there was lots of work to be done.

The first thing that needed to happen was to "wake the dough up" by firmly pressing the rolling pin along the length of the dough. This is done to begin to lengthen the dough.

Next we needed to roll the dough out to about 44 inches. Yes, you read that correctly. Forty four freakin' inches.



Thank goodness our island counter top is long. As an aside, you might notice that unlike the day before, all the bits and bobs that normally live on that counter space are gone. We wanted and needed as much room as possible.

David and I took turns rolling out the dough and we had to stop from time to time, because the dough was getting too warm. We folded the dough into thirds, popped it in the freezer for about 15 minutes and got to rolling again.

When we hit the 44 inch mark, David took over for the measuring and making of the triangles. I am hopelessly math challenged, I knew he was the man for the job.


It was at this point that things started getting a bit out of hand. The dough seemed awfully thin and it was getting too warm. Because of the thinness factor, not to mention the length, it was impossible to fold and freeze the dough. There was nothing else we could do but soldier on.

Shaping the Croissants

Once the triangles were cut, David used a paring knife to make a 1/2 inch notch in the center of the short side of each triangle. Each triangle was gently stretched to about 10 inches and rolled up.



Proofing and Baking the Croissants

An egg wash was brushed on each croissant and the rolls were left to proof for two hours.

After the proofing time was done, I had another wave of concern because I didn't see the layers of dough from the side. 

With figuratively crossed fingers, the rolls were placed in a pre-heated 425-degree oven for about 10 minutes.

They hadn't browned as much as they should, so I let them go for another 5 minutes.

They seemed to look okay at that point.


After they were left to cool a bit, but still warm, we tested one. Let's just say I wasn't instantly transported back to that Paris bistro. The outside was flaky enough but the inside was too doughy. 

Figuring I had nothing to lose at that point, I popped the rolls back into the oven to bake for another few minutes.

It didn't help. 

While edible, they certainly aren't croissants that I would proudly offer to friends. After doing more croissant research that afternoon, my theory is that not only did we let the dough get too warm, it also got overworked. I also don't think it needs to be rolled out to 44 inches. Something along the lines of 35 inches might to the trick, with more frequent visits to the freezer.

Will I attempt these again? You bet. But right now I need to pop a couple more Ibuprofen, take a deep breath, and psych myself up that I can make these happen.



Roasted Garlic Tomato Soup

For the last number of days, we've been having a cold front hovering over us. Now a cold front for Belize means the nighttime temps can drop into the mid-50s, and the daytime temps may make it to the low 80s. Factor in gusty winds and most folks here have donned long pants, hoodies, and even put on socks! I know many of you in the States are suffering the effects of an epic cold snap, and will roll your eyes at our weather, but trust me, once you get acclimated to heat and humidity, the dip in the temps comes as a shock.

It's just this type of weather that screams for something warm and comforting to eat. And when I think of comfort food, homemade tomato soup comes to mind. The fact that I would be near the stove also helped, in order to get warm.

Casting around my pantry and fridge, I decided to do a bit of a riff on just plain tomato soup. The first thing I did was cut off the top of a head of garlic, placed it in some foil, drizzled olive oil over it, then wrapped it up and put it into a 400-degree oven for about 30 minutes. Within no time, our kitchen smelled of garlicky goodness.

With the garlic baking away, I warmed a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot and added some chopped onion, salt, and crushed red pepper flakes.

When the onions were tender, two 28-ounce cans of diced tomatoes (with their juices) were added to the pot, along with the now soft and delicious smelling baked garlic cloves, and about a cup of homemade chicken stock.

Everything got stirred around and was left to simmer for about 1 1/2 hours, then tasted for seasoning. It needed just a pinch more salt.

I dug out the immersion blender and whizzed it through the diced tomatoes. We like a bit of texture in our soup, so I left some of the tomato chunks.

At this point, about a 1/2 cup of unsweetened condensed milk was added (cream or half & half would also work), along with some grated Parmesan cheese. The soup then simmered for about another 20 minutes.

While the soup was doing its thing, I julienned some basil and fried up some slices of bread. Boy, is fried bread awesome!


I put a thin slice of Parm on top of the soup, along with the strips of basil.

In spite of using canned tomatoes, this soup was packed with flavor. The roasted garlic permeated every spoonful, and brought a back note of sweetness. The crushed red pepper flakes offered up their zing, but not in any sort of overwhelming way. And the cheese lent a saltiness that balanced everything out. 

All in all, a great soup for chilly weather no matter where you live.





Bacon Chicken Potato Casserole

It will come as no surprise that this recipe (courtesy of 12 Tomatoes) had me with the word bacon. Bonus points for it also having potatoes and being super simple to put together.

Now you may note that one of the early steps in this recipe is to cut the potatoes into wedges and place them in lightly greased baking dish. I would strongly suggest that you par-cook the potatoes, either by boiling or steaming them, beforehand. Don't know about your potatoes, but I've never had mine be tender in only 30-35 minutes in the oven.

Anyhow, with the potatoes out of the way, the chicken thighs get seasoned with some salt and pepper, then dredged in a spice mixture of garlic powder, paprika, and cayenne. 

The thighs get browned on both sides in a large skillet, then are placed on top of the potatoes.

There should be some spice mixture left over from the dredging. Whisk it up in some olive oil and drizzle over the chicken and potatoes.

On top of that, place crispy, crumbled bacon. The recipe calls for 1 cup, but I may have used a teeny bit more than that (ahem).

Put the whole shebang into a pre-heated 400-degree oven for 30-35 minutes. When the chicken is thoroughly cooked through and the potatoes are tender, remove from the oven and let everything rest for about 5-8 minutes.


To appease the Vegetable Gods and my husband, I steamed some broccoli.

We thoroughly enjoyed this meal. The chicken was tender and the spice mixture added some zip, but wasn't overpowering. The potatoes soaked up the spices too and as some of the potato edges were browned, there was a crispy factor. And the broccoli, well, it's steamed broccoli. What else can I say?

But seriously, this is good, quick meal for any day of the week.



Hummus

I love hummus. To me, it's a lovely carrier for all kinds of flavors. The only problem I had, when making it from scratch, was that it would always end up with a slightly grainy texture. It didn't matter how long I whizzed those chickpeas in the food processor, the end result was always the same.

As luck would have it, I happened upon a cooking article that solved the grainy texture mystery. It's the skins of the chickpeas that were causing the problem!

Anxious to see if this was really the case, I soaked some dried chickpeas overnight.

The next morning, the chickpeas were drained, placed in large pot, along with some smashed garlic cloves, and covered with water. Now here's an interesting tip to facilitate the removal of the skins: add about a teaspoon of baking soda into the cooking water. 

Once the chickpeas are tender, reserve about a 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid, then drain the chickpeas.

Place the drained chickpeas in a large bowl and cover with cold water.

Now this next part is kinda' tedious, but worth the time and effort. Agitate the chickpeas (I just used my impeccably clean hands), and the skins will come off. Some will float to the top, but some will sink to the bottom of the bowl. Scoop those babies out, wherever they are, and discard. 

After removing as many of the skins as possible, put the chickpeas and the garlic cloves, along with some salt, in the food processor and pulse a few times to start breaking them down.

Scrape down the bowl, then add about 1/4 cup of tahini and the reserved cooking liquid. Continue to pulse away until everything is combined and smooth. I found I need to scrape down the bowl a couple of times to ensure everything was incorporated.

After reaching the point of having silky smooth hummus nirvana, scrape the mixture into a dish, then make a well in the middle. Drizzle olive oil into and around the well, then finish with a dusting of paprika.


In future batches, I plan on using roasted garlic to give it a more pungent kick. And when my basil plants are ready, I foresee dabbing some pesto on the top. The possibilities are endless!








Friday, January 29, 2016

Crescent Rolls

I was trying to figure out what my next baking challenge should be and decided to tackle homemade crescent rolls. I love tasting all those buttery layers, and, as I want to try my hand at making croissants, crescent rolls seemed like a good starting point.

I landed on this recipe (courtesy of Half Baked Harvest), donned an apron, and was ready to spend my morning in the kitchen.

The first step was to make dough and chill it in the fridge for about 30 minutes.


Once sufficiently chilled, the recipe calls to place the dough on a lightly floured surface and roll the dough into a large rectangle. Now here's the thing -- we live in the tropics, so keeping the dough in a somewhat chilled state was going to be a challenge. 

I managed to get around this problem by first chilling a baking sheet in the freezer during the last 15 minutes the dough was chilling in the fridge. I turned the baking sheet upside down, dusted it lightly with flour, and it really helped keep the dough at a consistent temperature.

The other item that came to the rescue was my new kitchen toy -- an aluminum rolling pin!


It even has graduated measurements on both ends!



This beauty was also placed in the freezer with the baking sheet.

Here you can see the rolled out dough and it's spread with 8 tablespoons of softened butter.



 The next was to fold the dough into three layers.


I wrapped the dough in plastic wrap and placed it, the rolling pin, and the baking sheet in the freezer for 10 minutes.

When time was up, the dough was rolled out again into a rectangle, folded in three layers, then put back in the freezer for another 10 minutes. This process was repeated two more times. 

And just so you know, because the dough is chilled the rolling out process is a great workout for your wrists and arms. 

Once the final folding and freezing step was done, the dough was rolled out for the final time, cut into triangles, and rolled up.






The pan was covered with a towel and left to rise for about an hour.

When done resting, I brushed the rolls with egg wash, then the pan was placed into a pre-heated 400-degree oven for about 12 minutes.

And this is a sample of the lovely goodness that came out of the oven:


All those layers! And oh so buttery. I was very pleased with the result.

And let me just say that the rolling pin worked like a charm and worth every penny. It was true to its word of being non-stick, kept the chill for a good amount of time, and was a breeze to clean.

Looking forward to upping my game with croissants!



Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Cabbage and Sausage Casserole

I have no earthly idea what prompted me to make this dish (courtesy of Smitten Kitchen). Generally, I'm not a huge fan of cabbage. Even David was mildly shocked when I told him about the recipe. On top of the cabbage element, there is also the fact that the ingredient list is really short. My success rate with simple recipes is not high. But whatever the reasons, I got to work.

The first step is to blanch thickly cut cabbage.


When the cabbage was done, I drained it into a colander and ran cold water over the chopped leaves to stop the cooking process. I was concerned about how much water the cabbage would retain, even after draining. So, even though the recipe doesn't call for this step, I placed the cabbage on a tea towel (a clean one, of course) and wrung out more liquid.

With the cabbage out of the way, I placed about a third of the cabbage in a buttered baking dish. Bite-sized chunks of sausage were scattered on top, along with some dabs of butter and salt/pepper. 


I repeated the cabbage, sausage, butter, salt/pepper layering and placed the remaining third of the cabbage on top. This too was dotted with butter.

Parchment paper was placed over the baking dish and sealed shut with aluminium foil. The dish was placed in a pre-heated 300-degree oven for two hours.

After two hours, I removed the foil and parchment paper and let it continue to bake for another 30 minutes. There wasn't much water, which was a good thing, but taking the cover off allowed the cabbage to brown up a bit.

Ready to eat!

David sliced up some oat and wheat sandwich bread, and we slathered some Dijon mustard. Yes, the recipe calls for grainy mustard, but I couldn't find any.



We then spooned the cabbage and sausage mixture on top of our bread slices.


The taste combination was surprisingly good. There's almost a sweetness to the cabbage that was balanced by the spiciness of the hot Italian sausage and tang of the mustard. 

This is a hearty meal that is perfect for chilly nights and would also be great at a serve yourself dinner party. 

Cabbage. Who would have thought it could taste that good?










A Duo of Dips

A tradition that David and I have is to put together a snack tray for lunch or dinner (sometimes both) every weekend. There's homemade bread, a variety of cheeses, and a selection of dips. And while there is a limited variety of dips available in grocery stores, I sometimes like to make my own. Here are two that recently made an appearance.

Sriracha Roasted Carrot Dip


We love the kick of Sriracha and something magical happens when veggies are roasted, so this recipe (courtesy of 12 Tomatoes) was a must try and so easy to do.

All you need to do is peel and roughly chop some carrots, onion, and garlic. Toss with some olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and cumin.

Put the veggies on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and roast for about 35 minutes in a pre-heated 425-degree oven.

When the veggies are done, pop them into a food processor, add Sriracha and yogurt and whiz everything around to combine. Drizzle in some olive oil to get the mixture to the consistency you like, pop the dip in the fridge for 20 minutes, and -- Badda Bing -- you're done!

I think you will love the sweetness from the roasted carrots, combined with the heat of the Sriracha. Depending on your heat tolerance, you may want to start out adding 1/2 tablespoon of the sauce. If you want more heat, it's easy enough to add more.

Onion Dip

And speaking of quick and easy dips, here's another one (courtesy of Alton Brown) that comes together in almost no time at all.


For this recipe, simply saute some chopped onions in some oil until they start to turn brown. Remove the pan from the heat and let the onions cool.

In the meantime, combine some sour cream, mayo, garlic powder, and pepper. Stir in the cooled onions and you're all set.

I love this dip. The onions are sweet, but still a bit crunchy and the sour cream/mayo action brings a level of richness to the tongue. As an aside, I think it would also be superb to use it as a sandwich spread. 














Oat and Wheat Sandwich Bread

I was getting a little bored making the same old recipe for sandwich bread. It's good and all that, but it was time to try something else. This recipe (courtesy of Smitten Kitchen) caught my eye, mostly for rolled oats being one of the ingredients.

Now a word of warning: this recipe is a two day affair. But with planning it is totally worth the time and effort.

To make the dough, it's just a matter of combining water, milk, honey, and yeast. An egg and oil gets added, then the flour*, oats and salt. Everything mixes together for about one minute, then the dough rests for 5 minutes. After resting, the dough gets mixed again for about two minutes.

After turning the dough out on a floured surface, knead it for just a bit, then pop it into a lightly oiled bowl.


Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough proof for about an hour.


Transfer the covered bowl to the fridge to ferment. This fermentation time can be just overnight or as long as five days, depending on when you want to bake the bread. I've just done it overnight thus far, but plan to try a three and five day ferment to see if there's a marked difference in taste.

Anyhow, when you're ready to bake the bread, divide the fermented dough into two equal pieces. Form the loaves and allow to proof for about an hour.


When this round of proofing is done, pop the pans into a pre-heated 350-degree oven and let bake for 35 to 40 minutes.


The end result is scrumptious! The crumb is tight, the crust is crunchy, and the rolled oats add a subtle texture to go along with the wheat flour. Providing my cooking and baking schedules allow, I plan to keep making this recipe on a regular basis.

*The recipe calls for 5 cups of whole wheat flour. I wanted to lighten it up a tiny bit and substituted 2 cups of all purpose flour, making the final amount for the wheat 3 cups. 





Friday, January 22, 2016

Cinnamon Swirl Raisin Bread

There's something about the aroma of cinnamon and sugar that always makes me feel warm, comforted, and hungry. When I saw this cinnamon bread recipe (courtesy of Tasting Table), I just knew it would be the perfect thing for my craving.

Before I started making the dough, I re-hydrated raisins in a little water. This way they would be plump and juicy. 

The dough preparation got underway by combining yeast, sugar, and water and letting it sit until foamy.

Milk powder, salt, re-hydrated raisins and flour were added and mixed together with a wooden spoon, until a shaggy dough formed. Then small pieces of softened butter were incorporated.

The dough was turned out on a lightly floured counter and kneaded for about 10 minutes. I formed the dough into a ball and put it into a lightly buttered bowl. Some plastic wrap went on the top and the dough was left to rise and double in size for an hour.




While the dough was on the rise, I combined some cinnamon and sugar and took a deep sniff. Immediate happiness. 

When the dough was ready, I flattened it out into a rectangle, then sprinkled the cinnamon and sugar combo on top.


Starting at the short end, I rolled the dough into a log, pinched the seam, and placed the dough log into a lightly greased loaf pan.


The plastic wrap was placed on top, and the dough rested for about another hour.

The now ready loaf was scored down the middle, brushed with some melted butter, and placed into a pre-heated 350-degree oven for 55 minutes.

The aroma coming from the oven was swoon-worthy and I want our kitchen to smell like that on a regular basis.


The recipe calls to let the bread rest for 30 minutes before cutting. Those were some of the longest 30 minutes of my life. But in the end, it was worth the wait. The outside has a lovely crunch and inside there are airy layers where the raisins and cinnamon sugar come together in a magical way. 

As tempting as it was to devour the whole loaf in one go, I wrapped the remainder in foil and put it in the fridge. The next day, we decided to have a couple slices for breakfast. When cutting the bread it felt almost on the stale side, but never fear. Once those slices were toasted all was well. 

I have a funny feeling this bread will become one of my regular, weekly baking items. YAY!



Slow Cooker Smothered Pork Chops

On days that I have multiple cooking and baking projects on the agenda, making our dinner in the slow cooker frees up time and makes life a little easier. 

We hadn't had pork chops for a bit, so I decided to try this recipe (courtesy of Center Cut Cook). I mean how can you go wrong with ingredients including bacon, onions, chicken stock, Worcestershire sauce, to just name a few? The answer: you can't.

After crisping up some bacon in a pan, it got scooped out and set aside. Seasoned pork chops went into the same pan and browned. They then went into the slow cooker.

Next, onions, salt and a bit of water were tossed into the pan the chops were browned in and cooked until the onions were translucent. A bit of garlic was added for about 30 seconds, then the whole mixture was poured over the chops.

Again in the same pan, I added chicken stock, Worcestershire sauce, and brown sugar. All that was brought up to a boil, then poured into the slow cooker.

This all cooked for 7 hours on low. When the pork chops were done, I removed them from the slow cooker and tented them with some foil. 

The liquid in the slow cooker was strained into a saucepan and the solids were put into a blender, along with a cup of the liquid from the saucepan. The solids were blended until smooth and returned to the saucepan.

A corn starch slurry was made and poured into the pan and cooked over medium high heat until the sauce was thick and bubbly. A touch of vinegar was added, along with the reserved bacon.

We were ready to eat.

The pork chops were moist and fall apart tender. The sauce? Oh my goodness, the sauce. I would be happy with a bowl of that with some crusty bread. It was awesome. The Worcestershire sauce offered a great back note and the splash of cider vinegar brought a brightness to the onions. 

There's no doubt this dish will make more than one appearance on our table.



Donut Muffins

I have no idea as to why, but I've been on a baking jag over the last week or so. Maybe it's the cooler temperatures. Whatever the reason, I decided to try out this recipe for Donut Muffins (courtesy of allrecipes) and you should too. Chances are you have all the ingredients and the batter comes together in a snap.

All one needs to do for the batter is combine some sugar, nutmeg and butter in a large bowl. Stir in milk, then mix in baking powder and flour.

Pour the batter into a greased mini-muffin pan (24 count) and pop it in a pre-heated 350-degree oven for about 15 minutes.

But wait, it gets better! 

When the muffins are done and are cooling just a bit, pour some melted into a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together sugar and cinnamon.

Take each muffin from its cup, dip it into the melted butter, and roll it in the cinnamon sugar mixture. 


These babies are highly addictive. They're slightly crunchy on the outside, but soft inside. Not too sweet, but the cinnamon and sugar are the perfect toppings. In less than an hour you could be enjoying these tasty morsels! Go for it.


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Cassoulet of White Beans with Braised Pork, Sausage, and Chicken Confit

I recently needed and wanted to spend some quality bonding time with my kitchen. Oh sure, I've been cooking and baking a variety of dishes over the prior days, but I wanted to find a recipe that I could sink my teeth into -- both literally and figuratively.

This cassoulet recipe (courtesy of Fine Cooking) was exactly what I was looking for -- lots of prep, lots of ingredients, lots of steps.

The first step was to make the confit in advance of preparing the cassoulet. Now you will notice the recipe calls for a duck confit. I opted to work with chicken, as ducks, while available, can be quite a spendy product in Belize.

The process of making a confit is dead simple to do. Basically, you are covering your protein with a slew of olive oil and letting it bake, low and slow. This is the recipe I used and this is how it looked after about two hours in the oven:



I covered the confit and stuck in the fridge until the day came to make the cassoulet.

As I noted earlier, this recipe has lots of prep. Besides chopping and dicing, there's also a good deal of oven and stove time required. The day I decided to make this recipe happen, a couple of events made my day of cooking even more of a challenge. But more on this in a minute.

The first thing I did was cut up the pork shoulder into about 2-inch pieces. After tossing the meat with some olive oil and salt/pepper, I went to heat the saute pan. But guess what? We had ran out of butane. Fortunately, our supplier is located at the end of our lane and about 35-40 minutes later, I was cooking with gas and browning the pork. 

With that step out of the way, wine was added to the pan and reduced. Next came broth, garlic, and rosemary.


The pot was then covered and left to cook on low heat for about 1 hour.

While the pork simmered away, I moved on to making the veggies and tomato sauce. This step entailed browning up some diced bacon in some of the infused olive oil from the chicken confit. When the fat was rendered, the bacon was put into a bowl. More infused oil was added and diced carrots were cooked up until just tender and golden brown around the edges. The carrots went into the same bowl as the bacon. Another glug of infused oil went into the pan and onions were added. Those were cooked until soft and caramelized. Then the onions went into the bowl with the bacon and carrots.


Onward to the tomato sauce. In the same pan that the veggies were cooked in, another glug of oil went in and some minced garlic, which cooked for 20-30 seconds. Chopped tomatoes were added, along with some salt, and about 5 minutes later it reached a chunky consistency.



By this point, you can probably guess that the kitchen sink was filling up fairly fast with dirty pots, pans, and utensils. While I had a little break in the action, I figured I would tackle the stuff in the sink. Small problem. We had no water pressure. Sigh. The dishes were left as they were and I continued with the recipe. 

Now I was now coming into the home stretch. Sausages were browned up, set aside to cool, then cut into quarters.

While the sausages were cooling, I combined cooked beans with the veggie/bacon mixture and put it into a Dutch oven.

The sausage was put on top of the bean mixture, then a layer of pork shoulder, then the meat from the chicken confit.* The broth that the pork was cooked in was poured in, along with the bean cooking liquid.

The cassoulet was baked in a pre-heated 350-degree oven, uncovered, for 45 minutes.

During this baking time, I combined more of the infused olive oil with some breadcrumbs and grated cheese. When time was up for the cassoulet, I sprinkled the breadcrumb mixture over top and the pot was put back in the oven for another 45 minutes.

By this point, our water pressure returned and David kindly started on the now even bigger pile of dirty pots and pans.

After the cassoulet hit the 45 minute cooking mark, I removed it from the oven and let it rest for another 45 minutes.

It was then time to eat.


Both of us thought this was excellent. All of elements came shining through and worked together beautifully. However I wouldn't be so heavy handed with the breadcrumbs next time. We also agreed that it could use more liquid. As we had more than enough for leftovers, I added some homemade chicken stock, which did the trick.

So while there a couple of glitches during the process of making this meal, the time and effort were certainly worth it. This recipe will definitely enter into my rotation for a future kitchen bonding day.

* I used about 1 1/2 leg/thighs from the confit. Also, I halved the entire recipe, because I was only cooking for the two of us. If you make the full recipe, trust that you will have enough to feed an army.


Bo Peep Pie

I've never been a huge fan of Guy Fieri, but back in the day when he actually cooked on his show instead of just being a host, there were a few of his recipes that I tried out. This recipe is one of them.

There are a number of components to this dish, and I started off roasting the veggies and garlic. 


While the veggies were in the oven, my attention then turned to browning up sausage and some chopped sirloin. When that was done, some onions were tossed into the same pan and cooked until they caramelized a bit. The browned meats were then returned to the pan, some flour was added, then the pan was deglazed with some beef stock and Worcestershire sauce. The roasted veg, minus the garlic, was then added to the pan.


While the meat and veg mixture hung out together, I made the garlic mashed potatoes. After the potatoes were cooked and drained, I added in the roasted garlic, salt, butter, milk, and grated Parmesan cheese. The recipe calls for Asiago, but that's not something we can get in Corozal.

Anyhow, with all these pieces and parts ready to go, the time came to assemble the dish.

The meat/veg  mixture was put in a baking dish, then topped with the cheesy mashed potatoes.



A healthy sprinkle of more grated Parmesan was put on top of the potatoes. This hefty dish was then placed in a pre-heated 350-degree oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes. 



That's some tantalizing goodness right there.


We thoroughly enjoyed this combo. The meat provides a rich taste and texture, the roasted veggies lend their sweetness, and those mashed potatoes are to quote Mr. Fieri, "Out of bounds!" And it tastes even better as leftovers!