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! 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Coconut oil Poundcake with Almonds and Lime Zest

Here's a fun fact about Belize: Lemons are a rarity. Yes, they make an occasional appearance in the markets, but they're not something you can find on a regular basis.

Limes on the other hand? These are plentiful. Matter of fact, we have four different varieties growing in our yard. So when I find a recipe that calls for limes, you bet I'm going to try it out.

This recipe (courtesy of Nutmeg Nanny) popped up in my Facebook feed and, after looking it over, I realized I wouldn't have to substitute a single ingredient! This a rarity.

The recipe makes one 9" x 5" loaf or four mini loaves. I went with the larger size.

One of the steps calls for melting the coconut oil in a small pan. I could skip this step, because I already had pourable coconut oil. However, when temps drop here, the oil will solidify and melting would come into play.

I put the oil into a large bowl, then whisked in sugar, milk, eggs, and lime zest. In a separate bowl, the dry ingredients -- flour, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt -- were whisked. The dry ingredients got folded into the wet and poured into the loaf pan.

To make the topping, the almonds were stirred together with some sugar and water. This mixture was sprinkled on top of the batter.

The cake was popped into a pre-heated 350-degree oven and left to back for an hour.

The final result:

This cake has a really nice balance of flavors and textures. The taste of coconut comes through, without overpowering the lime. The almonds provide a wonderful crunch. The crumb is dense, but moist. Best of all, it's not overly sweet.

If you're looking for a tasty snack, why not give this cake a go?

Poached Whitefish with Tomatoes and Saffron

If you're looking for a quick, easy, and super delicious fish recipe, your search is over. This whitefish recipe (courtesy of Epicurious) is a big winner.

I don't believe I've ever seen cod in any of the stores here, but there is almost always a hefty supply of snook. I've used this firm fish in other recipes calling for cod or flounder with good results. This recipe was no exception.

Now let's talk about the quick and easy part of this dish. All you need to do is quickly saute some garlic and pepper flakes, then add some canned tomatoes, wine, bay leaves, saffron and water. Let all of that simmer for about six minutes. 

Season the fish with salt and pepper, pop it into the skillet containing the tomato mixture, throw a cover on it and let everything simmer for about five minutes.

I served the fish over Basmati rice and spooned the tomato mixture over everything. For such a simple dish, the taste is complex and full-bodied. This definitely a meal I will make again.

P.S. The recipe suggests Aleppo peppers, but crushed red peppers are perfectly fine. Also, I used diced tomatoes instead of whole ones. Again, no big issue with the overall taste/texture.

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

Over the holidays, this cookie recipe (courtesy of Frieda Loves Bread) appeared on a regular basis. I loved the look of "crinkles" and made a batch. 

It's very important to not skip the step of chilling the dough, because the mixture will end up being too moist to shape into balls.

My cookie yield was about 2 1/2 dozen, due to the fact that I used a heaping teaspoon versus 2 tablespoons that the recipe called for.

In spite of the white and powdered sugars, these cookies are not overly sweet and stay moist for a good amount of time, if sealed in a zipped bag or some closed container. However, these guys are so good that you may not have any leftovers to deal with.

Ratatouille-Inspired Stew

Now that we are having cooler temperatures, the urge to make stews and soups hits me. I wasn't in the mood to make something like chili, but the prospect of doing a riff on Ratatouille appealed to me.

I decided to see what kind of veggies were available at our favorite market stand and came home with some lovely carrots, squash, onions, tomatoes, and potatoes. All of these items were cut into bite-sized pieces. And to give an extra boost in the flavor department, I coated them with olive oil, salt, and pepper and put them in a pre-heated 400-degree oven for about 40 minutes.

When the veggies were done, I put them all in a pot, poured in about two cups of chicken broth and a 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes.

I let the mixture simmer until the sauce thickened a bit.

The end result was awesome. The roasted veggies bring a richness to the stew that we really loved and the variety of veggies added various textures. This stew really comes together rather quickly and is the perfect dish for a cool evening.