Saturday, August 22, 2009

Microwave Peanut Brittle

This recipe is special in our family, at least I think so. For as long as I can remember, my family has been eating peanut brittle and chocolate balls at Christmastime. Personally, since the chocolate balls have coconut in them my favorite was peanut brittle (though I always enjoyed helping roll and dip the chocolate balls). The mystique of making peanut brittle was great in my mind though. You had to cook it just long enough and work quickly so that it didn't set up in the bowl or too thick. I left this difficult task to the Grandma and Mom....until this summer.

I was home visiting family for my cousin's wedding (Congrats Rob and Sarah!) when I decided to have Grandma and Mom teach me the secrets of peanut brittle. We went to shop for all of the ingredients (more on that later) and got to work.

Mixing the peanuts, sugar and corn syrup, that's easy. Just be sure to get the sugar really mixed in with the corn syrup, coating the peanuts...makes it come together better later.

After the first cooking time, the mixture should be boiling and nuts brown. Keep in mind that every microwave is different. Apparently this is the real "secret" of making great peanut brittle...finding out how long to cook it for each step in your microwave. SO, you'll likely need to experiement a bit...good thing the ingredients aren't that pricey! A warning...from this point foward the mixture is extremely hot!

Anyway, since Grandma and Mom had done this a billion times before in Grandma's microwave, they knew the exact time...and it came out looking perfect. So we quickly moved on to the next step and added the butter and vanilla....stir it in and put it back in the microwave for the second time. this is the step where things were a bit scary for me....the warnings of "work fast," and "have everything ready to go so you can go quickly," were ringing in my ears. SO...take note...make sure you have your pan buttered, your baking soda measured and be ready when the buzzer goes off.
The baking soda, once added, will make the mixure foam up and you'll think you're working with a chemistry set (I guess in a way you are! Cooking/Baking is like that sometimes!). quickly, stirring it in and then....pour out onto the lightly buttered pan and spread the nuts into a single layer. You'll notice I let my expert mom handle this I could snap photos (I did do the other batches later though...I promise!). Now the hard part....waiting. HA! You have to let it sit and cool down. Once cooled you break it into pieces and enjoy. Yumm...(sorry for the blurry shot...)
As it turns out that one of the hardest parts of this family recipe is finding raw spanish peanuts....HA! So, I asked if we could make it with other more easily available nuts as well....we made a batch with the hard to find peanuts (as shown), a batch with cashews and a batch with mixed nuts. Of course, the traditional peanut was a hit, but I also really liked the other variations. They were all just as easy to work with and didn't require adjusting the cooking time. Though I would imagine if you were to use the larger Brazil nuts only, you may want too cook them a bit longer.

A tip for clean up: Soak everything that touched the brittle IMMEDIATELY! This stuff becomes rock hard, and pretty quick. Once you've spread out the brittle, take that spoon and the bowl and put it in hot water. You'll be glad that you did me.

I don't have a glamor shot of any of the three batches, but they were a big hit and enjoyed. It was so fun to be in the kitchen with my Grandma and mom learning this recipe. Maybe one day I can pass it along to the next generation now.

The Recipe:
Microwave Peanut Brittle

1 1/2 cups peanuts (or other nuts)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light Karo syrup
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda

Mix nuts, sugar and syrup in a microwave-safe glass bowl. Cook 7-10 minutes on high (again, adjust to your microwave!). Mixture should be boiling and nuts browned. Quickly stir in butter and vanilla. Cook 2-3 minutes more.

Add baking soda and stir quickly, just until foamy. Pour immediately onto buttered cookie sheet. Let cool. Break into pieces. Enjoy! (Store in airtight container, or as we do in my family, a zip-type baggie.)

Enjoy with Love,

Friday, August 14, 2009

Daring Cooks - Rice with Mushrooms, Cuttlefish and Artichokes (August 2009)

This month's Daring Cooks recipe was offered by Olga from Las Cosas de Olga and Olga’s Recipes. She chose to have us prepare a Spanish recipe, Rice with Mushrooms, Cuttlefish and Artichokes by José Andrés, one of the most important Spanish Chefs at the moment.

At first I was not thrilled about making this recipe. I don't like seafood that much, am picky about mushrooms and artichokes. BUT, after reading through some of the modifications I could make I decided to press on.

This recipe has several steps and took a couple hours to complete, but you could apparently break them up and not end up like I did, standing in the kitchen for hours.

I started with the Allioli a la moderna because I did not have a mortar and pestle. The ingredients all seemed "normal" though I was a bit nervous that my fellow Daring Cooks kept calling it a mayonnaise type emulsification. I don't like mayo.

It came together perfectly...looked exactly like it should...but taste...well, it IS similar to mayo. But I pressed on hoping that with the rest of the dish it would be fine. You know, much like potato don't really notice the mayo right?!

The next step was to make the Sofregit. Chopping veggies is fun right?! They sure were pretty before I started.

Once the party started in the pan I was getting excited. It smelled great and seemed to be cooking down as it was supposed too. I loved using the bay leaf. It reminded me growing up and being at one of my best girlfriend's house. Her grandmother would make homemade spagehetti sauce...always with a bay leaf...which I, as the guest for dinner, was always allowed (honored?!) to remove. I sometimes wonder if exposure to these kinds of women and experiences influenced my love for cooking.

After an hour of simmering away on the looked like this...and smelled divine.
Finally I was ready to being the actual recipe. Here's where I generously altered the orignial recipe and got a bit creative. I really try to only cook with ingredients that I can find at the "normal" grocery store, which for me is Safeway. My local Safeway didn't have cuttlefish...I'm told it's divine...but I wasn't going to trek all over town to find it. SO....after a phone call to my wonderful friend who is culinarily trained (a real pro!), I decided to go with Basa Fish (Why does that sound like the phone a friend lifeline on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?"). He also recommended shark, but I wasn't feeling quite that adventurous nor do I think my fish guy had that available the night I shopped.

I also am not a big fan of artichokes and really was not in the mood to clean 4 of them...I opted for asparagus because it was in season and suggested by one of my Daring Cook cohorts.

SO...everything into the pan. I looked really good...seemed to be coming together perfectly. No step was too hard or too frantic.

After adding all the was a boiling cauldron of dinner...
(As a side note, I used Gnarly Head Pinot Grigio. I was SO excited to use a wine from Manteca...HOME!...but was SO disappointed when I tasted it. Let's just say that it was NOT a wine I'd buy again. I'm sure some people will love it but it was not one that I enjoyed. In fact, it was so not enjoyable (I hesitate to call it bad) that it ended up down the sink. Again, super disappointed. Their Old Vine Zin is really good...if that's any consolation.)

After simmering and cooking for the alloted time, the dish was done! It seemed to look just like it was supposed too according to the other photos I'd seen from my fellow Daring Cooks. I was a bit nervous about trying it. SO...I took a few glamour shots (are you ready for your close up!?) and then dove in...with a small bite.
What did I think? Ick...I didn't like it. At first I thought it was just the Allioli a la moderna I didn't like because as I mentioned...mayo-like. SO, I tried another bite, without the Allioli....still not that great. What went wrong? Likely nothing. It was edible, but since I didn't care for the fish (just my had a great texture), it ended up in the trash. It truly seemed such a waste of food, but I knew I wouldn't eat it. I must time I may try it with chicken...I like chicken. The time was not wasted though...I truly enjoyed trying the new recipe and working with ingredients I'd not tried before. I must say...those saffron threads are pretty cool.
If you try this one....let me know what you think. Who knows...maybe I have defective tastebuds...or my alterations went haywire.

The (Original) Recipe
Rice with Mushrooms, Cuttlefish and Artichokes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
1 Chopping Board
1 knife
1 medium saucepan
1 Paella pan (30 cm/11" is enough for 4 people. If not available, you may use a simple pan that size)
1 Saucepan

Ingredients (serves 4):
4 Artichokes (you can use jarred or freezed if fresh are not available)
12 Mushrooms (button or Portobello)
1 or 2 Bay leaves (optional but highly recommended)
1 glass of white wine
2 Cuttlefish (you can use freezed cuttlefish or squid if you don’t find it fresh)
"Sofregit" (see recipe below)
300 gr (2 cups) Short grain rice (Spanish types Calasparra or Montsant are preferred, but you can choose any other short grain. This kind of rice absorbs flavor very well) – about 75 gr per person ( ½ cup per person)
Water or Fish Stock (use 1 ½ cup of liquid per ½ cup of rice)
Saffron threads (if you can’t find it or afford to buy it, you can substitute it for turmeric or yellow coloring powder)
Allioli (olive oil and garlic sauce, similar to mayonnaise sauce) – optional
1. Cut the cuttlefish in little strips.
2. Add 1 or 2 tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan and put the cuttlefish in the pan.
3. If you use fresh artichokes, clean them as shown in the video in tip #7. Cut artichokes in eights.
4. Clean the mushrooms and cut them in fourths.
5. Add a bay leaf to the cuttlefish and add also the artichokes and the mushrooms.
6. Sauté until we get a golden color in the artichokes.
7. Put a touch of white wine so all the solids in the bottom of the get mixed, getting a more flavorful dish.
8. Add a couple or three tablespoons of sofregit and mix to make sure everything gets impregnated with the sofregit.
9. Add all the liquid and bring it to boil.
10. Add all the rice. Let boil for about 5 minutes in heavy heat.
11. Add some saffron thread to enrich the dish with its flavor and color. Stir a little bit so the rice and the other ingredients get the entire flavor. If you’re using turmeric or yellow coloring, use only 1/4 teaspoon.
12. Turn to low heat and boil for another 8 minutes (or until rice is a little softer than "al dente")
13. Put the pan away from heat and let the rice stand a couple of minutes.
Cooking time: aprox. 1 hour
2 tablespoons of olive oil
5 big red ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 small onions, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped (optional)
4 or 5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup of button or Portobello mushrooms, chopped (optional)
1 Bay leaf
Touch of ground cumin
Touch of dried oregano
1. Put all the ingredients together in a frying pan and sauté slowly until all vegetables are soft.
2. Taste and salt if necessary (maybe it’s not!)
Allioli (Traditional recipe)
Cooking time: 20 min aprox.
4 garlic cloves, peeled
Pinch of salt
Fresh lemon juice (some drops)
Extra-virgin olive oil (Spanish preferred but not essential)
1. Place the garlic in a mortar along with the salt.
2. Using a pestle, smash the garlic cloves to a smooth paste. (The salt stops the garlic from slipping at the bottom of the mortar as you pound it down.)
3. Add the lemon juice to the garlic.
4. Drop by drop; pour the olive oil into the mortar slowly as you continue to crush the paste with your pestle.
5. Keep turning your pestle in a slow, continuous circular motion in the mortar. The drip needs to be slow and steady. Make sure the paste soaks up the olive oil as you go.
6. Keep adding the oil, drop by drop, until you have the consistency of a very thick mayonnaise. If your allioli gets too dense, add water to thin it out. This takes time—around 20 minutes of slow motion around the mortar—to create a dense, rich sauce.
José's tips for traditional recipe:
It's hard to think that, when you start crushing the garlic, it will ever turn into something as dense and smooth as allioli. But don't give up. It's worth the extra time and effort to see the oil and garlic come together before your eyes. Just make sure you're adding the olive oil slowly, drop by drop. Keep moving the pestle around the mortar in a circular motion and keep dreaming of the thick, creamy sauce at the end of it all.
Allioli a la moderna (Modern recipe)
Cooking time: 3-4 minutes
1 small egg
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil (as above, Spanish oil is highly recommended)
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 Tbs. Spanish Sherry vinegar or lemon juice (if Sherry vinegar is not available, use can use cider or white vinegar)
Salt to taste
1. Break the egg into a mixing bowl.
2. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the garlic cloves, along with the vinegar or lemon juice.
3. Using a hand blender, start mixing at high speed until the garlic is fully pureed into a loose paste.
4. Little by little, add what's left of the olive oil as you continue blending.
5. If the mixture appears too thick as you begin pouring the oil, add 1 teaspoon of water to loosen the sauce.
6. Continue adding the oil and blending until you have a rich, creamy allioli.
7. The sauce will be a lovely yellow color.
8. Add salt to taste.
José's tips for modern recipe:
1. If you do not have access to a hand blender, you can use a hand mixer (the kind with the two beaters) or a food processor. If you use a food processor, you must double the recipe or the amount will be too little for the blades to catch and emulsify.
2. What happens if the oil and egg separate? Don't throw it out. You can do two things. One is to whisk it and use it as a side sauce for a fish or vegetable. But if you want to rescue the allioli, take 1 tablespoon of lukewarm water in another beaker and start adding to the mix little by little. Blend it again until you create the creamy sauce you wanted.
Olga’s Tips For Complete Recipe:
1. In Spain, rice is not stirred as often as it is when cooking Italian risotto. You
must stir it once or twice maximum. This tip is valid for all Spanish rice dishes
like paella, arròs negre, arròs a banda.
2. When cooking the alternative style you can change the cuttlefish or squid for
diced potato.
3. If you can’t find cuttlefish or squid, or you’re not able to eat them because of
allergies, you can try to substitute them for chicken or vegetables at your choice.
4. Sofregit can be done in advance. You can keep it in the fridge or even freeze it.
5. For more information on how to clean and remove the heart of artichokes,
please watch this video
6. To watch how Jose Andres cooks this dish click here.
7. To tone down the taste when you do it by hand in a mortar, then add an egg
yolk. If you want to tone it down in the alternative way use milk or soy milk.
Anyway, the best alternative way is the original oil and garlic alone.
8. Allioli must be consumed during the preparation day and preserved in the fridge before using it.
Enjoy with Love,

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Chipotle-Yogurt Chicken Kebabs since my last savory dish got such a great response (on FaceBook...leave your comments here folks!), I decided to stick with it....especially since the temperatures outsides are pushing the century mark now. I discovered this dish in my Weight Watchers 5 Ingredient, 15 Minute cookbook. For the record...I always thought it was kabobs...not kebabs...but I'm going with the spelling in the books so you can find it easily.

Oh, I'll just go ahead and mention this now so you don't wonder about my ability to count...there are more than 5 ingredients in this recipe....the book assumes you have some staples on salt, pepper, cooking spray...just go with it. :-)

I didn't get many photos of this one as it was so quick and easy that I forgot to document each step. When all you do is mix up a few things, toss it in the 'fridge to marinte for an hour, it goes quickly. SO, I finally remembered to start taking photos once I had the chicken on the skewers. Now, those that know me well know that I am a tad squeamish about raw meat, especially chicken. Threading the chicken on the skewers (which I soaked in water) was not a comfortable task for me, but honestly, it wasn't hard to do. They turned out pretty even...well, for raw chicken at least.

Since I live in Fairfax County and in a condo, I am NOT the proud owner of a kick-butt gas or charcoal grill....sadly. Safety comes first here...gladly. Therefore, my grill is a George Foreman Grill...happily. I could only grill in small batches though...unfortunately. (OK...enough with the..."ly" words.) As a side note, I love my grill because it cooks both sides at the same time, no flipping and saves time! It's really easy to clean as well. These cooked up quickly and smelled amazing. The book recommends serving with a sweet-n-spicy grilled pineapple but...I don't like pineapple. So they also recommend to serve with a doctored up couscous. I just used the plain boxed couscous, but didn't get any pictures.

The flavor of the chicken is so yummy...but a bit spicy from the chipotle...I loved it, but I think someone like my mom who doesn't do spicy well would probably want to tone it down a bit. The couscous cuts the spicy a bit, and I'm sure if you did the pineapple that would add even more flavor while adding a sweetness to further cut the spicy.

Yummm...made great leftovers for lunch too.

The Recipe
Chipotle-Yogurt Chicken Kebabs

1/2 cup plain fat-free yogurt
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, minced
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
Cooking spray

1. Combine first 6 ingredience in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Pour into a heavy-duty zip-top plastic bag. Add chicken; seal bag, and toss to coat. Marinate in refrigerator 1 to 2 hours, turning bag occasionally.

2. Prepare grill (I just plugged in and switched on the power! HA!).

3. Thread chicken evenly onto 4 (10-inch) metal skewers (Yeah, so I didn't have those...I just used wood skewers soaked in water). Place on grill rack coated with cooking spray. Grill 11 minutes or until done, turning once.

Yield: 4 servings, one kebab (or 1/4 the recipe). Points value: 4

Enjoy with Love,

Friday, August 7, 2009

Slow Cooker Chicken Stroganoff

Well my Shaking N Baking friends, it's time for another savory dish. I think this one is rather timely for those suffering the summer heat (though it's a beautiful mid-70's day here...with low humidity..when did I move to San Diego!?). This one is done in the crockpot for the most part!

I got this recipe from my mom. I'm not sure where she got it, but in classic mom form it's easy, uses normal ingredients and tastes great! You can also use "alternate" low-fat/healthier ingredients to make it even better for you.

The first step I do is mix all the "sauce" ingredients. What can be easier than opening a can of soup, a Lipton (yeah, brand name here!) soup mix packet and a container of sour cream and stirring them all together.

The next step is really hard....HA! Put frozen chicken breasts into your crock-pot! OH...and here's a tip that I'm sure most of you will already know, but in case there is that one person out there that was like me not too long ago.......Spray your crock-pot bowl with Pam (geesh! another brand name) cooking spray. This will make clean up so much easier!

SO, once you've put the chicken in, pour the "sauce" over the chicken and let it cook. Mom says 6-8 hours on low, but it will really depend on your crock-pot (which I just realized is actually a brand name for a slow cooker! Look at me name dropping in this post!).

No matter how long it takes, you'll know it's done when you can shread the chicken with a fork and it's cooked (as in not pink!). It should look sorta like this: you're shreading the chicken, put on the egg noodles. Boil according to package directions. Once they're cooked, pour the noodles in with the chicken (or vice versa depending on the size of your crock-pot/noodle pot) and stir. Done! Dinner...or in my case, lunches are ready! I have to suggest that you serve this with some kind of side dish that is green...get your veggies in folks! :-)

The glamour shot for this recipe shows you how I "pack" my lunches. I portion them out and then pop them in either the 'fridge (if I know I'll be taking them soon) or the freezer. This recipe actually freezes well...just let it thaw out in the 'fridge before you reheat.
The Recipe
Slow Cooker Chicken Stroganoff

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 can Cream of Mushroom soup
1 8-0z. carton of sour cream (use low-fat or fat-free if you want!)
1 packet dry onion soup mix (this is the Lipton stuff)
1 bag of wide egg noodles (use no-yolks or whole wheat...just as good!)

Place chicken in slow cooker. Mix remaining ingredients, except noodles, until smooth. Pour over the chicken. Cook 6-8 hours on low.

Cook noodles according to package directions. Shread chicken and mix with noodles. Serve!

Enjoy with Love,