Thursday, September 30, 2010

Creamy Tomato Bisque

Homemade tomato soup is one of those things that is a hundred, no, a thousand, times better than any premade stuff you can buy at the store.  It's a bit involved to make, true, especially for something that seems so deceptively simple.  I mean, a tomato soup -- what could sound easier?

Creamy Tomato Bisque

Don't get me wrong, it is easy.  It's just more dishwashing than I would like. :D  Still, the results are so spectacular that I can't really complain.  Start with good tomatoes.  I used tomatoes from my garden -- a few of the larger ones that actually ripened during our cold Seattle summer.  The garlic and basil were also from my garden, I'm proud to say!

Roasted Tomatoes and Garlic

Start by roasting the tomatoes, garlic, and onion with salt, pepper, and olive oil.  Once the tomatoes are nice and soft, puree them with the garlic, onion, and some basil.  I used my new immersion blender, but this can also be done in a regular blender or a food processor.

Tomato Puree for Bisque

This next step, in my opinion, is not really optional.  After the tomato mixture has been pureed, strain it through a fine mesh sieve.  All the little bits of tomato skin and things that didn't get finely pureed get separated out, making the resulting soup wonderfully smooth in texture.  To this I added soy milk (substituting for heavy cream with no ill effect, though I'm sure it would have been even more delicious with the cream), a splash of white wine, and a pinch of sugar.  I like my soups very hot, so I strained the soup into a small pot and kept it on low heat while I prepared the other part of dinner -- what's tomato soup without grilled cheese?

Bagel Grilled Cheese Sandwich

In this case, it was a grilled cheese sandwich made from a plain bagel and Irish white cheddar.  It was the only kind of bread I had, but it worked great.  Excellent dunkability.  A fantastic complement to the deep, rich flavor of the soup. :-)  The recipe I provide makes one large bowl, or two smaller ones.  If you decide to double or even triple it, to make all the dishes worth it, keep in mind you'll probably have to puree and strain in batches.

Creamy Tomato Bisque

Creamy Tomato Bisque

  • 4 large tomatoes, cored
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1/4 of an onion, chopped
  • salt
  • pepper
  • olive oil
  • 1 tbsp basil, sliced or chopped
  • a splash of white wine (optional)
  • a big pinch of sugar
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream (can be substituted with milk)
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. Line a baking sheet with foil.  Place the cored tomatoes on the sheet.  Partially wrap garlic and onion in some foil.  Sprinkle salt and pepper over the tomatoes, garlic, and onion.  Drizzle with olive oil.  Close the foil over the garlic and onion to make a pouch.
  3. Roast in the oven for 35 minutes, until the tomatoes are soft and starting to brown on top, but not falling apart.
  4. Place the tomatoes, garlic, and onion (be careful opening the pouch!) in a container (bowl, blender, food processor).  Add the basil, reserving some for garnishing if you wish, and the wine, if using.  Blend to a fine puree.
  5. Strain the mixture into a small pot or a large bowl.
  6. Add the sugar and stir.  Taste and adjust seasoning.
  7. Add the milk or cream, enough to achieve the desired color and texture, and stir until combined completely.
  8. When soup has reached the desired temperature, divide into bowls, garnish, and serve.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Simple Kimchi Jigae

This is a post I should have made awhile ago -- back in May, to be exact, when I first made the dish.  Actually, if I remember correctly, I made it practically every day for a week, because it was so easy and yummy, and I had the ingredients on hand.

Kimchee Jigae

This is probably not the best time to be posting a recipe for a soup/stew, given that many parts of the country seem to be experiencing an autumn heat wave right now, but hey, this will come in handy for when the weather turns cooler, or for those folks who live in colder areas!

The first thing to know about this particular recipe for kimchi jigae is that it's very customizable.  You can use or not use or substitute just about anything... except for the kimchi.  That part is sort of necessary for it to be kimchi jigae.  What I provide below is a super basic recipe for 1 serving that you can adjust to your own taste and requirements.  The kimchi provides all the seasoning the stew requires, but you can get really fancy and use chicken broth instead of water, or add extra salt and pepper, etc.

If you're like me, you bought a huge tub of kimchi during your last trip to the Korean grocery store, because it's the most economical, and it's preserved so it'll last forever, right?  Well, yes and no.  It's like sticking things in the freezer.  It might still be safe to eat 2 years later, but will it taste any good?  The thing with kimchi is that it just keeps fermenting.  And eventually, it gets to a point where it's too fermented, and it doesn't taste good on its own anymore (unless, of course, you are the sort who likes super-fermented kimchi).  When it gets to that point, it's perfect for making kimchi jigae!

Simple Kimchi Jigae

  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 strips of pork belly, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup packed kimchi, with some juice
  • 1/4 tsp crushed garlic
  • 1 1/2 -2 cups cold water
  • 1/2 cup tofu, cubed
  • sliced scallions
  1. Heat the sesame oil in a small pot.
  2. Add the pork belly and fry until the pieces start to get brown spots.
  3. Add the kimchi and garlic, then stir fry everything together for a few minutes.
  4. Pour in the water, enough to cover by about 1/2 inch.
  5. Add the tofu and bring the soup to a boil.  Simmer for 15 minutes.
  6. Garnish with the scallions and serve hot.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Honey Walnut Cream Cheese

Flavored cream cheese is one of those things that is so simple and obvious it has, of course, never occurred to me to try and make my own.  Well, I am pleased to say that that time has now passed.

Honey Walnut Cream Cheese

It's just as easy as you might think.  Soften up some cream cheese at room temperature, then add your flavorings -- sun-dried tomato, chives and herbs, ground up lox, whatever might take your fancy.  For my first attempt I chose to make a sweet variation, mostly because I had the ingredients on hand.

I toasted some walnuts, waited until they were completely cool, then chopped up a small handful.  I added that to my softened cream cheese along with a large, heaping tablespoon of honey that had started to crystalize.  I decided that the crystalized honey might make for an interesting dimension to the end result, so I chose not to warm it to smooth it out.

Honey Walnut Cream Cheese

I tasted it afterward to see if I needed to adjust the flavoring, but it was actually just right.  Since I didn't have any bagels around, I decided to test the cream cheese on some plain sourdough.  Wonderful!  It could only be better if it were on a perfectly toasted bagel.

I've provided a recipe below, but you should taste and alter the seasoning as suits your own preferences.  That is the beauty of making your own flavored cream cheese at home, isn't it?

Honey Walnut Cream Cheese

Honey Walnut Cream Cheese

  • 4oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
  • 1 heaping tablespoon honey
  1. Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl.  Blend well with a fork.  Firm back up in the refrigerator, then use as normal.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Espresso-Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

These. cookies. are. AWESOME.

Espresso-Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

This is a bit embarrassing to admit, considering I write a food blog, but I'm out of granulated sugar at the moment.  I haven't needed to go to the store recently, and I try to avoid going for just one item.  Yet I've been craving cookies.  When I saw the recipe for these sables (shortbread in French), which called for confectioner's sugar, I saw it as a sign that I had to make them.

And boy am I glad I did.  I halved the recipe, both because I wasn't sure I'd like the cookies and because I don't need to be eating that many cookies, period.  They were fantastic, though -- flaky, crisp, not too sweet, and full of coffee flavor and chunks of dark chocolate.  If you want to make the full batch, simply double the recipe below.

The recipe calls for instant espresso powder, but I don't usually keep that around and I don't use it enough to warrant buying it.  Instead, I ground up some espresso beans really fine and used that instead.  Once incorporated into the dough, the grounds disappear texture wise, but flavor wise they're unmistakeable.

Espresso-Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

Dorie Greenspan has some tips for making successful shortbread.  First, use softened butter, but not too soft and definitely not melted.  You want to avoid oily greasiness.  Second, you don't want fluffy batter.  Thus, do not overbeat the butter and sugar.  Third, once you add in the flour, do not overmix the dough.  Mix until just incorporated, and don't handle the dough too much.  Fourth, chill the dough for a good long time, preferably overnight.  And finally, no matter how good they might smell (and they will smell really, really good), do NOT eat the cookies until they have cooled completely.

When I was a little girl, my favorite cookies were Girl Scout shortbread cookies -- but these cookies are decidedly for adults.

Espresso-Chocolate Shortbread Cookies (recipe adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours)

  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened
  • 1/3 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 1/2 tbsp finely ground espresso beans (or instant espresso powder)
  • 1/2 tbsp boiling water
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2oz dark or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  1. Combine the boiling water and ground espresso beans and let sit.
  2. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together until very smooth, 2-3 minutes.
  3. Beat in the vanilla extract and espresso mixture, scraping down as necessary.
  4. Add the flour and mix just until it disappears into the dough.
  5. Gently fold in the chocolate pieces.  Don't overwork the dough.
  6. Scrape the soft and sticky dough into a gallon-sized plastic bag.  Do not seal, and use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a rectangle 1/4-inch thick.  Seal and chill in rthe efrigerator for a minimum of 2 hours or overnight; longer is better.
  7. When ready to bake,  preheat the oven to 325°F.
  8. Cut the plastic bag away from the chilled and hardened dough.  Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into 1 1/2-inch squares.
  9. Place the cookies on a baking sheet lined with Silpat or parchment paper about an inch apart (they shouldn't spread while baking).  Use a fork and pierce each cookie twice all the way through the dough.
  10. Bake for 18-20 minutes, turning the baking sheet about halfway through.  The shortbread will stay fairly pale and will not change color much if at all.
  11. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and serve when completely cooled.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Chicken Curry in a Hurry

This is one of those dishes that gets in your blood.

CI's Chicken Curry in a Hurry

The first night I made it, I had it for dinner.  It was nothing spectacular, and it wasn't as easy as its name suggests (I didn't name it!  It's a Cook's Illustrated recipe).  But the next day I found myself thinking about it at work as the day was ending, eager to have it again.  I couldn't understand why, because I'd been less than impressed with my first meal.  The same thing happened the next night.  Each time I ate it, it tasted better and better!

A strange phenomenon, particularly with such marked results, but there's no doubt about it.  I think the flavors need time to meld, to join, to have food sex and create lots of great new flavors.  So this is one dish that I recommend making in advance.  Make it two, even three, days before you plan to eat it.  It only gets better with age.

CI's Chicken Curry in a Hurry

Despite its name, however, I wouldn't say that this is quick to make.  Maybe if you're a Food Network cook, and have kitchen peons doing your chopping, slicing, and mincing for you, preparing your mise en place, then you can actually prepare this "in a hurry" (a phrase that makes me think 10-15 minutes; maybe you think I'm even being generous).  Certainly it's faster than proper curries I've made, which involved overnight marinating and what not, but don't plan to start making this dish last minute.  The "quickness" comes from precooked chicken (this is a great dish to make when you have leftover chicken meat, say from a rotisserie chicken from the store), canned chickpeas, frozen peas, and pre-made curry powder (I bought mine from an Indian grocery store -- if you can do the same, I'd recommend it).  To make it even faster, you could use pre-minced garlic and ginger.

The recipe calls for whole milk yogurt; I used nonfat and it was just fine.  Instead of raisins I used cranberries, because I prefer them and happened to have them on hand.  I used a full tablespoon of curry powder.

Also, be forewarned that this dish makes a lot more than you might think.  With rice, it would serve 4.  With accompaniments, it could serve 6 or even 8.  It'd make a great pot luck dish -- it's best made in advance and serves a lot of people!

Chicken Curry in a Hurry (Cook's Illustrated)
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, sliced thin
  • 1/2 to 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 cups shredded or thinly sliced cooked chicken
  • 1 15oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
  1. Build curry base: Heat oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion, curry powder, and salt and cook until onion is browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  2. Add water, meat, vegetables, and cook: Stir in water, meat, chickpeas, peas, and raisins. Cook, stirring frequently, until heated through, 3 to 5 minutes.
  3. Garnish and serve: Off heat, stir in yogurt and cilantro and serve.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Cheesecake Brownies

These cheesecake brownies are a sure crowd pleaser. After all, they're brownies! They're cheesecake! They're two great tastes in one! Plus, they have that fanciful swirlyness going on that people can't help but be drawn to. And when you're trying to avoid eating every bit of the sinful things you make yourself, it's a good thing when people want to eat them for you.

Cheesecake Brownies

These brownies talk a good talk, but in reality they are quite easy to make. There's a brownie layer, followed by a cheesecake layer, followed by another brownie 'layer.' Two batters, and they're both very simple.

I ran into a little trouble with the brownie batter being very thick while the cheesecake batter was very thin. But that could also be because I softened the cream cheese by nuking it in the microwave for 30 seconds rather than waiting for it to soften to room temperature. In any case, the final step of dolloping on some reserved brownie batter onto the cheesecake layer, then making the swirl patterns was a bit challenging, as the brownie batter didn't want to move much, and I didn't want to over mix it with the cheesecake.

Cheesecake Brownies

I also used the microwave for the brownie batter step of melting the butter and chocolate together. You can, of course, use a double boiler if you like, but after discovering how I can bend technology to my culinary will, I can't resist the convenience. In this case, I broke the chocolate into pieces, put them into a bowl along with a stick of butter, and nuked it for 1 minute. It was long enough to melt the butter entirely, while softening up the chocolate. You don't want to microwave too long and risk burning the chocolate. At this point, I stirred until all the chocolate was melted and the resulting mixture was glossy and smooth.

I think I've mentioned this before, but I don't like my desserts super sweet. I adapted the recipe to use less sugar, and substituted some brown sugar for the white in the brownie batter. I thought this made the chocolate flavor stand out more. The resulting brownies are very moist, somewhere between cakey and fudgy. The cheesecake adds a bit of tang, but the brownie flavor definitely overwhelms it. In my view the cheesecake layer adds more aesthetic appeal than flavor appeal, but others may disagree.

Cheesecake Brownies

Part of the ease of making these is because there isn't any special equipment required (unless you count the double boiler -- but I really recommend using the microwave) -- just a couple of handy bowls and a trusty wooden spoon. It's nice to know that great desserts can be made the old-fashioned way.

Cheesecake Brownies (adapted from Cookies and Brownies by Alice Medrich)


For the brownie batter
  • 1/2 cup (8 tbsp or 1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 4oz dark or unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
For the cheesecake batter
  • 8oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/3 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Place a rack in the center of the oven.
  2. Prepare a 9-inch square baking pan. Create a foil sling (the idea is to help you lift the brownie out of the pan after baking) and fit it into the pan. Spray with cooking oil.
  3. Melt the butter and chocolate together, either by using a double boiler or in the microwave. Stir until glossy and smooth.
  4. Stir in the sugar and vanilla extract.
  5. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  6. Add the flour and salt, stirring for about a minute, until the ingredients are well incorporated and the batter is smooth.
  7. Reserve 1/2 cup of the brownie batter and set aside. Pour the rest of the brownie batter into the reserved pan and spread it out as evenly as you can; it's not super critical.
  8. Process the cream cheese until smooth (you can use a hand mixer or food processor if you like, but I just used a fork after softening the cream cheese in the microwave). Add the sugar, egg, and vanilla and stir until just incorporated.
  9. Carefully pour the cheesecake mixture over the brownie mixture in the pan.
  10. Next, place small dollops of the reserved brownie batter over the cheesecake layer. Use a table knife to swirl the two without overmixing.
  11. Bake in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes, or until the brownies have started to pull away from the pan and the edges are starting to brown.
  12. Cool the brownies until firm enough to cut (cool completely to room temperature, or after cooling a bit after taking them out of the oven, place the pan in the fridge to cool), then lift them out using the foil sling. Cut them into the desired number of squares with a sharp knife.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Fresh and Refreshing

I love this very simple salad.  It takes no time at all to pull it together, and it's delicious, with the crisp crunch of English cucumber and the biting tang of fresh tomatoes.  There are two ways to dress this salad.  My favorite method involves fragrant sesame oil and seasoned rice vinegar.  Another good method is to add a bit of feta cheese and dress the ingredients with a light vinaigrette.  Both are quick and easy to prepare, but have very distinctive flavors -- one with Asian notes, while the other has a Mediterranean flair (especially if you also add kalamata olives).

Tomato and Cucumber Salad

I like to use English cucumbers.  They're the long ones wrapped in plastic.  Their skins are thinner and less waxy, so they don't need to be peeled.  They also have fewer seeds.  Tomatoes fresh from the garden are best to use, but as an alternative firm, ripe tomatoes on the vine from the store are just fine.  Sweet cherry tomatoes would work as well.  This isn't a fussy recipe.

Ingredients for Tomato and Cucumber Salad

The brand of seasoned rice vinegar my mother likes to use in this recipe (I know it from her) is Marukan, so that's what I use, but I'm sure other seasoned rice vinegars would work as well.  If you choose to use unseasoned rice vinegar, just know that you'll have to add your own sugar, salt, mirin, etc., in order to achieve the same flavor, otherwise it'll be rather bland.

Tomato and Cucumber Salad

Because of the tomatoes, this salad is best consumed the same day it's made.  Refrigeration makes the tomatoes mealy and the whole salad becomes unpleasantly watery.  Besides, the vegetables taste their best at room temperature.

I don't have a specific recipe, because there are so few ingredients and the amount of vegetables used as well as preference dictates the seasoning.  Use more tomatoes, use fewer tomatoes.  Add a little rice vinegar or add a lot.  Use a whole cucumber or only use half.  Drizzle the seasonings over the vegetables modestly, then taste it.  If it needs more of anything, add it.  Serve and enjoy -- I guarantee you will eat a lot more than you think you will!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Slow Cooker Potatoes Au Gratin

When Trix picked potatoes au gratin for our weekly slow cooker meal, I agreed readily because... potatoes and cheese, what's not to love? The problem was, the recipe served 10-12 (!!!). I decided to cut it in half, but I really should have quartered it. It's lucky I decided on half, at least, because it turns out that my Crock Pot was just able to fit that amount. I can't imagine the size of the Crock Pot needed to make the entire recipe. O.o

Rotisserie Chicken with Potatoes Au Gratin and Broccoli

Some people are able to have just potatoes for a meal; for me it's more of a side dish (though believe me there was plenty to have made an entire meal on its own). But in order to adhere to the spirit of a hot meal without spending too much time on preparation, I bought a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store and also quickly stir fried some broccoli. Not very upscale, maybe, but quite yummy just the same.

As for the star of today's show, the potatoes were great. Maybe not as cheesy as I expect from potatoes au gratin, but the dish makes up for that by being surprisingly sophisticated in flavor. Not very salty, a bit tangy, with surprising heat -- or maybe I added a little too much pepper. Or mustard. Or both.

Dishes like this are why I have a mandoline. Actually, I have two. One full-sized mandoline, which I love, but am loath to drag out and actually use, because it's a chore to clean. Then there's my little OXO hand-held mandoline, which I got only recently, and it is a DREAM. It works incredibly well, and is convenient, small, and easy to wash. It's not good for very wide items, but it worked perfectly in this case.

Potatoes Au Gratin

I should also mention that I didn't have the heavy cream that the recipe called for. I actually deliberately went to Trader Joe's on Labor Day (thank goodness they were open), with the EXPRESS PURPOSE of buying heavy cream, but I somehow got home without any whatsoever, and I didn't realize it until late at night. How a person can go to the store to buy a specific item and walk out with practically everything BUT that item, is still a mystery to me. Sigh. It could have been more of a disaster, I suppose. I substituted 1 1/4 cups of half & half and 1/2 cup of soy milk. The half & half made things decently rich. The sauce came together beautifully, and while I don't know what the dish would have tasted like made with heavy cream, it tasted just fine to me. Plus, it helps that after the dish is done you're adding cheese to it.

Warning, if you're like me and with work and travel time, are gone from the house for longer than 8 hours or so, the potatoes may overcook a tad on the edges. I had to leave mine in (on low, of course) for about 10 hours, and the potatoes on the outside were already starting to darken too much. They weren't burned, but texture wise was extra chewy somehow, not great. I know it kind of defeats the point of a slow cooker to have to watch the dish, but in this case of these potatoes it would probably be a good idea if you were able to check on them once in awhile, or know for sure how long you'll be gone.

I think this would be a great dish to make for a big family dinner, or maybe as a contribution to a pot luck. :D

Slow Cooker Potatoes Au Gratin (adapted from A Year of Slow Cooking)

  • 3 large Russet potatoes, thinly sliced
  • 1 parsnip, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1 3/4 cups heavy cream
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tsp dried mustard
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  1. Place prepared vegetables in the slow cooker.  Combine haphazardly.
  2. In a small saucepan, melt the butter.  Add the flour and stir to create a roux.  Cook the roux for 3-5 minutes, until it turns golden in color.  Slowly add the cream.  Cook until heated through and the sauce has the texture of a slightly thickened sauce (not thick like gravy).  Add thyme, sea salt, dried mustard, and black pepper.  Stir until everything is well incorporated into the sauce.
  3. Pour the sauce on top of the vegetables and turn on the slow cooker.  Cook on high for 5-6 hours or on low for 8-9.
  4. Just before serving, stir in the cheese until melted.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Pioneer Woman's Restaurant-Style Salsa

I loved this salsa, as did those who tasted it.  It's very, very good.  I won't say it's the definitive way to make salsa, since salsa's one of those wonderful things that has many variations, and it's hard to make a salsa I won't eat.  BUT, there are some salsas that definitely rise above others, and I'd say this is one of those.  It's a blended salsa, no big chunks, so if you only like chunky salsa this may not be for you.  I like both.  Of the blended salsa variety, this one is excellent.

Homemade Salsa

The recipe comes from Ree Drummond.  I halved her recipe, which makes nearly 2 quarts.  While I'm sure I could eat 2 quarts of salsa given enough time, I'd rather make a fresh quart every time I feel like having some.  Since I'm one of those people easily susceptible to suggestion, well at least when it comes to food, I also couldn't help but make simple nachos to eat the salsa with.  I also had it plain with chips and in a bean and cheese burrito.  It was wonderful in every case.

I'm one of those people who doesn't like cilantro.  But when it's been pulverized, and if I use the leaves only, I find that I can not only tolerate it, but even enjoy it.  If you're also someone who doesn't normally like cilantro, don't shy away from using it here; put less into the salsa, perhaps, but don't omit it entirely -- I do think it adds a unique flavor that makes salsa and guacamole taste as good as they do.

Nachos with Homemade Salsa

As for spiciness level, I'd call this mild to medium, but that's because I kept the jalapeno seeds in; if you prefer mild salsas, seed the jalapeno.

Restaurant-Style Restaurant (adapted from The Pioneer Woman)

  • 1 14.5oz can of whole or diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 10oz can of diced tomatoes with green chilies (like Rotel), undrained
  • 1/8 cup chopped onion
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 1 small jalapeno, quartered and thinly sliced
  • 1/8 tsp sugar
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt
  • 1/8 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4-1/2 cup cilantro
  • juice from 1/4 of a lime, or about 1 tsp
  1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender.  Blend until you get the consistency you desire.  I probably let mine go for about 10 seconds.  Taste the salsa and adjust the seasoning if needed to your preference.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Strawberry Sour Cream Pie

This is one of those pies you dream about taking to a gathering -- it looks beautiful, tastes great, and leaves the impression that you must've spent ages on it.  Depending on how good you are with pie crusts, if you make your own or buy it from the store, that may or may not be true.

Strawberry Sour Cream Pie

You know, I've never actually understood the phrase "easy as pie."  Making pies has never been particularly easy for me, because making pie involves making crust, and if you're like me, the crust is everything.  So if the crust comes out mediocre, or worse, actually bad, it ruins the entire pie.  Yet for a pie crust to come out well, it's a rather careful and involved process, as least for those of us who only make it every so often.  Cold fat (butter and/or lard) is necessary for that flaky texture that makes eating pie crust such an unforgettable experience when it's done well.

Over the years, I've made my share of pie crusts, more than some, far less than others.  After nearly every effort, I came away with the frustrated thought that it simply wasn't worth the time and effort.  I just couldn't seem to keep the dough cold enough, or roll it out thin enough, or whatever the problem might be.  Or if it came out well, the stress and energy I'd put into it just didn't seem worth it when I could buy perfectly acceptable (if not mouth-wateringly delicious), time friendly, ready-made pie crusts.  Then my tastes became more sophisticated, and the store-bought ones stopped being acceptable.  That fact, plus my lack of skill at making a good pie crust, combined to equal no homemade pies for me for a loooong time.

Those days may be over.  Okay, I still haven't perfected making pie crusts.  But now I've found a pie crust recipe that at least makes the effort worthwhile, it's so good.  What is this amazing recipe that has changed my outlook on homemade pie crusts?  It's none other than Rose Levy Berenbaum's own favorite, her flaky and tender cream cheese pie crust.  It's delicious -- just as sinful tasting as something called "flaky and tender cream cheese pie crust" would taste -- and, while a bit involved to make, is quite doable by the home baker.

Strawberry Sour Cream Pie

This wonderful pie crust in combination with the incredibly easy-to-make creamy strawberry filling, results in a superb pie.  You don't need to prebake the crust.  You simply mix up the filling, roll out the pie crust, fill it, and bake it.  In the last few minutes you broil the pie for a few minutes to caramelize the top -- as you can tell from the photos, I'm still trying to get used to the broiler function on my oven.  Unfortunately it was a bit too hot or I put the rack up one level too high, and it ended up making the top look rather more burnt than golden, but that flaw is mine and not the recipe's.  The top of the pie should be as golden as the crust.

Another reason this pie is great to take to a gathering is because unlike many other pies, a single slice holds together very well, making for an attractive helping.  Unfortunately I don't have photos of this, as single slices were devoured too quickly to photograph, but you can see for yourself.

Strawberry Sour Cream Pie (crust by Rose Levy Berenbaum, filling by Worth the Whisk)

Ingredients (Crust):
  • 8 tbsp unsalted butter, frozen and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 1/3 cups + 4 tsp pastry flour
  • 3oz cream cheese
  • 2 tbsp heavy cream
  • 2 tsp cider vinegar
  • 1/8 tsp aluminum-free baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt
Method (Crust):
  1. In a food processor, pulse flour, salt and baking powder to blend.
  2. Add the cream cheese and process until coarse, resembling corn meal.
  3. Add the frozen butter cubes and pulse until the mixture is roughly peanut sized.
  4. Add the cream and vinegar and pulse until mixture is the size of small peas.
  5. Scrape dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Use latex gloves or cover hands with plastic bags and press dough until it holds together in one smooth flat disc.
  6. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate at least 45 minutes, preferably overnight, before rolling out.
Ingredients (Filling):
  • 1qt fresh strawberries, rinsed, hulled, and sliced
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tbsp reserved
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup sour cream (any kind but nonfat)
  • dash of salt
Method (Filling & Assembly):
  1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  2. Into a large mixing bowl, sift the flour, sugar and salt. Add sour cream and blend just until creamy (it will look like wallpaper paste).
  3. Gently fold in the berries; don’t overmix.
  4. Pour the filling into your unbaked pie shell.  Using a spatula, gently spread to edges but do not pack down; there should be some air holes throughout.
  5. Sprinkle the top with reserved 1 tbsp of sugar.
  6. Bake the pie for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350°F and bake an additional 30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
  7. The center of the pie may still look undercooked.  Broil the pie for a few minutes, until the sugar on top has caramelized and the top is as golden brown as the crust.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

White Chicken Chili

I've known of the existence of white chicken chili, peripherally, for years, but had no desire to try it myself, whether homemade or otherwise.  See, I'm a big fan of chili, or what I know of as chili, with ground beef, onion, kidney beans, lots of chili powder (I've even made my own), and tomato sauce (which is what would make it not chili to some folks).  "White" chili held no appeal for me; it sounded so... bland and uninteresting.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

White chicken chili, where have you been all my life?!

White Chicken Chili

Maybe I was lucky to find a really great recipe right off, or maybe all white chicken chili is this delicious.  All I know is that now that it's in my life, I'm never letting it go again!  Like regular chili, this version is easy to make, even if it uses different ingredients.  Reading the recipe, I thought the results would be quite spicy, but in fact it's not.  It's fairly mild, actually.  Lovers of spicy food should use more chilies or include the seeds (I didn't), or use more cayenne than the recipe calls for.  I used leftover chicken from a grocery store rotisserie chicken, Trader Joe's chicken broth and Great Northern beans in the chili, and topped it with a Mexican blend of shredded cheese.

This recipe is also very flexible in that it can be made in both a slow cooker (which is what I did) or on the stovetop.  The former takes 6-12 hours; the latter 20 minutes.  Perfect for if you want to come home to a hot meal, or if you decide to make dinner at the last minute.  How great is that?

White Chicken Chili (adapted from Serious Eats)

  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups diced, cooked chicken
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 seeded jalapeƱo pepper, chopped
  • 1 15.25oz can corn, undrained
  • 1 15oz can white beans (such as cannelloni or Great Northern), undrained
  • 1 4oz can chopped green chilies
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 3/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano or Italian seasoning
  • pinch ground cloves
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • grated white (or mixed) cheddar cheese
  1. Combine everything into a slow cooker and cook on low for 10-12 hours or on high for 5-6 hours.  If cooking on the stovetop, heat the olive oil.  Saute the onion until soft and translucent.  Add all the other ingredients and simmer for about 20 minutes.
  2. Spoon chili into bowls and top with as much or as little cheese as desired.