Thursday, February 27, 2014

Creamy Mushroom Sauce over Pasta (Pressure Cooker Style)


In recent weeks, I've been cooking up a storm with my pressure cooker, especially on work nights. Before you non pressure cooker owners decide to abandon reading this post, hold on! You can always make this recipe on the stovetop. It'll just take a bit longer.  (Pressure cooker usually decreases conventional cooking time by at least 50%-- and sometimes 75%).  Homemade rice pudding in 16 minute? Incredible!

While my family (self-included) appreciates a  good cut of steak,  I do like to prepare meatless dinners.   I guess you could call me a "flexitarian".

I downloaded America's Test Kitchen's book, "Pressure Cooker Perfection", and then forgot about it-- for several months.  Recently, I began to read it from cover to cover. It's a good book, with basic information on pressure cooking  from the science behind it, to choosing which pressure cooker is best.


I'm a big fan of ATK's recipes, and have posted quite a few them. I bookmarked a few recipes, from this book, which I'll be sharing with you over the next couple of weeks.  This recipe caught my eye, because I love mushrooms-- while my husband is indifferent about them. 

He has said that he does like shiitake mushrooms, so when I saw this recipe had a blend of shiitake, cremini and portobello mushrooms-- well, that settled it.  I had to make this.


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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sauerbraten (German Beef Pot Roast with Gingersnap Sauce)

 

Sauerbraten is a classic German Pot Roast. To make it, a big chunk of meat (beef is most common, but venison, lamb or pork can be used) is marinated, for several days, in vinegar, wine and spices that includes juniper berries.  The meat is marinated for several days, in order to tenderize the meat.  The vinegar gives the "sour" taste -- in a good way. 

Sauerbraten is also a common Hofbrau buffet food item, but most times, in a very bad way.  I've had some awful tasting Sauerbraten in the United States.  My most recent experience was in Solvang, California. My dinner was served as a tough piece of meat with a beef gravy that tasted right out of a can. Ugh.
 

If you've read my "About Me" page, I talk about growing up with a Bavarian mom.  As a little kid, my Mutti felt it was her duty to teach me how to cook. At the time, I was resentful about it. Today, I'm very grateful for all that she taught me.  She is gone to her heavenly home, now, so I continue to carry on her traditional German recipes.  Sauerbraten is one dish that I don't recall my mother making at home and I've never made one-- until now.

 I used a beef bottom-round roast.  See my tasting notes for a different cut that would work even better.

The February issue of Cuisine at Home Magazine was loaded with several recipes that jumped out at me. I made their Milk-Braised Pork Loin Roast with Porcini Mushroom Sauce (in a slow cooker) that was a total success.  I also made their Cuban Style Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Sweet Potatoes-- also fast and really good. Lo and behold, there was a recipe for making this traditional German dish in a slow cooker, without marinating it for several days. Really? As I read the ingredients listing, I thought to myself "this could totally work"!



I keep ginger in the freezer, because I don't use it often enough.  I minced one tablespoon of fresh ginger (don't use powdered, please).

Having never made Sauerbraten, I found it intriguing that crushed gingersnaps would be added to the gravy.  I'm not sure if this is an authentic ingredient, but as I researched other internet recipes, this seemed to be a common theme. Perhaps it's an American rendition? I decided to use them, and carried on.

 Pickling spices are placed in a cheese cloth, and tied with string. 

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Friday, February 21, 2014

Incredible Cherry Pie!


It's National Pie Month, National Cherry month (or, so I've read)  and--it' s no coincidence--that it's President's Week.  Our school district is closed, and that means I can spend another week of vacation time to be at home. Thank you, Mr. Presidents!

Did George Washington really chop down a cherry tree? Who knows?  But this is a perfect excuse for me to make one of my favorite pies.  My husband was at work, and I had the house all to myself. 

It's been far too long since I've made a cherry pie, and I admit that I've always used canned cherry pie filling.  I've always wanted to make my own cherry pie filling, and yesterday was the day to do it. I had three cans of Oregon Red Tart Cherries, and a recipe from King Arthur flour.   These aren't cheap to buy-- our local grocery store priced them at $5.50 a can.  (I believe Wal-Mart has them for a cheaper price, but I rarely go there.)

Following King Arthur Flour's recipe, I drained the cherries.  The recipe suggests using their pie filling enhancer or tapioca.  I ran out of  pie filling enhancer, but I did have a jar of Instant Clearjel. I prefer this product over using either flour or tapioca, because I believe it doesn't "muddy" the color or flavor of my pies-- and it works great!

I reduced the cinnamon from 3/4 of a teaspoon to 1/4 teaspoon, because I didn't want that spice to dominate the almond extract.  To me, cherry and almond are a perfect pairing. Love it. I called the King Arthur Flour Baker's Hotline and they told me to use 7 1/2 teaspoons Clearjel, mixed into the sugar. So the filling was made, and I set it aside.  I preheated the oven to 425F.  It's time to roll out the pie crust.

I made the pie crust dough the day before, and refrigerated it. I  let it slightly soften, for no more than 30 minutes. This would be my first time making a lattice pie crust.  For some reason, I had it in my head that this would be a challenge to do. After looking at step-by-step tutorials, I took a deep breath and got rolling. Pun intended.

NOTE: I've posted several pie recipes on my blog and, so far, my personal favorite recipe for pie crust is to use all butter (Pate Brisee).  Personally, I prefer the flavor that butter imparts. I honestly believe I can achieve a very tender pie crust, without using shortening.  For shortening/lard purists, I have posted a few pies with shortening as the ingredient.

I used a ruler, because I didn't trust my eye to make straight and even lattice cuts.  Done.

I spooned the filling into the pie crust.  I keep forgetting to adjust for my deep dish pie pan.  I should have used one more can of cherries, so the pie filling would go all the way to the top.  No sense fretting, and I continued on...

 Time to make the lattice top.

Well, that was easy!

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Italian Milk-Braised Pork Roast with Porcini Mushrooms and Creamy Lemon Polenta

I'm going to jump right in and say that this dinner is one of my personal bests-- and, that this photo doesn't even do it justice. This recipe is right up there with the Osso Bucco with Risotto Milanese that I made for my husband. Coincidentally, these are both Italian dishes made by an Army Brat who was born in Hawaii, whose father was transferred TWICE to Germany (with family in tow) and then finally retired at Ft. Ord, CA.  I've never been to Italy, but it's on my bucket list of countries I hope to visit before I... well, before I'm too old to travel.  I love Italian food. A lot.


I love pasta, of course, but I'm particularly fond of braised dinners and Italian cuisine has no shortage of braised recipes. What makes this recipe so good? It's the milk based sauce, and how it tenderizes the pork.  Swoon.

I'm getting ahead of myself, but I'm just so excited to rave about this recipe-- and to share it with you.  In the February 2014 issue of Cuisine At Home Magazine, I bookmarked this recipe because it sounded so good and I also loved the lemon polenta recipe. Milk-Braised Pork is a regional favorite of Bologna. The ingredients begin with a pork loin roast, whole milk and heavy cream. As the pork cooks into the milk, the milk morphs into a aromatic and nutty sauce. The sauce ... I won't call this gravy,  because there's no flour added. No, no, no. The sauce makes itself as the milk/cream mixture is poured around a pork loin roast and placed into a slow cooker, on low, for two hours.  My slow cooker is a kitchen tool that doesn't get as much attention as it deserves, so I was excited to dig it out of storage and to make this.


We begin with a pork loin roast--(not pork tenderloin or pork shoulder roast), patted dry and seasoned with coarse salt and black pepper.  This roast weighed just under three pounds, which is perfect for our little dinner party of four.  Yes, it's risky to test out a new recipe, for a dinner party.  Fortunately, our dinner guests are more than willing to be my testers, and I had a feeling this recipe was going to be a good one.

What I found intriguing is that the March/April 2014 issue of Cook's Illustrated Magazine also included a recipe for Milk Braised Pork Loin. Decisions, decisions... I trust both recipe sources.  After comparing Cuisine At Home's version, to Cook's Illustrated's version, I leaned more towards CAH, because of the combination of fresh rosemary and sage...

...that thrives in our herb garden.

I also liked CAH's addition of dried porcini mushrooms, to give the sauce more color and depth of flavor. If you are a mushroom expert you might be thinking "these aren't all porcini mushrooms". You would be right. I had a variety bag of dried mushrooms that included porcini and shitake mushrooms. 

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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Creamy Rice Pudding, Pressure Cooker Style


I get it. Not everyone owns a pressure cooker. The word "pressure" scares the bejeebies out of you. You might still be remembering horror stories of your grandmother's pressure cooker explosion, and seeing spaghetti hanging off her kitchen ceiling, with splatters of red tomato sauce. 

That was then. This is now. Over the years, pressure cookers have been improved, and even adapted as electric pressure cookers.  In the 10+ years that I've owned both a stovetop model and my beloved 8-Quart electric pressure cooker*, I have never, EVER had anything close to an explosion!
*Sadly, my Cook's Essential 8-Quarter Oval presssure cooker is no longer made or sold. Should it ever-- ahem-- break, I will be frantically searching for something comparable like this one.

Better yet, what I most love about my electric pressure cooker is that I can brown/sear/boil my ingredients in my non-stick pressure cooker pot.  I can then add my liquids, click on the lid, set how much time I want it to pressure cook and proceed to cleanup my kitchen or even sit down to relax, until I hear the "beep" that the work is finished. In about 25% of the time it would take to cook something on the stove (or braise in the oven), I can have dinner-- or in this case-- dessert  ready to enjoy.  How convenient is that?!

I have loved rice pudding for as long as I can remember.  If I had leftover white rice, I'd cook a package of vanilla pudding, add in the leftover rice, raisins and cinnamon.  My husband was never interested in joining me. He'd say that he didn't like the texture.  His loss, my gain.

Last week, I had a serious craving for rice pudding. It was bordering "obsessive".  I looked at my pressure cooker, and I realized that I had the perfect solution right in front of me!  I always keep a few boxes of Arborio rice in my pantry, so that I can make risotto.  The starchiness of this rice is perfect for making rice pudding.

I measured the rice, sugar and I added in a little cinnamon and a pinch of salt.

The last ingredient is whole milk.  I clicked on the lid, set the timer to 16 minutes on high. On the stove top, you would use a pot, put on the lid and cook this for an hour.


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Monday, February 10, 2014

Deluxe Sugar Cookies with a Simple Cookie Glaze

Back in the day, before my adult son was  born, I used to host an annual Christmas Cookie Party. I would bake this sugar cookie dough recipe, and set out different colors of buttercream frosting and all kinds of sprinkles. My guests had fun, decorating the sugar cookies and taking some of them home-- plus we'd divvy up all the different cookies that we each brought to share.  I got to benefit by not having to decorate all of the sugar cookies, too. Great memories!

Over the years, I stopped hosting the party.  My life became immersed with raising an active toddler and some of my girlfriends had either moved away, or became busy moms themselves.  I continued to bake these cookies for my family, at Christmas time.  These cookies are just so darn good, and everybody loves them. I admit, though, that I just don't have the patience to decorate sugar cookies.  To me, it felt like a lot of work with a big mess to clean up. 

I've lost count on how many "how to decorate with royal icing" blog posts that I've pinned.  I just don't consider myself to be that artistic, to fill squeeze bottles with icing and to outline each and every cookie. Then, to "flood" inside the lines with frosting-- and to take a toothpick to swirl or write all kinds of gorgeous designs.  I mean, I admire then, but I just don't have the confidence in my amateur artistic talent-- not to mention my lack of  patience.

Last week, I found some sugar cookie dough that I made at Christmas. During the holidays,  I just couldn't find the time to decorate them, so I put the dough into the freezer.  This weekend, I was nesting at home and enjoying the rainy weather that we so desperately need.  I thawed the dough,  stuck in my smart phone ear buds so I could listen to an audio book.


This helped me to immerse myself into rolling out the sugar cookies, while enjoying a good story.  I debated if I really wanted to dig out my piping bags and make buttercream frosting.  I just wasn't feelin' it.  So, I decided to make a simple glaze recipe that I found on my trusty King Arthur Flour website.  I weighed my ingredients, which I found to be really helpful.  Unlike royal icing, which uses egg whites or meringue powder-- this recipes uses powdered sugar, corn syrup and milk. Best of all, it was quick and easy.


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Saturday, February 8, 2014

Surf & Turf: Steak Oscar with Duchess Potatoes - My "I Love You" Romantic Dinner at Home


Valentine's Day is just a week away, and it holds a special place in my heart, because my husband chose that day to propose to me. We were married, almost one year later, on New Year's Day. For my husband, he's thankful that he has two anniversary dates that are easy to remember!

As much as I enjoy dining at a fine restaurant, I prefer to avoid the busiest nights of the year-- such as Valentine's Day or New Year's Eve.  Menu prices tend to skyrocket, and I don't want to feel rushed. In the last few years, I've begun a new tradition of preparing a fancy schmancy dinner at home.  Just the two of us. Soft music, a fire, a bottle of Prosecco or wine. Candles.  No reservations needed, and no noise.

As an added bonus, my husband always does the cleanup, and he never complains.  For so many reasons, I feel like the luckiest wife.  That is why it is my joy to make a special dinner for the two of us.

HUNGER ALERT: Yes, this is going to seem like a pretty long post.  I need to explain how to make all of the components, so here we go!


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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Thai Coconut Curry Halibut with Fresh Sauteed Spinach


Now that Thanksgiving, Christmas and the Super Bowl food frenzies are over, I can better focus on sharing healthier recipes. My family (and that includes moi) enjoys a little comfort food, fried food, pizza, home baked desserts and breads-- but we don't eat like that every single day.  Honest! 

While I do have 47 cake recipes (and counting) listed on my  Recipe Index, we don't always eat this way. I admit that I'm a bit guilty of enjoying the sharing of delectable desserts on my food blog, because who can't resist looking at food porn? Is a package of wild caught Halibut as enticing as, say, a slice of chocolate cake--with marshmallow frosting in the middle, and a thick slathering of chocolate frosting? I think not.

Still, I strive to make quick dinners with clean ingredients more often than not, and I hope you enjoy these types of recipes as well.   Since I started my food blog, in 2008, I've become more aware of where my food comes from, and how it's processed.  For most of my life, I thought I hated fish.  Once I realized the difference between cheap fish (from unreliable sources and questionable fish farms) -- or the difference between buying wild caught vs. farmed (some are good, some are not so good), I began to appreciate that good quality fish (though it costs more) taste so much better than bargain fish-- and it's better for you.

 

You'd think I could buy fresh fish, locally, since I love on the Monterey Peninsula.  It's not quite so easy.  I'm sorry to say, that our wharf has become more of a tourist destination than a place to buy the fresh catch of the day. Sadly, the fishmongers are pretty much gone, unless you want to buy a walkaway shrimp cocktail or calamari.  The only other place I can find fresh, or frozen,  fish is at my local Whole Foods. The prices are pretty steep, but I'm committed to buying the food that I feed to my family at reliable places.

Last year, the Certified Steak & Seafood Company sent a few packages of their frozen Chilean Sea Bass for me to develop a recipe (I have since read that Chilean Sea Bass is not recommended, as it has been overfished, but click here to read updates on seafood sustainability).  We loved the texture and flavor of this fish, and I have actually ordered more product from them. 

According to Seafood Watch Wild-Caught Alaskan Halibut gets the thumbs up.  We love it, because it's a very mild fish.  I love it Seared and Roasted, and I've prepared it with summer garden veggies. Delicious! I happened to have some frozen halibut that I thawed, and it was a work night.  I figured I could get this recipe on the table in less than 45 minutes-- and that's always a good thing.


 
I try to keep a bag of fresh spinach, in our fridge, at all times.  My favorite way to prepare spinach, is to wilt it with olive oil, in my beloved cast iron skillet,  that I've infused with a clove of garlic.  So delicious!  (This takes about 10 minutes.)

As luck would have it, I keep shallots on hand, as I do green onion. I always have fresh cilantro and parsley, as well. Seriously, I'm not making this up.  These are ingredients that I can always use, and a fresh herb keeper really helps to keep them from going bad-- for up to 2 weeks!   This took no more than 10 minutes of prep work.

Yes, I always keep a jar of red curry paste on hand as well.  Why? Well, because we love Thai food, and I'm slowly learning how to make it. Red curry has become my favorite, so far.


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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Mini Corn Dogs (Ebelskiver/Aebelskiver Corn Dogs)-- for Super Bowl

 

Tomorrow is Super Bowl XLVII, which equates to a perfectly good reason to make all kinds of finger foods. Fat grams and calories aren't much of a factor, and plenty of beer seems to be an essential part of watching good ole American football. I admit, that football is not something I'm passionate about.  My parents never were, so we never really watched it.  Other than knowing a few basics -- like "what's a touchdown" or a "field goal", I can't quite decipher all the different rules and plays, the way that my men are capable of doing. They yell at the referees, and jump up and down-- while I wait to see what the commercials will be-- and maybe I'll watch the  half time show, depending on who it is.


My son has always been a Falcon's fan (he's never been to Georgia) and my husband is pretty neutral.  Because we live so close to San Francisco, it seems only right that we support the 49'er fans.  Even I found myself nervously watching the last few minutes of the playoffs.  Alas, the  '9'ers aren't in this year's Super Bowl. For that reason, I doubt that we'll all be glued to the game-- but who knows?

Three hours (or more) of watching football fans glued to the television, seems to make them both hungry and thirsty.  Somehow, Quiche Lorraine or tea and finger sandwiches doesn't sound like Super Bowl Food.  Traditionally, I always make a big pot of Chile Con Carne.  Of course, guacamole and chips is a "must", don't you think?

My husband was really surprised to find out that I love corn dogs, though it's not very often that I eat them. Yep, I do love them. But, not just any corn dog. I really don't care for the frozen ones.  What I appreciate is a freshly made corn dog dipped in yellow mustard. So does my son.  There's a chain of "Hot Dogs on a Stick" and we used to go to one, when he was a little kid.   I was struggling with finances, as a newly divorced mom, but every so often I would treat us to one of their special corn dogs. We could hardly wait for our  turkey dogs to be dipped into a vat of hot oil, until golden brown. I'd order one of their freshly made glasses of lemonade, and it would a special mother/son bonding moment. Great memories. 

I've owned an Ebelskiver pan for a few years-- and I keep forgetting to use it. Ebelskivers (or Abelskivers) are Danish round "pancakes" that are traditionally filled with jam.  King Arthur flour posted a recipe for Mini Corn Dogs, using their electric stuffed pancake maker.   I became obsessed with making these, and I figured it would be perfect for watching the Big Game.

I adapted their recipe, changing the sausage and onion filling to using up some Hebrew National Hot Dogs that we had on hand.

The dry ingredients are: unbleached flour (King Arthur, of course), corn meal, baking powder, salt and sugar.  (Southerners are probably having a conniption fit over this, but I love sweet corn bread. I'm a Northerner.)


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