Saturday, January 30, 2010

Tostada Pizza

I pulled out a recipe I hadn't used in a long time today.  I don't remember where I found it, but it's a quick meal when you want something tasty, but easy.  It's been popular at our house with kids and adults.
Tostada Pizza

2 T. Cornmeal                                                            
2 C. Bisquick                                                              
1/2 c. cold water                                                         
1 lb. ground beef                                                          
3/4 c. water                                                                  
3 T. Chopped seeded canned green chilies
1 envelope taco seasoning mix
1 16 oz. can refried beans
1 cup shredded sharp process American cheese
      (I used a mixture of cheeses)
1 cup shredded lettuce
1 chopped tomato
1/2 cup chopped onion
Taco sauce
Sour cream

Generously grease a 12 in. pizza pan.  Sprinkle with cornmeal.  In a bowl, combine bisquick mix and the 1/2 cup cold water.  Stir with fork until dough follows fork around bowl.  Turn out on lightly floured surface; knead 5 or 6 times.  Roll out to a 14 inch circle; pat into pan.  Crimp edges.  In skillet, brown meat; drain off excess fat.  Add 3/4 cup water, chilies and taco seasoning mix; bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 15 minutes or until thick.  Spread beans on dough.  Top with meat mixture.  Bake in 450 deg. oven 18-20 minutes.  Top with cheese.  Return to oven to melt cheese about 4 minutes.  Cut in 6 wedges.  Pass lettuce, tomato and onion.  Drizzle with Taco sauce, if desired and add sour cream.
This makes 6 slices, which is probably not enough for 6 people unless you serve something else with it.  We can usually eat at least two slices each. I double the recipe and make 2 pizzas.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Magazine Mondays Italian Pasta and Bean Soup

My husband has fond memories of his Italian grandmother's kitchen.  He talks about the old iron skillet she used that retained the seasonings of all her cooking so that anything cooked in it was already flavored.  One of her soups was called "ditalini" by the family because that was the kind of pasta used in it, but was called Pasta Fazool by Ma.  I've made this soup many times but I'm always ready to try a new version of it.  This week's recipe for Magazine Mondays comes from Cook's Illustrated Soups & Stews, Winter 2008.  This recipe is quite a bit different from Ma's version but is very very good. 
In this version pancetta or bacon (I used bacon) is cooked in a little olive oil.  Onion and celery are added and cooked until soft.  Garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes and anchovy are added and sauteed a little longer.  So far the only changes I made were that I added half as much garlic and 1/4 as much dried oregano.  I don't care for a strong oregano flavor in soup.  The recipe calls for diced tomatoes with juice.  I didn't have that so I substituted 1/2 as much tomato puree.  Tasting it at that point told me it was just right so far.  Then I added the parmesan cheese rind and cannellini beans and simmered a while.  Finally it was time to add the chicken stock, some water and salt. When that came to a boil, I added the pasta.  While I usually add ditalini, I tried orzo this time. (The article gives four different choices for pasta.)  When the soup was done, I removed the parmesan rind and added some chopped parsley.

Finally, to serve the soup, I sprinkled freshly-grated parmesan and more parsley on top.

This soup is loaded with flavor.  The pepper flakes add some heat and the anchovies just add a subtle depth to the flavor.  The only caution I would make here is don't add more salt than called for unless you taste it first.  When I make this soup again, I'll make it exactly the same way I did today.  My husband said it was really good soup, however, he said, "Just don't call it "ditalini", because it's not the same as Ma's."  (Hers was much simpler.  I'll make her version soon.)

Friday, January 22, 2010

BBA Challenge Corn Bread

With every bread in Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice, I learn more about baking.  Today we made the corn bread.  Mr. Reinhart's corn bread is more of a moist, flavorful hearty dish than just a dry, crumbly cornbread as so many of them are.  The ingredient list includes buttermilk, honey, brown sugar, bacon and corn kernels, as well as the expected ingredients.  The coarse-grind cornmeal is soaked in buttermilk overnight before the rest of the ingredients are added.  This recipe suggests the bacon be baked in the oven before being crumbled to add into the dough.  That was a neat, easy way to prepare the bacon. My only problem with this recipe was that I used the frozen corn option since fresh corn isn't available here right now.  The recipe didn't mention thawing the corn before adding it so I didn't.  Of course, frozen corn in the batter increased the baking time quite a bit.  I had to leave the bread in the oven about 20 minutes longer than the recipe called for to reach the required internal temperature.  That didn't seem to hurt it any.  It is delicious.

This corn bread has that combination of sweet bites of fresh corn with smoky bacon pieces that go so well together anytime.  It is rich and moist.  As I was eating it, all I could think about was that I wanted a bowl of steaming  brown beans and hot cooked fresh-tasting juicy apples on the side.   If it weren't so late at night, I'd go back out to the kitchen and make both right now. . . .Mmmmmmm.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Beef Stew Over Polenta - Polenta Pot

I roamed around a Williams-Sonoma outlet store Saturday and came home with a Ruffoni copper Polenta pot.  My memories of polenta come from my Italian mother-in-law.  She stood at her stove and stirred and stirred her polenta while her grandchildren hovered nearby with their little bowls.  When it was ready, she stirred in butter and a big handful of white shredded cheese and they each got a nice scoop of creamy golden polenta.  They just added a little more butter on top and they loved it just like that.  She usually made stew to serve over it.  She poured the leftover polenta into a bread pan to set up to slice and fry for a later meal.  I make it now the same way she did--sometimes with long cooking--sometimes the quicker instant.

I was pretty anxious to use my new pot yesterday, so I made a pot of beef stew in my dutch oven first to serve over it.  I made instant polenta because I had some and it's fast.  I like the softness of good instant polenta. I have the instructions below for the basic long-cooking method that I also use.  When my polenta was done, I stirred in 1/4 cup butter and a big handful of shredded Monterey Jack cheese.  (You can add Parmesan, Fontina or any good melting cheese.)

After stirring through the cheese, I served a scoop on each plate and we had beef stew over it:

6 servings

2 to 2-1/2 lbs. cubed beef stew meat (sometimes I use venison)
1 yellow onion
about 10-12 pearl onions
8 oz. white button mushrooms, sliced
6 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
salt and freshly-ground pepper
1 sprig thyme, optional
butter, canola or olive oil (I use a mixture of butter and oil because the butter helps in browning)
2 tblsp. flour whisked into 1/4 cup water
chopped fresh Italian parsley to sprinkle on top

Heat some butter and oil in a heavy pot over medium heat (I love the coated iron dutch oven).  Add half the mushrooms.  Allow them to brown on one side, add salt and pepper to taste and stir and turn them over to lightly brown the other side.  Remove them to a dish.  Saute the rest of them the same way and remove to the dish.  Add the peeled pearl onions to the oil/butter mixture (add more, if needed) and lightly brown them to caramelize.  Remove the onions to the mushroom dish.  Hold them until the meat is tender at the end.  Add a bit more oil/butter if needed and start browning the stew meat.  Have the patience to caramelize the meat well--only cook some of it at a time to prevent crowding it.  If you put too much in at once it will steam rather than brown.  The slow browning and seasoning of each ingredient at a time is what gives the stew good rich flavor.  When the meat is well browned, turn the heat to low.  Allow it to cool down to a simmer and add all the browned meat back into it.  Cut the yellow onion in quarters and add it to the meat. If you want thyme, add it now.  Add about 1/2 inch of hot water to the meat and cover it.  Allow the meat to simmer 1-1/2 to 2 hours until it's tender.  Keep adding small amounts of hot water if it cooks down too low.  When the meat is tender, remove and discard the onion quarters and thyme and add the carrots, the pearl onions and the mushrooms.  Add more hot water, if needed.  Cover and simmer until the carrots are tender.  Whisk the flour/water mixture into the stew.  Simmer a couple minutes to thicken.  Taste for seasoning--add salt and freshly ground pepper, if needed.  Spoon over polenta and sprinkle with fresh parsley.

Basic Polenta to make 6 servings:

Instant polenta has a softer, smoother texture, medium cornmeal will make polenta with more texture and coarsely-ground cornmeal will, of course, give the most texture.  I use the medium most often.  Cooked polenta can be kept hot in a bowl over a large pot of simmering water.
Bring 10 cups of water to a simmer.  Add 1 Tblsp. salt now.  While whisking vigorously, pour the polenta into the salted water in a thin stream. Keep whisking until the mixture is smooth to prevent lumps.  Lower the heat and bring back to a boil.  Stir often with a wooden spoon that is straight across the bottom to allow the bottom of the pot to be scraped well to prevent sticking.  When the bubbling starts again, turn the heat to low to get continuous, but slow cooking.  Stir very frequently, especially toward the end as it gets very thick.  Be careful of the spattering.  Cook for about 30 minutes.  It is done when it starts to pull away from the sides of the pot.  Remove from heat.  You may add butter and/or cheese at this point and serve.  Or you may pour it into a pan (bread pans work well) to firm up to slice and fry at a later time.  Fried slices of polenta can be served with stew over them, with tomato sauce and cheese or with a good wild mushroom sauce poured over or even for breakfast with syrup.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Magazine Mondays: Porcini and Spinach Risotto

This may be the first risotto I've made.  It won't be the last.  I loved it.  This recipe for magazine mondays comes from Olive magazine, February 2009.  I followed this recipe pretty closely except I thought I had dried porcini in the pantry and they turned out to be dried trumpet mushrooms instead.  Since I wasn't sure they would make an acceptable replacement, I used only a couple tablespoons of them.

Porcini and Spinach Risotto
(2 Servings)

dried porcini  25 g (almost 1 oz)
butter 50 g  (1/2 stick)
onion 1 small, finely chopped
garlic 1 clove, crushed
chestnut mushrooms 200 g, sliced (I used white button mushrooms) (about 7 oz.)
risotto rice 150 g (arborio rice)
white wine a glass (I used about 1/2 cup)
vegetable stock 750 ml (hot)
spinach 100 g, washed and chopped
shaved parmesan to toss on top

Soak porcini in a cup of boiling water for 10 minutes.  Lift out the mushrooms and strain the liquid through a sieve to remove any grit and keep liquid for the risotto.  Roughly chop the porcini.
Heat butter in a wide shallow pan and cook onion and garlic until softened.  Remove the garlic if you've kept it whole.  Add the chestnut mushrooms and cook 5 minutes.  Add porcini and risotto rice and stir until coated.
Add wine and cook until it's all absorbed.  Add stock and porcini liquid, gradually, while stirring, until rice is tender but still has a little bite.  (You may not need all the stock.)  Stir in the spinach until just wilted.  Sprinkle parmesan on top and serve. 

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Kopytka: Polish Potato Dumplings

These dumplings were always served with Pork and Sauerkraut at home:
Once again, I don't have an exact recipe for amounts from home as Mama didn't measure anything, but the following proportions make really good, tender Kopytka that taste just like hers.  Kopytka means "little hooves" in Polish and that's the shape of these dumplings.  I cooked about 2-1/2 lbs. of russet potatoes in salted water to get the amount I needed for this recipe.  After I boiled and drained them, I shook them dry to get them fluffy. I used a potato masher but they could also be riced.  Taste for salt and add more, if needed.


1 cup flour
3 cups mashed potatoes
1 tsp. salt
1 lightly beaten egg

Start a pot of salted water boiling.  Place the flour on a dough board.  Add the potatoes, 1 tsp. salt and the egg and mix right on the board.  Keep mixing and kneading lightly until the mixture forms a clean, soft dough.  Cut the dough in half and set 1/2 aside.  Take the piece and roll it with your hands into a cylinder--then keep rolling it by putting both hands over the middle and smoothing it out to the ends, while rolling it,  to make it longer and longer and  smaller and smaller in  diameter (like a rope) until it's about 1 inch in diameter.   Flatten the top lightly to make it about 1-1/2 inches across.  Cut with a thin knife into diagonal pieces and set them aside on the board. Repeat with the other 1/2 of dough.

This recipe makes about 4 dozen dumplings.  Drop the dumplings into gently boiling water (Use about 1/2 the dumplings at a time).  Stir once lightly to prevent dumplings sticking to the bottom of the pot.  After the dumplings float to the top, cook them another minute or two.  Lift them out of the water carefully and allow to drain in a colander.  Put drained dumplings on a buttered plate to prevent sticking until all are cooked.

Kopytka are ready to serve if you like them just boiled.  We always add them to a pan in which pork has been cooked to brown them lightly and to absorb the flavor from the pork.  Then we serve sauerkraut and the pork with them. We like to cover everything with coarsely-ground fresh pepper.

These are country-style spareribs that had been browned and braised until tender enough to fall off the bone.  Usually we prepare braised pork chops, instead, but either are good.  The sauerkraut was cooked separately and flavored with the pork drippings.

If you like dumplings more chewy, you can cut the amount of potatoes to 2-1/2 cups.
 Leftover kopytka can be refrigerated and reheated and browned in butter or in a pan of lightly-fried onions, etc., the next day.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

BBA Challenge Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread

Some of my family asked to be here when I bake the cinnamon rolls, which would be next in our sequence of baking for the BBA Challenge, so we agreed to make the Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread now and the rolls when they could be here later in the month.  This was a pretty easy bread to make.  As usual, there were some decisions to make, though.  First I kneaded the bread by machine.  Then I turned it out onto a board to knead in the raisins and walnuts:

It was hard to believe all the fruit and nuts would mix into the dough, but it did:

Now I had to make a decision--should I make the cinnamon sugar swirl or leave it as it is?  I decided to make the swirl.  After mixing the 1/2 cup sugar with the 2 tblsp. cinnamon, I thought it looked like an awful lot to spread in the breads.  I used about a third of the mixture per loaf.  It still looked like an awful lot:

I went with it and rolled it up:

After the second proofing, I baked the loafs and faced one more decision:  should I butter the tops and sprinkle on yet more sugar and cinnamon or call it enough???  I split the decision and did both:

I can never let the bread cool as Mr. Reinhart recommends because someone here always speaks up and says, "Cut me a one-inch piece and put some butter on it!" as soon as it comes out of the oven, so here is how it looks hot and fresh out of the oven:

Final thoughts:

This is DELICIOUS.  I wouldn't put sugar on top next time--it didn't need that extra sweetening for us.  I would put a little less in the swirl, but would definitely make it with the swirl again.  It gives it that intense cinnamon flavor that you get in a really good cinnamon roll.  And it's simply a really nice bread even if it didn't have the swirl of extra flavor. 

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Magazine Mondays: Hazelnut and Currant Baked Apples with Sticky Marsala Sauce

This entry for Magazine Mondays was for one of our desserts on New Year's Day.  We were having our traditional Pork Roast with Sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and whole green beans and decided to try yet another recipe from donna hay magazine, Issue 38.  I seem to love every recipe I try from this magazine!  This was for Hazelnut and Currant Baked Apples with Sticky Marsala Sauce.  However, I did leave out the marsala for this first time--we just wanted to see how the basic recipe would be without the wine.

This is the picture before baking.  As you can tell,  I didn't get fancy.  It was more like--let's hurry up and get these apples in the pan and in the oven--we're starved!

Hazelnut and Currant Baked Apples with Sticky Marsala Sauce

1/3 cup coarsely chopped hazelnuts
1/3 cup currants
1/3 cup finely chopped dates
1-1/2 tblsp. brown sugar
2-1/2 tblsp. melted butter
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
5 apples, cored (I used Cortland.The recipe calls for 12 apples for this amount of ingredients--I just used 5)
1 cup water with 2 tblsp. brown sugar (recipe calls for 1 cup Marsala with 1/4 c. brown sugar)
Cream or ice cream to serve, if desired

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix nuts, fruit, sugar, butter and cinnamon.  Remove a strip of peel around each apple and place in baking dish.  Fill the centers with the mixture.  Heat the water and brown sugar and pour over the apples. Bake for 20 minutes or until apples are tender.  Serve warm with cream or ice cream.

I actually felt the nuts and fruits might benefit from being presoaked to soften before using.  They seemed a bit chewy, although tasty.  These apples were quite better when reheated the next day and I believe it's because the flavors mellowed and the dried fruits had softened. 

I think these apples would be good with raisins or other fruits and with or without nuts.  I love this recipe and will definitely try the wine added next time.

Homemade Christmas

 We started a tradition last year of making something for each other for Christmas gifts.  It has been so much fun!  We're already plotting for next year!

There were little socks for the baby:

Napkins with hand-knitted napkin rings in all colors and some of the best Biscotti I've ever had--I need to get the recipe for those:

Soaps, Bath Salts, knitted spa cloths:

AND Homemade MARSHMALLOWS, Tote bags and hand-sewn purses:

There are a couple gifts still in the process of being made so they can't be mentioned yet.

Of course, we didn't stop with homemade gifts--we never do.  We got some of the best presents ever and had the best times over the holidays--BEST CHRISTMAS EVER!!!!