Sunday, February 26, 2012

Mustard-Herb Beef Stew- BHG

Its Oscar night!  I love awards shows.  I love the red carpet, the dresses and interviews, the lame speeches.... everything about it.  I definitely wanted to make a new recipe tonight and thought that something that can be made ahead would be key so that I was free to sit on my couch at 6:30 when the red carpet started getting good.  My shopping trip was a little light this week because we're heading to Disney (!) for a week on Saturday.  Friday will be a take out night, as it is before every vacation, and we need to try and use up what we have that is perishable over the course of the week to waste as little food as possible.  I had some baby potatoes on hand, a few onions, and a bag of baby carrots.  I decided a stew would be perfect to use these items up and have something to simmer during the day.  I went through my books and binders and narrowed it down to this recipe, which was clipped from an old Better Homes and Gardens magazine.  The photo looked tasty, and the process seemed easy.  One thing that I've started doing on a regular basis is looking up my clipped recipes online for reviews before I make them.  I like getting peoples thoughts and opinions and, more importantly, they often share variations or suggestions to make it a little better.  One of these was to add frozen peas, which I did, and to go a little easy on the mustard, which I didn't.  We both like mustard so I kept it as suggested. 

The set up for this meal took me way less time to do than I thought it would.  I combined some flour, chopped fresh Italian parsley, dried thyme, salt and pepper in a bowl with a lid.  I then cut an eye round roast into 1 inch pieces and dropped them in the flour, one piece at a time.  I put the lid on, shook it up a bit, and then stirred it a bit more to make sure that the pieces were all coated.  I used a nonstick dutch oven, so I only used a tablespoon of oil versus the 2 tablespoons that the recipe called for.  Once the meat was browned, I added the baby potatoes, baby carrots, and wedges of sweet onion; stirred it for a few minutes, and added tomato paste, spicy brown mustard, beef broth, and a bottle of Yeungling lager.  Brought it to a boil, added the frozen peas and a bay leaf and let it simmer, covered, for an hour or so.  I wish I could have added the cremini mushrooms that the recipe called for, but I'd be eating the stew myself if I did that. 

The recipe says to simmer the dish, covered, for an hour to an hour and a half, or until the meat is tender.  Knowing that stews taste better the longer they cook, I let it go for about 2 1/2 hours before serving.  My first thought was that the gravy was a touch watery and I let it sit for another 20 minutes off the heat.  It didn't thicken much, but it didn't matter.  Wow.  This dish was amazing.  The meat was perfectly tender, the vegetables were perfectly cooked, and the gravy was delicious.  I could taste hints of the pepper in the aftertaste, pleasantly, and the other flavors blended well with nothing really standing out over the other.  I served it with a loaf of sourdough bread and just couldn't stop dipping my bread in the gravy.  The recipe suggests to serve it with crusty bread, but seriously- they need to put it in bold, capital letters.  Serve with crusty bread!!  It was really, really tasty.  I can't wait to try it again for lunch tomorrow.  I can imagine that the gravy will thicken and the flavors will blend even more. 

Definitely a keeper!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Grandma Edna's Cajun Pork Recipe- Taste of Home

Let me start by saying that I have absolutely no idea who "Grandma Edna" is.  I had a brief subscription to Taste of Home magazine before I decided that the number of recipes that I was clipping wasn't high enough for me to be a subscriber.  This one made it to the file, though, and has been there for quite a while as a potential dish for us.  I had a pork tenderloin in the freezer and decided to thaw it out for dinner this week.  This recipe seemed really tasty and I like the crock pot feature.  The original idea was to make it Sunday night for dinner on Monday but it was still a solid rock!  Note to self: 2lb pork loin takes 2 days to thaw....  On Monday night we made due with sandwiches and I put together the recipe for dinner the next night.  It was fairly simple.  I started by sauteeing chopped celery, peppers, and onion until soft and then added the spices and a touch of hot sauce.  At this point I forgot to add salt & pepper- more on that later.  I sliced the tenderloin in 1 inch slits that went almost to the bottom of the roast, but not quite.  Stuffed the vegetable mixture into the slits and put the rest on top.  It looked quite beautiful, actually, and I wish that I had taken a photo at that point.  One of the 1700 things that I love about my crockpot is that it has a removable crock.  This way, I can put the dish in the fridge with the lid and then transfer it to the base in the morning before I head to work. 

Most crockpot recipes call for 6-8 hours, but you can cook things longer without issue.  Its in the crock at such a low temp that there's little danger of overcooking.  I usually end up with my dinner cooking for about 12 hours because of my work schedule.  The roast was moist and fork tender, but just on the verge of being overdone.  There was an icky layer of fat around the bottom of the crock, but it came off quite easily.  I threw it away and figured it made my dish just that more healthy!  I followed the recipe for the suggested side dish and sliced 2 white potatoes and 1 sweet potato lengthwise into wedges, tossed with with oil, salt & pepper, and then baked them for 20 minutes at 450.  I flipped them and coated them with a mixture of chopped garlic and parmesan cheese, and baked them for another 20 minutes. 

Just before it was ready, I poured the juices from the roast into a sauce pan and added a slurry.  A slurry is a mixture of equal parts of corn starch and cold water that is combined and added to juices to thicken them up into a sauce.  Cornstarch adds a smoother quality to gravy that you would find with flour- similar to the texture of chinese food sauces.  You boil it, then quickly bring the temp to low while whisking the sauce.  The gravy thickened up pretty quick, too quick, so I added a little chicken broth the thin it out. 

Once it was all finished, I sliced up the pork, topped with the gravy, and paired it with the potatoes.  It was not a pretty meal.  Very messy and brown.  The tastes were good, but not great.  My earlier missed step of omitting the salt and pepper really showed later on.  I did add it to the final product, and the gravy, but I could tell that it affected the overall flavor of the meat.  I'm not even a big salt person, but it was needed.  The potatoes were just okay; they were cooked, but some were burned and others were mushy.  I think a different temp would be better as would thinner potatoes.  In my defense, Shawn enjoyed the meal more than I did.  I also have a cold, still, so it could have affected my mood and tastes.  Its always tough to be honest on the blog when things aren't really that great but this just wasn't all that great to me. 

HOWEVER, 2 days later I chopped up the leftover pork (that still was stuffed with the veggies) and used it with some chopped veggies and low sodium Zatarain's Jambalaya mix.  I swear by this stuff- its the best way to get rid of leftover meat and veggies.  Its easy, flavorful, and always delicious.  Plus, it costs less than $2.  The pork really rocked in the jambalaya and when I paired it with the frozen biscuits (which thawed beautifully) it was a fantastic meal. 

Grandma Edna's Cajun Roast Pork- Taste of Home; Decmber/ January 2011

Two Tone Potato Wedges- Taste of Home; December/ January 2011

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Invite Me Back Muffins- 100 Recipes Every Woman Should Know

One of my favorite places to get cookbooks is at  The bookstore is always the best place, because I can browse through and see how many recipes I may actually make, but Amazon suggests new ones for me and I can check out reviews to see how other people liked them.  This cookbook came across my radar in a magazine article.  The full title of the book is "100 Recipes Every Woman Should Know; Engagement Chicken and 99 Other Fabulous Dishes to Get You Everything You Want in Life".  It was put together through Glamour magazine based on a roast chicken recipe that was rumored to entice a man's proposal.  Ridiculous?  Yes, completely, but the book has a whole chapter about it with stories from readers over the years whom this worked for.  For the record, I haven't made the recipe yet but it does look pretty tasty.  What I love about the book is the fun titles of each recipe; like "Who Calls a Meeting at 5pm Stir Fry" and "Bikini Season Baked Salmon".  I had some blueberries on hand, so I chose the bawdy "Invite Me Back Muffins" as my muffin recipe of choice.  It had items that I already had on hand and it also featured a crumble topping, which I love on my muffins!! 

I ran the idea by John yesterday and he wanted to make muffins with me for breakfast.  He can be a tough nut to cook with sometimes.  He's only 3 1/2 so he gets distracted and wants to eat right away.  Sometimes he can be adorable; sometimes I can't believe I thought cooking together would be a fun idea.  I decided to make it easy on both of us and prepped as much as possible the night before.  Originally I was going to make a half recipe, but messed up on my recipe conversions early on and had to go back and just make the full one instead of starting over.  I combined 2 cups of flour with baking soda and salt.  Covered it, and set aside for the next morning.  Then I combined a 1/3 cup of flour with 1/2 cup of sugar and some cinnamon.  Covered and set aside.  The next morning, John was excited to make muffins!  The first thing we did was melt a 1/4 cup of butter and slowly combined it with the flour/sugar/cinnamon combo.  Once it was all combined, I put it in the freezer.  We measured out some sugar and mixed with a stick of unsalted butter that I had left out overnight to soften.  I took out the hand mixer, which he thought was the coolest thing ever.  He held it with me and helped turn the bowl as we creamed the butter and sugar together.  He then poured in the flour mixutre and milk in alternating batches while I kept on mixing.  He turned to me at one point while we were doing this, kissed my cheek, and said "I like making muffins with you, Mommy".  Sigh.....this was definitely one of those adorable times that I was happy to have him there!  When it was finished, we folded in the rinsed blueberries and got ready to bake! 

I preheated the oven to 450 and got out the muffin tin.  Being that I just about never make muffins, I only have one tin that cooks 6 so we had 2 batches in our future.  We put liners in the tins (I had elmo ones on hand from forever ago) and spooned in the batter.  We took the crumble topping out of the freezer and sprinked it onto the batter.  This was John's favorite part; he kept sneaking bites of the topping while we sprinkled it on the muffins.  We put them in the oven for 5 minutes and then turned the oven down to 375.  The recipe called to cook the muffins for about 20 minutes or until they were springy to the touch.  It took about 22 minutes and they were ready!  I put the tin on a baking rack for 10 minutes, then took the muffins out and put together the next batch myself.  John had completely lost interest at this point.  Once they were ready, he perked up and did a little dance which was pretty hilarious.  His "muffin dance"!  They were fantastic!  Another baking success.  The blueberries weren't too tart, the batter wasn't too sweet or too springy (my personal complaints about many muffins) and the crumble topping was so delicious.  I yielded 11 muffins; we each ate one and I plan on bringing leftovers to work to take away the temptation of more muffins.  Next time I'll try a healthier muffin variety, but I love that my baking skills are slowly improving. 

Invite Me Back Muffins

Crumble Topping (optional)
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter (1/2 cup), softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2/3 cup milk
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (if using frozen, do not defrost them first, but toss them in a few tsps of flour before stirring them into the mix in step 3)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Spray a 12 cup muffin tin with cooking spray or line the cups with paper or foil liners; you can also use eight 5-oz ramekins, spritzed with cook spray, instead.
Make the crumble topping: In a medium bowl, using your fingers, mix all of the crumble ingredients until small clumps form. Put the mixture in the freezer to chill and firm up while you work on the batter.
Make the muffins: In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, with a mixer on high speed, beat the butter and sugar until creamy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat on medium speed between additions until smooth. Add the flour mixture in 2 batch, alternating with the milk, beating on low speed between additions until just combined. Fold in the blueberries.
Spoon the batter into the prepared cups, filling all the way to the top. Sprinkle with the crumble topping (if using). Bake for 5 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 and bake for about 20 minutes longer (or more if in ramekins), until the muffins spring back when lightly touched with a finger. Set the pan on a rack and let cool for 15 minutes. Carefully remove the muffins from the pan, running the flat side of a knife gently around their sides to loosen them, if necessary.
Recipe from 100 Recipes Every Woman Should Know by Cindi Leive and the Editors of Glamour

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Buttermilk Biscuits- How to Cook Everything

This cold really knocked us all down for about 2 weeks now.  We're home with few plans this weekend for the second "snowstorm" of the year (Saturday afternoon and its already melted) and I have a mental list going of what I am going to cook for the next day or so.  I definitely wanted to get a recipe in and was trying to figure out what I could create by using a recipe, things that I have in house, and something that was on the agenda for the weekend menu.  This part of the recipe planning can actually be tough sometimes.  I selected the biscuits mainly because they'd go with anything and also because I had some buttermilk in the fridge that I could use.  I was anxious, given my many failures at baking, but you can't improve if you don't try, right?!

I measured out 2 cups of flour into the food processor and added baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Pulsed them for a few seconds and then added cut up pieces of unsalted butter.  The recipe called for 2-5 tablespoons.  I knew that we weren't adding butter after baking, so I erred on the higher side.  Oh, and butter is really damn tasty.  That's another reason.  I blended the butter in by pulsing a few more times.  So quick!!  I can't believe I went so long without one of these wonderful machines.

I started adding the buttermilk and quickly realized that the blades were going to make the next part of the recipe a logistical nightmare.  I made the excellent decision to take the mix out of the processor, put it into a bowl, and then stirred in a cup of buttermilk slowly with a large spoon until it was in a ball.  Once the dough was ready, I had 2 options.  You can press it out and cut circles out for a more formed biscuit or you can spoon it onto the sheet for the "drop biscuit" method.  I chose the drop method for many reasons.  One, its quicker.  Two, I have limited counter space and rolling things out is a total pain.  Three, I actually prefer the texture of drop biscuits and the crunchiness that comes from the uneven surface. 

I was able to gain about 14 biscuits by spooning out pieces onto a greased cookie sheet.  The recipe called for it to bake at 450 for 7-9 minutes.  I checked at 8 and they were ready at 10.  Perfectly golden on the bottom and a tough of golden on top.  I couldn't wait and had to sample one out of the oven..... it was good!!  Great, even!!  The salt, butter, and dough had a nice balance and the texture was spot on.  Oh my gosh, I actually baked something from scratch that tasted good!
I served it with a quick chicken stew type of thing.  Sort of like chicken pot pie filling but I serve it with biscuits (tastefully simple ones, usually).  We like it and its cheap, simple, and can be made with most anything fresh, frozen, or canned that you have on hand.  I sauteed some chopped celery, carrot, and onion until soft; added a handful each of frozen corn and peas, and a cup of cooked shredded chicken breast that I had in the freezer.  Mixed in a can of cream of celery soup, a little milk, and a little chicken broth and finished it with some seasoning for flavor.  Put on low and let it go while I cooked the biscuits, stirring it up every once in a while. 
We ate it all together and it was a perfect lunch for a snowy day!  I had half of the the biscuits left and put them in the freezer to toast up another day.  I really can't believe how quick and easy this was!  The whole recipe took about 10 minutes to prep and another 10 to cook.  I have a keeper!

Buttermilk Biscuits- How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
2 cups all purpose or cake flour
1 scant teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2-5 tablespoons cold butter (more is better)
1 cup buttermilk (can substitue plain yogurt)

1.  Preheat the oven to 450
2. Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl or food processor.  Cut the butter into bits and either pulse it in the processor (the easiest) or pick up a bit of the dry ingredients, rub them with the butter between your fingers, and drop them again.  All the butter should be thoroughly blended before proceeding.
3.  Use a large spoon to stir in the buttermillk or yogurt, just until the mixture forms a ball.  Drop tablespoons of dough onto a greased baking sheet. 
4.  Bake 7-9 minutes or until the biscuits are a beautiful golden brown.  Serve within 15 minutes for them to be at their best. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Hot Toddy

This has been quite a week for the Bittmann family.  A virus has come through this house, hitting all three of us for about a week now and still going.  Its an odd one, too changing symptoms and victims daily.  My cooking has been downgraded to heating up frozens pizzas and leftover Boston Market for the most part.  The weekend came and I gave in; staying on the couch  trying to knock this thing out before work starts up again on Monday.  This saddens me today, of all days, because its Superbowl Sunday.  Not only is it Superbowl Sunday, but a Giants/ Patriots Superbowl and Shawn is a diehard, radical, ritualistic Giants fan.  Normally, on a day like today, I'd be cooking up a storm.  Creating some sort of ridiculous sandwich, followed up by our requisite 2nd quarter guacamole, and accompanied by some other fun appetizer foods.  Not this weekend, unfortunately..... this weekend I was thankful to have the guac ingredients on hand and couldn't even bring myself to go to the store.  Poor Shawn.  We made due, and pieced together some fun football foods to enjoy with the game.

One of Shawn's playoff rituals is enjoying his Makers Mark throughout the game.  My man loves his bourbon, and this is his brand.  I decided to join him in a drink by making myself a Hot Toddy.  I've never had one before, but always hear about it as an old fashioned cold remedy.  I looked up a recipe and then realized that this could be featured right here, for you fun folks!  Drink recipes count, right?   I found the perfect one on Epicurious, featuring exactly what I was looking for.  Hot water, lemon, honey, and bourbon.  I'm already a sucker for honey and lemon when I'm sick.  Why have I never thought to make this before?

I started by putting some water on in the teapot.  I decided to double the recipe simply because I love big mugs and the recipe wouldn't have filled it even halfway.  I feel like I should mention that I used one of my favorite mugs- a large one with a picture of Cinderella that says "A Princess Shouldn't Have to Work This Hard".  Its awesome.  I squeezed some lemon juice into a measuring cup, scooped out the seeds, smarted as the juice his a few cuts on my fingers, and poured out 2 teaspoons of lemon juice.  I then used the same cup to measure out a 1/2 cup of hot water and added 2 tablespoons of honey and 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) of bourbon.  I was convinced that the honey would be too much for my taste, so I tried it after one tablespoon to see if it needed more.  It definitely does, to counter the lemon and bourbon. They both have such strong flavors that they really need the honey to bring them together. 

I settled on the couch with my mug and a blanket to watch the rest of the game.  Oh, this was gooooood.  So soothing and warming and delicious.  It was really, really good.  You could taste the bourbon, for sure, but it was subtle and highlighted by the lemon and honey.  The warmth made it really comforting.  Again, why have I never thought to make this before?