Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Summertime and the feeding is easy.

Each year my husband’s family gets together for their annual reunion.  This is no casual spur of the moment get together.  It takes a fair amount of planning and commitment.  His 6 siblings and their families make the head count 29.  Each year one sibling takes the responsibility of organizing the week -long reunion which includes the challenging task of finding a rental that can accommodate such a large group.  Then cooking nights are assigned.   In the beginning when we were a slightly smaller group, dinners were a bit more ambitious.  Now no one wants to spend an entire day in the kitchen, and cooking for so many requires streamlined menus that can be easily adapted for different diets or food allergies. Although most are meat eaters, there are a handful of both vegetarians and glutards (our affectionate label). 

This year’s kitchen was postage stamp small,  so with this in mind, our cooking group chose to do pulled pork sandwiches.  For the vegetarians we substituted veggie burgers with barbeque sauce.  Then we rounded out the meal with coleslaw and potato salad.

Pulled pork is a wonderful thing!  You can make it in advance, allowing the cook to relax, and slowly teasing appetites for hours with the lovely smell of roasting pork (well maybe not for  vegetarians).  The spice rub and the barbeque sauce can be made days ahead and all you have to do is put the pork in the oven the night before serving.  You can even cook the pork a day or two ahead and keep it in the fridge.  Then heat it covered in a 250-300 degree F oven.
Now here is the thing about selecting the pork. You want the part of the shoulder called the “butt.”  Why wouldn’t it be called something less confusing? I don’t know. Generally this cut averages 6 to 8 pounds and if you can get one with the bone in go for it.  It adds to the flavor.  

I found the pork rub in The Big Book of Outdoor Cooking & Entertaining by Cheryl & Bill JamisonThis is a great book that offers sidebars with lots of helpful information.  We doubled the recipe for our two butts (that's just so weird to type).

Sweet Southern Pork Rub
1/2 cup brown sugar (lightly packed)
1/4 cup ground black pepper
1/2 cup sweet paprika
2 tablespoons dry mustard
1 teaspoons cayenne
1 to 2 teaspoons cumin

Combine the rub ingredients in a small bowl.  Massage the pork well with about half of the rub. Transfer the pork to a zippered plastic bag, seal and refrigerate it overnight.  
Remove the pork from the refrigerator.  Pat the butt with another coating of the rub.  Let the pork sit at room temperature for about 45 minutes. Optional- Pour approximately 2 cups of liquid into the roasting pan to keep the pork moist and control the drippings from smoking on the bottom of the pan.  The liquid can be water, broth, apple juice or cider.  

Heat the oven to 220 degrees F.  Cook for 10 to 12 hours, tenting the pork with foil the last few hours in the oven.  Cook the pork until tender and falling off the bone.

Let the pork sit tented for about an hour, until it is cool enough to handle.  Discard the fat and bones.  Shred or chop the pork as you wish.  Finish by adding the barbecue sauce to taste (recipe below) to the shredded pork.
We chose the barbecue sauce from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.  Of course you can always buy the sauce, but this recipe is so easy to make.  The nice thing about making your own sauce is that you can tweak it to suit your taste.  And most of these ingredients tend to already be on hand.

Barbecue Sauce 

makes about 1 1/2 cups

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup ketchup
5 tablespoons light or dark molasses
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Tabasco
Salt and Pepper

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering.  Add the onion and cook until softened and lightly browned, about 5 to 10 minutes.  Stir in the garlic, chili powder, and cayenne and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds.
Stir in the remaining ingredients and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened, about 25 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Cook to room temperature.  The sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to a week or frozen for up to 2 months.

The patriarch enjoying his crossword puzzle.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Say Cheese

It’s been awhile since my last post.  This was partly due to a kitchen mishap.  My common sense deserted me and I put my finger into the business end of an immersion blender and accidentally turned it on. Why would I put my finger near the blade?  Well, I didn’t want to leave behind any of my thick sauce on the blender.  That would be wasteful, right?  It’s a hang-up I've had and now I think I'm cured of it.

I'm lucky. The kitchen gods took pity on me because I still have my finger and it will soon be mended.  While I was at the hospital my husband decided to play undercover paparazzi, although at this point I’m only the star of my own kitchen debacle.   I wished he had given me the “say cheese” warning. Then I could have begged him to put his phone down.  But you can see that wouldn’t have helped since I was so focused on the sewing up of my finger. 

I think cheese is vital in so many ways... not only for photography, but most importantly for eating! The mangled finger had to stay dry which limited my ability to cook. Therefore I ate lots of cheese and crackers.  This was good, because I always find cheese so satisfying, but I was really itching to do something more than slicing and stacking.  Then I thought of ricotta. Ricotta is so much better homemade, as it is creamier, lighter, and less grainy than the mass-produced grocery store stuff. I love how it can be used in so many ways- pancakes, pasta, salads, pizza, or simply topped with fruit or spread on toast.
Bruschetta: ricotta sweetened with honey, topped with grilled stone fruit, pecans, olive oil & mint

Pizza: ricotta mixed with pesto, asparagus, tomatoes, sweet peppers
Tart: ricotta mixed with egg and sugar, topped with figs and apricots
Sometimes recipes seem more intimidating than they actually are, ricotta cheese being a perfect example of this. Making it is very straightforward and doesn't require lots of strange ingredients.  Here is your shopping list: milk, cream, lemons, cheesecloth. It also helps to have an instant read thermometer, however it is not vital.  

Ricotta  means "recooked" in Italian and is actually a by-product of cheesemaking.  In traditionally made ricotta, the whey is heated with an acid to create curds.  This recipe is a simplified method that uses milk instead of only using whey.
This recipe is from the book Home Dairy With Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Make Cheese, Yogurt, Butter & More.

Pasteurized milk is fine to use for making ricotta, but avoid using ultra-high temperature (UHT) pasteurized milk, as this process changes the protein structure of the milk and prevents it from separating.  Using 2% milk will work too, although your cheese won't be quite so creamy.  If you opt out of using a thermometer, watch your milk carefully.  You want to stop the cooking process just before your reach the boiling point. I've found that Meyer lemons just aren't acidic enough for this recipe.  If the curds are not developing, try adding a little more lemon juice or white vinegar.


8 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup lemon juice or white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt

1) In a large saucepan, stir together the milk, cream, and lemon juice with a metal spoon. 
 2) Gradually warm the mixture to 170°F directly over medium-low heat.  Monitor the temperature closely with an instant read thermometer or a dairy thermometer to avoid overheating.  Expect this to take about 30 minutes.  Stir only once or twice while heating to prevent sticking; any more and you run the risk of making the curd too small.

3) Increase the heat gradually until the mixture reaches 200°F.  This will take anywhere from 4 to 7 minutes.  Be sure to stop just before the boiling point.  Your curds should look similar to cottage cheese floating in the liquid whey.
4) Remove the pot from the heat, and allow to rest for 20 minutes.  Meanwhile, line a colander with 2 layers of cheesecloth.

5) Gently ladle the curds into the colander, and allow the whey to drain from the ricotta for at least 20 minutes.  For a firmer, drier curd, allow the curds to drain an additional 20 to 30 minutes.

6) Add the salt and stir to incorporate.  Use the ricotta immediately or place it in a lidded container and store in the refrigerator.  Use within 4-5 days.

Here is a great way to use your ricotta.  I've adapted the recipe from The Cook's Illustrated Cookbook.  It's wonderful on pasta, pizza or even as dressing for sandwiches.

2-3 garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 cup pine nuts 
1 cup arugula
1 cup fresh parsley
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup ricotta cheese 

Place first 7 ingredients in a food processor and pulse while slowly pouring in the olive oil.  Scrap down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Transfer pesto to a small bowl and stir in ricotta.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Mixture can be refrigerated for up to 3 days in a closed container.

For other recipes using ricotta checkout:
Silver Spoon
Baking Illustrated
How to Cook Everything Vegetarian

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Chocolate for a loved one.

If you or your loved one doesn't adore chocolate then skip this post.  This is for those who feel that if a dessert isn't chocolate they have been cheated.  It is wonderful--  rich, creamy, lusciously chocolate.  What more could you ask for?  That it is easy to make and doesn't require a ton of bizarre ingredients, done!
Marcy thank you, thank you for introducing me to this fabulous cake.  I have since made it many times and it always elicits moans and requests for the recipe.  So here is your chance to make your loved ones feel cherished with an extra special homemade Valentine.
 It really only takes 7 ingredients, and the hardest thing you have to do is fold in egg whites.  Never done this before?  No problem.  I've included a link with a "how-to" video tutorial.  Now go buy some dark chocolate and get to work.

You can find this recipe from River Cottage Every Day by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.  The only tweaking I've done is to bake it longer.  It has the consistency of a molten cake.  If you want a firmer cake add another 1/4 to 1/3 cup of almond meal.

Easy Rich Chocolate Cake

8 oz dark chocolate (60% to 70% cocoa works well)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup fine sugar (sometimes called superfine)
1/2 cup light brown sugar
4 medium eggs, separated
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup almond meal
whipping cream for garnish

1)Preheat oven to 325 degrees and grease a 10 inch spring form cake pan, lining the base with baking parchment.  You can use smaller pans or even ramekins, but watch them carefully, they bake quicker.

2) Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler on low heat.  Stir occasionally until melted.  Take off heat and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes.
3) Beat egg yolks and sugars.
4) When the chocolate and butter has cooled slowly drizzle it into the yolk mixture and mix thoroughly.
5) Fold in the flour and almond meal.
6) In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they hold firm peaks.  Adding the egg whites in 3 batches, gently fold them into the chocolate mixture.  I've tried to show you the folding motion, but for more details watch the video from Allrecipes.com.  It also shows you how to separate eggs and beat egg whites. http://allrecipes.com/video/76/folding-egg-whites/detail.aspx
7) Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 35-40 minutes for a 10 inch pan and approximately 25 minutes for ramekins.
8) Let cool for 10-15 minutes before releasing from the pan.  Serve with whipped cream.  And for an extra special touch garnish with raspberries.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Oh for the love of doughnuts!

Hello, are there any doughnut lovers out there?  For myself, a more accurate label might be recovering doughnut addict.  A while ago I decided that the best way to deal with this problem was just to avoid these delectable treats altogether.  I could never (and I mean NEVER) just have 2 doughnuts.  In fact, I break out in a light sweat whenever someone brings them to work.  It ruins my day because these treats have little voices that call out to me no matter where I am in the building.  It takes all of my concentration to assist patrons while I’m fighting the urge to run blindly into the lunch room and inhale two or three of the remaining doughnuts. 

And then some brilliant person created a doughnut pan for bakers.  For a year I resisted buying one, but as of last weekend I am now the proud owner a doughnut pan.  I just had to know if they created doughnuts that are as good as fried doughnuts.   I will be honest with you, fellow doughnut lovers and addicts. They are not the same, but to compare them is not fair.  It is like comparing sorbet to gelato.  But I will tell you they are very, very good and photogenic too!  I always like my baked goods to look like they come from a bakery.  After all we do eat with our eyes too.

So here are my reasons for encouraging you all to consider making your own baked doughnuts:
-The pan is not a huge investment. I bought mine for $9.00.
-Baked doughnuts are easy to make -- no special techniques or ingredients.  It took just 15 minutes to make the batter.
- The recipes are very versatile.  You can get creative with your flavors and toppings.
-Your house doesn't smell like a fast food fry joint.
-They look professionally made and you will impress your family and friends.
-They only take about 15 minutes to bake.
-This one is my favorite.  They freeze really well and then you can reheat them in the mornings and have warm doughnuts to start your days!

Baked Pumpkin Doughnuts

This recipe is my favorite one so far.   Yes, you can use it to make muffins instead, but for some magical reason they are much more satisfying to eat as doughnuts.  Recipe adapted from KingArthurFlour.com

Makes approximately 18-20 doughnuts

½ cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 ½ cups pumpkin puree (plain canned pumpkin)
zest of 1 orange
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 ½  teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
1 ¾ cups all purpose flour (if you have almond meal try substituting ¼ cup of the flour)
¼ cup granulated sugar mixed with 1-2 teaspoons cinnamon

1   Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease your doughnut pan.
2   In a large mixing bowl beat together the- oil, eggs, sugar, pumpkin, and orange zest. (I substituted 1/4 cup of the toasted pumpkin seed oil for some of the vegetable oil)
3  In a separate bowl mix together the cinnamon, salt, baking powder, and flour.
4  Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture, stirring just until smooth.
5   Fill the wells of the doughnut pans just ¾ full.  You can use a spoon for this, but for the best results use a plastic ziplock bag-  Fill bag with batter, seal bag and then snip off one corner of the bag.  Then pipe the batter into the pan.
6   Bake the doughnuts for 15-18 minutes.  If you’re making muffins, bake for 23-25 minutes.
7   Remove the doughnut pan from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes.  Then invert the pan onto a tray or carefully remove them with the tip of a butter knife.
Let the doughnuts cool for few minutes and then gently shake them in a bag with the cinnamon-sugar mixture.