Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Deliciously Trashy Mac and Cheese with an Extra Hit of Mustard and Pickled Jalapeños

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I love macaroni and cheese in all shapes and forms. I love stove-top and baked. I love classic versions and creative ones. It's definitely one of my favorite comfort foods, and although I realize it's not very diet friendly, it's something I can't quite resist from time to time.


Here's a really quick and easy recipe for some "trashy" mac and cheese using canned evaporated milk and a trio of cheeses. Personally, I think it was a little heavy on the cheese, and next time I would scale back a tad, but otherwise the recipe yields a creamy, cheesy stove-top rendition with a bit of tang from sour cream or yogurt, a kick from Dijon mustard and hot sauce, and my personal favorite touch, briny, spicy pickled jalapeños to finish it off. The acid helps cut through the richness of all that cheese.


I halved the recipe when I made it, and at first thought to myself "I can totally eat both portions myself!" but it really is pretty decadent and probably best if you stick with the suggested serving size. I also didn't have any elbow macaroni, and used ditalini instead, which worked just fine. I think any small pasta shape would work here.


Deliciously Trashy Mac and Cheese with an Extra Hit of Mustard and Pickled Jalapeños
Makes 4 servings
(From Macaroni and Cheese)

12 ounces small elbow macaroni (I didn't have elbows, so I used ditalini)
8 ounces evaporated milk
12 ounces sharp, mature cheddar cheese, shredded (I used reduced-fat medium cheddar)
6 ounces Jack or similar cheese, such as Gouda, shredded
1/3 to 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan or a similar hard grating cheese
1 or 2 shakes hot sauce, such as Tabasco
4 to 6 tablespoons sour cream or Greek yogurt
1/4 cup Dijon mustard, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste (optional)
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon paprika, or to taste
1/4 cup pickled jalapenos, or as desired, chopped, sliced or left whole

Cook pasta in a large pot of rapidly boiling salted water until al dente and drain.

In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat evaporated milk over medium heat until bubbles form around the edge. Reduce heat to low. Toss in pasta, then sprinkle in the cheeses in 3 or 4 batches, tossing the macaroni with the cheese after each addition so cheese melts. Add hot sauce, sour cream, Dijon, and salt and pepper if needed. Warm through and sprinkle in the paprika.

Serve the mac and cheese with the chopped or sliced jalapenos scattered on top, or serve with the whole jalapenos alongside.

You could even pour the complete dish, without the jalapenos, into a large, deep baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes or until the top is crusty. But I think the appeal of this recipe is the speed with which you can throw it together.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Ham and Cheese Empanadas

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I enjoy pretty much anything wrapped in dough. This is why I adore dumplings so very much, and empanadas fall under the same umbrella of dough-wrapped love. Whether they are baked or fried, regardless of the type of wrapper, and the variety of filling, I'm tremendously excited by empanadas and have been trying out fun variations in my kitchen for years.


I was surprised to discover a recipe for Ham and Cheese Empanadas in Empanadas: The Hand-Held Pies of Latin America because it isn't a flavor combination that I would normally consider to be Latin American, but after further thought, the mixture of ham, cheese, and mustard in this case reminds me very much of a Cuban sandwich, minus the roast pork and pickle. I've actually even made Cuban Sandwich Empandas in the past, which were truly exceptional, and something I should make again soon!


This particular recipe for Classic Ham and Cheese Empanadas hails from Cuba, Central America, Chile, and Argentina. It seems to be popular throughout many countries in Latin America, and it's quite popular in my own kitchen too at this point!


The dough comes together quickly and easily in your food processor, and is bound with a combination of cold unsalted butter and cream cheese. A bit of sugar adds some sweetness to this flaky dough, which is a nice contrast to the more salty filling.


Chopped cooked ham, shredded cheese (I used a combination of cheddar and American cheeses), creamy mayonnaise and tangy mustard (I used Dijon) make up this simple yet satisfying empanada filling.


This is probably one of the easiest empanada recipes in the book, and they are baked, not fried, so that's even less of a mess in your kitchen! That's a pretty big win in my book.


I yielded 14 empanadas, rather than the 16 the recipe specified. It's possible that I should have rolled my dough just a bit thinner to be able to cut more circles, although I'm not sure I would have managed 4 more circles out of the dough, even if that were the case. With that said, The amount of filling was perfect for my 14 empanadas. They also baked a bit longer than the recipe states, in my case about 23 minutes instead of 12 to 15 minutes.


The result is pure comfort. Flaky, tender, slightly sweet dough encases a creamy, salty, cheesy, tangy filling. These puffy little empanadas are a real treat! I baked 6 of them and froze the other 8. I'm planning on baking those prior to an upcoming trip so my family can enjoy them as a breakfast/snack on the plane ride. They are best hot or warm, but I'm hopeful they will still taste good at room temperature on the plane.


Classic Ham and Cheese Empanadas
Makes 16 Empanadas (I yielded 14)
(From Empanadas: The Hand-Held Pies of Latin America)

Filling:
1/4 pound (115 g) finely chopped cooked ham
1/2 cup (60 g) shredded cheddar, mozzarella, Muenster, or other melting cheese
1/4 cup (60 ml) mayonnaise
1 tablespoon mustard (your favorite flavor--I used Dijon)

Flaky Dough:
1 1/2 cups (170 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of fine sea salt
8 ounces (225 g) cream cheese, cubed and chilled
1/2 cup (115 g) unsalted butter, cubed and chilled

Egg wash, made with 1 beaten egg and 2 teaspoons water

Make the filling: In a medium bowl, mix together the ham, cheese, mayonnaise, and mustard. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes (or up to 24 hours)

Make the dough: In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the flour, sugar, and salt; pulse for 20 seconds, or until combined. Add the cream cheese and butter and pulse until the mixture comes together and forms a ball, about 2 minutes (about 125 one-second pulses). Remove the pastry from the food processor, and divide it in half. Shape each half into a disc; wrap each disc in plastic wrap, and chill them for at least 30 minutes or up to 48 hours. You can freeze the dough up to 2 months and thaw the dough in the refrigerator overnight, before proceeding with shaping the empanadas.

Assemble the empanadas: Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper; set them aside. If the dough is too cold to roll out, let it sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before rolling. On a well-floured surface and with a well-floured rolling pin, roll out the pastry to about 1/8 inch thick (like for piecrust). Keep lightly dusting flour on your surface and rolling pin as you roll so that the pastry doesn't tear or stick (for easier rolling, use a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper directly over the top of the pastry so that the rolling pin doesn't stick).

Using a 3 1/2-inch cutter, make 32 rounds, rolling and cutting the scraps as needed (if you need to re-roll the dough, brush excess flour off the scraps with a clean pastry brush and gather up the scraps; wrap them in plastic and chill them for 10 minutes). Keep them covered as you work. Place a generous 1 tablespoon of filling in the center of half of the pastry rounds. Working with one round at a time, brush the edges with the egg wash and place another dough round over the filling. Use your fingers to seal the empanadas (they will look like ravioli), being careful to press the air out of the dough as your fingers move to the edges. Seal the edges very well with your fingers and then press them together with the tines of a fork; use the tines of the fork to poke vents on top of each empanada. Transfer the empanadas to the baking sheets and chill them uncovered for 20 minutes (or up to 8 hours).

Bake the empanadas and serve: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Brush the tops of the empanadas with the egg wash. Bake the empanadas until they are golden, 12 to 15 minutes (rotate the pans in the oven halfway through baking, back to front and top to bottom, to ensure that all of the empanadas bake evenly--mine baked longer, for about 20 to 25 minutes). Let them rest 2 to 3 minutes and serve them warm.

*Cook's Note* To freeze the unbaked empanadas, do not brush the tops with egg wash. Place them in one layer on the prepared baking sheets and freeze them until solid. Transfer them to freezer-safe bags or bins and keep them frozen for up to 4 months. To reheat, brush the tops of the frozen empanadas with the egg wash. Bake them directly from the freezer. Add 3 to 5 minutes to the baking time, or bake until the empanadas are lightly golden.




Monday, November 21, 2016

Minestrone Soup

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Back in September I created a goal for myself to make soup more often this fall and winter. I had hoped to make soup on a weekly basis, but unfortunately life has a way of spoiling plans sometimes. My job has kept me pretty busy and stressed this fall, so my weekends couldn't be fully devoted to doing all the things (like making soup) I had hoped.


I've still managed to make quite a few really excellent soups (and other fun recipes) this fall, and hope as things calm down with work as the holidays approach, I'll have a bit more time to focus on my own personal cooking goals at home. That definitely includes more soup!


One of my favorites that I've made recently is a classic: minestrone. The version I made is from Soup Swap, an excellent cookbook I had the pleasure of reviewing recently. It contains so many incredible soup ideas, from traditional to creative. When seeking soupy comfort, a minestrone is just the ticket, and the version here is spot on.


I replaced the parsnip with an additional carrot (simply because I had a million carrots in my fridge at the time), and I skipped the optional potato. The original recipe uses vegetable stock, but I used chicken instead, and made the adjustment in the recipe below. If you're not a vegetarian, there's no reason you couldn't get away with using chicken stock here.


One of my least favorite things about soups that contain pasta is that after the first day, the pasta usually soaks in more of the broth and becomes mushy, and also results in a less brothy soup since some of the broth gets absorbed by the pasta. To remedy this problem, for my minestrone I cooked the pasta separately and then didn't mix it into the pot of soup, but instead mixed a bit of the cooked pasta into each serving, and then stored the extra pasta and soup separately before reheating the leftovers.


I was able to find some fun mini pasta shapes that are intended for introducing children to pasta with their tiny versions of larger pasta shapes. Sold by Rienzi, the "i bambini" line of pastas are perfect options for soup pasta! I purchased the mini bow ties as well as mini shells, but decided to use the mini bow ties for my minestrone. Ditalini is another good small pasta shape that would be perfect for this soup, and it's easy to find.


This hearty soup is perfect for chilly weather, even though some of the ingredients are more reminiscent of summer (zucchini and tomatoes for example). As the weather gets cooler, I'm feeling more inclined to stick to my goal of weekly soup-making, and this minestrone will easily make its way back onto the menu soon!


Minestrone Soup
Makes 8 servings
(Adapted from Soup Swap)

2 medium leeks
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium parsnip, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces (I used an extra carrot instead)
2 large celery stalks, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium zucchini, ends trimmed and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup (30 g) packed finely chopped fresh parsley
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons tomato paste
2 medium ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/2-inch pieces, or 2 cups (440 g) good-quality canned crushed Italian tomatoes
1 Parmesan cheese rind (optional), plus 1 cup (80 g) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups (440 g) cooked white cannellini beans, or canned beans (drained, rinsed, and re-drained)
8 ounces (230 g) cooked Yukon gold or russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (optional)
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
Pinch of red chili flakes
1/4 cup (30 g) acini di pepe or very small soup pasta

Trim off the dark green sections from the leeks and save for making vegetable stock. Halve the pale green and white sections lengthwise, Rinse under cold running water, pat dry, and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces.

In a large stockpot over low heat, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the leeks, cover, and cook, stirring once or twice, for 6 minutes. Add the carrots, parsnip, celery, zucchini, rosemary, and half of the parsley and season with salt and pepper. Turn the heat to medium and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. The vegetables should be just beginning to turn gold. Add the tomato paste, stir to coat the vegetables, and cook another 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, Parmesan rind (if using), beans, and potatoes (if using) and stir well. Turn the heat to high, add the stock, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low, add the red chili flakes, and simmer, partially covered, for 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed. If the soup is not as flavorful as you like, remove the lid and simmer it over medium heat for another 10 minutes.

Add the pasta to the soup and simmer for 10 minutes more, or until the pasta is al dente, or just barely tender. (Remember you will be reheating the soup, so you want to slightly undercook the pasta. Cooking the pasta directly in the soup will work only if you're using a very small shape. If using orzo or a larger shape, boil separately for about 7 minutes, drain, and then add to the soup--personally I left the cooked pasta on the side and allowed each person to stir a couple spoonfuls into their bowl of soup so the pasta wouldn't get mushy. Even for the leftover soup I left the pasta separate and then reheated and stirred in the pasta into each portion). Remove the rind from the soup.

Ladle the soup into mugs or bowls. Top with the remaining parsley and some grated cheese before serving.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Classic German Baking: Apfelstrudel

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Normally when I think of popular European desserts, my mind immediately goes to French and Italian classics, however there are quite a few German desserts that are outstanding and absolutely worth the effort.


I recently received a review copy of Classic German Baking by Luisa Weiss. This was a fun surprise because my experience with German baking is certainly limited. I've made pretzels on multiple occasions in the past, as well as apple strudel once in culinary school, but otherwise, most of these classics are new to my cooking repertoire.


I was pleased to discover this robust cookbook is filled with 100 classic German recipes for baked goods, both savory and sweet. There are extensive introductions to each recipe, but less photos than I would normally like.


Many photos are of picturesque German architecture, but I would have preferred more photos of the recipes themselves. This would perhaps be my only complaint, but the value of the information provided, in great detail and authenticity, makes up for it.


With that said, I've only tested one of the recipes so far, but had outstanding results. I have made traditional apple strudel many years ago in culinary school, with hand-stretched dough, but had never attempted it on my own without culinary supervision.


It's a dessert I adore, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to try this recipe. Weiss also includes sweet variations of strudel featuring plums as well as quark, as well as a couple savory versions filled with cabbage and potatoes. I would very much like to try those recipes in the future, but since it's still apple season, a traditional apfelstrudel is perfect.


The recipe begins with the dough, which is supple and smooth, and surprisingly easy to stretch by hand until it's paper-thin.


Apples are tossed with lemon juice, sugar, cinnamon, and rum-soaked raisins.


Toasted, lightly sweetened breadcrumbs create a barrier between the apple filling and the dough. A kitchen towel (or in my case a clean bed sheet) is used to assist with the rolling of the strudel, and it's then slathered with butter and baked until golden.


Although the recipe can seem intimidating, it's really not that difficult. I had a bit of kitchen help peeling, quartering, and coring the apples while I simultaneously sliced them, but otherwise, I only spent about 1 1/2 hours on the entire process before my strudel was ready to bake. That includes, making the dough, resting the dough, preparing the apple filling, toasting the breadcrumbs, stretching the dough, and assembling and rolling the strudel (and taking photos!). Not too shabby.


I found a slight editorial issue in the Apfelstrudel recipe, where it indicates to melt the remaining 5 tablespoons or 115 grams of butter, but really that would be 75 grams (what is remaining after using the other 40 grams with the breadcrumbs). I also had a slight leak on one side of my strudel, but it was nothing major, and the finished result was still fantastic!


The exterior is crisp and flaky, and the apple and raisin filling practically melts in your mouth. Here are some testimonials from my family:

"This is better than the strudel my grandmother used to make!" - my half-German brother-in-law
"This is better than apple pie!" - my American, pie-loving sister

Well there you have it, folks. Great success! I definitely have my eye on more of these recipes. I plan on making the Black Forest Cake for a future cake-worthy occasion, such as a birthday. I'm also really looking forward to trying the Sacher Torte, as well as many others.


While some readers have had concerns about the minimal amount of yeast in many of the yeasted recipes, I haven't tried these out myself yet so I cannot comment, but my experience so far as been very positive. This is a book I will use again, and would happily recommend to fellow bakers.


Apfelstrudel (Apple Strudel)
Makes 1 (14-inch-long) strudel
(From Classic German Baking)

Raisins:
1/2 cup (75 g) raisins
2 tablespoons dark rum

Dough:
1 1/4 cups, scooped and leveled, minus 1 tablespoon (150 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons sunflower oil or other neutral vegetable oil
1/3 cup (80 ml) water

Apple Filling:
2 1/4 pounds (1 kg) apples (about 6 or 7 medium)
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (75 g) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
8 tablespoons (115 g) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (60 g) unseasoned dried bread crumbs
1 tablespoon Vanillezucker (vanilla sugar)
1/8 teaspoon salt

Confectioners' sugar, for dusting
Schlagsahne (whipped cream) or vanilla ice cream, for serving

To prepare the raisins: The day before you plan to bake, place the raisins and rum in a small nonreactive bowl and cover. Set aside for 24 hours.

To make the dough: The day of baking, make the dough. Combine the flour and salt in a small bowl. Pour the oil into the flour mixture, and then slowly add the water, using your index finger to stir. The mixture will be very wet. Continue to stir with your fingers, and as soon as the dough has come together, dump it out onto a work surface (you may lightly flour it if needed, but once you get started with kneading, you won't need to add more) and start kneading the dough. Knead for 10 minutes (set a timer; the time will pass faster than you think). At the end of the kneading, the dough should be soft, supple, and silky to the touch. Form it into a ball and place it on the work surface. Invert the bowl over the dough and let it rest for 30 minutes.

While the dough is resting, prepare the apple filling: Peel, quarter, and core the apples. Slice the quarters thinly, and then cut the slices in half crosswise. Place in a large bowl and toss with the lemon juice, sugar, and cinnamon. Add the plumped raisins and any rum left in the bowl.

Melt 3 tablespoons (40 g) of the butter in a small pan over medium-high heat; add the breadcrumbs, Vanillezucker, and salt. Stir to coat and then cook the bread crumbs, stirring constantly, until they are golden brown and very fragrant, 5 to 8 minutes. Don't let the bread crumbs burn. Set aside.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper.

Melt the remaining 5 tablespoons (75 g) of butter in a small pan and set aside.

On your work surface, spread out a clean cotton or linen kitchen towel that measures at least 24 by 32-inches (I used a folded bed sheet). The long side of the towel should be horizontal and the short side vertical; this is how you want the dough to be positioned later when you fill it. Sprinkle flour lightly over the towel. Place the dough in the middle of the towel and roll it out several times in both directions with a tapered rolling pin until it's about 10 by 13 inches. Then ball your hands to loose fists, put them under the rolled-out dough, and gently start stretching out the dough using the back of your hands. Alternate with pulling on the dough gently with your fingers to continue stretching the dough. This takes patience and some confidence; you don't want the dough to rip, but you do need to stretch out the dough with some assertiveness. If it does rip, press the dough together again around the rip. Continue stretching out the dough evenly until it measures 16 by 24 inches and is thin enough that you can see the pattern of the towel through it. Make sure you pull the edges of the dough as thin as you can, too. The dough should be uniformly thin all over.

Brush the dough evenly all over with some of the melted butter. On the right side of the rectangle, distribute the toasted, seasoned bread crumbs from top to bottom over one-quarter of the dough, leaving 1 1/4-inch border at the edges on the top, bottom, and right.

Drain off any juices that have accumulated at the bottom of the bowl of apples and raisins, and then pile the apple mixture evenly over the bread crumbs. Gently pull the top and bottom edges of the dough over the sides of the filling, stretching slightly if necessary, and then pull the right edge of the dough up and over the filling as far as it will go without tearing. Working carefully, use the towel to roll up the strudel all the way. Using the towel as a sling, gently roll the strudel onto the baking sheet with the bread crumbs on the bottom. If the strudel roll feels sturdy enough, you can instead transfer the roll with your hands. If the strudel is lumpy or larger at one end than the other, use your hands gently but firmly to form the strudel into a uniform shape--it should be the same thickness all the way along its length. Brush the strudel liberally and thoroughly with more of the melted butter.

Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake the strudel for 15 minutes; remove from the oven and brush the strudel thoroughly all over with more of the melted butter. Rotate and bake for another 15 minutes; remove again and brush liberally with the remaining butter. Rotate again and bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes. When ready, the strudel should be crisp to the touch and a deep golden brown.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven and put it on a rack to cool for at least 20 minutes before serving. Dust with confectioners' sugar and slice into 2-inch pieces to serve, with schlagsahne (whipped cream) or vanilla ice cream alongside. Strudel is best the day it is made, but it keeps 1 to 2 days at room temperature. Before serving, crisp up leftover strudel in a 350 degree F oven for a few minutes

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.

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