Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tea Week: Scones


I love scones. They are easily one of my favorite baked goods for starting the day, or in this case for afternoon tea. While a simple traditional scone made well is perfection, I do have fun spicing things up and being creative in this department. For this occasion, I developed some Tipsy Cherry Scones. They're not quite drunk. Just a little tipsy ;-)

I saturated dried cherries with Kirschwasser, a cherry brandy, and then used more of the brandy in the scone dough, and also to create a lovely glaze with which to top these beauties. I have never been so in love with a scone before. I swear. Everyone who tried these said they were the best scones they've ever had (they disappeared in minutes), and I have made this recipe twice more since my original batch, and they were devoured like a lion destroys it's prey. But less bloody. We're civilized folk.

These scones are my pride and joy. So much so, in fact, that I decided to make a cooking video devoted to them. That's how much they rule. You're welcome. This is my first cooking video ever! I want to thank my sister for taping it for me. It was a fun experience, and I really hope I'm able to share more videos in the future. Please enjoy my debut, and let me know what you think :-D

Tipsy Cherry Scones
Makes about 8 to 12 scones (depending on size)

3/4 cup dried cherries
1/3 cup plus 2 T. Kirschwasser (cherry brandy)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 T. baking powder
Pinch kosher salt
1 stick unsalted butter (1/2 cup), cold and cut into cubes
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup buttermilk or heavy cream, plus more for brushing

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 T. Kirschwasser (cherry brandy)
1 T. milk
Red food coloring (optional)

Add dried cherries and 1/3 cup Kirschwasser to a small saucepan and heat over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally for about 7 minutes until the cherries are plump and all but a teaspoon or two of the liquid is absorbed. Set aside to cool.

Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

If using an electric mixer: In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt on low speed until just mixed. Add cold butter cubes to the flour mixture and turn on mixer to medium for a few minutes until mixture resembles coarse pea or dime-size crumbs. Add cherries and residual liquid and turn on mixer again on very low just until the cherries lightly combine into the flour/butter mixture. Add the egg, 2 T. Kirschwasser, and buttermilk to the flour mixture on low until just combined or mix in by hand, kneading lightly (but don't overwork it).

If mixing by hand: In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add cold butter cubes to the flour mixture and work the butter into the flour mixture, using your fingers or a pastry cutter, until the mixture resembles coarse pea or dime-size crumbs. Be careful not to overwork the mixture or the butter will soften too much and the resulting scones will not be flaky. Add the cherries and residual liquid and toss well. Then add the egg, 2 T. Kirschwasser, and the buttermilk to the flour mixture and mix until just combined, kneading lightly (but don't overwork it).

Scrape dough onto a nicely floured large wooden cutting board or work surface. The dough may be sticky, so take extra care flouring your hands and the sides and top of the dough as well, lightly patting it flat and into a rectangle shape, or into 1 or 2 circles (1 for bigger scones, 2 for smaller scones) about 3/4-to-1-inch thick. Don't overwork the dough, as you want the butter inside to stay as cold as possible until the scones head into the oven.

Depending on your preference, you can use a round floured cookie or biscuit cutter to cut circles, or use a bench/dough scraper or knife to cut triangles (if shaping into circles, simply cut wedges like a pizza). Flip each cut scone over and place upside down on the parchment lined baking sheet (the bottoms are flatter and will look prettier as the tops of the scones), spacing a couple inches apart. Lightly brush on top of the scones (but not the sides) with a little heavy cream. Bake scones for 15 to 20 minutes until lightly golden on top (baking time will be dependent on size of scones). Remove from the oven and allow the scones to cool on the pan while you prepare the glaze.

Stir together the confectioners' sugar, Kirschwasser, and milk until smooth. If the glaze is too thin, add a sprinkle more confectioners' sugar. Too thick, add a drizzle of Kirschwasser or milk. If desired, add a few drops of red food coloring to achieve a nice pink color. When scones are cool, drizzle the glaze over the tops. Allow the glaze to set briefly and then serve the scones at room temperature.

*Variation* Substitute the dried cherries with dried cranberries and/or substitute the Kirschwasser with Amaretto for a mild spiked almond flavor. Omit the red food coloring in the glaze.

Food coloring at Marché Adonis in Montreal (my favorite grocery store on Earth)... $1.99 for 50 mL (almost 2 oz), what a steal!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Tea Week: Afternoon Tea


Happy Memorial Day and welcome to Tea Week, a completely original celebration honoring the ancient (and fabulous) beverage produced by steeping dried leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant in very hot water to produce a flavorful liquor with great medicinal properties. Phew, that's a mouthful. Well, anyone who knows me at all know that I really love tea! I love hot tea, iced tea, foods flavored with tea, the experience of enjoying tea with all the fixings... if it's tea-related, you know I'm there. During my 2+ years blogging, I've found many other bloggers and readers who love tea as much as I do. Please consider this "holiday" a gift from me to you :) If you are a new subscriber to Mission: Food, you probably missed all the valuable information I shared during last year's event. I recently created a page for the blog completely devoted to all the tea-inspired posts I've shared on here... an organized and easy to access plethora of tea love. You can find it here or posted at the top of the page under "Tea's Me." At the very least, if you love tea and are interested in learning more about its history, health benefits, trends, brewing techniques, and various types of tea leaves (and so much more!) I suggest you read my posts from Tea Week 2010. Here they are for your convenience:

Did You Know?
A discussion of tea's history, health benefits, and trends

A Myriad of Flavors
A look at the different types of tea leaves, including some of my favorite teas

Brewing Tea is an Art
Tips on brewing the perfect cup of tea!

A Perfect Marriage
Pairing teas with foods

Obviously, I'm not going to completely reiterate the same information every single year, which is why I really suggest you go back and read these older posts. This year for Tea Week, I'm focusing my energy on discussing the very familiar and popular afternoon tea or high tea. First of all, while these terms are often used interchangeably, there is actually a difference between them, at least historically. Afternoon tea is the true term for what people picture when they imagine tiers of sweets and small crustless sandwiches. It is served between a light lunch and dinner (usually between 3 and 5 pm), and is more elegant in nature. High tea is typically a middle and lower class creation, with more substantial food offerings. It is sometimes called "meat tea" and includes things like sausages, meat pies, roast beef, etc. Traditionally, it was the main meal of the day for many working class folks. Today, these two different "teas" have merged in many tea rooms which now extend their afternoon tea service into high tea and offer other food options that are meant to be more filling.

I recently hosted an afternoon tea, and decided to focus this year's Tea Week on that experience. The courses for afternoon tea in most tea rooms go as follows: scones, tea sandwiches, sweets. It may seem unusual to serve a sweet scone before eating savory sandwiches, but this is how I've seen it done pretty much everywhere. For the next 3 days, I will share photos and recipes (as well as my first cooking video!) from my tea party. I hope you will tune in for more of the details! For now I will simply share the menu (it was fairly uncomplicated, as I had very little time to prepare beforehand, and there were only 5 of us dining) as well as some photographs of the table setting. I can't tell you enough how much I LOVE LOVE LOVE my tea set! It has been discontinued for some time, so unfortunately I don't think any of you can purchase it, but it's by a wonderful designer called Rosanna and this particular line is entitled "Tea's Me."

Photo courtesy Stash Tea

Afternoon Tea Menu

*First Course* 
Tipsy Cherry Scones

*Second Course*
Curried Egg Salad Tea Sandwiches
Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Tea Sandwiches

*Third Course*
Earl Grey Panna Cottas

Mariage Frères Marco Polo

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Bread Pudding Roundup (May 2011)

Happy Memorial Day weekend to my American readers! I hope everyone is enjoying their long weekend (and the official/unofficial start of summer). Today, I'm sharing another bread pudding roundup. Thank you to Maya at Foodiva's Kitchen for being my most loyal participant, haha!! Bread pudding lovers gotta stick together ;-) I hope you enjoy this month's bread puddings, and I look forward to the wonderful creations during next month's Club. Also, starting Monday I will be hosting my second annual Tea Week, so prepare yourselves for 5 days of tea love!! And PS there will be a super fun giveaway at the end of it all! *Hint hint* it's perfect for summer!

Annie's Best Apple Bread Pudding from Willow Cottage

Cinnamon Raisin Bagel French Toast Bread Pudding from Cinnamon Spice and Everything Nice

S'mores Bread Pudding from Mission: Food

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sure Thing, Chicken Wing


Sometimes you want a really satisfying meal with on-hand ingredients and minimal prep work. Sometimes your side dish consists of baked frozen fries *cough cough*. It happens. It's okay. We can't always throw together gourmet meals mid-week, but when chicken wings go on sale, suddenly inspiration (and craving) hits. You want some chicken wings, but you're not about to fill a pot with oil and go to town on those babies. Baking is easiest, and also easiest to clean up if you line the baking sheet with foil.

But can baked wings get as crispy as fried ones? With this recipe they can!! Using a dry rub to spice your wings magically allows the wings to crisp up really nicely with very little effort (baking them at 500 degrees F doesn't hurt, either). The Chinese five spice is a great spice mix that can lean in either a savory or sweet direction, depending on its use. Here, it's savory all the way, with some added spice from cayenne pepper. The original recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of cayenne, but I cut back to 1 teaspoon and thought that was perfection. The sauce is so easy to make, and yet it tastes great and is a lovely match to the wings, neutralizing the heat nicely. I replaced the original chopped cilantro with scallions, but you can use whatever you like. Make it first so it has time to really absorb the mild onion flavor of the scallions before you serve it.

The most time consuming part of the whole recipe (other than the baking) is cutting apart the chicken wings if you purchase them whole. No biggie, though. With a sharp enough knife and some butchering skills, it's a breeze. But if breaking down chicken wings creeps you out, just ask your butcher to do it. I'm sure you won't be the first. These wings would also be an excellent replacement to the more common buffalo or BBQ wings at parties.

Spicy Chinese Five-Spice-Rubbed Chicken Wings with Creamy Scallion Dipping Sauce
Makes 40 wings and 1 cup sauce
(Adapted from Food Network Favorites)

Creamy Scallion Dipping Sauce:
2 scallions, chopped*
1/4 cup light sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup yogurt
1/2 lemon, juiced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Chicken Wings:
40 chicken wing pieces or 20 whole chicken wings
2 T. Chinese five- spice powder
1 to 3 tsp. cayenne pepper (depending on taste--1 tsp. was perfect to me)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the sauce: Combine ingredients in mixing bowl. Whisk ingredients to incorporate them fully and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Refrigerate until needed.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.

If you have whole chicken wings, cut off wingtips and cut the wings in half at the joint. Discard wingtips or freeze to make stock at a later time.

Place the wings in a large bowl. Sprinkle five-spice powder and cayenne on the wings, add a few pinches of salt and about 15 grinds of black pepper. Rub the mixture into all the wings until no more loose rub remains. Wash your hands.

Line the wing pieces up on a foil-lined baking sheet (for easy cleanup) so the side of the wing that has the most skin is facing up. Roast until cooked through, browned and crispy, about 25 minutes. Serve hot with sauce.

*Alternatively, replace scallions with 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves to follow the original recipe and make creamy cilantro dipping sauce instead.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Homemade Soft Pretzels with Whole Grain Mustard


Last week on Top Chef Masters, Chef Celina Tio created a soft pretzel and salad course that sadly sent her home. Even though this was the judges' least favorite dish, I was inspired to make my own soft pretzels! It's something I had wanted to try for a while, but it never realistically made it onto my to do list. What better time than now! I also planned to make some homemade mustard to go with the pretzels, because what goes better with pretzels than yummy, tangy, spicy mustard? The pretzels came out really great, a truly perfect pretzel texture. My Philly-born brother-in-law insisted I could sell them on the streets of Philadelphia (I just might have to if I can't find a job soon, teehee). They had a great chewy interior with a perfect pretzel crust on the outside.

The bottoms of the pretzels were super brown too :) Glorious!!

I refrained from dusting them with pretzel salt on purpose... for two reasons. One, I made these pretzels on a whim and simply didn't have time to order this specialty ingredient in time. Second, I don't really like salt on my pretzels. I usually get them without salt if given the choice, and if they come with salt, I rub most of it off. It's just too salty for me. I used a touch of kosher salt instead, which obviously didn't impart the same crunchy salty texture as the pretzel salt, but was perfect for those of us who like our pretzels lower in sodium :) And for what it's worth, these pretzels were very easy to make, and not time-consuming at all. From start to finish (measuring ingredients to taking the pretzels out of the oven) it took just over 2 hours which is considerably awesome for a yeasted dough that needs to rise (for about an hour), be shaped, boiled, and then baked.

The mustard was a piece of cake. I perused many recipes before I came up with my own version. It used less dry mustard than some other similar recipes I found, and yet it definitely had a kick! I wouldn't add more than this. I also searched out brown mustard seeds to no avail (in my limited time to make these "on a whim"), so I used only yellow, but would have loved to mix it up had I found their brown counterparts. After sitting overnight, the texture of this mustard was not as thick as store-bought mustard, but it was perfect for dipping and spreading. After two nights, it was much thicker! The photographs reflect how it looked after the first night, so if you have the patience and make it far enough in advance, give it at least a couple days to really thicken up. It had a strong, but delicious flavor that garnered fans far and wide (well maybe not that far and wide, but whoever tried it loved it!). I would happily whip this up again in the future and even play around with the recipe to make different kinds of mustard. Just keep in mind it needs to sit overnight at least one night, so plan ahead... even on a whim, you can't really rush the mustard!

Homemade Soft Pretzels
Makes 8
(Adapted from Alton Brown)

1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
1 T. sugar
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 (1/4-oz) package active dry yeast
22 oz all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
2 oz unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil, for pan
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 T. water
Pretzel salt (optional)

Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.

Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.

In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other twice, into a twist, and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds on each side, starting with the top side and then the bottom. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt, if desired. Alternatively, kosher salt creates a less salty topping. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes, rotating pans from top to bottom and front to back halfway through . Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

The mustard after sitting overnight. After two nights it was significantly thicker than this.

Spicy Whole Grain Mustard
Makes 1 cup

1/4 cup yellow mustard seeds (or 3 T. yellow and 1 T. brown)
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup dry mustard
2 tsp. packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. ground allspice

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Mexican Breakfast Three Ways


Get your mind out of the gutter! It's not a Mexican breakfast three-way, it's Mexican breakfast THREE WAYS. Sheesh! I recently made a batch of red chile sauce with plans on making huevos rancheros for Cinco de Mayo (yes, I know this post is late to the party, but I made some of these dishes during the following week too). I made a lot more sauce than I needed, so I got to thinking about all the different uses for red chile sauce. The possibilities are endless. Enchiladas are a really common creation, but I decided to focus my thoughts on various breakfast dishes I could make using the same sauce. I certainly wasn't going to waste all that yummy sauce! I also had plenty of leftover corn tortillas, some leftover refried black beans, cheese, sour cream, etc. The main creation here is obviously the huevos rancheros, or ranch-style eggs. There are numerous variations on this dish, but I made these my way with warm corn tortillas, a base of creamy refried black beans, a touch of sauce, perfect sunny-side up eggs, cheese, sour cream, and a side of sliced avocado... to keep it real. I mean serious business. This is definitely fork and knife fare.

These huevos rancheros are considerably healthy, believe it or not. I used very little oil in making the sauce, the refried beans, and frying the eggs. I also used low-fat sour cream (although you can use full fat, no judgment), and a really restrained portion of cheese per person. Although the dish is technically NOT low in fat, the fats it does contain are healthy ones. Egg yolks are actually really beneficial. They are a natural source of lecithin, which improves brain function, promotes liver and reproductive health, lowers bad cholesterol, promotes heart health, and can even aid in weight loss by breaking down fats. Avocados are also high in fat, but healthy ones. Eating avocados can help lower bad cholesterol as well. Also, they taste awesome!

With some of the huevos rancheros leftovers (including some leftover refried black beans), I followed up with some breakfast tacos, an easy and incredibly satisfying alternative to the more popular breakfast burrito. You can really add whatever you like, but I kept it pretty simple. These were very satisfying and are packed with protein. They will keep you full for hours! A good way to start the day, and easy enough to throw together on a weekday before heading off to work. I started out planning to make 2 tacos, but 2 eggs were a bit much for 2 tortillas, so I quickly heated up another tortilla and assembled 3 instead of 2. The recipe is super flexible, so definitely feel free to play around with it until you find a balance of ingredients you love!

The third dish I made with my red chile sauce was one of my all time favorites, chilaquiles. I've actually shared a recipe for these before, using a different sauce and adding some extra protein in the form of black beans. You can keep this simple or spruce them up to your heart's content. This time around I kept to the basic requirements. Fried tortillas, sauce, and a protein. Eggs are my favorite addition to chilaquiles, although I've seen them done with chicken before. Eggs are a necessity for me though, and I never leave those out. The red chile sauce was great, but you can also easily whip up the other sauce I share in my original chilaquiles post. Also, unlike the other 2 recipes I'm sharing today, for the chilaquiles I definitely suggest thinning out the sauce with a little water to reach the desired consistency. They will coat and absorb into the fried tortillas more easily. This dish takes a little more time to prep, as you must pan-fry the corn tortilla wedges, but it's definitely worth it and very flavorful :)

Huevos Rancheros
Serves 4

Refried Black Beans:
2 tsp. olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 (15.5 oz) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
2 T. red chile sauce
1 tsp. ground cumin
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Water, as needed (about 3/4 cup to 1 cup or more)

8 corn tortillas
1 cup red chile sauce, heated in a saucepan
Pan spray, oil, or butter, as needed
8 eggs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
2 avocados
1 T. lemon or lime juice
1/4 cup sour cream (light is fine)

To make the refried black beans: Heat up the olive oil in a pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and sweat over medium heat, being careful not to burn the onions and garlic. Add the drained beans along with the red chile sauce, cumin and salt. Cook the beans over medium heat until the begin to soften, smashing them with the back of a spoon against the edge of the pot to start breaking them down a bit, about 10 minutes. It will most likely seem a bit dry at this point, so add some water a little at a time until it reaches your desired consistency. Continue to cook about 10 to 15 minutes or so, adding more liquid if necessary. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Keep warm (add more water if it starts to dry out or thicken too much before ready to serve).

Heat a small non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and add 1 corn tortilla at a time to the dry pan, for about 30 seconds per side to soften and heat the tortillas.

Meanwhile, heat another non-stick skillet over medium to medium-high heat. The size of the skillet will determine how many eggs you can fry at a time. I suggest cooking 2 to 4 at a time if your pan allows it. Add 1 or 2 teaspoons of butter or oil to the frying pan depending on the size of the pan (or spray with pan spray) and crack eggs into the medium-hot pan. Immediately lower the heat to low, season with salt and pepper, and cover the pan. This will allow the eggs to gently cook and the steam trapped by the cover will cook the whites on top and prevent the slimy egg white around the perimeter of the yolks for your sunny-side up eggs. Remove the lid occasionally to see when the whites on top are opaque (cooked through), then add 1 tablespoon cheese to the top of each egg and cover again for another minute or so until the cheese is melted.

Halve, peel, and slice the avocados and sprinkle with lemon juice to keep them from oxidizing.

Place 2 hot tortillas side by side on each serving plate. Onto each tortilla, spread 1/4 cup refried black beans, followed by 2 T. sauce, and 1 fried egg. Garnish each plate with 1/2 an avocado and a 1 tablespoon sour cream. Serve immediately.

Red Chile Sauce
Makes 3 cups

5 dried Anaheim chilies (1 oz), stems removed and broken into pieces
Boiling water, as needed
1 T. vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes with juices, or 2 cups peeled, seeded, chopped tomatoes
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. dried oregano

Place dried chilies in a metal bowl and pour boiling water over the top to cover. Weigh down the chilies with a small plate if needed. Allow chilies to soak for 10 to 15 minutes until softened. Strain chilies, reserving soaking water.

In a small sauté pan, add the oil over medium heat and then add the onion. Cook for about 5 minutes until softened and golden, and then add the garlic for another minute.

To a blender, add onion mixture, softened chilies, tomatoes, salt, cumin, coriander, and oregano. Taste the reserved chili soaking water. If it is not bitter, add 1/2 cup of the liquid to the blender. If the soaking water is bitter, add 1/2 cup plain water to the blender. Puree until smooth.

Pour mixture into a saucepan and heat through, mixing occasionally. Cover if it starts to splatter. If the sauce is too thick, add a bit more water. The sauce is now ready to use as desired.

Breakfast Tacos
Makes 3 (Serves 1 hungry person or 3 less hungry people)

3 corn tortillas
2 eggs, beaten
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 T. shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup refried black beans, heated
3 tsp. red chile sauce, heated (or salsa)
3 tsp. sour cream (light is fine)

Heat a small non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and add 1 corn tortilla at a time to the dry pan, for about 30 seconds per side to soften and heat the tortillas. Set the tortillas aside on a serving plate.

Season the beaten eggs with salt and pepper. In the same non-stick skillet add the eggs, lower the heat to medium-low and stir with a wooden spoon until the eggs start to firm up but are still fairly runny. Add the cheese and continue to mix and cook until the eggs are scrambled yet still on the soft side (not overcooked or dry).

Spread the refried black beans over the warm tortillas and top with the scrambled eggs, distributing evenly. Spoon a teaspoon of red chile sauce onto each followed by a teaspoon of sour cream. Serve immediately.

Serves 1

Vegetable oil, as needed
4 corn tortillas, cut into wedges
1/2 cup red chile sauce
About 2 T. water, or more as needed
2 eggs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Crumbled or shredded cheese, such as cotija, queso fresco, Monterey Jack, or feta (optional)

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add enough vegetable oil to coat the pan with about 1/8 inch deep of oil. Add a single layer of corn tortilla wedges at a time and fry for a few minutes per side until lightly golden and crisp, flipping with tongs. Set fried tortillas aside on a paper-towel lined sheet pan, and continue pan-frying until all the tortilla wedges are fried. Remove the pan from the heat. Drain off most of the oil from the pan, leaving just a tablespoon or two.

In a small saucepan, heat the red chile sauce over medium-low heat until it is warmed through. Add a little water to thin it out, starting with a couple tablespoons and adding more if desired.

Beat the eggs in a bowl with a little salt and pepper. Add the fried tortillas back into the hot skillet with the reserved oil, and set it over low heat. Pour the eggs over the fried tortillas and mix constantly with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon to scramble the eggs, breaking up the eggs as necessary to cook and evenly distribute.

When the eggs are about halfway cooked, but still soft, add the sauce, and some cheese (if desired), reserving some for garnish. Mix thoroughly so the ingredients are well-combined. Cook for a few more minutes over low heat to allow the tortillas to absorb some of the sauce. They should be an almost "al dente" texture, not too crisp (like a chip) and not soggy either, but still have a bite to them, kind of in between.

Remove from the heat and serve immediately topped with reserved cheese.

*Note* Check out my original chilaquiles post with a recipe for a different sauce and thoughts on other mix-ins.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Battle of the Pizzas


In the Big Apple, there has been a long-standing rivalry between a couple of old school coal oven pizza joints. What's better? Grimaldi's or Lombardi's? This question has been asked countless times, and I doubt there will ever be a definitive answer, as opinions on the subject are as numerous as New Yorkers. Let's start with a short history lesson, and then battle is out on a point by point evaluation.

Lombardi's - Small with Sweet Italian Sausage $19.50

Lombardi's is considered to be the first pizzeria in America. It started out as a grocery store in Little Italy opened by Gennaro Lombardi in 1897 and then officially transformed into a pizzeria in 1905. In 1984, Lombardi's closed shop, but later reopened at a new location 1 block down the street in 1994. It has been regarded as one of the best pizzerias in New York for many years.

Grimaldi's history is a little more elusive. After doing extensive research online, I have been unable to find the exact year that the famous restaurant opened under the Brooklyn Bridge, but can safely say it was probably around 1960. Grimaldi's has since opened several other locations, including most recently it's first Manhattan outpost in the Limelight Marketplace in Chelsea. A friend who has dined at both assured me that the pizzas at both locations are of the same quality, so if you aren't too keen on waiting in a crazy line at the Brooklyn location, Limelight Marketplace is a great alternative! Definitely less busy.

Grimaldi's - Small with Pepperoni and Fresh Garlic $16

Let's break it down. First up is the crust.

Both spots feature thin crust pizzas fired in coal ovens. This cooks the pizzas very quickly and results in a charred base with an infused coal flavor. The technique cannot be replicated without this technology. Texture-wise, I found the Grimaldi's pizza to be a bit soft and limp in the very center, but held up really well toward the edges, and had a lovely chewy and somewhat crunchy texture at the extremities. It also had a well-developed coal flavor and a nice even char underneath. Lombardi's had a slightly thinner and softer crust, though still chewy. It was not very limp in the center, but overall just a bit less crunchy at the edges. It was also slightly less charred. I noticed that some diners around me had darker crusts on their pizzas, which suggests that the pizzas at Lombardi's are a bit inconsistent. During my visit to Grimaldi's, the restaurant was less busy so I did not notice if there was inconsistency in the other pizzas. I have read reviews that suggest that sometimes pizzas at Grimaldi's can be undercooked while those at Lombardi's can be overcooked, so I am under the assumption that either restaurant could be a bit inconsistent from time to time. Overall, I preferred the slightly more charred and crunchy crust at Grimaldi's, although another visit to Lombardi's could result in a more cooked pizza which could make me think otherwise.

Grimaldi's Crust

Lombardi's Crust

The sauce can make or break a pizza. It's equally as important as the crust. Everything from flavor, consistency, and quantity can make a huge difference. An immediate difference in the two is that Grimaldi's puts the cheese on the pizza first, and THEN adds sauce, while Lombardi's opts for sauce and then cheese. Does this make a difference? Oh yes it does. I think putting the sauce onto the thin crust first as Lombardi's does resulted in the slightly softer crust. The sauce seeps in and you get the soft doughy surface you often find on pizzas right between the toppings and the crust. The cheese acted as a nice barrier on the Grimaldi's pizza. Overall I think the crust tasted chewier because the sauce didn't act as a softening agent. Also, the sauce at Grimaldi's was slightly chunkier and tasted purely of tomato. I could describe it as bland, but I won't. It's not heavily seasoned, but in a good way. It's a tomato sauce, plain and simple. Both sauces use San Marzano tomatoes, but the one at Lombardi's is more flavorful. It is also a bit smoother than its counterpart. I honestly like both sauces for different reasons, and the methods of saucing the two pies seriously does make a difference in texture. Again, it's pretty close, but I think I will give this to Grimaldi's, by a hair.

Cheese. It completes the trifecta of pizza awesomeness. Truly, a margherita pizza is simply crust, sauce and cheese. Both Grimaldi's and Lombardi's use fresh mozzarella. None of that processed low-moisture, part-skim shredded crap you find at the supermarket. Once again, the placement of the cheese actually makes quite a difference in the final result. Placing the cheese directly on the crust (at Grimaldi's) yields a stringier pizza-eating experience without the cheese sliding off the slice as you take bites. At Lombardi's, I occasionally had the cheese come right off with a single bite because the sauce acted as a lubricant. This happens very traditionally with pizzas just about anywhere, but I experienced less of it at Grimaldi's. Also, Grimaldi's used more cheese than Lombardi's. That's just a personal preference. Some people like more cheese, some like less. It could easily go either way in this department, but from my back-to-back visits, I'm going to give this round to Grimaldi's as well.

Toppings are next on the list. To make a completely unbiased judgment, I should have ordered plain pies at both locations, but instead selected simple toppings and focused on the base ingredients in between bites of pepperoni and sausage. For what its worth, both establishments have a pretty lengthy list of available accoutrements. I tried pepperoni and fresh garlic at Grimaldi's. The pepperoni was significantly superior to what one finds at most other pizza joints. These slices were smaller and thicker and had delicious flavor, especially when married with bits of garlic. Also, this pepperoni did not cause the pie to be overly greasy, as some other pepperonis can do. At Lombardi's, I simply opted for some sweet Italian sausage, sliced thinly and pretty mild in flavor. It too was not very greasy and didn't overwhelm the pizza in anyway. Neither restaurant overcompensated with toppings, really allowing the other components--crust, sauce, and cheese--to shine. Obviously if you order more toppings, this would be different.

Show me the money. In the end, the pizza may be great, but what damage will it do to your wallet? Let's take a look at the sizes available. Small and large. A Grimaldi's small measures 16-inches across, while one at Lombardi's is smaller at 14-inches. Both offer 18-inch large pies. At Grimaldi's a plain pie will cost you $12 and $14 respectively for small and large. Lombardi's charges $16.50 and $20.50 for theirs. A pretty astounding difference especially considering the small at Lombardi's is smaller than that at Grimaldi's. Most of the toppings at Grimaldi's cost about $2, give or take. At Lombardi's the toppings are $3 across the board (although if you order more toppings, they give you a deal). Your wallet likes Grimaldi's better. But be sure to fill it with CASH as neither spot accepts credit cards. Also, both only sell whole pies, no slices, so don't even bother asking. And for the record, Grimaldi's sells desserts, and Lombardi's doesn't (although Rice to Riches and Pink Berry across the street, and Ceci Cela down the block make the trip totally worth it).

Although flavor is obviously paramount in importance, ambiance can seriously impact a dining experience. Both restaurants are awash in red-and-white checkered table clothes. Grimaldi's is far more stark and less renovated. Service is an afterthought, and I wouldn't be surprised if no one asks you if you're enjoying your pie, or refills your water unless prompted. When I was there, the Gipsy Kings was a popular music choice. Lombardi's is definitely sleeker in appearance, boasting exposed brick and dark wood walls, with accents of maroon. Frank Sinatra rules the speakers here. Employees are dressed more formally, and overall seem to care more. If you are going for the old-school (and perhaps gimmicky) experience, Lombardi's is choice. It's also around the corner from Little Italy if that's your cup of tea (TOURISTS).

I think a great coal-fired pizza can be found at Grimaldi's and Lombardi's. Both are experts at their craft. A few slight differences set them apart, and although Lombardi's features more history, better ambiance, and superior service, it is generally outweighed by the better prices at Grimaldi's, and the overall better pizza. In each category, both restaurants were really close, and could easily have swayed in either direction depending on who was doing the judging. But I'M doing the judging, and I have made my official selection for best pie in New York City. After careful consideration and meticulous examination, the victor in this battle is Grimaldi's (the lower prices definitely didn't hurt the decision-making). I would love to hear your thoughts on this epic pizza rivalry. Have you tried both? What's your favorite? Please share!

19 Old Fulton St
Brooklyn, NY 11201
(718) 858-4300

656 Avenue of the Americas
(between 20th St & 21st St)
Manhattan, NY 10010
(212) 359-5523

32 Spring St
(between Mott St & Mulberry St)
New York, NY 10012
(212) 941-7994

Monday, May 16, 2011

S'mores Bread Pudding (and 300th Post!)


I'm so thrilled to be sharing my 300th post! I've come a long way, folks! I think it's only fitting that this tricentennial in my blogging career features a slamming bread pudding recipe. I like to consider myself the Queen of Bread Pudding (or at least that crazy curly-haired chick who created a club devoted entirely to bread pudding and decided to make a different flavor every month... for the rest of her life... what was she thinking?!). I am so completely in love with this month's variation. I don't like to pick favorites (because they're all my babies), but I'm not gonna lie... this was pretty darn delicious :)

The ground cinnamon in the custard brings out the graham cracker flavor a bit, which can get a little lost in all that gooey chocolate. The texture is so luscious and comforting, soft and rich with a lovely crust on top, complete with golden marshmallow pieces. These individual bread puddings soufflé a bit as they finish baking, a tell-tale sign that they are ready to come out of the oven. Although most bread puddings can be served either hot, warm, or at room temperature, these guys should be served shortly after they come out of the oven. You want all that melted chocolate! With summer and s'mores season on its way, these are a welcome alternative, especially during warm summer thunderstorms when you can't quite light the grill for s'mores-making. Don't fret. Whip up a batch of these wonderful bread puddings, kick back, and enjoy.

I am officially presenting S'mores Bread Pudding as the Bread Pudding of the Month for May. I invite you all to link up your bread pudding recipes from throughout the month, savory or sweet, there are no restrictions on originality! Please make your submissions before May 27th. I will then post a round-up of all the bread puddings from this month.

In order to participate, you must do the following...
  1. Use the linky form below the recipe to link up to the URL of your post, not the URL of your main blog. When it asks for "Name," type in the name of your recipe, not your name.
  2. Either in your post or in the sidebar of your blog, link back to the Bread Pudding of the Month page or share my badge using the HTML below. If you plan on regularly participating, it might be easier to just post it in your sidebar :)
If you do not link back to Mission: Food OR share my badge in your post / sidebar, I will not include you in the round-up so please make sure you not only link up below, but link back here from your blog. Simply copy and paste the HTML in the text box below, it's that simple.

I can't wait to see what you all come up with!

S'mores Bread Pudding
Serves 8

Unsalted butter or pan spray, for ramekins
5 cups stale* 1/2-inch bread cubes (such as Italian, challah, or brioche)
5 graham crackers, roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups mini marshmallows
1 cup roughly chopped semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
3 eggs
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
3 cups low-fat milk

Place the oven rack in the center of the oven, and preheat to 350 degrees F. Butter 8 (1-cup) ramekins and place on a baking sheet.

In a mixing bowl, toss together the bread cubes, graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate. Evenly distribute the mixture into each of the ramekins.

Whisk the brown sugar, eggs, and cinnamon together in a large bowl. Then whisk in the milk until well-combined and smooth. Pour the mixture evenly over the bread cubes in the ramekins, pressing down lightly with your hands and making sure that all the bread starts soaking in the custard.

Soak for about 15 minutes and then put the baking sheet in the oven. Bake until the filling is set and the top is lightly browned, crusted, and puffed, about 35 to 40 minutes.

Allow the bread pudding to cool for a few minutes (it will deflate) and serve hot while the chocolate is still gooey.

*If your bread isn't very stale, cut it into cubes and allow the bread cubes to dry out at room temperature all day or overnight. Alternatively, lightly toast them on a sheet pan in a 350 degree F oven until dry, about 10 to 15 minutes.


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