Thursday, September 27, 2012

Armenian Lentil Soup with Macaroni

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To the fabulous readers of Mission: Food... I'm leaving on a jet plane. I will be on vacation for the next 3 weeks visiting the beautiful country of Armenia, where both of my parents were born and raised. I traveled there for the first time 3 years ago and it simply took my breath away. I can't wait for another adventure exploring the traditions of my ancestors. When I return, I definitely plan on sharing my experiences with you all, so I hope you're looking forward to it!


During my time away, I have arranged for a few of my amazing blogger friends to fill in for me. I've tasked them each with the theme of "travel" to inspire their posts. I hope you enjoy the first ever series of guest posts on Mission: Food! I'm really excited to share them with you all :)


As my sendoff, I'm sharing an Armenian soup recipe that is a favorite of my family's. It's easy to make and very satisfying. Featuring hearty lentils, macaroni, and lots of flavor from garlic, lemon juice, and cumin, it's sure to satisfy the soup-lovers in your family as well. And with that, I shall bid you adieu until my return :-D


Armenian Lentil Soup with Macaroni
Serves 6 to 8

3/4 cup small macaroni, such as ditalini, small shells, or stars (pastina)
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup chopped onions
2 cups lentils
4 cups chicken broth
4 cups water (if making vegetarian soup, omit chicken broth and use 8 cups water instead)
2 T. tomato paste
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup lemon juice
2 tsp. ground cumin
Kosher salt and hot red pepper (such as cayenne)

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until almost al dente. Drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until softened. Then add the lentils, broth, and water, cover and bring the mixture to a boil. When the mixture comes to a boil, lower the heat and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes or until the lentils are tender.

Stir in the cooked pasta, tomato paste, garlic, lemon juice, and cumin. Season with salt and hot pepper (just a pinch or two). Serve hot.

*Note* You may be tempted to just boil the pasta directly in the soup, but doing so will absorb much of the liquid and leave the soup incredibly thick. Leftover soup may thicken up as well, as the residual liquid absorbs into the pasta, but feel free to thin it out with a little water or chicken broth when you heat it back up.

Monday, September 24, 2012

5 Star Makeover: Apple Cinnamon Bread and French Toast

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For this month's 5 Star Makeover, the theme is Apples. I can't think of a better theme for September, honestly. When I think of September, I immediately think of apples. They are very versatile as well, working beautifully in both sweet and savory dishes. I knew this challenge would be a fun one!


I had been wanting to make this apple cinnamon loaf from Sarabeth's Bakery for some time. It's a yeasted bread containing apples and cinnamon as opposed to a more typical quick bread that would be more cake-like in texture and flavor. I was very intrigued by the rustic character of this bread (rolling it up with apples and then chopping it up and piling it into loaf pans), and thought it would be really fun to share for the 5 Star Makeover.

Ready to go in the oven!

The bread was surprisingly easy to make, especially considering that it didn't require any effort to "shape" the loaf. It looks messy, but this is the correct method and it works out perfectly in the end. I'd also like to note that the recipe calls for 2 large apples, about 1 1/2 lbs, but when I weighed my apples I ended up with 4 apples for that weight. I used 4 apples and I'm happy that I did because I got plenty of apple bits in each slice of bread.


The bread had a mild apple pie flavor because of the baked apple chunks and cinnamon, but otherwise wasn't really sweet. I really liked this because it offered a nice canvas for any other flavors you'd like to include. You can eat this bread on its own, or use it for other dishes.


To make over the bread even further, I decided to use it for French toast. I know that at Sarabeth's they use this bread for that purpose so I thought it would be perfect to try that out with my own homemade bread. Honestly, this was hands-down one of the best French toasts I have ever had. Seriously. I will plan to make the bread again in the future with the ultimate purpose of making French toast with it.


The flavor of the apples added such a great characteristic to the French toast. Each bite was a cross between apple pie and French toast. I also like the mildly sweet, spiked custard for the French toast. You can definitely add more sweetness with the confectioners' sugar and maple syrup, so I believe restraint is key when it comes to sweetness up front.


I'm a lush, so added a bit of fruity booze into the mix for flavor and a little added decadence. I used apricot brandy because I had some in the liquor cabinet, but Calvados (or apple brandy from Normandy) would be the ultimate addition. Some orange liqueur would also be a nice alternative here (Cointreau, Grand Marnier, or Triple Sec are good possibilities).


I also thought it would be fun to use the bread to make panini filled with Brie cheese. Apple and Brie are often paired together in grilled sandwiches, so I thought with the apples in the bread it would be a fun experiment. Overall, I thought the sandwiches were yummy. The bites that contained apple were fantastic, but otherwise the flavor of the sandwich was on the mild side. A little bacon might be a nice touch in the future :)

I'm also submitting this post to YeastSpotting!



Apple Cinnamon Loaf
Makes 2 loaves
(Adapted from Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours)

Dough:
3 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/3 cup water (105 to 115 degrees F)
3 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup cold water
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 cups unbleached all purpose flour, as needed
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus additional for the bowl and pans

Apple Filling:
2 large Granny Smith apples (about 1 1/2 pounds) peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch cubes*
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

To make the dough sprinkle the yeast over the warm 1/3 cup water and stir. Wait 5 minutes for the yeast to dissolve. Pour into the mixer bowl. Add the milk, 1/3 cup cold water, sugar, egg yolk and vanilla and whisk to combine.

Fit the mixer with a paddle attachment and on low speed gradually add half of the flour, then the salt. One tablespoon at a time add the butter. Gradually add the remaining flour to form a rough dough. Replace the paddle attachment with a dough hook and knead on medium low speed adding more flour if needed until the dough cleans the bowl. Continue kneading until the dough is soft, smooth and elastic, about 6 minutes.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead briefly to check the dough's texture. The dough will be slightly sticky. Butter a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise until doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 hours.

When the dough has risen prepare the apple filling. Mix the cut apples, egg yolk, sugar and cinnamon in a medium bowl.

Butter two 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-by-2 1/2-inch loaf pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper and dust the sides with flour. Set aside.

Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface. Roll or stretch the dough into a 16-by-12-inch rectangle. Spread the filling over the dough and starting at the top begin to roll up the dough, jelly roll style.

Using a bench scraper or large knife, cut the dough into 1-inch-thick slices.

Now cut through the slices to make 1-to-1 1/2-inch pieces. It will look like quite a mess, but you're doing the right thing. Using the bench scraper, scoop up the dough-apple mixture and divide equally among the prepared loaf pans (a kitchen scale comes in handy here), distributing as evenly as possible.

Choose a warm spot in your kitchen for proofing the loaves. Place the pans on a cookie sheet. Fill a glass with very hot water. Place the pan with the loaves inside a big plastic garbage bag, place the glass of hot water in the bag, inflate the bag by waving the opening up and down, then close tightly. This will mimic a professional proofing oven (you can also just set the pans in a warm place; this worked fine for me).

Let stand until the loaves have risen to the top of the pans (mine actually puffed up much higher than the edge of the pans), about 1 hour. The dough will look lumpy.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the glass from the pan, then the pan from the bag. Bake on the center rack (on the cookie sheet) for 30 to 35 minutes. Cover the loaves loosely with foil and bake for another 25 to 30 minutes or until the tops are golden brown and an instant read thermometer reads 210 degrees F.

Transfer the loaf pans to a wire cooling rack and let stand for 5 minutes. Unmold the loaves onto the rack. Remove the parchment paper and turn the loaves right sides up and let cool completely.

*I weighed my apples and found that 4 of them were about 1 1/2 lbs. I elected to use 4 apples instead of 2. My loaves were very full of apples and puffed up quite high because of the extra volume in the pans, but I assumed following the weight suggested would be more accurate than going by the number of apples since mine were apparently smaller. I loved the generous amount of apples in my bread and wouldn't have it any other way. You can use however many apples you feel comfortable with in your bread.


Apple Cinnamon French Toast
Serves 4 to 5

3 large eggs
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon fruity booze, such as apple or apricot brandy, or orange liqueur
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch kosher salt
1 cup milk
8 to 10 (3/4-inch-thick) slices apple cinnamon loaf, preferably stale (1 loaf of this bread should yield about 11 slices at that thickness including the ends)
Unsalted butter, as needed
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting
Pure maple syrup, for serving

In a mixing bowl, beat together the eggs, sugar, booze, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt. Then gently beat in the milk to combine.

Over medium heat, melt about a tablespoon of butter in a large non-stick skillet or griddle. Dip bread one slice at a time into the custard mixture and allow it to soak for about 30 seconds on each side. Place 2 or 3 slices of soaked bread onto the skillet (only as many pieces as will comfortably fit depending on the size you use), and cook for 2 to 3 minutes per side until golden brown. Repeat with the remaining slices, adding more butter as needed to the pan. French toast can be kept warm in a low oven.

Dust French toast with confectioners' sugar and serve with maple syrup on the side for drizzling. Serve hot.



Friday, September 21, 2012

Mexican Fiesta: Margarita Cupcakes

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Finally, it's time for dessert! After filling up on everything from restaurant-style salsa to homemade fresh chorizo tacos, I'm ready for some sweet indulgence. While tres leches cake would have been the perfect Mexican dessert, the lush in me wanted to make these margarita cupcakes. They are moist and fluffy with a hint of lime and tequila. Brushing on extra tequila and adding more tequila and lime juice into the fluffy American-style buttercream helps round out these cupcakes as the perfect treat for any fiesta.


For the record, I'm not a huge fan of tequila. I find its prominent flavor off-putting. I thought the amount of tequila in these cupcakes was mild and the brightness of the lime definitely helped make them taste even lighter. The frosting was absolutely delicious and I sampled plenty of it while piping my cupcakes. I figure if it's not on the cupcakes yet, it's zero calories. Right?


The original recipe states that it makes a dozen, but let me assure you, there is no way on Earth that this recipe will make only a dozen cupcakes. I filled 12 liners and still had plenty of batter left. Aiming for 16 cupcakes is a lot safer if you don't want a cupcake explosion in your oven. They do rise pretty high so don't fill the cups too much, about 2/3 full is a good start.


Margarita Cupcakes
Makes 16 cupcakes
(Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker)

Cupcakes:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
Zest and juice of 1 1/2 limes
2 tablespoons tequila
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk

To Brush the Cupcakes:
1 to 2 tablespoons tequila

Tequila-Lime Frosting:
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons tequila
Pinch of coarse salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line 2 standard muffin tins with 16 paper liners and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.

In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together until pale, light, and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

Reduce the mixer speed and add the eggs one at at time, mixing thoroughly after each addition.

Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the lime zest, lime juice, vanilla extract and tequila. Mix until combined. The mixture may start to look curdled at this point, but don’t worry, it will all come back together.

Add the dry ingredients in three batches, alternating with the buttermilk in two batches. Mix only until just incorporated, using a rubber spatula to give it one last mix by hand.

Divide the batter between the muffin cups, filling about 2/3 of the way. Bake for approximately 25 minutes or until just slightly golden and a toothpick comes out clean, rotating the pans halfway through baking.

Allow cupcakes to cool for 5 to 10 minutes, and then remove to a cooling rack. Brush the tops of the cupcakes with the 1 to 2 tablespoons of tequila. Set the cupcakes aside to cool completely before frosting them.

To make the frosting, beat the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for 5 minutes. Reduce the speed and gradually add the powdered sugar, mixing and scraping the sides of the bowl until all is incorporated. Add the lime juice, tequila and salt. Mix until incorporated and fluffy (it will increase in volume as air is whipped into it). If the frosting appears a bit too soft, add some additional sugar or refrigerate briefly to firm up. Frost cupcakes and garnish, if desired, with lime zest, an additional sprinkling of salt and/or a lime wedge.

*Note* If you would prefer to not use liquor in these cupcakes, you can omit it from both the cupcakes and the frosting with no problem.




Thursday, September 20, 2012

Mexican Fiesta: Braised Beef Short Rib Tacos

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The second taco filling I made for my football-themed Mexican fiesta featured braised beef short ribs. Tender, melt-in-your-mouth braised short ribs are the Holy Grail of braised meats in my opinion. They are irresistible on restaurant menus, easy to make, and feature a relatively cheap cut of meat compared to others. Although there is definite waste (the bone and excess fat/cartilage) it's worth the hours it can take to taste the final result.


These short ribs braise in a seriously aromatic liquid comprised of Mexican beer, blackened tomatoes, beef broth, tomato paste, chipotle chiles, tamarind paste, garlic, orange zest, brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, and thyme. The aroma is intoxicating. Although the original recipe doesn't call for this, I think a nice final touch is to strain and reduce some of the braising liquid and mix it with the shredded short ribs to add back some flavor and moisture. It's a customary step when completing a braise and I think it's suited for these tacos. Which taco filling are you most anxious to try? The braised beef short ribs or the homemade fresh chorizo I shared yesterday?


Braised Beef Short Rib Tacos
Makes 8 tacos
(Adapted from Tacos)

2 1/4 pounds meaty bone-in beef short ribs*
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
12 ounces dark beer or India pale ale (I used an amber Dos Equis to keep it Mexican... stay thirsty, my friends)
5 small tomatoes, blackened under the broiler or on a grill, and chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 canned chipotle chiles
1 tablespoon tamarind paste
3 cloves roasted garlic
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1 1/2 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 stick cinnamon
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 sprig fresh thyme
2 cups low-sodium beef stock or broth
8 corn tortillas, for serving

Season the meat evenly on both sides with salt and pepper. In a braising pan with high sides, heat the oil over high heat. Add the ribs to the pan and sear on all sides until browned, about 1 minute per side.

Pour in the beer and add the tomatoes to deglaze the pan. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste, chiles, tamarind paste, garlic, orange zest, brown sugar, cinnamon stick, bay leaf, allspice, thyme, and beef stock.

When the mixture starts to bubble, decrease the heat to low, cover the pan, and simmer, occasionally skimming the fat from the surface, until the meat can easily be pulled from the bone with your fingers, about 3 1/2 hours or longer, as needed. Don’t overcook the ribs, or the meat will be mushy.

Shred the meat, removing any excess fat or cartilage. Strain the braising liquid and measure about 1 1/2 cups. Add that back to the empty pan and cook over medium-high heat to reduce by half. Mix this glaze with the shredded meat and serve immediately or keep warm in the pan until ready to serve. To make ahead, refrigerate the meat and glaze separately (so the meat doesn't absorb all the glaze up front) and then reheat the them together on the stove top over medium heat.

Serve with warm corn tortillas and your choice of garnishes.

*Note* Be sure to purchase the meatiest short ribs available, without too much fat. They should be thick-cut, 1-or-2-bone size, about 4-inches long, and almost 2 1/2-inches thick.




Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mexican Fiesta: Homemade Fresh Chorizo Tacos

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I'm just loving all these authentic Mexican recipes from my football-themed fiesta, aren't you? The next recipe is for one of the two taco fillings I made for the party. This homemade fresh chorizo is spicy, smoky, and garlicky. The mixture only requires a few ingredients and comes together very easily. It's not much more effort than making a generic ground beef filling, so why not kick it up a notch and try this instead?


I loved topping my fresh chorizo tacos with some pickled onions and sour cream to balance out the spiciness. You could top it with anything you like, of course. Some queso fresco would be nice, as would pico de gallo or guacamole. The fun of hosting a party like this is that it gives your guests the ability to customize their food to their liking, and who doesn't like that? What are your favorite fillings for authentic Mexican tacos?


Homemade Fresh Chorizo Tacos
Makes about 16 to 20 tacos
(Adapted from Bon Appetit)

6 dried ancho chiles
8 garlic cloves, chopped
3 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 tablespoon kosher salt plus more for seasoning
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds ground pork
Corn tortillas, for serving

Using kitchen scissors and working over a medium bowl, cut chiles into 1" rings, reserving seeds and discarding stems (if you want it a bit less spicy, discard some of the seeds). Cover with 1/2 cup hot water; let soak, stirring occasionally, until chiles are soft and pliable, about 10 minutes.

Transfer chiles with seeds and soaking liquid to a blender. Add garlic, paprika, salt and pepper; pulse until a paste forms. Add more water as needed to allow the mixture to blend properly.

Combine pork and chile paste in a large bowl. Gently mix until just blended (do not overwork the meat).
Heat a large skillet (preferably cast-iron) over medium-high heat. Working in 2 batches, cook chorizo until cooked through, 7 to 8 minutes. (Be sure to let meat brown before turning and breaking it up into small pieces with a spoon or spatula.) Season with salt. Serve with corn tortillas.

Chorizo can be made 1 day ahead, covered and chilled. Rewarm before serving.




Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mexican Fiesta: Homemade Corn Tortillas and Pickled Red Onions

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Yesterday, I shared the menu and the first few recipes from my football-themed Mexican fiesta. Today I'm sharing a couple more! First, a recipe for homemade corn tortillas. If you've never had a homemade corn tortilla, I highly suggest you do. It will change your perspective on Mexican food forever. Believe it or not, many Mexican restaurants do not necessarily feature fresh corn tortillas. Their enchiladas are made with store-bought corn tortillas and their soft tacos utilize flour tortillas. My first explicit memory of homemade corn tortillas was a Loteria, a small chain of amazing authentic Mexican restaurants in Los Angeles. I enjoyed a sampler of mini tacos, all on tiny homemade corn tortillas and topped with extremely authentic toppings--from nopales to carnitas. The tortillas were outstanding and memorable.


I decided it was time to pay some respect and make my own corn tortillas from scratch. I purchased a cast-iron tortilla press. With its brand name (the same as mine) "Victoria" emblazoned across the top, it seemed like a match made in Heaven :) The masa dough was super easy to make. I kneaded it easily by hand in just a few minutes. Pressing and cooking the individual tortillas took a bit more time because I couldn't cook too many at once. It quickly occurred to me that I should have started a lot earlier (I multiplied the recipe with intentions of making 30 tortillas)! Regardless of my poor timing, these tortillas were outstanding. They made all others posing as corn tortillas pale in comparison. From the flavor to the aroma and texture, they made this a true fiesta!


Additionally, I also threw together some pickled red onions as a possible garnish for the tacos. I remembered pickled red onion as one of the many authentic garnishes from my meal at Loteria and I thought it would be a really nice touch for our spread. While the original recipe I adapted used a lot more water than vinegar, I opted to stick with a stronger pickling solution and not dilute it with water. The pickled onions turned out great! They retained a nice texture and had a great sour-sweet element that helped cut through richness and spice from our taco fillings.


Homemade Corn Tortillas
Makes 16 (5 1/2-to-6-inch) tortillas

2 cups masa harina
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups water

Mix together the masa harina and kosher salt. Add the water and knead together until you form a smooth, firm dough, similar to Play-Doh. If it's too dry and crumbly, add a bit more water; too wet, add a little masa. You can do this step in an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook or by hand.

Cover the masa dough with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. The masa will continue to absorb the water during this time. Divide the dough into 16 equal portions (about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 ounces each), and form them into balls. Keep the balls of masa covered with a damp towel until you cook them.

To prepare the tortilla press, line it with plastic so the masa won't stick. Take a quart-size heavy-duty freezer bag and cut the sides (but not the bottom) so it opens like a book. Place one half of the plastic bag inside the tortilla press.

Place a ball of masa in the center of the tortilla press, pressing it gently with your hand into a disc. Then fold over the other half of the plastic sheet. Press down on the tortilla press to flatten the dough into a thin circle. It should be about 1/8-inch thick and about 5 1/2-to-6-inches in diameter. Open the press and carefully peel the plastic away from both sides of the tortilla. If the edges of the tortilla crack, the mixture is dry. Return the masa balls to a bowl and knead in more water before proceeding.

To cook the tortillas, preheat a dry skillet (preferably cast-iron...this process actually stained the stainless steel pan I used with black spots, requiring extensive cleaning) over medium heat. Place a tortilla on the pan and cook for about 1 to 2 minutes, until the bottom is charred in spots and the edges start to curl. Flip over and cook another 15 to 30 seconds. Transfer to a basket lined with a kitchen towel and cover with the towel to keep warm. The tortillas will soften and become more pliable from the residual heat from the other tortillas in the stack. Repeat, in batches, with the remaining dough. Serve immediately.


Pickled Red Onions
Makes about 1 cup
(Adapted from Bon Appetit)

1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 red onion, thinly sliced

Whisk the first 3 ingredients until the sugar and salt dissolve. Place onion in a jar; pour vinegar mixture over. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour. Cover and chill. This can be made up to 2 weeks in advance. Drain onions before using.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Mexican Fiesta: Restaurant-Style Salsa, Gronk-amole, and Blue Margaritas

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First and foremost, yesterday was football Sunday. I'm a Patriots fan through and through, making every effort I can to catch the weekly games. There's something about eating and drinking that just goes hand-in-hand with watching football.


Maybe it's the fact that most games are on Sundays, making it socially acceptable to drink heavy amounts of alcohol in front of the television in the middle of the day. Maybe it's watching heavily padded men plow into each other that makes you want to eat as much as they do. Regardless of why snacking/drinking and watching football are a perfect match, I decided this Sunday I would create a bit of a football feast for viewing the game... specifically a Mexican-themed feast as I was craving authentic tacos.

Gronking my tortilla chip!

Coincidentally, it also turned out that yesterday was Mexican Independence Day. This unplanned overlap of events made my plans for an authentic Mexican feast even more perfect for football Sunday. It was truly meant to be! I decided that I would make just about every single component from scratch because, let's face it, I'm a bit of an overachiever. Everything from the salsa to the corn tortillas and margarita mix would be homemade. This is how I roll, and quite frankly, my Patriots deserve the very best (even if they occasionally let me down)!! Here is my menu:


Football Fiesta

Pregame
Restaurant-Style Salsa
Gronk-amole (Guacamole)
Tortilla Chips

Touchdown Pass
Homemade Corn Tortillas
Homemade Fresh Chorizo Tacos
Braised Short Rib Tacos
Pickled Red Onions
Sour Cream

Thirst-Quencher
Blue Margaritas

Overtime
Margarita Cupcakes


Yeah, I know... a pretty amazing spread, if I may say so myself. Since there were so many items on the menu, I knew I couldn't share them all in one post, so I will spread them out over the span of this week. Today I will share the recipe for the Restaurant-Style Salsa, the Gronk-amole (my sister came up with the amazing name... so clever!), and the Blue Margaritas!


First up is the salsa!! Tremendously easy to make, it really mimics what one comes to expect when eating at an authentic Mexican restaurant. It's less thick and chunky than the jarred stuff, but it fully surpasses its counterparts on flavor and authenticity. It warms up your palate with a good amount of lingering spice, but isn't unbearable by any means. I used San Marzano tomatoes (in my opinion the best canned tomatoes out there), and a few other simple ingredients. The quantity this makes is plenty for a big gathering!


The Gronk-amole is my take on guacamole! My favorite method for guac-making is to dice up the avocado and then slightly mash it as I mix it together with the other ingredients. This gives a somewhat homogenized texture with lots of chunks as well. I prefer it over a totally chunky or totally smooth guacamole. I have been known to replace the jalepeño occasionally with crushed chili flakes when I didn't have the fresh pepper on hand, and that works great as well. Perhaps less authentic, but I've never had any complaints! In fact, I'm often told that my guacamole is better than most! Leave a couple of the avocado pits in the mixture to help prevent the mixture from browning. It may be slightly unsightly but it works beautifully! You can always remove them right before company arrives if you want to be all prim and proper, but come on, this is football!


The Blue Margaritas were also incredibly easy to make! I wanted a recipe where I could literally throw together a pitcher and then serve over ice as needed. This recipe can easily be multiplied for bigger crowds, and can be cut down for individual drinks as well. The only difference between Blue Margaritas and regular ones is the addition of Blue Curacao as opposed to another orange liqueur, typically triple sec. Blue Curacao is orange flavored but blue in color. The flavor shouldn't be too different than if you used triple sec but the color is that of the Patriots and so I made my margaritas blue :)



Restaurant-Style Salsa
Makes about 6 cups
(Adapted from The Pioneer Woman)

1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes (peeled) with juice
2 (10-ounce) cans Rotel (diced tomatoes with green chilies)
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 jalepeño, quartered and sliced thin
1/2 cup cilantro
Juice from 1/2 a lime
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

Add all ingredients to a food processor. Pulse until you get desired consistency. Refrigerate for at least one hour, and then serve with your favorite tortilla chips.

*Note* This makes a large quantity so use at least an 11-or-12-cup food processor, or work in batches.


Gronk-amole (Guacamole)
Makes about 3 cups

5 ripe Haas avocados, peeled and diced, a couple pits reserved
1 to 2 limes, juiced (depending on their size)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 jalepeño (or more if you desire), stem and seeds removed, finely diced
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
Kosher salt

Mix together all of the ingredients, gently mashing up some of the avocado as you stir to achieve a mixture of both creamy and chunky avocado. Adjust seasoning as needed.


Blue Margaritas
Makes 4 (6-ounce) drinks
(Adapted from Confessions of a Foodie Bride)

Homemade Margarita Mix:
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cup fresh squeezed lime juice (about 8 to 12 limes)

Blue Margaritas:
1 recipe homemade margarita mix
3/4 cup (6 oz) tequila
1/2 cup (4 oz) Blue Curacao
Coarse salt, for rim (optional)
Lime wedges/slices, for garnish (optional)

Heat water and sugar in a small sauce pan until completely dissolved and the water is clear. Let cool. Pour into a pitcher with lime juice. Leftovers will keep 7 to 10 days in a jar in the fridge.

To the margarita mix, add the tequila and Blue Curacao. If you'd like salt on the rim of your glasses, rub some lime along the rim of each glass and then invert the glass onto a dish of coarse salt. It will stick to the rim. Add ice to the glasses and pour margarita mixture into each glass, garnishing with lime slices, if desired.

To make a single margarita, add 1/2 cup margarita mix, 1.5 oz (3 tablespoons) tequila, and 1 oz (2 tablespoons Blue Curacao) to a small glass of ice and serve.




Friday, September 14, 2012

Buttermilk Bread

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A "fast bread" will never have the complex flavor and crumb structure of an artisan bread that spends hours rising and developing character. It will, however, give you fresh bread on your table in a fraction of the time. This bread is crazy easy to make. You don't even have to shape it. You literally just spread it into the pan and let it proof (briefly) before baking it and filling your house with the sweet smell of yeast.


Buttermilk is one of those ingredients that you often purchase for a recipe and then have lying around in your refrigerator for a while afterward, looking for some love. I have explicitly created a tag for recipes that use buttermilk on Mission: Food to give you great ideas of how to use some of your leftover buttermilk. I'm thinking this is the key to a happier and less wasteful life in the kitchen :)


This bread is a great way to use some of your leftover buttermilk. Making bread in a short period of time robs it of a chance to slowly develop flavor intensity. Using buttermilk with its characteristic sour flavor imparts something that would otherwise be missing in such a short rise.


A little butter and egg into the mix also adds flavor and richness. The crust on this bread is buttery and crumbly, while the crumb is firm and springy. It holds its shape well and is excellent for sandwiches. It would make great toast, French toast, and bread pudding as well.


I elected to use my bread to make a variation of Caprese sandwiches using local Narragansett Creamery mozzarella, juicy ruby red tomatoes from my dad's garden, and a little olive tapenade for a briny and salty note. The bread held up really well with all of the juiciness of the tomatoes and the wetness of the tapenade.


It had a mildly buttery flavor that added a touch of richness to this otherwise fresh and light-tasting sandwich. I was very happy with the result of both the buttermilk bread and the sandwiches I created with it. Although I enjoy a deeply flavorful and chewy artisan bread, this buttermilk bread is just the ticket when time is short and you're craving the intoxicating aroma of freshly baked bread in your home.


Buttermilk Bread
Makes 1 loaf
(From Fast Breads)

1 1/4 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold or room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
3 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon wheat bran (optional)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 1/4 teaspoons (a 1/4-ounce packet) instant yeast
1 large egg
2 teaspoons melted butter for brushing the loaf

Butter a 9-by-5-by-3-in loaf pan.

In a small saucepan, heat the buttermilk and butter over medium heat until it registers about 130ºF (54°C) on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from the heat.

In a stand mixer fit with the paddle attachment, mix together 1 1/2 cups of the flour, the sugar, wheat bran (if using), salt, and yeast on low speed just until combined. Add the warm buttermilk mixture and mix until all the ingredients are smooth and combined. Add the egg and continue beating for 1 minute. Add the remaining 1 3/4 cups flour and continue mixing for 5 minutes. The dough will be sticky and will not come away from the sides of the bowl. Scrape the dough into the prepared pan and brush the top with the melted butter.

Cover the pan loosely with waxed paper and let the dough rise to within 1 inch of the top of the pan, about 25 to 30 minutes. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375ºF (190°C).

Bake the loaf until the top feels firm and is lightly browned, about 40 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then turn out onto the rack and let cool completely before slicing into roughly hewn hunks or slender sandwich slices.


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