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Friday, July 30, 2010

Pasta Salad

I think it's fair to say that this photo doesn't do the salad justice. But use your imagination.

I invented this salad back in my older single days. It was great for potlucks and other social gatherings. It's evolved under Bob's influence. I believe I used to use chicken; it tastes much better with ham. And I'm now not allowed to make it without sufficient amounts of red onion.

This is another very quick and easy meal that's easy to whip up after work. It's also a lovely side dish. You aren't required to use the colored rotini, although we always do (another Bob innovation) because it's much prettier that way.

I was originally pretty fastidious about using only Bernstein's Cheese Fantastico as the dressing. But these days I use whatever Italian dressing is on the pantry shelf or on the fridge, and it seems to work out just fine. Our family loves this, and it really couldn't be any easier. It's a great use of leftover ham. We also often use relatively thick-sliced packaged ham.

Pasta Salad

1 15-oz. package of multi-colored or plain pasta
2 cups diced ham
1 ½ cups diced cheddar cheese
1 ½ cups frozen corn
1 ½ cups frozen peas
½ cup minced red onion

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, rinse and cool. Combine other ingredients in a large bowl. Add pasta and stir until mixed. Mix 1 ½ cups mayonnaise with ½ cup Bernstein’s Cheese Fantastico salad dressing to make dressing; pour over salad mixture and blend until evenly covered.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Everyone Should Have a Pizza Stone

This photo won't win any beauty contests. But it shows off one of my favorite household products, the pizza stone. We first received a pizza stone as a wedding gift from my brother and his wife. We put it away in the closet for several years until some friends came over to teach us how to make homemade pizza. We've been using it ever since. Truth be told, we broke the original model years ago.

Used correctly, the stone gets uglier with age. It works much better after you've cooked on it quite a lot. Cooking items with a relatively high fat content darkens (or seasons it) even faster. On one of our new pizza stones we baked several batches of chocolate chip cookies. While it was admittedly better for the stone than for the cookies, it speeded up the seasoning process considerably. We weren't all that sorry about enduring the crispy cookies.

The purpose of the stone is to crisp up the crust. To call this a pizza stone is a little bit limiting. We actually bake all kinds of items on it. It's especially good for artisan breads. Place hand made loaves on the stone, pour a cup of water in a heated pan on the bottom shelf of the oven, and you're bound to pull out crispy, beautiful loaves.

We haven't found pizza stones all that easy to locate. Our local grocery store carried them for awhile; Bed Bath and Beyond is usually a sure bet.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Triple Chocolate Bundt Cake

This recipe has been making its way around my neighborhood for a couple of years now. It's a chocolate cousin of the lemon pound cake recipe I posted not quite a year ago. It's extremely rich, but also extremely yummy.

It's also quite easy. It starts with a box cake; use Devil's food. I tried plain chocolate once, and for some reason it made the cake taste like paste (unfortunately the experiment was on my daughter's birthday cake). The other two chocolate sources are chocolate chips (semi-sweet) and chocolate pudding (instant). For this photo, I topped the cake with a super rich (and apparently super shiny) ganache, which is a combination of heated whole cream and melted semi-sweet chocolate chips.

One secret if you're new to Bundt cake making: grease and flour your pan very thoroughly, or the cake will break up when you take it out of the pan. And half the fun of this cake is that it looks just smashing.

Triple Chocolate Bundt Cake
1 Devil's food cake mix
1 4-oz. package instant chocolate fudge pudding
4 large eggs
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sour cream
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Blend all of the ingredients together, except for the chocolate chips. Beat for four minutes with an electric mixer on medium speed. Stir in chocolate chips by hand until evenly distributed in teh batter. Pour into a 12-inch Bundt pan that has been thoroughly greased and floured. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out dry. Cool for 15 minutes before removing from pan.

There are many ways to finish this cake - dust it with powdered sugar, make a powdered sugar glaze, or make the aforementioned ganache. I also once tried making a ganache with white chocolate chips; it was perhaps my favorite topping ever.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Honey and Black Pepper Beef

True confessions: I recently started a new job. After working from home for seven years, I'm back in the office from 9 to 5 (well, actually 7:30 to 4:00 or maybe a little later). The first week I worked, dinner times were, shall we say, highly informal at our house. But last week I realized that I really missed cooking dinner every night. More than that, I miss having everyone around the table for at least one meal a day. I convinced myself that I could find meals simple and fast enough that I could make them, even in my post-work state. And you know what? I was right.

This recipe comes from one of my new favorite cookbooks, Homestyle Asian. It honestly took me somewhat less than 30 minutes to put it together (okay, I have to admit that Bob cut the meat up before I got home). It was delicious. We served it over jasmine rice. There were no side dishes, but perhaps we'll work up to that in the coming weeks.

We made a number of revisions from the original recipe. The book calls for 2 pounds of round steak. Bob found some boneless ribeyes on sale that were heavenly; we used two of them, cut into strips. I think any cut of beef that doesn't require long cooking times to become tender would work. I couldn't see our bunch eating snow peas, although that was part of what initially attracted me to the recipe. So I used broccoli, which looked and tasted great. I also put in some red bell pepper strips for color. As a bonus, they also added great flavor. I think my favorite part was the sauce--some sweetness from the honey, some heat from the pepper and some soy to tie it all together.

Honey and Black Pepper Beef
1-2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
2 pounds round steak, cut into thin strips
1 large onion, sliced
1 pound or so of trimmed broccoli florets
1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup oyster sauce
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat the wok until very hot. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and swirl it around to coat the side. Stir-fry the beef in batches over high heat. Remove and drain on paper towels.

Reheat the wok and add 1 tablespoon of the oil and stir fry the garlic, onion, broccoli and peppers until softened. Remove from the wok and set aside.

Add the honey, soy sauce, oyster sauce and black pepper to the wok. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 3-4 minutes or until the sauce thickens slightly.

Increase the heat, return the meat and vegetables to the wok, and toss for 2-3 minutes or until well combined and heated through.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Homestyle Asian Cookbook

I am well aware that we are supposed to be getting rid of some of our cookbooks. But this one was a gift, and we truly love it.

We invited one of our neighbors and her mother to come over for cooking class. This is the same neighbor who taught us how to make eggrolls. This time she (and her mother) taught us how to make chicken adobo and other wonderful Filipino dishes. To thank us for letting her slave away in our kitchen, the mother (who was here on a supposed vacation from Iowa) sent us this book. I can't tell you where to buy it; I can't find it anywhere, even on the internet. But if you can ever come up with a copy, you will be glad you did.

As the title suggests, the meals included are homestyle. They're things that an average Asian family might eat for dinner. We love the range of cuisines covered in the book. There are recipes from India. Thailand. Singapore. And of course your average Chinese and Japanese dishes as well. They are organized by type of food (soup, appetizers, salads, etc.) rather than by country, which I like. There are beautiful photos of every dish, and for those of you with an international perspective, measurements are given in both metric and English units.

If I have one criticism of the book, it's that it doesn't tell a story about every recipe (and I obviously like stories about recipes). But that particular characteristic makes it more homey for me; it's unpretentious and straightforward. These are meals you should make at home. The publisher is Bay Books. I hope you can find it.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Chicken and 40 Cloves of Garlic

And now just to prove that we do sometimes still use whole garlic cloves, here's one of the most garlic-rich recipes I know. That may not look like 40 cloves of garlic, but it's actually about 47 or 48 cloves. I doubled this recipe, but refrained from doubling the number of garlic cloves because I wanted to be sure that the neighbor kids would still play with my children. Did you know that consuming large amounts of garlic will cause it to seep through your pores in odor form? Try getting on a crowded public bus in a country where garlic is included in every meal and you'll see what I mean.

I'm not sure of the origins of this recipe, but I think it's French. I've seen many different versions. I'm almost certain I've seen one that calls for a whole chicken cooked in a crock pot (with, of course, the 40-odd cloves). It's a lovely, simple meal. Bob and I have searched for a great garlic chicken recipe since I took him to Mr. B's restaurant in New Orleans six or so years ago. At the time, he couldn't believe that I was ordering chicken at a world-class restaurant (I had been there before on business trips). But after he tasted it, he was won over and has been a raving garlic chicken fan ever since. I can't say this even comes close to Mr. B's, but it has a wonderful flavor and is relatively easy to whip up. Here's what the dish looks like after it's finished:

Chicken With 40 Cloves of Garlic
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of any fat
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
40 cloves of garlic, separated and peeled
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon of flour
3 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped (I didn't have any parsley on hand, so I omitted it. It is, after all, a garnish).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place trimmed and halved chicken breasts in a large zip loc bag. Pound the meat flat with a mallet until it is about 1/2 inch thick. Season with sea salt, black pepper and thyme to taste (the fresh thyme in our garden is going crazy, so I substituted it for the dry. It was lovely).

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. In batches, saute the chicken smooth side down first until nicely browned, about 4 minutes. Flip the breasts and cook for 45 seconds, then remove to a baking dish. Once all the chicken has been cooked, add the garlic to the skillet. Lower the heat and saute for 3-4 minutes, turning often. Add the chicken stock, making sure to scrape all the brown goodies off the bottom of the pan. Season with salt, pepper and thyme if needed. Pour the sauce over the chicken in the baking dish. Cover with a lid or foil and bake for 20 minutes.

Once the chicken has baked, carefully remove the meat and garlic cloves to a platter and cover with an aluminum foil tent to keep it warm. Place the sauce in the large skillet used to cook the meat. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and milk with a little bit of the sauce. Once it's thoroughly mixed, slowly whisk the flour mixture back into the rest of the sauce. Add the butter to the sauce, increase the heat and boil for three minutes or until it's nice and thick. Taste and re-season if needed. Pour the sauce over the chicken, garnish with fresh chopped parsley and serve.