Sunday, March 30, 2014

Failure...And Coming Back

I'm going to confess that I don't always hit home runs in the kitchen.  As a matter of fact, I pretty much suck at making any kind of candy that requires more than just melting some chocolate and spreading it on a slab (i.e., chocolate bark).  Chocolate bark, I can do.  But when I have to boil stuff to a specific temperature, I fail. Every. Single. Time.  But, as an optimist (or crazy person), I keep trying, thinking I will finally "get it."  But then I don't.  Again.

This week's debacle comes from the latest issue of Bon App├ętit magazine in the form of  Pecan Buttermilk Fudge:

Seriously, how could you not want to try and make that?  I also happened to have some extra buttermilk to use up. So there was that. Plus my eternal optimism.  I tend to ignore that niggling voice that says, "But Marna, you suck at making fudge from scratch." Should have listened to that voice.  I think I overcooked the fudge, because it set harder than a two-day-old baguette.  I had to literally chisel pieces using a steak knife and a meat tenderizer.  Not lying. I was too embarrassed to take a photo of that mess.

But. But. The reason I didn't throw it all in the trash is because the crumbly shards I was able to scrape off tasted really good, the texture notwithstanding. So, I broke the slab in half and put it away for a couple of days until I figured out what to do with it.

Then I figured it out. Not how to make fudge. No, that still eludes me.  I figured out what to do with this impossible-to-eat (seriously jaw-breaker hard) slab of overcooked sugar.  Here's the problem: since the recipe is based on a mistake and I'm not sure exactly what I did wrong, there's no way to replicate this.  Besides, who wants purposely screw up a batch of fudge, then use the results to make something else? That's just crazy.

Besides, the recipe would go like this:

Crust: 4 whole graham crackers
3 Wasa whole grain crackers
1/8 cup granulated sugar
3 Tbsp melted butter

Crush crackers in food processor into fine crumbs.  Stir in sugar and melted butter.  Pat into 8x8 inch pan.

Filling: 1 batch of jacked up Pecan Buttermilk Fudge
approx. 1/3 cup caramel sauce (I used Smuckers brand)

Melt the jacked up fudge on low power (I used level 4 for 7 minutes) until softened. Stir until smooth, then add the caramel sauce. Combine thoroughly, then pour over crumb crust. Bake in an oven that you set to preheat to 425 (because you're making a quiche crust so the oven was preheating for that anyway). Take the bars out when the topping is slightly bubbling around the edges.  I think it took about 5-7 minutes.

Topping: approx. 1 c. chocolate chips

Sprinkle chocolate chips over the bars, then let them melt.  Carefully spread the chocolate chips smooth over the bars.

Like I said, this can not be replicated. So, sorry about that. But if you want to try this out, go for it!

Here's the good news.  The crumb crust I made was really good.  Combining the Wasa crackers with the graham crackers gave it great texture and not too sweet. Plus it held up when I poured the melted fudge/caramel sauce mixture. I think I'll substitute Wasa crackers for some graham crackers every time I make a graham cracker crust.

But I guess the point of this post is not to share a recipe, but to show all of you that it's okay to make mistakes.  And to experiment. And be willing to keep trying, even though you've failed many times before. Honestly guys, it's just food. Get in that kitchen and start cooking!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Let's Hear It For Leftovers! Corned Beef, Take 2.

Sometimes leftovers are even better than the original meal. I'm think especially of Thanksgiving, but you could also group St. Patrick's Day in there, too.  Even though, as we learned in my last post, corned beef isn't the traditional St. Patrick's meal I thought it was, I still like it and will continue to make it on St. Patrick's Day.  What I like even better is the corned beef hash that I make the day (or two...or three) after.  Not to dis my mom, who is a fabulous cook, but I seem to recall eating the canned stuff, which isn't nearly as good.  I think my favorite part was the soft-cooked egg on top that you smooshed around in the hash to make it gooey and creamy.  :-)

But when I made it from scratch, I always had a hard time getting everything with that yummy crispy crust that provides the textural counterpoint to the egg.  So, I thought I would try to roast everything, rather than try again on the stove top.  Guys, it turned out so well, my youngest kid (you know, the picky one) at it all up, even though he didn't like the first corned beef meal I served earlier that same week! Go figure.  I wanted to share with you, too, because I thought it was easier than the "traditional" way and had a better flavor.  It might take longer, but since it's just sitting in the oven, you can get other stuff done while it's cooking.  I count that as a win all around!

Roasted Corned Beef Hash

12 small Yukon Gold potatoes 
1 onion, chopped into 1/4 inch dice
1/4 head of green cabbage (I used the leftover cabbage I made with the corned beef, but you could use fresh), cut in 1/4 inch dice
4 slices leftover corned beef (approx. 1.5 cups - mine were thick slices)
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste

Turn on the oven to preheat to 425 degrees (F).  Put potatoes in a 3 qt. saucepan, then fill the pan with water until it covers the potatoes by an inch or so.  Set the pot with the potatoes in it on the stove and bring the water to a boil.  While that's going on, chop up your cabbage:

When the water comes to a boil, turn the heat down so that the water simmers and cook potatoes until they're parboiled (they'll still be hard in the middle), about 4 minutes (you can chop up the onion while the potatoes cook).  Turn off the burner,  drain the water out of the saucepan, but return the potatoes to the pan to cool.

Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel then cut the potatoes into a 1/4 inch dice.  Cut up the corned beef.  Toss everything on a large rimmed baking sheet with 2 Tbsp. of vegetable oil, salt and pepper.  Put it in the oven for about 40 minutes, turning and stirring the mixture about halfway (20 minutes).

After 40 minutes, there should be some dark brown, crusty parts on the corned beef hash (that's the best part).  Pull the sheet out of the oven.

Make some wells in the hash, then crack one egg into each well, like this:

Return to the oven for about 7-8 minutes, until the white is set, but the yolk is still jiggly:

Serve with toast (I made another batch of that soda bread from my previous post - so easy I didn't even need to read the recipe).  You might also like to add a little hot sauce on the top or (what I do) ketchup.  Seriously. It's good. Great, even.  :-)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Happy St. Patrick's Day...and another snow storm

So, everybody's home again (snow day #14 for anyone keeping track) due to a storm that dumped another 7 inches on us. This, after we had 60 degree days just 2 days ago.  I like winter, I really do (I grew up in Minnesota, after all, and have Viking blood coursing through my veins, so that should surprise no one), but enough already! Mostly, though, when I'm cooped up inside and it's cold out, all I really want to do is stuff my face with baked goods.  Not cool.  Why can't I crave, say, carrots on a cold day?  I'm sitting here, drinking my tea, pretending it's tastes as good as hot chocolate and feeling a little grumpy.

On the plus side, it's also St. Patrick's Day. The day that everyone is a little bit Irish, even if it's just to drink Guinness.  :-) According to family lore, I actually am a teeny bit Irish.  Unfortunately, I don't have any traditional, handed-down-through-the-generations, secret family recipes to help me commemorate the day, so I had to rely on the internet for help.  I decided to try Martha Stewart's crock pot version of corned beef and cabbage, because I love a crock pot recipe where you can just dump everything in and cook it, but also wanted some Irish soda bread to serve with it.  I did a little research to try and find the most "authentic" recipe (and by authentic, I mean the one that sounded like it had the most history attached to it, because, let's face it, I have no idea what "authentic" or "traditional" Irish soda bread is supposed to be).

Did you know, according to "people on the internet" (whom I assume know more than I do), that traditional Irish soda bread does not have raisins/currants in it?  That it actually only has 4 ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk)?  Neither did I, but I am all for simple, tasty recipes.  So I found this one on that I thought I would try.  I also read that the flour in Ireland (at least in the past) was kind of poor, without a lot of gluten, so some people in current times use pastry flour to replicate that.  I, one the other hand, did not have pastry flour.  But of course, I couldn't just leave well enough alone. So I used a blend of all purpose flour, cake flour and whole wheat flour.

I also found out that corned beef and cabbage isn't exactly the traditional meal for the Irish on St. Patrick's Day, either. WHAT?!?!  Corned beef is the lutefisk of Irish food traditions?? (for non-Norwegian-Americans, lutefisk is a traditional Norwegian fish dish, usually served by Norwegian-Americans at Christmas, but is hardly ever eaten by actual modern-day Norwegians, probably because no one wants to eat gelatinous, re-hydrated, fish that only tastes good if you dump a boat-load of melted butter on top)   My world was rocked today.

 Before baking:


 Just before eating:

But I digress. This post was really going to be about soda bread.  Let me tell you, this bread is so tasty and so easy, you will want to make it whenever you want fresh bread with a meal (say, with soup, for brunch, whatever).  Seriously, it's that easy. Except for the flour blend, I did not change anything from the original recipe. Honest. Okay, I did incorporate a couple of technique-type tips from the comments section into my instructions. But that's all. Really.

"Traditional" Irish Soda Bread

1/2 cup cake flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (mine was on the "heaping teaspoon" side of things)
1 cup of buttermilk
caraway seeds (optional)

Heat oven to 400 degrees. While the oven heats up, put the dry ingredients in a bowl, then stir with a fork to combine.  Start adding the buttermilk, first about half a cup, then stirring to combine with the dry ingredients, then the other half a cup.  Keep stirring everything together with a fork until it comes together (there might still be some flour left in the bottom of the bowl), then use your hand to knead the rest of the flour into the mixture (I did this in the bowl - no need to dump it out and get flour all over the place).  Pat the dough into a disk and put it in a cast iron skillet. With a sharp, serrated knife slash a cross in the top, then sprinkle with caraway seeds (optional).

Put skillet in the pre-heated oven and bake the bread about 15-20 minutes, until it's lightly golden on the outside and sounds hollow when you thump it lightly with your finger.  Take the skillet out, and, while the skillet is still warm, cover the bread with a 9-inch cake pan for 5 minutes. (This helps keep the outside crust from getting too hard).

Makes one loaf -- 8 nice wedge-shaped slices.  Enjoy warm with some good butter.  :-)

Bonus recipe:

Roasted Cabbage

I had some cabbage that wouldn't fit into my crock pot, so I took those two slices and roasted them in the oven while the bread was baking.  Just toss the cabbage with olive oil, salt and pepper, put on a rimmed baking sheet, then roast for about 20 minutes, until it's starting to get brown on the edges.  Pull out of the oven and sprinkle with a little apple cider vinegar (or not, it's good without it too, but I liked the idea of a not-too-sour sauerkraut flavor).

And here's a final photo of our "traditional" Irish meal:

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Dessert That's Almost Good For You!

Recently, a good friend of mine asked me to try out a recipe.  She follows a relatively strict diet, but that doesn't mean she shouldn't be able to treat herself occasionally, right?  I'm here to tell you that this pie is FABULOUS and has very little refined sugar (only the amount that is in the dark chocolate).  My kids even liked it.  Well, my oldest, liked it all. My younger, pickier eater only liked the crust and didn't care for the coconut flavor of the filling.  But if you like chocolate and coconut together, this is the dessert for you! Confession: I had a piece for breakfast and only felt mildly guilty about it.

The original recipe comes from Nom Nom Paleo and is called Kelly Brozyna's Chocolate Pie and Raw Graham Cracker Crust. Since I'm linking to the recipe, I won't reprint it here, but will walk you through some of the key steps.

The recipe calls for coconut cream, but not the canned coconut cream that has tons of added sugar.  Just take two cans of unsweetened coconut milk (NOT the "lite" kind), put them in the fridge for an hour, then open them up and scrape off the layer of hardened cream (don't shake the cans -- you want to be sure the cream stays separate).  What do you do with the leftover coconut milk?  You can make Carrot Coconut Soup, like I did, or use it in a smoothie.

The other thing that I had to change is the type of nuts used, because I didn't have enough walnuts.  So I used almonds instead.  I don't know if almonds have less oil in them than walnuts, but my crust wasn't very sticky, so I added another date.

I should have added two extra dates, because it still wasn't very sticky (or at least just sticky enough to stay formed in the pie plate), but I forged ahead.  

I tried using my measuring cup trick to spread the crumbs evenly, but the dates just kept sticking to the bottom of the cup, so I ended up just using my hands, anyway.  Ironically, the crumbs weren't sticky enough to stick to each other. I had a tough time with that part...

The filling couldn't have been easier.  Just dump the stuff in all together and blend.  Unfortunately, using the food processor (as suggested in the recipe) left little date chunks:

I wanted to try and get it as smooth as it showed in the original recipe, so I dumped it all in the blender. Success!  The blender got the filling a lot smoother.  I suggest using that, if you make this recipe.

Then, just put in the fridge to set and you have a simple, delicious, healthy-ish, yet decadent dessert that even non-Paleo folks will appreciate!