Monday, September 26, 2011

Who's a Fool? I'm a Fool!

You can always tell a real friend; when you've made a fool of yourself he doesn't feel you've done a permanent job. - Laurence J. Peter

Thank goodness for that! There have been plenty of times I’ve made a fool of myself and for the most part it’s been either ignored or soon forgotten. Hopefully that means I have some pretty good friends.

Today, for Temptation Tuesday, rather than making a fool OF myself, I’m making a Fool FOR myself. A dessert Fool, that is.

What is a Fool?
According to the Food Lover’s Companion, a Fool is "an old-fashioned dessert made of cooked, pureed fruit that is strained, chilled and folded into whipped cream".  What could possibly be bad about that?  Most Fool recipes use a strained fruit puree, but today I'm using pineapple that is crushed and left fairly whole in the finished dish. 

Not one to leave well enough alone, today’s fool has a little something extra to give it a flavor boost. Rum! Pineapple is good. Whipped cream is good. Rum is good. Put the three together and this is REALLY good!

You will need a special piece of equipment for this dessert – either a mixer or handheld immersion blender. We’re only whipping up a scant ½ cup of cream so I find that the immersion blender works fine here. Alternatively, you can certainly use some non-dairy whipped topping if you prefer to make this even easier.

I’ve turned this into a parfait to give a little crunch to the dessert. Originally I intended to serve a gingersnap cookie as a garnish, but it sounded so good I added the crushed cookies to the recipe. I happened to have a small bag of inexpensive ginger cookies in the pantry from a batch of German meatballs I made a while ago (yes the recipe called for crushed gingersnaps and it was really quite good).  The bite of the gingersnap goes awesomely well with the rum flavoring of the pineapple. However, feel free to leave this out if you prefer.

Also, if you feel the need to leave out the rum, feel free.  However, this cooks for about 7-8 minutes so there isn't any alcohol left in the fruit by the time it's ready for the dish.

One final note before we get started.  When you're making something this simple, whether it's just for youself or you have guests over, using the best ingredients you can find will take the dish a notch above the norm.  I have noted use of a fresh pineapple, which I love. If you’re not all about preparing your own fresh pineapple, most produce departments now carry pre-peeled pineapples for your convenience. Best case - you may find pineapple chunks on a salad bar in your grocery so that you buy only what you need. In a pinch, a small can of pineapple tidbits will do. Real whipping cream rather than the imitation - fresh pineapple instead of canned - these things don't cost much more and it takes an average dessert to Fool heaven.
PINEAPPLE RUM FOOL PARFAIT

1/2 cup freshly cut pineapple
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon dark rum
1/2 cup chilled heavy cream (or 3/4 cup non-dairy whipped topping)
1 teaspoon white sugar
¼ cup crushed gingersnap cookies,

In a heavy saucepan, off the heat, mash the pineapple with a fork or potato masher until crushed.

Add sugar and rum, mix well. Turn to medium-high heat, bring to a boil and simmer for 7 to 10 minutes or until mixture is thickened.

Once almost all of the liquid has cooked off, remove from heat.  Put mixture in a heat proof bowl and chill thoroughly in refrigerator.

In a small bowl, whip heavy cream and sugar to stiff peaks.  Here you can see my immersion blender whipping 1/2 cup cream into.... 


...stiff peaked whipped cream. 

Put cream and chilled pinapple mixture into a small bowl and gentlyfold the cream into the pineapple mixture.

About a tablespoon of the cookie crumbs into the bottom of your serving dish. Spoon half of the cream mixture on top. Repeat the layers reserving a sprinkling of crumbs for the garnish.

Garnish with the reserved crumbs, a small piece of pineapple and/or a cookie and serve.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Chocolate and Bacon? Yes - Perfect Companions!

Ahhhh…Temptation Tuesday. I believe I’m in the mood for chocolate this week. Originally I was going to work on a version of my Mom’s Chocolate Pudding Cake, but good friend and fellow cooking aficionado, Bev, found a recipe for Bacon-Bourbon Pecan Chocolate Brownies. We’d talked about these at dinner last week, and I was totally blown away by the idea of them. Bev made these for a family birthday party and the reviews were enthusiastic.

What’s not to like? Chocolate? Good stuff! Bacon? Well, heck yeah! Bourbon? Now you’re talking! Put these together in one recipe and it couldn’t help but be something I wanted to try.

The original recipe is from Food & Wine magazine and is baked in a 9x9-inch pan making, what, 4 large brownies? OK, I exaggerate – the recipe says 24 brownies out of a 9x9-inch pan, but who are they kidding!  Looks like 8 would be a good number. And I’m not saying I couldn’t eat 8 of these, but I still decided to do my waistline a favor and cut this down to something more manageable for the single baker.

I tend to make brownies and cakes in half or quarter batches. This allows for dessert plus a little sumpin' sumpin' to snack on the next day. If you’re limiting your sweets intake, feel free to freeze half for another time. Or, of course if you're feeling generous, go find the original recipe and make the whole thing and share with friends or co-workers - it might increase your chances of getting a good gift come the holidays!

My 8x8 inch pan with my 4x7 inside.  If you can
find one or two of these they're a great
buy for a single cook or baker.
Baking for One
One key to baking brownies and small cakes is the baking pan. Almost everyone has an 8x8 or a 9x9 inch baking pan in the cupboard and most of us have a 13x9 inch pan, but we need to leave those behind for times when there are more people in the house.

For the single baker there are a couple of options. One is the muffin tin. Perfectly portioned and sized for one, these are obviously good for single portion cupcakes and muffins. Brownies, on the other hand, tend to stick to the bottom and sides of the pans and that could mean digging them out of small spaces like muffin cups leaving you with more brownie crumbs than actual brownie.

There are two good options remaining for smaller batch baking. First option - since I do a lot of baking smaller batches of casseroles, I have some small 4x7x1 1/2 inch Pyrex dishes that are mini-versions of the 9x13 dish. I happened across these at the Corning outlet store many years ago and use them often. They would be perfect for these brownies. However, I’d admit that not everyone has these. A quick internet search didn’t turn these up for sale anywhere but you may run across them at the outlet stores like I did. Given that……

The best option is probably one that everyone has in the kitchen – a bread loaf pan. Ideal because it’s about half the size of an 8x8 or 9x9 inch pan, it has a rather simple shape that you can lift brownies out of if you’ve lined the pan with parchment or waxed paper or even foil (which I highly recommend). It also allows for taller baking in case there is more batter and it needs to climb up rather than spread out.

Prepare your loaf pan by spraying with a non-stick baking spray and fitting it with a sling of parchment, waxed paper or foil allowing it to be long enough to lift the brownies out of the pan once they are cooled.

Ready – here we go!

BACON-BOURBON BROWNIES WITH PECANS

1/4 cup pecans
2 slices bacon
4 teaspoons bacon fat*
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 packed cup light brown sugar
3 tablespoons bourbon
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, allowing 2 inches of overhang on 2 opposite sides. Spray the paper with vegetable spray.

Spread the pecans in a skillet and toast over medium high heat, stirring constantly, for about 8 minutes, until fragrant. Let cool, then coarsely chop the nuts.

In a skillet, cook the bacon over moderate heat, turning once, until crisp, about 6 minutes. Drain on paper towels and let cool; reserve 4 teaspoons of the fat. Coarsely chop the bacon.

In a saucepan, combine both chocolates with the butter and stir over very low heat, until melted; scrape into a large bowl.

Using a whisk or wooden spoon, beat in by hand both sugars with the reserved 1 ½ tablespoons of bacon fat. Beat in the bourbon.

Add the eggs and salt and beat until smooth. Sift the cocoa and flour into the bowl and beat in the butter mixture until blended.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the bacon and pecans on top. Bake for about 50 minutes, until the brownies are set around the edges but slightly wobbly in the center; a toothpick inserted into the center should have some batter clinging to it.

Transfer the pan to a rack and let the brownies cool completely. Lift the brownies out of the pan using the parchment paper.

Cut into squares or rectangles and serve.

* OK, some of  you are still squeemish about using bacon fat.  This is actually called for in the original recipe and I was a bit surprised to see it here but for the same reasons I use bacon fat in my cornbread, use it here.  It lends a hint of smokey goodness to the brownie itself to compliment the bacon bits on the top. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

ASIAN INSPIRED BEEF AND BOK CHOY SOUP


Bok Choy in my garden
This week the bok choy in the garden is about over for the season so there is quite a bit there to use. If you don’t grow your own, you may never have noticed this wonderful vegetable in your produce market. I discovered bok choy a few years ago and quickly became a fan of its texture and flavor. Used most often in Asian dishes, it works equally well in a stir-fry or a soup.

You can find baby bok choy in the market in the early summer.  Later in the season (as it is now) you'll find larger heads or, if you grow your own just chop off several smaller leaves for your meal.  If you have to buy a small head, use some in this soup and use the rest in a stir fry like the one I brought to you back in April, it's really delicious.

Making healthy, homemade soup is a simple process for the single cook but I’m constantly surprised that we don’t do it more often. What I discovered is that making a single serving or two of soup tends to grow exponentially during preparation. It’s really difficult to gauge just how many carrots or onions or beans actually make up one or two servings, especially when most recipes for soup give ingredients for six or more servings. On many occasions when I've set out to produce a single bowl of soup, it's turned into soup for the week in my own kitchen.

Today I revisited a soup I made sometime last summer.  The amounts weren't quite right so I gave it another go to get it right.  Inspired by a recipe I found on-line, I've cut the amounts to make just a couple of small bowls for lunch servings, or one dinner for one really hungry person.  Carrots and peas bring a hint of sweetness to offset the heartiness of the beef and beef broth.  The bok choy should still have some crispness at the end to lend a little texture.  The lime gives this a nice acidity and the jalapeno gives it a slight kick but feel free to add some extra heat to this with a dash of hot chili oil.

Hearty Beef and Bok Choy Soup

1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 small clove garlic, minced (or 1/2 teaspoon prechopped garlic)
2 green onions, chopped
1/4 pound beef sirloin tips, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
salt and pepper to taste
1 carrot, chopped
1 cup beef broth
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh gingerroot
1/4-1/2 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped (more if you like the heat)
1 teaspoon soy sauce
about 1/2 cup chopped bok choy leaves 
1/2 cup frozen peas (no need to thaw)


Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Stir in the garlic and onion; cook and stir until the onion has softened and turned translucent, about 3 minutes.

Cut the beef cubes into small, bite-sized pieces and season with salt and pepper. Stir the beef into the onion mixture and continue cooking until the beef is evenly browned.

Add the broth, water, carrot, ginger, lime juice, jalapeno, and soy sauce. Increase heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and let cook about 15 minutes to cook the beef and carrots till tender.


Stir in the bok choy and peas and simmer until the bok choy is tender, about 5 minutes.


Garnish with some sliced green onion and serve.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Temptation Tuesday - Apple Crisp for the start of Fall

Ah, Temptation Tuesday rolls around again and with a touch of fall in the air what could be better than an old fashioned apple crisp.  Two weeks ago we made a Peach Cobbler here and some have asked what made that a cobbler or what makes this a crisp?

The good folks at Food Network answered it this way: "If biscuit dough is dropped by the spoonful on top of the fruit, it makes a lumpy, "cobbled" surface--like a street paved with round stones--and so the dish is a COBBLER.  To be a CRISP, a CRUMBLE, or a CRUNCH, the fruit must be topped with some variation of a butter, sugar, and flour topping. Typically, a CRUMBLE has flour, sugar, butter, and oatmeal; a CRISP has flour, sugar, butter and nuts; and a CRUNCH has sugar, butter, and breadcrumbs."

Apple crisp was one of the first things I began making for myself in single serving dishes a couple of years ago.  This version was adapted from one found on the King Arthur Flour website.  Their recipe made 9 to 12 servings and while I'm by any account an apple crisp fan, I could never eat that much before it managed to spoil in the refrigerator.  So a little math and a little experimentation brought me to the following quantities and it's perfect for a single serving.

Sometimes I add raisins or dried cranberries to the apple mixture. I've been known to add toffee bits to the crisp topping if I had some in the pantry.  This same dessert would be equally good with peaches with the addition of amaretto to the fruit and some chopped almonds in the topping.  Variations are many and you should experiment often.  No, really!  Experiment often! 

I like my crisps served with ice cream so that it melts down into the dish as I break through the crisp topping.  There's something magical about the combination of hot fruit and cold ice cream that makes me very happy. 

So let's get started!

APPLE CRISP

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Peel, core, and slice apples to make about 1 cup prepared apples.  Use whatever types of apples you have for eating, they all work here with the caveat that some yellow apples will disintegrate more than others but they all taste equally well. 

A quick word here about my choice of baking dish.  I have a set of these 4-inch diameter ramekins that are perfect for single servings of lots of things.  From desserts to mac n'cheese, these are great investments for your kitchen whether you're serving just yourself or for making individual servings for a dinner party.

Next, we’ll mix the apples with the following:
   Splash of rum, apple cider or juice, or the liquor/juice of your choice; or water
   1 or 2 tablespoons brown sugar, depends upon the sweetness of your apples
   1 teaspoon butter, cut into small pieces
   1/4 teaspoon apple pie spice; or 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon + 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg + pinch ground ginger
   1 teaspoon flour
   pinch salt

Stir till everything is thoroughly combined.

Next, the streusel topping. This puts the “crisp” in apple crisp.

Combine the following:
   2 tablespoons flour
   1 tablespoon quick oats
   Pinch of salt
   2 tablespoons brown sugar, light or dark
   Pinch of ground cinnamon
   Add 1 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces.

Work it in till the mixture is crumbly. Add 1 tablespoon diced pecans or walnuts, if you like. 

Top the apples with the crisp and bake in the pre-heated oven for about 25 minutes. 

When it's done it will be bubbly and oozey and the crisp will be a beautiful golden brown.  Let it cool for 10 minutes before serving.



Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Mom's Royal Pineapple Dessert

Ahhh...our second Temptation Tuesday gets underway with a riff on an old recipe from my Mother's recipe box.  Growing up, this was one of my favorite desserts.  The original recipe serves 8 in an 8x8-inch dish.  Realistically though, when she made this for dinner for the three of us, it would be totally gone by the next day.

Part of the charm of having this is that each of us would sneak into the kitchen, grab a spoon, get into the refrigerator and dip into the pan until eventually it was simply gone - a spoonful at a time.

This was most likely a recipe from Kraft as it calls for Dream Whip.  I've reworked this to include some ingredients that we, as single cooks, can keep on hand and that no longer includes Dream Whip.  Substituting a can of whipped cream solves that issue and rather than the purchase of a can of pineapple, I've subbed for some easy to store pineapple snack cups.  There is still a bit of egg in this, I tried without it and the texture isn't the same, so suck it up and use some EggBeater in here.  Obviously my family survived all these years eating the raw egg, I think we can too.

It doesn't look like much in the glass, but I ask you to give it a try.  This is simple to make and easy to eat.  Needless to say it's far too dangerous to make a full recipe of this on my own or I'd be eating the entire batch in one sitting.  Technically put that way, perhaps that IS a dessert for one, but in deference to the calorie count, I've scaled it down a bit.  Grab a pretty wine glass to serve this in and head to the pantry for your snack cups - today we're having dessert!

ROYAL PINEAPPLE DESSERT
Make sure you leave this to set in the fridge for a couple of hours.  This allows the egg/sugar mixture to seep into the crumbs and pull it all together.

2 whole graham crackers, crushed into fine crumbs
1/2 tablespoon melted butter
2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar
1 tablespoon egg substitute
1/2 pineapple snack cup, drained well (2 ounces)
2 teaspoons chopped toasted walnuts
canned whipped cream

Combine the melted butter and the graham crackers to incorporated the butter throughout the crumbs.  Sprinkle all but 1 teaspoon into the bottom of your dessert dish.

Mix together the egg substitute and confectioner's sugar until well blended.  Pour on top of the graham cracker base. 

Layer the pineapple and a layer of whipped cream over the egg mixture.  Sprinkle with nuts and the remaining crumbs.  Chill at least two hours before serving. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Paella for One? You bet!

Tomatoes are rampant in the gardens these days and most everyone I know is doing their best to eat their fill straight off the vine or in dishes like this one. When I found the original recipe posted to a blog with bright crescents of tomatoes peeking from the rice, I knew I needed to find a good riff for myself. 

There is no better culinary ambassador of Spain's Valencia region than paella. While the dish normally contains meat or seafood or some combination of the two, this simplified version offers a delicious alternative by adding smoked sausage and roasted red tomatoes to create a pleasing feast for taste buds and the eyes.

If you’ve had paella, you probably realize it’s generally a dish of huge proportions. Normally made in a 16 inch (or larger) pan dedicated to the dish, it was a challenge to scale it down to a manageable size for the single cook. Since paella is more a technique than a list of ingredients, the version I used here that begins on the stovetop and ends in the oven worked out quite well making this manageable for an evening meal even after a long day at work.

The best paellas have a bit of crust on the bottom due to the heat of the pan – in many Spanish paella lovers, that’s the best part!  Make sure you try to create that crust with the tip at the end of the recipe.

Two unsusal ingredients make their appearance in this dish - smoked paprika and saffron.  Most of us have used paprika in the past, mostly as a garnish for things like egg dishes.  Smoked paprika is a whole other flavor.  Using this in a dish imparts a true warm hint of smokiness to whatever you're making.  Use too much and you can easily overwhelm the palette, so go easy until you get a feel for the stregth of the paprika. 

Saffron is also quite unique.  Few of us use this on a regular basis unless you are into Indian or Spanish cuisine like our paella.  There are three mainstays of true paella - saffron, rice and olive oil.  Saffron is known for its being quite expensive, the small pouch purchased for this dish was about $20 but should last (carefully stored) for many, many future uses.  This dish can definatly be made without saffron, but will be all the better if you splurge a bit for the spice.

TOMATO AND SMOKED SAUSAGE PAELLA
If you have a bottle of Rioja on hand it goes really well with this hearty dish.  The quantities given here fill a 6-inch pan which is more than enough for two smaller meals or one hearty meal for a hungry senor or seniorita. 

4 oz ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into thick wedges (one small tomato)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 small onion, minced
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoon tomato paste
pinch saffron threads (optional)
1/2 teaspoon Spanish pimentón (smoked paprika), or other paprika
1/2 cup Spanish or other short-grain white rice
4 oz smoked sausage, sliced ½ inch thick
1 cup chicken stock or water
Minced parsley for garnish

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Warm stock or water in the microwave until very warm. Put tomatoes in a medium bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and drizzle them with 2 teaspoons olive oil. Toss to coat.

Put remaining oil in a 6-inch ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables soften, 3 to 5 minutes.

Stir in tomato paste, saffron if you are using it, and paprika and cook for a minute more. Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is shiny, another minute or two.

Add liquid and stir until just combined.

Arrange smoked sausage and tomato wedges on top of rice and drizzle with juices that accumulated in bottom of bowl. Put pan in oven and roast, undisturbed, for 15 minutes. Check to see if rice is dry and just tender. If not, return pan to oven for another 5 minutes. If rice looks too dry but still is not quite done, add a small amount of stock or water (or wine). When rice is ready, turn off oven and let pan sit for 5 to 15 minutes.

Remove pan from oven and sprinkle with parsley. If you like, put pan over high heat for a few minutes to develop a bit of a bottom crust before serving.