Saturday, October 30, 2010

An adventure in firsts:

A few weeks ago, I got some apples in my CSA box. My initial reaction was to buy caramel sauce, and make a lovely snack to take to work with me. Sadly, I couldn't find any caramel sauce in stores whose first ingredient WASN'T high fructose corn syrup, which I try to avoid.

So I said to myself, hmmm. I've been cooking a lot lately... trying new things... I'm sure it's not that hard ... I'll just make some myself! So, I bought some brown sugar and went home to find a recipe.

I quickly found out that contrary to what I originally thought ... caramel sauce is not made of brown sugar.

So I scratched that, went to Epicurious (which is my favorite), got out my sugar jar and assembled the rest of the ingredients.

It's pretty simple. Water, sugar, cream, and butter.

And here's what you do:

Stir 1 1/2 c. sugar and 1/2 cup water in heavy, large saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves.

Then you increase the heat (I went somewhere between med-hi and high), and boil without until the syrup turns a golden amber color (around 12 or so minutes, maybe a little less.) (This is modified from the original recipe, which called for deep amber. The comments suggested that you stick with golden. It was a good idea.) You can occasionally brush down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush, if needed, and swirl the pan to mix.

Just boiling...

Starting to turn...

And this is the color I stopped at.

Remove from heat, whisk in butter. (I stirred rather than whisked, and that may have been a bad idea.)

Gradually add cream (mixture will bubble vigorously), and stir over low heat until smooth. Cool to lukewarm before serving.

When I stirred, I couldn't get it completely smooth - a big clump of sugar stuck to the spoon, but I figured it would be okay. I was right.

Yummy bowl of caramel!

So then I ate my little snack of apples with caramel sauce - and was disappointed. The sauce was way too delicate for raw, tart apples. So I decided - I needed to make a pie.

I had a spare refrigerated crust that needed to be used. I know it's lazy, but I really didn't have 2 or 3 hours to make one, and I wanted a quick and easy pie.

Now here's the "first" part: I didn't use a recipe. Once again - I figured, I've been cooking/baking a lot, I've made apple pies before, how hard can it be? So I made a pie (but not the crust) from scratch.

I used about 4 apples, thinly sliced, and put them in the crust. Dumbly, I didn't think to add the sugar and spices before, so I just sort of mixed it all up in the crust before baking it. I used probably 1/2 c. sugar, maybe a tsp. of cinnamon, maybe more, and a shake or two of nutmeg. Then I cut up some butter and dotted it all over the apples. I baked it (I think) at like 375 for about 30 minutes or so? I honestly don't remember.

And here it is:

By all means, it was not the best apple pie I've ever had. It was incredibly simple, and could have been a little wetter. But it was PERFECT with the caramel sauce. The simplicity of the pie was perfect with the sweetness of the sauce, and it was a delightful little snack. And, I was pretty proud of myself for not using a recipe.

I'm getting braver in the kitchen. It's a bit scary sometimes, and I get nervous before seeing (and tasting) the final product. But I'm growing and stretching and usually the food is good and we are pleased. And it makes me happy :)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Curried Butternut Squash Soup - tastes like fall, but in India

My loves are asleep on the floor for the time being, an apple pie is in the oven, the dishes are (mostly) clean, and my hiccups are vanquished. Finally, I have time to sit down and write this post :)

First things first: I made caramel sauce today, from scratch. So proud! I feel more legitimate, somehow, as a person and a cook because of this. But that is another post for another time.

So, back last week when Mark had his wisdom teeth out (plus some) ... (and the week before that, actually), we ate a lot of soup. It is cheap. It is good for when you have dental work. It is delicious, and typically nutritious. And to me, it is a quintessential fall dish :)

Especially this one! It was a new recipe (I've been doing a lot of those lately ... most of them are wins, but I had a major fail last night. Let's just say savory bread pudding is not so savory, nor is it good - it just tastes like soggy bread. I think I'll stick with sweet dessert bread puddings with creme anglaise ... oh, yum!)

I keep getting off-topic.

Ahem. Where were we?

Oh, right. Soup. So, I found this recipe in one of my mom's old cooking notebooks (she has like pages and pages of recipes, and we went through them all the last time I was home), and it is SUCH a keeper.

You start with a basic Roasted Winter Squash recipe. I have no pictures of this step, because I have a new puppy, and had a sickly/sleepy/sore husband at the time. My hands were a little bit full.

Roasted Winter Squash
(This works for butternut, spaghetti, acorn, or just about any other winter squash you can think of.)

3 lb. winter squash
1 Tbsp. butter, melted
1/2 Tbsp. honey
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

Remove stem from squash, cut in half lengthwise, remove and discard seeds. (Or save them, roast them, and use them in something else!) Cut each half into 4 wedges, place on baking sheet lined with foil. (If using spaghetti squash, cut each half into 2 wedges.) Stir together butter and honey until blended. Brush squash evenly with butter mixture, then sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper. Bake at 450 degrees for 30-35 minutes until tender, turning once. Cut skins from squash wedges and discard.

Now we can move onto the soup.

Curried Butternut Squash Soup
1 Roasted Winter Squash recipe
3/4 lb. unpeeled, medium fresh shrimp (I actually omitted the shrimp, making this a vegetarian dish, mostly because Mark couldn't chew anything at all. It was fabulous without the shrimp, and I also think it'd be fabulous with them - whatever your fancy!)
32-oz chicken broth
1/2 c. light coconut milk (I actually used the full fat to give the soup a little more thickness, and I probably used more than 1/2 c. Oh well.)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. curry powder (I definitely used more curry than this, and I also used some Rogan Josh for an extra dimension of flavor. Be creative with your curry! I don't think you can go wrong...)
2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro

Mash squash with a potato masher or fork, set aside.

Peel shrimp and devein, set aside. (Obviously, I omitted this step.)
Stir together broth and next 3 ingredients in a Dutch oven over med heat and cook, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Remove from heat.

(While I was doing this, I also added a step, and an ingredient - I sauteed about half an onion, in order to give the soup a bit more flavor. I just added the sauteed onion to the broth mixture before the next step.)

Process squash and broth mixture together, in batches, in food processor or blender until smooth, stopping to scrape down sides. Return mixture to Dutch oven, add shrimp, and cook over med. heat until thoroughly heated and shrimp turn pink. Sprinkle each serving with cilantro.

I really wish I'd taken a picture of the finished soup, because it was a lovely orangey color totally reminiscent of the season. Oh well. Next time.

It was so, so delicious (even without the shrimp.) The curry complimented the flavor of the squash in the most delightful way, and it was so simple and lovely. I love when food tastes like what it's made out of. (Sounds silly, I know, but it's not as silly as you'd think anymore...)

And now, my pie is calling. Loudly. That'll be another fun post for a different day....

Happy cooking!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Pudding is good to make when you're stressed.

I'm a terrible food blogger. You know how I said I was going to make pictures this time when I made that sweet potato ravioli? Well ... I was in a hurry, trying to get it done fast cause we were all hungry (and it isn't something that gets done very fast ... I started the process at 5:30, and we ate at 8 I think.) When I'm stressed about food, taking pictures of it is the last thing on my mind. So I apologize.

So instead of sweet potato ravioli, I'm doing pudding today.

Mark had his wisdom teeth removed (and some other seriously major and expensive dental work) on Wednesday. I've been trying to come up with yummy and creative but cheap ways to make soft but not boring foods. Cha-ching - homemade vanilla pudding! This is Mark's mom's recipe (and probably originally HER mom's recipe) that went in banana pudding that we had several months ago at our last visit to Griffin. I hate bananas, but even I liked this stuff. So I figured that the pudding would be a winner.

Yesterday (when I made it) also happened to be one of the most stressful days I've had in a long time. I was TOTALLY stressed out when I started the pudding. I don't know if any of you have ever made pudding, but it takes time. But not only that - it takes attention. It DEMANDS attention. You have to stir. And stir. And stir. It isn't a difficult thing to make - you just have to stand there the whole time. And stir. And somewhere in all that stirring and standing, I remembered to breathe. I remembered that things have a way of working out. I remembered that I have family that loves me and friends who love me and Mark and I are not alone in this big, sometimes mean world. And I remembered that I have cooking. It is a good hobby to have - it can be cheap, it can take a lot of concentration and take your mind off of other things, and it (almost) always produces good results. And after stirring and stirring and calming down and thinking of all those things, and then sitting and waiting and cuddling with my puppy while the pudding got cold, we got to eat the result. And it was really, really good.

Creamy Vanilla Pudding

1/3 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/8 tsp. salt
2 c. milk
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
2 Tbsp. butter, softened
2 tsp. vanilla (I always tend to "spill" the vanilla and add more than the recipe calls for....)

Slightly beat egg yolks in small to med. bowl, set aside.
Mix sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a 2-qt. saucepan. Gradually stir in milk. Cook over med. heat, stirring constantly, until thickens and boils. (This honestly takes forever.)

Boil and stir for 1 minute.
Stir in at least half of the hot mixture gradually into egg yolks. (Key words: STIR and GRADUALLY, or else you'll have scrambled eggs in your pudding.) Pour back into saucepan with rest of milk/sugar mixture, and blend well. Boil and stir for 1 minute.

Remove from heat and add butter and vanilla, stir well. (I mean, really. Butter. Vanilla. Milk. Eggs. What could be better than this??)
Pour into dessert bowls, cool slightly, and refrigerate.

(My recipe says it makes 4 servings ... I only got 3 out of it. I guess my serving sizes are too big...)

(Also, you can make butterscotch pudding by substituting 2/3 c. packed brown sugar for granulated sugar, and decreasing the vanilla to 1 tsp. I might not do that last part though...)

I didn't take many pictures of this, either. Sorry, friends. I'll try harder next time I cook...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls!

The sweet potato ravioli is put on hold until Friday, because Kelly and Colton are at a Bob Dylan concert tonight, and couldn't come for dinner.

But, I did make cinnamon rolls today for the first time. They were a success! My poor, poor hubby is having a TON of major dental work done bright and early tomorrow at 7am, and they said he needed to eat beforehand. I'm well aware that a big sugary breakfast isn't quite what they meant, but I feel sorry for him (he probably won't be able to eat "real" food for a while), and he'll be more likely to eat something yummy like this early in the morning than something healthy. (And maybe I can get him to eat an egg as well...)

Anyway, I was going to use the recipe on the Pioneer Woman's website, until I looked it up and realized that it makes SEVEN pans of rolls. Seven! We don't need that many, and I don't have enough freezer space either ... oh well, maybe at the holidays I can make them as gifts.

So, it was off to Epicurious for some recipe-searching (oh, how I love that website! Thanks, Lissa and Mel!), and here's what I found:

(Apologies for not many pictures, but it's hard to cook with a puppy and make pictures at the same time!)

Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Glaze
For the dough:
1 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 1/2 cups (or more) unbleached all purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup sugar 
1 large egg
2 1/4 teaspoons rapid-rise yeast (from 2 envelopes yeast) - NOTE: Fleishman yeast packets are 2 1/4 tsp. per packet, so you only need one if you're using that brand
1 teaspoon salt
Nonstick vegetable oil spray 
For the filling:
3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
For the glaze:
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For dough:
Combine milk and butter in glass measuring cup. Microwave on high until butter melts and mixture is just warmed to 120°F to 130°F, 30 to 45 seconds. (You'll want that butter to be at room temp - learn from my mistake, and don't use cold butter for that step.) Pour into bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Add 1 cup flour, sugar, egg, yeast, and salt. Beat on low speed 3 minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl. Add 2 1/2 cups flour. Beat on low until flour is absorbed and dough is sticky, scraping down sides of bowl. If dough is very sticky, add more flour by tablespoonfuls until dough begins to form ball and pulls away from sides of bowl. (I probably added 3 more Tbsp?)

Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, adding more flour if sticky, about 8 minutes. Form into ball. 

Lightly oil large bowl with nonstick spray. Transfer dough to bowl, turning to coat. 

Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then kitchen towel. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.  (And here's where my problem started: the dough wasn't rising! I don't know if it was my yeast, or what, but it didn't rise hardly AT ALL.)

For filling:
Mix brown sugar and cinnamon in medium bowl.
Punch down dough. Transfer to floured work surface. Roll out to 15x11-inch rectangle. Spread butter over dough, leaving 1/2-inch border. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar evenly over butter. (Sometimes I get overwhelmed with the cinnamon, so I used less than this recipe calls for.) Starting at 1 long side, roll dough into log, pinching gently to keep it rolled up. With seam side down, cut dough crosswise with thin sharp knife into 18 equal slices (each about 1/2 to 3/4 inch wide).
Spray two 9-inch square glass baking dishes with nonstick spray. Divide rolls between baking dishes, arranging cut side up (there will be almost no space between rolls). (Haha. Once again - my dough didn't rise.)

Cover baking dishes with plastic wrap, then kitchen towel. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until almost doubled in volume, 40 to 45 minutes. (Okay, here was the next problem. See the above picture? That was before rising. These are after rising 45 minutes. I don't think they rose a milimeter.)


Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Bake rolls until tops are golden, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and invert immediately onto rack. Cool 10 minutes. Turn rolls right side up. (I forged on and baked them anyway, and you know what? They rose a bit during baking, and even though they're small, they still taste great!!)

For glaze:
Combine cream cheese, powdered sugar, butter, and vanilla in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat until smooth. Spread glaze on rolls. Serve warm or at room temperature.

These are delicious, despite the lack of rising. I'm going to make them again sometime (they're pretty easy, actually), with maybe some fresher yeast? They're good regardless though :)

Hope you all enjoy! And thanks to Epicurious for such amazingly yummy recipes :)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sweet Potato and Sausage Soup

I am a really, really awful blogger. I apologize for the long hiatus ... it's not like we've not been eating absolutely delicious food ... I just got tired of taking pictures while cooking. But, this looked so scrumptious and exciting and FALL-ish that I couldn't resist.

We've been getting gobs of sweet potatoes in our CSA (which, by the way, I ADORE), and I've been coming up with some pretty creative uses for them, thanks in part to Epicurious, and in part to Smitten Kitchen. Oh Deb, you are genius. This particular recipe, by chance, comes from both - originally posted on Epicurious, Deb posted it on HER blog a couple years ago. And I'm posting it again.

It's the perfect recipe for fall/winter, when the weather's getting colder and the leaves are changing and falling, and the perfect recipe for when you've just had dental work done, and your mouth hurts. There's not too much chewing involved, save the sausage.

So here we go.

What you'll need:
-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
-1 10- to 11-ounce fully cooked smoked Portuguese linguiƧa sausage or chorizo sausage, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (I used chorizo)
-2 medium onions, chopped
-2 large garlic cloves, minced
-2 pounds red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams; about 2 large), peeled, quartered lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
-1 pound white-skinned potatoes, peeled, halved lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
-6 cups low-salt chicken broth (I actually used just 4 cups, because I wanted more of a thick hearty stew than a soup...)
-1 9-ounce bag fresh spinach (And I didn't use this much spinach)

To Make:
Chop up all your veggies and sausage.

Then get a really big pot, and heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil over med-hi heat. 
Add the sausage, and brown, cooking for around 8-ish minutes. After it's nice and brown, transfer it to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. 
Then add the onions and garlic to the pot, and cook them till translucent, about 5 minutes. I personally had to add a bit of extra oil, since some of mine poured out onto the paper towels with the sausage.
Once the onions are translucent, then you add all the potatoes. It looks like a TON of potatoes, but it will cook down a bit. You cook them for about 12 minutes, until they're getting soft. It requires a lot of stirring and scraping.

Beautiful :)
Once those babies are nice and soft, add however much chicken broth you want - add more if you want a soup, add less if you want a thicker stew-like something.

Scrape the browned bits off the bottom of your pot, and then bring to a boil.
Once it's boiling, turn the heat down to med-low, cover your pot, and simmer simmer simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

After it's done simmering away, mash some of the potatoes in the pot with a potato masher. 
Then add your sausage.

The original recipe doesn't say this, but I sort of let mine sit for a few minutes and get warm, and let the soup soak up some of that sausage-y taste.
Then add your spinach, stir it in, and let it simmer for another 5 minutes, or until the spinach just wilts.

And voila, you're done! You can add salt and pepper to taste, but I honestly didn't think this soup needed anything extra at all.

I had every intention of making cornbread to go with this, but I completely forgot about it until after the soup was done. I figure I'll whip up a batch tonight, because we'll be eating leftovers for several days anyway, plus some different soup later this week. It's a soup kind of week in the Skinner household.

Hope everyone enjoys - this is DELICIOUS!