Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Juicy Peach Pie

Funny story about this pie, actually...I was in high school and we were having a potluck for some class or another the following day. My plan was to make turnovers with phyllo pastry (a really amazing, flaky, Greek sort of pastry), but I realized as soon as I took it out of the freezer, that the pastry was REALLY old! It comes rolled up in paper-like sheets, and when I thawed it out and tried to unroll it, it shattered and crumbled apart! Apparently my mom had that in the freezer for about a year. So lesson learned: DON'T leave phyllo dough in the freezer for a year! 

Well, anyway, I ended up having to improvise. I looked all around  the kitchen, thinking, and eventually realized it shouldn't be that hard to make a pie! I got out my favorite pie crust recipe: this one that belongs to my FAVORITE cooking blog--Smitten Kitchen--and began making my first peach pie.

This is what I came up with.

And before you think about going to get store-bought pie crust...THINK AGAIN! This doesn't take a whole lot of ingredients or time, just practice! It tastes THAT much better. It's flakier, more flavor-filled, and frankly a whole lot better for you. This recipe by Smitten Kitchen is perfection. It's the best recipe I've ever made for pie crust.

2 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tsp salt
2 sticks of butter, COLD and diced
3/4 cup ice water
 The night before or at least 4 hours ahead, combine flour, sugar, and salt in a wide bowl (so you can easily knead). Then, finely dice the 2 sticks of chilled butter and sprinkle this into the flour a little at a time, blending everything together using 2 knives or a pastry cutter. The mixture should look like small peas when it is fully incorporated. It will still be uneven, but do not fret! Do not use your hands for this because you do not want the butter to melt. It is key that the butter stays cold. 

Next, add in a 1/2 cup of ice water, and use a spatula to gather all of the dough together (we are avoiding using our hands because we don't want the butter to melt!). Add in the next 1/4 cup of water a tablespoon at a time, until the dough is in large clumps. Then you can get your hands in there. Knead it into a single clump. Do this quickly, so the dough does not have too much contact with your warm hands. Divide into two equally sized balls and wrap in plastic wrap. Press down each ball to make a flat disc shape (easier to roll out later) and place these two discs in the fridge for 4 hours or overnight.

 When you are ready to make your pie, take the pie crust out of the fridge and preheat your oven to 425F. Roll one of the discs out into a rough circle (the most important part is that the dough is even in thickness). 

Then, fold the dough into quarters, for easy transportation, and place in pre-buttered pie plate. unfold. Run around the pie plate with a knife to get rid of the excess pastry, and press down the edges with your thumb. Next, poke holes all around the bottom and sides with a fork, so that it doesn't bubble up when you cook it.

Next, whisk up 2 eggs and brush the bottom pie crust with the wash. Set the rest of the egg aside for later. Put the crust in the oven for about 5-10 minutes to precook, so that it is not soggy when you cook the whole pie. It should not be brown, but should be slightly firmer in texture.

 For the Filling:
10 peaches (or 7, for a smaller pie crust), sliced
1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tbsp flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp butter

Meanwhile, take 10 peaches (for a large pie dish like mine...if you have a smaller dish, use 7) that are ripe but still firm and slice them up (remove the skins if you want to). Toss them in a bowl with 1/2 tbsp. lemon juice. In a separate bowl, combine 1/4 tsp. nutmeg, 1 tbsp flouy, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. salt, 1/2 cup of white sugar and 1/2 cup of brown sugar. Sprinkle this over the peaches, and toss. Let this sit for about ten minutes. Meanwhile, the pie crust in the oven should be done, so take it out and let it cool. 

 Once the peaches have been sitting in their mixture for about 10 minutes, strain them--give them a good shake, and place them in your precooked pie crust.

 Dice 2 tablespoons of butter and scatter this over the peaches. Lay the pie crust top over the peaches and cut around the edge with a knife. Then seal the edges with more of your egg wash, cut a hole in the top and slits around the crust to let out steam.

 Paint the crust with the rest of the egg wash and place it in the oven, still at 425, for 10 minutes. Then lower the heat to 350 for another 30-35 minutes, until the top is golden brown.

Let the pie rest on a rack until cooled, at least 30 minutes, before serving. This is not just to torture you--it's so that the filling can have a chance to firm up. If you cut into the pie when it's hot, it won't cut properly and will also be really runny!

Enjoy! :)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tamarind Thai Noodle Salad: A Beautiful, Far-East Accompaniment to Summer Barbeques and Picnics


3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 inch piece of ginger, minced
½ medium red onion, thinly sliced with a wide grater
A handful of cherry tomatoes, sliced

Combine these ingredients and pan sear them with ½ tbsp. butter for 5 minutes over medium heat, until the ginger and garlic become fragrant and the onion starts to soften. Pour into a bowl and set aside.
Cook 1 pound of flat, long rice noodles (the type used for pad thai, shahe-fen) and cool in some cold water until room temperature. Strain and put into the serving bowl. Toss with a splash of olive oil. 

1 carrot, grated
1 bundle of scallions, sliced thinly
A few leaves of fresh mint, chopped
3-4 handfuls of coleslaw mix (shredded red and green cabbage and carrot)
½- ¾ cup of fresh peas

Add all of these to the bowl with the pasta. Toss to combine. 

Next, in the bowl with the onion and garlic mixture, add in zest and juice of one lime, 1 tablespoon of tamarind paste, 2 teaspoons of tamarind date chutney (find both of these at an Asian or Indian market; it gives the pasta a sweetness and some tang), ¼ cup of Szechuan sauce (the kind you can buy in the Asian food section of your grocery store), a splash of rice wine vinegar and of soy sauce, and lastly 4 drops of hot sauce. Stir this into the noodles. 

In a small bowl combine 2 tablespoons of sugar with ¼ cup of boiling water. Stir to dissolve a little and then add this to the pasta as well. Taste the pasta and add more sugar, Szechuan or tamarind as desired.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Pork Chops with Onion Apple Slaw

I was never a huge pork fan, until I realized what I was doing wrong. Pork desires to be cooked fast, at a high temperature, or it gets tough, chewy, and flavorless. I am sure we have all experienced this at one point or another...So, this recipe's goal is to teach you how to make the best pork possible! 

I decided to experiment with those McCormick spice packs you find at the grocery store. They contain a few different meal-sized portions of spices and have a recipe on the back. It's really convenient if you don't feel like--say, buying a whole container of paprika for just one recipe. 

This is the spice pack I used. I just added some mashed veg and some clearer directions on the cooking for ya'll to have a successful dinner.

This is all of the spices mixed up with flour and salt: paprika, sage, cloves, and freshly minced garlic (I can't stand the dried stuff they give you in the container).

Roll the pork chops (bone-in, of course, for flavor!) in the seasoning, packing in that fresh garlic! Set about a half-tablespoon behind for later.

Sear the pork chops in a hot pan. Get the pan HOT at medium heat (put your hand over the pan, and you should FEEL the hot air), add about 1tbsp butter, let it begin to sizzle, and then place the meat in. The pan IS NOT HOT ENOUGH if you don't hear a loud sizzling when you put the meat in...

Once it's in there, LEAVE IT ALONE to brown. After about 3-4 minutes, check to make sure there is a golden brown crust on the bottoms before flipping them. You will only flip them ONCE so make sure the bottom half is cooked!

 Notice here, how you can see that the sides of the meat are starting to look paler in color. The white sections around the edges show you that it is cooked about half way through. 

After another 3-5 minutes take them out of the pan, and place them on a plate and set aside.

Next, I made some vegetables. They are important for every diet, so NO COMPLAINING! They add a splash of color to the plate as well as vitamins. All I had were carrots and rutabaga, so I diced them up and roasted them on a pan before mashing them with potatoes!

Toss carrots and rutabaga in 3 tbsp. olive oil and 1 tsp. salt and then roast in a 425F oven for about 20 minutes, until browned and soft. 

When you put your vegetables into the oven, also get the potatoes boiling. I peeled about 1.5 potatoes per person, so 6 in all, cut them up into cubes, dropped them in salted water, brought it to a boil, and let it continue boiling until they were very fork tender. The softer they are, the easier they are to mash.

These are my boiled potatoes that I strained and then shook around in the pan so they got all sticky and started falling apart (easier to mash everything together this way :D). It was really nice to have the roasted veg in there, the brown bits added a lot of flavor, plus rutabagas are not really in season so they taste better roasted.

Meanwhile, while the potatoes were boiling and the veg was roasting.... I threw sliced onions into my meat pan and let them brown and caramelize for about 15 minutes. After they got soft, golden, and fragrant, I added sliced apples as well as some apple juice and the spice mix that was reserved, and cooked the mixture for another 10 minutes or so until the apples were soft.

After everything beautifully softened and came together, I added the pork chops back in for a few minutes so they could heat up again. By that point, the potatoes had been drained and the vegetables were just coming out of the oven. So I mashed together all of the finished vegetables with 6 tbsp of butter, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 cup of cream.


And here is the final product! Mashed veg, pork chops, and onion apple slaw.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Cooking Tip of the Day

When cooking vegetables,we can get really boring...boiled potatoes, canned asparagus....why not try oven-roasting your veg?

I LOVE to dice potatoes, throw them on a tray with chopped bacon, crushed garlic, herbs, olive oil and salt and pepper...toss it in the oven on 425F for about 20-25 minutes, and there you go! An amazing side ( or main course).

You can do this sort of thing with pretty much any vegetable. It makes a beautiful golden crust that is amazingly crispy and flavorful.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Spice Up Your Life!

When I was about three years old up until 7 or so (when NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys took priority), my favorite band was the Spice Girls. I am sure some of you remember this British pop band, who are famous for the saying "Girl Power," the ridiculous movie Spiceworld, and their song "Spice Up Your Life!"

My best friend and I spent countless hours dancing in the living room to our tapes. We were "Salt and Pepper Spice" and hoped to join the band one day in our futures...

Maybe that is where I got my love for spices!

Here is an example of what gorgeousness came from my trip to the Indian Market last summer (which took me an hour and a half because I couldn't quite figure out how to read the Indian squigglies and was too overwhelmed by the excitement of the process to even think about asking the cashier for help...).

 This, my friends, is no mere pile of fallen leaves and debris. This is the beginnings of garam masala, the quintessential Indian food spice that gives the sweetness, the kick, and the pow-chicka-wow-wow to your taste buds every time you dare sink your teeth into that na'an bread dipped in the true ambrosia from the gods--butter chicken.

I toasted them all up in the pan to get the oils flowing, and then I blended them into a powder in the food processor and put them in a carefully sealed container (this stuff WILL fill your whole pantry with its tantalizing smell if you don't!)

See what I came up with next--THE Butter Chicken

The stuff that my dreams are made of....and it wasn't even take-out! Unfortunately I don't have pictures of the cooking process as proof of this, but you are just going to have to trust me on this one. This is one of the rare times that I will impart a recipe that I did not create myself. But seriously hon, I could NOT re-imagine this goodness.

Here is my favorite recipe: Butter Chicken Recipe

Do not, and I mean DO NOT, use an American recipe that is all "simplified" and "only 3 ingredients!" It's not real. It doesn't taste real either. This is the simplest yet most flavorful recipe I have discovered.

Also, any homemade Indian food must come with na'an bread. Don't have a tandoor you say? I say...
 Make it work!

This recipe for homemade na'an on a normal stovetop actually tastes pretty authentic. It's not as fluffy as the restaurant stuff, but your excuse can always be, "Well gosh, I am sorry my oven doesn't go up to 3000 degrees to suit your liking!" That's what I always say... 

Here is the link: Na'an Bread

And of course you need basmati rice with a pinch of saffron, to cap it off!

Indian night is yours. Spice it up, ladies and gents!


Cooking Tip of the Day

One way to "spice up your cooking lifestyle" is to use fresh herbs. They taste thousands of times better than those only-grandma-knows-how-old-they-are dried herbs in your cabinet.

They also come pretty cheap at the grocery store (I know that you can get small packages at some local grocery stores for about a dollar).

Rosemary, sage, thyme, and basil are my favorites, and you can put them on chicken/other meat before you roast it in the oven, in pasta, or even in a salad to give it an extra kick. Tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, garlic, and balsamic vinegar is makes an amazing and aromatic salad!

Also, the flowers from herbs are edible, and can make the finishing touch to any dish.

Some food for thought...when cooking with thyme, try frying it in a pan in oil (say, before you cook your meat or add pasta sauce). The flavors come out of this herb much more when it is cooked in oil.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Hearty, Pan Seared Gnocchi

In my family, we have a lot of meat-eaters. And when I say meat-eaters, I think you know what I am talking about...MEN. It is NOT ACCEPTABLE to have a meal without meat! So, when I went off to college and started cooking without meat (as it is expensive, and for some reason girls don't have a bodily need for the substance), my father and brother were aghast! And even now, my fiance is aghast when I try to cook without meat. 

So here's my ode to meat! Something pretty simple to cook up, but also pretty beautifully meaty and hearty. We've got crispy mini pork meatballs, beautiful, soft, Italian potato dumplings, asparagus (because green is a necessity in my cooking), and of course--bacon. Tell me what you think.

The Recipe:

1lb. ground pork (such as Jimmy Dean)--make sure it's got fat in it
1/2 package of bacon, diced
1 vidalia onion
2 cloves of garlic (BIGGUNS!)
2 tsp. butter
2 teaspoons of fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 tsp. dried)
1/3 cup Marsala wine/chicken stock
3/4 cup chopped asparagus
1 lb. mini gnocchi (find it in the pasta section, the mini ones cook easier in this dish)
SALT--to taste

Set a medium pan over medium heat. take ground up sausage meat, roll it into balls and toss them into the hot pan.

At the same time, chop one vidalia onion and 2 cloves of garlic and toss them into a large pan that is over medium heat. Wait until the pan is hot, add in a tablespoon of butter, and after it begins to sizzle and melt, add in the onion. After the onion softens a bit, put in 2 teaspoons of fresh thyme leaves. Continue to cook until golden brown and soft.

Do not immediately toss the sausage meatballs...let them have a chance to brown up on the bottoms and use a spatula to get underneath them and flip them all over after a few minutes.

Once they are brown on all sides, add in half a package of bacon, chopped into small pieces using kitchen scissors. continue to cook down until the meatballs are no longer pink in the middle and the bacon is cooked.

Place all of the meat on a paper towel to soak up the grease and pour off all that is left in the pan except about 1 tablespoon.

Meanwhile, once the onions are soft, turn up the heat to medium-high. When you hear the pan begin to sizzle, pour in 1/3 cup of marsala wine (or chicken stock for all of ya'll under age ;) and let it bubble away for a minute until mostly dissolved and turn the heat back down to low.

Add in 3/4 cup of chopped asparagus.


pour 1 package of mini gnocchi (1lb) into the hot pan that the sausage just came out of. using a spatula, continually scrape the bottom of the pan so as to prevent them from getting stuck. Add in more of the fat if necessary. cook them like this for about 2 minutes, they should still be somewhat firm.  


Combine everything back together in the large pan with the onions. Turn up the heat to medium and toss it well. Taste, and add salt as necessary. Make sure the gnocchi are soft to the bite.    



Cooking Tip of the Day

Let your pan heat up completely before putting anything in it. Butter degrades quickly at high temperatures, so by putting in the butter right when the pan is hot and you are about to start cooking, you ensure that it will not burn as quickly.

Also, if you place meat in the pan before it is hot, you will not get a nice, browned crust. The meat will start to steam, giving you an awful, chewy texture.

So...Ladies and Gents!!! PREPARE YOUR PANS!!!