Saturday, September 20, 2008

Apple Crisp, mmmmm

We made nachos today, which were ok. We also made Apple Crisp, from Food TV's show "Down Home with the Neelys". Wow, that was so good! It was very easy, too. I don't think I'll be making an apple pie for a long time; who needs to fuss with a crust?

I did the crisp in a square casserole, since I don't have enough ramekins. It turned out great. Also, serving it into a bowl gave me room to put some "pralines and cream" ice cream on top. I recommend that highly. :) :)

With so many apples at the store right now, I couldn't resist swapping in one Golden Delicious and one McIntosh in place of two of the Granny Smiths (my second substitution was less successful, read below). We have a spiral apple peeler/slicer/corer, which made nice sized apple for the recipe. Just slice the rings into quarters. The kids call the apple peel "fruit by the foot", and eat it in long ribbons.

I made this a second time, with I think one Granny Smith, one Golden Delicious, and three Fugi. It turned out much more watery, and not as full flavored. I think the Fugi is a good eating apple, but will not use it again for baking.

Next time I'm back to Granny/Golden/Macintosh. I might swap in a Jon-a-gold or a Rome. I found some good apple info here.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Cinnamon Pretzels

We made pretzels for the game. Some had traditional salt, and then we tried butter, cinnamon, and sugar. They were really good that way. We're still working on the shape, but they taste great anyway.

Make the pretzel recipe, boil and bake as usual, but do not put on the salt. After they come out of the oven, brush with melted butter, and sprinkle with a blend of cinnamon and sugar. It's best with cinnamon from a store like Fresh Market, or an online spice store like Penzey's.

Here's the finished dough in my machine, a Zojirushi. It's a larger than typical machine, and it barely handles this recipe. Any bread machine can be used to make a larger batch of dough than it can handle making into a finished loaf.

Chili: Not a baking thing, but so good...

We made chili for the game yesterday. It's a recipe that we have developed, and I wanted to share it here. Here is the current revision of the recipe.

Here are the main "seasoning" ingredients.

These are the "add-ins"

And here are my secret ingredients:

My Chili Today
(because we keep tweaking it)


4 slices raw bacon, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 - 2 1/2 lb ground beef
Chili-O mix pack
1 tsp ground cumin, very fresh*
1 Tbsp smoked paprika
2 Tbsp chili powder
1 bottle beer (Corona is good)
2 cans diced tomatoes
1 can beef broth
1 can tomato sauce
4 corn tortillas
1 can sweet corn
3 cans beans; I like one each of red, black, and great northern**
1 oz unsweetened baking chocolate
balsamic vinegar
1 lemon
maple syrup

shredded cheddar cheese
sour cream

Strain and rinse the beans and corn. Save a can for putting beef fat in later.

Brown the bacon in a large pot. Saute onions in the bacon and bacon fat. If you have time, caramelize the onions (cook slowly until they turn caramel-colored). Add the garlic, cook a another minute or two, then empty the pot into a bowl for later.

Get the pot hot again, and put in chunks of ground beef (don't crumble it yet), so that they sizzle and sear on the bottom, turning brown. If they stick some, that's good. Sprinkle the top with salt and pepper. A few minutes later, flip the beef to sear on the other side, salting and peppering again. Remove pan juices as necessary (use a baster to suck it up, and empty it into your bean can) to keep the beef sizzling. Once the beef is browned on the sides, crumble it with your spatula and cook until pink is gone. Remove any unwanted fat now, before adding the spices.

The pot should still be hot. Add the onion mixture to the beef. Sprinkle the Chili-O, cumin, paprika, and chili powder on top. Stir and cook until the pot is dry and the meat is coated. Pour in the can of beef broth, deglazing the pot (the broth should sizzle and un-stick everything from the pan). Stir until very thick. Add the beer, stir, return to a simmer, and allow the fizz to come out. Mix in the cans of tomatoes and tomato sauce.

Bring the pot to a simmer, then crumble the corn tortillas and stir them in. Simmer briskly about 20 minutes, until tortillas disappear, and the pot thickens. Use more or less tortillas to thicken to taste.

Stir in beans and corn. Return to a simmer. Add the juice of the lemon, and stir in the chocolate. Taste the chili. Add salt as desired. Add maple syrup to sweeten, and balsamic vinegar to "brighten", usually around two teaspoons of each. Adjusting the salt, balsamic (sour), and maple (sweet) is the key to a good balanced flavor, and takes multiple tasting and adjustment cycles.

Serve over torn lettuce. Top with shredded cheddar, sour cream, and Fritos.

*Fresh cumin makes a huge difference. It's worth the trouble to toast seed in a dry skillet and grind it yourself, or to buy some at a specialty store (like Fresh Market) every few months. When fresh, it has a very strong, wild sort of a smell, which I've never gotten from a bottle at the grocery store.

**I'd like to try some more bean varieties that I read about online. The problem is finding them, preferably canned. I'd want to know it was worth it before I cooked beans especially to use in chili. Here are some I've heard of: anasazi, pink chili, Mexican red, cranberry.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

A Few of My Favorite Things

Now that I have a camera at my disposal, I've taken some photos of some of my favorites.

My lovely Zojirushi bread machine, a really handy "beaker" measuring cup, and a "French bread" cutting board, perfect for taking a strudel to a party. The dough knife is another extremely useful tool, and I don't care that my dad laughs to think I bought a rectangle of metal with one edge curled over. We use it for all sorts of things.

Dough/bench knife, Bread machine (Zo), and Beaker on a narrow cutting board 

Removed from the list: "Six Thousand Years of Bread", the book I tried reading; it turns out to be oddly religious, more historical than culinary, and honestly not as captivating as I had hoped. I did not finish reading it.  My little shelves hold two pan scales, measuring cups, flax seed, sesame seed, amaranth seed, powdered milk, vanilla in a dropper bottle, a jar of acetic acid, a salt cellar like Alton Brown's, and some Fiesta pieces.

Two-pan scales and other frequently used items.

Kitchenaid mixer with grain mill attachment
A great cutting board and bread knife, with the remains of my latest loaf of bread (they even ate the crusts)

Football Food: Popcorn Balls

Made these this morning, this is all that's left...

I'm indifferent to football, but my husband likes Auburn. I decided it would be a fun excuse for teaching my daughter to cook, try new things, and for all of us to try liking football. Today was our first "football food" day.

We made popcorn balls, and colored them blue and orange for Auburn. They came out a bit on the pastel-side, but oh well. I got the recipe from AllRecipes. My 7-yr-old popped the popcorn, my 10-yr-old tended the goo on the stove, and my 4-yr-old joined in to shape the balls. My husband helped eat them. He does cook, but he was actually watching the game.

Two of my helpers....

The popcorn balls were good, but a bit more gooey than I would prefer. They were also very sweet. Today I made them with nine large marshmallows, no vinegar, no vanilla. Next time I make them, I'll try it this way, with reduced marshmallow, and the addition of vanilla and vinegar:

Soft Popcorn Balls
  • 5 quarts plain popped popcorn (I used Orville's tender white microwave popcorn, it took 4 bags, and it is salted)
  • 3/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup margarine
  • 2 teaspoons cold water
  • 2 5/8 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 6 large marshmallows
  • 1 tsp white vinegar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • food color
  1. Pop the popcorn, remove all unpopped kernels, and divide into large bowls, one for each color you want. Set out a small bowl for each color, including the cooking pot. Put food color into each bowl, reserving one color for the pot, to be done last.
  2. Place a bowl of ice water next to the stove, for plunging hands into if you get burned by the candy. It probably won't happen, but is good just in case.
  3. In a large sauce pan, combine corn syrup, butter, water, confectioners sugar, marshmallows, and vinegar. On medium heat, stir constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. Allow to bubble for a minute or two.
  4. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla, then pour into color bowls. After dividing, add the last color to the pot. Stir each bowl
  5. Pour a bowl of colored goo into each bowl of popcorn, and stir until coated. Make sure to scrape from the bottom, lift, and fold; the goo collects in the bottom.
  6. Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray, and have all the ballers rub their hands in it. Roll into 2 - 3" balls. Place balls onto the cookie sheet.
  7. Serve on a plate, or wrap each ball in plastic wrap when completely cool. If they are allowed to sit out unwrapped, they will get soft, because they attract moisture from the air. Use colored wraps and ribbons to make them festive.