Monday, November 18, 2013

Dried Mushrooms - Dehydrated Dish #4

Sometimes a recipe for stock or soup will call for dried mushrooms. Drying your own is much cheaper than buying them that way at the store. I used 1lb white button mushrooms. Unless you are a mushroom aficionado and can tell the difference, fungus is fungus and these will give a dish that richly earthy flavor.


The method:

Brush any dirt off the mushrooms, but I don't wash them. Cut them in half. Place them cut side down on a cutting board and slice them vertically into 4 or 5 slices. Arrange the slices on dehydrator trays, using inserts for smaller pieces if necessary. They should not overlap, but they can be crowded since they shrink a lot. I dry these out at a medium temp for the first 12 hours to keep them from molding since they tend to start out damp. I lower the temp as they dry out. It takes at least 24 hours until they are thoroughly dry.



They can be stored in airtight containers in a dry dark place for a month or two. I also grind them into powder and use it in place of bullion powder when making soup broth.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Garlic Chips - Dehydrated Dish #3

Add these to soups, stews, sauces, and pasta/rice/potato water for extra flavor. Being cooked softens them up and mellows the intensity. It saves me from burnt garlic, spoiled garlic, and fingers that smell constantly like garlic.



The method:

Separate 2-3 bulbs of garlic into cloves. Skin the cloves by cutting the ends off, slitting the skin end to end, and slipping the cloves out. Slice the skinned cloves crosswise into thin rounds. You can see I've tried both crosswise and lengthwise. Crosswise chips dry more evenly.



Spread the rounds on dehydrator trays. I have some inserts that I have to use for this since the normal tray holes are too big to accommodate small garlic bits. I dry these at a lower temp (around 120 degrees) so as to not dry them out too quick. They will smell burnt in that case. This will take 1-2 days. Wait till they are thoroughly dried and crumble or snap when you attempt to break them or they are likely to spoil.


Store them in an airtight container. You can leave them as is, or pulverize them in a spice grinder into powder. I've had the powder last up to a year. but it's impossible to get the smell out of the grinder so I usually leave them as chips and use them up within a couple months.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Apple Chips - Dehydrated Dish #2

My second favorite thing to dehydrate, so far, has been apple slices. If I slice them thin enough, and dry them long enough, they come out nice and crisp. When stored in an airtight container, they seem to get more crisp over time too.




Ingredients:

1 lemon (or 2 - 3 lemon cubes)
About a dozen apples (depends on dehydrator size and apple size)
1 tbsp sugar (try lemon sugar or vanilla sugar)
1 tbsp cinnamon
dash of nutmeg or cloves (optional)
dash or two of salt

Cut the lemon into quarters or melt the lemon cubes in a small dish.

Scrub the apples, then cut 3 of them in half. Place them cut side down on a cutting board and slice them horizontally, across the core. Use your best knife and slice them as thinly as possible, 1/8" thick or less. The widest side of a box grater works too. The apples should not need to be cored as the seeds will fall out with such thin slices. Just remove the ends, seeds, and any larger core pieces with the tip of the knife. Don't worry too much about the core fragments, most of the smaller ones will dry right up and not be noticeable in the finished chips.

However you get your slices, place them in a large non reactive bowl (glass or plastic) as you go. To keep them from browning, after you cut the first 3 add 1/4 of the lemon juice and toss to coat. Add another 1/4 with the second 3, and so on until all the apple slices have been coated. Finally, add the sugar, spices and salt at the end and make sure the slices get evenly coated with that too.

Arrange the slices on the dehydrator trays as close together as possible, without overlapping, since they will shrink. Dry them at around 135 degrees for up to 2 days until they are very dry and have a bit of snap to them when bent. It's ok if they bend a little, they will crisp up over time.

These are addictive to eat like chips. They are also good to crumble up and mix with dry oatmeal to make homemade instant flavored oatmeal packets. They keep for at least a couple months in dry airtight containers.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Lemons - Dehydrated Dish #1

I bought a dehydrator a couple years ago for a specific project, drying soaked and sprouted grain, which I have long since abandoned. This happens pretty often with me and cooking projects. Usually the abandoned equipment gathers dust until I eventually give it away. Not so the dehydrator. It's become one of my most used small appliances. Here begins a short series on easy dried bits.



The first thing I really got into making with it was lemon salt and sugar. It's easy and quite versatile. In fact, I'm posting it since I will be referring to it constantly as an ingredient in other posts.

The method:

Zest 2 lemons for every 1/2 cup of sugar or salt that you want. A microplane grater makes short work of this. I usually do 4 lemons total, half for sugar and half for salt. I like the texture better with course sea salt and turbinado sugar, but it would work with finer grinds. Save the juice (see below).

In a small bowl, mix the zest with the sugar or salt until it's evenly distributed. It will probably clump up. Once mixed, spread on a solid plastic dehydrator tray. Mine came with a couple inserts for making fruit leather and that's what I use here. Separate the clumps and make sure the zests are spread out as much as possible so that they dry evenly.

I dry it on the setting used for nuts and seeds (105 F), since I don't want to ruin the lemon oil with too high of a temperature. It will usually be dry by morning, so 8 - 10 hours max.

Remove the salt when the zests are dry and crumble when touched. They can be ground up finely in a food processor, but I usually just leave them a little rough for texture. As you can see, I store them in glass mason jars and they keep this way for at least a couple months on the shelf. The flavor starts to go after that.

Lemon salt is good for finishing dishes, making margaritas, and for adding a hint of lemon. Lemon sugar is good in everything! Limes and oranges also work well, but I've found lemon to be the most versatile flavor.

Juice the lemons while you are at it and freeze the juice into ice cube trays for lemon cubes. Once frozen, pop the cubes out of the tray and store in a freezer bag. They're great in tea or for brightening up soups, pasta, and sauce dishes. Microwave lemons for 15 seconds to get them to juice easier. Juice them over a strainer into the tray to avoid getting seeds in there.

Between the salt and the lemon cubes, we will never be caught without "fresh" lemon flavoring again.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Lemon Meringue Pie


There is more than one way to win friends and influence people.


I tested this a couple times and figured out what didn't work. Next I did a lot of food chemistry/safety research to figure out what would. Lemon meringue pie isn't too strenuous or time consuming to make, but it does require precision in process and timing. This is a new concept for me, being that I live by the Pareto Principle and get distracted all the time. I need very thoroughly explained and detailed instructions for things like this so I made my own. Here they are.

The key: 
Use powdered egg whites! They taste and whip up the same, yet are both stable and sterile, solving the two biggest downfalls I came across. This pie slice survived a day, both in the fridge and on the counter, none the worse for wear. I got raves on the leftovers. It didn't weep, get soggy or cause food poisoning. Mission accomplished. Use the leftover real egg whites for something that gets thoroughly baked, like meringue cookies or angel food cake. Or add them to scrambled eggs. They freeze well too.

Other hints:
I liked the graham cracker crust a lot more than I expected to. It was much better with this than a traditional one. I would also try it with gingersnaps or lemon snaps in place of the crackers and cut the sugar out.

Note the toothpicks. They are a good cheat to make sure that the meringue doesn't slide off the filling when slicing and serving.

Bake at lower temp and for longer. Let it brown slowly like a perfectly roasted marshmallow. The last thing you want is a torched outer layer of meringue, while the inside remains undercooked. Let it dry out a bit.

And finally, this is a project best done with two people. The filling and the meringue need to be done at the same time. The meringue needs to go on super hot filling to ensure that it starts to cook from the inside out as well as the outside in, to help it remain stable throughout. I did it by myself but it got a little hairy. I will detail how below.


Step 1:

Graham Cracker Crust
12 full-size graham crackers
1 Tbsp sugar (I use lemon sugar)
1/4 tsp nutmeg or ginger (optional)
Dash of salt
6 Tbsp butter (save the rest of the stick for filling, below)
~1 Tbsp water

Preheat oven to 325

Process the crackers, sugar, salt and spices into crumbs using a food processor (or smash them up with a rolling pin in a sealed bag). Melt the butter in a 4+ cup microwaveable bowl. Add the crumbs to the butter and mix with a fork until the dough starts to clump when squeezed with your hands. Add a tbsp of water if it's too dry.

Press the crumbs into a pie plate, making sure to evenly cover the sides and bottom with no cracks. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes until dry and just starting to brown a little bit. Set aside while you prepare the filling.


Step 2:

Egg Whites
3 Tbsp powdered egg whites (I used Deb El Just Whites, they worked perfectly)
9 Tbsp warm water
1 tsp cream of tarter
dash salt

In a large glass or metal bowl (not plastic, it interferes with the meringue creation), add egg white powder to warm water. Stir gently with a whisk for a couple minutes to let the powder absorb the water and completely dissolve.

Get started with Steps 3 and 4 (below), then add cream of tarter and salt to the egg whites and beat with a hand mixer until puffy looking soft peaks form when you lift the mixer out of the fluff.

Meanwhile...

Step 3:

Sugar Syrup
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup water


Whisk sugar, vanilla, cornstarch, and water together in small saucepan until the lumps dissolve. Heat on high, whisking occasionally until the syrup is boiling very rapidly. Then keep boiling it a bit. I usually boil it until the soft peaks (above) are fully formed, 5 - 10 minutes.

I keep the bowl with the hand mixer next to the stove so I can keep an eye on the sugar syrup, and the filling (below), to stir them while whipping the egg whites.

Step 4:

Lemon Filling
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup corn starch
1 cup water - divided in half
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla
6 egg yolks
1 Tbsp lemon zest
2 Tbsp butter

Whisk sugar, cornstarch and 1/2 cup of water in another saucepan until there are no lumps. Add remaining 1/2 cup water, lemon juice, and vanilla. Whisk until smooth and heat over medium heat, whisking often to keep the bottom from burning and lumps from forming.

Cook until the filling starts to thicken into a translucent pudding, about 5 minutes. Watch this closely. It is more important to watch this than to watch the sugar syrup or to beat the meringue (if you are doing this all at once by yourself). Once the filling starts to thicken, forget the syrup and egg whites for a minute. Add the egg yolks, zest, and butter to the filling, then cook at a simmer for another couple minutes, stirring constantly to avoid lumping or curdling.

Remove the filling from the heat, pour it immediately into the prepared crust. Return your attention to the meringue. By this time the sugar syrup will be ready, drizzle it slowly into the half-whipped egg whites while the mixer is going (avoid the beaters unless you fancy being spattered by molten sugar lava). Continue whipping the egg whites until they form stiff, glossy peaks that hold points (like in the picture above), when you remove the beaters. This may take a few more minutes. Don't skimp on the whipping.  

When the meringue is stiff, spread it on the filled pie. Work from the outside in, using generous spoonfuls, spreading them gently. Fill in and seal the edges by making sure meringue completely covers the crust all around. Press the meringue down gently onto the filling to seal it and force out air as you go. Use the back of a spoon to swirl or stucco the meringue as desired. I like the stucco because the points get brown and I think it looks neat.

Bake at 325 until the meringue is lightly browned (see pic above). It takes 20 minutes to half an hour. Watch it after 15 or so.

Cool the pie to room temp. It's best just slightly warm, but did survive a night in the fridge without degrading much in texture or flavor.

The meringue was uniformly delicate and light. The filling was firm and lemony, yet just creamy enough. The crust was a crispy, buttery counterpoint. 100% worth both the research and the effort.







Sunday, November 3, 2013

Chocolate Peanut Butter (Vampire) Bites


 These flour-less cookies are very intensely chocolate. One or two will kill a craving pretty handily.



Ingredients:

4 oz unsweetened baking chocolate (I used 1/2 an 8oz bar)
1 cup creamy peanut butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 large egg (lightly beaten)

1/4 cup sugar to coat (I used red to make them look a little vampiric this time)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the chocolate in the microwave in a large bowl. I melt it at 30 second intervals, checking it and stirring to break it up. Once it's about half melted, I go down to 15 seconds and stop when it is just all melted. Be careful not to scorch it.

Stir in peanut butter until well blended, then add sugar, salt, vanilla. Once the other ingredients are well blended, add the beaten egg. It might not look right at first, but keep stirring until a sticky dough forms. Something about the egg causes the rest of the ingredients to firm up.

Roll dough into 1" balls. Place the additional sugar in a small bowl and roll each ball to coat. Place an inch or so apart on a baking sheet and press down lightly with your palm to flatten them a little bit. They won't spread too much at all.

Bake until cookies start cracking, 10 to 12 minutes. Be careful not to overcook them or they will taste scorched. Cool 5 - 10 minutes on sheets to set the cookies (or they will crumble). Transfer cookies to racks to cool completely.

Makes about 2 dozen bites.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Buffalo Chicken Bites

Broccoli redeems anything


Ingredients:

Wet
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 cup melted butter (1 stick)
Buffalo style hot sauce (I use Tabasco or Frank's) to taste (I used about a tablespoon)

Dry
1 cup seasoned panko bread crumbs (then season them some more)
1/3 cup grated Romano cheese
1 tbsp oregano, basil, and/or parsley (I use a tsp of each or whatever I have on hand)
1 tbsp paprika
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (to taste)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

1.5 - 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast cut into bite sized (~1") pieces

Heat oven to 450 degrees.

Mix the wet ingredients in a bowl. Mix the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Cut the chicken up last (unless you feel like washing your hands halfway through in order to get the other ingredients out, d'oh).

Dip the chicken in the butter mixture to coat. If the butter starts to solidify (mine did), nuke it for a few seconds to remelt. I just put all the chicken in the butter mixture for a minute because I got interrupted. After a few minutes the butter had solidified around the cold chicken. I nuked the whole bowl for about 15 seconds a couple times to remelt as I went along. It still worked. Maybe better?

Anyway, after dipping the chicken bites in butter, dip them in bread crumbs until completely coated. Use one hand for wet dipping and the other for dry dipping in order to avoid breaded fingers.

Place the double dipped chicken bites on a cookie sheet (or two). You can crowd them in pretty well, it's not like they spread, but don't let them touch or they might not cook all the way. Brush or drizzle the remaining butter mixture over the chicken, garlic and all. Bake until browned and crispy, 10 - 15 minutes. Beware of your smoke detector going off from burning crumbs on the pan like mine did. Check a couple bigger pieces of chicken, by cutting them in half, to make sure they are not at all pink inside. Drizzle with more buffalo sauce if desired. I eat them with vegetables, to make up for all the butter.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Apple Pastries

These wonderful treats are the result of my efforts to replicate toaster pastries, which are a great vice of mine. I finally nailed them.


Ingredients:

Crust
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup cold butter, cut into 1/2" pieces (2 sticks)
1/2 cup yogurt or sour cream

Filling
2 - 3 cups cooled Apple Pie Filling


Whisk together flour and salt. Use a pastry cutter or food processor to cut the butter into the flour until it is evenly crumbly (the crumbs should be the size of small peas). Stir in the yogurt and then knead just until all the dough is moistened and sticks together. You can add a tsp or two of water if the dough is not sticking together after a couple minutes.Chill the dough in the fridge for an hour or overnight. This is important. It won't be flaky unless the butter starts out really cold.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Once chilled, take the dough out and divide it into two pieces. On a well floured surface, roll out the first piece of dough into a large square. Roll as thin as you can get away with. Dusting more flour on the surface and rolling pin throughout the rolling process helps mitigate sticking. Picking the dough up, flipping and rotating it every couple rolls helps too. Once rolled out, cut the dough into roughly equal sized squares (see pic below). Don't worry about the rough edges, they will be taken care of later.


Place half of the dough squares on a cookie sheet (see pic below). Spoon the pie filling (to taste, start with a spoonful or two) into the center of each square. Top with a square of roughly the same size. Pinch the edges shut on all sides, tucking any rough edges in (using a fork to crimp helps). Pierce the top 3x with a fork to let steam escape (so they won't be as likely to leak). At this point they can be frozen unbaked and popped in the oven on a moment's notice. Just make sure to wrap them up airtight and separated with wax paper so they don't stick to each other. Repeat with the second half of the dough.


Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown. They are best fresh, but can be reheated later with some success. Makes about a dozen 3-4" pastries.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Caraway Cauliflower Soup

This is a spicy soup, reminiscent of rye bread. I would have a picture, but I usually serve it in canning jars that I take to work. They aren't photogenic.


Ingredients:

1 head of cauliflower, chopped into florets
Enough water in a large pot to cover all the florets
Salt for the water (to taste, start with a tsp or two)
6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 tbsp caraway seeds
1 tsp ground peppercorns
1 tsp rosemary leaves
1/2 tsp hot pepper flakes (optional, and to taste)


Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn it down to medium-low and simmer until the cauliflower is fork tender. Drain off most of the water into a dish, reserving at least 2 cups of it.

Puree cauliflower until creamy and smooth, adding the reserved water back as you blend to get the desired consistency. I use a stick blender right in the pot to do this. With a regular blender, make sure to open the vent in the lid and cover it with a dishcloth to prevent the steam from building up and exploding hot soup all over. Don't ask me how I know this.

Serve with more black pepper and a little olive oil drizzled into the soup.

Alternatively, you can skip the puree part and just serve the drained cauliflower florets with butter and pepper.

Sometimes I cook rice in the rest of the reserved broth.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Cheatastic Apple Pie Filling

I picked too many apples and don't feel like peeling them all. What to do?


Ingredients:

Initial

6 Apples, quartered and cored (a variety of types is best)
1/3 cup cider or apple juice
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup brown sugar (to taste, I don't use much since the apples I used are pretty sweet)
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp lemon juice (to taste - balances out the sweetness, use less with tart apples and more with sweet)
a dash or two of salt


Thickening
1/4 cup cold water
2 tbsp corn starch


The trick to not peeling apples is to shred them up pretty fine, skins and all. I do this in a food processor for a few seconds, until I get small bits, but not puree. About the same consistency as a coarse coleslaw.

Combine the initial ingredients in a saucepan. Bring it to a boil over medium heat, then lower to a simmer and cook until the apple bits are softened, about 15 minutes.

In the meantime, stir the thickening ingredients together in a cup until there are no lumps and the texture is smooth.

Pour the thickener into the simmering apples, stirring in thoroughly over the heat for a couple minutes, then take the apples off the heat and let them cool to room temperature before using in pie.

I like to keep this in jars in the fridge for apple pastries, for stirring into plain yogurt or ice cream, for eating on toast...it's versatile stuff. It will keep for at least a couple weeks that way, but you could freeze it in freezer-safe canning jars or ziploc bags for at least a couple months.

Spicy Pumpkin Gingerbread Cookies

These cookies are not too sweet, but spicy and soft like old fashioned molasses cookies.


Ingredients:

Wet
1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 egg
1 tsp grated fresh ginger (optional, but awesome - I use a microplane grater for this)
1 tsp vanilla


Dry
2 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp hot pepper flakes or cayenne pepper (optional, I put more...but start small)
1/8 tsp ground black pepper (secret ingredient, don't leave it out)

1/4 cup sugar for coating (I like the texture of raw sugar with larger grains, but regular sugar or cinnamon sugar would be fine)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat butter and sugar together until creamy. I use a hand mixer for this. Blend in pumpkin, molasses, grated ginger, vanilla, and egg.

Whisk together dry ingredients. Mix them into wet ingredients until well combined. The dough will be a bit sticky. You can chill the dough until it is firm enough to roll into 1 inch balls or don't, if you don't have time. Sometimes I just flour up my hands and work with it.

Roll the balls in turbinado sugar until lightly coated and place them on a baking sheet an inch or two apart. Press them down gently with your palm into disks. Bake for 10 minutes, or until they get cracks on top. Don't overbake them or they will be dry. These are great with a little peanut butter and coffee.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Chewy Oatmeal Apple Breakfast Bars

Here is a tasty, fast, and healthy breakfast recipe that I make every week to have for busy mornings and hungry afternoons.


Ingredients:

Dry
3 cups oatmeal
2 tbsp flaxseed meal (optional)
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves

3 medium apples

Wet
2 tbsp melted butter
1/2 cup cider or apple juice
1/2 cup milk, yogurt or water
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13 baking dish.

Stir together dry ingredients in a large bowl.

Quarter, core, and shred the apples. I toss them in my food processor for a few seconds until they are in small shreds, but not pureed. You could also use a grater. Stir the apples into the dry ingredients until they are evenly coated.

Melt the butter in a 2 cup measuring cup or 2 cup bowl, lightly beat in the eggs with a fork, then stir in the rest of the wet ingredients.

Pour the wet into the dry ingredients. Stir them together until evenly mixed. Spread batter into greased baking dish.

Bake for 20 - 25 minutes until the edges are golden brown and the center is set.

Cut into squares. They are best with coffee or tea and will keep for a week if stored in the refrigerator.