Stuff & Nonsense: crazy cooking challenge

Showing posts with label crazy cooking challenge. Show all posts
Showing posts with label crazy cooking challenge. Show all posts

07 August 2012

Crazy Cooking Challenge: Cheesecake

PhotobucketAugust’s Crazy Cooking Challenge was cheesecake. Cheesecake. In August. Eek! August means heat and stickiness. It means huddling over the air conditioner vent with a sweaty glass of iced tea, day-dreaming about ice cold melon and popsicles. There was just no way I was going to be able to bake or eat a cheesecake (The Husband wishes you to know that, if I really loved him, I would have baked a cheesecake and he, out of love for me, would have eaten it all).

I tried a couple no-bake cheesecake recipes, but they either just didn't turn out good enough for the Crazy Cooking Challenge or were so appallingly bad that I can't bear to think about them. August 7 crept steadily closer and I was still without a recipe. So what to do?

I turned, as I always turn, to my library’s cookbook collection and Jacques Pepin's More Fast Food My Way was my salvation. I would make "Mini Savory Cheesecakes on Arugula or Butterhead Lettuce" and my taste buds would be so happy. Yes, I would still run my oven, but only for twenty minutes and I could live with that, because ... blue cheese. Le fromage bleu. Délicieux!

Savory Mini Cheesecake

I know, you're thinking "Savory cheesecakes? What the heck?" Normally, we think of cheesecake as a decadent sweet to be enjoyed as a dessert, studded with chocolate or glazed with fruit. But, why not a savory cheesecake for a light lunch or appetizer?

If you're going to make this recipe, I strongly suggest watching the accompanying episode first as there are a few differences between how the recipe is written and how it is filmed. For instance, the video calls for adding about ¼ cup crumbled blue cheese to the cheesecake batter, plus some on top before baking and the written recipe just wants it on top. Claudine omits the bread crumbs (and I did, too). Also, the video says the savory cheesecakes can be served hot or lukewarm -- they fall as they cool, but they still taste good.

Boy, do the ever! Mine never puffed up as much as Pepin's, but they still taste outstandingly good. The strong blue cheese is tempered somewhat by the sour cream and cream cheese and the tangy salad vinaigrette partners well with it all. While I used reduced fat blue cheese crumbles and light sour cream in this recipe, the cheesecake still tastes rich and decadent -- also, unexpectedly light (almost fluffy) which it's squat, puck-like appearance belies.

07 July 2012

Crazy Cooking Challenge: Fried Chicken

PhotobucketThere were so many fried chicken recipes I meant to try out for July’s Crazy Cooking Challenge, but so few I actually got around to trying. It’s been so darn hot and sticky that the mere thought of running my oven filled me with horror. So I kept pushing the CCC off to “tomorrow” and then it was tomorrow and still so darn hot. And then it was July! Oh, no!

(Come September, and cool weather, I assure you I will post a veritable hen house worth of oven-fried chicken recipes).

Surely I could find a nice, simple work night oven-fried chicken recipe? I tried two recipes before I found Grain Free Oven “Fried” Chicken at JoAnn’s Gluten Free Recipe Archive and knew I had struck CCC gold. Perfectly seasoned, with a crispy-crunchy outside and a moist tender inside? Yum.

Oven-Fried Chicken Breasts

Grain Free Oven "Fried" Chicken from the Gluten Free Recipe Archive (reproduced with permission)

2 C almond flour (I used Bob's Red Mill because it's a bit chunky - good texture for breading)
1 C Parmesan Cheese, grated
2-3 tsp Old Bay Seasoning (to taste) [I used 3 tsp Penzeys Chesapeake Bay]
1 T garlic powder
2 tsp Herbes de Provence (or Italian Herb Mix) [I used Penzeys salt-free Herbes de Provence]
4 eggs
3 - 3½ lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 T each butter and olive oil for pan

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put butter and olive oil in baking pan (should be large enough to accommodate all of the chicken in a single layer, leaving a bit of space between pieces if possible), and place the pan on a rack in the center of the oven. You want the pan and oil-butter mixture to be hot when the chicken goes in.

Butter & Oil
Butter + oil = delicious
Mix all dry ingredients in a pie pan; beat the eggs in a separate pie pan. Immerse each chicken breast in the beaten eggs, coating well. Next, dredge the chicken in the almond flour mixture, pressing it in with your fingers....make sure each piece is well covered. Remove the hot baking pan from the oven and place the chicken pieces in the olive oil-butter mixture. Try to separate the chicken pieces from each other in the pan if possible.

Bread Coating & Egg DipEgg DipBreading ChickenGoing In the Oven

Bake for about 20 minutes, then turn the chicken and bake for another 20 - 25 minutes depending on the size and thickness of your chicken breasts.
You're thinking "Old Bay and Herbes de Provence? Surely, those flavors do not go together?" Oh, but they do and they make for some ridiculously delicious chicken! Way better combination than whatever the Colonel uses.

(I'd worried the chicken might be dry since I was using boneless skinless chicken breasts and wondered if I should have soaked them overnight in buttermilk. But, no, the chicken was perfectly moist and tender without the buttermilk bath!)

Even though I don't cook gluten-free, I look forward to making many other recipes from JoAnn's Gluten Free Recipe Archive, because I like good food and she has it in spades. Thanks, JoAnn!

07 June 2012

Crazy Cooking Challenge: Fruit Smoothies/Shakes


Too many late nights this week, up too long reading novels, took a toll on my body. By Thursday morning, I felt like grim death and could not begin to guess how I'd get through the remaining work day. Lots of Red Bull and Earl Grey tea. And prayer.

Irregular sleep patterns and a metric ton of caffeinated sugar ... neither of these meet my good health goals. Surely, I could at least eat some fruit today? Staring at my wrinkly peaches, clutching my can of Red Bull, I wondered if anyone had every made a Red Bull Smoothie.

Apparently, yes. Crafty Girl Squared's recipe for "Redbull Smoothie" was one of the simplest I found during my lazy search and I decided to give it a go. (Best decision I've made this week).

Red Bull Smoothie

Take a can of Red Bull, frozen mango chunks, and peaches. Crafty Girl Squared uses frozen peaches, but I only had fresh. I didn't peel the peaches -- just cut them in half, pulled out the pit, and scooped their flesh out with a spoon.

Red Bull Smoothie

Red Bull Smoothie

Puree everything until it is smooth. I started with the fruit and half the Red Bull, then drizzled in the rest of the Red Bull as everything smoothie-fied.

Red Bull Smoothie

Decorate with a strawberry, if you're feeling swanky. Drink. Feel more human.

It's good stuff, really. Not very sweet with lots of mango flavor, a whiff of peach, and that Red Bull tang. Pretty sure I could drink one every morning!

07 May 2012

Crazy Cooking Challenge: Grilled Cheese

PhotobucketI tried out many of grilled cheese recipes for May's Crazy Cooking Challenge. There was grilled cheese with bacon. And pickles. And a fried egg. And crab. They were all good and I'm sure I'll blog about them all at one point or another, but only two recipes made sandwiches I would want to eat again and again and again. In the end, I went with "Sriracha-Mayo Grilled Cheese" from Ashley Dalle Eats Food, Too, Sometimes because it was less fiddly than "Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Grilled Cheese Sandwich" from Lynn's Kitchen Adventures. Still, that grilled cheese was excellent and I really do recommend it. You can read about my experience making it here.

I must admit I used slightly different cheeses than Dalle's recipe called for, based on what I had on hand at the time, and the sandwich came out really well. Crunchy, creamy, and spicy with lots of good tomato-y tang ... it made my taste buds and tummy quite happy.
Sriracha, you are a delicious blessing flavored with the incandescent glow of a thousand dying suns. I love you.
                     -- "Dear Sriracha Rooster Sauce," The Oatmeal.

Gooey-Good Grilled Cheese
Behold! Yumptious cheesy goodness!

So happy, in fact, that I could eat this grilled cheese two or three times a week. Seriously, I would happily keep a little bowl of sriracha-mayo in the fridge so that, in the morning, I could just slap the sammich together and pop it in my waffle iron (if I ever find my waffle iron). In the morning, you say? Yes, I ate (and will eat) this grilled cheese for breakfast.

Sriracha-Mayo Sauce

Combine light mayonnaise with sriracha to taste. Smear all over both sides of two slices of bread.

Bread, Sriracha-Mayo, Pepper Jack, Salsa ...

Top one slice of bread with two slices of Boar's Head Monterey Jack with jalapeno, a glop of Green Mountain Gringo roasted garlic salsa, and two slices of Cabot sharp cheddar. Top with remaining bread.

Toasty-Gold Grilled Cheese

Fry in a hot nonstick pan until the bread turns a lovely brown, carefully flip over, press, and fry until brown (about 5 minutes each side for me on medium). I created an impromptu sandwich press with a plate, a mug, and a tin of refried beans. I don't usually press grilled cheese, but this sandwich was so thick that it seemed like a good idea.

Improv Sandwich Press

Important: As this grilled cheese is quite thick, you don't want to cook it too fast, because then the bread will brown faster than the cheese melts and that makes for an Unfortunate Grilled Cheese. I ate a lot of Unfortunate Grilled Cheese in my impatient teen years and have since learned better. Cook 'em low and slow.

07 April 2012

Crazy Cooking Challenge: Blueberry Muffins

PhotobucketI don't bake muffins very often. I don't know why, because I hate the commercial bakery "big-as-your-fist" type muffins that are little more than overly sweet cake with stuff mixed in. Unless they're split in half, slathered with butter, and slapped on a hot griddle until golden, these giant cake-like muffins (cupcake wannabes?) have nothing going for them. Yes, I am a muffin snob!

So, yes, you'd be right to suppose that, having such strong feelings about muffins, I'd be baking them all the time.  But, no. I could not tell you the last time I made muffins!

Going into this challenge, I knew I wanted a muffin that was not very sweet, but would be packed to the roof with blueberries. The texture should be more like quick bread and less like cake -- denser and heavier, more like "food" than "dessert." The recipe should use oil or melted butter as I am too impatient to soften butter. Ideally, the ingredients would include yogurt as I had a large open container of 2% Greek yoghurt I wanted to use up.

I fed all my hopes and desires into Google and it spat out several promising recipes. In the end, I went with the simplest and most straight-forward of the lot -- The Stock Pot's "Evan's Blueberry Mini Muffins." I admit I was intrigued by the inclusion of cornmeal and mini muffins seemed as if they would perfectly proportioned with the correct ratio of batter to blueberries. Also, if I went all Garfield on the muffins, bite-sized muffins would make me feel less naughty.

Wet Ingredients
All the wet ingredients -- yoghurt, milk, egg, vanilla, canola and olive oil.

Dry Ingredients
All the dry ingredients -- flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and sugar.

Combining Ingredients
Wet ingredients meet dry ingredients and blueberries.

Combined Ingredients
Mixing the batter together. (Surprised by how fluffy the batter
became as I mixed it -- yoghurt & baking powder magic in action?)

Filled Muffin Tin
Ready to go in the 375°F oven 15 minutes later.

Baked Muffins
Fresh from the oven.
(Let them sit 10 min in the tin on a rack).

Cooling Muffins
Cooling on a rack.
(Let them sit another 10 minutes, decanted, before eating).

I made my muffins as directed ... with two small changes. Because I used plain Chobani 2% Greek yoghurt while the original recipe used vanilla yoghurt, I added 1 teaspoon Penzeys Mexican vanilla to my wet ingredients. I also used a combination of olive oil and canola oil as I completely misjudged the amount of olive oil left in the bottle.

These muffins came out really well. So well, in fact, I was not inclined to share them with my coworkers! (But I did, because I'm a nice person ... but only eight, because I'm not that nice). I definitely recommend this recipe if you're looking for a quick, easy, and reasonably healthful muffin.

07 March 2012

Crazy Cooking Challenge: Spaghetti & Red Sauce

PhotobucketAs soon as I saw that March's Crazy Cooking Challenge was for spaghetti and red sauce, I knew I was on the lookout for a Bolognese sauce, because we love a good Bolognese sauce. And by "good Bolognese sauce" I mean something that resembles the classic Bolognese sauce registered by the Accademia Italiana della Cucina, which is made with skirt steak, pancetta, carrot, celery, onion, tomato puree, milk, white or red wine, salt and pepper. Experience tells me it must be served with a splodge of ricotta and sprinkle of shredded fresh basil. Ideally, it should be served on a bed of tagliatelle, but I find that impossible to buy locally.

I found many promising recipes and actually went so far as to try a few, but even though I dallied with others, I knew "Spaghetti Bolognese" by Bobbi’s Kozy Kitchen was the recipe I would go with in the end. It had everything I wanted -- even the splodge of ricotta -- and dried mushrooms.

This was proper Bolognese.
Spaghetti Bolognese by Bobbi’s Kozy Kitchen (reproduced with permission)

2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms, wiped of grit
¼ pound pancetta or slab bacon, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs rosemary
1½ pound ground pork [2 pounds lean ground beef]
1½ pound ground beef [1 pound ground pork]
2 cups milk [heavy cream]
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 cups dry red wine [Little Penguin Merlot]
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound spaghetti
Freshly grated Parmesan, for serving
1 handful fresh basil leaves
Fresh ricotta cheese

Bolognese Ingredients

Reconstitute the mushrooms in boiling water for 20 minutes until tender, drain and coarsely chop.

Making Everything Smooth

Puree the mushrooms, pancetta, onion, celery ribs, carrots, garlic, together in a blender. [I used my food processor and whizzed it all 'round until it looked like pate].
In a heavy-bottomed pot add olive oil, bay leaves, herbs and cook gently until fragrant, then add vegetable puree and continue to cook for a further 5 to 10 minutes. [I wasn't sure whether to leave the herbs in or take them out, so opted to leave them in].
Pureed Pancetta & Vegetables
Raise the heat a bit and add the ground pork and beef; brown until the meat is no longer pink, breaking up the clumps with a wooden spoon [it is very important to break the meat into the tiniest clumps possible as, despite being full of meat, this sauce should be very smooth].
Meat & Cream
Add the milk and simmer until the liquid is evaporated, about 10 minutes. Carefully pour in the tomatoes and wine and season with salt and pepper. Bring the sauce to a boil, then lower the heat and cover. Slowly simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring now and then, until the sauce is very thick. Taste again for salt and pepper. [Remove bay and rosemary].
Bolognese Sauce Before Reducing

When you are ready to serve, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender yet firm. Drain the pasta well and toss with the Bolognese sauce.

Spaghetti Bolognese Redux

Serve with a good scoop of fresh ricotta cheese and garnish with some shredded basil, grated Parmigiano and a drizzle of olive oil.
Fabulous, just fabulous. A little labor intensive, yes, but well worth it. Lots of flavor, very meaty and rich, and it made the whole house smell delicious as it cooked. The recipe makes an enormous amount of sauce -- especially if, like me, you're "only" cooking for two -- but that's fine because that means there's plenty of sauce left for lasagna, English muffin pizzas, and freezing for later!