August 28, 2013

Bruschetta Topping

Sam's Club sells (or sold) an amazing bruschetta topping. It was one of those things where the cracker/toast/etc. was merely a vehicle for shoveling this into your mouth since eating spoonfuls of it seemed inappropriate in a group setting. I'm hoping this version from Canning Granny is somewhere in that ballpark. I might have made a triple batch when my parents brought me a half bushel of tomatoes (when I asked for 10 lbs.).

Bruschetta Topping
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. dried basil
2 Tbsp. dried oregano
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
9 cups chopped, cored tomatoes (drained in a colander for 30 or more minutes)

In a large, deep stainless steel saucepan, combine garlic, wine, wine vinegar, water, sugar, basil, oregano, and balsamic vinegar. Bring to full rolling boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat, cover and boil gently for 5 minutes, until garlic is heated through. Remove from heat.

Prepare half pint jars and lids, keeping them hot. Pack tomatoes in hot jars to within a generous 1/2-inch headspace. Ladle hot vinegar mixture into jar to cover tomatoes, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles, and adjust headspace if necessary by adding more liquid.

Wipe jar rims and tighten hot lids on to fingertip tightness. Process in boiling water bath for 20 minutes. Makes about 6 pints, usually with leftover liquid.

Homemade Mozzarella

After making the incredibly easy cream cheese, I wanted to try another type of cheese. I had made mozzarella as part of a class once but not completely from start to finish. I decided to try that adventure using a recipe from Make the Bread, Buy the Butter.

It's a bit of work, but oddly was also a bit of stress relief for me. And it turned out well. As long as I can continue to find unpasteurized milk, I'll continue to make this.

Homemade Mozzarella
1 gallon whole milk, unpasteurized
1 1/2 tsp. citric acid
1/4 tsp. liquid rennet
1/4 cup kosher salt

Pour the milk into a large pot, and stir in the citric acid. Heat the milk to 90°F to take off the chill. Remove from heat, and add rennet. Stir slowly using and up-and-down motion to mix in the rennet. Cover, and let sit 5 minutes.

Gently probe the curds with the side of a spoon. You should see well-defined curd and watery whey. If you don't, cover and let sit a few more minutes. When it is ready, gently cut the curd into 1-inch cubes in the pot using a long knife.

Place the pot back on the stove, and heat to 110°F, gently swirling the curds with a spoon. Remove from heat, and gently stir 2 more minutes.

Scoop the curds into a sieve set over a large bowl. Return the whey to the pot, and heat to 175°F. Add the salt to the whey, and prepare to burn thyself.

Divide the curd into two balls, and give each a good squeeze. Drop them into the whey. Knead, stretch and pull the mozzarella balls, one at a time, folding each ball over itself and working it like taffy (which I've never made). Dip back in the whey to prevent breaking. Knead and stretch until you have a smooth, shiny, cohesive cheese. Form it into a tight ball, and drop in a bowl of ice water for a few minutes.

Best eaten fresh but will keep in the refrigerator a few days. Makes 1 lb. (which looks like a tiny amount for all that milk).

Zuppa Toscana (Sausage, Potato & Kale Soup)

For a few brief months before we moved this past winter, I participated in a dinner swap. One of the meals I received was Zuppa Toscana, which actually required the use of kale (something we had an abundance of in our garden last summer and therefore have a stash in our freezer). The soup was good, but I never got the recipe before I left the swap.

There's plenty of versions of Zuppa Toscana online, so I modified this version from The Candid Appetite and came up with a winner for our household. I won't go so far as to say it's an extremely healthy soup, but it is certainly lighter than some of the versions I found.

Zuppa Toscana (Sausage, Potato and Kale Soup)
1 lb. Italian sausage
1/4 cup chopped bacon
1 large onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
3 cups frozen kale (which would be at least 6 cups fresh kale)
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
6 medium potatoes, sliced
9 cups chicken, vegetable or beef stock (I used a combination)
1/2 cup heavy cream

In a large pot, brown the Italian sausage, crumbling into small pieces. Once sausage is browned, set aside on paper towels to drain grease. Add bacon, onion and garlic to the pot. Cook until bacon is crispy and onions are caramelized. Add salt and pepper, and stir to combine.

Add kale. If using fresh kale, add in batches allowing the kale to wilt as it cooks before adding more. Stir in nutmeg. Add potatoes, cooked sausage and stock. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat. Simmer until potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes is sufficient. Stir in heavy cream prior to serving.

Makes at least 8 servings.

Chocolate Pear Jam

My canning this year will likely be limited by our transitional duplex housing due to our move to a new city, our attempts to sell our existing house and the need to then purchase another house. Never mind the fact that our second child is due in July. So I decided to take advantage of this recipe from Food In Jars for a chocolate pear jam. My love of chocolate knows very few bounds, and it was as delicious as I imagined it would be.

Chocolate Pear Jam
2 1/2 pounds ripe pears, peeled and cored
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 Tbsp. water
3 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
5 1/2 oz. good quality dark chocolate (70% minimum, higher is better)

Prepare a boiling water bath canner, and 5 to 6 half pint jars. Chop pears. Place them in a wide, non-reactive pan with the lemon juice and water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until pears begin to soften and break down.

While pears cook, chop chocolate and set aside. Once pears are quite soft, add sugar and cinnamon. Increase heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring regularly, until the jam reached 220°F.

Remove the pot from the heat and scrape in the chocolate. Stir until it is fully melted.

Funnel into prepared jars. Wipe rims, apply lids and rings and process for 10 minutes.
When time is up, remove jars from canner and place on a folded kitchen towel to cool.

Once jars are fully cooled, test seals. Any unsealed jars should be refrigerated and used promptly. Sealed jars can be stored jars can be stored at room temperature for up to one year. Makes about 2 to 3 pints.

Tomatillo Salsa

We planted tomatillos this year, and they did well. So well that we were able to make a batch of tomatillo jam based on a recipe from Food in Jars. It's such a pretty salsa and a nice change of pace from traditional tomato-based salsas.

Tomatillo Salsa
4 lbs. tomatillos, husked washed and chopped
1 cup finely chopped onion
3 to 4 jalapeno peppers, minced
8 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. cumin
2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 cup bottled lime juice
2 Tbsp. dried cilantro or 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, minced

Combine tomatillos, onion, jalapenos and garlic in a large pot. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to simmer 10 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients, and cook for an additional 10 minutes. If you prefer a smoother salsa, blend a portion of the salsa using an immersion blender or regular blender using a towel for a cover rather than the lid. Taste the salsa, and add more seasonings as desired.

Fill prepared jars with salsa, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Process in a hot water bath 15 minutes. Remove the canning pot from the heat, and remove the lid. Let the jars sit in the hot water an additional 5 minutes before removing from the pot. Makes about 3 pints.

Homemade Cream Cheese

Every time we drive by a house with a chicken coop, I remark to my husband, "They have chickens." This all started when I got the book Make the Bread, Buy the Butter-What You Should and Shouldn't Cook From Scratch. Since my husband bought me the book, I don't think he can complain that I now want chickens. (The book doesn't necessarily advocate raising chickens as being a cost-effective measure for eggs or poultry, but still ...)

This book is an interesting read, as much a humorous auto-biography as a cookbook. And the recipes encourage you to go outside your comfort zone or at least give you the tools to do so. I think it's fascinating to see how some things, like cream cheese, can be made.

Cream cheese is incredibly easy to make and requires maybe 5 minutes of hands-on time total. It does involve mesophilic culture and liquid rennet, which likely aren't in the standard kitchen (or else my kitchen was lacking). New England Cheesemaking Supply Co. has them cheaper than Amazon, and I had my order within 2 days at most. A little will go a long way ... and can be used in other types of cheeses. (Next on my list is either mozzarella or mascarpone!)

The end result is slightly softer than regular cream cheese, which I view as a positive because it spreads perfectly and wouldn't need to sit on the counter for longer than my patience allows to "soften" before being used in recipes. The original recipe called for 1 tsp. salt, which I think is a bit much. Other than that, no complaints. (Makes fabulous beer dip, but then again, what wouldn't?)

Homemade Cream Cheese
1 quart whole milk (I used half skim milk as I ran out of whole milk.)
1 quart half-and-half
1/4 tsp. mesophilic culture
2 drops liquid rennet
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. salt

Make sure your cooking equipment is incredibly clean to ensure your cheese turns out well. Combine milk and half-and-half in a large pot, and heat it over very low heat to about 80˚F. (The idea is to take off the chill, not actually heat the liquid to make it warm.) Remove from heat.

Sprinkle the mseophilic culture over the liquid. To mix, gently lift a slotted spoon up and down beneath the surface of the milk to draw the cultures down and help them permeate the entire pot.

Add the rennet, and repeat the same motions to mix. Cover the pot, and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.

Place a colander over a large bowl, and line the colander with cheesecloth. (I used a flour sack towel since I couldn't find cheesecloth in the local stores.) Gently ladle in the curd. Cover with a clean towel, and let it train for 8 hours or until the whey stops dripping out of the cheese. Stir in the salt to desired taste. Scoop the cheese into a container with a tight cover and store in the refrigerator.

Note: The whey (leftover liquid) can be used in baking bread. 

Makes 1 1/2 lbs. (Which I ate as beerless beer dip. I shared a bit with my lil' dude. Only a little bit. Amazing!)

Creamy Corn Risotto

Since corn is cheap currently, I figured it was worth giving this Cooking Light recipe a shot. It's good and definitely creamy, but I'm not sure it's quite worth the the time required to repeat it. Perhaps for a special occasion.

Creamy Corn Risotto
1 large bell pepper
4 cups fresh corn kernels
1 3/4 cups milk
2 Tbsp. butter, divided
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 tsp. minced garlic
1 cup uncooked Arborio rice
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine

Preheat broiler to high. Cut bell pepper in half lengthwise, and discard seeds and membranes. Place pepper halves, skin sides up, on a piece of foil and flatten with your hand. Broil 8 minutes or until blackened. Wrap peppers in foil, and let stand 5 minutes. Then peel, and chop.

Combine corn, milk and 1 Tbsp. butter in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer, and cook 10 minutes. Stir in chicken stock, and keep warm over low heat.

Melt remaining 1 Tbsp. butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic, and saute 3 minutes. Stir in rice, salt and pepper. Cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in wine, and cook 30 seconds or until liquid evaporates, stirring pan to loosen any bits stuck to the bottom. Reduce heat to medium. Add 1 1/2 cups of corn mixture, and cook until liquid is nearly evaporated. Reserve 1/2 cup corn mixture, and then continue to add remaining corn mixture 1 cup at a time. Cook, stirring constantly, until liquid is nearly evaporated before adding additional corn mixture. Remove from heat, and stir in reserved corn mixture and bell pepper. Makes 6 large servings.

August 23, 2013

Whatchamacallit Popcorn

So I think I'm addicted to caramel corn. I probably could eat an entire batch in one sitting ... or wandering around my kitchen. This recipe from Cookies and Cups is a winner, and I didn't even add in the additional Whatchamacallit candy bars she suggested. I would imagine that would make this even more addictive.

No picture this time. I swear I didn't eat it all before I could take a picture. I only snuck a couple pieces before packaging this for my husband to take to a booyah tomorrow.

Whatchamacallit Popcorn
6 cups popped popcorn
2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
2/3 cup light corn syrup
3 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
2 cups Rice Krispie cereal
*optional 2 to 3 cups chopped Whatchamacallit candy bars
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 250˚F. Line a large jelly roll or roasting pan with parchment paper.

In a medium pan, combine brown sugar, corn syrup, butter and salt. Bring to a boil, and let boil on medium heat for 3 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in peanut butter until smooth.

Pour peanut butter caramel over the popcorn, and sprinkle the Rice Krispie cereal on top. Then mix everything together, making sure the popcorn and cereal get coated in mixture.

Spread popcorn onto the prepared pan, and bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

When popcorn is done, spread it out onto a parchment-lined counter to cool. Sprinkle chopped candy bars evenly over top.

Melt chocolate chips in 30-second increments, stirring after each, until melted. Drizzle over the popcorn. Allow chocolate to set completely (or sneak pieces while it's still hot enough to burn your tongue). Makes about 8 cups.

August 21, 2013

Apricot Jam

I've never eaten apricot jam. That, of course, didn't deter me from picking up a couple pounds of apricots to jam when I found them on sale. I consulted my trusty Food in Jars cookbook and, sure enough, found several apricot recipes including one for jam. Here's my variation on that recipe with a few tweaks based on suggestions from The Flavor Bible. This is a delicious jam. I think it would be wonderful sandwiched between a vanilla cake. 

Apricot Jam
6 cups apricots, pitted and coarsely chopped
3 cups sugar
2 dried lemon slices
1 vanilla bean, sliced and scraped
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. cardamom

Combine apricots, sugar, lemon slices and vanilla seeds and bean in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring often, until fruit softens and breaks apart some, about 15 minutes. Add lemon juice and cardamom, and cook to 220˚F until it thickens to jam consistency. (You can tell because you can draw a line through the mixture with your spatula, and the line holds a few moments.)

Remove lemon slices and vanilla bean. Ladle jam into prepared jars, and process 10 minutes in a hot water bath. Makes about 1.5 to 2 pints of jam.

August 20, 2013

Oreo Truffle Brownies

So I joked on Facebook that I was feeling twitchy since I hadn't baked in a week since my second son was born. (Wonder why I didn't have any time to bake with a 22-month-old helper and a newborn?) I decided to remedy that the first day my husband went back to work and was quite proud of that accomplishment. I looked through all my bookmarked recipes and found this one from Chef in Training. Since I had a few oreos left from a previous dessert, I made a half batch.

It's a good thing I only made a half batch. That at least forced us to use some portion control. All of us, excluding the nursing newborn, love these brownies. Easy enough way to jazz up ordinary brownies into a decadent dessert. (I know it's a crappy picture, but trust me, they are delicious.)

Oreo Truffle Brownies
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 1/3 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 package oreos
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
10 oz. chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs, and blend well. Add vanilla, salt, cocoa and flour and stir until just combined. Pour into a greased 9 x 13 pan. Bake for 20 25 minutes. Allow to cool completely.

While brownies are cooling, make oreo truffle layer. Crush oreos finely in a food processor. When Oreos are finely crushed, add softened cream cheese, and pulse until well combined.

When brownies have cooled completely, spread oreo truffle evenly on top.

Melt chocolate chips in the microwave on 50 percent power, stirring every 30 seconds. Pour and spread evenly over the top of the oreo truffle layer. Cover, and refrigerate until set. Store in refrigerator, but remove 30 minutes prior to serving.

Garlic Bread (Stuffed Crust) Pizza

When I was typing the title to this post, the "z" key held giving me about 10 "z" letters instead of 2. This pizza is worthy of that many. Perhaps the keyboard was intentionally giving it a 10 "z" rating ... sort of like the computer equivalent of a 5-star rating?

Anyways, this is awesome. How Sweet It Is rarely disappoints me, and she came through with a real winner this time. The crust itself is sturdy enough to hold up to a myriad of toppings, yet still is soft and chewy inside. The garlic cheese coating gives the crust a fantastic crunch. I normally am not a crust person, but I would definitely make this recipe again just to turn it into breadsticks. (Not to mention I think it's my new default pizza crust, even without the garlic goodness.)

To make homemade pizza into stuffed crust pizza, follow the recipe instructions until you get to where you top the pizza. Line the edge of the dough with mozzarella whips or regular string cheese (typically halved or quartered lengthwise), and fold the dough over the cheese to form a nice edge to the pizza.

(Sorry for the image quality. All you get is a quick phone photo before we devoured it.)

Garlic Bread (Stuffed Crust) Pizza
1 1/8 cups warm water (100-105˚F)
3 tsp. active dry yeast
1 1/2 Tbsp. honey
1 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. dried basil
5 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, pressed or very finely minced
2 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese

In a large bowl, combine water, yeast, honey and olive oil. Mix with a spoon, and then let sit until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add in 2 1/2 cups flour, salt, garlic powder and dried basil, stirring with a spoon until the dough comes together but is still sticky. Using your hands, form the dough into a ball and work the additional 1/2 cup flour (as needed) into the dough, kneading it on a floured surface for a few minutes. Rub the same bowl with olive oil, and then place the dough inside, turning to coat. Cover with a towel, and place in a warm place to rise for about 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375˚F. After the dough has risen, punch it down and place it back on the floured surface. Using a rolling pin or your hands, form it into your desired shape. Place the towel back over the dough, and let sit in the warm place for 10 minutes. While the dough is rising again, melt 3 Tbsp. butter. Mix it with the garlic and 1 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese.

Bring the dough back out, and using a spoon or pastry brush, douse the outside edges with the butter and garlic mixture. You can spread the butter all over, but make sure to focus on the edges. Continue to make your pizza with your desired toppings. Bake the pizza for 23 to 25 minutes or until crust and cheese are both golden. While pizza is baking, melt remaining butter and combine with the last tablespoon of Parmesan.

Remove pizza from oven, and immediately brush the outside edges with Parmesan butter. Makes one delicious pizza.

August 7, 2013

Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes

I did my happy dance when I learned I was selected to be a Cupcake Explorer for Cupcake Project's ultimate chocolate cupcake. Nevermind that I was selected after she did three rounds of cupcakes. I'm OK with being chosen last. (Elementary school sports contributed to that.) Basically, I was sent a top-secret recipe to try and rate.

These are the best chocolate cupcakes I've eaten. And trust me, I've eaten my share of chocolate cupcakes. And the chocolate cream cheese frosting is fantastic. This was not the actual ultimate recipe, but I loved it. For that recipe, go here.

If possible, measure your ingredients for the most accurate rendition of this awesomeness. (Of course, these were devoured before photographs. What do you expect from an ultimate cupcake?)

Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes
2 Tbsp. (1 oz.) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (7 oz.) sugar
2 oz. of your favorite chocolate (I used Ghirardelli)
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup (2 fluid oz.) vegetable or canola oil, measured in a liquid measuring cup
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup (2 3/4 oz.) full-fat sour cream
1 cup (5 oz.) all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 cup (1 oz.) natural cocoa powder
1/4 cup (2 fluid oz.) whole milk, measured in a liquid measuring cup
Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 cup cocoa
4 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350˚F.  Place 12 cupcake liners in a cupcake tin.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, mix butter and sugar until fully combined. The end result should look like wet sand.

Melt the chocolate in the microwave or in a double boiler. Once the melted chocolate is cool enough to touch, add it to the butter/sugar mixture and mix until just combined.

Mix in eggs one at a time until just combined. Mix in oil, vanilla, and sour cream until just combined.

Sift together flour, salt, baking soda and cocoa powder into a separate medium-sized bowl. Use a fork or a whisk to ensure that the ingredients are mixed well after sifting.

Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients in three additions, mixing until just combined after each addition. Mix in milk until just combined.

Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full, and put in the oven.

Check for doneness at 18 minutes - a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake should come out clean.  If they are not done, check again every three minutes until they are done.

Immediately remove cupcakes from the cupcake tin and place on a cooling rack or on the counter to cool to room temperature.

To make frosting, beat together cream cheese and butter until smooth. Beat in cocoa until fully incorporated. Gradually add powdered sugar until desired texture is reached.

Once cupcakes are cool, pipe on frosting. Makes 12 cupcakes.

Potato Skins Mac and Cheese

We had an abundance of whole milk that was about to sour in the fridge, so I flipped through my bookmarks to see what recipes called for an abundance of milk. This was the winner from A Spicy Perspective.

And a winner it was. My husband claims not to like macaroni and cheese, yet he likes noodles and likes cheese. I think it's the whole processed orange glowing cheese that he does not like in concept. I presented this as a potato/cheese/noodle casserole thing, and he was fine with it. He asked if it had any poisonous ingredients, and I said no. (Sour cream and cream cheese are not poison in recipes ... that's my defense if he reads this.) He deemed it worthy as a repeat recipe.

Potato Skins Mac and Cheese
3 lbs. baby golden potatoes (I used regular potatoes and baked them longer.)
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
1 lb. noodles
3 Tb. butter
1 Tb. flour
2 1/2 cups milk
1 cup sour cream
1 lb. shredded cheddar cheese, divided
10 oz. cream cheese, divided
12 oz. bacon, fried and crumbled, divided
1 cup chopped green onions, divided
Cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 450˚F. Place the potatoes on a baking sheet, and drizzle with oil. Salt and pepper liberally, and shake the pan a little to coat them with oil. Roast for 30 minutes, or until cooked through. Then set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, cook the noodles in a large pot of salted water, according to package instructions. Drain, and set aside in a colander.

Using the same pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Once melted, whisk in the flour, and cook the roux (butter-flour mixture) for 1 minute. Then whisk in the milk, and add the sour cream and 8 oz. cream cheese. Bring to a simmer, and whisk until the mixture is thick and smooth.

Add 3/4 of the shredded cheddar, and whisk until smooth. Then add a dash or two of cayenne pepper and salt and pepper to taste.

Pour the cooked macaroni, 2/3 cup crumbled bacon and 2/3 cup green onions into the cheese sauce. Stir to coat. Pour the macaroni into a 9 x 13-inch baking dish, and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Cut each potato in half lengthwise. Carefully scoop of most of the flesh, leaving just a little potato attached to the skin. Reserve the crumbled potato flesh. Place a scant 1/2 tsp. dollop of cream cheese in each potato skin.

Sprinkle the crumbled potato over the mac and cheese. Then arrange the potato skins over the top. Sprinkle the remaining shredded cheddar, bacon and onions over the potato skins, and add pepper to taste.
Bake for 20 minutes until the tops are golden. Serve warm.