4/30/2014

Refried Pinto Beans

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Cinco de Mayo is right around the corner and for me that means one thing--a darn good excuse to enjoy some good Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine.  One of the staples of these cuisines is refried beans.  A common misconception is that the beans are cooked twice, referring to the English definition of re-- preceding the fried.  But in Spanish, the re-- is from the word "refrito", meaning "well-fried".  However one interprets the meaning, it certainly does not impact the wonderful flavor and comforting texture.

For a good authentic flavor, I like to start the dish by rendering the fat from a bit of salt pork.  It really gives the dish a deep flavor without overpowering the bean flavor.  Most markets carry a 12-ounce package of salt pork, but if you can't find it I would recommend using lard instead.  (One tip--my recipe only calls for 3 ounces, so I cut the 12-ounce chunk into four pieces, wrap the remaining three chunks in plastic wrap, place them in a freezer-safe bag and freeze until refried beans are on the menu again.)  Some people might suggest using bacon.  While I have a strong love for bacon, in my opinion it adds too much smokey flavor.  

To flavor the beans further, I sauté onion and garlic and throw in a little ground cumin.  I love the earthiness that the cumin adds.  Once the beans are thoroughly cooked through, I mash them to desired consistency which is usually a chunkier purée.  As the beans set up, they will thicken.  If I am making them as a topping for nachos or as a filling for burritos and tacos, I leave them as they are.  But when I am serving them as a side dish or as a simple chip-and-dip, I thin the beans with some chicken broth, starting with a tablespoon at a time.  Garnishes can be versatile as well.  You can use sliced or diced jalapeño, chopped green onion, or even some crumbled queso fresco.  All are well received.

4/27/2014

Sunday Dinner

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Asparagus and Goat Cheese Bites

Beef Daube with Mustard, Herbs, and White Wine
French Baguette

Chocolate Espresso Caramel Truffle Tart


I like to think of this dish as the Spring cousin to Beef Bourguignon.  It calls for white wine instead of red wine to braise the meat, making it a little lighter, but still full of rich flavor. Plenty of onions (never enough of those in my book), garlic and tomatoes help flavor the sauce along with a good Dijon mustard (by the way, I use Maille or Amora) and a few herbs.  I take it one step further by finishing the sauce with a little beurre manié which is a "kneaded" mixture of flour and butter.  It really makes the sauce velvety, smooth, and perfect for dragging through a crusty piece of bread.

One nice thing about this stew is that it is not as labor intensive as the Beef Bourguignon.  It's kind of a one pot meal which is perfect for me when there is a Sunday afternoon soccer game to attend. That's a score for me (and one for my little soccer player☺)!

Yikes! I need to clean my copper pot.

4/25/2014

Hawaiian Pizza

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Ok pizza purists, stay with me here... Most of you know that I am a big fan of sweet and savory combos, but I have been unable to grasp the idea of putting pineapple on a pizza, not to mention calling it Hawaiian.  Trust me, I lived on Oahu many moons ago and I don't recall this kind of pizza.  It just seemed odd and against the "rules".  But let's face it--when it comes to pizza, there are no rules.  Well, that is unless you are talking about the true Neapolitan-style and you have to have a certain type of flour and such.  I get that.  But when you are slinging pies at home, anything is fair game in my book.

This week I had leftover ham from Easter and a fresh pineapple on the counter.  And since pizza is usually on my brain for dinner, all I could do was think about Hawaiian pizza.  Somebody PLEASE tell me why it is called Hawaiian and why it is the most popular pizza in...wait for it... Australia?!? Scratching my head.  Anyway, these were my thoughts--pineapple likes ham, ham likes cheese, and cheese likes sauce, and everything loves bacon, right?  Throw in a little green onion and serrano or jalapeño for some zing and...ok this might have to happen.  

One thing that I was concerned about was the amount of moisture in the pineapple.  I didn't want that to soggy-up (that's not a word, but I use it) my crust.  So, I caramelized the slices of pineapple in a dry non-stick skillet.  This helped reduce the amount of moisture and intensify the pineapple flavor.  Another thing that I was concerned about was the sauce and cheese ratio to the other ingredients.  I knew this wasn't going to be a traditional pizza parlor flavor, so I used slightly less sauce and cheese than I normally would.  I wanted there to be a good balance of all the flavors going on so that one wouldn't overpower the others. Speaking of the cheese, I used two--mozzarella mostly and a bit of provolone.  I thought the sharpness of the provolone would pair nicely with the sweetness of the pineapple.  Also, when cooking pizzas like this at home, I shape the pizza dough, sauce it, then slide it on the stone for a few minutes.  This gets the crust going and it absorbs some of the sauce without over-burning the cheese.  Then I take it out, throw on the cheese and toppings, and put it back on the stone. I like my cheese just melted with a good brick oven crust.  Unconventional? Yes, but it works.


I have never been so scared, yet so pumped to eat a pizza.  Seriously, before I even assembled the pizza, I had all the ingredients out on the counter in bowls.  I stood there leaning over the counter sniffing from bowl to bowl.  I got the sweet, the savory, and the essence of the heat. Would this be just ok and weird?  Would it be a winner? Or would it be an epic fail?  Time for a taste test. Oh yeah people...we have a winner!  

4/23/2014

Cream Cheese-Buttermilk Biscuits

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Bread--mmm.  For those of you who have celiac disease and have to stay away from traditional baked goods made with wheat flour, I feel for you.  For those of you who simply choose to maintain a gluten-free lifestyle, I don't know how you do it.  Seriously, when it comes to bread, I have no will power.  None, zilch, nada.  I might scale it back a bit now and then, but after all is said and done, give me the goods.

A while back I shared with you my #1 go-to biscuit recipe.  Well, these bad boys come in a close second.  The other biscuits are round with flaky and fluffy layers.  These, however, are square with a very tender and fluffy crumb.   Why square?  You see, the addition of cream cheese adds moisture, which creates more gluten as you knead.  If you were to reroll the scraps left from round biscuit forming with this recipe, the last few biscuits would come out tougher.  Square(ish) biscuits--no scraps.  Besides, this way saves you a bit of time.  Speaking of time, these can be made ahead.  Just refrigerate them on the baking sheet covered with plastic wrap for up to a day.  To finish, heat the oven and bake as directed.

These are perfect as they are warm from the oven with a little extra butter and maybe some jam.  But since I am sure many of you still have a little ham left over from Easter, open one up and lay a few slices in between and nom-nom away.

4/18/2014

Easter Eats Round-up

Pin It I would imagine that most you have your Easter menus planned, so I will refrain from posting a new recipe today.  However, if you are still uncertain about the components to your meal or need some inspiration, I have included some recipes from the archives that would make everyone (ok-- almost everyone) rejoice at the table.  Have a wonderful weekend and Easter celebration!

For starters--








For table side carb-action--



For mixed greens--

4/16/2014

Potato Stacks with Garlic and Fresh Thyme

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I remember being excited that Easter was going to be celebrated on the latest possible date this year. I was looking forward to green grass, spring flowers, and warm temperatures.  The snow storm we had last night wasn't exactly what I had envisioned.  I don't think I can handle one more layer of the white stuff.  What I can handle are the layers in these muffin-size potato stacks.  With Easter right around the corner, I wanted to share this individual side dish that we enjoyed this past Sunday.  They are a perfect single portion for each guest's plate.  They would also make a lovely addition to a buffet table.

Thinly sliced Russet potatoes are tossed with a garlic and thyme butter mixture before being stacked and layered into a 12-cup standard muffin tin.  You might not think that all those potato slices will fit, but trust me, they will.  Since the base of the cup is smaller than the top, start layering with the smaller ends of the potatoes and finish with the larger middle slices.  And as you go, press down on the potatoes to ensure a packed stack.  Bake until golden brown on the outside and tender on the inside.

Once baked, they can be kept in the oven on a low temperature until the final components to the meal are ready.  However, I would recommend lightly tenting the muffin pan with a sheet of aluminum foil to keep the stacks from drying out.  According to my husband and children who went with a few leftovers for lunch on Monday, they reheat well too☺.

4/11/2014

Tossed Greens with Strawberries, Avocado, Bacon, and Soft-Boiled Eggs

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Guess what?  The snow and ice have completely melted. Spring is FINALLY here!  Woohoo--doing a happy dance...doing a happy dance!  Two of the first things I have to get my hands on are fresh chives from my garden (can you believe that they made it through that blasted winter?) and sweet spring strawberries at the market.  They both come into play in this deeply flavored, sweet and savory salad.

It is perfect for a spring luncheon with friends or as a light Friday night dinner like my husband and I enjoyed it.  The greens are dressed with a delightful maple-balsamic dressing.  Just please use the good stuff and not the flavored high fructose corn syrup kind.  I'm talking about 100% pure maple syrup (I use Grade B from Trader Joe's). The salad is then topped with strawberries and avocado.  The original didn't call for bacon, but hello, there are eggs and maple syrup in there, so you just gotta have some bacon too☺.  Now about those eggs.  I like mine on the "soft centered-just barely set-little bit of runny" side. That creamy, golden center mixed in with the sweet dressing--yumm.  You could also poach them.  But if that is not your thing, you can certainly hard-boil them and slice them for the salad.  Remember--"make it for you, make it your own". 

4/09/2014

Strawberry Preserves Cake

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I had two problems with this cake-- one good and one not so good.  The "not so good" problem was trying to find the energy to make it right after breakfast on Sunday after a day of doing spring clean-up in the yard on Saturday.  Hooboy, that left my muscles and joints with a stiff ouch that morning!  The good problem was trying to decide if we liked this cake as much as the Strawberry Dream Cake, the Fresh Strawberry Mousse Cake, or the Strawberry Poke Cake.  After much thought on the matter, we decided that each is good in its own berrylicious way.  

Unlike the other strawberry cakes, this one relies on sweet strawberry preserves to provide that "please get here Summer" essentia.  So if the berries at your local market aren't yet bursting with flavor, make this cake and you just might see the lazy, hazy days peeking at you from just around the corner.  Having said that, seek out the best preserves that you can find.  I like to use Bonne Maman preserves.  For this cake, I use the entire 13-ounce jar; some for the cake itself and some for the frosting.  The preserves do add a pale pink color, but I like to kick up the "pepto-bismol" color with a bit of red food coloring paste.  And yes, please use food coloring paste and not the liquid stuff.  The end result is much purtier.  

What do I have to say about the frosting??  Two things-- butter and cream cheese.  Nuff said. Now go on put your aprons on☺.

4/06/2014

Sunday Dinner

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French-Style Pork Roast with Gravy
Whipped Potatoes
Asparagus Gratin

Strawberry Preserves Cake


Mashed potatoes.  Can one have too many recipes for them?  I think not.  So here is another one for your recipe caché.  At first glance, they might seem plain and simple.  And they sort of are, until you get to the technique.  Contrary to the old belief that if beaten too long mashed potatoes turn into glue paste, these are whipped for a good 2 to 3 minutes.  I use my stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, but you could use a hand-held mixer to achieve good results.  The important thing is to make sure the potatoes are thoroughly dried after they are boiled.  Drier potatoes absorb more milk and butter.  I also take it one step further and rice the potatoes through a potato ricer.  I like my potatoes smooth and fluffy sans lumps.  Serve them as they are or make the pile on your plate a vessel for a ladle full of gravy-- this is comfort food at its finest.

4/04/2014

Orange Sweet Rolls with Cream Cheese Icing

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If you are a long time reader, you know that I have a warm spot in my heart for Sunday dinners. They are something that I sometimes plan all week for and that we all really look forward too.  But what I don't write that much about is our Sunday breakfast menu.  I like to start the day off with a big meal to fill our bellies and then spend the rest of the day playing, doing chores, and being lazy (yeah right) until 5 o'clock "apps" time rolls around.  

We enjoy the usual suspects like pancakes, waffles, and french toast.  But one of our favorites is soft scrambled eggs with chives, fresh fruit, and some kind of sweet baked good, like coffee cake, muffins, or in this case...orange sweet rolls with cream cheese icing.  If you are a fan of big, buttery cinnamon rolls slathered with cream cheese icing and love the flavor of orange marmalade, then..."say hello to my little friend."  In fact, my husband actually prefers these over cinnamon rolls.

These are simply an enriched white bread dough that I enrich even further buy adding an egg and some potato flour to keep the dough soft and tender.  The filling is just orange marmalade with a bit of ground ginger.  Some orange marmalades can be on the bitter side, so I mix in a little light brown sugar to counteract that (and it adds to the gooey, sticky goodness-- nothing wrong with that).

You can certainly make these the morning of, but who really wants to wake up three hours before breakfast is served?? I can think of better things to do than drink coffee while watching the chemical reaction of yeast.  And that would be sleeping in for this gal!  So to make sure I get a full night's worth of beauty sleep☺, I make the rolls the night before and let them "cold rise" in the refrigerator overnight.  While the oven is preheating the next morning, I take the rolls out and let them come to room temperature.  Meanwhile, I can get all the other components for breakfast ready.

Once baked, I bring them warm to the table and let everyone frost their own roll. The recipe makes eight rolls and there are five of us, so I save the remaining three for a quick weekday breakfast and keep the frosting in the refrigerator.  (Note-- keep the frosting in the back of the refrigerator where you are less likely to see it.  This stuff is dangerous!)

4/02/2014

Cashew Pork with Snow Peas and Ginger

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Spring Break came...and Spring Break went.  Notice that I didn't say vacation?  It was a fairly smooth road trip halfway across the country and back for me and my three children to visit aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Baseball games, riding Harleys, playing with little cousins, watching old home movies with freshly popped popcorn, and just good clean family time made up the vacation part. But being a single parent for a week, daily chores, cooking, and sleeping with one of my children in the same bed on several nights...??  Well, at least the scenery was different.  And seeing flowers in bloom (not to mention green grass) was a bonus for this snow refugee.

Now I'm back in my kitchen and back to the daily grind of chores, cooking, afterschool activities, and sports.  (But at least there are no more children sleeping in my bed.)  It's time to pull out those quick and easy dinner recipes.

A stir-fry provides a great way to get dinner on the table in a flash.  Yes, there is a little prep work like cutting the pork and stringing the peas, but it really doesn't take much time at all.  Better yet... enlist some helpers.  Company is always appreciated in the kitchen☺.

I changed the proportions around a bit to suit the serving size for my family and my need for leftovers for work/school lunches.  I also added an onion because I love them and put them in as many savory dishes as I can.  Just before serving, I like to stir in some Sambal Oelek--I love me some spicy garlic chili paste.  Seriously, I can eat that stuff by the spoonful!  But if you are like my son and can't handle the heat, just serve it on the side and let others add to taste.  Steamed white rice completes the meal.

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