Monday, April 27, 2015

Grilled Balsamic Marinated Pork Tenderloin

Grilled Balsamic Marinated Pork Tenderloin with Cheesy Au Gratin Potatoes & grilled zucchini


This is the second time I've made this pork tenderloin, and I have to say, it's pretty darned tasty. It's slightly sweet from the balsamic vinegar, and the garlic and rosemary add enough other flavor to make it interesting. It's really nothing fancy or difficult, just an easy dinner. Of course, with a 4 to 24 hour marinade, you do need to plan ahead a little bit, but not much.
As with the Brined and Grilled Pork Chops I love so much, I served this with Au Gratin Potatoes--so nice together. The vegetable, as it usually is for me, was an afterthought. Grilled zucchini is good with just about any meal.
I wish I had something more exciting to say to you, but you're really just here for the recipe anyway, aren't you? So, enjoy it, and be sure to try it with the potatoes. You won't regret it--unless, of course, you are lactose intolerant.
More than enough said. I'm done.

Grilled Balsamic Marinated Pork Loin
     --adapted from Food.com

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons salt (orignial recipe did not call for salt, but 1 1/2 teaspoons worcestershire sauce)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 pork tenderloin, 1 1/2 to 2 pounds

Instructions:
Mix all the first six ingredients in a gallon size zip top bag and then add the meat. Place on a plate or in a glass baking dish and refrigerate for 4 to 24 hours.

When ready to grill, preheat grill to 450 degrees. Grill tenderloin at 400-450 degrees, turning every 5-6 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit. While meat grills, you can bring the remaining marinade to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer until liquid is reduced by about half and then skim off the excess oil. This sauce is optional, but it's nice to have some dipping sauce on the side if you want extra flavor.

Allow meat to rest for 10-15 minutes after you remove it from the grill. Then slice into 1/2 to 3/4-inch medallions and place on a serving plate.

Makes 6-7 servings



Friday, April 24, 2015

Al Dente Popcorn (Crunchy Partially Popped Popcorn)

Popcorn from the same bag:
To the left, dry, popped in canola oil & a little butter;
to the right, soaked for two days and popped in canola oil & a little butter.


I'm not even sure what to call this popcorn--it's not exactly "half-popped" because the kernel has been turned completely inside out. It is much smaller and denser than regular popcorn, though, so maybe "al dente popcorn" would be a better name. 
At any rate, this isn't even exactly what I was going for, but it's fabulous nonetheless. It's super crunchy and flavorful--probably containing too much salt for me, but sometimes that happens when I experiment. I'll try not to overdo it. 
What I was really going for was more of a popcorn kernel that merely puffed out slightly, creating an almost styrofoam like texture--but in a good way. If you're not a maker of homemade popcorn, you may never have experienced the type of popcorn I'm talking about. And they seem to happen by accident. I get one every once in a while in a regular batch of popcorn. They almost look like "old maids," but they're just slighlty larger and definitely airier. 
My friend Karla (of Swedish Cream Cookie fame) introduced me to Crimson Jewell popcorn, and the first jar she bought me popped up almost all like that, I had these small, crunchy popcorn kernels. They were delightful. When I bought a container on my own, they popped up normal--light and fluffy, like all other popcorn. Still one of my favorite popcorns, just not as delightful as the first jar. When I wrote to the company to see if I could purchase more kernels that did not exactly pop, I got a very short reply of "We don't sell a product like that." Oh well.
So, I went looking online, googled "how to make partially popped popcorn" and I came upon a website by Chris Moyer that explained how to do something like I was looking for. Maybe I'll still get there. He says to soak the popcorn kernels in salt water for four days, and mine have only been soaking for two. I'll try to pop more tomorrow to see what happens. (Guess I should save some of what I popped today for comparison.) 
I read on another website to add vinegar to the water to soften the hull more, so I've done that too.
I'm not going to go into a lot of detail about moisture content of popcorn and heat and steam...I'm just going to tell you that I think I'm addicted to this stuff. It's the perfect popcorn, in my opinion. Super crunchy--just the way I like it. If you're a fan of super crunchy popcorn, and you're willing to wait a few days for your popcorn to soak, give this a try. You'll love it. Seriously.

Al Dente Popcorn (Crunchy Partially Popped Popcorn)

Ingredients (amounts are approximate):

  • 2 cups popcorn kernels
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
  • 3-4 tablespoons salt
  • 3-4 cups water


  • canola oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter (optional)
  • additional salt to taste

Instructions:
2-4 days out, place popcorn kernels, vinegar, salt, and water in a plastic bowl with an airtight lid. Cover and shake. Shake a couple of times a day to redistribute the salt.

When you're ready to pop, preheat a medium heavy-bottom pot (with a matching lid) over medium high heat. Using a slotted spoon, remove about 1/2 cup of the soaked kernels from the bowl. Drain on a clean kitchen towel or a few paper towels. Dab to dry most of the way. If some moisture remains, that will be okay. 

Add enough oil to the preheating pot to cover the bottom just barely. Add the mostly dried popcorn kernels to the oil in the pot and then add more oil to come up 1/2 to 3/4 of the way up the kernels. I suppose you could cover them completely with oil, but, well, you know that adds more fat, and now I'm going to tell you to add some butter to the pan. Add the half tablespoon butter, put the lid on the pot, and shake until you hear it sizzle and bubble. You can allow the popcorn to just start popping and only shake the pot occasionally. When popping as subsided to only one pop every 2 seconds or so, remove the lid and pour the partially popped popcorn into a serving bowl. Add more salt, if desired.

Makes about 2 1/2 to 3 cups of partially popped popcorn





Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Pico de Gallo




Pico de Gallo is a staple condiment in the world of Mexican cuisine. It adds freshness and a little acid to whatever you serve it with, but usually it has no heat. For my first attempt ever making this (don't know what took me so long) I added just half of a de-veined and de-seeded serrano pepper--and I can't sense any heat in it at all. So if you want heat, add more pepper, or include some of the seeds.
I wish I had something exciting to say about this recipe, but I don't. It's a solid pico de gallo recipe that I'll be using again. Maybe I need to go eat some more with some chips... I had some with my White Chicken Chili tonight, but haven't really eaten it to just get the pico taste.
So there you go. Sorry. This is not an example of my best writing, but the recipe is good. Try it anyway.

Pico de Gallo

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 white or red onion, finely diced
  • 3 medium to large size Roma tomatoes, washed, dried, and diced
  • 1 small handfull cilantro leaves, washed, dried, and chopped
  • 1/2 serrano pepper, de-veined, de-seeded, and very finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Instructions:
Mix all ingredients in a medium size bowl. Cover and refrigerate for about an hour before serving. 

Serve with White Chicken Chili, Tortilla Chips, Tacos, Taquitos & Flautas, Burritos, or any other Mexican food you think it would go with nicely.

Makes about  1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups 

White Chicken Chili with rice and Pico de Gallo

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Scoopable Baked Cheesecake



Scoopable Baked Cheesecake. One of my best brainstorms.



I think one of the origins of this brainstorm is actually the Cooking Channel's Unique Sweets show. They featured this place that served ice cream, I think, (maybe it was just frozen yogurt) but they also served home made Greek yogurt topped with various toppings. The one that I was thinking of around the time I thought of this recipe was a key lime yogurt: a scoop of Greek yogurt with a lime curd topping and graham cracker crumbs. So I guess that got me thinking about other things you could scoop and put toppings on that you normally don't think of. Then I thought about the four bars of cream cheese in my fridge, and I thought a cheesecake would be a good way to use a couple. THEN I thought about what a pain in the rear it is to work up a water bath for a cheesecake baked in a spring form pan, and then I thought of this: crustless cheesecake baked in a casserole dish that you refrigerate and scoop out with a cookie scoop into a lace cookie bowl or a dish with whatever bottoms and toppings you might like. So this is it. And it WORKS. Wonderfully. It's a fabuous, simple cheesecake filling that my guests and I got to customize with various bases and toppings: graham cracker lace cookie bowls (recipe below), graham cracker crumbs oven-toasted with a little butter (5 crumbled graham cracker sheets tossed in about 2 tablespoons of butter and toasted in a 375 degree oven for 5 minutes), homemade lime curd, chocolate ganache, fresh strawberries (my favorite), and a mixed berry compote (not sure if that's the right name, but you get the idea).

You can serve tiny portions or larger ones. If you turn it into a cheesecake sundae bar like I did, guests can make 2 or 3 little servings in order to try various combinations. I'm even thinking about serving it with chopped candy bars or crumbled chocolate chip cookies next time. Heck, I've even thought about making a cheesecake and cookie sandwich out if it.

Just so you know, scooping baked cheesecake is not quite as "clean" as scooping ice cream. I ended up with relatively large quantities stuck to the back side of the scoop, so after I was done scooping, I had to use my finger to scrape it off the back. Then of course, I had to clean my finger by licking the cheesecake off. Yeah. Pretty messy.

Scoopable Baked Cheesecake

Cheesecake Ingredients:
  •   2 8oz. cream cheeses @ room temperature
  •   2 eggs @ room temperature
  •   2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
  •  ½ cup sugar
  •  ¼ cup heavy cream
  •  ¼ cup sour cream
Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. 
Prepare a water bath in a roasting pan or other high-rimmed baking vessel that can hold your cheesecake dish and allow for at least 3 inches water all around. Place water bath pan into preheating oven and fill with hot water about halfway up. (You could fill it and then place it in the oven, but you have to be very, very careful when transferring it to the oven.)

Cream the cream cheese until smooth.  Add sugar and beat until smooth.  Beat in eggs, sour cream, and vanilla bean paste.  Stir in the heavy cream until incorporated. Pour into a medium sized baking/casserole dish, keeping in mind that the cheesecake will almost double in height as it bakes. Place cheesecake dish into the middle of the water bath in the preheated oven. Add more hot water until the water level is 1/2 to 2/3 up the side of the cheesecake dish.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes, or until the center is set. Carefully remove just the cheesecake dish first and set it on a cooling rack. The remove and dump the water from the water bath vessel. Allow cheesecake to cool to room temperature before transferring it to the refrigerator to cool at least overnight. For the first few hours of refrigeration, place a paper towel on top of the cheesecake dish, and then place a wooden spoon across the top to keep the paper towel in place. (Cooling with the paper towel prevents condensation as the cheesecake cools.) After cheesecake is chilled, you can cover tighly with plastic wrap until ready to serve.

To serve, use a spring-action cookie/ice cream scoop to scoop out portions of cheesecake. You can serve it as is, with toppings, with various crusts (graham cracker, Oreo, or other cookie bits). I served this batch first with graham cracker lace cookies and then with graham cracker crumbs oven-toasted with a little butter. The possibilities are endless.

Makes 16-24 servings, depending on serving size

Graham Cracker Lace Cookies (Note that this part of the recipe is NOT gluten free.)
     --adapted from RealSimple.com
     --These are almost candy-like in their crunchiness. The cheesecake looks cute in them, but I did not enjoy them as much as I enjoyed the graham cracker crumbs oven-toasted with butter.
     
Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
Instructions:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Get a non-stick muffin pan out as well and set aside.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the sugars, corn syrup and salt. Mix until smooth. Remove from heat and add graham cracker crumbs. Using a measuring teaspoon, scoop teaspoons of dough onto the prepared baking sheet. Only do about 6 cookies at a time because they spread so much. Bake cookies for about 6 minutes at 375 degrees. When cookies are slightly darker brown around the edges, remove pan from oven. 
Slide the parchment onto a cooling rack and carefully & quickly use a spatula to remove cookies. Gently push them into the cups of the non-stick muffin pan. If they cool off and solidify too quickly, place them back on the pan and into the oven briefly (30 seconds or so), until they are again pliable. This part is tricky and may take some practice. I've also heard of people turning the muffin pan upside down and placing lace cookies on top of the upside down cups, which will produce a wider-rimmed little cup, but it will work fine.

Makes about 20 cookie cups









Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Meatballs for Days (Freezer Meatballs)

Meatballs in Roasted Pineapple & Habanero Sauce
Cooked meatballs ready for the freezer

This recipe idea was inspired by The Pioneer Woman. I tried to locate the recipe I saw on her Food Network show, but it was going to take too long. Basically, I used the recipe I have for meatballs and multiplied it. Then I froze meal-sized bags of the cooked meatballs for later use, just like Ree did. I thought I could get five meals out of this, but after my husband tasted tonight's rendition, I'm going to say it's for four meals. 
Tonight I took about 14-15 of the cooked meatballs and simmered them in Robert's Reserve Roasted Pineapple & Habanero Sauce that I got from my dear friend Jen. I'm serving them with Home Made French Fries tonight, as my husband thought that would be a good pairing. Had I not asked him, I'd probably have made Rice Pilaf. Next time, I think I'll try them in BBQ sauce. And, of course, I'm sure some of them will make their way into spaghetti or a meatball sandwich.
These meatballs are very flavorful on their own and I think they'll go well with just about any sauce I choose to put them into. As I try different sauces, I will try to add pics and comments. 
That's all. I'm not feeling very chatty today. Enjoy.

Meatballs for Days (Freezer Meatballs)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup breadcrumbs (I use gluten free breadcrumbs from gf French rolls)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 5 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 small onions, finely diced
  • 9 cloves garlic, minced
  • 5 eggs
  • 5 tablespoons dried parsley
  • 5 teaspoons salt
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 cup grated jack cheese
  • 5 pounds ground ground (90/10)

Instructions: 
In a very large bowl, place the breadcrumbs and pour the milk over them. Allow to sit while you prepare the onions & garlic.
Heat the vegetable oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Saute onions until translucent. Add garlic, stir, and cook one minute more. Remove from heat and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes.
To the breadcrumbs and milk, add the eggs, parsley, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and jack cheese. Stir to incorporate all ingredients. Mix in the onions and garlic a little at a time (so you don't cook the eggs). Add the ground beef. With your hands (I use plastic gloves for this), gently incorporate the beef into the other ingredients until the mixture is uniform. Cover and refrigerate 30-60 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Using a medium size cookie scoop (approx 2 tablespoons), scoop mixture out and onto a wax paper lined sheet pan. After all meat has been scooped, roll each into a nice ball shape and place on a sheet pan that has been covered with foil and sprayed with non-stick cooking spray (I used 2 half sheet pans for this). 
Bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes (the ones you see above are actually over baked).
Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Move cooked meatballs to another baking sheet lined with wax paper. Place in the freezer until frozen solid, and then place meatballs in zip top freezer bags and store in freezer until ready to use.

Makes about 5 dozen meatballs


I scoop all of the meatballs and THEN I roll them into balls.
Ready for the oven
These cooked too long and look weird on the pan.
Once they're in a sauce, though, this look won't matter.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Chocolate and Nuts




Sometimes chocolate covered almonds or chocolate covered macadamia nuts just sound good. But I don't want to go to the trouble of melting and tempering the chocolate, scooping out bite-size portions, waiting for them to set, and then washing the bowl and utensils. Too much trouble and I know I will eat too many.

My husband and I discovered a quite a few years ago that if you have a bag of almonds in the house AND a bag of chocolate chips, you can pour a little bowl of nuts and chocolate chips and enjoy what is really the equivalent of chocolate covered almonds. Two chocolate chips to one almond is the perfect ratio.

Fast forward to 2015 where I have become pickier about my chocolate and almost exclusively use Dove Chocolate in my baking. So, that's the chocolate I have around the house. Recently, when I had that chocolate covered almond craving, I used a Dove Dark Chocolate Promise. Perfectly satisfying. I also find that if I stick to two Promises that I don't overdo the mini dessert experience. Not that I'm all about controlling everything I eat and staying (or being at all) skinny, but I do make an effort to not outgrow the clothing I have in my closet. More of a financial thing than a vanity thing, I think, but I digress...

Suffice it to say, Dove Milk Chocolate Promises and lightly salted macadamia nuts are a fabulous combo as well--it brings me back to my childhood when my Grandpa Wong from Hawaii would visit us in California. He would always bring along Mauna Loa Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nuts and cans and cans of Mauna Loa Macadamia Nuts. Mmmm... I didn't fully appreciate all of that when I was younger, but its kind of nice to be able to reminisce about those times now from my current home which is so far from Hawaii and California.

So, what you see below is formatted as a recipe, but it's really just an idea of how to enjoy some chocolate and nuts. The pic above in the little plastic cup is what I sometimes take to work as my lunch dessert. It keeps me from going off the deep end with all of the treats that people will put in the teachers' lounge. Plus, it's a satisfying sweet treat when I really don't feel like baking and making a mess. That's all I've got on that. So now do it. Go. Really. You won't be disappointed.

Chocolate and Nuts for One

Ingredients:

  • 2 Dove Chocolate Promises (milk or dark, depending on your preference)
  • 6 large roasted and lightly salted macadamia nuts OR 12 roasted almonds

Instructions:
Unwrap a Chocolate Promise and take a bite that is roughly 1/3 of the Promise. Pop one macadamia nut or two almonds into your mouth with the chocolate, and enjoy.
Repeat until chocolate and nuts are gone.

Makes 1 serving



Saturday, April 4, 2015

Croissant Caramel Sticky Buns

Croissant Caramel Sticky Bun with Pecans
Croissant Caramel Sticky Bun with Macadamia Nuts

I've made sooooo many cinnamon rolls in my five-year quest to win the Tone's Cinnamon Roll Competition at the Iowa State Fair, that I can pretty much say that I don't like to eat cinnamon rolls any more.  These, though, are an exception.  Made with croissant dough, they're super rich, flaky, and buttery; slightly crisp on the bottom and edges, and tender on the inside.  The caramel with its brown sugar and butter goodness and crunchy pecans, are the golden crown to these.  I CAN still eat these.  They probably won't win any awards, because, as I've mentioned in other posts, those judges are tough, and it's really a crap shoot as to whether your bun will get a judge whose tastes line up with your "product."  Those ladies can really be annoying.  I shouldn't complain because I've won in the non-traditional cinnamon roll class, but now that I think of it, that judge was not a regular; she was from the Tones company.  At any rate, these are FANtastic, if you've got the patience to make the croissant dough.
*I've updated this post and changed the dough laminating method that I've started using since the original posting of this recipe. I also tried macadamia nuts today, which I LOVE. The husband prefers the pecan version, but really, these taste great with any kind of nut--or no nuts at all. They're just caramely deliciousness.
These never did win the Tone's cinnamon roll competition, which has since been discontinued. Maybe someday I will like regular cinnamon rolls again.
Oh yeah, I'm reposting this with a new date because I have all new pics and because it deserves some attention. These sticky buns are amazing. You really should try them.


Croissant Caramel Sticky Buns

Ingredients:
Dough

  • 3 cups KAF unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling 
  • 1 T Fleishman’s Rapid Rise yeast 
  • ¼ cup sugar 
  • 1 ¼ tsp salt 
  • 1 ¼ cups whole milk, cold 
  • 2 T unsalted butter, softened, but cool 
  • 2 ½ sticks butter, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces, cold 
  • 2 T unbleached all-purpose flour 
Filling
  • 1 cups light brown sugar 
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 
  • 1/8 tsp salt 
Caramel Topping
  • 2 sticks butter 
  • 1 1/2 cup brown sugar 
  • 2 tablespoon water 
  • 1 cup lightly roasted chopped pecans or macadamia nuts

Instructions:
The Dough
1.  Whisk 2¾ cups flour together with the yeast, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl.  Place the milk in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook.  Add the flour mixture and knead at low speed until a ball of dough forms.  Cut the 2 T butter into small pieces and add to the dough.  Continue to knead until the butter becomes fully incorporated and the dough becomes smooth, begins to form a ball, and clears the sides of the bowl.  Add up to ¼ cup more flour, one tablespoon at a time if the dough is too sticky.  Place dough in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least one hour.

2. When dough is ready, place the 2 1/2 sticks of butter pieces with the 2 tablespoons flour in the mixer bowl fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat until soft and relatively spreadable, but not melty (about 1-2 minutes). 

3. Turn dough out onto a floured work surface.  Roll dough into a large rectangle, about 14 x 18 inches or so (does not need to be exact). Spread the beaten butter onto the bottom 2/3 of the dough, being careful to not make holes in the dough. Fold the unbuttered third over like a letter onto 1/2 the buttered section. With a pastry brush, gently brush off excess flour, and then fold the bottom buttered section on top of that dough, so it's like you've folded a letter into thirds (You have 3 layers). Gently press the seams with the side of your hand. Turn the dough a half-turn and gently roll into a large rectangle again (if the butter seems too soft at this point, refrigerate for about 10-15 minutes before rolling). Fold into thirds again (Now you have 9 layers). Roll dough a little bit to make a long rectangle and fold into thirds, brushing away excess flour as you fold (Now you have 27 layers). Wrap dough loosely in plastic wrap, or in parchment paper. Place wrapped dough in a large (gallon size) zip top bag, but do not zip. Refrigerate 2 hours to overnight.

Filling and Topping
6. Mix the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt with a fork and set aside.

7.  Spray three 12 cup muffin pans with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.

8. Melt the sticks of butter for the topping in a medium saucepan.  Add brown sugar, water, and pecans.  Mix well and bring to a boil.   Boil for one minute only.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Forming  & Baking the Rolls                                                                                                  
9. Remove dough from refrigerator and roll into a rough 18” x 18” square about ¼”, or a little less, thick.  Evenly spread the brown sugar/cinnamon mixture over the surface of the rectangle.   Cut square in half, forming two equal rectangles.  Roll each rectangle into a long log.  Gently pinch the seams to seal. Gently squeeze and/or push ends of dough log in until each log is exactly 18 inches long.

10.  Place about 1 tablespoons of caramel mixture in the bottom of the cups of three 12-cup muffin tins that have been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.

11.  Measure and mark 1” segments of the log and then slice with a very sharp knife. Gently place rolls on top of caramel mixture in the muffin cups.  Cover pans loosely with plastic wrap and set to rise in a relatively cool place until puffy, about 1 hour.

12.  Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit.  Once oven is heated, place a large sheet of aluminum foil on the baking rack and then place 1 or 2 muffin pans on top of the foil (the foil should catch any caramel overflow).  Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until caramel is bubbling and buns are well browned.  If buns seem to be getting brown too fast, loosely cover with aluminum foil and bake until done.

13.  Remove pans from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes.  Invert onto baking sheets and redistribute nuts and caramel if necessary.  Allow to cool at least 10-15 minutes before serving.

Makes 36 sticky buns.       


Hmmm...I'm realizing that I should have taken some

pics of the laminating process. Maybe next time.                         







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