Saturday, February 26, 2011

Easy No-Cook Tomato Sauce

The original plan for this week was to publish my Chianti Sauce recipe. However, since that sauce, like the traditional vodka sauce that inspired it, begins with a finished tomato sauce, it seemed appropriate to offer first the tomato sauce I used, and to continue next week with the recipe for converting it to Chianti Sauce.

Should the mention of home-made tomato sauce conjure images of standing over a large pot of bubbling liquid with a wooden spoon for a couple of hours, you're in the right place. With great pleasure, I offer you this recipe for an Easy, No-Cook Tomato Sauce.

If you love watching cooking shows on television as much as I do, you may have noticed a couple of recent trends that (it seems to me, anyway) are related:
  • High level chefs and cooks are increasingly making the point that we’ve let making good tomato sauce become a lot more complicated than it has to be.
  • Even in this age of high-tech electric kitchen gadgets, the humble (and, let me be sure to mention, inexpensive) food mill remains one of the greatest pieces of kitchen equipment you can own, especially if you like making sauces and soups.

A food mill, for the unfamiliar, is something like a colander, except it has a manual crank device that forces food through the holes. It’s a delightfully low-tech piece of pureeing equipment that has one significant advantage over its cousin, the food processor: a food mill naturally filters out the solids after the liquid has been squeezed out. (You can also use it for tasks like ricing potatoes and forming spaetzle. Try doing either of those with a food processor.)

This recipe makes about one quart of a tomato sauce I think you’ll find so delicious you won’t believe how easy it is to make.

After grating one medium carrot and chopping 2 stalks of celery, set aside 2 tablespoons of each for later use. Combine the remaining carrot and celery pieces with 1-1/2 tablespoons of chopped onion, 6 cloves of garlic, one 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes, two 6-ounce cans of tomato paste, 2 teaspoons of dried basil, 1-1/2 tablespoons of sugar and and ½ teaspoon of chili powder in a non-metallic bowl and put through a food mill. (If your food mill has more than choice of orifice plate, use the plate with the widest holes.) Scrape the underside of the orifice plate into the milled mixture. Discard the remaining solids in the bowl of the food mill.

Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the milled mixture and stir till combined. Add salt and pepper to taste, then the sauce rest for at least 30 minutes before using. When you add the sauce to your dish, garnish with some of the reserved celery and carrot mixture. (In the photo at the top, the sauce was used on hand-made pasta and topped with baked flounder.)
As always, if you prefer a cookbook style, notebook-ready version of this recipe (or any other Kissing the Cook recipe), ask and it shall be given!

Now that you have this easy, delicious tomato sauce, visit again next week for how to turn it into a very special Chianti sauce! Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Reduced Guilt Angel Food Cupcakes with Strawberry Glaze and Blueberry Cream Filling

Although most people I know are beyond feeling guilty about cupcakes (and, in a few cases, about anything else), it is possible someone, somewhere still does. And to them are dedicated this week’s recipe: Reduced Guilt Angel Food Cupcakes with Strawberry Glaze and Blueberry Cream Filling.

Why “reduced guilt” and not totally guilt-free? Although the cake itself is a wholesome (by cake standards, anyway) angel food cake, both the strawberry glaze and the blueberry cream filling are made with heavy cream. As much as I strive to reduce the fat in everything I cook, there are rare occasions when low-fat ingredients just don’t get the job done. So, for those so inclined, there’s still some guilt to eating these yummy treats. Just not very much.

As sometimes is the case, there are a lot of individual steps to this recipe (remember, it's really three recipes – cake, glaze, and cream filling – all combined at the end) but the steps themselves are not complicated. Your patience with the step-by-step process will be deliciously rewarded.

Since the cupcakes should be completely cooled before being filled and glazed, we’ll make the cupcakes first and, while they’re cooling, we'll make the filling and glaze. This recipe makes about 12 cupcakes.

For the cupcakes:
Set out 4 eggs for about two hours until they are at room temperature. (Do not set out the butter substitute. Note, however, if you’re using regular butter, set out 4 ounces of that as well.)

After the eggs have reached room temperature, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. While the oven heating, sift together 1 cup of cake flour (don’t use all-purpose flour), 1 teaspoon of baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

Separate the eggs and discard the yolks. (It's important to use real eggs for this; packaged egg whites don't fluff well enough.) To the egg whites, add a pinch of cream of tartar and a pinch of salt, and beat at high speed until stiff peaks form. Using a spatula, transfer the beaten egg whites (which should now be the consistency of shaving cream) to a piece of wax paper. We’ll use them in a moment. When you're finished, rinse the mixer bowl; we'll use it again in the next step.

Put 6 tablespoons of butter substitute (or the 4 ounces of room temperature regular butter), 2 tablespoons of skim milk, and 3/4 cup of granular sugar in the mixer bowl and mix at medium speed for about 3 minutes until creamy, scraping the bowl once or twice. For the last one minute, add 1/4 tablespoon of vanilla.

Stir the sifted dry ingredients in by hand until combined with the butter-sugar mixture. Once that is done, carefully fold in half the beaten egg whites, then the other half. (Don't over-mix or you'll lose the fluffiness!)

Spoon the batter into lined cupcake pans. (I find the foil kind is easiest to use, but the paper ones are ok too.) Fill each cup about 2/3 full. Bake until they’re slightly golden and cooked through, about 20 minutes, turning the tray half-way for more even baking. Test by inserting a toothpick or bamboo barbeque skewer into one of the cupcakes; when it comes out clean, the cupcakes are ready to be taken out of the oven. Be careful not to overcook!

Remove the tray from the oven. Cool the cupcakes for ten minutes in the tray, then let them finish cooling on a wire rack.
With the beautiful naked cupcakes cooling, it’s time to make the filling and glaze. Let’s do the filling first.
Combine 6 tablespoons of fresh blueberries, 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice, and a pinch of salt in a food processor and puree.

Rinse the mixer bowl you used to make the cupcake batter. Combine 6 tablespoons of chilled heavy cream, 2 tablespoons of chilled sour cream, and 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar in the bowl. (Adding the sour cream helps the finished whipped cream keep longer without going flat.) Whip at high speed until stiff peaks form.

Fold the blueberry sauce into the whipped cream until blended. Set the blueberry cream mixture aside until you’re ready to fill the cupcakes.
Next up: the strawberry glaze!
Place a small glass plate in the freezer. (You might remember this method for testing the cooked fruit mixture from last week’s cantaloupe-pear tart recipe.)

Puree 12 ounces of strawberries, and combine with 1/3 cup of sugar and 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice in a medium sauce pan over medium-low heat. Cook the mixture down until a few drops placed on the chilled plate have the consistency of syrup.

Pour the strawberry syrup into a bowl and rinse the saucepan. Put 1 cup of heavy cream and 2 tablespoons of light corn syrup into the saucepan, and bring just to a boil.

Add the strawberry syrup and simmer until reduced to about ½. Allow to stand one minute, add 1 tablespoon of butter substitute (or 1-1/2 tablespoons of regular butter) and stir until smooth. Set aside until the cupcakes are ready to be glazed.
Now, the grand finale: putting it all together!
To fill the cupcakes, use a small sharp knife (paring knife, steak knife or similar) to cut a cone-shape piece from the top of the cupcake to about ¼” from the bottom. Spoon in the blueberry cream till the hole is almost filled. Trim the bottom of the cone-shaped removed piece so that it fits over the filled hole as a cap. Repeat for the remaining cupcakes. (The process is shown from left to right in the photo.)

To glaze the cupcakes, dip the top of each cupcake into the bowl of glaze and twist. Repeat if necessary. (The glaze should cover the seam where the filling hole is plugged.) After glazing, top each cupcake with a blueberry or half a strawberry. And try to remember to share them!
If you'd like a cookbook-style, notebook-ready copy of this recipe, just let me know in a comment or e-mail.

See you with another new recipe next week! Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Cantaloupe-Pear Tart with Apple Glaze

The origins of this cantaloupe-pear tart with an apple glaze began some years back, when a friend mentioned a wonderful cantaloupe pie she’d had at a bed-and-breakfast when she was young. That sounded good to my wife, but she doesn’t bake pies.

Then she remembered. “Wait a minute,” she thought. “I have a husband who bakes pies.”

That being the case, I was given the happy task of putting together a cantaloupe pie, and it worked out pretty well. When the cantaloupe I was making it with one day was a bit too small, I supplemented it with a similarly sliced pear, and found it became even better. Before long it became my go-to recipe for "everybody bring something" events. People seemed to like it because it not only tasted good on its own, but had the added appeal of being just a bit unusual. And so when I received a tart pan as a gift this past Christmas, I knew what my first tart had to be.

Like many tart recipes, then, this one also adapts very easily back to a double-crust pie, either solid-top or lattice-top, if that’s what you prefer to make. The biggest difference here is that the tart version also has a glaze made from a Granny Smith apple, with a gentle tartness that contrasts nicely with the sweetness of the filling.

This recipe makes one 9-1/2” tart. 
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, and blind bake a pastry shell in a 9-1/2” tart pan. (Clicking on the links will take you to previous posts featuring a tutorial video on blind baking and a pie crust recipe.)

Place a small glass plate in the freezer. (This is a technique borrowed from the world of jelly-making that will be useful when we make the glaze.)

Slice a cantaloupe into ¼” thick slices and cut off the rind. Peel and core a pear and cut it into similar ¼” thick slices.

Put ½ cup of brown sugar (firmly packed), 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, ½ teaspoon of ground nutmeg, and ½ teaspoon of kosher salt into a sealable plastic bag. Add the cantaloupe and pear slices and toss to coat.

After the pastry shell is blind-baked, arrange the fruit in the pastry shell in two layers, dotting each layer with about 1 teaspoon of butter substitute. Bake till done, about 60 minutes. (Similar to when you bake a pie, keep an eye on the crust and cover the edge with aluminum foil if it starts to get too brown.)

While the tart is baking, prepare the glaze as follows. (If you prefer, simply warming your favorite preserves to a brush-able texture would work too, if you don't mind the glaze being a bit sweeter than the Granny Smith apple version.)
Peel, core and coarsely chop a Granny Smith apple, putting the pieces in a bowl with the juice of one lemon and tossing to coat as you go to prevent the apple from oxidizing.

Put the apple pieces and the juice into a food processor and puree until liquid.

Put the pureed apple into a small saucepan with 2 -3 tablespoons of sugar and cook over low heat to a jelly-like consistency, checking the readiness of the hot liquid by putting a few drops on the frozen plate and seeing if it gels.

When the tart and glaze are ready, and while the tart is still warm, gently brush the glaze onto the fruit filling to finish the tart.

Hope you like it! If you prefer a cookbook-style, notebook ready copy of this or any other Kissing the Cook recipe, just let me know in a comment or e-mail and I'll send it right along.

See you next week with another kitchen-tested, user-friendly recipe! Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Chicken Meatball Kabobs in Ginger Beer Teriyaki Sauce on Rice

Any dish with a name that long better be good. Fortunately, this one, for Chicken Meatball Kabobs in Ginger Beer Teriyaki Sauce on Rice, is. Although the recipe has a lot of steps, it’s not at all complicated and is easily within the reach of anyone of any cooking level. (Each step does build on the next, so taking things in the order shown is very important.)

A couple of notes about this recipe. First, you’ll see we’ll be making our own teriyaki sauce instead of using store-bought. Home-made tastes better and fresher than store-bought (as it almost always does!) and it’s easy to do.  (Consider that even Sandra Lee, the empress of store-bought ingredients, makes her own sauce for chicken teriyaki.)

Second, we’ll be using fresh pineapple instead of canned. (Although it’s possible to use canned, fresh pineapple is just better.) It’s easy, and once you do it you may never go back to canned again. If anyone is unsure how to do it, just let me know and I’ll send you the cookbook-style version of this recipe, which includes step-by-step instructions for cutting a fresh pineapple.

Third, we’re using ginger beer (or “ginger brew”), one of my favorite ingredients. A number of brands are available, but be aware there’s a wide range in the quality. The better ones (I like to used Reed’s, the kind Trader Joe’s carries) are a blend of all kinds of wonderful things, such as ginger root, spices, honey, pineapple, lemon, and lime. Others are basically glorified ginger-ale and should be avoided for this recipe. (Goya, for example, lists the following ingredients for their ginger beer: carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, ginger flavorings, oil of ginger, caramel color, capsicum, and citric acid.) A little caveat emptor goes a long way.

This recipe makes 8 kabobs (4 servings).

First, prepare your general ingredients:

Cut a fresh pineapple into 1” long chunks. (Canned pineapple chunks can be used instead, but fresh is better.) In a food processor, puree enough of the pineapple chunks (about ¼ of the pineapple) to make about ½ cup of liquid. Set the rest of the chunks aside.

Cut a green pepper into rectangles, about 1” to 1-1/2” on a side.

Clean a 10 ounce package of baby portabella mushrooms and remove the stems. Dice the stems and set them aside for later use in the rice.

Cut the top and bottom off a sweet onion (Vidalia or similar). Cut the onion into 8 wedges. Remove the inner (pointed) portion of each wedge at the mid-point, and dice them for later use in the rice. Separate the remaining outer (larger) portion of each wedge into two pieces.  Place these on a parchment-lined baking sheet in the cold oven.

Begin preheating the oven to 350, letting the onions pre-cook as it heats up. Check on the onions and remove them in a few minutes when they are just a little soft, but not completely cooked.

Next, we’ll make our teriyaki sauce:

In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup of low sodium soy sauce, 6 cloves of garlic (smashed but not chopped), 1/2 cup of honey, ¼ cup of the pureed pineapple juice (or, if using canned pineapple, ¼ cup of the reserved juice from the can), and 1 cup of good quality ginger beer. Bring the mixture to a boil, then immediately lower to a simmer for two minutes. When it’s done, use a slotted spoon to remove and discard the crushed garlic, then add ½ cup of chopped scallions (both the green and white parts). Set the sauce aside.

In the third step, we make our chicken meatballs:

In a bowl, combine 1 pound of  ground chicken (ground turkey works well too), 1 cup of soft bread crumbs (just put some bread into the food processor and process till, well, till it looks like bread crumbs), 1 egg substitute egg (ok, a real egg will do too), ¾ teaspoon of dried thyme, ¼ teaspoon of dried sage, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, ¼ teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper, and 1/3 cup of your teriyaki sauce. Mix the ingredients by hand, being careful not to overwork the mixture, and form in to 1-1/2” meatballs. (The meatball mix in this recipe is somewhat loose, so the meatballs may come out oval or patty-shaped instead of perfectly round. This is ok.)

In a pan, sauté the chicken meatballs in a little canola oil until they’re browned on the outside. (They’ll cook more in the over later so they don’t have to be cooked through at this step.)

When the meatballs have browned, add the teriyaki sauce to the pan, bring it to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer the meatballs for 5 minutes. When you’re done, remove the meatballs and set aside. Bring the remaining sauce to a boil and reduce by about half.

After the sauce has reduced, put the chicken back in the pan and toss to coat.

For the fourth step, we begin preparing the rice:

Prepare four portions of brown rice as per the directions on the package, but using the remaining pineapple juice and additional chicken broth in place of the water.

The fifth step is to make those delicious looking kabobs:

Put the meatballs on the skewers, along with the pineapple, grape or cherry tomatoes, green pepper pieces, and the partially cooked onion pieces. Brush each kabob with the reduced teriyaki sauce, sprinkle them with sesame seeds, and bake till chicken is cooked through and vegetables are tender, about 25 – 30 minutes.

For the sixth step, we finish the rice:

While the rice and chicken skewers are cooking, sauté the diced mushroom stems and onions. When the diced onions and mushrooms are cooked, and the rice has finished cooking, add the sautéed onions and mushrooms to the rice and mix well.

Last step (and, in my opinion, the best): put the skewers on the rice and serve!
For a cookbook style, notebook ready copy of this recipe (which includes step-by-step instructions for cutting the pineapple), just let me know in a comment or an e-mail and you’ll have it in no time!

See you next week! Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)