foodie 1

Monday, November 5, 2012

Sous Vide Experiments: Chuck Roast/Steak

               I acquired a circulating water bath some time ago, but hadn’t used it for anything other than keeping a beer fermentation at pretty high temperatures. I’ve always wanted to use it for sous vide in some form, but just haven’t gotten around to it until now.
               For those of you familiar with it, sous vide is a method of cooking foods at constant temperatures for very long periods of time. You might say, why not just use a crock pot? The main problem is that crock pot temperatures are not stable over long periods of time, and often times you cannot get the crock pot to a low enough temperature to achieve the desired results. In this case, the sous vide machine can keep the temperature at very precise intervals (of as little as 0.1 degrees Celsius). If you have a big chunk of money sitting around, Williams Sonoma sells the circulators. Otherwise, I have read about people buying probes and shutoff controllers to jury-rig a crock pot into a sous vide machine.
               A benefit to sous vide is to use it to cook foods with lots of connective tissues for long periods of time so that the connective tissue breaks down. Think of short ribs, roasts, chuck steak, etc. You can take a fatty, tough piece of meat and make it essentially into a filet.
               In theory, you also need a vacuum sealer to sous vide. However, a preferred alternative is to buy the vacuum sealing bags that Ziploc sells, where you use a hand pump to create a vacuum. It’s cheaper than buying a vacuum machine, and it gets the same results in the end.
               For my birthday, Amy got me a copy of Under Pressure by Thomas Keller, a set of the vacuum bags, and an option for pick out whatever foods I wanted to cook in it. We got a rather large chuck roast at Wegmans a while back. I took the roast out, which was about 2 inches thick through, and had tons of fat. I put it in the sous vide bag, with just a dash of salt over the steak. I then sealed it up, sucked out the majority of the air, and put it in the bath at 130 F (or 54 C). I left the steak going for 48 hours.

Note the Kitchen Aid mixer to weigh the bag down
               During this time, tons of liquid (i.e. blood) came out into the bag. I was a bit worried that the steak was getting dry, and even though I had read up I still wasn’t sure this was going to work.
               After 48 hrs, I pulled the steak out. It was practically falling apart, and had taken on a greyish-pink hue. I dried the surface of the steak and applied fresh kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper. I threw the steak onto a hot grill for about 1.5 minutes a side to create a crust, then brought it in to rest.
Sorry looking, but fully cooked and ready to sear

After Searing
               Man, I was still shocked when I cut in and found the meat perfectly pink from edge to edge. Well, I guess it wasn’t super pink to begin with. As a consequence of cooking in the “vacuum”, the meat does oxidize while it cooks. When you slice into the meat, exposure to the oxygen in the air causes the hemoglobin and myoglobin in the meat to bind fresh oxygen, and return to a red-pink color. So after about a minute or two of resting, we had beautiful pink meat.

               The steak itself was fantastic, and was everything I had hoped for. It was as tender as a filet, had an intensely beefy flavor, and was only about $15 total for a giant steak! I’d definitely do it again. Now it's time to pick out something else to sous vide! I think I sense some pork belly in our future!
Steak and a nice Red (2007 Dornfelder, Fulkerson Winery)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies: Secret Recipe Club

It's time again for Secret Recipe Club!  This month I had the awesome blog of Suzanne, Thru the Bugs on my Windshield.  Suzanne writes about her cooking, travels, photography and grandkids.  She's also the hostess of my Secret Recipe Club group, Group B and does a fantastic job getting us all organized and handling questions and issues.  I knew I wanted to bake something and as soon as the 'cool' weather (highs in the 60s instead of 80s) I knew I wanted something that had fall flavors.  There's nothing more fall to me than pumpkin, so as soon as I saw these whoopie pies my mind was made up.  We had just bought several cans of pumpkin at the grocery store for baking purposes and we had all the ingredients on hand so it was easy to whip up.  The day I sat down to make the recipe I traced it back to the original source and was happy to discover it was from one of my favorite cookbook authors -- the guys at BAKED.  Since I (semi-) regularly participate in BAKED Sunday Mornings, I knew I could trust that the recipe would be delicious.  

This is the first thing I've baked from Matt and Renato's first book, BAKED: New Frontiers in Baking, but it definitely won't be the last!  I halved the recipe as Suzanne did, but used the original spice combination from the BAKED book.  I couldn't imagine a pumpkin recipe without cinnamon; it's my favorite sweet spice by far and I think half the reason I enjoy pumpkin desserts so much is their frequent use of cinnamon!  I also added a touch of nutmeg since I had it and I thought it fit the rest of the flavors well.  These were perfect.  I made a mini-version and they came out beautifully.  

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
makes 12 regular-sized cookie sandwiches or 24 mini cookie sandwiches
From BAKED, as found via Thru the Bugs on my Windshield


for whoopie pies:
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt or 1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ginger
1 tablespoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon cloves
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 1/2 cup (or 1 15 oz can) pureed pumpkin (not pie filling, just plain pumpkin)
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

for filling:
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
4 ounces cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.
  • In a large bowl whisk together brown sugar and oil until combined.  Add the canned pumpkin and whisk until combined.  Add the egg and vanilla and again whisk until combined.
  • Sprinkle flour mixture over the wet ingredients and then whisk until combined.  
  • Using a cookie scoop, portion the dough onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment (or a silpat).  For regular sized cookies use a 2 tablespoon scoop, for mini-cookies use a 1 tablespoon scoop.  For either cookie leave about 1 inch of space between cookie dough.  
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out of a cookie with no crumbs.  
  • Allow cookies to cool completely on baking sheet.  
  • While cookies are cooling, make filling.  In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until completely smooth.  Add in the cream cheese and again beat until completely smooth.  Add in the vanilla and beat for 1-2 seconds, or until incorporated.  Add the powdered sugar  and beat until smooth, scraping down sides as needed.  

Monday, September 17, 2012

Shake Shack Burgers

I'm so excited to be writing this blog post!  I'm participating in a Virtual Baby Shower for a very special  lady on a cooking message board I frequent.  I've seen many of these 'virtual showers' in the past, but this is the first time I've been asked to participate in one and I couldn't be more honored.  Jessica from The Jey of Cooking is due in one month with her second child -- a baby girl!  Joelen, of What's Cookin' Chicago?, put this fabulous event together and came up with a ballpark theme.  Jessica, her husband and little boy/future big brother live in Chicago and are HUGE Cubs fans so ballpark food is perfect for this  lovely occasion.  

I figure Chicago style hot dogs are probably the ballpark food-of-choice at Wrigley Field, so I decided to create something that is a popular stadium item in our town -- The Shake Shack Burger.  We've only been to one game at Nationals Park, but it was just after Shake Shack opened and it was very popular.  We got there early to avoid the long lines and were so happy we did.  The Shack Burger lived up to all the hype we had heard about it.  It was salty and crunchy and the shack sauce just made the fresh tomatoes and lettuce sing.  So, recreating this burger at home was the first thing that popped into my head when I learned about the ballpark theme.  

Some googling led me to an article on Serious Eats with a very detailed recreation of the Shack Burger.  I took a few shortcuts, mostly for convenience sake, but found it came out pretty darn close to the original!  It was just as tasty, and though I didn't figure out the cost, I am sure it was cheaper!  We used ground beef we already had, 85% lean, instead of grinding our own and used some potato rolls we already had, which weren't Martin's brand, but still very good!  I accidentally bought red leaf lettuce instead of green, but that made no difference in the taste at all.  

I'm very thrilled to share my contribution to the All-Star Virtual Baby Shower for Jessica!  She's a smart, funny gal who is always sharing an encouraging word or bit of advice in our cooking community and I'm so happy to be a part of this online celebration of her new little girl!

Shake Shack Burgers
from Serious Eats
makes 4 burgers

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
4 slices kosher dill pickle, roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika
Pinch cayenne pepper

1 pound ground sirloin, 85% lean
1 tablespoon butter, softened
4 burger rolls, preferably potato
4 leaves of green (or red!) leaf lettuce, tops of leaves only
8 slices ripe plum tomatoes, center-cut prefered
1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
Kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper
4 slices yellow American cheese

  • Make Shack Sauce -- combine mayo, ketchup, mustard, chopped pickle, garlic powder, paprika and cayenne in the bowl of a food processor.  Give the processor a few good whirls, until the sauce looks to be an even consistency, scrapping down the sides of the bowl if necessary.  This will make almost 3/4 cup sauce and you will have some leftover after dressing the burgers.  It's great for dipping fries.  
  • Next form the ground beef into 4 pucks -- about 2 inches high and 2 1/2 inches wide.  Sprinkle the top side heavily with salt and pepper.  
  • Prep a large stainless steel skillet -- using a wadded up paper towel rub vegetable oil on skillet, then place over medium-high heat until just beginning to smoke.
  • While waiting for the skillet to heat, turn broiler on high.  Open the buns, but do not split all the way through, leave them 'hinged' open if possible.  (My rolls were already split and my burgers still turned out fine, so it's okay if this happens to you as well.)  Spread the softened butter over the tops and bottoms of all 4 rolls.  Place under the broiler and cook until golden brown.
  • Once the buns come out of the broiler, dollop 1 -2 teaspoons (depending on preference) on each side of each bun.  On the top bun, add one leaf lettuce then 2 tomato slices.  Set prepped buns aside to wait for burgers.
  • When skillet is barely smoking, place beef patties in, seasoned side down.  Using the back of a spatula, flatten the patties to 4 inches wide.  Normally this is a no-no, but for a realistic Shack Burger you want the beef to stick and get 'crusty' for lack of a better term.  Season the top side with salt and pepper.  Cook until crisp crust forms, about three minutes.  
  • Flip burgers and top each with one slice American cheese.  Cover and cook until cheese melts.  
  • Transfer patties to bottoms of burger buns and cover with toppings and bun tops.  Wrap in parchment paper if desired and let sit for 1-2 minutes.  I find this step, while annoying since delicious burgers and their mouth-watering smells are surrounding your surely hungry taste buds, essential.  It really lets the juices from the burgers sink into the buns and the sauce to meld with the other toppings and cheese to do the same.  We found it easier to cook two burgers at a time in our skillet, so it was easy to let the first set sit in parchment while we finished off the second two burgers, then ate the first set.  

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Brooksters: BAKED Sunday Mornings

So, I'm trying to get back into the swing of things with blogging and I thought this would be a great recipe to do so.  I added the newest BAKED book to my Amazon wishlist as soon as I read about it on BAKED's Facebook page.  I was ordering part of Zach's birthday gift and needed an excuse for the familiar Amazon packaging to arrive at the house, so into my shopping cart went BAKED Elements.  I love it!  It's got the same humor and great stories/explanations behind each recipe and it's organized into their top ten favorite ingredients.  I know the Pumpkin chapter will get a lot of use this fall and the Booze chapter is always a place to look for a delicious treat.  In fact, Zach chose his birthday cake from the Booze chapter.  Cinnamon is a favorite ingredient of mine, and about the only chapter I think we will skip is the Banana chapter (we both despise bananas).  

So when BAKED Sunday Mornings decided to start baking along with this book and Brooksters was the first recipe I was very excited to jump back in with the group and bake-along.  I made one modification to my Brooksters, deciding to make them in a mini loaf pan, since the book cautioned against dark metal pans and both of my cupcake tins are dark metal.  My mini loaf pan is Williams-Sonoma Gold Touch, so I thought that would be a better option.  I was wrong.  The shape was all wrong and by the time the tops of the cookie were fairly dark brown, the insides were still pretty gooey.  I don't mind as much as some people might, since I like things on the gooey-side but it was not ideal.  Oh well, next time we'll give the cupcake pan a try and see how it works out that way.  We did end up almost two dozen balls of cookie dough leftover after making the Brooksters, which we scooped out in 2 Tablespoons balls and froze, so now we can have fresh chocolate chips cookies whenever we want - yum!  

Despite their textural flaws, these tasted amazingly delicious.  The cookie dough was buttery and spot-on, the brownie was decadent and rich.  Combined they are much more than the sum of their parts.  

To get the recipe for Brooksters, and to join along with the group, head on over to BAKED Sunday Mornings!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Easy Egg Cups: Secret Recipe Club

Hi all!  So in my last Secret Recipe Club post I mentioned moving and buying a house which is the reason I haven't posted since the last SRC!  We're all moved in and spent an afternoon signing my name more times that I have total in my life up to that point, so we are officially homeowners!  Yay!  Here's where we now call home:

But, on to my recipe.  This month I was assigned Gluten Free from A to Z by Judee.  My family doesn't eat gluten-free, so a lot of the substitutions and different ingredients were really interesting for me to read.  I chose a recipe that would be super helpful now that I am back to school.  I'm a teacher here in Northern Virginia, I don't know if I've ever mentioned that specifically on the blog, so well, now I have!  Now that I'm back to setting an alarm (ugh) and getting myself together and out the door quickly (double ugh) it's very convenient to have quick and easy breakfasts.  I made these egg cups on a Sunday evening and then was able to enjoy them throughout the week.  They are infinitely customizable and very little effort.  We did sauteed spinach, red onion, colby jack cheese and hatch chiles and they are delicious!

Easy Egg Cups
from Gluten Free from A to Z
makes 12 cups

6 ounces spinach
6 eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 cup red onion, diced
1/4 cup hatch chiles, diced
1/2 cup shredded colby jack cheese


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Spray with cooking spray and add in the spinach.  Stir and allow to wilt down.
  • While the spinach is wilting, in a medium bowl whisk together eggs and milk.  Season with salt and pepper.
  • Start building your egg cups -- Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray.  Put about a teaspoon of red onion in each muffin tin, then follow with a teaspoon of chiles.  Sprinkle two teaspoons of cheese on top of the onion and peppers.  
  • Once the spinach has wilted distribute it evenly into the 12 muffin tins.  Pour the egg mixture into each tin, distributing evenly.  I transferred the egg mixture to a 2 cup pyrex measuring cup (the kind with a spout) to make this step easier.  
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the center is set.  

Monday, August 13, 2012

Cheesy Garlic Bread: Secret Recipe Club

Hello??  Is anyone out there?  Anyone who is still reading at all?  I know I've been a bad, bad blogger lately -- hardly any updates besides my recipe swaps and secret recipe club.  But, I've got a good excuse -- we're moving!  After three years renting down here in Northern Virginia we're buying a house of our own!  Yay!  We are very excited (hence all the exclamation points!!!!!) and can't wait to be settled into our own house and finally be home-owners.  It's a super cute townhouse in Alexandria, Virginia and will allow us both to be closer to work and to all the fun stuff in the District of Columbia.  So the last two weeks have been filled with packing and the next two weeks will be filled with moving and unpacking.  

It is also filled with using things up from the freezer.  When I was assigned Living Lou's blog for this month's Secret Recipe Club I was excited by many of the delicious looking breakfast recipes on her blog -- the cinnamon pancakes and muffin donuts being at the top of my list.  But, when it came time to actually pick a recipe I went with one that best fit my meal plan for the week.  I had a package of ravioli in the freezer to use up and wanted some garlic bread to go with it and I remembered this recipe from Lou and it was delicious!!  It used up a bunch of cheese I already had on hand, a few scallions I had and a jar of crushed garlic that I wasn't planning on taking with us to the new place.  So this was a great recipe at the perfect time.  It was crispy, crunchy, creamy and garlic-y without being over powering.  I only made a few changes, scaling down the recipe a bit for my smaller loaf of bread.  It was a fabulous complement to the ravioli -- side note, if you live near a Trader Joe's definitely try their Beef Bolognese ravioli - so yummy!

Cheesy Garlic Bread
from Living Lou

1 loaf of bread, I used a small batard
2 green onions, sliced
1/4 cup mayonnaise
4 tablespoons softened butter
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 1/2 cups grated cheese 

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • In a medium bowl combine the green onions, mayo, softened butter, garlic and pepper.  Once the mixture reaches a consistent texture add in the cheese and stir to combine.  
  • Cut the loaf of bread lengthwise.
  • Spread half the butter and cheese mixture on the top half of the bread and half the mixture on the bottom half of the bread.  
  • Place the bread on a sheet pan and bake for 7-10 minutes, until the top gets browned and bubbly.  
  • Let bread rest for a few minutes, then cut into slices and serve!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Jalapeno Popper Dip: Recipe Swap

For my third round of the Recipe Swap I was assigned The Jey of Cooking.  I was very happy with this assignment because this is a blog I already follow!  I just went to my Google Reader and looked at what recipes of hers I already had 'starred'.  I immediately decided on this dip.  It had made the rounds a few times on many popular food blogs, but I hadn't yet made it.  What prompted me -- a fresh batch of jalapenos straight from our porch garden!  

This dip was creamy and cheesy and spicy and awesome!  It goes perfectly with salty tortilla chips and a nice, cold beer.  It's just like it's namesake appetizer, but in casserole form.  I only made a few changes -- using reduced fat cheeses (since it's what I usually buy), chopped roasted Hatch chiles (from our own freezer stash)  and fresh jalapenos, seeded and diced.  Unfortunately (even though I swear I remember taking a photo of the dip ... grrrrrr) I can't seem to find the picture!  So, just a lonely recipe to post today, but once our next 'harvest' of jalapenos comes in I'll be sure to make this delicious dip again and this time snap a picture!

Jalapeno Popper Dip
from The Jey of Cooking


8 ounces of cream cheese, softened (I used reduced fat.)
1 1/2 cups plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup chopped green chiles
8 medium jalapeƱos (I'd use 4-6 if large peppers and 10 if small.)
8 ounces shredded cheese, Mexican blend or colby jack
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated parmesan
cooking spray


  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Seed and dice jalapenos.  Wear latex gloves for this step -- trust me, you don't want to rub your eyes a few hours later and end up in burning tears!
  • Combine softened cream cheese, Greek yogurt, green chiles, jalapenos and shredded cheese in a large bowl.  Stir to combine, until the peppers and shredded cheese are evenly dispersed.  Spread mixture out in an 8x8 baking dish.  
  • Combine panko and parmesan in a small bowl.  Sprinkle evenly over dip in baking dish.  
  • Spray the top with cooking spray.
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes, until browned on top and bubbling.  

Monday, July 16, 2012

Chicken Gnocchi Soup: Secret Recipe Club

For this month's Secret Recipe Club I was paired with Jen of Jen's Journey.  I had many great recipes to chose from on her blog.  She also has lots of great reviews on her blog, I even found a few new books to read while I was there!  This recipe caught my eye because we were expecting 'cooler' weather here in the DC area.  And, by cooler I mean highs were going from the low 100s to the low 80s.  Not exactly typical soup weather, but it worked!

It was delicious -- I made a few changes but nothing drastic.   The tender gnocchi paired well with the sweetness of the carrot.  We did just throw the frozen gnocchi into the soup to cook, so we had to add quite a bit more liquid, I used chicken stock.  We used a leftover grilled chicken breast for the shredded chicken and it added a nice, smoky flavor.  We thought it was tasty and will definitely make it again when it really does get 'cooler' this fall.

Chicken Gnocchi Soup
adapted from Jen's Journey
serves 6

3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup onion, finely diced
2 minced garlic cloves
4 tablespoons flour
6 cups chicken broth
1 cup carrots, finely shredded
1 large chicken breast, cooked and shredded
1 pound potato gnocchi
1 bag fresh baby spinach
2 cups half and half
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Freshly grated Parmesan cheeses(optional)

  • Heat a large pot over medium heat.  Melt the butter and add in the olive oil.  When melted, add the onion and garlic and saute until translucent and softened, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the flour and stir to make a roux.  Cook mixture for 1-2 minutes, until begins to turn a very light brown.  
  • Whisk in 4 cups of the chicken broth and turn to medium-high.  Let the mixture simmer until it begins to thicken.  
  • Add the shredded carrots, shredded chicken, gnocchi and remaining 2 cups of chicken broth to the pot.  Stir well and allow the soup to simmer again.  Once returned to a simmer, add in the spinach and stir to wilt.  
  • Add the half and half, thyme and oregano to the soup and stir well.  Bring back to a simmer then serve.  Top with grated parmesan if desired.  

Friday, June 15, 2012

Coffee Cinnamon Snack Cake: Recipe Swap

For this round of the Recipe Swap I got paired with Nicole of Cookies on Friday.  I had a hard time choosing from her amazing selection of sweets!  I ended up making a quick decision though, since I originally thought the posting/reveal date was NEXT Friday and on Wednesday realized I had gotten it wrong.  I had an evening event at my school on Wednesday and a combination of not enough time to make it home in between and getting home late made it impractical to bake anything on that night.  Thursday I had another after school event, though this one was immediately after school so I made it home with some baking time to spare, but not much.  Definitely not enough for multiple batches of cookies so a bar cookie it was!  

I agree with Nicole that the texture of the bar is more like a cake than a cookie, so I updated the name accordingly.  It smelled fabulous as the batter came together.  I love coffee and cinnamon so this recipe called to me.  The only changes I made (besides the name!) is to double the cinnamon and leave out the nuts.  It's quite cinnamon-y this way, but that's the way I like it so you can feel free to drop it back down to a 1/2 teaspoon.  I'm not a fan of hazelnuts and normally would have substituted almonds, but we were out of them.  I'm looking forward to having a piece with a great cup of french press coffee this weekend as my breakfast.  I think the flavors and texture lend itself perfectly to breakfast and might even try a version with more of a streusel top versus the glaze here to push it towards the coffeecake realm (and more socially acceptable breakfast option).

I was also playing around with the settings on iPhoto on my iPad and found this 'artistic' rendition amusing:

Coffee Cinnamon Snack Cake
from Cookies on Friday


1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup shortening
1 egg
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1/2 cup warm water
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups flour

1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
About 2 tablespoons milk

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Cream the brown sugar, shortening and egg in a stand mixer for 3 minutes.  
  • While the mixer is working, steep the espresso powder in the warm water, stirring to dissolve.
  • Add the water mixture, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and baking soda to the sugar mixture and beat slowly to combine.  Add the flour in thirds (1/2 cup at a time), mixing to combine between each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl.
  • Pour into a greased 9x13 pan.
  • Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out from the center with no crumbs.  Allow to cool.
  • Combine the glaze ingredients, starting with just 1 tablespoon milk.  Whisk together and slowly pour in the second tablespoon of milk until reaching desired consistency.  

Monday, June 11, 2012

Creamy Chicken Taquitos: Secret Recipe Club

I was so excited to get my assignment for this month's Secret Recipe Club!  This is a blog I've been following for a few years now so I already had it in my Google Reader with plenty of starred recipes ready to go!  Even though I thought I was pretty sure of what I wanted to make, Rachel at Good Thymes & Good Food had plenty of mouth-watering pictures to make me reconsider my choice several times!  My first thought was her recent Chocolate and Salted Caramel Pudding Pops, which I am sure I will make at some point this summer, but then I found myself gravitating toward dinner dishes to complete our weekly menu.  This Southwest Chicken Meatball Skillet was on my list, and is another recipe I am sure we make make before the summer is over, but I finally chose (with Zach's help) Creamy Chicken Taquitos.

These were all the rage on many food blogs in 2011, but I never made them.  I tend to have an unusual reaction when something is popular and it seems like everyone is saying "You MUST eat/read/do this/watch/listen to/make these RIGHT NOW!"  The more I hear that, the less likely I am to do the activity in question.  But, now that the hype has died down over these taquitos, I read the recipe and decided that I'd give them a try.  Now that no one was insisting that I run out and buy the ingredients to make them this very instant I was much more likely to actually make them.  Call me an opposite hipster; hipsters like things before they are cool, I suppose I like things after they are cool.  Just add Creamy Chicken Taquitos in with The Dark Night, The Hangover, Adele, Bridesmaids, and The Voice.

Anyway, we thought these were really great.  The flavors were delicious and they made a nice dinner with the addition of sides of brown rice and refried beans.  We used one giant chicken breast, seared in a pan with just salt and pepper, but you could definitely use leftover roasted or rotisserie chicken as well.  The only thing I might change would be to add in some of the Hatch chiles we have in our freezer next time.  We used a medium size tortilla, not the small taco ones and not the large ones for burritos or wraps. Our grocery store calls them 'gordita' sized.  Using the smaller, taco-sized tortillas would make for a super appetizer for a party.

Creamy Chicken Taquitos
from Good Thymes & Good Food
Makes 10 medium taquitos or 16 small

3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup green salsa
1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice, about 1 lime

1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
3 Tablespoon chopped cilantro
2 green onions, sliced
2 cups cooked chicken, shredded
1 (15 oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed
8 ounces shredded cheese (I used a Mexican blend, but you can use any combination you like.)
10 medium flour tortillas
Kosher salt
cooking spray

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  
  • Combine cream cheese, salsa, lime juice, cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, cilantro, green onions and chicken in large bowl.
  • Add in black beans and cheese and stir gently until just combined.
  • Portion 3-4 tablespoons of mixture on each tortilla.  You should place it on the bottom third of the tortilla and then wrap up the tortilla, rolling tightly.  Place the rolled tortillas on a baking sheet, seam side down, about an inch from each other.  
  • Spray the tops of the rolled tortillas with cooking spray and sprinkle with kosher salt.  Place in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until tortillas are browned and crispy.  

Friday, May 25, 2012

Beer and Bacon Dinner- Tuscarora Mill Restaurant

For our next beer related post, we figured we'd talk about a beer dinner we went to back in February right here in Leesburg, at Tuscarora Mill Restaurant. They run a number of beer dinners through the year, each one featuring a specific brewery, or in this case specific foods to pair with beer. This was our first beer dinner at Tuskies, and we'll be going back again! As forewarning, the photos aren't great since they were taken quickly with an iPhone, since we didn't want to be the jerks with a flash going off at every course, and we weren't about to wait to compose a perfect picture while bacon got cold!

For this, both Amy and myself will be commenting on the food and beer for each course. As you'll see, we'll put our names in big bold print before our options after an initial description of each course and it's beer pairing.

Upon entering, we were given glasses of Lagunitas Censored Ale (AKA Kronic). This is a fairly hoppy red ale. As with all Lagunitas beers, you can definitely smell and taste the hops.
Zach- I enjoyed it, and could imagine it being good to pair with a spicy soup. Lagunitas beers don't shy away from using aggressive hops, and that was evident with Censored. It's definitely a step up from a pale ale, maybe bordering on an IPA in terms of hop presence. All in all, a drinkable beer.
Amy -- This was a good beer, though a bit hoppy for my tastes but the hops were used in the way I like, mostly as aroma and not leaving the bitter taste in my mouth.  I thought it was a great opener to sort of wake up your palate and get you ready for the bacon-centric (ie pork fat filled) foods to follow.  

Lagunitas Censored Ale

Our first real food/beer pairing was a mini BLT (with tiny waffle chips) with Stone Pale Ale.
Zach- The BLT itself was tasty, but the bread was a little dry without the toasty brown color I would expect. Tasty, but not excellent. The Stone Pale Ale is a prototypical American Pale Ale, full of hop aroma but not overly bitter. It poured a nice orange-amber color, and I would enjoy drinking it again.
Amy -- I LOVED the waffle chips/fries/whatever they were.  They were crispy and delicious and everything that a fried potato product should be.  The BLT was good, nothing special, just a basic BLT but I find that to be comforting in a simple way.  The beer was a good pairing, as usual I prefer any pale ales with food.  On their own I find them to be too overwhelming, but this pairing worked.  
Stone Pale Ale with Mini BLT

The second course was pancetta wrapped monkfish on creamed spinach with bacon, paired with Bell's Two Hearted Ale.
Zach- The monkfish was fantastic, but really what wouldn't be fantastic when wrapped in bacon? As far as the beer, I enjoyed the Two Hearted, but after sampling a fellow homebrewer's attempt at a clone, I have to say that the homebrewer made a much better beer. Now, when I drink Two Hearted the hops just seem subdued and dim. I wish there was more hop aroma, but overall it's quaffable.
Amy -- This course was my second favorite.  But, I agree with Zach, what isn't good wrapped in bacon??  Again, I liked the pairing and didn't mind the hoppiness of the beer when matched with food.  I enjoyed the big portions of beer to really be able to evaluate it on it's own and with the food.  
Delicious monkfish with Bell's Two Hearted Ale

Next up was one of our favorite courses: spicy bacon sausage bits over a chipotle tomato sauce with a smoked gouda crostini, paired with Founder's Dry Hop Pale Ale.
Zach-This was a great dish, with a lot of spice from the sausage that was inspired by a Portugese lingua seca. Lots of flavor, and the little crostini was deliciously crispy. The beer was pretty well paired for a dish like this, with the pungent hop aroma mixing well with the spicy sausage. In this case, I think the beer and food combo was great, but by now I was looking for something other than hops to pair with the food.
Amy -- This was definitely my favorite course.  The sausage was spicy and juicy and delicious and was a great pairing with the beer.  I do agree with Zach that the hoppiness of the successive pale ales was getting to be repetitive and would have enjoyed some other styles of beers somewhere along the line.  
Spicy sausage with Founder's Dry Hop Ale (on the left)

The next entree/beer combo was orange braised pork belly with spicy kimchee, soba noodles and crushed peanuts, paired with New Holland Cabin Fever Brown Ale.
Zach- I really liked the pork belly, and thought the overall dish worked very well. I like the Asian flavors, and a big piece of pork belly paired with noodles is ok with me any day of the week. The Cabin Fever Brown Ale was nice and malty, and we finally got something that didn't feature a ton of hops. There was good maltiness to this beer, some slight hops, and a long lasting nutty finish. I would definitely drink this beer on it's own.
Amy -- This dish was 'ehhhhh' to me.  Not my favorite, and not bad, but not great either.  I didn't get to finish mine, the staff took my plate away while I was in the restroom, but I wasn't entirely disappointed about that.  If it had been the previous course I would have been much more upset!  I was glad for a new style to pair with the food, and this beer was great.  I'm finding I enjoy brown ales more than I thought I did and have started ordering them as an option for drinking more often, probably partly due to this great beer experience.  
Noodles and New Holland Cabin Fever

Our final entree combo was fatty smoked brisket over saffron mashed potatoes with bacon braised brussels sprouts, paired with both Stone Smoked Porter and Great Divide Smoked Porter.
Zach- Absolutely nothing was bad on this plate of food. The brisket was smoky and tender, the potatoes smooth and creamy, and the brussels sprouts were just like we would make on our own. All in all, a fantastic plate of food. The beers were spot on in terms of matching the plate of food. Both were big, intense porters with a lot of flavor. The Stone Smoked Porter had a ton of smoke flavor in it and a really nice mouthfeel. The Great Divide was a little more bitter from what I remember, and had a lot of roasty flavors. If you haven't had a smoked beer before, the comparison of bacon in a glass is fairly apt. Look for lots of roasty flavors in this case from the dark malts used, as well as huge smokiness. I'm a big fan of smoked beers, and I would add both of these to my growing cellar to enjoy on their own. However, I do feel both of these would be great for a summer BBQ.
Amy -- I liked that this course came with two beers that were the same style but from different breweries.  I think that was a great way to be able to compare the beers to each other alone, but also be able to compare them as partners for the food.  I liked both beers, but I like anything smoked, so that's not a surprise.  The smoked beer was a great pairing for any dish with bacon, but I think it was the perfect choice for this dish since the porters really balanced the fattier brisket and sometimes bitter brussel sprouts.  
Brisket (yum!) with Stone Smoked Porter (left) and Great Divide Smoked Porter (right)

Our dessert consisted of a bacon brownie paired with Great Divide Espresso Oak Aged Yeti and Bell's Java Stout.
Zach- The brownie itself was good, but at this point we were pretty full. It had good chocolate flavor, and nice chunks of bacon. I would have preferred a slightly gooey-er brownie, but this was probably much easier to cut up for large scale service. Both beers were good, but again at this point we were starting to cut back on drinking and were simply too full to enjoy all of the beer. There was a lot of coffee flavor in both stouts, and you could definitely pick up the oak on the Yeti. I would drink both of these stouts on their own at any time.
Amy -- I was stuffed at this point.  I remember the candied bacon on top being excellent, but not being able to finish my brownie from being so full.  The beers were super, so I saved my little remaining stomach room for them.  The coffee flavors of the beers matched really well with the chocolate of the brownie and it was a great way to end the evening!
Bacon+brownie=awesome. Also with Great Divide Espresso Oak Aged Yeti (left) and Bell's Java Stout (right)

So to summarize, we got a ton of food, and very generous beer pours at each course. We went in expecting to get 4 oz pairings with each course, but instead were served almost full glasses of each beer! It felt bad to leave behind undrunk beer, but we had to be responsible and make sure we could drive home. Next time we will not make the mistake of grabbing a pre-dinner beer! The Tuskie's Beer and Bacon dinner is going on our calendar as soon as it's announced next year, and you'll find us right there.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Perfect Sugar Cookies: SRC part 2!

As I said on Monday's post I couldn't pick just one recipe from Debby's blog A Feast for the Eyes!  I had to make these cookies.  As soon as I saw the title I was hoping it would be this exact recipe.  I had the same experience Debby did -- watching an episode of America's Test Kitchen and seeing these cookies and then immediately thinking "I NEED to make those."  So when I saw the recipe on her blog I knew I had to follow through.  The recipe is easy to follow, though you definitely have a few moments of 'Are you sure this is right?  Should it really look like this?" because of the odd mixing method -- melting the butter, no mixer needed, just whisking in ingredients, but trust me, it all works out!

These cookies are amazing.  Everyone needs to make these ASAP, not kidding.  I don't usually make proclamations like that, but these cookies are just that good.  They are crispy on the edges, soft in the middle and super, super flavor.  They are everything you ever dreamed a sugar cookie should be.  As we were eating our first cookie after making them, not even halfway through that first cookie, Zach said "Well, I guess we never have to look for another sugar cookie recipe ever again."  And I agree, 100%.  Yes, recipe fanatic, and cookbook collector that I am, know that this recipe is THE ONE for sugar cookies.  I will now have to go through my shoebox of recipes and toss out all other sugar cookie recipes, well, except for cut-out cookies, I'm still on the hunt for the 'perfect' cut-out cookie!

Perfect Sugar Cookies
from ATK/Cook's Illustrated November 2010, as seen on A Feast for the Eyes
makes 24-28 cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar, plus 1/3 cup for rolling
2 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and still warm
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 tablespoon milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract


  • Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or use silpats. Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl. Set aside.
  • Place 1 1/2 cups sugar and cream cheese in large bowl.  Pour warm butter over sugar and cream cheese and whisk to combine (some small lumps of cream cheese will remain but will smooth out later). Whisk in oil until incorporated. Add egg, milk, and vanilla; continue to whisk until smooth. Add flour mixture and mix with rubber spatula until soft homogeneous dough forms.
  • Measure 1/3 cup sugar into small bowl.  Use cookie scoop (#40, or about 2 tablespoon size) to portion out dough. Using hands, roll dough into balls. Working in batches, roll balls in small bowl of sugar to coat and evenly space on prepared baking sheet, 12 dough balls per sheet.
  • Using bottom of drinking glass, or bottom of measuring cup, flatten dough balls until 2 inches in diameter. Sprinkle tops evenly with remaining sugar from small bowl.
  • Bake, 1 tray at a time, until edges are set and just beginning to brown, 11 to 13 minutes, rotating tray after 7 minutes. Cool cookies on baking sheets 5 minutes. Using wide metal spatula, transfer cookies to wire rack and cool to room temperature.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Puffy Apple Pancake: Secret Recipe Club

It's time for another installment of Secret Recipe Club! This month I got Debby's blog, A Feast for the Eyes. It was super tough to chose only one recipes -- in fact I ended up making two! But it was hard to narrow it down to two recipes even! I had many, many ideas, both savory and sweet but ended up going with two sweet choices. Watch for the second recipe to be posted on Wednesday! 

This first one is a breakfast I've had many a time at a pancake house and was excited to try to recreate at home for myself. It was great! It had great crispy edges and a tender texture inside. I really questioned if it would rise, since the batter didn't have any baking powder or baking soda, only flour and eggs, but it definitely did! It loses it's puff as it cools, but it still tastes delicious! We topped with powdered sugar and enjoyed!

Puffy Apple Pancake

from A Feast for the Eyes
serves 4

1 large apple
2 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

3 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
powdered sugar

  • Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  
  • Peel, core and slice the apple into 1/4 inch thick pieces. 
  • Using an open-proof 10 inch skillet, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the apple slices, making one layer and saute for 3-4 minutes, until beginning to soften.  
  • Turn apples over and add brown sugar and cinnamon to the mixture, stirring to coat apples with sugar.  Continue cooking apples for 3-4 minutes longer.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs then add milk, flour and vanilla and whisk until lumps are broken up and mixture is smooth.  
  • Pour the batter on top of the apple and sugar mixture and place skillet in the oven to bake, about 15 minutes.  The pancake will puff up and be golden brown on the edges.  
  • Remove from oven, cut into four wedges and serve with a dusting of powdered sugar.  

Friday, May 11, 2012

Sorachi Ace Saison

Welcome to my first all-original brew. I was inspired to make this beer after drinking Brooklyn Brewery's Sorachi Ace. Like several of my beers, the impetus to make this came from our drinking a beer and Amy asking "Can you make this?". In this case, I loved the inspiration beer, so I was all for making my own version.

Sorachi ace hops are a relatively new variety of hops that is distinguished by both very high alpha acids (~10-16%) and distinct lemony taste and aroma. They are a Japanese hybrid hop, and for quite some time weren't used much by commercial breweries. With the current craze of using citrusy hops like Citra, Cascade, Centennial, etc, the use of Sorachi Ace hops is trending upwards and it's not unusual to see them in a Pale ale or IPA.

I knew my base for the beer should basically be a lot of pilsner malt, and that I'd let the hops and yeast provide all of the other flavors. Sorachi Ace (the beer, not the hop) is about 10% ABV, and I wanted to get something similar in the end, but maybe a bit lighter to allow more drinking. With those goals in mind, I ordered a bunch of supplies from Northern Brewer.

1 lb Briess Caramel 10L
3.15 lb Pilsen LME
3 lb Pilsen DME
1 lb Candi Syrup
2 oz Sorachi Ace pellets
2 oz Sorachi Ace whole leaf hops (for dry hopping)
Wyeast 3711 French Saison

I used the Briess Caramel 10L as a steeping grain to give the beer a pale golden color. Like with other kits, this was heated to 170 F in a mesh bag, then discarded. The rest of the brewing process was straightforward. I added the DME and LME when the water came to a boil, then returned the wort to a boil. The hop pellets were added at 60 minutes (0.5 oz), 15 minutes (0.5 oz) and 5 minutes (1 oz) left in the boil period. After brewing, the wort was chilled to <80 F, brought up to 5 gallons with cool water, and aerated with my aquarium bubbler for 20 minutes. Following aeration, I pitched a 650 mL starter culture of the Wyeast 3711 into the beer, and let it go to town.

Fermentation was kept in the mid 70s, and finished out in about a week. I racked the beer into secondary for 2 weeks, then bottled the beer. I decided I really wanted lots of hop aroma, but not necessarily bitterness so I dry hopped this beer. Basically, you just dump additional hops into your fermentation bucket or carboy 1 to 2 weeks before bottling. To help with later transfer of the beer from the carboy into a bottling bucket, I placed the hops into a muslin bag to prevent clogging of the siphon. Next time, I will do my dry hopping in a bucket, as it was a pain to transfer the bag into a carboy. Additionally, I would consider adding even more hops next time. The whole leaf hops worked well, but I'd like to compare dry hopping with pellet hops next time. I dry hopped with 1 oz of whole leaf hops at about 2 weeks and 1 week before bottling. Following transfer to bottling, I ended up with just shy of 2 cases of beer from this.

The beer itself is fantastic. It pours a pale golden color, and you can definitely detect the hops on this beer. There's a great lemon edge to the beer, and to me the hops also add a bit of mustiness in a good way. It's refreshing and pretty much turned out exactly as I had planned. Definitely will be keeping this a recipe for routine brewing, and as a summertime treat.