Monday, August 31, 2009

I am a Queso Cabeza...Fromage la Tete...Cheese Head.

I finally saw Julie & Julia....and I am sooooo in love with it. It was like sneaking a peak at little aspects of my own life up on the big screen. It was so well adapted and acted. Meryl Streep. That's all. Meryl Streep. Not to take away from the rest of the cast because I thought they were all amazing in their parts. I laughed. I cried. I'm eagerly awaiting it's release on DVD. This has absolutely nothing to do with the subject of this post...I just couldn't help but let out a little giddy! On second thought, I suppose it has a little bit to do with this post...I mean, Julie was exploring, cooking and learning of her love for food...and I continue to do that every day. So, in that itty bitty way, it relates. Cheese. Fromage. Queso. That my friends, is the subject today. I know that I've told you how much I heart cheese. I am a cheese head (no matter that I only lived in Wisconsin for approximately 4 months....it comes from within). I'm breaking my way into cheese making slowly. Very slowly. I made mozzarella a while back...and tried my hand at goat cheese, which didn't work...but I'm blaming that on the ultra-pasteurized goat milk. It was all I could find and ultra = no good bacteria. Although if you check out my partner in cheesey-crimes blog Living in the Kitchen with Puppies, you'll see some tasty looking goat cheese that did turn out for her. This time, we decided to make Queso Blanco*. Queso Blanco is a fresh cheese, made from direct acidification (adding acid to the milk). It is then drained &/or pressed into shape. This makes it a great crumbling cheese...but it doesn't melt! So, you can fry it up in a pan (like JennyMac did here). Although we participate in a group of cheese makers, that is semi-monthly (or so) and we are super impatient, so Natashya & I found some recipes (okay, she found them and shared them...but I suggested the type of cheese) for Queso Blanco and decided that we cheese waits for no one! So, without further delay, I bring you....Queso Blanco. Sort of a general recipe, some use white vinegar, some us cider vinegar and some use lemon juice...

Queso Blanco 1 gallon whole milk (raw works & tastes best...but if you don't have access...regular will work) 1/4 c. cider vinegar sea salt- to taste Heat your milk slowly in a large heavy pot until it reaches 180 degrees F. Turn off heat and stir in vinegar. Let sit for 10-15 minutes (you will see a thick mass of curds). Line a sieve with cheesecloth (folded over 4x) or butter muslin. Set the sieve over a very large bowl and scoop or pour your curd into the lined sieve. Save this leftover liquid (whey) to make ricotta (which I'll show you another day), use in baking bread or pouring over your compost pile or into your garden. Lift the sieve from the bowl and place over an empty bowl. Fold over the edges. Place a small plate and some weights on top (to help press out extra whey). Refrigerate for 5-7 hours.Remove from the refrigerator and use any whey in the bottom of the bowl as you used the previous whey.Remove the plate & weight. Peel back the cheesecloth and place cheese in a bowl. Stir in sea salt to taste, if you wish. Kind of a strange way to add the cheese, right? Well, I just sprinkled it over the outsides. I think it needed a bit more salt...I wonder if you could add it earlier in the process with good results? I'll try it next time.You'll notice that I made mine in a regular old metal strainer, but you can use a cheese mold if you have one. I just ordered and received some from The Cheesemaker, but I really wanted a nice, rustic (my favorite food-related word) "disc" of cheese for this one. Unmold your cheese onto a plate or cutting board and use it within a day or two (in my opinion).

How should I use my queso blanco you ask? My favorite way is with Mexican food...like this Torta con Milanesa de Pollo...Go on over and check out Natashya's Queso Blanco here!

*Queso Blanco, while fresh, is not to be confused with Queso Fresco. Queso fresco is made by using rennet & cultures and will yield a similar cheese...but it is a bit firmer in my opinion. Plus, it'll melt if ya try. I'll make Queso Fresco soon...promise Dani.

"Blessed are the cheesemakers." -Monty Python



Saturday, August 29, 2009

I'll take pizza...and spaghetti.

It would appear I'm in the mood to combine 2 things and make 1 thing out of them. A few days ago, it was a dessert...and now dinner. This is one of those dishes I've been making since the beginning of time. My cooking time, that is. I don't even remember the first time I made it, or how it came about. Did I see a recipe or picture somewhere? Did I eat something similar? Did I just throw some things together and come up with it? Really. Drawing a blank here. You may even make something like it...it's not fancy or complicated...just an everyday dish...comforting and satisfying. This is one of those great dishes that can be customized to your tastes so easily! Meat lover? Veggie lover? A little bit of both? Then this is the dish for you! Unless you don't eat carbs. And then I just give you a weird look shrug and an eyebrow raise. It's also good reheated for the next couple of days...or eaten cold, like my son does in his lunch box at school. Pizza Baked Spaghetti by girlichef This works best in a 12" cast iron skillet. Well, I imagine that's the way it works best because that is how I've made each and every single time...my beloved cast iron skillet that has been with me since the beginning. And remember, add any other veggies you like at the point where I add the onions & garlic. Add any other meats & veggies as the pizza topping in the end, also! ~1lb. spaghetti, cooked to al dente ~3/4 lb. Italian sausage, loose (out of casings) 1 red onion, sliced 3 cloves garlic, minced ~4- 4 1/2 c. Spaghetti sauce of your choice Italian seasoning- to taste ~1/2 c. + 1/2 c., (divided) Italian blend cheese or simply freshly grated Parmesan 2 c. Mozzarella, shredded Pepperoni Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. While the oven is preheating, brown your Italian Sausage in your large skillet. Once it is almost cooked through, add your onions & garlic and continue to cook until sausage has finished cooking and onions and garlic are soft & slightly caramelized. While this is cooking, prepare your spaghetti noodles. Add the sauce (cold is fine), the 1/2 c. of Italian Cheese Blend or Parmesan and your Italian Seasoning and toss well to combine.Add your pasta mixture to your skillet with the cooked sausage and veggies (off the heat). Stir everything up well to combine. Pack and flatten the whole mixture into the skillet. Top, in a pizza-like fashion, with the remaining Italian Blend/Parm. cheese and the Mozzarella. Arrange pepperoni over the top. Transfer to preheated oven and cook ~15-20 minutes or until cheese is hot & bubbly and sauce is heated through.Let cool for at least 10 minutes or so, giving the cheese time to "set" a bit. Cut into slices, like a pizza and serve! Or just scoop it out, either way...I just go with the whole Pizza Baked Spaghetti theme!Comfort food!Be careful, it's addicting.
This is my Presto Pasta Nights #129 entry. I'll be sending this over to Ruth of Once Upon a Feast who is not only the host this week, but the creator of Presto Pasta Nights! PrestoPastaNights
click on the picture to check out more pasta at PPN!


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Chocolate Chip or Oreo? Both!

A simple post today...to satisfy a simple need. The need for a cookie. I first saw this cookie over at ReTorte (Wandering Coyote originally saw them at Picky Palate)...then at My Tasty Treasures...and finally I decided it was time to make it (and I'm betting many others have tried this cookie by now, too)! I love this cookie because it has all the warm, fresh-baked goodness of a homemade chocolate chip cookie straight from the oven plus the added bonus of a childhood favorite Oreo! What's not to love? It's also quick...I did it all by hand, no mixer needed...I was feeling that lazy (no unnecessary dishes, please).
Chocolate Chip Oreo Cookies
adapted from Picky Palate
yield: ~4 dozen

8 oz. (2 sticks) butter, at room temp.
¾ c. granulated sugar
¾ c. packed brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temp.
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2½ c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. fine sea salt
16 Oreos, broken into pieces
1 c. chocolate chips (any variety you like)

Cream your sugars and butter together.  Add egg and vanilla and mix well. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl and mix. Add dry ingredients to your wet ingredients.  Mix until well combined.  Fold in broken Oreos and chocolate chips.  Refrigerate an hour or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350° F.   Drop by ~1 Tbs. scoops onto lined cookie sheet. Bake 8-11 minutes...they should still be soft.  Let cool on sheet pan for 3 minutes, then transfer to a rack to finish cooling


I can see why this recipe gets around...it's so provocative...it has such inner beauty. Okay, it's your turn.


Monday, August 24, 2009

"German" Chocolate Cake (what's in a name?)

Did you know that German Chocolate Cake did not originate in Germany? It's kinda like Swiss Steak. Some people know the origin, other people wonder about it...and others just shrug their shoulders. Well, inquisitive mind that I am...I needed to find out. The German in the name makes sense once you know why it is actually there, though. I'm sure everybody is familiar with Baker's Sweet German Chocolate. Right? Well, it was developed by a man by the name of Sam German in 1852. It was originally called Baker's German's Sweet Chocolate...eventually the 's' at the end of German was dropped (in the name of the cake, not the name of the Baker's brand chocolate). It is rumored that the first recipe for German's Chocolate Cake was published in a Dallas newspaper in 1957...sent in by a Texas homemaker. The (then) owners of Baker's Chocolate, General Foods saw it and immediately sent copies of the recipe and accompanying photographs to newspapers across the whole great U.S. of A! Smart move on their part because sales for Baker's German's Sweet Chocolate jumped 73% in the year that followed the mass publication.* The recipe was often requested for reprint by readers who missed it the first time around. And today, more than 50 years later, it is still a much requested and made cake here in the U.S....is it popular other places as well? Needless to say, with time things get forgotten and stories get changed, so most people do not remember that little letter that was originally at the end of the word that today seems so misleading. Silly little 's'. And after all this history, I'm not even going to use Baker's German's Sweet Chocolate in my cake; just thought maybe you'd be interested. But guess what...it's still called German Chocolate Cake! Ah, history... love it. The German Chocolate cake that I recently made is actually the best one I have ever tasted. If I've told ya once, I've told ya once a million times...I'm not really much of a cake person. Although I constantly, but unintentionally, try to disprove that statement. I can usually have one piece of a whole cake and be satisfied until the next time a cake eatin' ceremony rolls around...but I could have eaten this whole cake by itself if I hadn't had 4 other sets of hands reaching for it, too! If only I had known. This is another test recipe for Cook's Country...I wonder how many times they test it in their kitchens before they send it out to their "outside" testers (like moi)? Because this recipe was flawless. Yes, I know everybody has different tastes, but this was made for me! And the best thing of all is that it is actually a "lightened-up" version. German Chocolate Cake A Cook's Country test recipe...tested and approved...big time! Cake 3 oz. milk chocolate, chopped 3 Tbs. Dutch-processed cocoa powder 1/3 c. boiling water 1 1/3 c. AP flour 1/2 tsp. baking soda 3 Tbs. unsalted butter, softened 1/2 c. packed brown sugar 1/3 c. granulated sugar 1/2 tsp. salt 3 lg. eggs, room temp. 1 tsp. vanilla 1/2 c. low-fat sour cream, room temp. (do NOT use fat-free...it'll make it gummy) Frosting 1 c. fat-free evaporated milk 3 Tbs. cornstarch 2 Tbs. unsalted butter 2/3 c. packed brown sugar 1/4 tsp. salt 1 Tbs. vanilla extract 1/3 c. pecans, chopped 1/2 c. sweetened, shredded coconut Make batter: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat to 350 degrees F. Whisk chocolate, cocoa and boiling water in bowl until smooth; let cool. With an electric mixer on medium-low speed, beat butter, sugars & salt until combines.Increase speed to medium and beat until mixture lightens in color and sticks to sides of bowl. Then add eggs, one at a time, and mix until thickened and well combined, about 45 seconds. Reduce speed to low and add chocolate mixture and vanilla until incorporated. Add flour mixture in three additions, alternating with two additions of sour cream and mix until just combined. Bake cake: Grease and flour two 9" cake pans. Scrape equal amounts of batter into prepared pans and bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 10-15 minutes. Cool cakes in pans 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack. Cool cakes completely, at least 1 hour. (Cooled cakes can be wrapped in plastic and stored at room temp. for 2 days.) I'd say go ahead and add parchment rounds to the bottom of your pan too, so this doesn't happen to you. But no matter...just stay tuned.
Toasting: After you remove your cake pans from the oven...take your pecans and coconut and spread them out onto a baking sheet and toast them in a 325 degree F. oven until toasty and golden...shake 'em occasionally. Set aside. Make Frosting: Whisk evaporated milk, cornstarch, butter, brown sugar and salt in a saucepan over medium-high heat until bubbling, about 3 minutes. Continue to cook until mixture is thickened, about 1 minute. Off heat, stir in vanilla and all but 1 Tbs. each of pecans and coconut. Cool to room temperature. Assemble cake: Place one cake round on serving platter. Spread half of the frosting over the cake (see...covered that pesky crack right up and nobody was the wiser), then top with second cake round. Spread remaining frosting over top of cake. Sprinkle cake with remaining pecans and coconut. Serve. I heart you German Chocolate Cake. I heart you big time.
The Nutritional info for this lightened-up version (by the slice) is:
Full Fat German Chocolate Cake Calories 740 Total Fat 45 g Saturated Fat 23 g Reduced Fat German Chocolate Cake Calories 340 Total fat 13 g Saturated Fat 7 g
(p.s.- I do not heart you dirty dishes.)
*Sources: Snopes.com & Wikipedia


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Of cardamon pods...and other fortunate events

Over the past couple of months, I have been fortunate enough to be on the receiving ends of some very cool foodie giveaways...and one particularly awesome surprise gift! I'm sure most of you know what an amazing community of food bloggers are floating around...most of the people I've met are kind and giving of their time, advice, recipes and friendship. That being said I just wanted to send some quick shout-outs and thanks to several people. First of all...my surprise gift of Cardamom Pods! Thanks to the awesome Christo aka DoggyBloggy of Chez What? for sending me these beauties...A week of so ago, I had a recipe that called for cardamom seeds, but when I went out looking for them, I discovered that a tiny little bottle (something containing ~1 oz) cost in the area of $17.00! Ummmmmm...what!? Too rich for my blood. So I substituted and moved on. Well, substituted, voiced my opinion and then moved on. How awesome is it that he actually sent me a big bag full of cardamom pods to do with what I wish! I cannot wait to start making some cardamom laced sweets & savories! Thanks so much, Christo :) I recently had a delivery of this insanely HUGE basket full of goodies. I was the lucky winner of not 1, but 2 giveaways from Amanda aka HannahBanana of Nourish. This basket (from Skylar Haley) contained 6 different types of dried fruits (Montmorency cherries, Granny Smith Apples, Peaches, Blueberries, Raspberries and Mixed Berries). Have I ever mentioned that I love dried fruit? I soooo totally do. I'd never had dried peaches before...they were awesome. The kiddos loved each and every kind, too! The basket also contained some sparkling juices (like Meyer Lemon and Fuji Apple), some protein boost coffee drinks (oh yeah), an Energy drink (mmmm hmmm) and an amazing smelling Mango & Spearmint (natural based formula) candle. This was a basket filled with amazingly delicious goodies!The other giveaway I won from Amanda was a whole CASE of Zevia natural diet soda. That is a whole 24 cans! There was Cola, Ginger ale, Orange, Black Cherry, Root beer and Twist. These sodas contain zero calories and are sweetened with Stevia Root (a natural sweetener). Although we don't drink much soda in our house, we do buy some from time to time. Surprisingly my favorite was the Black Cherry flavor. It's flavor was understated & perfectly sweet (not cloying). We also made some root beer floats and creamsicle floats....yummy! Thank you so much Amanda for these awesome prizes that I won. I loved them all! Another cool giveaway I recently won was a pack of goodies from the lovely Peachkins of The Peach Kitchen. These are not your my everyday goodies. They are Filipino snacks! So cool! The first thing I dug into surprise, surprise was the bag of dried mangoes!! While I love dried fruit...I really love dried mangoes! They were soft and smooth and full of sweet, mango goodness. Awesome!A few other things that we all loved were these Spicy Garlic snacks...which reminded me of CornNuts. These awesome Clover Chips which were cheesy, puffed chip-like things. And these Choco Soaked Sponge Crunches! I didn't know what to expect when opening any of these...which made it all the more fun to dive in! Also in the package were some ramen-type noodle bowls and some seasoning packets which I haven't tried yet...but will soon...I cannot wait! Thank you so much Peachy...I adore my snacks straight from the Philippines!And I finally have the cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking thanks to an amazing giveaway from Mary of Deep South Dish...of which I was the lucky winner! I have wanted this cookbook for years...and the release of Julie and Julia has only refueled the need to have it in my hot little hands! How awesome...I am taking my time and hungrily paging through it trying to decide what I want to make first. Thank you again...so much...Mary! I will cook & post something from it soon. Last, but not least, I won this amazing Frommer's book called 500 Places for Food & Wine Lovers from Esme of Chocolate and Croissants. Perfect! I am drooling and daydreaming and scheming a way to get to at least a few of these places...soon! I am such a dreamer and this is definitely fuel for my fire...I am loving every minute of it. So, to all you other foodies, food lovers, gourmands, epicureans, gastronomes, hungry people out there...I know there are good people in this world. Kindness that touches you in some little way (like a bag of cardamom pods). I also know that it is possible for you to win that giveaway! Or maybe the next one...all you have to do is enter!