Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Stuffed Loin Chops


Printable version
My favorite cut of pork is the loin. It can be roasted, grilled, pan fried, braised or cooked just about anyway and it provides a canvass that works well with different flavors from fresh herbs, to marinades and spice rubs, even fruits. Recently, as I scanned the meat counter at the local grocery store, two enormous boneless loin chops jumped out at me and I knew they were destined to fill my belly.

They were cut extra thick, at least an inch, making them perfect to stuff with a special surprise. A normal or 3/4-inch cut loin chop isn’t thick enough to hold much when stuffed, but thicker cuts, like the chops features here are perfect. They can hold enough stuffing for it to be a major element.

I chose fresh sage with Swiss cheese wrapped in a thin slice of smoked ham for the stuffing. The ham would add a smoky element and make for a nice wrapper for the other ingredients.

All of these elements together added up to a tasty main course. I seared a nice crust on the outside in a cast iron skillet then finished them in the oven – which is a fun way to prepare chops, especially for a foodie like myself.

BEHIND THIS BITE
Stuffed Loin Chops

I tried something new with the presentation of this recipe. There are only 4 ingredients, but there are a number of steps in the preparation to get to the final product. With an emphasis on preparation, I decided to shoot the entire recipe at a 3/4 infinity view on a white back ground.

This is probably the only time I’ve ever presented an entire information graphic recipe without any birds-eye view shots. I think the technique will take some refining on my part but overall I like the look of this post. The repeated angle of the different elements combined with the slight overlap of each step seems to create a cascading feel in the presentation. I think I should explore this type of documentation again when it presents itself in the future.

Eat well, cook often ...

THE RECIPE
Stuffed Loin Chops

Serves 2; 30 minutes
2 slices Smoked ham
2 sticks Swiss cheese
2 leaves Fresh sage
2 Loin chops, thick cut, boneless

Prepare chop
Place stick of cheese and sage leaf on the edge of a slice of ham. Roll into a cylinder. With a sharp skinny knife make an incision into the middle of pork chop big enough to insert ham and cheese roll. Completely insert roll into chop. Repeat.

Cook chops
Preheat oven to 400°
Season chops with salt and pepper to taste. In a cast iron or oven-safe skillet, sear chops on both sides  over high heat in a little olive oil for at least 2 minutes per side to form a crust. Remove from stove and place in oven, bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until chops are cooked through. Remove and rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Creamy Baked Onions

Creamy Baked Onions

I was at Meijer recently trying to figure out what I wanted to cook and was drawing blanks. I went to the store with an open mind and thought I would let what was on sale guide me, but after 20 minutes I wasn't having any luck. That is when I noticed a few recipe cards on a rack in the produce section. I took a look at one entitled "creamy baked onions" and it sounded like a nice little creation to try.

I thought that it would either be a disaster or something delicious.

They were sold out of the onions that the card called for so I substituted a different, larger kind. Other than that, I followed the recipe to a T and it turned out really tasty, the only problem was the onions. The larger onions were just to big to cook down into a soft sweet mess that would have resulted had I used the right kind. The outside layers were cooked through but the center couldn't get finished before the topping scorched. I didn't feel the dish was worth reproducing in a labor intensive information graphic like most of my posts, but there was stuff I wanted to mention.

Creamy Baked Onions
First is the yummy topping. Crushed herb stuffing mix tossed with butter and cheddar cheese was a flavorful and crispy garnish, I think this would be a great topping on scalloped potatoes or even mac and cheese. It was a creative way to ad some snappy flavor and crunch to the dish.

Second is the sauce, the mixture cooked into a nice gravy that could be used in a number of different things like a casserole or some sort of creamy potato dish.

I can't wait to use some of these elements in an original dish and I'm going to keep a look out for those free recipe cards at the grocery store. This was a smart dish that will lead to some tasty treats in my near future!

Eat well, cook often ...

THE RECIPE
From "Market of Meijer" recipe card
1 hour, 15 minutes, side for 4 to 6
1 C Crushed herb seasoning stuffing mix
1/2 C cheddar cheese, shredded
2 Tbs Butter, melted
4 Large yellow onion, cut in half horizontally
1 Can Cream of chicken soup (10.75 oz)
2 C 2% milk
1/2 tsp Dried rosemary
1/8 tsp Ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350°

Topping
For the topping, combine stuffing mix, butter and cheese. Mix well and set aside.

Sauce
Whisk together soup, milk, rosemary, nutmeg and pepper to taste until well incorporated.

Assemble, bake dish
Place onions in a 9 x 13 baking dish. Pour sauce over onions. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil, top onions with topping. Bake 30 minutes more or until onions are soft and cooked through. Remove from oven let cool slightly. Spoon sauce over onions when served.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Mini Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes


Printable version
I'm not much of a baker, but my mom and a number of my aunts are all-stars. Over the years, I have left the pies and sweets to them as I developed my skills as a savory cook. This past Thanksgiving my Mom made mini pumpkin spice cupcakes that were outrageously good. When I asked her about the recipe I was stunned at how easy it was. So easy, that I thought it needed to be shared here.

This is the perfect recipe to make with the kids or even leave for another adult to do while your out finishing the Christmas shopping. If you’re not a good baker or blessed with great cooking skills in general, this is the recipe to make to impress the family. Baking doesn’t get any easier than this. Plus, the pumpkin spice flavor is perfect for a holiday treat.

A cake mix, can of pumpkin and a teaspoon of pie spice are all it takes to make the cake part and a can of frosting is used for the topping. The hardest part about this recipe is probably limiting the number of cupcakes you devour when they’re served.

BEHIND THIS BITE
Mini Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes

I have declared my dislike for pumpkin several times at this blog. I sampled two different pies this Thanksgiving and thought they were ok – but nothing I would crave or go back for a second helping.

This pumpkin cupcake on the other hand IS DELICIOUS!

The pumpkin is really just a moisture base for it though, the spice cake mix and the pumpkin pie spices over power the subtle flavor of the pumpkin – which is a good thing to me. The cream cheese frosting also helps make this simple treat a must try for the holidays.

Like I said in the intro, my Mom made these for Thanksgiving and I was impressed. She also impressed my with her choice of items to take to the two family gatherings that we attended. She made two types of garden salad, a cranberry salad and these pumpkin spice cupcakes. At both parties, they were the only salads and cupcakes there, she really filled in some holes on both of the Thanksgiving spreads. So if you can’t think of anything to take to you’re next holiday party, either make these cupcakes or throw together a huge tossed salad – either should be a hit.

Eat well, cook often ...

THE RECIPE
Mini Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes

Makes 48 mini cupcakes; 45 minutes
1 box Spice cake mix (15.25 oz)
1 can Pumpkin (15 oz)
1 tsp Pumpkin pie spice
1 can Cream Cheese Frosting (12 oz)
48 mini cupcake baking cups & mini cupcake pan

Make batter
Preheat oven to 325°
In a large bowl mix together cake mix, pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice until well incorporated and a thick batter forms. Line a mini cupcake pan with mini cupcake baking cups. Fill cups 2/3 of the way full.

Bake, finish
Place cupcakes in oven and bake for 11 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool. Take cupcakes out of pan and top each with frosting,
then serve.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Chicken Stir Fry with Ramen


Printable version
Ramen noodles are a staple on college campuses and kitchens of the less well-to-do because they cost about $1.64 for a three month supply. Although they are cheap, I still think they're tasty. I am willing to buy cheap noodles, but lunch meat, well, that's another story. I'll just say I'll never buy bologna at the Dollar Tree - which is exactly where I purchased the ramen noodles I used in this delicious recipe. I wanted to use the noodles as a substitute for rice in a simple stir fry I was putting together as a dish for around twenty people.

I kept it very simple – four ingredients. I could have added more but this was really one of those situations where I thought I could come up with something that even the most inexperienced cook could make and be proud of their creation.

I'm pleased to say that this recipe was not just a simple dish for a simple cook, but a simple dish with rock star flavor! I inhaled a bowl of this after it was finished. This is a great item to have on the counter for a weekend meal.

BEHIND THIS BITE
Chicken Stir Fry with Ramen

I loved eating ramen noodles when I was in college and I still enjoy them today – who cares if they are a poor man’s food – they’re delicious and seem to absorb just about any type of flavor they're surrounded by. I made a spicy ramen soup a while ago and it, along with this, are two of my favorite noodle recipe from the past year.

I decided to make a ramen dish after my last pantry purge. A few weeks back I was putting away groceries and was having trouble finding room for a can of soup. I knew I had to get rid of some things. One of the items taking up space was a near-full 12-pack box of ramen noodles. When I volunteered to make a dish for a gathering at the local church, I knew I could wipe out most of the noodles. I used 6 packages, but still have another four left from a $1 box – they have to be the most economical food of all time!

Eat well, cook often ...


THE RECIPE
Chicken Stir Fry with Ramen

Serves 16 to 20; 1 hour
4 lbs Chicken thighs, cut in chunks
5 medium Green peppers, cut in strips
1 bottle Stir fry sauce (12 oz)
6 pkgs Ramen noodles (3 oz each)
3 Qrts Water
Sriracha sauce (optional)

Ramen noodles
Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil. Add ramen noodles. Boil for 3 to 4 minutes then remove from heat. Let rest for at least 10 to 15 minutes, allowing ramen to absorb some or most of the water. Drain if necessary.

Make stir fry
In a large pan over medium-high heat sear chicken in a little olive oil in batches, cook until almost cooked through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove to a bowl. Add more oil if necessary, then sauté green pepper until soft, 5 to 6 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Return chicken to pan and cook until chicken is fully cooked.

Finish

Add ramen noodles and stir fry sauce to pot and mix until well combined. Cook until heated through. Remove from heat, place in bowls and serve with sriracha sauce.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch Bars


Printable version
The Christmas season has officially arrived and with it comes the onslaught of family get-togethers and office parties featuring pot luck foods and treats loaded with sugar. Like I did last year, I have decided to use the Holiday season as a time for satisfying my sweet tooth and have committed to creating a couple of new holiday treats. This year the treats will be very simple and only require a few ingredients.

For this recipe, I use one of my favorite breakfast cereals growing up – Peanut Butter Crunch, which was introduced as part of the Cap’n Crunch line of breakfast cereals in 1969. I thought that the crispy texture and peanut butter flavor would be perfect for a homemade candy bar. I use chocolate candy coating, or almond bark, melted in the microwave and mixed with peanut butter as the binder and coating for the treat. For a sweet surprise with each bite I include English toffee as a compliment to the Peanut Butter Crunch, resulting in a decadent treat that comes together in minutes.

BEHIND THIS BITE
Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch Bars

I saw a show on the Cooking Channel recently and a chef in New York was featured for having made chocolate covered breakfast cereal a signature item at his candy shop. They showed him tempering the chocolate and bringing it to the perfect temperature, it took a lot of work and expertise to do what he was doing.

Watching this guy make the perfect chocolate coated cereal got me thinking. I could do the same thing but make it easier using candy coating. That is what lead to creating this treat. I was going to use frosted flakes originally but when I was at the grocery store looking for them, I happened to come across Peanut Butter Crunch. I immediately grabbed the box and changed directions. I made a treat similar in concept to this back in May, and thought a few modifications would make it the perfect chocolate peanut butter bar.

I'm not much of a treat maker, so its simplicity makes it perfect for me. I intentionally used the microwave with this one rather than a double boiler, just to make it more appealing to less experienced cooks. A tasty Christmas treat without having to turn on the stove is perfect for the culinary-challenged!

Eat well, cook often ...

THE RECIPE
Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch Bars

Makes 50 treats;
20 minutes active, 2 hours inactive

1 lb Chocolate candy coating
1/2 C Creamy peanut butter
2 C Peanut Butter Crunch cereal
1 C English toffee bits

Melt candy coating, add peanut butter
Place candy coating in a microwave safe bowl and heat on high in 1 minute intervals, stirring between each, until completely melted and runny. Add peanut butter, stir until well incorporated.

Finish, scoop and cool

Add cereal and toffee bits, stir until well combined. A tablespoon at a time, scoop and place on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Let cool completely, then serve.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

New Orleans Turkey Stew

Printable version

This year for Thanksgiving I wasn’t hosting a party, and wasn’t responsible for any of the major traditional dishes at either of the gatherings I was going to. I had made a large Thanksgiving dinner two weeks before the holiday to post the recipes here, so I had my fix of traditional Turkey Day cooking.

I did want to make something to take to both the parties though. The day before the holiday I went to the grocery store with an open mind. I found ground turkey on sale, which seems logical. If there is any week of the year when ground turkey would have some serious competition from whole turkey I would bet that week would be Thanksgiving. Having a sale on it is probably the only way to move it off the shelves. I bought a three pound package. Just down the isle I found smoked sausage at a bargain price. Check. After finding the two I thought I would make a Thanksgiving jambalaya.

I first browned the turkey then created a vegetable base with the New Orleans holy trinity of green pepper, onion and celery to start the dish. I had purchased red beans to go into the pot and because of that, I decided at the last minute to leave out the rice, I figured the beans would be enough starch. Once I got everything into the pot it was a bit to soupy, so I thickened it with a cornstarch slurry and what I wound up with was a New Orleans inspired Turkey stew. I think I could have still used the rice and made it more like a jambalaya but I’m pleased with the results. I didn’t have hardly any left over so I’m pretty sure it went over well with both sides of the family.

BEHIND THIS BITE
New Orleans Turkey Stew

This dish marked the first time I had ever used a cornstarch slurry to thicken a dish with success. Years ago, I called my Mom in a frenzy while attempting to make a stew and she told me to add cornstarch to a little water then pour it in. Me being as stubborn as I am, decided to skip the dissolve in water part and just threw it into the pot. Obviously, it didn’t work. I just ended up with a lump of cornstarch in my beef soup. After that I had always used a flour based roux to thicken stews.

Acting fast to find a thickener with my Thanksgiving creation, I remembered my cornstarch disaster from yesteryear and decided to go for it. This time I dissolved it in an equal part of water and wala! it worked! Who knew!

I was so impressed with the results that I made traditional beef stew a couple days later and used the same technique to thicken it. What I like about using the cornstarch thickener over the flour thickener is that the cornstarch doesn’t change the color. Flour seems to give the liquid a blond color.

This is why I love cooking, there is always something new to be discovered.

Eat well, cook often ...

THE RECIPE
New Orleans Turkey Stew

Serves 10 to 12; 45 minutes
3 lbs Ground turkey
1 C Onion, diced
1 C Celery, diced
1 C Green pepper, diced
1 Tbs Garlic, minced
6 C Chicken broth
2 lbs Smoked sausage
1 can Diced tomatoes (28 oz)
2 cans Red beans (14 oz each)
2 Tbs Cajun seasoning
2 tsp Mexican oregano
1/4 C Cornstarch
1/4 C Water

Brown turkey
In a dutch oven or large pot over medium high heat brown turkey in a little olive oil, 6 to 8 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Remove to a bowl or plate. Disregard all put 2 tablespoons of drippings.

Create base
In reserved drippings, sauté onion, green pepper and celery until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Add garlic, cook 1 minute more or until fragrant.

Make stew
Return turkey to pot and stir in broth, sausage, red beans, tomatoes, Cajun seasoning and oregano. Bring to a simmer and let cook 20 minutes. Whisk together water and cornstarch is a small bowl until cornstarch is completely dissolved. Stir into pot, simmer 10 minutes more or until liquid thickens. Remove from heat and serve.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Black and Red Chili


Printable version
I love to make chili. When I first started cooking on a regular basis, it seemed like I was making up an experimental batch every weekend. I would throw anything in the pot if I thought it might taste good - mushrooms, black olives, egg plant – you name it. Through making numerous chili variations I realized that one simple item could ruin an entire pot of food!

I still make chili on a regular basis but my recipes have been refined and continue to evolve. This fall I have made chili numerous times and lately when I have beef as the main ingredient I simmer the entire pot for a couple hours uncovered, which concentrates the flavors and thickens it up. Also, I have been using a fair amount of garlic and onion in the base which opens up the taste buds and amplifies the other flavors in the pot. For sweetness, I add red peppers, and for a fuller bite, black beans have been thrown into the pool. These two additions have inspired the name for my current creation: Black and Red Chili.

BEHIND THIS BITE
Black and Red Chili

Like I said in the introduction, I love to make chili and this recipe is one of my favorites. I used to make most of my chili quick, in 30 minutes or less, but I never used any water or broth, the only liquid came from crushed tomatoes. The end result was a thick chili with lots of different flavors in each bite.

Over the last couple of years I have started to change my tactics and part of that is adding lots of liquid and reducing it during a long simmer. This creates the thick chili that I like, but the end result is consistent flavor with every spoonful. The long simmer not only thickens the chili by evaporating the liquid, but it allows all of the flavors to concentrate and harmoniously mingle. Each bites contains the rich and meaty flavors of the beef and broth with lots of depth from the spices and base vegetables.

This chili recipe might be ready for competition.

Eat well, cook often ...

THE RECIPE
Black and Red Chili

Serves 12 to 15; 3 hours
5 lbs Ground beef
2 C Red onion, diced
2 C Red pepper, diced
1/2 C Jalapéno, seeded, diced
1/4 C Garlic minced
6 C Beef broth
2 Cans Black beans (15 oz)
1 Can Crushed tomatoes (28 oz)
1/4 C Chili powder
2 Tbs Cumin
1 Tbs Mexican oregano

Brown ground beef
In a large soup pot over medium-high heat cook ground beef until brown and fat has rendered, 6 to 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove to a bowl and discard all but 2 tablespoons of the liquid.

Make chili
In drippings left in pan, sauté onion, red pepper and jalapéno until soft 3 to 4 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir in garlic and cook 2 minutes more. Add reserved beef, broth, black beans, crushed tomato, chili powder, cumin and Mexican oregano. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours allowing mixture to reduce by a quarter. Remove from heat and serve.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Kale and Cannellini Bean Soup

Printable version

NOTE: This originally appeared in print the day after Thanksgiving.

As we gorge ourselves full of turkey, dressing and pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, I thought it was my duty as someone who shares my kitchen creations with the public to produce a healthy and tasty bite to counter-balance the gut-busting, diet-crashing cuisine that seems to accompany most holiday celebrations.

One of the healthiest foods available in grocery stores today is kale. The non-heading, leafy member of the cabbage family is rich in vitamins A and C, frolic acid, calcium and iron. Kale can be grown in warm climates but it thrives in cooler ones which may explain its popularity among Northern Europeans.

For this recipe, I use it in a soup and it is cooked like spinach, but the kale takes longer to wilt and it doesn’t cook down as much. It’s mild flavor is a nice addition to the cannellini beans that become rich and buttery after a long simmer. This soup will be a flavorful and healthy addition to that turkey sandwich smothered in gravy the day after Thanksgiving.

BEHIND THIS BITE
Kale and Cannellini Bean Soup

This is the first time I had ever cooked with kale. I picked up a batch on sale and I thought it would be nice to try in a soup. I removed the stems and had a large amount of the leaves stuffed in a bowl. I thought that it would wilt down into just a fraction of its size like fresh spinach does.

Boy, was I wrong!

Once it was time for the kale I tossed in a couple hand fulls and waited for it to wilt down. And I kept waiting ... and waiting. I was seriously debating on weather to pull some of it out, but eventually it did cook down, and luckily I had thrown in just the right amount. I didn’t need to add anymore. I ended up using only a third of what I originally thought I was going to use.

It was a good experience and I want to use kale again, it has a mild flavor so I think I want to try and sauté it and make it the center piece of a side dish. Then well see how its taste really holds up.

Eat well, cook often ...

THE RECIPE
Kale and Cannellini Bean Soup

Serves 4; 35 minutes
1 C Onion, diced
1/2 C Celery, diced
1/2 C Carrot, diced
2 tsp Garlic, minced
3 Can Cannellini beans (15 oz each)
2 1/2 to 3 C Kale, Torn into pieces and stems removed
4 C Chicken broth
1 tsp Italian seasonings

Make base
In a soup pot over medium heat sauté onion, carrot and celery in a little olive oil until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Add garlic, cook 1 minute more or until fragrant.

Finish
Stir in beans, kale, broth and Italian seasoning. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until kale has wilted, 20 to 25 minutes. Spoon into bowls and serve