Sunday, June 20, 2010

Mexican Style Feast

I recently bought a 1960's Western American/Mexican cookbook.  It fit my "should I buy this" criteria of being old, unique, and containing recipes I didn't already own in another form such as a more comprehensive cookbook or a church cookbook.  Weather here in the Pioneer Valley has been quite hot lately.  Perfect weather for cooking on the stove top.  Perfect weather for Mexican style food!

At my friend Kate's house a few years ago, we made a huge Mexican style feast of slow cooked pork and homemade corn tortillas with all the fixings (including a stellar mole sauce of her own creation).  The corn tortillas require a tortilla press.  I do not have a tortilla press.  I don't want to buy another piece of kitchen equipment right instead of corn tortillas, I decided to make 50/50 (white/wheat) flour tortillas.  The recipe was much more simple than I anticipated.  I went to my trusted search website, and looked for a recipe.  I settled on one and modified it.

50/50 Tortillas

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of vegetable oil
3/4 cups of warm milk

Combine the flours, baking powder, and salt.  Stir in the vegetable oil.  Heat the milk in a microwave safe container (I use a glass measuring cup) in the microwave approximately 15 seconds at a time until it is warm to the touch.  Stir the milk into the flour mix.

Knead the mixture for 2 minutes.  Roll it into a tight ball and let rest in the bowl, covered with plastic wrap or a wet cloth, for 20 minutes.  This gives the flour's gluten strands time to relax.

Knead the dough briefly and separate into 10 pieces.  Roll each piece into a ball.  Set the balls on a plate, cover, and let rest 10 minutes.

Roll out each piece of dough into a large circle.  If you find the dough springs back, simply set that particular piece aside and go to work on the next piece of dough.  This allows the gluten to relax and when you come back to the "trouble" piece, you will be able to roll it out more easily!  Dust them with a tiny bit of flour if you must, but, they stretch much better if you roll them slightly sticky.  I use a marble rolling pin and I absolutely love it for this type of task.  Roll out each piece and set them aside - do not let them touch each other or they will stick.  Setting them on a cookie sheet and on the counter top should work.

Heat a large skillet to medium high.  Place one rolled out tortilla on the dry, hot skillet.  Count to 30-40.  Flip the tortilla (I use a fork to pry up the edge and then use my fingers - be careful!).  Let it cook for another 30 seconds.  You should have light brown spots on both sides.  Set the tortilla to rest on a plate.  Do this with each tortilla until you are done.  You can stack them on top of each other.  You can also place them in a warm oven to keep hot.

- I rolled out 2-3 tortillas at a time, and then cooked them, so that my arms did not get so tired with the rolling.  It is work...but just think of all the glorious calories you're burning off while making your delicious dinner!

- Do not cook up the tortillas until your dinner is almost done!  You want the bread to be as fresh as possible.  It is okay to let the rolled out tortillas wait on the counter top - just be sure to cover them if you let them sit for longer than 15 minutes as they may dry out.

I served the tortillas with a recipe from the same old cookbook - Mexican Potted Steak - which is much more appetizing than it sounds!  It's a simple concoction of stewing beef with canned tomatoes (in my case, my husband cannot handle tomato chunks in his food), a chopped carrot, a chopped onion, diced green chiles, salt, pepper, and a bit of flour, with some frozen peas added in at the end.  I also took a stab at making refried beans...but that did not work out so well.  Oh well!  Just the first attempt! 

Now we have tortillas...dinner...but we were still missing something on a hot, steamy day in Western Massachusetts.  We were missing the beer!  I picked up a 22 oz. bottle of Berkshire Brewing Company's Hefeweizen.  They are hands down my favorite brewery.  Now, dinner is complete.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Homemade Healthy Granola

I adore making my own granola.  It is cheaper and healthier than buying it in the store - even buying it from the bulk bins!  The best part is that you can put anything you want in it.  Instead of simply using rolled oats, I like to use the rolled 5 grain cereal.  I also add puffed cereals to add bulk without adding many calories.  The density of the oats, honey/other sugars, and nuts and dried fruits are what makes most granola so high in calories.  The recipe below is one I whipped up this morning for breakfast.

3 cups of rolled 5 grain cereal (rye, wheat, oats, triticale)
3 cups of 7 grain honey puffed cereal (can use unsweetened or simply 1 kind of puff such as kamut)
1/3 cup wheat germ
1/3 cup oat bran
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup diced dates mixed with 1 T flour
1.5 T of light brown sugar
2 t olive oil
1/4 c - 1/2 c water

Mix the first ingredients.  In a separate bowl, combine the light brown sugar, olive oil, and water.  Combine the two mixtures.  Add more water if necessary to make the mixture damp all over.  Bake on a cookie sheet for 30 mins at 300 degrees.

If you want clumpy granola - don't stir!  Watch it very carefully to ensure it does not burn.  If you do not want clumps, stir every 10 mins.

Take it out of the oven.  Stir it lightly and add in the diced dates.  Let cool completely before storing.  Will last 2-3 weeks in a cupboard.  Freezes very well!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Venison Steaks with Red Wine and Mushroom Reduction, Sauteed Kale, and Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Tonight's dinner utilized the last of my dad's venison steaks.  There's nothing better than home "grown" food.  I love knowing that my father, with nature's help, provided something I'm going to eat.  He even harvested the deer on the land that we own and nurture.  Whenever I tell friends that I've killed my own deer, they look at me funny.  You...killed...something?  Yes, yes I did.  I took steps to ensure that I would kill an animal in a humane way.  I connected with the nutrients I ingest in order to survive.  

I feel that people should reconnect with their food.  What a lot of people are now consuming is some food-like product in the form of a neatly packaged pink fleshy thing without fat, bone, or blood.  What you are consuming once belonged to a living animal.  We should be cognizant of this fact.  Living things die so that you may continue to live.  Even vegetables and fruits!

I believe that a person should be okay with that in order to eat something.  Or, if you aren't okay with consuming an animal, you should be a vegetarian or vegan.  Both lifestyles are perfectly fine and can easily be done in today's American society!

Personally, I would rather be an informed and caring meat eater.  Here in the Valley we have access to many amazing meat producers such as Piekarski's, Austin Brothers Farm, Chase Hill Farm, and Barnum and Buckley.  I feel fortunate to know where my meat is coming from.  I also buy meat from Atkins Farm and the local Whole Foods.  With all of this in mind, let me present to you my dinner on the fly.

Venison Steaks
Red Wine and Mushroom Reduction
Sauteed Kale
Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Ingredients (serves 2 with leftovers for 1 lunch)
3 medium sweet potatoes, chopped
4 venison steaks
2 cups of red wine (merlot or cabernet sauvignon - $4 bottle from Whole Foods~)
1 bunch of lacinto kale (aka dinosaur kale)
1 T sour cream
4 white mushrooms
3 sprigs of chives (dried chives would work in a pinch!)
1 clove of garlic
herbs de provence
olive oil

(Note - I like to keep my seasonings simple when I'm using quality ingredients.  It's best to let them shine through!)

Peel, chop, and boil the sweet potatoes.  While they are cooking, work on the rest of the food.

Bring 2 cups of red wine to a boil.  Add a splash of dry sweet vermouth.  Reduce.
Saute 2 T chopped onion and 4 chopped mushrooms in 1 T butter until soft.  Add to red wine reduction.  Set on low heat and reduce while you prep the rest of the food.

Clean and chop the kale.  Using the same pan that you cooked the onion and mushrooms in, add 1 clove of chopped garlic and 1 T olive oil (I typically buy EVOO, but any fat will work!).  

Meanwhile, heat your cast iron skillet (you could absolutely use a regular skillet...but my in-laws bought us a wonderful cast iron skillet and I try to use it whenever I can.  Steaks are a great use for it!).  Season the venison steaks with salt, pepper, and herbs de provence (sprinkle a bit on each side).

Heat up the cast iron skillet.  Add a pat of butter and let it melt and bubble.

Heat your mushroom and onion - now kale - pan.  Add the lacinto kale.  Cook on medium heat until it yields some water.  Reduce and let cook 10 to 15 mins while the cast iron heats up.  

After 10 mins, add the steaks to the cast iron skillet.  Cook 3 mins each side - be careful not to over cook them!  Venison is extremely lean.  I actually over cooked my steaks a bit.  Over cooking venison will make it tough.  Better to under cook a little bit! 

While the venison cooks, drain your sweet potatoes.  Mash with an electric mixer (I use my Kitchen Aid!) and the sour cream and chives.  Set aside.

Turn off the red wine reduction.  Set aside.

Judge the kale depending on how soft you like it.  Turn off or turn the heat up as necessary.

Turn your steaks!

Shut off the cast iron pan.  Plate your steaks and let them rest a few minutes. 

Clean what dishes you can while these items are resting - the best tip my mother ever gave me about cooking (and she's given me many good tips!) is to clean as you go.  It saves a lot of time, energy, and grumbling after dinner.

And there you have it - Venison Steaks with Red Wine and Mushroom Reduction, Sauteed Kale, and Mashed Sweet Potatoes.  And on a work night, no less.  Enjoy!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Chocolate Mousse Cheesecake with Strawberries

I'm really not a fan of cheesecake.  As a general rule, I don't think the calorie consumption that comes from eating blocks of cheesecake, is worth the fat intake and therefore the exercise after.  I'm willing to make full fat cheesecakes for my husband's birthday...but that's about it.  Other than that, I try to reduce the calorie content in all ways possible.

Another thing I am not a fan of is using eggs in dairy based desserts.  I love French cooking.  I should, therefore, love butter and eggs.  I am a butter convert.  I'm not an egg convert.  Don't get me wrong - eggs have their place.  Nothing beats eggs for making a fantastic cake or a show stopping yeast bread or coffee cake.  When it comes to desserts...I want to "have my cake and eat it too" by reducing the calorie and fat content.

This perspective makes me turn to egg substitutes such as mashed banana, ground flaxseed mixed with water, Ener-G egg replaces, and in the case of dairy based desserts, gelatin.  The gelatin I use is Knox's plain gelatin.  It contains something like 5 calories a packet!  It takes a little bit of time to get used to working with gelatin.  Gelatin is what enables me to make homemade marshmallows that stun the folks up at my parents' cabin on the lake!  "Gee, these taste just like the real thing!"  The real thing being Jiffy marshmallows.  Oye.  Anyhow, back to the cheesecake...

I buy 16 ounce containers of ricotta to make gnocchi, lasagna, or calzones.  I always have leftover ricotta.  I'm constantly searching for ways to use it up.  This recipe is a combination of researched recipes plus my own unique twists.  I hope that you enjoy it.

Chocolate Mousse Cheesecake with Strawberries
Original Recipe by Emily

1 graham cracker crust
8 to 10 graham crackers
2 T melted butter

Procedure for Crust:
Crush the graham crackers in a heavy duty plastic bag that is slight open.  I have found that rolling the crackers with my marble rolling pin works best.  Crush them to a fine crumb - the finer the crumb, the better the crust holds together!

Melt 2 T of butter in a microwave safe container in the microwave (heat 20 seconds, stir, heat for additional time as necessary).

Stir the butter and graham cracker crumbs together.  Press into the bottom of a 8 or 9 inch springform pan.

Bake the crust at 375 degrees for 8 - 10 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

1/2 envelope gelatin
1/2 c cold water
2 oz milk chocolate
2 oz dark chocolate
1/4 c white sugar 
2 T agave syrup
4 ounces fat free cream cheese
6 ounces full fat cream cheese
1 c ricotta cheese
2 - 3 T cocoa powder
2 T flour

Pour the water into a small  pan.  Sprinkle gelatin over cold water in pan.  Let bloom 5 mins.  I'm not sure why it is called letting gelatin bloom...but there we have it!  Heat the pan over low heat until the gelatin dissolves.  Add the chocolate.  Continue cooking over low heat until all of the chocolate melts into the gelatin and water mixture.

Beat the cream cheeses and ricotta cheese.  Beat hard so that air works into the mix and it becomes fluffy.  Add the sugar and beat until smooth (-ish - it is ricotta after all!).  Slowly mix in chocolate/gelatin/water mix and cocoa powder and flour.  The flour was added because of the amount of liquid in the mix.

Pour cheesecake batter into the graham cracker crust in the springform pan.  Refrigerate for 2-3 hours until set.  Decorate with fresh sliced strawberries!

Tip - when you go to release the cheesecake from the springform pan, run a butter knife under hot water.  Then, run the knife around the inside rim of the pan between the cake and pan.  This should allow you to release the cheesecake with ease!