Thursday, March 31, 2011

Caramel Apple Pie

Every week, I have a group of friends over to watch American Idol. We eat, drink, chat, and criticize. It's amazing. This week I made a dessert, the Caramel Apple Pie recipe I pulled out of the 2009 issue and had kept since.

Since I got off work, and didn't really have time to make a crust before company came, I will admit to cheating and using a store-bought crust. I will do better next time. I promise.

The only critique I have of the recipe is that the crumb topping is sparse. Now, I'm sure that helps keep the calories down, but if you are going for extra decadent, I would double the crumb topping. I also just had the regular-bad-for-you caramel topping (not the sugar free called for in the recipe) which was delish. I didn't add the salt, the caramel topping was enough. This is a pretty tasty pie.

Orange Braised Ham

I love using my Crock-Pot (or slow cooker, depending on how you were raised). It is just so easy, and I like the freedom to walk away, leave the house, etc but dinner is still in the works. Last weekend, I tried a new recipe out of my Williams Sonoma Essentials of Slow Cooking book. It is a pretty good book. Sometimes the recipes aren't the healthiest, and I have had a few "misses", but for the most part it is a nice book. I previously had the Fix it and Forget it (Light) book, which was TERRIBLE. That book thought "healthy" cooking was throwing a chuck roast into the Crock-Pot with a diet Coke. Argh. 

I had never made a ham in the Crock-Pot, but I had some studying to do Sunday and wanted to be able to take the dog to the park without leaving the oven on in the house. So I gave it a go.

Recipe adapted from the book:
6 lb ham, butt, bone in
2 cups orange juice
1 orange, zested
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
6 whole cloves
6 peppercorns

All you do with the ham is put it into the Crock-Pot. Cover it, and cook on low for about 5-6 hours.

Once that time has elapsed, I added the juice, cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, brown sugar to a saucepan. You can zest the orange over the saucepan. Cook over medium heat until thick (about 15 min). This is my fabulous Pampered Chef zester, which is AWESOME (shameless plug for Pampered Chef consultant Mary Nixon).

Using a baster, I removed all the fat drippings from the bottom of the Crock-Pot. Pour the orange glaze over the ham, and cook another 2 hours. After it is finished, it looked like this:

For the record, the pill bottles in the background are for my crazy dog, not any crazy humans. The ham fell apart, so wasn't really sliceable, but was not dried out at all. I cooked mine for 6 hours before glazing, and probably 5 hours would be better, as it may be able to be sliced and not fall apart.

It had a really strong orange flavor, so don't make it unless you like oranges! But it was a nice change from the typical maple/pineapple hams I typically make. And super easy!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

BEST mac n cheese

This is the BEST mac and cheese recipe. I make it slightly healthier by using whole wheat pasta, and I always use 2% milk and cheese.

Serves 6 (can easily be doubled!)
Panko bread crumbs, about 1/4-1/2 cup
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 3/4 cups milk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups grated sharp cheddar
1/2 cup grated pecorino Romano
1/2 pound elbow macaroni

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 1.5-quart casserole dish with cooking spray; set aside. Warm milk in microwave. Melt  3 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When butter bubbles, add flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
2. Slowly pour hot milk into flour-butter mixture while whisking. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.
3. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 2 cups cheddar, and 1/2 cup pecorino Romano. Set cheese sauce aside.
4. Fill a large saucepan with water. Bring to a boil. Add macaroni; cook and drain per package instructions. Stir macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.
5. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Scatter panko over the top. Bake until browned on top, about 30 minutes. Transfer dish to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes; serve


Monday, March 28, 2011

Muffin Redemption

So Sunday, feeling defeated from my Saturday muffin adventure...I decided to try a more tried and true source for baking....Southern Living. Lots of butter, precise recipes, southern can you go wrong? Well, you can't. Except in the fat department.

Nonetheless, I opted for the Peach-Pecan muffins in this issue.

First the pecan topping:

I liked the fact that this recipe used frozen peaches, it saved alot of time!

Per usual for Southern Living-
lots of butter (although this picture is decieving, this is butter, egg, AND milk):

The key to a great muffin-don't mix to much! The "well" in the center of the flour helps to minimize the mixing. Also, the batter on these muffins was super thick!

And the final product:

The verdict:
A seriously good muffin. I would add less peach next time, maybe 1/2 cup. Just because the bottoms of some of the muffins were very peachy. P commented "this is a muffin old ladies would like". Well, there you have it folks, I am an old lady.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Fannie Farmer Muffins

Yesterday, I awoke with a muffin craving. I wanted a blueberry muffin, so I pulled out my Fannie Farmer cookbook. I have the ancient version of this book, the pages are brown, the cover is brown, the recipes are, well, sometimes questionable. I was flipping through and saw that Fannie (or her later interpreters) decided to tell us how to boil store-bought pasta. Whew! I would be lost without her.

For those not familiar with the Fannie Farmer cookbook, let me share a bit of history. Fannie Merritt Farmer (23 March 1857 - 15 January 1915) was an American culinary expert who at the age of 16 became paralyzed. She took up cooking, and started a boarding house. She enrolled in the Boston Cooking School at the age of 30.  Eventually able to walk again (with a limp), she went on to open her own cooking school and become famous for her work on nutrition for the ill. Fannie published  The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book in 1896. She was the first cookbook author to publish measurements, instead of guesswork. This cookbook is considered an American classic, and revised and updated versions are still in print today.

The problem I have with the book is that some recipes are standard, go to recipes, and some are big misses. For example, the pancakes are delicious. The muffins, as you will see, are not.

I should have known better when a baking recipe calls for 2 tablespoons to 1/2 cup sugar, and 1 or 2 eggs. Baking needs to be precise.

Here is a photo of Xander watching me cook:

Here is a photo of the final muffins:

They don't look to bad, right? Well, looks can be deceiving. Flavorless and bland. I left them on the counter while I went to the grocery store and came back to find the cats had eaten the tops off 3 of them. I am ok with that.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Veggie Moussaka

So I decided to try the vegetarian moussaka featured in the March 2011 Cooking Light. You can find the recipe here. I love love love moussaka. Not sure how I will feel about the meatless version...feeling a bit apprehensive. Since I am in College Station this week, I am cooking for one. This is a good opportunity to make this dish, as P will not touch eggplant.

First, cut and broil the eggplant:

Then cook the onions:

The filling, instead of beef or lamb, is bulgur wheat:

Mixed with diced tomatos:

The final product:

The color of my bechamel is a bit off as I used wheat flour instead of white flour, and the lighting in my kitchen is bad. It didn't really come out that yellow. <grin>

The verdict: Pretty tasty. I will always like traditional moussaka best, but this is a solid vegetarian option. The bulgur wheat is actually a nice filling, and surprisingly good! I would change a couple things next time. The bechamel layer is a bit thin, so doubling the amount may be good. I'm sure they kept it thin so it wasn't so fatty, but who doesn't like bechamel? A bit more butter in the bechamel would also be a nice addition. But, if you are trying to stay healthy, it's decent as-is.
Until next time!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Review: Cover 3

                                                                            2700 West Anderson Lane #202
Austin, TX 78757
(512) 374-1121

Last night, since SXSW is in town and downtown is off limits unless you want to fight the crowd...we decided to stay on the north side of Austin for dinner. I had been to Cover 3 once before for appetizers, and thought it was worthy to try again. As a side bonus, P was swayed by the fact that they have March Madness on the many televisions inside. Ugh. Basketball.

The drinks: The bartender was not familiar with a sazerac, so P settled for a decent, but not awesome, martini. I had the Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio, which I've had before.

The dinner: I ordered the Allandale salad. Nice arrangement of chicken, avocado, bleu cheese, and candied walnuts over greens. Since I had been craving a salad for several days, it fit the bill. P ordered the sauteed Snapper with crab. The caper lemon sauce looked nice, but unfortunately the fish was not flaky and rather tough. In keeping with many restaurants lately, sides had to be ordered separately. At certain places, this is OK by me, but at a pseudo-sports bar? They should probably create plates with sides, in my opinion. That being said, the garlic-chive mashed potatoes were served in adequate portions and did not have an overly strong garlic flavor.

The verdict: Divided. I had a good meal, P had a slightly below average meal. Not sure if we will try again.