Friday, January 30, 2015

Magical Popovers

Popovers are magical. With high heat and steam, a thin batter is transformed into light, crispy and slightly eggy puffballs of goodness. Slathered with butter or homemade jam, they're the perfect accompaniment to soups, salads, roasted meats or the star of brunch.

Popovers are easy to make with everyday ingredients you probably have on hand right now. I've tried lots of popover recipes and this Baking Illustrated recipe is my favorite. For the lightest popovers with the most lift, use a popover pan. They can be made in a muffin tin, but the result will be denser.

Combine the ingredients in a batter bowl or other container with a spout (a 4 cup measuring
cup also works). The handle and spout make it easier to quickly pour the batter into the hot wells.
Let the mixture rest at room temperature for 30 minutes

While the batter rests, prepare your pans. If I'm making for me and the hub, I use the large
size for six generous popovers. For a dinner party I use the small pan with 12 smaller wells.
Prepare the pan by adding 1/2 tsp oil to the large cups or 1/4 tsp oil to the small cups.
Place the popover pan on a baking sheet on the lowest oven
rack. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

After the batter has rested quickly remove the pan from the oven and evenly distribute
the batter among the well. Return the pan to the oven and bake at 450 degrees for 20
minutes. Without opening the oven door, lower the heat to 350 degrees and
continue baking an additional 15-18 minutes.
Popovers are ready when they are deep golden brown all over. Invert pan onto a
cooling rack. Cool popovers for two minutes and serve immediately.
These are best eaten just after they've been baked. 

Crispy on the outside and silky on the inside. Perfect with butter, honey or jam.

2 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 Tbsp vegetable oil

In a bowl, whisk eggs and milk for 20 seconds. Add flour and salt and mix with a wooden spoon just until flour is incorporated. Batter will still be lumpy. Add the melted butter and whisk for 30 seconds until batter is smooth. Let batter rest for 30 minutes. In the mean time, place 1/2 tsp vegetable oil to the well of each popover pan (1/4 tsp if you're making smaller popovers). Adjust oven rack to lowest position and place popover pan in oven. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. After batter has rested, remove hot pan from oven and quickly distribute batter among wells. Return pan to oven and bake for 20 minutes. Without opening the oven door reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 15-18 additional minutes until deep golden brown. Invert pan onto a wire rack to remove popovers. Cool for 2 minutes and serve immediately.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Make-Ahead Freezer Meals

While we plan to cook dinner most nights, occasionally we hit a snag. Late meetings, traffic or just a lack of planning can mean we reach for the phone or worse - a bag of chips - for supper. To avoid last minute bad decisions, I try to have a few dinners ready to go on the freezer. These recipes also come in handy for friends who are recuperating or welcoming a new baby.


Who doesn't love a meatball sub? For an extra kick we top with pickled banana peppers.
These meatballs come together fast and freeze beautifully. I usually freeze without sauce, but a homemade red sauce would freeze well. While the meatballs make a great topper for pasta, we eat most of them stuffed into sub buns and topped with mozzarella. This recipe makes about 30 meatballs.

1 lb ground beef
1 lb bulk Italian sausage
1 small onion, chopped finely
2 eggs
1/3 cup dried breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp each dried basil and oregano
Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl combine all ingredients using your hands to mix well. Shape meat into 1 1/2 inch balls, placing on a cookie sheet. Bake meatballs for 20 minutes. To freeze, place cooled meatballs in a freezer bag or container and freeze. Consume within six months.

To serve: Heat red sauce, place frozen or thawed meatballs in hot sauce, simmering until hot.

Cream Chicken over Biscuits

Tasty and satisfying, this dish pairs well with our home canned peaches.
This is a comforting meal that comes together quick with a ready-made chicken base in the freezer. I roast whole chickens. If you prefer, you can use the meat from a grocery store rotisserie roasted chicken. For an extra creamy gravy, stir in 1/2 cup whipping cream just before serving.

2 Tbsp butter
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped celery
3 cups shredded chicken
1 quart chicken stock, homemade or commercial
1 tsp poultry seasoning
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup water
Salt & pepper to taste
Biscuits for serving

In a large saucepot, combine butter, onions, carrots and celery. Saute until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Add chicken, stock and poultry seasoning. Simmer for 10 minutes stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, allow to cool slightly, place in container and freeze for up to three months

To serve: Heat chicken mixture to boiling. Make a slurry by combining 1/2 cup flour with 1/2 cup water, whisking until smooth with no lumps. As broth boils, add a small amount of slurry while whisking broth. Return to a boil before adding more slurry. Continue adding slurry until you reach desired thickness. You may not use all of the slurry. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve over split biscuits.

Pot Pies

Roast off a couple of birds and fill your freezer with homemade pot pies!
Pot pies are a favorite freezer meal because they can go directly from freezer to oven without thawing. I usually make them with Thanksgiving leftovers or anytime we have extra chicken, but they can be made with beef, roast pork or ham.  Feel free to change up the vegetables to suit your tastes.

2 cups chopped onion
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped carrot
2/3 cup butter
1 cup flour
4 cups chicken or beef stock, depending on your meat choice, homemade or commercial
2 cups half and half
8 cups chopped cooked turkey, chicken or beef
2 cups frozen English peas
2 tsp salt (or to taste)
pepper to taste
Crust (recipe follows)

Saute onion, celery and carrot in butter until tender and the onion is translucent. Add flour, stirring for 1 minute. Add stock and half and half. Cook, stirring until mixture boils. Remove from heat and stir in turkey and peas. Divide among pans, top with crust, wrap tightly and freeze for up to six months.

Note: This recipe makes enough for top crust. Double if you prefer a top and bottom crust. 
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 cup shortening plus 2 Tbs lard or shortening
1/4 cup water (more or less)

Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut in fat until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add enough water, mixing with a fork, until crust comes together in a ball. Roll on a lightly floured surface about 1/8 inch thick. Top pot pies with dough. For best results, refrigerate dough for 1 hour before rolling.

To serve: preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place frozen pot pie on a baking sheet and bake, uncovered for one hour. Let cool for five minutes before serving.


Cheesy saucy goodness. Top cooked enchiladas with chopped lettuce,
guacamole, fresh tomatoes and sour cream.
Enchiladas are a great use for leftover roast meats. Our favorite is stuffed with slow roasted shredded pork shoulder and black beans. However I also use shredded chicken and beef. I top with home canned tomatillo salsa. If you prefer red sauce, feel free to make your own or use a commercial sauce.
If you don't want to tie up a baking pan, freeze in a disposable foil pan.

2 cups red or green enchilada sauce, divided
2 cups pulled beef, pork or chicken
3/4 cup canned black beans, rinsed
3 cups cheddar, divided
2 Tbsp taco seasoning mix, commercial or homemade
4 oz can sliced black olives
2 Tbsp chopped pickled jalapeno peppers (optional)
Six 8 inch tortilla (I use whole grain)
Optional chopped lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream and guacamole for serving

Spray a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray. Spread 1/4 cup enchilada sauce over the bottom. In a bowl, combine meat, beans, 1 cup of cheese, taco seasoning, black olives and jalapenos. Place a rounded 1/2 cup of mixture in the center of a tortilla and roll up. Place seam side down in the baking dish. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Spread remaining enchilada sauce over rolls and top with remaining cheese. Wrap dish tightly with foil and freeze for up to six months.

To serve: allow dish to thaw in refrigerator (place in fridge one day prior to baking). Preheat oven to 400 degrees and bake thawed dish, uncovered for 25 minutes until hot and bubbly.

Sloppy Joes

From freezer to the saucepan, homemade sloppy joes are a family favorite.
While not fancy, sloppy joes make a fast, tasty weeknight meal. Way better than using the canned sauce, this homemade version can also be used to top hot dogs for a fun coney night. This recipe uses 3 lbs of ground beef which makes 15 sandwiches. I split the batch between three freezer containers.

3 lbs ground beef
1 medium onion finely chopped
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
1/2 green pepper, finely chopped
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 12 oz can tomato paste
3 Tbsp white vinegar
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Salt & pepper to taste

In a large pan, brown ground beef. Add onion, celery and green pepper, continuing to cook until vegetable are softened, 5-6 minutes. Pour off fat. Stir in remaining ingredients and simmer for 10 minutes stirring occasionally. To freeze, divide among freezer containers and place in freezer. Consume within three months.

To serve: Place in a pan and heat on stovetop or place in a microwave safe bowl and microwave until hot.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Cube Steak in Gravy

If you've ever been to a midwestern Grange dinner, you might've enjoyed cube steak. Named for the process of cubing, this beef cut is generally from the top round. The meat is passed through a cubing machine that pierces the meat to help with tenderization.

While these cuts are generally less expensive they are tougher and require more cooking time. Although the meat is referred to as "steak", don't try grilling. Braising in a slow oven in a savory gravy, produces fork-tender, flavorful meat.

We purchase meat from our local butcher, which sells cube steak in one-pound packages (four steaks per package). If you're serving more, just double the gravy. Be sure to cook in a baking dish with a snug lid. Foil doesn't seem to work as well.

The gravy pairs well with starchy sides like mashed potatoes or rice. I like whole grain noodles along with our freezer beans or glazed carrots.

Dredge meat in flour, salt and pepper, shaking off excess flour.
Sear meat over medium high heat. Don't worry
if it's not completely cooked, Remove to a plate.
In the same pan, saute vegetables and garlic.
Add broth, tomato paste, vinegar and rosemary. Bring to a boil.

Make a slurry by combining beef broth and flour, whisking until smooth.
Add slurry, a small amount at a time, to boiling broth while whisking. Allow broth
to boil before adding additional slurry. Continue to add slurry until desired thickness. 

Layer meat and gravy in a greased casserole dish making sure meat is
completely submersed. Braise at 325 degrees for 2 1/2 hours.
Finished beef is fall-apart tender. Whole
grain noodles are perfect for catching gravy.

Cube Steak in Gravy
4 cube steaks
1/2 cup flour
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1/4 cup celery
8 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
3 cups beef broth
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 Tbsp vinegar
1 tsp dried rosemary
Salt & pepper to taste

1/2 cup beef broth
1/2 cup flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Brown steaks: Place 1/2 cup flour in a pie plate. Add salt and pepper. Dredge steaks in flour mixture, shaking off excess. Heat oil in large pan over medium heat. Sear meat in hot oil. Steaks do not have to be cooked completely. Remove meat to a plate.

Build sauce: In the same pan, add onion and celery cooking about 3 minutes (add more oil if necessary). Add mushrooms and cook for 2-3 more minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add broth, paste, vinegar and rosemary. Bring to a boil scraping up brown bits on the bottom of the pan. In a bowl, combine 1/2 cup broth and 1/2 cup flour, whisking until smooth. While broth is boiling add a small amount of slurry while continually whisking broth. Return to boiling before adding more. Continue to add slurry until sauce is desired thickness. You may not use all of it. Season gravy with salt and pepper.

Slow roast: Coat a baking or casserole dish with cooking spray. Add about 1/2 cup of sauce to the bottom of the dish. Alternate layers of meat and sauce until all the meat is submersed under sauce. Cover with lid and bake for 2 1/2 hours. Serve with mashed potatoes, rice or noodles.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Old School Dessert: Tapioca Pudding

In my family, tapioca was the go-to cure for colds, tummy aches, and most other ailments. I can't be sure it really cured anything, but I always felt better after eating a bowl. Today, I don't wait until I'm sick to make tapioca. We enjoy it year-round and sometimes dress it up with fresh fruit sauce or a sprinkling of nuts. And yes, I still find it comforting.

Tapioca is a starch extracted from a cassava root. It's a gluten-free thickener that can also be used in both savory and sweet dishes. If you've had bubble tea, you've enjoyed (giant) tapioca pearls. This recipe is from a tapioca manufacturer and uses regular (rather than instant) tapioca. It reminds me of the pudding I grew up eating.

Soak the tapioca overnight in a bowl of water

Drain tapioca. Heat milk in a double boiler. If you don't have a double boiler,
place a bowl over a pot of simmering water. Be sure the bottom of the bowl
does not touch the water. Add salt & tapioca. and cook for one hour.

Temper the eggs: beat yolks and sugar. Add 1/2 cup hot mixture to yolks.

Add egg mixture to tapioca mixture.
Continue cooking over low heat for 15 minutes until tapioca is very thick.
Remove from heat. Beat egg whites until stiff and stir into hot mixture. Add vanilla.
Chill in refrigerator. Bumpy, airy, creamy, sweet goodness!

Tapioca Pudding
1/2 cup regular (not instant) tapioca
2 1/2 cups milk
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, separated
1 tsp vanilla
Soak tapioca in a bowl with two cups room temperature water overnight. Drain water. In a double boiler, heat milk just until warm. Add salt and tapioca. Continue heating until small bubbles appear in the sides of the pan. Cover, turn heat to very low and cook for one hour. Make sure milk does not simmer or boil. Beat egg yolks and sugar together. Add about 1/2 cup of the hot mixture to yolks, blending thoroughly. Add yolk mixture to hot milk mixture, stirring constantly. Place double boiler over low heat and continue cooking until tapioca is very thick, about 15 minutes. Beat egg whites until stiff. Slowly fold whites into hot tapioca mixture. Stir in vanilla. Serve chilled. Makes 6-8 servings.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

New York Style Pizza

Pizza is my favorite food. Thick, thin, veggie, meat laden, even pineapple. I love it all (except anchovies). I'm always on the hunt for good crust recipes and I think I've found the best New York style recipe. I picked it up when I attended a wood fired pizza class at King Arthur's Bakers' Conference. It's bubbly, chewy and bakes up tasty and charred - even if you don't have a wood fired oven. (I'm still hoping some day...)

The recipe calls for a pizza stone. If you're serious about pizza, you can also use a pizza steel. And if you want to use what you already have, turn a cookie sheet upside down on your oven rack and preheat along with your oven.

A note about planning ahead: This dough gets it's flavor from a long fermentation - about 82 hours in all. If you want pizza on Friday night, you'll want to mix up the dough Tuesday morning. The flavor is totally worth the advance planning.

Let your food processor do the work. Combine ingredients until a smooth ball forms.
Place dough in an oiled container. Cover and refrigerate for 72 hours.
Divid dough in half and shape into rounds. Oil exterior, cover and return for
refrigerator for 8-10 hours. Place on counter at room temperature for one hour.
While dough is resting at room temperature, preheat oven and stone to 500 degrees.

Sprinkle corn meal over peel. Stretch dough to 12 inches and add toppings.
The pizza bakes fast - perfect for a pizza grazing party. 
While this dough looks thick, it's really bubbly and chewy.
I especially love the crispy charred bits!
Sausage, ricotta and home canned banana pepper pizza.

New York Style Thin Crust
Makes two 12" pies

466 grams bread flour
2 grams sugar
1.2 grams instant yeast
2 grams diastatic malt powder (I order online)
8 grams vegetable oil
312 grams water
10 grams salt
Place flour, sugar, yeast and malt powder in bowl of a food processor, pulsing to combine. With machine running, add oil and water in a steady stream. Process until evenly mixed, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Allow to sit for 10-15 minutes. Add salt and process until smooth ball forms, 45-90 seconds. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover tightly. Place in refrigerator for 72 hours. Divide dough in half and shape halves into rounds. Oil exterior, cover and refrigerate for 8-10 hours. Remove dough to countertop and let rest at room temperature for one hour. Preheat oven and stone to 500 degrees. Stretch each round to 12 inch circle, top and bake on preheated stone for 8-12 minutes.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Homemade pasta

Most of the ravioli we eat we make ourselves. And since the pasta dough is easy to make, I usually double the recipe to make noodles or other shapes in addition to the ravioli. It's a good project for a rainy day with the bonus of a homemade pasta dinner plus more pasta in the freezer.

Pasta dough recipes are plentiful, but most are a simple mixture of flour, salt and eggs. I've found that a ratio of 3/4 cup flour to 1 egg works well and can be easy increased based on the number of diners. Once you get the hang of it, try adding chopped cooked spinach, tomato paste or herbs to the dough, or incorporating other flours (whole grain, semolina) for different flavors.

To make noodles, I use a pasta roller and cutter. While the gizmo makes the task easier, it's not a requirement. You only need a rolling pin and sharp knife. Just roll the dough very thin on a floured surface and cut into desired shapes.

Mix flour and salt and make a well in the center for the eggs. I doubled the recipe
using 3 cups flour (half semolina, half bread flour) mixed with 4 eggs

Knead dough for 5-10 minutes then cover with a damp towel
and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Divide dough in half and using a pasta roller, knead and roll dough to desired thickness.
I use the thinnest (#7) setting. If you don't have a pasta machine, use a rolling
pin to roll to desired thickness. Cut pasta into sheets.

Drop filling (about a tablespoon each) along top and bottom of pasta sheet. The filling I used was
15 oz ricotta mixed with one egg, salt & pepper, 1 tsp each dried parsley and basil
and 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese. If desired, add diced sauteed
mushrooms, pumpkin puree, cooked sausage, etc.

Top with second sheet of pasta dough, carefully pinching
then cutting between mounds of filling.

Using your fingers, press seams of ravioli making sure to press out any air pockets.
Place on a towel dusted with flour. Let dry for at least an hour before using.
To freeze, place ravioli in a single layer on a cookie sheet dusted with flour.
Place in freezer overnight. Remove ravioli to a freezer bag for long-term storage. 
In addition to about three dozen ravioli, this recipe also made fettuccine for a second meal.

The pasta is the star so I tend to dress with a simple red sauce. Just fresh
canned tomatoes and a few herbs. Perfect with a slice of homemade focaccia

Basic Pasta Dough
1 1/2 cups bread flour
Pinch of salt
2 eggs
Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add eggs, beating slightly with a fork. Slowly incorporate flour. When eggs are incorporated, turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead 5-10 minutes until smooth. Wrap in a slightly damp towel and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. Roll and cut into desired shapes.

To cook: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta, return to a boil and cook for 3-5 minutes. Overcooking may cause ravioli to burst.

Quick Red Sauce
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 quart tomatoes
1-2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp each dried basil and dried oregano
1 tsp sugar
salt & pepper to taste
Heat oil in a large pan, Add onion and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional minute. Add tomatoes, paste, herbs, sugar and salt and pepper. Simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. Serve over pasta.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Cinnamon-Honey Granola

I'm a big fan of whole grains so one of my favorite breakfasts is a granola parfait (layers of granola, homemade fruit sauce and yogurt)*. Satisfying, healthy and stick-to-your-ribs filling, granola also makes a great afternoon snack - just keep a jar in your desk for those after lunch cravings.

This is an easy recipe and makes about two quarts of granola. I store in a mason jar, but any container with a tight fitting lid will maintain freshness for about a week. This recipe can be halved or doubled - feel free to mix in your favorite dried fruit after the granola is removed from the oven.

* If you like whole grains at breakfast, be sure to check out pumpkin oatmeal! Delicious whole grains and a vegetable for breakfast!

Combine oats, coconut, nuts, seeds and cinnamon. Add honey and oil, mixing well.
This is honey we pulled from our hives. Make more little bees!

Spread mixture onto a greased or lined baking sheet.

Bake until golden brown. Feel free to toss in 3/4 cup of your favorite dried fruit
after removing from the oven.  Allow granola to cool, then break apart
and store in an airtight container for up to a week.
Crunchy, oaty, nutty goodness!

Breakfast parfait: Greek yogurt, strawberry rhubarb sauce and granola. Super yum! 

Cinnamon-Honey Granola
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup flaked coconut
1/2 cup coarsely chopped nuts of your choice - I like pecans, almonds or walnuts
1/2 cup shelled sunflower seeds
1/4 cup sesame seed
1 tsp ground cinnamon (or more, depending on your tastes)
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup cooking oil

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. If your oven has a convection function, using it will make a crunchier granola. Combine the first six ingredients in a mixing bowl. Add honey and oil, stirring to combine. Spread mixture on a greased or lined rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring after 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Break into clumps and place in an airtight container. Consume within a week or freeze for longer storage.