Thursday, November 20, 2008

Blackened Fish Fillets

Ah, the joys of the empty nest. The question is no longer do I dare make blackened fish? Rather the question has become: catfish or tilapia? The decision was made for me at the fish counter. The tilapia was from China. There are so many tainted products from that country that I felt safer buying American catfish.

I was a little leery about “rubbing” spices on fish which is more fragile than beef or chicken, but it was no problem. I used a non-stick frying pan so there was no problem with the fish sticking to the pan. The spicy coating sealed in the juices so there was no problem with the fish being too dry.

The problem turned out to be the taste. It just wasn’t all that spicy. I’ve had blackened fish in restaurants that made my eyes tear and my nose run. This recipe is tame compared to restaurant offerings. And since I love spicy food, I’m forced to give a thumbs down to this recipe.

Verdict: Not bad, but I don’t think I’ll be making this again.

Blackened Fish Fillets

(source: Family Circle magazine, 10/17/08)

2 teaspoons paprika
½ teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
½ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
4 catfish or tilapia fillets (1 ¾ pounds)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Blend paprika, oregano, onion powder, cayenne, salt and black pepper in a bowl.

Pat fish fillets dry with paper towels, then rub spice mixture into both sides fo fish.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add fillets and cook 4 minutes. Carefully flip over with a large spatula and continue to cook another 3 to 4 minutes, until cooked through and fish flakes easily with a fork.

Serve immediately.

Recycle: spice bottles, vegetable oil bottle

Monday, November 17, 2008

Chewy Cocoa Brownies

After an unnaturally warm start to the month of November, cooler temperatures have finally begun to prevail. And just in time too! I have a few days off from work before beginning the nightshift (don’t ask, trying to understand my work schedule would only make your head hurt) and several new recipes to try.

Time to test my theory about cocoa brands. I made the brownie recipe on the label of the Nestle Cocoa container.

I liked this recipe right from the start. Most recipes that use cocoa instead of baking powder tend to be dry. This recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of water to be added to the batter. I think that’s what did the trick.

The batter came together easily. It was stiff without being too stiff. It baked up in about 20 minutes. The range of times, 18 to 25 minutes was a little wide. That did give me pause. But by keeping an eye on the edges of the brownies, I was able to time it just right.

The results were deeply chocolaty unlike the results I get from Hershey’s cocoa. And chewy as promised. I’m definitely going to hang on to the is recipe so that I can make brownies any time regardless of whether I have baking chocolate or cocoa on hand.

Next time I’m feeling flush, I may spring for some those expensive cocoas to see if they are as good as the snooty recipes say that they are.

Verdict: Yum! This one’s a keeper!

Chewy Cocoa Brownies
(source: back of the Nestle cocoa container)

1 ⅔ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) butter or margarine, melted
2 tablespoons water
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup cocoa
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup chopped nuts (optional)
Powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 13 x 9-inch pan.

Combine sugar, butter and water in large bowl. Stir in eggs an vanilla extract. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt in medium bowl; stir into sugar mixture. Stir in nuts. Spread into prepared baking pan.

Bake for 18 to 25 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out slightly sticky. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Cut into bars.

Makes 2 dozen brownies.

Recycle: vanilla extract bottle

Compost: eggshells

Friday, November 14, 2008

Old-Fashioned Cinnamon Rolls

I have confession to make. As much as I love home-baked goods, I am addicted to the cinnamon rolls that come in a tube. And it’s mainly because I have never found a recipe for cinnamon rolls that is as light and flavorful as the ones that come in a tube. They always come out crusty and heavy and the glaze is always too thin and runny. But I keep hoping and trying recipes.

I wasn’t going to post a review of this recipe because I made a HUGE error while I was preparing it. I had taken the eggs out of the refrigerator ahead of time to warm up to room temperature. Then I had become so involved with mixing the dough using my mixer (who mixes dough in a mixer?), that I completely forgot to add the eggs! It wasn’t until I had finished kneading the dough and had no way at that point of incorporating them into the dough that I saw the eggs still sitting on top of the toaster oven. I had put them there so that they would be out of the way while they were warming up. Out of sight, out of mind.

I went ahead with assembling and baking the rolls but had no intention of reviewing the recipe because it wasn’t a fair trial without a major ingredient. If the rolls came out half-way decently, I would make them again sometime using the eggs and then review the recipe. Amazingly, they were absolutely delicious! They rose with no problem and were surprisingly light but not surprisingly a little on the tasteless side. Best of all, they almost taste like the ones that come in a tube. I can’t wait to make them again using the eggs.

I do have a couple of minor criticisms. One thing that I would change would be to use finer sugar than the granulated sugar called for in the recipe. The filling was a little gritty. The glaze, which is thick like the glaze that comes in the tube, didn’t taste right when I made it but once I had “drizzled” it onto the rolls, it was just perfect.

The best thing about this recipe is that you can prepare the rolls the day before and then refrigerate them overnight. The next morning (or afternoon if you are doing a brunch), you can bake them and have warm, delicious cinnamon rolls with your coffee.

Verdict: Yum! This one’s keeper!

Old-Fashioned Cinnamon Rolls

4 ¾ to 5 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 pkg. active dry yeast
1 cup milk
⅓ cup butter
⅓ cup sugar
3 eggs
3 tablespoons butter, melted
⅔ cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 recipe Creamy Glaze (below)

In a large bowl, combine 2 ¼ cups flour and yeast. In a saucepan, heat and stir milk, ⅓ cup butter, ⅓ cup granulated sugar, and ½ teaspoon salt just until warm (120° to 130°) and butter almost melts. Add to flour mixture; add eggs. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, scraping bowl. Beat on high speed for 3 minutes. Stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can.

On a lightly floured surface, knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough that is smooth and elastic (3 to 5 minutes total). Shape into a ball. Place in a greased bowl; turning once. Cover; let rise in a warm place until double in size (1 hour).

Punch down dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface; divide in half. Cover; let rest 10 minutes. Lightly grease two 9 x 1 1/2 –inch round baking pans. Roll each half of the dough into a 12 x 8 rectangle. Brush with melted butter. Combine the ⅔ cup sugar and the cinnamon; sprinkle over rectangles. Starting from a long side, roll up each rectangle into a spiral. Seal seams. Cut each spiral into 12 slices. Place slices, cut sides down, in prepared pans.

Cover dough loosely with plastic wrap, leaving room for rolls to rise. Chill for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours. Uncover; let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375°. Break surface bubbles with a greased toothpick. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until light brown. If necessary to prevent overbrowning, cover rolls loosely with foil for the last 5 to 10 minutes of baking. Remove from oven. Cool for 1 minute. Carefully invert rolls onto wire rack. Cool slightly. Invert again onto a serving platter. Drizzle with Creamy Glaze. Serve warm. Makes 24 rolls.

Creamy Glaze: Mix 1 ¼ cups sifted powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon light-colored corn syrup, and ½ teaspoon vanilla. Stir in enough half-and-half or light cream (1 to 2 tablespoons) to make of drizzling consistency.

Recycle: cinnamon bottle, corn syrup bottle, vanilla bottle

Compost: eggshells

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Lighter General Tso's Chicken

I’ve always been a fan of Martha Stewart. I love her style, her crafts, her perfectionism. But I never delved very deeply into her recipes. The few that I perused in her magazine while waiting in line in the grocery store, were too long, too complicated and called for exotic ingredients that I don’t normally keep in my kitchen and might have to spend some time tracking down.

Then, last spring when I was on my soup kick, I discovered her website. What an eye-opener! There are a lot of simple recipes, easy to make, that don’t require expensive or scarce ingredients. Now, when I am searching for a recipe, Martha Stewart’s site is one of my regular stops.

Sometimes, I just poke around for fun. I find lots of interesting recipes like Lighter General Tso’s Chicken. Who doesn’t like General Tso’s Chicken? And in this case “lighter” apparently means using egg whites instead of breading. I printed it out and tucked it away until I figured out a way to use the leftover egg yolks. I just hate wasting ingredients!

When I finally got around to making the Candy-Corn Cookies which use egg yolks, I first went through my recipe basket looking for a recipe that used egg whites. This recipe was a perfect fit. I made it first. After separating the eggs, I put the yolks into the same containers that I use to store seeds, one yolk per container to be used later in the cookie batter.

Coating the chicken with the egg white mixture was no problem. It was cooking it where I ran into trouble. The egg whites wouldn’t stick to the chicken. They ran off of the top of the chicken while the bottom was cooking. When I turned it, it all stuck to together.

My other complaint was the taste. I didn’t have fresh ginger so I substituted 1 teaspoon of dried ginger. Maybe that made a difference but this didn’t taste like any General Tso’s Chicken that I have ever eaten. It’s delicious spicy chicken, but it’s not General Tso’s Chicken.

I liked the snow peas but in my opinion, 1 pound is too much. I bought an 8 oz package of snow peas and it was the perfect amount. 1 pound of snow peas would have overwhelmed the chicken, making it more General Tso’s Snow Peas than General Tso’s Chicken.

Verdict: Not bad, but I won’t be making this again.

Lighter General Tso’s Chicken

(source: Martha Stewart)

1 ¼ cups long-grain brown rice
¼ cup cornstarch
1 pound snow peas, trimmed and halved crosswise
4 garlic cloves, sliced
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated and peeled
3 tablespoons light-brown sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
½ teaspoon red-pepper flakes
2 large egg whites
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, such as safflower

Cook rice according to package instructions. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, stir together 1 tablespoon cornstarch and ½ cup cold water until smooth. Add snow peas, garlic, ginger, sugar, soy sauce, and red-pepper flakes; toss to combine, and set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together egg whites, remaining 3 tablespoons cornstarch, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Add chicken, and toss to coat.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high. Lift half the chicken from egg white mixture (shaking off excess), and add to skillet. Cook, turning occasionally, until golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate; repeat with remaining oil and chicken, and set aside (reserve skillet).

Add snow-pea mixture to skillet. Cover; cook until snow peas are tender and sauce has thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Return chicken to skillet (with any juices); toss to coat. Serve with rice.

Recycle: soy sauce bottle, vegetable oil bottle

Compost: snow pea strings, garlic skins, ginger peels, egg shells

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Butternut Squash and Sage Orzo

While digging through my cupboards the other day, I came across a partially used bag of orzo, which is a kind of pasta that looks a lot like rice. I bought it awhile back for a recipe – I forget what now – and it’s been sitting there ever since. So I went online to find a recipe that would use it. I came across this one for butternut squash with orzo. This is the time of year for butternut squash, so I decided to try it.

The recipe says to simmer the squash about 10 minutes; to get it all cooked through required more like 20 or 30 minutes. But that was okay as it took that long to get the broth heated and the orzo cooked. It sounds like the orzo is supposed to absorb most of 3 ½ cups of broth, but that didn’ t happen. There was at least a cup of broth left when the orzo was done cooking. So if I make this again, I won’t bother adding so much. By the way, I used homemade broth instead of canned. Canned broth might be stronger, but as it was, I don't think the flavors were unbalanced.

The sage I used was some from my garden; it’s a decorative type called tricolor sage. Its flavor is not as good as the usual culinary sage, I discovered. I hadn’t picked quite enough, so I supplemented what I had with some dried rubbed sage. Some of the cooks who commented on this recipe on the Epicurious site said it was important to use fresh sage, and they are probably right.

This is a good recipe, not great, but not bad, and pretty easy. It stands up well to reheating. It also makes a generous amount; more like 6 servings than 4. It would be a good Thanksgiving side dish. Sorry I don’t have a picture of it, but imagine orange chunks of squash mixed with rice – that’s about what it looks like.

Verdict: Hmmm...I might make it again.

Butternut Squash and Sage Orzo


3 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1 2-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
4 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine1 cup orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage

Melt butter in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until tender, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add butternut squash and stir to coat. Add 1/2 cup chicken broth and wine. Simmer until squash is almost tender and liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, bring 3 1/2 cups broth to boil in heavy saucepan. Add orzo. Boil until tender but still firm to bite, about 8 minutes. Drain orzo if necessary.

Transfer orzo to large bowl. Stir in butternut squash mixture, then Parmesan and sage. Season with salt and pepper.

Recycle: broth can, wine bottle

Compost: vegetable peelings

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Candy-Corn Sugar Cookies

Halloween got away from me this year. When my daughter was growing up, Halloween was big in our house. It actually started in September when we made the annual pilgrimmage to the fabric store to choose a pattern and material for her costume. We went all out and spent hundreds of dollars. Then I spent my evenings and weekends cutting, pinning, sewing, hemming. But no matter how hard I worked, I always took it right down to the last moment. One memorable year, I was literally fastening the rank insignia on her Star Fleet Officer costume as she was heading out the door for school!

Since she moved out, Halloween has receded in importance in my life. When I saw these cookies on the Martha Stewart site, I thought "They look cute! I should make them for Halloween!" but since it was still early October, I pushed it to the back of my mind. All month I thought about making them, but I always had other things to do. All of a sudden, it was Halloween and I still hadn't made them. I grabbed a bag of candy corn at the grocery store today while they still had them. And I finally made the cookies.

They were very simple to make. A bowl and a wooden spoon. My favorite kind of recipe. And by making the chocolate variation second, I was able to use the same bowl and wooden spoon. Score! Those of us who still live in the Dark Ages without a dishwasher appreciate recipes that require few dishes to be washed.

I did have a few issues with this recipe. The batter is supposed to be beaten with a wooden spoon until a dough forms. That worked really well until I added the flour. It nust wouldn't come together, stubbornly maintaining the consistency of sand. I was going to add a little water like I would with a stubborn pie crust when the thought of pie crust put my pastry cutter in mind. That did the trick.

My other issue was with the number of cookies. I had read complaints on the site that although the recipe says that it makes 36 cookies, almost no one got that yield. I didn't either. I was only able to make 18 cookies from the batter. As you can see from the picture, if I had made the cookies any smaller, the candy corn would have been too big!

But they did come out cute, didn't they? And delicious! Even the chocolate ones which was surprising because I don't normally like chocolate recipes that use cocoa instead of baking chocolate. I've always used Hershey's cocoa when baking. It's a leftover from my childhood when my mother would make us cocoa from the familiar brown tin. But when I went to buy some at the grocery store, they didn't have any small tins, only large ones. So I bought a small tin of Nestle cocoa instead. I think that made the difference. I may have to revisit some recipes that use cocoa that have disappointed me in the past to test my theory.

As an aside, it should come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog regularly and knows how much I hate to waste ingredients that I found a use for those two egg whites. I'll be posting another Martha Stewart recipe in a few days that calls for two egg whites.

Verdict: Yum! This one's a keeper!

Candy-Corn Sugar Cookies
(source: Martha Stewart)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
About 36 candy corns

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place butter and sugar in a medium bowl; beat with a wooden spoon until combined. Beat in egg yolk, vanilla, baking powder, and salt. Add flour, and mix until a dough forms.

Scoop out level teaspoons of dough, and roll into balls (chill dough briefly if it becomes too soft to handle). Place balls on baking sheets, 2 inches apart.

Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until edges are firm and cookies are dry to the touch (do not let cookies color), 10 to 12 minutes.

Remove from oven; gently press a candy corn into center of each cookie (surface of cookies may crack slightly). Cool on sheets 1 minute; transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Makes about 36.

Chocolate Variation: Reduce the amount of flour given in the recipe to 1/2 cup. Add 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder along with the flour and proceed.

Recycle: vanilla bottle

Compost: eggshells