Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Daring Bakers: Eclairs

This month's challenge was hosted by Meeta of What's for Lunch, Honey? and Tony of A Warm Welcome. They chose to have us make eclairs this month. I was going away with my family for a vacation at the beginning of the month and thought it would be a great idea to make it while there since there would be more people to help eat them. Lee and I end up eating to many when I make the challenges at home.

I've never really been fond of eclairs, nor have I ever made them. My family was excited for eclairs, though. We were given the choice of flavoring, as long as we kept one chocolate element of the dish. My dad chose to have a vanilla flavored filling with the chocolate glaze instead of the chocolate pastry cream. I have heard other Daring Bakers say that the chocolate pastry cream was delicious, so part of me was disappointed that I didn't make it!

I made this while at my grandfather's cottage in New Hampshire. Since he rents out the cottage, they don't have the best cookware. People tend to take nice things in rental properties. I don't understand that, but it's a sad fact. Unfortunately, that meant I had to make these without modern conveniences such as my Kitchen Aid.

I was a bit nervous when I read the directions and it said you could make the batter for the eclairs by hand "if your arms aren't too tired" since I had no choice but to mix by hand, but it wasn't bad.

I didn't have any pastry tips with me. I had already left my house before the recipe was announced, so I didn't know I would want to bring them. I just used a plastic Ziploc bag with a hole clipped out.

My eclairs worked out ok, but one sheet of eclairs deflated. This was a pretty common problem with some Daring Bakers and I think it was due to steam.

Both my glaze and pastry cream turned out well. I wasn't able to spread my glaze with a spatula like the directions said, so I just used a spoon to pour it over the top of the eclairs.

The pastry cream ended up being a group effort! My grandfather's cottage didn't have any electric mixers, so I had to use a rotary beater. Actually, my dad and sister's boyfriend had to use a rotary beater to beat the whipped cream (Lee wasn't able to come up for the vacation). I thought we were going to have to use a whisk, so my dad and sister's boyfriend were happier to use the rotary beater that we found. It didn't actually take them all that long. I did chill the bowl down in the fridge for a while before whipping the cream, though.

Everyone loved the eclairs and I loved that I was able to be creative with my picture taking! I didn't take pictures of the process, but I did take a picture of the eclairs on a lily pad. I had been planning all week to take a picture of them on the lily pads. Unfortunately, none of the pink flowers close enough to shore were blooming when I took the picture, but I'm pretty pleased with this one. When I showed the picture to Lee, he started to ask if the picture was photoshopped before he realized he was looking at it in the camera!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Southwestern Chili Lasagna

So, this morning I was browsing a forum I frequent. There is a thread where people can post what they made for dinner and I like to read that to get ideas since my knowledge of different meals is still small. One lady made a post about a blog she loves and that she was trying the Mexican lasagna recipe from that site for dinner.

I posted last week that I was going to try making meals that take a while on Sundays since it's usually a lazy day and I tend to be home all day. I asked Lee what he wanted and eventually he decided upon lasagna.

Well, after hearing about the Mexican lasagna, I thought I would try that. I didn't see the Mexican lasagna on that site, so I decided to come up with my own creation. I thought that flour tortillas would work instead of the noodles and that chili would work in place of the tomato sauce and ground meat. I figured a Mexican cheese blend would be good for the cheese layer.

I got to work on my chili for the recipe since it needed to simmer. I was glad I had decided to buy some nice ground peppers from Penzeys. (Well, I actually bought some whole ancho chiles and whole chipotle peppers as well, but decided it would be easier to use the ground for this purpose.) I love the ancho chile flavor, so I decided to use some of that in my chili. I also added some chipotle pepper. Ancho chiles are smoked purple poblanos, and chipotles are smoked red jalapeños. Add some smoked Spanish paprika (smoked red bell pepper) and I had a great smoky taste with my chili!

I was eventually directed to the post about the Mexican lasagna, but by that time I had already started my own version, so I just took the idea of adding some rice to the lasagna to add another layer of texture to the dish. I'm so glad I saw that post and added the rice! It would still have tasted good, but it tasted more complete and well-rounded with the addition of rice.

I ended up using the same peppers in my rice that I did in my chili. I thought it would be best for making the rice and chili blend well together, plus I like those flavors anyway. When Lee first tried a bite of the rice on its own, he said "Oh, wow! First you taste the rice, then you get some heat from the peppers, then there is a smoky flavor!" Yes, my dear, that's the smoked peppers! The rice had nice flavor from the Basmati rice (it was recommended in the blog post for the nice flavor and texture and I have to agree). I think it was the sensation of the flavors coming in waves that he thought was so cool.

Since I was making up my own recipe (although basing proportions of ingredients on recipes I found online since I'm not very comfortable being completely on my own with this), I wanted to make sure that the rice and chili each tasted good on their own. I figured if they taste good on their own, they would taste great together. Turns out I was right and now I have a great recipe for chili and a great recipe for Mexican rice!

This had a mellow heat to it. I wouldn't describe it as spicy. If you want spicy, add some more chipotle or add some cayenne pepper to it. Ancho chile doesn't have much heat to it, so it wouldn't do much for added spiciness.

Only problem with this was I couldn't think of an appropriate side dish. Any suggestions are welcome!

What started out as an improvisation is now a new favorite in our house!

Southwestern Chili Lasagna

For the chili:
2 (28 ounce) cans crushed tomatoes

1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste

2 lbs ground beef

1 medium onion

2 garlic cloves

1 1/2 teaspoons ancho chili powder

1 teaspoon
chipotle powder
1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon Mexican oregano

1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika

1 teaspoon salt

ground black pepper

For the rice:
1 cup basmati rice
2 cups
chicken stock
1 teaspoon butter
1 cup
diced onion
1 garlic clove
1 (10 ounce) can Rotel
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1/2 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon
dried chipotle powder
1/2 teaspoon smoked spanish paprika

For the assembly:
4 large flour tortillas
Mexican cheese blend
cilantro (for garnish)

  1. For the chili:
  2. Dice the medium onion.
  3. Cook in a 8qt. pot over medium heat.
  4. Dice 2 cloves garlic and add to onions.
  5. Add ground beef and cook until browned.
  6. Drain out most of the fat.
  7. Add the remaining ingredients for the chili. Simmer on stove for several hours or until all the flavors have come together.
  8. For the rice:
  9. Rinse rice to remove excess starch. Add to pot with the chicken stock.
  10. Bring to boil, cover, and reduce to simmer until all the stock has been absorbed.
  11. Remove from heat.
  12. Meanwhile, in a skillet, melt 1 tbsp butter over medium heat.
  13. Add 1 cup diced onion, Rotel, and 1 clove minced garlic. Add the remaining ingredients. Stir together.
  14. Cook until onion and garlic are tender.
  15. Add to tomato mixture to the rice by fluffing with a fork until it is evenly incorporated.
  16. For the lasagna (I made an 8x4" lasagna):
  17. Ladle a thin layer of the chili on the bottom of your pan.
  18. Trim the rounded edges off the tortillas and cut into strips. Create a layer of tortilla strips in the pan.
  19. Scoop about 1-2 cups rice and spread in even layer over tortillas.
  20. Spread about 2 cups chili over rice.
  1. Sprinkle to cover with cheese.
  2. Repeat until you are within 1/2" of the top of your pan. Leave the cheese as the last later.
  3. Sprinkle with cilantro.
  4. Spray aluminum foil with non-stick spray and bake in a 350°F oven for about 1/2 hour. Remove foil and cook until cheese is melted, browned, and bubbly.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Meatloaf and Ratatouille

Tonight was a scrumptious dinner. Since Lee and I share a car right now and he works all day on Sunday and takes the car, I'm usually at home all day. I've decided to use Sundays to make some of those more special dinners that take longer to make (lasagna, roast dinner, etc...).

Today I chose to make meatloaf and ratatouille. It was kind of a repeat from when Lee's family came to visit a couple of weeks ago. I didn't take a picture of it then, but it worked out because today I was actually able to make it better!

Since I raved so much about the ratatouille when I made it for Recipes to Rival, how could it be better, you ask?

Well, I made it with mostly farm-fresh ingredients. I've fallen in love with the farmer's market. I wish I lived in an area that had one year-round, but they end here in October. Also, it won't be as easy to get to it now that school's starting back up because the market is only there from 9:30-2.

This past week I managed to find Japanese eggplant at the farmer's market! There is an Asian family that has a farm and they go to the farmer's market on Wednesdays and Fridays. They have some great Asian ingredients that maybe harder to find. Of course, when I saw the Japanese eggplant, I knew I HAD to make ratatouille again with the proper ingredients! Well, not only was I able to get the eggplant at the farmer's market, there was yellow squash and zucchini that were the same diameter as the eggplant (bonus!!!!) and there were Roma tomatoes! I bought fresh-picked onions and had some fresh garlic as well. I'm not sure the eggplant made a big difference, but the freshness of the ingredients certainly made a HUGE difference in the taste.

The meatloaf was incredible! I first made this meatloaf when Lee's family came. I love Tyler Florence and have had his cookbook Tyler Florence's Real Kitchen for years. I have loved the recipes I've tried. He is all about fresh ingredients and making amazing food simple. This recipe is a variation of his father's meatloaf, so it's called "Dad's Meatloaf with Tomato Relish."

Mr. Florence was trying to be sneaky!!! The day before Lee's family came, I was watching Tyler's Ultimate and it happened to be an episode that featured his meatloaf recipe. Well, he changed the recipe since my cookbook was published! In the cookbook, he uses just ground beef for the meat. In the show he used ½ ground pork and ½ ground beef. Also, instead of using plain breadcrumbs, he says to use 3 slices of bread soaked in milk. He mentioned he learned that trick in Italy while learning to make meatballs and he has started doing that in all the meatballs and meatloaves he makes.

Now, Tyler's recipes was fantastic as it was. In fact, in the book he says it was one of the biggest hits of the Cafeteria Restaurant in New York where he was the chef. The problem I had was the amount of liquid that seeped from the meatloaf while it cooked. I don't have a loaf pan (well, I have one, but it's 16" long and I thought that was a bit much for the meatloaf!), so I layed it out on a sheet pan. I watched Tyler do that on his show, and his meatloaf turned out fine, so I felt confident in doing it that way myself.

My meatloaf turned out flat. Luckily meatloaf isn't big in England and his family didn't know better. It also still tasted fantastic, but I knew it wasn't as it should have been.

I ended up making the recipe a little bit differently today. Instead of using all milk-soaked bread crumbs, I used half-soaked and half-unsoaked. The recipe called for white bread crumbs, I made a special effort to get white bread last time, but this time I just used the wheat I had on hand and it was fine. I actually think the stronger wheat bread was better. I also rigged the pan a little differently. I pulled up the aluminum foil to make a pocket for the meatloaf and mounded the meatloaf a little higher than I had before.

These precautions worked great and the meatloaf had perfect shape after cooking. The unsoaked breadcrumbs helped a lot with the moisture of the meatloaf. It still had plenty of moisture, but it didn't leak as much as it had the first time.

One of the best parts of this meal? Mashed potatoes are always a must with meatloaf, but the ratatouille really complements the tomato-pepper relish. The flavors just match so well.

You can get the recipe for the ratatouille from clicking on the link above, but here is the recipe (as I made it) for the meatloaf. Since I changed it from Tyler's I'm not using the "Dad's" part of the name, since my dad would certainly never make anything with onions!

Meatloaf with Tomato-Pepper Relish
Serves 4

For the Relish:
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 bay leaf
1 red bell pepper
1 tomato
3 tbsp dried parsley flakes
6 ounces ketchup
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

For the Meatloaf:
1-1.25 lbs. mealoaf mix (ground beef, ground pork, ground veal)
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 slice bread
1/4 cup bread crumbs
2 strips bacon

  1. Put olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sauté onion, garlic, and bay leaf until onions start to become transluscent.
  2. Core, seed, and finely dice the red bell pepper. Toss in skillet.
  3. Take tomato and slice in half, remove the seeds and core. Finely dice the tomato and add to skillet.
  4. Add in the parsley, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and salt and pepper to taste. Give a good stir and cook for about 5 minutes, or until flavors mix.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  6. Remove 3/4 cup of the relish and set aside in measuring cup or small bowl to cool a bit.
  7. In a small bowl, place a slice of bread and pour just enough milk in for the bread to soak it up.
  8. In a separate bowl, combine the meat, egg, thyme and 3/4 cup tomato-pepper relish (as long as it's cool enough for your hands to touch it, go ahead and add it). Be careful to lightly blend with hands, don't smash.
  9. Remove the bread from milk, drain any excess. Break the bread slice into pieces and add to mix. Slowly add in dried bread crumbs until there is just enough for soaking up moisture.
  10. Place meatloaf in loaf pan, or aluminum foil-lined baking sheet. Form into a loaf shape. Lightly press top of loaf to make a smooth, flatter surface.
  11. Spoon 1/4 cup tomato-pepper relish over the top.
  12. Lay the 2 strips bacon lengthwise over meatloaf.
  13. Place in oven and cook for 45-60 minutes or until bacon is crisp and the meatloaf is fully cooked.
  14. Heat up remaining tomato-pepper relish and serve over the meatloaf.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

My Favorite Blueberry Muffins

Lee and I went blueberry picking at the beginning of blueberry season. I used some of the blueberries to make muffins, but forgot to post about it!

On Wednesday, Lee and I did some more blueberry picking (we picked some raspberries as well, but that's another post) I made them again today so I decided to post about it.

Well, these muffins were amazing , I couldn't get enough!

The first time I made these muffins, I hadn't yet been to Penzeys to get spices. Well, I am now officially in love with Penzeys' spices (must go to special spice stores from now on!!!) and decided to use one of the three types of cinnamon I bought there. I went with the Korintje Cassia cinnamon. Also, because Penzeys' spices are so much fresher than the supermarket spices and have much more scent and flavor to them, I used a little less cinnamon.

There are two main types of cinnamon [Cassia and Ceylon "true" cinnamon (I'll post more when I make something with it)], but there are several variations within the cassia cinnamon family, each tasting different depending on where it was grown. I went with the Korintje Cassia cinnamon because it has the mildest flavor out of the three Cassia cinnamons. (Chinese and Vietmanese are the other types Penzeys carries.) I didn't want the cinnamon to be the star of the show, just add a bit of flavor.

I used the basic recipe from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. I remembered learning that vanilla can help bring out flavors in fruit dishes, and remembered how delicious the apple filling for the Daring Bakers danish challenge was and decided to add some vanilla.

I made some vanilla sugar with my vanilla beans and added that to the mix. The vanilla sugar was really easy to make.

Vanilla Sugar

1 vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise, per 2 cups sugar.

Allow to infuse for a week.

I used one Bourbon and one Tahitian bean and shook this once a day to help mix it up well.

Blueberry Muffins

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup vanilla sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I used 1/2 to 3/4 tsp of Korintje Cassia cinnamon)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 large egg
1 cup milk
1 cup fresh blueberries

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray muffin tins with non-stick spray, or line with paper cups.
  2. Mix together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder.
  3. Make a well in the center.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix together the butter, milk, and egg.
  5. Pour the wet ingredients into the well in the dry ingredients.
  6. Using a spoon or rubber spatula, mix until just blended. Be sure to fold and mix gently, do not beat.
  7. Carefully mix in blueberries at the last minute.
  8. Spoon into muffin pans.
  9. Bake for 20-30 minutes depending on size of muffins.


Made by Lena