Thursday, May 28, 2009

Tip of the Day - Croissant Sandwiches

This isn't so much of a recipe as it is random information that I find to be interesting. While I realize others may not find my interests even remotely stimulating, this is my blog and therefore you are stuck with my ramblings. Since, as I mentioned, this is not technically a recipe, I'm calling it a "tip of the day." And here it is...cheese, eggs, and bread freeze well.

I know, not mind-boggling information, but it can come in quite handy if, say, you really like to enjoy croissant breakfast sandwiches prior to your work day, you're too cheap to purchase them from a fast-food joint, and the only cooking tools at your disposal are a toaster oven and a microwave (ok, you caught me...I'm referring to my personal situation). Well, not to worry -- you can prepare numerous croissant breakfast sandwiches at one time, freeze them, and then reheat them in aforementioned cooking tools!

Here's the scoop. You can purchase eggs-in-the-carton, croissants, Morningstar Farms veggie sausage patties (have I mentioned that I'm a pescetarian?), and individually wrapped cheese slices from your bulk foods store (a/k/a Costco, but I'm not sure I'm supposed to say that here. Wait, I just did. Oops.). Fry up the eggs in sandwich-sized batches and set them aside on a plate to cool. When they are cool, place a sliced croissant, slice of cheese, sausage patty, and the egg into a sandwich bag (it helps for later separation if the egg is between the plastic baggie and the plastic wrapped sliced cheese). And into the freezer they go.

If you just use the cheapo sandwich bags (although stick with the zipped topped variety), it will usually take at least a month until they get freezer burned. If you splurge on the freezer variety, they'll stay a bit longer. When you're ready for your sandwich, pull all of the ingredients out of the bag and place the egg and the sausage patty onto a microwave-safe plate. Microwave them for one-minute, and then check to see if they're done. If not, microwave a bit longer until they're no longer frozen. Meanwhile, toast the croissant in the toaster oven. When the egg/sausage is warmed, you'll probably need to blot it a bit with a paper towel (I'm not sure where all the water comes from, but it definitely appears during the thawing process). Put the frozen slice of cheese on the egg and microwave for another 10 seconds.

After your croissant is toasted, layer all of the ingredients and voila! As good as any fast-food joint, and way cheaper.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Pizza Dough

This has got to be my very favorite pizza dough recipe. And trust me, I've tried quite a few. Figures that it came from my trusty Betty Crocker cookbook (the standard version -- not to be confused with the also-excellent Vegetarian version). It's truly better if you can wait a day to use the dough, but if you can't, give it the 30 minutes to rest a bit after all the abuse it will take from kneading and then use it on up in your favorite pizza recipe. This recipe doubles nicely to freeze half (yup, just plop it in a freezer bag and into the freezer...move it to the fridge on the morning of the night that you'd like to use it for it to defrost). If you have a stand mixer, use it. If not, you'll have to get a bit of a workout. Sorry.

I'm going to try this one a bit differently by listing the ingredients with the steps as I go. Just know beforehand that you'll need all-purpose flour, bread flour, yeast, sugar, salt, olive oil, and water. The bread flour might be a stretch for some...if you're not willing to take that trip to the store to get some, just use the all-purpose flour for all of it.

1. Put 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 tsp. sugar, 1/2 tsp. salt, and a heaping teaspoon of yeast (about half a packet, if you're using that kind) in the bowl of your stand mixer (or a medium bowl if you don't have a stand mixer). Stir to combine.

2. Add 1/2 cup of very warm water (the temperature you'd take a shower in on a really cold winter night) and 1 1/2 tsp. olive oil, and mix on medium speed (either in your stand mixer with the beater attachment, or with a hand mixer) for 3 minutes.

3. Begin adding enough bread flour to form a soft dough (probably about 1/2 to 3/4 cup). When it forms a ball, switch out the beater attachment for the dough hook. If you're using the workout method, dump the dough onto a clean surface covered with a bit of flour (this is what they call "bench flour," but it's just regular old flour that you use to keep the dough from sticking to the counter).

4. Knead the dough for 8 minutes, adding additional bread flour as necessary to keep the dough from pooling at the bottom of the bowl (or to keep it from sticking to your hands if you're hand kneading it). To knead the dough by hand, press the heels of your hands into the dough, pushing it away from you. Pull the edge of the dough furthest from you up and over the top of the dough towards you, and then turn the dough ball a quarter turn and do it all again. And again. For 8 minutes. It doesn't have to be precise; you just have to beat it up by stretching it for awhile.

5. After the 8 minutes are up (or your arms hurt, whichever happens first), spray some cooking spray to coat a bowl. Put the ball of dough in there, and spray it too. Cover it with plastic wrap and wait 30 minutes.

6. Your pizza dough is now ready to use, or to put in the fridge to use tomorrow, or to put in the freezer to use the next time you're feeling like a pizza and a beer.

Also featured on...Pizza Dough on Foodista (thanks for suggesting me, Alisa!).

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mint Chocolate Chip Pudding

I got a craving for something chocolatey today. Since my husband has insisted that we remove anything remotely fattening from our home (unfortunately, this included ice cream), we no longer had any pre-made chocolate goodies. Although I am typically annoyed that I have to suffer for his lack of willpower, I must say that it is better for my waistline if I only enjoy goodies when I want them badly enough to actually cook them myself.

So, in my effort to find some form of chocolatey goodness that I could make out of the current contents of my pantry, I pulled out my trusty Betty Crocker cookbook and turned to the chocolate pudding page. Turns out, I already have all of the ingredients to make chocolate pudding from scratch right in my own cupboard. Nothing too incredibly strange (and by "strange," I mean anything I wouldn't find in my not-so-culinary-inclined Mom's home), except possibly the cornstarch.

Now, Betty Crocker is one heck of a cook, don't get me wrong. But I couldn't exactly get overly enthusiastic about her plain old chocolate pudding recipe. I decided to mix it up a bit...and by that, I mean adding alcohol. Can't go wrong there.

I added Creme de Menthe liquer to my version, as well as some extra chocolate chips. It would probably be equally as delicious with Frangelico, Bailey's (their flavored mint chocolate or caramel versions would be excellent), Grand Marnier (which I love, primarily due to its name being so close to that of my lovely sis, Marnee), Godiva liqueur, or even 99 Bananas (although that may take an extreme banana lover). I'm beginning to sound a bit like a lush here, so I'll continue on to the recipe...

1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cocoa
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/8 tsp. salt
2 cups milk
2 large egg yolks, slightly beaten
2 tsp. of your favorite liqueur (or simply vanilla, if you're not feeling overly adventurous)
1/3 cup chocolate chips, chopped

1. Stir together the sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, and salt in a smallish to medium sized saucepan. Set the saucepan over medium heat, and stir in the milk.

2. Keep stirring, and stirring, and stirring (a whisk comes in handy here), until the mixture comes to a boil. It takes forever. Well, maybe more like 6 or 7 minutes, but it feels like forever with the steam coming off the mixture onto your hand. After it starts to boil, stir it for another minute.

3. Add at least half the mixture into the egg yolks. Be sure to add the milk mixture to the yolks, not the other way around. This is called "tempering," which allows the yolks to gradually heat up (be sure to stir the yolks quickly while adding the hot mixture). If you try to rush this step, you'll end up with scrambled eggs in your pudding. Tasty.

4. Add the tempered yolk mixture back to the rest of the milk mixture, and continue to stir for another minute.

5. Remove from heat and add the liqueur. Pour into a glass bowl, cover, and refrigerate until chilled. If you don't like the skin that forms over pudding (which I actually enjoy), you'll want to press some plastic wrap right onto the top of the pudding. Although it will take the top portion of the pudding with it when you remove it, there won't be any skin. :)

6. After the pudding is chilled, stir the chopped up chocolate chips into it. Serve it in pretty glasses, and garnish with whipped cream and mint (if you've got it...otherwise, add more whipped cream!).

Friday, May 08, 2009

Black Bean Salsa

This "salsa" is actually what I typically just call my black beans, since I prepare them this way every time I boil up a batch o' dried black beans. I've moved to the dried version in the past few months as a small way to save on my weekly grocery bill. Here's the conversions between canned and dry:

15-oz can beans = 1 1/2 cooked beans, drained
1 pound dry beans = 6 cups cooked beans, drained
1 pound dry beans = 2 cups dry beans
1 cup dry beans = 3 cups cooked beans, drained

I know this involves math, but I readily admit that my frugality wins out over my hatred of basic math. Therefore, let's analyze this a bit. One can of black beans will run you about $0.89 at the grocery store, while a pound of dried black beans goes for about $1.69. Since you get the equivalent of 4 cans of beans out of a one pound bag, that would make the dried beans the equivalent of $0.42 per can. Not much, but it adds up.

Since I personally had no idea what to do with dried black beans, and hence resorted to purchasing the canned version, here's the scoop. You'll need at least two hours; 12 hours is preferable. To make 3 cups of cooked black beans, take 1 cup of dried black beans and spread them out in a shallow dish (a 9x13 pan works well here, or even a pie dish). Sort through them and remove any beans that appear to be shriveled or not bean-like (odd shape, discolored, etc.). Put them in a saucepan big enough to accommodate them and some water should they triple in size (which they will). Add enough water to cover them by two inches. If you have 8-12 hours, let them soak in the saucepan (overnight is fine - this is the longer "soak" period). If you only have two hours, bring the beans to a boil, turn them off, cover them, and let them sit for an hour (the "soak" period). After the beans have either soaked 8-12 hours or boiled and soaked an hour, drain them and add new water to again cover them by two inches. Bring them up to a boil and then turn the heat down to low. Simmer the beans for about an hour, or until you try one and it smooshes against the top of your mouth. They are ready to use in a recipe, or you can refrigerate them for up to about a week, or freeze them for a couple of months.

This recipe is good as a dip for tortilla chips, or as a base for Black Bean Patties or Rice and Black Beans (recipes to come). The quantities mentioned are approximate; feel free to adjust as necessary to fit the amounts that suit your taste or that you have on hand.

3 cups cooked black beans, drained (or two cans of black beans...but why spend the money? Didn't you read my novel above about the cost effectiveness of dried beans?)
1 cup sweet onion, chopped
3 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped (or 1 Tbsp dried cilantro)
2 Tbsp lime juice
salt to taste (kosher salt if you've got it - about 1 tsp)

Stir ingredients together in a bowl and refrigerate.