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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What we had for dinner, 2/16/10 (Fat Tuesday!)

Well, we ate, drank and were comparatively merry last night. My in-laws had given us some gorgeous, (but huge) rib-eye steaks so I marinated them in 50% - 50% mix of soy sauce and Worcestershire and then 20 minutes before cooking I removed them from the marinade and salt and peppered them generously. I let them sit on a cookie sheet while I prepared the rest of my dinner.

Last night's experiment was in the mashed potatoes. I have made mashed potatoes dozens of times. Sometimes I use cream, sometimes milk, sometimes chicken broth or sometimes a combination of these. My real issue with mashed potatoes is getting the perfect blend of fluffy/creamy in the texture and properly seasoning the spuds. Last night I used my handy-dandy Vidalia chopping wizard, a contraption I have taken photos of elsewhere on the blog. I changed the blades to the large setting and then chopped the potatoes into uniform cubes. I added the cubes to my stock pot with generously salted water and started them out on medium heat. I wanted the potatoes to eventually come to a boil, but not boil too hard or too long as it makes the potatoes just fall to mush. To these perfectly cubed tubers I added three scraped and chopped parsnips. A parsnip is a root vegetable that sort of looks like a white carrot. I really like them simply roasted with olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt, but no one else in my family has come around to my way of thinking (yet). I had my oldest daughter scrape and chop the parsnips, so she knew she was eating them later. She even tried an experimental bite of raw parsnip. These were boiled together till fork tender and then mashed with a hand masher. Last night I added a tablespoon of butter and some whole milk to the vegetables as I mashed them. I always add a little a time until they come together as I don't like them to be too soupy.

I have tried mashing with an electric hand mixer and it is simply too easy for me to over-mash them. The resulting potatoes are thick as wall paper paste and are unpleasant to eat. I also once tried a potato ricer, but while they were wonderfully creamy, the resultant texture was insufficiently fluffy. So the hand masher is the way to go for me.

The steaks were cooked on the stove top, two in a cast iron skillet and two in a stainless steel pan with a copper core. The sear and color I got in the iron skillet were wonderful. I had heated both pans over very high heat to seal in the juices on the steaks. The stainless steel pan nearly burned the outsides, while the iron skillet simply browned the meat beautifully. After the meat was seared all over I reduced the temperature down to medium on each burner until the steaks were done. I use a probe thermometer to tell me when the steaks are at the appropriate temperature. I make the children's steaks almost well done while hubby and I like ours medium. Meat continues to cook as you let it rest, so I usually take the meat off the heat after it has come to with 5 degrees of my desired doneness. Due to varying steak thicknesses and fat/meat ratios I don't have an exact time for how long it takes to cook steaks. Grilling or broiling the steaks also take different times; overall a good probe thermometer is the way to go.

I reheated some leftover lima beans for our green vegetable and after the steaks were done and resting on a plate I quickly sauteed some mushrooms and onion slices in the pan juices. Deeee-lish!

Our family ate till we were full on two steaks, the other two steaks will be turned into fajitas later this week with more sliced onions, mushrooms, zucchini and slivered carrot. Or you could also turn leftover steak into a a nice stir fry with cabbage, sliced water chestnut, snow pea pods and carrots.

PS I always give up chocolate for Lent, so last night before bed I had a couple of handfuls of M&Ms! Decadent, I know. But today I read where a friend's Mom had always written a letter a day to a different person who would not be expecting a letter. 40 letters in 40 days! I am also incorporating that into my Lenten observance this year.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What we had for dinner, 2/11/10

Homemade Pizza and Green Salad

I get my pizza dough recipe from the AMAZING "A Year in Bread Blog". http://ayearinbread.earthandhearth.com/2007/03/kevin-pizza-dough.html
Three fabulous bakers decided to post a new bread recipe every day for a year. They all three submitted pizza dough recipes but I like Kevin's best. Here it is with notes on prep by me. If you click on this posts title "What we had for dinner" it will take you directly to their wonderful blog. Go for the bread, stay for the awesome writing.

Pizza Dough
Adapted from a recipe by Mitch Mandell of Fabulous Foods.

bread flour 3 1/2 c | 0.8 l | 18 oz | 500 g
warm water (between 95 and 115 F/35 and 46C) 1 c | 240 ml | 8.5 oz | 240 g
instant yeast 2 1/4 tsp (1 US pkg) | 11 ml | 1/4 oz | 8 g
honey 2 tbsp | 30 ml | 1 1/4 oz | 36 g
olive oil 1/4 c | 60 ml | 1 1/2 oz | 48 g
salt 1/2 tsp | 8 ml | 1/8 oz | 4 g

Combine the honey, warm water, and oil, stirring to mix. The water should be about 95 to 115° F. It should feel very warm, but not uncomfortably hot. (I use hot tap water. Also measure the oil in the 1/4 C measure, then measure the honey up to the middle or 1/8 C measure in the same cup. The oil keeps the honey from sticking to the measuring cup.)

Put the 3 cups of flour and yeast in the bowl and, using the paddle attachment, mix on low for about 20 seconds. Add the salt and mix on low for another 20 seconds. Note: salt is poisonous to yeast, so you want the yeast well-distributed before adding the salt. (I do all of this stuff by hand, I mix the flour and yeast with a whisk. And then I whisk in the salt.)

With the motor running on low, pour in the liquids. Continue mixing until a shaggy dough begins to form. Clean off paddle and switch to dough hook. Continue mixing on low until the dough comes together. (I stir with a wooden spoon.)

Increase speed to medium and knead for eight minutes. The dough should completely clear the sides and bottom within 2 minutes if it is too sticky, add additional flour 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing in thoroughly before determining if more flour is needed. If the dough seems too dry, spritz with water from a spray bottle a couple of times, mixing in thoroughly before determining if more water is needed. continue kneading for 6 minutes. You'll find the dough wraps itself around the hook, so every 2 minutes, stop the machine, scrape the dough off the hook, and then continue kneading. (I stir until it the dough comes away from the bowl, then I add a little flour on top of the dough and to my hands and I knead it.)

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it a few more times by hand to be sure it's tight and elastic. Form the dough into a tight ball.

Wash and dry your mixing bowl then mist it with oil. Place the dough, seam-side down, in the bowl and lightly mist top of dough with baking spray. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rise (ferment) in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled in size — 45 minutes to an hour. (I do not wash and dry the mixing bowl, I just put some oil in it and roll the dough around in the oil.)

Punch the dough down and transfer to a lightly floured board. Knead for about half a minute, then reshape into a ball. Respray bowl lightly, return dough to bowl, spray, recover, and allow to rise again until doubled in bulk — an hour to an hour and a half.

Heat the oven to 450F (230C).

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into two equal portions. Set 1 aside and cover with plastic wrap to keep it from drying out. Shape the other portion into a round by hand.

Place the rolling pin in the center of the round and push outward. Rotate the dough 1/4 turn and repeat. Continue until dough is about 12 inches across. Alternatively, you can stretch the dough by hand, which I do. The dough is quite elastic and will want to shrink, so don't rush it. Pause every now and then while shaping (whether by hand or with a rolling pen) to allow the dough to relax. (Yeah, my dough doesn't get to rest much. I'm brutal.)

Coat with sauce, cheese, and toppings. Then, ideally, let the pizzas stand, covered with plastic wrap, for about 30 minutes before baking. This delay highlights the bready character of the dough. Before baking, use a knife to poke holes in any noticable bubbles. (I have never let it rest that long, the crust is delicious nevertheless)

I bake one pizza and wrap the other dough very tightly with plastic wrap and then in a plastic bag, and then freeze it for later. When defrosting, simply lay on a counter for an hour or so till dough is room temperature and ready to be rolled out.

My kids (even the 19 month old) like torn romaine lettuce topped with Ranch dressing. They will pretty much eat anything topped with Ranch dressing. They might even eat rocks as long as it had Ranch dressing on it. I also peeled two apples for them to eat.

Pretty simple diner, the kids played outside with DH as I topped the pizza dough. I called them inside when the pizza was ready. The whole house smelled amazing!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Meatless Monday Menu

I am taking up the Meatless Monday gauntlet thrown down by Michael Pollan. We eat vegetarian pretty frequently here so that is not the challenging part, but planning a specific day to eat a specific way, eh I'm not so good at that.

Monday's Menu was Black beans and yellow rice and a simple salad, but tricked out with some yummy additions.

The black beans were made in my handy dandy new pressure cooker, a terrific appliance for the forgetful mama. I sorted and rinsed the beans and added them to the pot with a small onion, a single shallot and 2 smashed cloves of garlic. I also added a handful of dried oregano. Follow your pressure cooker's instructions on how much water to add and how long to cook. In my cooker it took 30 minutes after the cooker came to pressure.

Meanwhile I melted some butter in a large skillet. When melted and foamy I added the package of yellow rice and let it brown and toast as I quickly chopped a half of an onion and one large carrot in my handy dandy chopper. I drained a can of chopped tomatoes into a measuring cup and added enough water to accommodate the rice recipe. I threw in the drained tomatoes and stirred and then added the tomato juice and water (after heating it to boiling in the microwave). Then I threw on the lid and turned off the heat entirely. I have a copper core sauce pans that retain heat very well, so not sure if that would work for everyone. Another nice addition to the rice is a cup or so of frozen green peas in the last 5 minutes or so of cooking.

When the beans were done cooking I added salt to taste. I never add salt to the beans during cooking because it can inhibit them from softening. The rice was also ready at the same time. I served the beans and rice with a sprinkling of cheese on top, sometimes I also serve it with a dollop of plain greek style yogurt as well. The kids also got half a banana with their green salads.

All in all, even my meat loving hubby thought the food was great. By adding sufficient spices and vegetables to these plain foods you can create great flavor and texture as well as nutrition.

What are your favorite beans and rice combinations? Red beans and rice? Cuban con gris? West african style beans and rice? Please leave a good recipe in the comments!